Sunday, June 28, 2015

Makah Indian Reservation Islands

The Tatoosh Islands

I was invited to Tatoosh by my brother Bob, a career coast guardsman, who was in charge of the small island group collectively named for a chief of the Makah Indian nation. The three small islands are the most northwesterly point of the continental U.S. and located in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, half a mile from the coast of Neah Bay, Washington. The lighthouse, Cape Flattery, is located on Tatoosh's main island.

My vacation to Tatoosh was an adventure from the start. My first plane belly-dived onto the runway in Stockton, California, because the landing gear failed to release. A rough landing but, fortunately, no one was hurt. It did, however, result in a six-hour delay before a replacement plane arrived. So my fellow passengers and I arrived sy Seattle-Tacoma airport at about 4 o’clock in the morning. At 6:30 a.m. I learned that I was to fly the remainder of the trip on a three-seater, single engine Cessna--no larger than my car--over the Olympic Mountains to Neah Bay. By the way, it was my first ever trip by plane.

Seated behind the pilot and another passenger, I could see the mountain peaks protruding through the clouds and I’ve never been so frightened in my life because air currents had us falling dangerously close to the peaks. When we reached the tiny airport some miles from Neah Bay, the landing strip looked like a narrow, cracked sidewalk with weeds growing between the cracks.

My brother wasn’t there to meet me, so I hitched a ride with the other passenger, who was stationed at the military base located on the Makah Indian reservation at Neah Bay. Halfway to the base we noticed a car parked along the road with a long, familiar pair of legs hanging out the door. It was my brother Bob, who was sleeping it off from a night at the club on the base the night before. It had been two months since he had been off the island. 

We then proceeded to the base where we waited for a small boat to come from the island to pick us up. When we reached the main island of Tatoosh, an inexperienced coastie was operating the crane that lowered the boatswain’s “chair” to the ocean to pick us up. The wooden box was about two feet square and six inches high and connected to a cable. I was lifted from the boat up a sheer rock face that appeared to be a hundred feet high. I screamed like a wounded water buffalo. When I reached the top, the box was swung to a wooden platform, landing hard enough to nearly break both my ankles.

Did I mention that the airline lost my luggage?

Cape Flattery on the main Tatoosh Island

I wore my brother’s coast guard uniforms, with the sleeves and pants rolled up for the week, and,  fortunately, one of the coasties had a pair of tennis shoes that fit. The fog horn woke me repeatedly during the night although the other inhabitants of the island said they were able to sleep through it.

I loved the lighthouse at Cape Flattery, located at the western end of the half mile by quarter mile island. It was built in 1857 and the island has alternatively been inhabited by Makah Indian fishing parties, the coast guard, weather bureau employees and the navy. The guest book was fascinating to read and I wish I had been able to photograph some of the entries. It told of 19th century fishermen and explorers who visited the island by climbing the rocks. Some of their companions drowned or were killed from falls in the process.

I nearly lost my own life when I volunteered to mow the jungle-like undergrowth which threatens to take over the island. The tractor slid backward down an embankment and nearly went over the edge onto the rocks below. Once was enough. It still gives me chills thinking about it.

A bird sanctuary is located adjacent to the main island (upper left in top photo) and I watched a variety of colorful sea birds take off and land, as well as seals and other marine life swimming nearby. Across the Strait of Juan de Fuca is Vancouver Island, Canada, which I could see on a clear day, and that wasn't very often. When I wasn’t watching sea birds and visiting the lighthouse I enjoyed playing pool with the coasties and watching films in their small basement movie theater. 

We were fogged in the morning I was scheduled to leave so I was able to stay two extra days. The morning I left, a small coast guard cutter arrived with my luggage, so I dressed like a civilian and boarded the cutter for the trip back to the mainland. Five minutes later, a wave swamped the boat and I looked like a drowned rat when I boarded the small plane for the trip back to Seattle. During the subsequent trip home, my plane left without me in Stockton, so I waited again for another plane.

I'd been expected to start my first newspaper reporting job several days before I returned home and was nearly fired before I began. The publisher said he'd traveled to northwestern Washington several times and had never heard of Tatoosh. Thankfully, I was able to whip out an island postcard, which saved my job. I also wrote a feature story about the trip.

The island is no longer inhabited and no coast guardsmen or weather station employees remain. Tatoosh has become one of the  most intensively studied field sites for marine life in the world. Studies have discovered how various species are linked to one another through a network of interactions and how environmental changes resulting in the extinction of certain species have affected the marine life food chain.

Anyone who now wants to visit the Tatoosh islands must ask permission from the Makah Indian Reservation officials at Neah Bay on Washington’s beautiful Olympia Penninsula .

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Treasure Beneath the Alamo

by Landon Wallace

Historians and Alamo devotees have long speculated that a substantial treasure was buried beneath the Alamo just before the Mexicans laid siege to the mission.  The idea that this treasure still lays hidden somewhere under the fortress some 180 years later intrigued me to do more research.  When reading the many detailed accounts of the Alamo battle and the men who died defending it, I was struck by the fact that these deaths left the treasure mystery all but unanswerable.  This sole survivor of the battle of the Alamo was a slave named Joe. A modern day descendant of Joe inspired my novel.

The fictional characters in my novel grew out of Joe the slave’s story. Brewton, Alabama had a prominent role in the real post-Alamo life of Joe and once I’d decided the first hints of the mystery would unfold in that town, I constructed my protagonist, Nat, in and around that environment.  His companion in the search for the treasure, Renee, needed a background that leant itself to the pursuit of a mystery as well. Her character evolved from that key consideration.
The other characters in the fictional modern day pursuit of the treasure have a piece or two of their lives connected to real history.  For instance, Angelina de Zavala Gentry, a key adversary of Nat and Renee, is a fictional descendant of the real-life Angel of the Alamo, Adina de Zavala.

The historical characters in the story, on the other hand, were heavily researched and their actions follow naturally from the real events that unfolded in their lives. Each of these characters had some possible role in secreting the treasure and protecting it from the Mexican invaders.  My goal was to share their thoughts and motivations in doing so.                               

The Alamo has been written about so many times that the most difficult part of my research was deciding which accounts to rely upon when describing the historical elements of the novel.  In the end, I looked to as many source documents as possible, a majority of which were compiled in my most valuable resource—the Alamo Reader by Todd Hansen.  Much of the writing about the long-speculated treasure of San Saba (otherwise known as Bowie’s Treasure) could be found in the works of renowned Texas writers like J. Frank Dobie.
The story revolves around the events of March 6, 1836, the date the Mexican army stormed the Alamo and killed every one of the defenders except William Barret Travis's slave Joe. A fearful Joe then escapes away in the night while the Mexican army is celebrating, carrying a prize far more valuable than anything inside the creaky Spanish mission.
The present story ramps forward to September 2013.

Joe's modern descendant, a 93-year-old World War II veteran living alone in Brewton, Alabama is dying after being attacked by intruders. With his last breath, the old man defiantly shouts, "Come and take it!" And with his demise, the last living person who knows about Joe's prize is gone forever. While investigating the old man's death, grandson Nat uncovers clues about a long-hidden secret dating back to the Alamo. With the help of a beautiful history professor named Renee, Nat begins to unravel the mystery of his grandfather's murder, and in the process discovers another mystery of far greater scale. 
The great thing about creating characters is that you never know what they might do next. It’s possible that Nat and Renee show up in another mystery in the future.  Many unanswered questions remain about Santa Anna’s life even after he was defeated and captured by Sam Houston at the battle of San Jacinto.  Maybe Nat and Renee need to figure out why.

 I’m a native Texan and trial attorney with a penchant for telling stories inside and outside the courtroom.  I currently live in North Texas with my wife, children, and two dogs.  Come and Take It is my first novel but I’m busily working on a second with a scheduled publication date in early 2016.

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Visit with Leon Metz

A former WWA president, Leon Claire Metz is an historian, author of 17 books, television documentary and radio personality as well as a lecturer on the Old West. His programs have been presented across the nation, primarily in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and his television documentaries include A&Es "The Real West" series, which is also shown on The History Channel.

Leon, how and when did your radio show and weekly column in The El Paso Times come about? Also your apparance on the BBC?

Frankly I am uncertain as to when any of these started. Both the radio show and the Times column have been going at least 15 or 20 years. As for the BBC piece, I only vaguely recall that one.

 Why have you found southwestern history fascinating enough to write 17 books and countless articles about?

 I am fascinated by history.  It was so different than what I grew up with back in West Virginia where I completed high school.  The history here is different, unique, often individualistic.  And  there is so much of it.  It is history that so much of the world has no idea about.

 Your most notable books are about gunfighters. Which one did you find most interesting and/or difficult to research?

The most interesting piece of history--and most difficult to research--was the biography of  gunfighter John Wesley Hardin.   By the time I had finished with that story, I was on tranquilizers.  During my sleep, I thrashed about so much in bed during the night, my wife sometimes laid across me at night to keep me from falling out on the floor. I was chewing and swallowing tranquilizers during that Hardin writing period....and finished up a nervous wreck.  I've written about other bad guys, but I just shrugged them off and went to sleep. Hardin turned me into a nervous wreck. That lasted a few months.

 Who served as your mentor and how did the relationship come about?

My mentor was Doc C. L. Sonnichsen, a professor of history himself at U.T.E.P., then Texas Western College. He taught me how to do research, and how to write.  After reading one of my history pieces, he looked up at me and said, "Leon, you can say  "done went," and sometimes you can get away with it. But you cannot write "Done Went," and expect to get away with it.

 You’ve served as WWA president and were awarded the Saddleman Award, among others. Which meant the most to you and why?

Gads, being President of Western Writers of America and later getting the Saddleman Award was the greatest and most helpful thing that ever happened to me during my writing. Would I have thought that I would ever get recognition such as that? NOT AT ALL. How I won those two awards, I still don't know.  I'm still flabbergasted.

What do you foresee for the future of the western genre?

I don't really foresee anything in terms of the future of the Western genre.  I just hope the Western genre will continue.

Advice for aspiring western writers?

As for aspiring writers, I would advise then to do the best they can, but never be afraid to ask for advice, to ask for help, to ask someone who you have confidence in.  Even the great writers originally had mentors.

Never be afraid to ask someone--especially someone who knows their business of writing--to read something of yours and give you an analysis.  One may not agree with it all, but somewhere in that evaluation, you are going to say, "I"m sure glad he (or she) caught that!"          

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Remembering Elmer Kelton


One of the West's most congenial writers, Elmer Kelton received the 1977 Saddleman Award from Western Writers of America for outstanding contributions to Western Literature. He had already won four Spurs and two Wranglers by the mid-1980s as well as the Texas Institute of Letters McCombs/Tinkle Award for continuing excellence.
Among his best known novels are The Time it Never Rained, The Day the Cowboys Quit, The Wolf and the Buffalo, and The Good Old Boys.  A life-long Texan, Elmer was born on the Five Wells Ranch in Andrews County, the son of a cowboy, R. W. "Buck" Kelton, who spent the best  of his life in the saddle, some 36 years as wrangler, foreman, and general manager of the McElroy Ranch Company near Crane, Texas.  Buck's son, Elmer, later used the McElroy name as a pseudonym. 
When Buck retired, he and his wife acquired a small ranch of their own in Brown County, where Elmer's mother lived until she was 80. The former school teacher taught her four sons to read before they started school in Crane, nine miles from the ranch. Elmer, the eldest, skipped the second grade, which, he said, made him the "runt in every class for many years. When they chose up sides to play football, I was the odd one that the unlucky team had to accept, and I usually got run over early in the game. So I spent a lot of time on the sidelines reading."
Kelton was near-sighted and excelled in reading, spelling and composition, "which made a boy suspect in the oil patch of Crane." Myopia handicapped his athletic abilities, but enhanced his communication skills. "The only area in which I could beat the other boys was in the use of words, and I capitalized on that."
He credited his mother with his voracious reading habits because she read to him before teaching him to read for himself. When he was nine, he contracted tuberculosis, as did several of his schoolmates, and spent nearly a year in bed. "That," he said, "no doubt added to my introversion and detracted from any athletic tendencies I may have had."
The youngster wanted to write as soon as he could read, and volunteered to create themes, beyond those assigned, instead of doing his math. Before he was ten, he was writing short stories, and by twelve had outlined the plot for the great American Western novel, which he said he never wrote. His readers would undoubtedly disagree.        
His mother encouraged him to write, as she did herself with pencil on lined paper. "It must have been contagious," he said. "My father was an outdoorsman who never understood why I wanted to write, but he came to accept it after a while. I was not a good cowboy, which bothered him more than a little. Writing to him seemed a semi-honest way to earn a living, on a par with law and politics. Work to him was something to be done on horseback or with a pail and shovel. Not behind a desk.
“While a senior in high school I finally confessed to him my long-held ambition to attend the University of Texas and study journalism. He gave me a cotton-killing stare and declared: "That's the way it is with you kids nowadays—you want to make a living without having to work for it!"
The cowboy sent his son to talk to the ranch's Norwegian bookkeeper, a worldly soul by rural Texas standards, in the hope he could talk Elmer out of his foolish notions. But tales of sobering up O. Henry so that he could meet his deadlines, and of other hard-drinking newsmen did little to squelch the budding writer's enthusiasm.
"He gave up when he saw that he was encouraging my folly. 'All right, Elmer', he said. ‘If dats vat you vant, go ahead. But vun ting remember: vriters are alvays drunk, and dey are alvays broke.' Over the years I have found little quarrel with the second half of his admonition."
Upon discharge from the army following WWII, Kelton needed three semesters to earn his degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He returned to school in Austin, where he spent his spare time and some study sessions writing short stories for submission to magazines. "I suffered through a great many rejections before making my first sale in 1947, during my final semester at the university. My first sale was to Ranch Romances, edited by Fanny Elsworth, who will always have a special place in my heart."
Fanny Elsworth had rejected a number of his previous stories, but took the time to write him letters, telling him what was wrong with his work as well as making suggestions. "Everyone else was simply sending printed rejection slips," he said. From that point on, he wrote most of his stories with her publication in mind, but it was a year before she bought a second one. "That one acceptance made up for dozens of rejections and gave me enough faith and hope to keep trying."
Kelton assumed that after his first sale he would soon become a full-time, highly-paid author. Meanwhile, he would work as a journalist. He began his career as a livestock reporter for the San Angelo Standard-Times, expecting to hold the job for six months to a year until he could establish himself as novelist. Twenty-five Western novels and forty years later, he remained a newspaperman. He also continued to do a limited amount of nonfiction freelance writing for various publications. He spent fifteen years as a farm and ranch reporter for The Standard-Times before progressing to editor of Sheep and Goat Raiser Magazine as well as associate editor of Livestock Weekly.

Part II will be featured next week . . .

Friday, February 20, 2015

Writers of the West Will be on Hiatus Until Further Notice

Remembering Louis L'Amour


Louis Dearborn L'Amour (La Moore) was not only the West's best-selling storyteller, he was the consummate Western man, a pattern for the white-hatted heroes he wrote about. Hardworking and soft-spoken, he was proud of his accomplishments, yet despite rumors to the contrary, he was often shy in his remembrances. L'Amour literally elevated himself by his proverbial boot straps, and in the process, left footprints in the marketing landscape that few writers will be able to fill.

Luck had nothing to do with his success, he said not long before his death in 1988. "Nor have I had any connections or breaks that I did not create for myself. I just tried to write the best I could about things I knew."

There are realities that writers must consider, he was quick to add. "No publisher is going to do anything for you that you don't earn. They simply can't afford to. Once a writer proves he can make money, they will often extend themselves. There's no magic, just hard work."

The work ethic was instilled in L'Amour as a child by his parents in Jamestown, North Dakota. His father, a veterinarian and farm machinery salesman, was involved in local politics. He served as alderman of Jamestown's largest ward for many years as well as deputy sheriff, but he lost his mayoral race. "People in small towns doubled in brass, you might say."

Young Louie enjoyed playing cowboys and Indians, and roughhoused in the family barn, which doubled as his father's veterinary hospital. He did more than his share of reading, particularly G. A. Henty, an Englishman who wrote of wars through the nineteenth century. L'Amour said, "It enabled me to go into school with a great deal of knowledge that even my teachers didn't have about wars and politics."

 The L'Amour family library encompassed some five hundred books, among them the works of Whittier, Lowell, Longfellow, and Poe, as well as popular American and English writers. The youngest of the L'Amour children, Louie remembered reading a five-volume Collier's History of the World while he was small enough to sit in his father's lap.

 "I think all things you read influence your writing to some degree. And if you don't learn anything else, you learn something about living and the use of words."

 His serious reading began at twelve with a collection of biographies titled The Genius of Solitude. "The only one I remember is Socrates, the first chapter, but I remember it well." A book of natural history followed, which he tried unsuccessfully to locate years later for his children. During adolescence, L'Amour immersed himself in books of chemistry, mineralogy, geology, and the history of aircraft.

 His concentrated self-education resulted in boredom with school. "I was just spinning my wheels," he said, "so it was no real hardship for me to leave. I had to go to work to find myself a change." L'Amour left school and Jamestown at fifteen, after completing the tenth grade. Since crop failures were common in North Dakota, and his father's livelihood was linked to the farming community, he decided to find his niche elsewhere. By hitchhiking and riding the rails, he arrived in Oklahoma City to visit an older brother, who was the governor's secretary, but he soon moved on.

"By then I was broke and I got a job in West Texas skinning dead cattle that died from a prolonged drought. They had been dead a while. Some fellow was trying to save the hides and it was the most miserable job, but I learned a lot." The young man's boss was a seventy-nine-year-old wrangler raised by Apaches, who had ridden on war parties with Nana and Geronimo. "He was a very, very, hard old boy but I got along with him fine. He was the first to teach me about tracking and using herbs."

L'Amour left his odorous job, after three months sleeping on the ground and staying downwind from passersby. He had helped skin 965 head of cattle by staking their skulls and tying their hides to the bumper of an early model pickup truck.

 His next job was baling hay in New Mexico's Pecos Valley, across the road from Billy the Kid's grave. He visited the Maxwell home where Billy had been killed, and talked to the woman who offered the outlaw his last meal. L'Amour remembered her as "a pretty sharp old lady who still had all her buttons." He then talked to Judge Cole in Ruidoso, and got to know some thirty former gunfighters, rangers, and outlaws in the area. He regretted not knowing about a number of others.

While wandering about the West, he joined a circus in Phoenix, leaving three weeks later in El Paso. He then hoboed his way to Galveston, Texas, where he hired on as a merchant seaman. His first cruise was to the West Indies, his second to the British Isles. He tried his hand at writing during his travels, but his scribblings didn't include events as familiar as his Western heritage.

 L'Amour's family history is rich in frontier adventure. His maternal great-grandfather was scalped by the Sioux while a member of the Sibley Expedition, following the Little Crow Massacre in Minnesota. Both his grandfathers served in the Union army during the Civil War, and his maternal grandfather taught him military tactics by drawing battle plans on a blackboard.

The novelist was especially proud of his mother's ancestry, beginning with Godfrey Dearborn, who arrived in this country in 1638, an antecedent of General Henry Dearborn, who marched with Arnold to Quebec. He also took part in the second Battle of Saratoga, Monmouth, Sullivan's raid on the Iroquois villages, Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, and the surrender of Cornwallis, among others. Some of the general's diaries were published, and he and his wife corresponded with Thomas Jefferson, exchanging garden seeds.

General Dearborn's son, of the same name and rank, published half a dozen books, but L'Amour was only able to locate one of them, a biography of William Bainbridge, commander of "Old Ironsides." The book was published posthumously by Princeton University Press.

 L'Amour stressed the fact he had never taken a creative writing course, and that his post tenth-grade education had been earned from voluminous reading. While in Oklahoma City, L'Amour assisted Foster Harris and Walter Campbell in their creative writing courses after he began to publish. He later lectured at more than forty institutions of higher learning, principally the University of Oklahoma. He was also a featured speaker for the National Convention of Genealogists in San Francisco.

"I get many questions about people mentioned in my stories—people looking for relatives or family histories—or about conditions at the time, or to clarify some point on which they lack understanding. Few people realize how much language and word usage have changed. Half the nonsense written about Shakespeare would not have happened if people knew more about the language and customs of the time. For example, they write of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, which in those days meant bawdy men."

L'Amour's constant research turned up the little known fact that Wild Bill Hickok's ancestors were tenant farmers on the property owned by Shakespeare. He insisted that credit for the factual unearthing go to English writer, Joseph Rosa.

The novelist's first published story sold to True Gang Life, and a few of his poems were featured in The Farmer's Stockman, an Oklahoma-based magazine. He also wrote boxing articles for a newspaper, sans payment, after meeting two pretty young news reporters in Oregon, who gave him a byline. He was fighting professionally at the time, and knocked out thirty-four of fifty-one opponents during his light heavyweight career. He first stepped between the ropes at age sixteen, and fought more heavyweights than those in his own weight division.

His first short story sales concerned the West Indies, football, rodeo, "detective yarns," and a few Westerns. "I'd grown up in the West and absorbed live background, but I was too close to it. I wanted to write about something far away, you see." He spent ten months in China, and bicycled across India during his twenty years in the merchant marines.

 L'Amour's first big sale was Hondo, originally published in short story form by Collier's Magazine. "Dick Carroll of Fawcett Books asked me to come in, and he said, 'There's a novel here, and I'll buy it.' So I wrote it, and he bought it. Then John Wayne made a movie of it, and suddenly, everyone wanted Westerns."

 The writer had an important decision to make. "Westerns have always been regarded in this country as second rate literature. I didn't agree with that. I never have. The paperback book was regarded as third or fourth rate, and I didn't agree with that either. So I sat down and had a very serious talk with myself. "Do I take the ball and run with it, or do I stay the same course I'm on?

 "I decided to hell with it, that I was going to write damn good Westerns and I would make them accurate. I would show them that Westerns could be history, that they were important. Because to me, this was the most important phase of American history. The Western period, the pioneer period, did more to form American character than anything else done in this country. It should be taken seriously, and more attention should be given to it." The main difficulty he encountered was Eastern prejudice—those in the publishing business raised in the East, with little understanding of life west of the Mississippi River.

 L'Amour did not come into his own as a writer until mid-life, much like English novelist Joseph Conrad, who also spent years at sea before settling down to write. While L'Amour lived in Oklahoma City, he realized "there was something drastically wrong" with his writing. "The short stories I sent out came back like homing pigeons. So I got a bunch of short stories and studied them to see how they were written. I found what I had been doing wrong and that's when I began to sell."

 L'Amour's long-term association with Bantam Books began after his disillusionment with Fawcett, his first publisher, which only produced one of his novels a year. He said, "I have had, all the way along, to lead my publishers, sometimes by the nose. It hasn't been easy."

 Saul David, a Bantam Books editor, told L'Amour he could write three books a year, but it took some persuasion on the writer's part, who liked "to write fast." He admired David's courage and his ability to "swim against the tide. If you told him something could not be done, he'd do it."

 L'Amour maintained the schedule he had worked for years until just before his death, at 81. "I'm not rigid about it," he said. "I work every day, seven days a week, and that's not a problem. However, if something comes up and I want to take a little trip, I do it. I come back and go to work again."

 Rising at 5:30 or 6:00, he'd read two Los Angeles newspapers and The Wall Street Journal before breakfast. His work day then began. At noon he sometimes stopped for lunch, often meeting friends at a restaurant. He said he occasionally went alone at an off-hour to make notes for a forthcoming novel, although he was rarely known to use them. "But, I can discuss it with myself, and the direction the book will follow."

He usually returned to his IBM Wheelwriter after lunch for an hour, or he used that time to read. He would also file mounds of research material crowding his large office. Three-foot stacks of paper neatly flanked three sides of his desk. He had no secretary and didn't want one, because "it would keep me busy finding work for her to do." Only he knew where to file research material so that he could find it. He also answered his own mail, but only a small percentage of some 5,000 letters that arrived annually.

His personal library contained more than 10,000 books, with hinged bookcases revealing floor-to-ceiling shelves behind the visible ones. He also left behind map drawers, much like those on ships, with geographical charts of every country on earth. The world was literally at his fingertips.

 Little physical research was done during his latter years because he had already been there. "Usually I write about places I've been," he said. "I knocked around the world for twenty years, and one of the things I did was file a claim on a mining camp where I had to do a hundred hours work a year to hold it. Sometimes I hired somebody to do it, or miss out on a good job."

Although he only two-finger typed one draft, he admitted to rewriting on occasion. "Usually if I find something wrong, I rewrite the whole page. Occasionally I reread the previous day's work, and that's only when there's been a break in continuity. My feeling is that if one plans to rewrite, one is careless, figuring to pick it up the next time around. I wrote for the pulps and to make any money, one had to produce a lot. I drilled myself in getting it right the first time."

His wife Kathy proofread his work, checking for typos and redundancies. She rarely found misspelled words and no one changed his work, "not even editors. They never have, not since that first sale when the editor sent my story back and said to cut 1,500 words. I thought, 'Ah baloney, I just don't know how I could possibly do that. I hate it." Chuckling, he added: "Now when I look at it, I wonder where all the words went."

 During the mid-1980s, his novels crowded book store racks along with adult Westerns that he hated. "Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, the Brontes, Checkov, Thackeray, and many others, who used sex, did it with wit and charm," he said. "Sex in current books is clumsily done, indicating that most writers really know very little about it. They write like a bunch of small boys out behind a barn. They are crudely lewd. There's no fun in their sex and nobody appears to be having a good time."

 L'Amour advised fledglings to read and write "everything you can. Keep writing, putting words on paper and learn to express yourself. One difficulty I find of people who write is that they don't read enough. And our schools aren't giving enough background in American literature. I think you should have a pretty good idea what's been done before you try to do it. And you can learn some valuable things by writing. I really learned how to write from Robert Louis Stevenson, Anthony Trollope, and de Maupassant."

 A sentimentalist, L'Amour adopted a white dove before his first novel sold. The dove had taken up residence in the novelist's garage and was brought into the house and named Rama-Cita after two deities of East Indian mythology. The name was later shortened to Rama when the bird was found to be male. The dove could be heard throughout the L'Amour's large Spanish-style home as though in an echo chamber, and outlived most of its species as the writer's "good luck mascot."

 Louis L'Amour was visibly proud of his children. His son Beau, at the time of the interview, was a film producer's creative consultant, who wrote in his famous father's wake. His pretty younger sister Angelique also writes. Both L'Amour offspring planned at the time to produce biographies of their father, in addition to the one he was writing at the time of his death. L'Amour wanted to be remembered as a storyteller—a man who told the American story, or one version of it."

 Among his legion of books, Walking Drum, a twelfth century adventure, was the most fun to write. When asked which had been his favorite, he said, "I like them all. There's bits and pieces of books that I think are good. I never rework a book. I'd rather use what I've learned on the next one, you see, and make it a little bit better.

"The worst of it is that I'm no longer a kid and I'm just now getting to be a good writer. Just now."

(Excerpted from Maverick Writers and Westerners: Candid & Historic Interviews)

© 2013 Jean Henry-Mead

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Marlboro Man, Part II

Darrel Winfield refused to discuss the pros and cons of smoking, saying it was up to individual to decide for himself. And as most cowboys have traditionally done on the job "for safety reasons," he chewed tobacco. While working on location, however, he lit up two or three packs a day during a full day's shooting, although they were tossed away and a fresh one lighted for each new take. 

He averaged ten takes for each scene filmed, "but if everything goes well, if myself or the other cowboys or the cameraman don't goof up, it will snap right along."

The cowboy changed clothes often during a day's filming. Shirts and coats were frequently discarded with different colors worn in each setting. During the summer months the crew spent some nights on the open range, rising early to help the rancher move a herd of livestock. Winfield took his own horses on location whenever possible. His favorite was Olen, a sorrel quarter horse he once traded but soon changed his mind.

When Winfield was at home on his forty-acre spread near Riverton, Wyoming, he liked to "lie around the house," do some team roping with his partner, Bill Young, at the Old Timer's Rodeo; trade horses, ride everyday--weather permitting--and collect old saddles, bits and spurs. Winfield and his partner won three of six team-roping championships, competing with as many as 50-100 teams, but called himself an average roper. He rode a modified association saddle made in Montana and collected antique saddles, the oldest dating back to 1906.

The Winfields bought their small ranch in 1974, a year before they moved onto it, and imported his parents from Oregon to serve as caretakers. When the Marlboro ad campaign became lucrative enough for him to quit his cattle foreman's job a year later, they settled into the rustic log house  and found it a better location from which to commute.

Lennie Winfield's husband was gone four days to three weeks during the latter years, and she occupied her time with ranch chores as well as eight grandchildren who lived nearby. "I know it's his job, and I'm just about to get used to his being gone so much," she said. "I pack his clothes and send him off with a big hug and a kiss, and he calls often so we always know where he is."

The couple was invited to a Marlboro company party in Chicago shortly after he hired on as their lead cowboy in 1968. A picture of her husband stretched across four lanes of traffic on Ohio Street, taking Lennie by surprise. When asked how she felt about his image plastered across the country, she replied: "It's kind of exciting to know that it's him, and I know him and he's mine--at least part of the time.They keep him away from me a lot."

Darrell Winfields' five daughters were scattered from Wyoming to California, next door and a teen still at  home at the time of the interview. Their only son worked as a heavy equipment operator for the City of Riverton. Most of the neighbors were aware of the Winfield-Marlboro connection but he wasn't a celebrity in his own community, nor did he want to be. Although he earned a "comfortable living," the cowboy still drove an old Dodge pickup and lived much the same as his pre-celebrity days. Seeing his face staring back at him from billboards and ads welled him with pride. "That's because I'm working for a first-class outfit," he said. "And they, in turn, portray you as a pretty good-looking and macho guy. I think something would be wrong with you if you didn't feel a little bit proud."

(Excerpted from Westerners: Candid and Historical Interviews, Medallion Books.)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Remembering the Marlboro Man


Darrell Winfield: cowboy, rancher, rodeo rider, horse trader, ranch manager and Marlboro's original mustached western rider passed away last month at age 85. While employed by the Phillip Morris Tobacco Company, he spent half his time working on location and the rest at his forty-acre ranch near Riverton, Wyoming, where he bought, rode and traded quarter horses. Volumes have been written about his habits, some of them untrue, but most attested to his innate sense of humor, which often embarrassed his charming wife, Lennie.

"People who know him personally understand that he likes to joke around," she said one day at the ranch. "But other people who read about him want to know, 'What kind of man is he?'" As the result of a number of unflattering articles stemming from his humorous quips, one of the world's most photographed cowboys gave few interviews. When he did, he was cautious to the point of uttering one-word answers, unless a particular subject happened  to loosen his lips. When asked about women's rights, he launched into a humorous tirade about male superiority which served to fortify his macho image.

"Deep down you know we're right," he said from his leather recliner. "Men are superior to women in most respects. But I can't talk too loud because I have a wife and five daughters.When you leave I'll be in trouble." Everyone laughed, but a nagging suspicion lingered that he just might be serious. His quip that "women have it made" compounded the feeling that Winfield was a not-so-closet chauvinist, a now outdated label.

The ruggedly handsome, nearly six-foot, once-lanky cowboy was born in Oklahoma in 1929, the eldest of six children. His father, Dapalean Caywood Winfield, farmed, baled hay, ginned cotton, and worked as a millwright before moving his family to California's central valley. Winfield's son, Darrell, attended Hanford schools in the San Joaquin Valley, milked cows at his father's dairy, raised livestock, and did a little rodeoing. He quit high school as a sophomore because his main interest was becoming a cowboy. Two years later he married Lennie Spring, a 16-year-old high school student, and in 1948, moved to Kerman, California, where he worked as a ranch hand until 1960, specializing in livestock.

Winfield next ran a feedlot for the Westside Ranch in Firebaugh until 1968, when he was offered the job of cattle foreman for the Quarter Circle Five Ranch in Pinedale, Wyoming.

Lennie had resisted a move to Wyoming three years earlier because she feared the cold weather. She also didn't want to leave their eldest daughter, who had recently married. Her husband, however, was determined to relocate after flying to Pinedale to view the ranch. The following week, Winfield's boss committed suicide and the cowboy stayed another month to pave the way for a new manager. During that time, he convinced his wife to make the move, telling her he "might become rich and famous."

Three months later, the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency was filming commercials for the Phillip Morris Tobacco Company at the Quarter Circle Five Ranch in Pinedale, where a Marlboro photographer took pictures of cattle foreman Darrell Winfield. A number of professional models were on location for the advertising shoot but Winfield, he decided, looked more like a true Wyoming cowboy.

"Darrell always wore a big hat and mustache," Lennie explained, "so they seen him and wanted to know who he was. They thought he was a real Wyomian. They didn't believe he was a Californian and only here for a few months."

That fall Winfield became the original mustachioed Marlboro man, seen on more billboards and magazine ads worldwide than most present-day super models. "I was pretty happy about it," he said, although they seldom photographed him in the beginning. He continued to work as a cattle foreman in Pinedale for the next six and a half years while taking occasional location trips to nearly every western state. Winfield herded cattle and horses across the television screen until the early 1970s when cigarette commercials were banned from broadcasting. He continued to cowboy on film for billboards and the print media until 1980, when it began to occupy at least half his time. His location trips took him as far as Venezuela.

A photographer and his assistants would settle into a bunkhouse with Winfield on a working ranch and he would be in the saddle at daybreak. "They pretty well have the storyboard written out," he said. "You would gather this little bunch of cattle or chase this horse. It's fairly simple." Depending on the weather and lighting conditions, "the commercials can take only an hour to film. Others may take a week."

A few working cowboys usually served as background, and the Phillip Morris Company used him to "portray an individual who does as he pleases and owns the world." He also believed that the Leo Burnett Ad Agency was "very well read and probably know more about the West--the cowboying end of it--than 90 of the cowboys."

(The conclusion, next week . . . )

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Remembering Fred Grove


I first met Fred Grove at a WWA convention in Santa Fe, New Mexico, during the 1980s, and we became pen pals. Then, when I attempted to write my first novel, Escape on the Wind, he took me under his wing and became my mentor. His advice helped me make the transition from journalism to fiction, as he had done himself many years before. I miss Fred and his letters, which he wrote well into his 90s. And I'll never forget his generosity.
The five time Spur winner was provoked into becoming a Western novelist. When ten-year old Fred was visiting relatives in Fairfax, Oklahoma, a wealthy Indian woman’s home exploded, killing her and two members of her family. The writer recalled details of the 1923 murder conspiracy to appropriate the woman’s money.
Grove’s mother was Osage and Sioux, which thrust the tragedy into sharper focus. He remembers that “the situation was lawless, with county officials apparently doing little to bring the guilty to justice. A subsequent FBI investigation resulted in prison sentences for two while men, one of them a cattleman and leading citizen of Fairfax, the other the son-in-law of the murdered woman.
“Those were the years of fear in Osage County, of rumors and threats. As a boy, this intrigued me, angered me. I wanted to write about it someday, and air those wrongs. Of course, I had no idea how to go about it, but the events stayed in my mind. The Osage murders, also called “The Reign of Terror” by the press, made national headlines.”
A number of years later, Fred met the FBI agent who had directed the investigation, and  they collaborated on a nonfiction book about the incident. But they were unable to find a publisher. “It was very discouraging. I spent a year reading state newspapers on microfilm. But from this came the novels Warrior Road and Drums Without Warriors. The first was written from an Indian’s viewpoint, the second from that of an FBI agent posing as a racehorse owner looking for match races.” His research  sparked his latent interest in quarter horse racing and led to his later Apache frontier novels.
Fred was born on the fourth of July in 1913, in Hominy, Oklahoma, the fourth of five children. His father had been a cowboy in western Kansas during the late 1880s, and later rode with range outfits in New Mexico and Texas, making a cattle drive to northern pastures. He married an Osage woman who was born on the Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and allotted land in Osage County, Oklahoma. Her maternal great-grandfather, a Frenchman named Henry Chatillon, had guided Francis Parkman on his tour of the plains, which evolved into the classic, The Oregon Trail.
The writer’s parents ranched on his mother’s Osage allotment, where they reared their children. Both of Fred’s brothers died young, which he said, “saddened me considerably.” Determined to write, Fred earned his B.A. degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma, class of 1937, where  sports were his passion.  He was sports editor of the student daily during his senior year and wrote about football, basketball, track, baseball, tennis, swimming and polo. He later worked as sports editor of two daily newspapers before drifting into general news and desk work.
“This was during the depression and you felt lucky to have a job. My first one on a newspaper paid $18 a week and I was glad to have it.” He had intended to write Westerns after World War II,  and interviewed “a lot of Oklahoma pioneers” while working as a reporter for the Shawnee Morning News. “They were wonderful old people who had made the land runs in the state and remembered the 1870s and ‘80s. This further spurred my interests in the West.”
Part II will appear next Saturday.
(Excerpted from my book, Maverick Writers)

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)