Thursday, April 11, 2024

On This Day in the Old West: April 12

 Today we’ll celebrate an event that made secretaries happy across the country: the invention of a truly portable typewriter. On April 12, 1892, Patent No. 472,692 was issued to George C. Blickensderfer of Stamford, Connecticut, for a “type writing machine.” The Blickensderfer Manufacturing Company eventually became one of the world’s largest typewriter manufacturers.

The concept of a mechanical typewriter dates back at least to 1714, when Englishman Henry Mill filed a vaguely-worded patent for “an artificial machine or method for the impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another.” However, the first machine that actually worked was built by Italian Pellegrino Turri in 1808 for his blind friend Countess Carolina Fantoni de Fivizzano. The details and appearance of this typewriter are unknown, but specimens of letters written by the Countess on it still exist. 

Various inventors in Europe and the United States tried creating typewriters in the 19th Century, but successful commercial production only began with the “writing ball” of Danish Rasmus Malling-Hansen in 1870. This device looked a little like a pincushion. Much more influential, in the long run, was the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, which began production in late 1873 and appeared on the American market in 1874.

The Sholes & Glidden typed only in capital letters, and it introduced the QWERTY keyboard, which is still with us today. This keyboard was designed, so they say, to separate frequently-used pairs of typebars so that the typebars would not clash and get stuck at the printing point. The Sholes & Glidden was a decorative machine, with painted flowers and decals. It looked a bit like a sewing machine, as it was actually manufactured in the sewing machine department of the Remington arms company. It had limited success, but its successor, the Remington, soon became a dominant presence in the typewriting industry.

The Sholes & Glidden, like many early typewriters, is an understroke or “blind” writer, where the typebars are arranged in a circular basket underneath the platen (the printing surface) and type on the bottom of the platen. This means the typewriter (typist) has to lift up the carriage to see her work. It wasn’t until 1891 when the Daugherty Visible became the first frontstroke typewriter to go into production. In this model, the typebars rest below the platen and hit the front of it. With the Underwood of 1895, this style of typewriter began to gain ascendancy.

George Blickensderfer’s typewriter used a radical, minimalist design that reduced the number of moving parts from 2,500 to 250, improving reliability and reducing the weight by one-fourth. It worked on the principle of a revolving type wheel and swapped the QWERTY “universal” keyboard for a proprietary DHIATENSOR keyboard layout. Blickensderfer claimed this layout was the best option for efficient typing, since it clustered the ten most popular letters used in the English language on the first row. This argument, however, didn’t catch on, and in order to remain competitive, Blickensderfer typewriters began offering universal keyboard layouts in the early 20th Century.

The ”Blick” portable typewriter was easier to produce, transport, and operate, and soon became an international bestseller. In order to keep up with demand, Blickensderfer opened a factory on Atlantic Street in Stamford in 1896. Thanks in part to his efforts, Connecticut became an international hub of typewriter manufacturing and home to some of the world’s most prolific typewriter companies, including Underwood and Royal. 

Your characters may not have been typewriters, which is what typists were called at that time, but they would probably have been exposed to typewritten business papers even if they weren’t familiar with the process involved in creating them. 


J.E.S. Hays

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Waiting and Mad, by Charles Marion Russell (1899)


A real look into the internal workings of the mind of Charlie Russell, Cowboy Artist Extraordinaire, with this witty and wonderful picture, Waiting and Mad (1899).

People who have known me for some time have surely heard me say, “I’ve been married for 33 years and I’ve spent 27 of them waiting.”  As someone who regularly waits by the door, waits by the shower and waits in the car while my Much Better Half does whatever it is that he’s doing, the feeling in this picture is very familiar.  And I’m sure the look on my face is much the same.

Just to be upfront about it – I love this picture.   Though Charlie was merely a capable draughtsman of the human form, every detail of this picture speaks volumes.

The story is clear from the surroundings and the look of … sultry disgust on the Indian woman’s face.  Here is a beautiful and sexualized woman – notice the nearly exposed breast and the provocative curve of hip.  Her pallet is ready for company, but the fire in the foreground has grown cold (a witty joke), the dinner bowl is now empty, and the long pipe is cast aside and unused (ditto).  Like the wispy smoke from the dead fire, there is only a dissipating trace of something that was once hot.

Most delicious of all is the look on her face: a mixture of disappointment, fury, resignation and bored familiarity.  One has the distinct impression that this has happened before, and will probably happen again in the future.  And she knows it.

So … why do I like this painting so much?  Mainly because Charlie’s views on humanity were much smarter and commonsensical than the ways we are taught to think today.  Charlie knew many Native Americans in his time in the West, and genuinely liked them.  He was one of nature’s democrats – he judged people as individuals, and knew that, as groups, people are more alike than they are different.

Today, we are taught that our differences matter more than our similarities, and that our cultural peculiarities are some sacred carapace that protect us from being more like one another.  Charlie would’ve thought we were crazy (and I’m with Charlie).  This picture works so well because Charlie was able to capture the look of everyone who has ever waited for their wife or husband to show up.  It would be the same picture if the woman was in an Asian setting, or a Middle-European one, or in a contemporary American home: and that is Charlie’s point.  We’re all people, and we’re all more alike than we are different. 
I love this picture! What do you think of it?

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Western Movie Taglines Blog Series - April Movie Taglines #movietaglines #westernmovies

My 2024 blogging series, Western Movie Taglines, began in January when I explained what a tagline is and gave examples of good non-western movie taglines followed by several disappointing taglines from western movies.

In February, I shared 15 western movie taglines that were clever or witty, real groaners, or just plain silly. March through September, I will share 10 movie taglines each month. October through December will be the Top 40 Countdown of Best Western Movie Taglines.

I compiled a list of 250 (plus) westerns and their taglines. From that 250, I plucked out the best 125 to share between February and December. These 125 taglines range from good to outstanding as far as doing justice to their corresponding movies.

The Top 40 taglines are the ones that capture and sum up the heart of the movie in such a fabulous way that we're amazed at how a handful of words can be that powerful or theme-descriptive. Also in December, I will 1) share taglines I've written for two western movies and one early-settling of the American frontier movie that deserved better taglines and, 2) offer a downloadable document of the 250 movies and taglines that I compiled.

Onward to the April Western Movie Taglines—

Joe Kidd (1972)
If you’re looking for trouble – He’s Joe Kidd.

Joe didn’t look for trouble. It just found him.

The Plainsman (1966)
When the land needed law…
When the West needed taming...
When adventure needed a giant…
They sent for the Plainsman!

Five Card Stud (1968)
A card cheat was hung…

Then all hell broke loose!

Rango (2011)
No man can walk out on his own story.

Into the Badlands (1991)
Where the bounty hunter becomes the hunted.

Somewhere between civilization and the Ninth Circle of Hell

Silverado (1985)
Four strangers became friends. Four friends became heroes on the road to… Silverado.

The Tin Star (1957)
"When you wear the tin star you’re either a brave man…or a dead one.”

Monte Walsh (1970)
Monte Walsh is what the West was all about.

Monte Walsh (2003)
A man struggling to hold on to the tradition that made him a legend.

The Sheepman (1958)
They called him the Stranger with a Gun.

See you next time,
Kaye Spencer

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Alpheus Randal Eastman -Private - 10th Minnesota Volunteers

Post (C) Doris McCraw

aka Angela Raines

Photo (C) Doris McCraw

This month Alpheus R. Eastman is the focus of the Civil War Veterans in Evergreen Cemetery. 

Eastman was born in November in Maine, probably in 1839 or 1840.  

He volunteered for the Civil War and was inducted in Minnesota. How he made it from Maine to Minnesota looks to be lost to time. We know he was living in Medford, Steele County, Minnesota, at the time of his enlistment. What makes Alpheus so interesting there is more than one Alpheus Eastman from Maine. In fact, there was an Alpheus K. Eastman, and an Alpheus R. Eastman who enlisted in Maine and immediately deserted. 

To the best of my ability, I have followed the trail that appears the Alpheus Randal Eastman buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Eastman was inducted on August 13, 1862, at the age of twenty-one. He served in Company A of the 10th Minnesota Infantry as a private. His Civil War record states he served in the Civil and Indian Wars. On January 16, 1865, he transferred to the Veterans Reserve Corps. 

For those who are interested below is a copy of Eastman's discharge papers:

Accessed through Ancestry

On June 1, 1866, Alpheus filed for a pension as an invalid. Below is a copy of the filing.

From Ancestry

At the time of his death of Chronic Bright's disease on January 11, 1905, he was living at 921 S. Corona St. in Colorado Springs, CO.

Bright's Disease is an inflammation of the kidneys. It can be caused by toxins, an infection, or an autoimmune condition. In its acute stage, the kidneys are severely inflamed. There is usually increased blood pressure and severe back pain.

In his book, "The 10th Minnesota Volunteers, 1862 – 1865:  A History of Action in the Sioux Uprising and the Civil War..." by Michael A. Eggleston he states in the early part of the preface:

".. Members of the 10th Regiment [Eastman's regiment] served from the organization of the Regiment in August 1862 until its final muster in August 1865. The experience of this Regiment is unique. Its members fought in two wars over a period of three years. Because this Regiment shared an experience with few other Civil War units and only a summary of the service was published in 1890, the story needs to be told. Volunteers who signed up to fight the Confederacy suddenly found themselves fighting the Sioux in the Minnesota Indian War instead. After two years of fighting the Sioux, they move south to fight the Confederate Army in a series of battles in the West."

The journey of these veterans is fascinating and sad. They went through so much and so many don't have any personal written records. Their stories are inferred from the official documents that remain. Hopefully, this series will shed some light on their lives and lead to further research.

For those who may have missed the earlier posts:

Helen Rood Dillon - Prarie Rose Publications

Virginia Strickler - Prairie Rose Publications Blog

Henry C. Davis - Western Fictioneers Blog

Chester H. Dillon - Western Fictioneers Blog

For anyone interested, I have a monthly substack newsletter: Thoughts and Tips on History

Until Next Time: Stay safe, Stay happy, and Stay healthy. 



Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Loops and Swift Horses are Surer Than Lead, by Charles Marion Russell (1916)


Hello There!

First off, I wanted to thank everyone for the kind words! I am a Western Writers of America Finalist for Best Western Juvenile Fiction for my book, Tom Mix and The Wild West Christmas. This is, simply, the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me, and I am thrilled beyond words. Thanks to everyone at Western Fictioneers who sent best wishes.

This month, I wanted to look at a painting by cowboy artist Charles Marion Russell. 

We can start with the obvious: the title of this work, Loops and Swift Horses are Surer Than Lead.  In my study of Western Art over the years, I have had occasion to look at several pictures that include bears in an attitude of menace. In fact, after Native Americans, bandits and over-zealous lawmen, perhaps the bear is the most frequently represented foeman in Western Art.

However, most any of Charlie’s contemporaries would take the obvious route, and paint a picture of Western figures shooting and killing the bear.  (Or, reaching for their rifles to do so, or putting them down after they have done so.)  Not Charlie. His cowboy heroes, though obviously well-armed, rope and scare the bear away to safer climes. Always more Roy Rogers than Clint Eastwood, Charlie didn’t see the West as a vast panorama of hardship and cruelty, but, rather, a boyish paradise of freedom and fun.

This is where Charlie differs most significantly from the artist frequently associated with him, Frederic Remington (1861-1909). For Remington, the West was unending hardship, merciless desert and physical exertion, a battle for survival to be won or lost. It is Remington, of course, who created in his work the now-familiar Western trope of the bleached steer skull that can still be seen in countless depictions of the West. Make a wrong move, Remington implied, and you’ll end up the same.

If this picture is any indication, perhaps Charlie’s vision was the truer one.  Loops and Swift Horses now hangs in the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and is based on a true-life incident. This painting came about by way of his friends, the Coburn brothers of the famous Circle C Ranch in eastern Montana, where they described the roping of a giant brown bear. Artistic license was taken when Charlie turned the bruin into a Grizzly, but the rest of the story was true right down to the landscape in the background: the scenic Coburn Buttes.

The dominant color of the picture is blue, but Charlie manages to mute or pop shades of it to represent everything from trees to sky to mountains, to foreground scrub. Yet, the color never becomes monotonous or gimmicky. 

Charlie was also the master of figures in motion.  His horses move. Many of our greatest artists have been able to depict horses of majesty, of size, of monumentality, but Charlie’s horses are seen in dramatic action, twisting or jumping with a febrile life of their own. I can think of no finer painter of American horses than Charlie Russell.
Finally, Charlie underscores the tumultuous action of the picture with a rainstorm in the middle-distant horizon. Like all Western landscape pictures, the view-horizon is vast, going on for miles. Thus the far-off rain storm underscores the ‘storm’ of action going on between cowboys, horses and bear. 

Speaking of movement, take a moment to look at the bear. It twists and pivots on unsteady ground … you can almost feel the weight of the animal as it is pulled and slides down the natural incline. The cowboys, too, move as if in motion, alternately pulling or swinging their lariats. And notice the cowboy on the right, looking over his right shoulder, with right leg raised as counter weight to keep in saddle.

This is a really good picture, and something mysteriously akin to the essence of Charlie – not only is his West a world of action, freedom and camaraderie, but it can be a fairly bloodless one, too. Charlie loved the animals he found out West (when visiting cities, he always went to the local zoo, where he said he felt most at home), and it’s not surprising that he would depict his heroes scaring away the threat of a grizzly, rather than killing it. 

Perhaps we should all take a page from Russell’s notebook, and produce work that preserves the best parts of ourselves (or, at least, the myth of the best part of ourselves). The more I look at Charlie’s work, the more convinced I become that we need more artists like him now.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

On This Day in the Old West: March 8

Today we’re talking about something near and dear to most everyone’s heart: money! Specifically coins and how they are made. On March 8, 1838, the New Orleans Mint began operations. They started with an order for dimes, but later produced all sorts of coins. Let’s take a closer look at a mint and how it works.

The New Orleans Mint operated from 1838 to 1861, then from 1879 to 1909 after the Civil War. During that time, it produced over 427 million gold and silver coins of nearly every American denomination, with a total face value of over 307 million US dollars. Some of the coins produced at this mint included silver three-cent pieces (1851 only), half-dimes, dimes, quarters, half dollars, silver dollars, gold dollars, $2.50 quarter-eagles, three-dollar pieces, five-dollar half-eagles, ten dollar eagles, and twenty dollar double eagles.

The first step in the coin-making process is to design the coin. A sculptor (or sculptress) first creates the design with a sketch, then a three-dimensional model in clay. This model is then transferred onto a metal stamp, called a die. The die is what stamps the design onto the coins. Most coins start out as huge rolls of metal, like giant rolls of wrapping paper. Round discs are punched out of these sheets. These are called blanks and are heated to make them softer and easier to work. The blanks are washed, then run through a machine that squeezes them so that the sides push up, making the characteristic coin rims. The coin press then uses the special die to stamp the coin design onto each blank. Mint employees then inspect each coin for flaws before they are counted, weighed, and bagged to be sent all over the country. Each coin will last around thirty years in circulation before it becomes too worn to use further. The coins are then retired and melted down so the metal can be used for other things.

Many interesting characters served at the New Orleans Mint during its early years of operation. One such personage was John Leonard Riddell, who served as melter and refiner at the Mint from 1839 to 1848. Outside of this job, he pursued interests in botany, medicine, chemistry, geology, and physics. Riddell invented the binocular microscope and wrote on numismatics, publishing a book in 1845 titled Monograph of the Silver Dollar, Good and Bad, Illustrated with Facsimile Figures. Two years later, an article by Riddell appeared in DeBow’s Review. This was called “The Mint at New Orleans—Processes Pursued of Working the Precious Metals—Statistics of Coinage, etc.” John Riddell, however, was not held in high esteem by everyone he knew. His conflicts with other Mint employees were well-documented, and at one point he was accused of being unable to properly conduct a gold melt.

Your characters, while probably not familiar with the inner workings of a mint, would certainly have been familiar with the products of that factory, and would have probably preferred the solid clink of coin over the sometimes-unreliable paper bills. It might be interesting to look into some of those more interesting coins in depth, to see if your character might have carried around a three-cent or three-dollar piece, or even a half-dime (and no, this was not just a nickname for a nickel). Looks like a ”mint” condition 1853 half-dime might net you as much as $24,000 today! Too bad your character couldn’t stash one or two away for you.


J.E.S. Hays

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Western Movie Taglines Blog Series - March Movies #movietaglines #westernmovies

My 2024 blogging series, Western Movie Taglines, began in January when I explained what a tagline is and gave examples of good non-western movie taglines followed by several disappointing taglines from western movies.

In February, I shared 15 western movie taglines that were clever or witty, real groaners, or just plain silly. March through September, I will share 10 movie taglines each month. October through December will be the Top 40 Countdown of Best Western Movie Taglines.

I've compiled a list of 250 westerns and their taglines. From that 250, I've plucked out the best 125 to share between February and December. These 125 taglines range from good to outstanding as far as doing justice to their corresponding movies.

The Top 40 taglines are the ones that capture and sum up the heart of the movie in such a fabulous way that we're amazed at how a handful of words can be that powerful or theme-descriptive. Also in December, I will 1) share taglines I've written for two western movies and one early-settling of the American frontier movie that deserved better taglines and, 2) offer a downloadable document of the 250 movies and taglines that I compiled.

January Movie Taglines
February Movie Taglines

March Western Movie Taglines

3 Godfathers or Three Godfathers (1948)
Three desperadoes keep a date with destiny…in the strangest drama to roar out of the badlands.

Against a Crooked Sky (1975)
A young woman kidnapped in the West. A brother determined to save her.

California (1963)
Fearless frontiersmen led by a danger-loving soldier of fortune.

Crossfire Trail (2001)
A hero is measured by the enemies he makes.

El Dorado (1967)
At El Dorado there’s no gold in the ground—only lead in the air.


They were friends. They were enemies. A passerby could not tell which was who. This was the seething sultry Old Southwest where loyalties and labels shifted with the sands, the winking of an eye, the wavering of a gun!

North to Alaska (1960)
These were the adventurers…fighting, laughing, and brawling their way from Seattle to Nome!


These were the giants who fought and loved their way to the top of the world!

The Shootist (1976)
He’s got to face a gunfight once more to live up to his legend once more to win just one more time.

Stagecoach (1966)
These were the ten who fought Indians, outlaws, and each other as they rode to greatness on the stagecoach to Cheyenne!

Valdez is Coming (1971)
Honor is always worth fighting for.

Winterhawk (1975)
Before the West ever saw the American cowboy… Winterhawk had become a Blackfoot legend

See you next time,
Kaye Spencer

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

C. (Chester) H. Dillon, 1st New York Artillery - Civil War


Post by Doris McCraw

aka Angela Raines         

Photo (C) Doris McCraw

Next up in this series of Civil War veterans buried in local cemeteries is C. H. Dillon who is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Mr. Dillon was easy to find. He was born in Pennsylvania on May 7, 1828, and died on September 10, 1893. I then moved to his military service. It is in his service records things get interesting. 

At age thirty-five, Chester registered for the draft in 1863 as a class two. Class two was a list of eligible men who would be called up after all class one on the list had been used. This meant that Chester was between thirty-five and forty-five and married at the time.

Photo (C) Doris McCraw

Chester H Dillon was called up in 1864. On September 20 that year, he was assigned to the 144th New York Infantry. By October 27th he was mustered out of the 144th and transferred to Company G of the New York Engineers. He officially mustered out on June 30, 1865. He was also promoted to artificer, a private 1st class. 

Before enlistment, Dillon was a farmer and according to the census he returned to that. When he moved to Colorado he was a carpenter in 1879, the first year of the city directory, then became the janitor at the opera house in Colorado Springs. There was also a brief time in 1883, he was the city marshall. The year of his passing. 1893, he was listed as an expressman. 

It was interesting that while the city marshall, the mayor was a doctor who had been on the other side of the conflict. The city was a mixture of men who had served on both sides and were involved in making the city the best it could be.

The one constant seemed to be his membership in the Masons along with being a husband to Helen and father to his children son John and daughter Elma.

The interesting thing is, that C. H. (Chester) Dillon has two headstones. A regular and a military one.

Photo (C) Doris McCraw

According to the regiment details, the 1st New York engineers engaged in the following during Dillon's enlistment: Siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond from June 1864 to April 1865. The construction of Fort Hell in Sept. and Oct of 1864 and the building of the Dutch Gap Canal from Oct to Dec. The Hatch Expedition up Broad River South Carolina on Nov. 28-30. The Battle of Honey Hill on November 30 and Deveaux's Neck on December 6,1864. The whole regiment mustered out on June 30, 1865. During the whole of the conflict from its formation in 1861 to June 30, 1865, the unit lost two officers and twenty-five enlisted men killed or mortally wounded, and five officers and one hundred and sixteen to disease. 

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As Always,

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, 


Wednesday, February 21, 2024

THE TEXAN -- by Cheryl Pierson


I have become totally obsessed with an old TV series, THE TEXAN starring Rory Calhoun. I never knew this series existed until we switched cable companies not long ago and were so fortunate to be able to add GRIT TV to our lineup—and it’s about all we watch anymore.

The Texan was a black and white series (yes, that’s how old it is, almost older than I am, but not quite!). It aired on CBS from 1958-1960, and as with so many of these older shows, I love to see so many roles by early “unknowns” who later became famous in their own right.

But the premise of The Texan is really different, and heartbreaking all at once.

The Texan is Bill Longley, who was a captain in the Confederacy during the Civil War. When he comes back to his privileged life at his family’s southern plantation, he finds his young wife has died of a fever, and the plantation lies in ruins. He puts a grave marker up beside his wife’s that says Bill Longley died on this day, with the date below it—the date he returned home and found that his love was dead.

He goes to Texas and becomes a drifter, building a reputation as a fast gun, but he is not for hire. He just takes a hand in the wrongs he sees and tries to right them when he can. I have, by no means, seen the entire series yet—we usually watch a couple of the 30-minute episodes while we eat dinner. Yes, some of them feel rather “rushed” because they are only 30 minutes long and the commercials have been moved around to accommodate today’s programming. But all in all, it’s really a good series, and I LOVE being able to study his character as the shows progress and we get to know more about him.

I truly admire the realism in this show. I didn’t realize it until recently, but there were so many westerns of that era that had the lawmen and the “good guys” always shooting to wound someone. The Lone Ranger even says at the beginning of that series that he will never kill, only shoot to wound, and then, only if necessary.

Well, let me tell y’all, Bill Longley has been through war and he is as tough as they come. Even though his past has been harsh ( at least it was once he joined the Confederacy and went to war), he still retains his sense of fairness. But make no mistake—he will shoot to kill, and he is fast. I don’t know how fast he was in actuality, but I did read something interesting the other day, as an aside—Glenn Ford was said to be the fastest gun in Hollywood, with a draw time of .04 seconds! WOW!

This character, The Texan, is in many ways how I envision my heroes in my own books. They don’t have his genteel upbringing—but I think if they all knew each other they’d be friends, because they’d see things the same way. Though they are fast with a gun, they don’t use it indiscriminately, and they are not ever ones to believe that “might makes right”.

You know, I have seen only one of Rory Calhoun’s movies, but in it, he plays the same kind of character as he played in The Texan. A loner. A fast gun. Someone who makes tough decisions and takes up the slack when others don’t or won’t.

Now that I’ve started following him, I remember my mom saying something once about a movie she was wanting to see. I must have been about 8 or 9—all I remember was her saying, “It has Rory Calhoun in it!” and giving a little smile. I should have paid attention about 55 years sooner…

If you get a chance to watch The Texan, you will not be sorry. Bill Longley is like so many of the western heroes we writers try to create, and the ones that readers love to read.

I’ve created many “loner” type heroes in my stories. Many of them resemble the characteristics of Bill Longley in THE TEXAN. Just thinking back on them, I’d say the two that stick in my mind as being most like The Texan are Johnny Houston from LOVE UNDER FIRE and Jaxson McCall from A MARSHAL FOR CALLIE–but it was a hard decision to narrow it down!

Who is your favorite television or big screen movie western star and why? And I’d love to know your favorite western tv series or movie that character played in.

Here’s a short excerpt from A MARSHAL FOR CALLIE.

A ruthless gang of cutthroats from Jaxson McCall’s past have re-surfaced and are holding Callie and Jaxson’s brother, Jeremy, and a young boy, Carlos, hostage. Jaxson is recovering from a poison-tipped arrow, but he and his other brother, Brendan, are there to save the hostages. Here’s the confrontation:

“Turn her loose,” Jax ordered in a low tone.

“Or what, Marshal? You’ll kill me?” Blocker taunted.

But Callie could hear the muted strain in his voice. I must have hit him, she thought, surprised.

“Take me, Blocker,” Jax murmured. Deliberately, he tossed the Winchester to the ground and held his hands out. “You don’t want her—not really. What you want is to finish what you started thirteen years ago. I wonder…” He took a step forward, his silhouette illuminated by the fire behind him in the growing darkness.

Blocker licked his lips nervously. “Wonder what, McCall?”

“Are you man enough to take me? We never finished what we started back in Fort Smith. But you can have it either way, Blocker. A fight, or…not. I’ll—go with you. Just let her go.”

“I don’t think so,” Blocker replied smugly.

“Why not?”

“Because you want it too much, McCall.” Blocker put the tip of the knife under Callie’s chin. “You agree to give yourself up to me, knowing what I’ll do to you?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Girl must mean an awful lot to you. I wonder why.”

“She’s worth money to me,” Jax said quietly. His heart lurched at the hollow, dead look in Blocker’s eyes.

“You’re both worth money to me,” Blocker responded.

Callie could feel the big man’s grip on her easing somewhat. He didn’t realize it, she knew.

“C’mon, Blocker,” Jax murmured. “Let’s fight it out. Just you and me.”

Blocker’s grip slipped a little more, and Callie felt an oozing warmth at her back.

His blood.

Blocker shook his head. “Shorty shoveled out three graves over there. I ain’t gonna fill one of ’em.”

Suddenly, Callie dug her elbows backward with all her might. She heard Blocker’s grunt of pain as he dropped the knife, and she squirmed away from him. He lunged at Jax with a snarl, and both men grappled together, then went to the ground, pummeling one another.

Callie watched in horror, thinking of how Jax had looked just this morning when she’d left him asleep in their bed. The fever, the wound, his fitful rest and lack of food would all surely take their toll. He was in no shape to fight.


She turned, just as a strong arm encircled her waist, pulling her to the safety of the trees and underbrush along the creek bank.

The man urged her to the ground beside Carlos, then he was gone as quickly as he had appeared.

As Callie lifted her head to peer through the undergrowth, she saw him step out into the ring of firelight. He dropped to one knee, his gun ready, but Jax and Blocker fought too closely together to take a chance on a shot.




Thanks for stopping by today!

Wednesday, February 14, 2024


I recently read Education of a Wandering Man, by Louis L’Amour (1908-1988), published in 1989.  It is a remarkable book.

It puts me in mind of the old Chinese legend about tests: the student sits down and simply writes down everything he knows.  L’Amour doesn’t quite do that, but he does create a fascinating account of his own intellectual development, and his deep and passionate engagement with reading.  If you are at all interested in the effect that reading has, and what a tool it can be to enlightenment, then certainly read this fascinating book.

L’Amour’s engagement with reading in his early life is not surprising when one looks at his major characters.  The typical L'Amour hero was a strapping young man in his late teens or early 20's, a romantic, nomadic figure dedicated to self-improvement. His character Tell Sackett carried law books in his saddlebags; Bendigo Shafter read Montaigne, Plutarch and Thoreau; and Drake Morrel, a one-time riverboat gambler, read Juvenal in the original Latin. 

Much like L’Amour, himself.


L’Amour looked like one of his own literary creations – big, ruggedly handsome and self-contained.  He was born Louis Dearborn L'Amour on March 22, 1908, in Jamestown, ND. He was a son of a veterinarian who doubled as a farm-machinery salesman, grandson of a Civil War veteran and great-grandson of a settler who had been scalped by Sioux warriors.

He quit school at 15, roaming the West working as a miner, rancher and lumberjack before taking off for the Far East as a seaman. By the time he was 20, he had skinned cattle in Texas, lived with bandits in Tibet and worked on an East African schooner.  He managed to survive a walk through Death Valley on his own with little water, and rode the rails as a hobo.  He worked as a longshoreman, a lumberjack, an elephant handler, a fruit picker and an officer on a tank destroyer in World War II. He had also circled the world on a freighter, sailed a dhow on the Red Sea, been shipwrecked in the West Indies and been stranded in the Mojave Desert, and won 51 of 59 fights as a professional boxer.  And all the time he was on the road, he was reading: Shakespeare, Byron, Wilde, Ibsen, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Sheridan, Bacon, Tolstoy … and many, many others too numerous to mention.  L’Amour provides his reading list during the period at the end of the book and, frankly, it made me deeply ashamed of my own profound failings as a reader.


I read Balzac, Victor Hugo and Dumas before I ever read Zane Grey, he said in an interview.  His first book was not a Western, but a collection of poems, published in 1939.  But despite his immense erudition, L’Amour could not reconcile the disdain the literary elite had (and has) for novels about the Western experience.  If you write a book about a bygone period that lies east of the Mississippi River, then it's a historical novel.  If it's west of the Mississippi, it's a western, a different category. There's no sense to it.

Here is L’Amour writing about talking to people of the Old West during his wanderings in the 1930s:  Yet there was no better time to learn about what the West had actually been.  Many of those who lived it were still alive, and as the years of their future grew fewer, they were more willing to talk of what had been.  Old feuds were largely forgotten, and time had given the past an aura.

The old cowboy might appear to be as dry as dust, he might scoff at some of the stories, but he was a figure of romance in his own mind (although he would never have admitted it) or he would not have become a cowboy in the first place.  As the years slipped away, he began to want to tell his stories, and I was often there, a willing listener, knowing enough to sift the truth from the romance.

In every town there was at least one former outlaw or gunfighter, an old Indian scout or a wagon master, and each with many stories ready to tell.

One story engendered another, and sitting on a bench in front of a store I’d tell of something I knew or had heard and would often get a story in return, sometimes a correction.  The men and woman who lived the pioneer life did not suddenly disappear; they drifted down the years, a rugged, proud people who had met adversity and survived.  Once, many years later, I was asked in a television interview what was the one quality that distinguished them, and I did not come up with the answer I wanted.  Later, when I in the hotel alone, it came to me.


This is great stuff, and I sympathize with L’Amour’s acute bibliomania:  A wanderer I had been through most of my early years, and now that I had my own home, my wandering continued, but among books.  No longer could I find most of the books I wanted in libraries.  I had to seek them out in foreign or secondhand bookstores, which was a pleasure in itself.  When seeking books, one always comes upon unexpected treasures or books on subjects that one has never heard of, or heard mentioned only in passing.

Now I know what I wished to learn and could direct my education with more intelligence.

Slowly I began to place on my shelves the books I wanted.  When the shelves were first installed, one workman doubted they would ever be filled, yet a few years later they were crammed with books, filling every available niche.

What I find most refreshing here is L’Amour’s own determination to educate himself, his active engagement with his own intellectual development, and for the breadth of his knowledge.  Here is a wonderfully prescient passage: If we had only Greenwich Village as an example, it would tell us nothing of the rest of America, yet often one discovers a writer, or several of them, giving just such a narrow picture.  One should tread warily when using the life-style of any group as an example of the thinking or practice of a people.

This is a warm, wise and essential book.  Highly recommended.


Thursday, February 8, 2024

On This Day in the Old West: February 9

 Today we’re talking about an important organization in American history: the National Weather Service. Weather, of course, has always been important to mankind, whether they be farmers or not. Many of our Founding Fathers were avid weather enthusiasts. While he was helping draft the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson bought a thermometer from a local Pennsylvania, and a few days later, bought a barometer from the same merchant—one of the only ones in America at the time. He noted that the high temperature in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776 was 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Jefferson made regular observations at his plantation, Monticello, from 1772 to 1778.  George Washington also took regular weather observations; the last such entry in his diary was made the day before he died.

During the early and mid-1800s, weather observation networks began to grow and expand across the country. The telegraph was largely responsible for the advancement of meteorology during the 19th Century. With the help of this innovation, weather observations form distant points could be collected, plotted, and analyzed at one location. The Smithsonian Institution supplied weather instruments to telegraph companies and established an extensive observation network. By the end of 1849, 150 volunteers throughout America were regularly reporting their weather observations to the Smithsonian. By 1860, 500 stations were providing daily telegraphic weather reports to the Washington Evening Star, and as the network grew, other existing systems were gradually absorbed, including several state weather services.

The advancement of this meteorological network was interrupted by the Civil war, but in 1869, the telegraph service again began collecting weather data and producing weather charts. The ability to both observe and display weather information, thanks to the telegraph, quickly led to initial efforts toward the next logical advancement: the forecasting of the weather. However, the ability to observe and forecast weather over much of this huge country required a level of organization which could only be accomplished by a government agency.

Assuming your story takes place after 1870, your characters would have been familiar with the National Weather Service, or at least its forecasts and warnings. If they worked the land, they would have relied on those forecasts on a regular basis, likewise if they worked anywhere that the weather could impact their livelihood.


J.E.S. Hays