Friday, November 28, 2014

A #WESTERN #THANKSGIVING - Meg Mims



Massachusetts -- The "Wild West" of New England



Yeehaw, and Happy Thanksgiving! I suppose people may already know the "original history" and facts from the Pilgrim days, but that's all I got this month. Besides, everyone's probably out shopping today. So in the interest of history, I'll discuss what was considered "the wild west" back before and after the turn of the 16th century. The Pilgrims can't claim the first Thanksgiving celebration, though, since the Jamestown settlement had been thanking God for their survival since 1610. And the above painting, done in 1899, was a bit off in terms of clothing - the Indians are wearing Great Plains style and the Pilgrims also are inaccurate. Hey, everyone's a critic, right? At least we know "America" was west of England and Europe, and pretty wild.



Map of the 1600s settlements in New England (http://etc.usf.edu/maps/pages/7600/7698/7698.htm)

The Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth barely survived the first winter. If it wasn't for Squanto -- a Pawtuxet Indian who'd been kidnapped and sold into slavery, found his way to London and returned to the New World -- taught the Pilgrims how to plant maize, catch fish, tap the maple trees for syrup and identify good plants from poisonous. Without him, New Englanders might be speaking French, or singing "God Save the Queen" at ball games instead of The Star Spangled Banner. Who can say?


Anyway, once the Pilgrims established themselves, they invited the Wampanoag chief and his tribe to a "harvest feast" that lasted three days -- of eating, entertainment (axe-throwing, etc.) and hunting. This happened in 1621, and venison was definitely on the menu since the Indians brought the deer. Maize, fowl such as swans, ducks and geese, barley and perhaps fish and lobsters may also have been served. Potatoes had not arrived yet in the New World, and wild turkeys may or may not have been an option.


"Thanksgiving" wasn't really celebrated until President George Washington decided to name it as such for Thursday, November 26th, 1789. The Revolutionary War had taken its toll on everyone in the new "America" so bringing families and friends together was crucial. Here's a bit from the official Congressional Proclamation:

"Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness..."


Despite the Proclamation, subsequent Presidents -- Adams and Madison -- chose only two Thursdays during their 4-year terms to celebrate. Jefferson refused. The only official holidays at the time were George Washington's birthday and the Fourth of July; Southern states never celebrated Thanksgiving at all. Not that they weren't thankful, but they may have had their own style of harvest feasts.

It took a 20+ year campaign of letters written to several presidents by Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of the "Lady's Book" (think Oprah and Martha Stewart of the early American days, who also wrote the popular children's rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb") before Thanksgiving was declared an official holiday. Sarah also helped raise $30,000 for the Bunker Hill Monument and to preserve George Washington's Mount Vernon plantation for future generations.



Sarah had taught school before her marriage to lawyer David Hale in 1813. Together they had five children before his death in 1822. The young widow wore black from that point on until her death in 1879 at the age of 90. Her first novel, Northwood, published in 1827,
was about slavery -- long before Uncle Tom's Cabin. That book also described the traditional roasted turkey and other meats at a typical Thanksgiving feast of the day, plus chicken pie, vegetables, plum puddings, custard and pumpkin pies. As "editress", she published recipes in the Lady's Book magazine as well.

But her campaign for a Thanksgiving holiday proved difficult -- Sarah wrote to Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and finally Abraham Lincoln -- who re-established Thanksgiving as a legalized annual holiday in 1863. The entire country needed to be unified, so he believed, given the stresses of the ongoing war. Lincoln chose the fourth Thursday of the November, which made sense given the harvest that needed to be done before any celebrating could be done. Most of the population in the country lived on rural farms, so all that work came first.


During the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt actually changed Thanksgiving to the third Thursday to boost the holiday shopping season -- but he soon changed it back in 1942. Thanks, Frank! We get enough Christmas before Thanksgiving as it is. And who doesn't identify with the above painting by Norman Rockwell? Grandma in her apron, bringing the huge turkey to the table, with other dishes ready, and the family eagerly waiting to dig in... Yummm!



HOPE YOU HAD A 
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!



Mystery author Meg Mims lives in Southeastern Michigan with her husband and a 'Make My Day' Malti-poo dog. Meg loves writing novels, short novellas and short stories, both contemporary and historical. Her Spur and Laramie Award winning books - Double Crossing and Double or Nothing - are now among the Prairie Rose Publications book list. Meg is also one-half of the D.E. Ireland team writing the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins Mystery series for St. Martin's Minotaur. Wouldn't It Be Deadly, Book 1, is out now! Book 2, Move Your Blooming Corpse, will be out in 2015. You can find Meg (and D.E. Ireland) on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. If you're in the mood for short, sweet Christmas novellas with rescue dogs and cats, check out the following:




Thursday, November 27, 2014

IS THERE ANYONE THERE? - the coming of spiritualism



By Keith Souter aka Clay More

This month I have moved away from medicine, hence this post is not from The Doctor’s Bag, as usual. I am going to be talking about the roots of spiritualism. That might seem quite a departure, but it is because the weird western novel that I am currently working on revolves around the world of mediums and séances.

The coming of spiritualism
Most religions believe in the survival of the spirit in some form. Spiritualism, which really came into being during the 19th century went further than that. It stated that not only did the spirit survive, but that the spirits of the dead can and do communicate with the living. It was also purported that not everyone had the ability to communicate with the disembodied spirits, but people with a particular gift could do so on their behalf. Such individuals were termed mediums.
            

The 19th century seemed ripe for such a religion to develop. The scientific discoveries in physics and chemistry had shown that there were ways of tapping into energies that were not apparent before. Engineers and inventors were creating new machines, new techniques and new ways of doing things that were transforming lives. There was a general belief that there was a whole new world of possibilities, a range of energies that existed but which had always been unseen. There was no reason therefore why experimenters in other areas of life should not also discover wonderful things. And what could be more wonderful than to be able to demonstrate that the spirit did survive death.

The Fox sisters
The story of spiritualism as a movement and quasi-religion starts in 1848 with the Fox family of New York. Essentially it began with all the ingredients that are needed for a good ghost story. A creepy old house, a bad and grisly reputation about it and stories of a ghost and strange noises and bumps in the night.


            The Fox sisters

It was to such a house that the Fox family moved into on 11th December 1847. There were three sisters in the family, Leah (1814-1890), Margaret (1833-1893) and Kate (1837-1892). They also had an older brother called David who had left home. Leah, being older was already married and living in Rochester as Mrs Fish. Although they did not realise it the two younger sisters would soon find themselves at the forefront of an amazing phenomenon that would sweep America and then travel across the Atlantic to Britain.
            
The Fox family lived quite contentedly in the house until spring 1848 when they became aware of strange noises. These took the form of knocks and raps as if furniture was being moved. These became more and more frequent until one night they seemed to go on unabated for several hours. The parents searched the house but could find no cause. Yet the noises continued and Kate, the youngest child discovered that she could actually communicate with whatever was causing the noises by rapping on furniture herself. She found that she could ask questions and demonstrated by snapping her fingers. She established that a question could be answered by one rap for ‘yes’ and two for ‘no.’
            
Her mother, Mrs Fox then began asking questions, receiving the same affirmative or negative responses. Soon it was established that the replier did not belong to the living world, but that it was a spirit. More than that, she found out that the spirit was of a peddler who had been murdered and that his spirit was restless and unhappy. Not content with just investigating matters themselves, Mr and Mrs Fox asked the spirit if it would mind also communicating with their neighbours. This it agreed to, with similar results.
            

The house where it all began

This occasioned a search in the cellar and a plan to dig up the floor. Initial attempts had to be stopped because the hole filled up with water. When the summer came and the water had dried up they were able to resume. At a depth of five feet they found evidence of quicklime, hair and bones. A medical opinion stated that these were human remains.
            
There was an inevitable stir caused in the newspapers. The attention that it caused to the family was not welcomed by the parents who were concerned for the girls, so they decided to send them away for a while. Kate was sent to stay with her brother David, and Margaret was sent to her elder sister, Leah Fish in Rochester. The strange rapping noises seemed to follow both girls.
            
A friend, Isaac Post and his wife, both staunch Quakers and advocates of temperance, abolition of slavery and the rights of women invited the girls to their home. There the phenomena were demonstrated and the Posts convinced them that they had been given a gift that was God given and that the messages that they were able to give as a result should be shared with the world.
            
This background is interesting, because the surge of interest at first came from the Quaker community and among people who were like minded. Honest, sober, hard-working folk who were liberal in their outlook and desirous of equality for all. As such they may have been overly credulous, but significantly they would be perceived as being strictly honest and devoid of guile or intention to deceive.
            
The Fox sisters became a phenomenon. It is said that Leah Fish took matters in hand and began to seriously promote the two younger girls as mediums. Within a short period of time they had become famous around New York and attracted the great and the good, including luminaries like the novelist James Fenimore Cooper, the poet and editor of the New York Evening Post William Cullen Bryant and the journalist and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. It was not long before they were making the considerable sum of $150 dollars a night. At meetings there would always be mention of the need to support the good causes of temperance, abolition and women’s suffrage with which they were linked.
            
At séances, the spirits communicated by raps, table turning and spirit writing.
            
Ironically, both of the young sisters found the attention hard to deal with and despite their temperance background they both began drinking wine. It is said that in later life they both became addicted to alcohol and their deaths may have been drink-related.
            
The touch paper had been lit, however, and spiritualism flourished.

Mrs Maria Hayden
After the Fox sisters, one of the first spiritualists to gain celebrity and attract attention was Mrs Maria B Hayden the wife of a Boston journalist, W R Hayden, who edited a newspaper called The Boston Atlas and also a monthly newsletter called the Star Spangled Banner. Like the Fox family they were ardent abolitionists.

In 1852 she and her husband came to England in the company of a Mr Stone, a lecturer and adept in ‘electro-biology,’ one of the pseudo-scientific names for hypnosis at the time.

It is uncertain how old Mrs Hayden was when she arrived in England, but she is described as being young and vivacious, well-educated and well-mannered. There is some suggestion that she had the air of an adventuress about her. At any rate she charmed people as she went about.

The newspapers had done a good job of advertising for her before she even arrived, so her reputation truly did go before her. Then once she had settled in she was eagerly sought out to put to the test. Mrs Hayden’s method involved the production of table raps in answer to questions. 


Table rapping

She was instrumental in boosting converts to spiritualism. In this she was helped by her husband who put his journalistic expertise to good use and produced a magazine, The Spirit World in 1853. It was the first spiritualist magazine in Britain and presumably he intended to run it for a long time. As it was, later in 1853 they decided to return to America.

There, Mrs Hayden studied medicine and graduated as a doctor and set up a highly successful practice. It seems that she had given up communicating with the spirit world.

Mrs Cora Scott
A quite different pioneer of spiritualism was Cora L V Scott (1840-1923). She worked as an author of spiritualist literature and a trance medium conveying messages from the spirit world whenever she was in a state of trance. She spent most of her life in America, but made three long trips to Britain after 1875. She was highly influential because of the type of messages that she gave.
       


Cora L V Scott 


Cora Scott was born in Cuba, New York in 1841. Her family were Presbyterians, but joined the Universalist Church in 1851. Essentially, they believed that everyone carried some original sin, but that everyone could achieve salvation. The principles of non-violence, abolition and temperance were highly regarded. Once again, this was fertile ground for a potential spiritualist.
            
Cora’s full birth name was Cora Lodensia Veronika Scott, but she disliked her middle names and always called herself Cora L V.  A stunningly beautiful girl then woman she was to be married several times, on each occasion adding another name but always using the latest married surname, so that she ultimately became Cora L V Scott Hatch Daniels Tappan Richmond. She visited England twice as Mrs Cora Tappan and once during her honeymoon as Mrs Cora Richmond.
            
Her ‘gift’ was discovered at the age of eleven when she would fall into trance and channel spirits. Her parents began taking her on tours in the locality, where she would channel messages and give healing. By the age of fourteen she was quite famous and her healing was done by psychic surgery, whereby she would channel the spirit of a German surgeon and psychically remove diseased parts from the ‘patient’s’ etheric body.
            
When she was about fifteen the healing ability seemingly left her, or the German surgeon’s spirit was no longer channelled. From then on she would give messages and also deliver lectures on various esoteric or philosophical subjects in a state of trance. Her ability under trance to speak so eloquently and seemingly totally unrehearsed convinced many who heard her that she had to be channelling, for it was considered implausible for one so young to be able to speak with such knowledge and authority. Later, she would transcribe lectures on spiritualism and became an author of a substantial body of work.
            
Her first husband, Benjamin Franklin Hatch was a professional mesmerist and something of a showman. She was a mere sixteen years old and he was forty-six. He managed her spiritualist career for several years until the marriage fell apart and they divorced.
            
In 1865 she moved to Washington and was apparently sought out for advice by several people who were in communication with President Lincoln, about the current state of the Civil war that was raging.
            
President Ulysses S Grant is said to have given her a resolution of Gratitude for her support during his first administration.
            
In 1883 she visited Washington again and before a gathering gave a trance message, A Message to the Nation, purportedly channelled from the spirit of President James A Garfield, who had been assassinated in 1881.
          

Henry Slade
Another famous American spiritualist was Henry Slade (1839-1905). He specialised in the appearance of messages in chalk or pencil on writing slates from his spirit guide, whom he claimed was his deceased wife. He styled himself Dr Henry Slade, although there is no evidence that he was eligible in any way to use the title. He achieved great success and fame in both the USA and Europe in the Victorian era.
           

Henry Slade

According to William E Robinson, who was latterly known to the world as ‘The Marvellous Chinese Conjuror, Chung Ling Soo’,  in his book Spirit Slate Writing and Kindred Phenomena ‘no phenomenon which psychic mediums produced in the nineteenth century converted more persons to belief in spirits than the supposed writing by spirits on school slates.’
           

William E Robinson known to the world as Chung Ling Soo

Henry Slade was credited as being the first medium to have discovered the ability of the spirits to produce such messages.
           
Slade charged high fees for his psychic consultations, during which he would show a blank school slate on both sides, then concentrate and contact his spirit guide who would try to send a message. To receive it he would momentarily lower the slate under the consulting table, for as everyone was aware the spirits needed shade or darkness. Upon bringing it back the message would be there for anyone to read.
           
In 1876 Slade stopped in London en route to St Petersburg where he was due to demonstrate his powers before Madame Helen Blavatsky and Colonel Harry Steel Olcott, who would soon afterwards co-found the Theosophical Society. While he was in London he entertained clients who were eager to receive a slate reading. Unfortunately for him he aroused the suspicions of one client who together with a colleague arranged a ‘sting’ operation whereby they discovered that he was deceiving them. It resulted in a famous court case in which the famous magician John Nevil Maskelyne was called to give evidence.


           
Things went badly for Slade and he was found guilty of trying to accept money under false pretences. He was sentenced to three months hard labour, but evaded imprisonment because of a technicality. He and his assistant absconded to France before a further proceeding could get underway.
           
The case did a great deal of harm to the spiritualist movement. Over the decades many magicians, including the great Chung Ling Soo, (who would die trying to catch a bullet between his teeth during performance) and Harry Houdini, would expose many fraudulent mediums.




Is there anyone there?
Well, I leave that up to you to decide. The purpose of this post is merely to highlight some of the nefarious goings on in the 19th century when people were duped by fraudulent mediums. 

Spiritualism thrives today, but not by manifesting spirits as in the 19th century. Spiritualist mediums work in consultations and in churches and give messages to people from the other side. They can be extremely comforting.


Clay More's novel about Dr George Goodfellow is published in the West of the Big River series by Western Fictioneers. 

Available at Amazon.com:


THE DOCTOR by CLAY MORE



And his collection of short stories about Doc Marcus Quigley is published by High Noon Press


Available at Amazon.com:


And his latest western  novel Dry Gulch Revenge was published by Hale on 29th August.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving and the Civil War

By Matthew Pizzolato

Whenever one thinks of Thanksgiving, images of the Pilgrims and Indians and Plymouth come to mind. The first Thanksgiving celebrations in this country were held in Virginia in 1619 and in Plymouth in 1621. It was sporadically celebrated in New England, but it was never an established national holiday. And giving thanks for a successful harvest is nothing new.

The idea that the holiday we celebrate as Thanksgiving came from the Pilgrims and the founding of this country is largely a myth, though there are ties to that event. It was the American Civil War that created the holiday of Thanksgiving.

On October 3, 1863, after the bloody battle of Gettysburg earlier that year, which saw a combined 51,000 causalities, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring a national day of "thanksgiving."

LINCOLN'S THANKSGIVING PROCLAMATION
By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation. 
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. 
In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. 
Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.  
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.  
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union. 
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed. 
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth. 
By the President: Abraham Lincoln

According to Lincoln's intent, Thanksgiving had nothing to do with the Pilgrims and celebrating a successful harvest and everything to do with being thankful for the blessings granted to the nation by "the providence of Almighty God."

The first "Thanksgiving" occurred the following year when Lincoln issued a second proclamation and people organized a feast for Ulysses S. Grant's troops at City Point, Virginia, Grant's headquarters during the siege of Petersburg. Over 400,000 pounds of hams, turkeys and all the trimmings were delivered from New York City to Union soldiers. The citizens of Petersburg, who had been under siege since June, simply starved.

But even after Lincoln's proclamations, it was not until Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law in 1941 that it became the national holiday that is observed today.





Matthew Pizzolato's short stories have been published online and in print. He is a member of Western Fictioneers and his work can be found in the Wolf Creek series as well as his own publications, THE WANTED MAN, OUTLAW and TWO OF A KIND. 




He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Western Online, a magazine dedicated to everything Western. He can be contacted through Twitter @mattpizzolato or via his website: 



Saturday, November 22, 2014

THE ANSWER IS BLOWING IN THE WIND by Vonn McKee



Much has been written about the Range Wars of the American West. The premise of cattlemen and farmers in conflict, sometimes violently, over grazing and water rights found its way into iconic books and movies such as To the Last Man (Z.Grey), The Virginian (O. Wister), Shane, Oklahoma!, and Chisum.

The invention of barbed wire served only to exacerbate the range wars for the next several years. Farmers built fences to keep open range cattle out of their crops, but that meant they also cut off access to water sources for the roaming herds. Not until the late 1880’s were laws passed that required, among other things, the addition of gates for every three miles of fencing.
To complicate matters, the western states and territories employed prior appropriation water rights, described as “first in time, first in rights.” The earliest landowner in the region held superior rights to waterways running through his property. Throw in a few irrigation ditches or a dam, and he could have some very disgruntled neighbors.

There were few water wells in the Old West, and for good reason. They had to be hand dug or drilled and the water table in those arid regions could be several hundred feet below grade.

Even as the fur and bullets flew over the right to water access, the solution to the problem was being devised in a New England machine shop. In the small town of Ellington, Connecticut, a mechanic named Daniel Halladay was tinkering with water pumps. His pump relied on steam engine power, which most everything did in those days.
Daniel Halladay
John Burnham, Jr.
He crossed paths with a visionary named John Burnham, Jr., who was fascinated with the use of wind power to run hydraulic machines. Halladay hired Burnham and, together, they invented the first wind engine that could pivot with directional wind changes by use of a tail vane. (Old European windmills were fixed, with enormous sails that required considerable winds to operate.)

Halladay’s first wind engine design, The Halladay Standard, utilized four paddle-like blades made of wood or sailcloth. This evolved into the self-regulating wind engine, which featured sections of narrow blades that could fold back in high winds, much like the action of an umbrella.

The Halladay Standard
(Original Patent)

Self-regulating Wind Engine
(shown with sections folded

The biggest problem facing Halladay and Burnham was that their wonderful invention was just not selling…at least not in Connecticut. Burnham suggested that they expand to the Midwest. While most of the manufacturing operations remained in Connecticut, they opened a shop in Batavia, Illinois. The move was a fortuitous one. Sales took off in America’s breadbasket and Halladay moved the rest of his company to Batavia.

Salesmen traversed the western states by train and wagons, carrying samples of windmills to farmers and ranchers on the parched plains. To say that the wind-powered water pumps all but ended the range wars would not be an exaggeration. More manufacturers entered the market and Batavia, Illinois, would become known as “Windmill City.”

Thomas O. Perry, an engineer who worked for Daniel Halladay, experimented with new, more efficient blade designs and lighter assemblies. He needed to test his new ideas and outfitted one of the factory’s buildings into a primitive wind tunnel, effectively producing two inventions that would revolutionize American industry.

Aermotor Windmill
Curiously, Halladay was not interested in the new design and Thomas Perry went on to work for the Aermotor Windmill Company. Perry’s cupped steel blade design became the standard for windmills. Ironically, the Aermotor Company is the only U.S. manufacturer of windmills still in business. They are based in San Angelo, Texas.

Great engineering marvels always come down to simplicity, elegance and functionality. Certainly, the humble windmill qualifies. Day after day, year after year, they catch the wind and turn it into power. They work when it’s raining, snowing…when the sun is high or the moon is dim…when it’s Christmas or just another Tuesday. What would the American West be without them?

For you road trippers, there are a number of windmill museums located across the U.S. (Indiana, Oklahoma, Nebraska and New Mexico) The state of Texas is especially known for its ubiquitous windmills. Here's a little story from the early Panhandle days:

"When one of the first windmills in the Texas Panhandle was installed and put into operation, the owner took his crew of riders out to see how it worked before acceptin' it from the contractor. When he saw the little trickle of water flowin' out he was as tickled as a cub bear with a honeycomb, and declared that the windmill would revolutionize the cow business. One skeptical cowhand eyed the small stream, and said, "Hell, Boss, I could get behind a bush and do a better job than that." ---- Ramon F. Adams, THE OLD-TIME COWHAND, 1948.

All the best,

Vonn




Short stories





Friday, November 21, 2014

YOUNG GUNS: Passing the Torch Without Getting Burned---by Marc Cameron

       

      I got this text from my youngest son the other day, bringing me up to speed on his adventures in the police academy:
     “Got punched in the face today. Failed to block a left hook. It was awesome.
     That’s my boy.
     Of course, his mother wanted to know the name and badge number of the recruit who hit her baby, but his words brought a tear of nostalgia to my eye.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was in his boots, attending a regional academy in Texas with officers from a dozen different departments. At twenty-two I couldn’t grow the middle of my mustache, but I tried anyway because cops had mustaches—and I was a dead ringer for Opie Taylor without one.
When my son tells me about his day of firearms training and shows me how he’s put so many rounds through his Glock over a two-week period that he’s had to superglue the wound on his trigger finger closed, I’m transported back to dirt berms in a rural pasture, avoiding rattlesnakes and stepping over cow patties as we advanced on our targets.
            When he shows me a new move he’s learned in defensive tactics or a certain handcuffing technique, I envision the ginormous dude who will spin on him someday and bark (or slur or slobber or scream), “You’re just a @*%#& cop! I think I’ll take your gun and…” Anyway, you get the idea.  Thankfully for the folks my son will have to arrest, this new generation of lawdog has Tasers where we only had big honkin’ metal flashlights for the in-between times not covered by open hand or resorting to our sidearm.
            When he tells me about the naiveté of some new recruits, I remember a freshly graduated Highway Patrolman and a Texas Ranger. The two of them walked behind my captain, the Trooper sergeant, and me. It was daybreak and we were all on our way to breakfast. Unbeknownst to us, the Ranger asked to see the new Trooper’s revolver, saying something like: “Is that one of the new 586s they’re issuing at the Academy?” Now, an old salt knows you don’t go handing your sidearm off to someone else in the middle of town—but this kid was new, and it was a Texas Ranger doing the asking. Innocent as a lamb, the young Trooper handed his revolver over so the Ranger could take a look. The Ranger, always a joker, fired a round into the grass, then, quick a wink, passed the gun back to the astonished Trooper. When we all turned, we saw the flushed Trooper holding a smoking Smith and Wesson, a big divot in the courthouse lawn, and a twinkle in the Ranger’s eye.
            Poor kid.  He learned an important lesson that day.
            I just returned from Bouchercon, a conference for Mystery and Thriller writers. Great fun, it afforded me the opportunity to associate with incredibly talented and successful authors. I could name drop here but the list is just too long.  There were a handful of former law enforcement officers in attendance, and oddly enough, we all tended to gravitate toward one another, sometimes without even knowing each other’s background. Call it radar for like-minded thinkers. All of us having either retired or quit to write fulltime, we sat for hours telling tales, cussing the system, and reminiscing about favorite partners who’d had our backs during the toughest of times. Often, we’d each end up staring into space, locked in thought about some past adventure or nightmare that would never make it into a war story.
            You certainly don’t have to have a law enforcement background to write about gunfights, fistfights and evil men—but it doesn’t hurt.
As luck would have it, there was an international motorcycle show next door to the conference.  Since my characters are often found on the back of a bike, I snuck away from the author panel discussions and belly-up-to-the-bar chats long enough to walk around the show and do some research.
Along with the BMWs, Ducatis, Triumphs and Harleys, there were, of course, hundreds of vendors. A college-age kid pointed to the Maui Jim sunglasses resting on top of my head and asked if he could demonstrate his lens-cleaning product.  Happy to get free stuff, I handed them over. He was a nice guy, chatting about motorcycles and all the famous writers next door while he cleaned—one lens. He gave back the glasses and let me look at the world as I had been seeing it, along side the new world through the clean side. I handed the glasses back to him for the rest of the cleaning and asked if he would please take my money. 
One of the most important things they teach at any law enforcement academy is clarity—seeing things as they truly are rather than the way we wish they were.  My son stopped by the other day to talk to me about his officer survival class. When he parroted back that little truism, I knew he was going to be okay.
          It’s astonishing to watch the kid who used to run around in those little baby gowns, pin on a badge and strap on a pistol. It will be two years next month since I’ve hung up my own badge—and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss it. Don’t get me wrong. I love this writing life. But the people I met in my former life—both heroic and heinous—all inform my writing to one level or another.  My knees are achier these days, I need trifocals if I want to be able to see the computer and the front sight of my pistol, and the ring finger of my right hand feels like someone attacked it with a ballpeen hammer—but when my son regales me with stories about ground-fighting, arm bars and shoot-and-move exercises, I forget about getting old, remember the way it was—and put it in a story.


Marc Cameron is a retired Chief Deputy US Marshal and 29-year law enforcement veteran. His short stories have appeared in BOYS’ LIFE Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. He's published eleven novels, six of them Westerns.   
TIME OF ATTACK fourth in his USA Today Bestselling Jericho Quinn Thriller series, is the newest release from Kensington February of 2014. DAY ZERO will hit the shelves February 2015.
Marc lives in Alaska with his beautiful bride and BMW motorcycle.

Visit him at:
www.marccameronbooks.com 

http://www.facebook.com/MarcCameronAuthor