Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bill Cody, His Grandfather's Clone

Buffalo Bill's grandson not only followed in his boot prints as showman, dude rancher, soldier and entrepreneur, he made history of his own. The unpretentious Harvard Law School graduate surrendered the most American troops in Europe during World War II, married more often than the average American, and lectured to more students about their heritage than any of his fellow countrymen. Among his many accomplishments, he learned to downhill ski at 65.

William Cody Garlow was born at the Scout’s Rest Ranch in North Platte, Nebraska, January 4, 1913. His mother, Irma, (Buffalo Bill’s youngest child) returned to Cody, Wyoming, with her two-week-old son and his older brother Fred and sister Jane. The children were orphaned in 1918 when their parents died two days apart during the influenza epidemic. Their grandfather, William F. Cody, passed away the previous year and his wife Louisa adopted their grandchildren and reared them until her death in 1921.

Bill Garlow was four when his illustrious granddad died. “I remember him distinctly only three times,” he said. “Once at the TE Ranch west of Cody, on his deathbed, and at his funeral on Lookout Mountain.”

Bill and his brother Fred were "installed in a military school" in southern California by their grandmother when they were six and nine. Bill continued his education at the Riverside Military Academy in Georgia, where his grades fluctuated according to the season and he studied six years, instead of four, to graduate. “Periodically I was excellent,” he said, grinning. “And other times I got lousy grades. It all depended on hunting season which started about the same time as school. I had to go hunting first.”

The trim six-footer studied pre-law at the University of Nebraska, graduating in 1936. He then enrolled at Harvard Law School. “Very early in high school I decided to become a lawyer. I visualized justice, equity and all that I wanted to participate in, but when I became a lawyer, I found that it was an entirely different ball game, so I practiced two years and quit.”

Following graduation from Harvard, Garlow enlisted in the army as a reserve commissioned second lieutenant. A platoon leader, he was later promoted to the ranks of captain, company commander and major. In 1944, he was transferred to the 106th Infantry Division and sent to Germany where his troops were caught in the Battle of The Bulge. Surrounded by German artillery troops, Garlow’s 423rd regiment, commanded by Colonel Charles Cavender, was stationed on the Schnee Eifel, attempting to fight its way west to the German town of Schoenberg.

Just before daybreak on December 19, 1944, Cavender gathered his three battalion commanders and staff in a small open field to discuss their next line of action when a German artillery shell fragment killed the officer standing next to Garlow. After the initial volley, American troops assembled to coordinate an attack westward across the hilly Schnee Eifel, but the entire command was caught in the open where artillery fire was inflicting heavy casualties. Colonel Descheneau of the 422nd gathered field officers in a bunker to discuss the graveness of their situation. Food and ammunition supplies had been cut off, and the colonel concluded that the only way to save the lives of the 5,000 men was to surrender.

Garlow volunteered to negotiate the surrender although he and several other men had planned to escape through the woods, with the colonel’s permission. He decided to hand over his gun and borrow white handkerchiefs to wave as he ran an erratic path down the side of the hill into German-held territory. There he was grabbed and stripped of “his most prized possessions.” He spoke no German and was unable to communicate his intent to negotiate a surrender until a young German lieutenant, who spoke English, came to his rescue and ordered his men to return Garlow’s watch, pint of bourbon and candy bars. He was then taken to a major who also spoke fluent English.

John Eisenhower describes the scene that followed in his book, The Bitter Woods:

Turning to the lieutenant [the major] snapped orders in German which Garlow soon learned charged the lieutenant with conducting a patrol of nine or ten men to accompany Garlow back to the American positions. Faced with a tense situation, the young volksgrenedier’s personality instantly changed. He jabbed Garlow in the back with his Schmeisder burp gun. “If this is a trick, Major, you’re dead.” Garlow winced under the painful blow: later turned out his chivalrous enemy had broken two of his ribs. But the lieutenant’s former friendly attitude returned. Keeping Garlow covered, he let the American guide his patrol up the hill to Descheneau’s CP on the Schnee Eiffel, where they found that Descheneau had prepared everything. Weapons were broken . . . 

And many American soldiers were in tears. Garlow, therefore, held what he termed “the dubious honor or having negotiated the surrender of the largest number of American soldiers in the European theatre;" surpassed only by the Bataan surrender in 1942. Members of the 422and and Garlow’s 423rd regiments spent the rest of the war in German prison camps and were awarded purple hearts for the frostbite they suffered as a result of their capture. Garlow was also “unofficially shot in the leg.”

Following the war, he returned to “Cody Country” where he practiced law for two years and helped establish the local radio station. He was one of the founders of KODI, later serving as owner-general manager and on-the-air personality. He then moved to Texas where he “got into the oil business,” the drilling end of it. He went broke after a while, he said, because of his preoccupation with “having a good time and chasing girls.” So he once again returned to the town of Cody, where he established a river float business, later run by his son Kit. In 1969, he married for the fifth time.

His first marriage lasted six months. He married again while a law student at Harvard. The union produced four sons: Bill and Jack Garlow and Barry and Kit Carson Cody. He remarried after his sons' mother died, but was divorced after only a couple of years. A fourth marriage also failed, but he remained happily married to his fifth wife Barbara, some forty years his junior, until his death. Together they purchased a rundown guest ranch and established it as one of the most highly rated resorts in Wyoming. Located on ten acres of leased government land, it lay halfway between Cody and the east entrance to Yellowstone Park, adjoining millions of acres of national forest.

He began making public appearances for the Daisy Air Rifle Company in 1968 when a new line was introduced called the “Buffalo Bill.” The promoters insisted that he legally change his name from Bill Cody Garlow to Bill Cody for the television and radio commercials as well as public appearances. “Bill Garlow just wouldn’t do,” he said. “But I may have already been a Cody because my grandmother adopted me. I never thought to check the courthouse records. So with all my marriages and the change in name, I have the Cody family book well fouled up.”

Buffalo Bill’s grandson appeared on some 3,000 television shows, thousands of radio programs and various promotions during the next nine years. He also lectured to junior high and high school students about their “American heritage” while on the road making public appearances. He talked to “more youth in person than any other American” during 1,171 lectures in forty-two states. At the time of the interview, he still had hopes of speaking to students in all fifty states.

He said, “That’s my kind of pony express.”

(Excerpted from my book, Westerners: Candid and Historic Interviews)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Remembering Dee Brown Part III

Dee Brown wrote his first books during weekends and evenings before his retirement. His schedule was then much more conducive to writing, and he said his literary repertoire would have been small, indeed, if he hadn't lived so long. He credited his librarian's career with his successful literary avocation.

Brown enjoyed writing travel articles but ignored the short story market. His family often accompanied him on research  trips, jotting down their impressions in notebooks. "Most of his vacations over the years were spent in research, and his children accompanied him while they were growing up, but rarely saw him. 

"We went to Wyoming a couple of times and the Black Hills, and I was researching away. They supported me always, but if my work got in their way, they would get a little upset."

His wife once worked as an editor and used to go over her husband's galleys. But that had to change. "She made a lot of extra work for me," he said, "so the last book or two I told her she could read, but don't proofread 'em. She likes to read the proofs before the book comes out, and then after it's in print."

The writer's family served as sounding boards on occasion, and Brown sometimes asked their advice. "I'll say, 'I can't find the words for this.' Just the other day, I said, 'How on earth could this be done? I can't find a solution.' My grandson came up with a fairly good one and my daughter came up with the one I'll probably use."

Some of his projects died in infancy and he destroyed a stack of partially completed outlines and manuscripts several years before the interview. "I've started many books and would see that there was really no book at all. Or that it was too big for me to handle. But I've overcome the problem by starting up something else. And I've never suffered from writer's block for more than a day. It's usually caused by physical weariness of some sort. If I can't write, I simply turn to something else."

Brown agreed that persistence is the key to success. "You just can't give up. There have been times when everything seemed to conspire against getting a book done, and I would feel like turning my back on the whole thing. But I came back and persisted." 

Brown advised fledglings to learn the English language while they're persisting; study words and their meanings. And possibly turn their attention to the media of pictures and whatever form it's going to take--cassettes [DVDs] and TV--"because movies may on their last legs. We may also be seeing the end of Gutenberg's influence in the [21st century]."

Researching yet another Civil War novel at the time of the interview in 1985, Dee Brown read constantly, despite visual problems. "I always keep biographies of a writer somewhere near my bed to read the last part of the day. Until I quit writing," he said, laughing, "and I don't know when that will be. I will always be reading something that has to do with what I'm working on. But for now, it would be more biography than fiction."

(Excerpted from Maverick Writers, Caxton Press)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Remembering Dee Brown, Part II

Dee Brown's list of published books includes eleven nonfiction and twelve novels, three of the latter co-written with Martin F. Schmitt. Brown said that his fictional characters occasionally surprised him by running away with the story, "sometimes to the detriment of the book. They simply will not do what they're supposed to do. They don't  say what I want them to say, and they try to move forward when I want them to recede. I've killed off characters because they began to bother me." 

The author loathed composing with a pencil. "To me there's something cheap about it--it's second   rate." He also disliked ballpoint pens, "You can use soft pens at an angle and get a nice black or blue line that my bad eyes can read. I've tried  word processors, but I think I'm too old a dog to use one. If I were younger I'd certainly go for it because I can see how helpful they must be, and how much time you could save--but time doesn't mean much to me anymore." 

The Saddleman winner lived close to his roots. He was born along the Red River in northwestern Louisiana, where his father, who worked for a large lumber company, was killed when Dee was five. His mother then worked at various jobs to support four children, when women "earned half of what a man made while doing the same work," he said. "That's why I've been an enthusiastic  supporter of the movement to give women equal pay for equal work."

Growing up when reading was prime entertainment, he remembered how the Tarzan books first surfaced in his small town. "I don't recall who owned the first one, but it was passed around to probably two dozen boys and girls who read it and wore it out. Then the others in the series began to be available. They didn't have paperbacks then--you could buy these second hand books for twenty-five cents. But I don't think anybody actually owned them. They simply circulated through the group in school or in the neighborhood."

A good student but poor in math, he began writing letters to St. Nick in the local newspaper. "I always did my best in writing to Santy Claus, but I never thought of writing as something you did for a profession." During high school he read Blue Book magazine, which paid a hundred dollars for short stories. "That's equal to a thousand dollars now and I wanted the hundred dollars. It wasn't the writing that interested me, it was the money, and I  wrote about what I knew."

His family moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, to a house on the edge of the Southern Association Baseball Park. Engrossed in the sport, he decided to write about it. One of his short stories eventually sold to Blue Book, which, he said, "was more exciting than any book I've since published."

Brown worked as staff writer and Linotype operator for his local newspaper before enrolling at the Arkansas State Teacher's College. A library assistance while an undergraduate, he found that he had access to more research material than the average student. He also realized that librarians were "rather pleasant people who enjoyed themselves." That discovery, coupled with his fondness for books, decided his career. He worked later as a first-rung librarian for the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C., gradually climbing to the top of his profession at a research center in neighboring Maryland. During his off-hours he attended advanced librarian's school at George Washington University.

After a three-year stint in the army during World War II, he worked for the Aberdeen Proving Ground's ordinance department where he cataloged weaponry, from tanks to rockets. He then spent more than twenty years as agricultural librarian for the University of Illinois, a job from which he retired and "enjoyed very much."

(The conclusion next week . . . )

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Remembering Dee Brown

 February 28, 1908—December 12, 2002

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee may have been Dee Brown’s best known book, but it wasn’t his favorite. He said, “I got very weary of it and had to take a week off and go away to a different place and never think about t. It was a most difficult book emotionally to write.”
His favorite?  ”That’s  easy. The Year of the Century: 1876 was fun to research and I did a great deal of traveling. I wanted to cover every event of any importance for that year. So I had to immerse myself in microfilm of a dozen newspapers in different cities, and half-blinded myself looking at it, hour after hour.” Brown also scanned popular periodicals of the era, and traveled to Philadelphia “because the centennial of the U.S. was the event around which the book turns.”  

The nation’s hundredth birthday was also the year of Jesse James’ last bank robbery, and “quite a few other remarkable events that happened in the West.”

His most difficult book in terms of research and writing was The Galvanized Yankees, an account of Confederate prisoners who had opted to fight Indians in the West instead of serving time in prison. The retired librarian said, “It was difficult because very little had been written on the subject. I had to do most of it from scratch from the national archives, which is a very difficult place to work. It wasn’t as formidable when I was doing the research, but before I finished, the archives had become entangled in bureaucratic red tape. “

Plots germinated in his mind for years and he filed story ideas in a notebook. “Kildeer Mountain came from an actual event I came across in an historical journal probably twenty-five years ago,” he said. “I put the idea in a notebook and then kept thinking about it as time went on—about how to handle the story.

Creek Mary’s Blood was the same way.  I read a little four or five paragraph item in an old book about Mary Musgrove, and I thought, 'Gee I’d like to write her biography.' Having lived in Georgia, I dug around trying to find the material but there just isn’t enough to even write an article about her. So she wound up in a novel, using the material I gathered over a considerable amount of time.”

His nonfiction books usually required a year or two of research, and if the landscape hadn’t changed appreciably, he traveled to the locale. One of his most pleasant research years was spent on his ninth book, The Bold Cavaliers, which tells of the events leading up to, and including, Confederate raids in Indiana and Ohio during the Civil War. He followed their route from the Tennessee Mountains, where battlefields are still relatively intact.
“But if anything’s changed, I don’t want to see the site.  I’ll avoid going there., and will instead use journals of early travelers for descriptive passages.”  If a city has been built on an historical site, he would only look at an important preserved landmark, deliberately avoided its surroundings.
The quiet southern gentleman didn't know why he wrote. “My God, I’ve never understood it, although it was partially to earn some money. I think there’s a compulsion about writing that no one has ever explained satisfactorily to me. But I think I wrote Westerns back in the 1950s because they were doing so well—as compared to nowadays. There were many more published, and it wasn’t hard to get one accepted. The amount of money you received was just about the price of an automobile. So when I needed a car, I usually wrote a Western.”

(Part II will appear next week. . .)
Excerpted from Maverick Writers, Caxton Press, 1989

Saturday, December 27, 2014

What Inspired My Trilogy

by Heidi Thomas

A casual comment from my dad as we perused photo albums after my grandmother died: “Your grandma rode steers in rodeos,” he said, “and she competed with (world champion rider) Marie Gibson.”

This was the inspiration for my “Cowgirl Dreams” novel trilogy.

As I researched and read other books written about the rodeo cowgirls of the early 1900s, I became fascinated with that era and the drive and courage those women had to compete on the same bucking stock in the same arenas as the men.

Most of these cowgirls started riding out of necessity, to help their fathers, brothers or husbands on their ranches. When the guys got together on a Sunday afternoon and put on an impromptu neighborhood rodeo just to see how long they could stay on the back of that outlaw bronc, the women said, “We can do that too.” And they did.

Many of these women won World Champion Bronc Rider titles at Madison Square Garden, rode with Tex Austin’s Wild West Troupe in London, and competed in Spain and Australia.

In 1885 Annie Oakley, a diminutive sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, paved the way for other women to be recognized in the Wild West show arena. Two years later Bertha Kaepernick (Blancett) was allowed to enter a horse race in Cheyenne’s Frontier Days. But the arena was so muddy the cowboys refused to participate. To entertain the crowd, she was coerced into riding a bucking horse. Despite the terrible conditions, she managed to stay in the saddle and put the men to shame. She continued to compete and often beat such legendary cowboys as Ben Corbett and Hoot Gibson.

A publicist for a Wild West show once said, “Rodeos will never replace Wild West shows for one good reason—they don’t have beautiful cowgirls.” Women have continued to prove him wrong to this day.

Cowgirl is a state of mind, to paraphrase Dale Evans, who goes on to say, “Cowgirl is a pioneer spirit, a special American brand of courage. The cowgirl faces life head on, lives by her own lights, and makes no excuses. Cowgirls take stands. They speak up. They defend the things they hold dear. A cowgirl might be a rancher, or a barrel racer, or a bull rider, or an actress. But she's just as likely to be a checker at the local Winn Dixie, a full-time mother, a banker, an attorney, or an astronaut.”

Although the rodeo world has probably heard more about national female riders like Lucille Mulhall, Prairie Rose Henderson, and Tad Lucas, Montana’s cowgirls ranked right up there with the best. Fannie Sperry, born in 1887, led the way in women’s rodeo when she rode her first bronc at age fourteen. The Greenough sisters are also well-known nationally for their bronc-riding skills.

Montana, where rodeos grew out of the rolling prairie of Big Sky Country, provides some of the West’s richest rodeo heritage and some of the most famous women riders.

Montana cowgirls were intrepid, hardworking, and courageous. They defined the modern term “cowgirl up,” an expression that means to rise to the occasion, not to give up, and to do it all without whining or complaining. It is easy to say “cowgirl up,” however it takes a true cowgirl at heart to live up to the true meaning.

Although she never became “famous”, my grandmother epitomized the cowgirl attitude. With my novels, I set out to tell her story. With my non-fiction book, Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, I wanted to write about the Montana women, many of whom have not had their stories told on the national stage.

Although it took ten years from the time I started writing my first cowgirl novel until I was published, I was fortunate to find both of my publishers at Women Writing the West conferences.

A casual comment from my dad when I was 12 years old has resulted in four books! One never knows from where inspiration will come.

Cowgirl Up! SynopsisWhen someone says “Cowgirl Up!” it means to rise to the occasion, don’t give up, and do it all without whining or complaining. And the cowgirls of the early twentieth century did it all, just like the men, only wearing skirts and sometimes with a baby waiting behind the chutes. Women leaned to rope and ride out of necessity, helping their fathers, brothers, and husbands with the ranch work. But for some women, it went further than that. They caught the fever of freedom, the thirst for adrenaline, and the thrill of competition, and many started their rodeo careers as early as age fourteen. From Alice and Margie Greenough of Red Lodge, MT, whose father told them “If you can’t ride ’em, walk,” to Jane Burnett Smith of Gilt Edge who sneaked off to ride in rodeos at age eleven, women made wide inroads into the masculine world of rodeo. Cowgirl Up! is the history of these cowgirls, their courage, and their accomplishments.

 Author Bio: Heidi M. Thomas grew up on a working ranch in eastern Montana, riding and gathering cattle for branding and shipping. Her parents taught her a love of books, and her grandmother rode bucking stock in rodeos. She followed her dream of writing, with a journalism degree from the University of Montana. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, won an EPIC Award and the USA Book News Best Book Finalists award, and her second novel, Follow the Dream, won a WILLA Literary Award. Dare to Dream is the third in the novel trilogy, and the newly-released Cowgirl Up! is Heidi’s first non-fiction book.

Friday, December 19, 2014

How a Biography Became a Novel

by Carolyn Niethammer

The Piano Player is my tenth book but first novel. It follows the adventures of two single women friends as they follow their dreams and make their way in the boomtowns of the Old West. The project did not start out as fiction. Thirty years ago, my husband was a young professor at the University of Arizona and one of his classes was The Tombstone Epitaph. The owner of that venerable paper, founded in 1880, had given it to the journalism department to use as a lab paper. The professor not only guided the student reporters, he was also the paperboy. So every other week we would drive to Tombstone to deliver the paper. One day I ran across the historic character Nellie Cashman and after a little research, I was so intrigued that I decided to write her biography.

Nellie was an Irish immigrant who had bounced around several mining areas, before she ended up running restaurants and boarding houses first in Tucson, then Tombstone. She was prominent in the new mining camp and interacted with all the characters who fill the Tombstone history books.

Nellie left Tombstone after it ground to a halt when the mines filled with water in 1886. She wandered around the West, starting and closing businesses, until she joined the gold rush to the Klondike in Alaska in 1898. Her journey and her businesses in Dawson City are well documented. I took a trip to Alaska and Yukon Territory to follow up on research. 

Yet I could not account for the twelve years between when Nellie left Tombstone and started into the Klondike so, at that point, I decided to novelize my story.

A good novel needs some spice and romance and even a whiff of mystery. Since by all accounts Nellie remained a maiden lady, I added a character totally different. Well-born Mary Rose faces family reverses and goes to Tombstone to be an actress. She ends up playing the piano at the Bird Cage Theatre and must learn a completely new lifestyle as Frisco Rosie. She boards at Nellie Cashman’s Russ House, and although the two women are very different, they are both living outside the norms for women of the day in rowdy Tombstone. They end up becoming unlikely friends and allies. Rosie took over the story, although Nellie is usually close by. Together they deal with a lover who turns out to be a murderer, imprisonment in a Mexican jail, near death falling into the icy Yukon River, and disappointment when their quest for gold in the Klondike is dashed.

On every page I tried to show the reality that Nellie and Rosie faced in these boomtowns – the heat and cold, the dust, the difficulty and danger of travel.

As one reviewer wrote: “The main character in The Piano Player is the Wild West itself; …, stretching from scorching Tombstone to the frigid Klondike.”    Another reviewer mentioned that the book covered the years between the end of the Civil War and the start of World War I when western expansion was at its height.

Every few years I would haul out the manuscript, tinker, update it to a new computer system, then go write another of my nonfiction books. By the new millennium, the book was much better, publishing was changing, and small independent publishers were filling niches abandoned by the New York houses. Through colleagues in Women Writing the West, I learned about Oak Tree Press. It seemed to be perfect for The Piano Player. It was, and a year later, in July 2014, Frisco Rosie stepped into the literary world.
Carolyn Niethammer grew up in the historic town of Prescott, Arizona, and now lives in Tucson. She is the author of nine nonfiction books on southwest subjects – popular ethnobotanies of western plants, biographies, a book on Native American women and a travel book on southeastern Arizona. Find her work at  The Piano Player is her first novel and is available in paper and ebook formats from Amazon. (

Friday, December 12, 2014

Chris LeDoux Interview Conclusion

“There was a lack of rodeo songs," Chris LeDoux said. “There were songs about truck drivers, love, barrooms and every other doggone thing, so I figured that with all the rodeo fans and cowboys out there, I’d give them some rodeo songs. And it worked.”

LeDoux’s father at first recorded the tapes, one at a time, on a small device in his home. They were distributed at rodeos by his son from the back of his pickup truck. Later, they rented a recording studio in Nashville and hired backup musicians. “They were so good that you just had to sing the song to them once and they got it,” he said, grinning. “It’s amazing. Sometimes it didn’t come out the way you wanted but it was good.” His albums took three to four sessions of three hours each to record without rehearsal to save money.

By 1982, country music fans had purchased over a quarter million copies of his self-published recordings. His renditions of songs such as “A Cowboy Like Me,” “Too Tough to Die,” and “What More Could a Cowboy Need” sold surprisingly well in stores and music outlets, and were broadcast on country music stations across the nation. Radio station KSOP in Salt Lake City promoted the young “Roy Rogers” since his early recording days, and he staged concerts in the area on a regular basis. He also appeared twice on German TV in Munich, and earned himself an Iowa fan club.

His father, who served as his business manager, negotiated with several large recording companies and found that his son’s valued freedom would be severely impaired. "Shoot,” the cowboy said, “they would own me. They’d tell me which songs to sing and where to appear.  That would be terrible.”

Although he continued to write songs about his rodeo days, LeDoux said during his early thirties, “I hope I’ve got enough sense to never go back to it. I might consider it if rodeoin’ started payin’ anywhere near as much as other sports.”

He decided to give it up in 1980, while he was “down behind the chutes with this big snatchin’ horse—that’s one that really jerks on you like a hobo grabs a freight train. I was sittin’ there with both knees taped and my elbow and collarbone. And I thought, 'Doggone, what am I doin’here? I just wanted to get in my truck and go home. When I finally got there, I threw my glove away and tossed my riggin’ bag in the cellar.  I haven’t been back since.”

Still struggling to make it into the ranks of well-known music stars, LeDoux went on tour with Garth Brooks. Brooks then wrote, “I’m Too Young to Feel so Damn Old,” which mentions “Listening’ to an old Chris LeDoux tape . . .” The rest, as they say, is country music history.

During his mid-fifties, Ledoux headlined concerts and performed on stage like a much younger man. His music was still produced in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, home of Al LeDoux, his proud and supportive father. Sidelined with a life-threatening liver ailment, the former rodeo champ survived a transplant and was briefly back in the saddle before succumbing to cancer in 2005.

(Excerpted from Westerners, published by Medallion Press.)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Chris LeDoux, Part II

Rodeo expenses are the worst part of the sport, Chris LeDoux said, “I remember when I first started, I thought, ‘Boy, if I just had enough money to pay my entry fees and buy a hamburger once in a while, I don’t care whether I win any money. I just wanted to get on them buckin’ horses and go.’ But when you get a little older, you think, ‘I’d like a make a little money and stick it away or buy a place or win the world championship.’”

Entry fees were $150-$200 per event during the 1970s, and cowboys looked forward to sharing in the prize money, which averaged between $2,500 and $4,000. But the odds of winning were high. “In my event, he said, “in a rodeo like Houston, there might be ninety bareback riders that you’re competin’ with. You’ll probably get three horses and you have to draw a good buckin’ horse. That’s mighty tough. The odds of drawin’ a good one is probably eighty percent against you. If you’re lucky enough to draw a good horse, you still have to ride  him, then the next ones. So it’s probably eighty percent luck and twenty percent skill.”

The young, six-foot, 170 pound cowboy averaged 80 rodeos a year. “I really didn’t go that hard, although a couple of years I did. Some guys work a hundred and twenty-five to a hundred and thirty a year. They’re just goin’ all the time. Rodeo cowboys usually keep goin’ till they’re crippled by animals, run out of money for entry fees and traveling expenses, quit or get killed in the arena.

“We loaned each other money to keep goin’ and we yelled for each other in the arena. It’s not like football or basketball where the guys are competin’ against each other. You’re competing against the animals and the [elements]. And you hope your buddies win enough so you don’t have to loan them money.”

LeDoux had second thoughts about his rodeo career during his second season. “I thought it was the worst mistake I ever made because I only won $250 all summer. And then I got crippled. I had a horse step on me while performing and I was messed up for a while.” Most of his injuries were confined to separated joints: knees, collarbone and an elbow, and the longest he was out of commission was from February until June in 1975.

Before his championship ride the following year, he and his wife rigged up a  harness to hold his collarbone in place. Shrugging, LeDoux said, “Shoot, every time you get on an animal, you take your life in your hands.”

The cowboy married Peggy Rhoads in 1972, in the minuscule town of Kaycee in east-central Wyoming. She had never been out of the state when she found herself on the rodeo circuit, living like gypsy. Her husband intended to leave her home that winter and return whenever he could, but Peggy attended a Denver rodeo with friends, and decided to travel with him. He had $15 in his jeans when they left Denver for Amarillo, where he won $800, which got  them as far as Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. There he won a little more. When his bank roll ran out, he borrowed enough to get them to San Diego.

“The tires were so bald on the truck that the air was showin’ through, and I had to drive fifty miles a hour all the way out there, because the vibration was so bad.” Fortunately, he won the bareback competition and they moved on to Phoenix, where they bought new tires, paid his entry fees, and stayed in a motel. They were then broke again.“

(The conclusion next week . . .)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Remembering Song Writer, Rodeo Champion Chris LeDoux


Long before a Garth Brook's song helped to elevate Chris LeDoux to the ranks of country stardom, the young bronc rider was busy raising kids, dogs, horses, Columbian sheep and hay on his 500-acre ranch near Kaycee, Wyoming. He was then best known for his 1976 world championship rodeo title and songs about rodeo life.

The easy-smiling, laid-back cowboy did things his own way because, next to his family, freedom was his most valued asset. It was also the reason he left rodeo in 1980 to concentrate on his own record label, instead of  being "owned by a big company."

At the time he said, "I don't know what makes a guy want to write songs and sing, but if you've got a message, you want to get it across. When I come up with an idea about the way I feel, I can really state it strongly in a s song."

The shy guitar picker felt strongly about "family freedom and the West" as well as "cowboy ways." He was just as adamant about his dislike of farm machinery and refused to be photographed on his own tractor. By 1981, his feelings had been transformed into more than 50 songs, which he wrote, recorded and sang--more than 250,000 albums and tapes--from the back of his pickup truck while performing as a bareback rider. LeDoux and his father, a retired air force major, had formed their own recording company, American Cowboy Songs, in 1972, and recorded periodically in Nashville on a boot lace budget.

Chris began riding in junior rodeos while 13 and living in Denison, Texas. The air force brat and eldest of three children had previously lived in France, Mississippi, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania, before moving to Cheyenne, Wyoming, while a high school sophomore. He acquired a southern accent and love of rodeo while living in Mississippi and Texas, which led him to quit his college studies to take on the circuit full-time.

While performing in high school and college rodeo, he rode bulls and saddle broncs as well as roping calves, but his best event was bareback broncs. "I had to give everything I had to one event if I wanted to excel," he said. And excel he did. He won the world championship bareback title in December 1976, at the National Rodeo Finals in Oklahoma City, the sport's "super bowl." The win made up for all the injuries and lean days on the road.

"I can remember sittin' in a cafe when I first started in rodeo, and waitin' until somebody got done so I could finish what they left," he said, laughing. "You get to where you kind of like it, and it's a habit that's hard to break. I still find myself sittin' in a cafe, like a pizza parlor, and thinkin' 'Doggone, they sure left a lot of food.'"

When the prize money ran out, he was forced--like other cowboys on the circuit--to "rough it" between rodeos. "Sleepin' in the truck wasn't so bad. Shoot, I kind of liked that, myself. And takin' a bath in the creek. That's the stuff that really made it worthwhile. Anybody can stay in a motel."

(Continued next week . . .)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Conclusion of the Maynard Lehman Interview

Most cowboys didn't race for the nearest saloon to spend their paychecks, Maynard Lehman said. "It was during prohibition and there were speakeasies in town, like Brown's had a big one under the Metropolitan Cafe, and pretty much all the cowboys, when they went to town, had a couple of drinks. Beer mostly, but they were not traditionally drunks. Most of 'em had other plans for the little wages they got. Like maybe buying a new saddle, or they were saving to buy some cattle. I might add that Montana was one of two states that never ratified the eighteen amendment. Local and state police had nothing to do with prohibition but the state was crawling with federal agents.

Lehman remembers when Van Venable furnished the bucking horses for a Miles City Montana rodeo. "We were bringing in a couple hundred horses to town for the rodeo. We had lots of help: Patty Ryan, Bob Haskins, both world champion saddle bronc riders. And Irvie Collins, Pete Knight, the  Canadian champion; and Booger Red, who was a bull dogger from Oklahoma. They were all helping us bring horses in along with the regular crew. We got to Miles city where we had to go through the outskirts of town. Then, as usual, Van put a man or two at each street to keep them from scattering. But somehow they got away from us.

"We had at least one horse in every garden on that side of town. One of the cowboys rode very carefully so as not to damage the gardens when a woman came out of her house swinging a broom. His horse started to buck down a row of tomatoes and cabbage. By the time we came to his rescue, he had the garden pretty well plowed up."

There are a lot of misconceptions about cowboys, which Lehman attributed to what has been written or seen on the scene. "The cowboy has gotten a bad rap," he said. What bothered him most is the "long duster. I've  never seen a real cowboy wear one. Or watching a cowboy ride into a herd of cattle or horses swinging a big loop. It makes me wonder if he's trying to catch something or run them out of the country. I just hope nobody judges the cowboy by what is seen in "Lonesome Dove."

Maynard Lehman worked at a number of jobs after his cowboying days were over, but it wasn't until he was 75 that he decided to write about his experiences. More than twenty of his books sold to an audio company, Books in Motion, and his wife, Marietta, of  more than sixty years, edited his work. They combined their names as the author: M.M. Lehman.

(Excerpted from Westerners: Candid and Historic Interviews.)