Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Born on a Mountaintop by Bob Thompson


No figure – including that glorious tall-tale-spinner Buffalo Bill Cody – is more riddled with confusion, controversy and misinformation than that hero of the Alamo, David (Davy) Crockett (1876-1836).

I am too young to have been consumed by the great Crockett fad started by Walt Disney in 1955, when America’s youth actually wore coonskin caps and went about singing The Ballad of Davy Crockett.  (“Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee/Greenest state in the land of the free/Raised in the woods so knew every tree/Kilt him a bear when we was only three/DAVY, DAVY Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier!” and so on for some 20 verses.)  This fad was as pervasive and as powerful as the furor that surrounded Elvis Presley and the Beatles – if less pernicious than either – and those who were true believers seem never to have lost the faith.  Believe it or not, I once worked for the head of a global public relations firm who was still so besotted by the Crockett craze of his boyhood that he still wore a coonskin cap.  Now that is devotion. 


However, Davy Crockett comes magically alive to me in Bob Thompson’s delightful Born on a Mountaintop: On The Road With Davy Crockett and the Ghosts of the Wild Frontier, and I finally see why the Crockett myth is so compelling. 


For those looking for a straightforward biography, Thompson’s book will come as a disappointment.  Instead, he goes after something much more interesting and personal.  Thompson writes a book literally pursuing his subject.  He traces the historical Davy by following him through Tennessee, westward, and then to Washington, where he served two terms in Congress.  We go with Davy on a book tour through Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, and then retrace those fateful steps to Texas and the Alamo. 


Though chasing ghosts, Thompson is extremely aware of the difficulties inherent in this method.  He writes:  “The past is a foreign country,” as the novelist L.P. Hartley wrote, but I think that Hartley understated the problem.  The past is a foreign country that’s impossible to visit.  You can’t just skip across the border, hire yourself a translator, and ask old John Crockett where he was on the afternoon of October 7, 1780 --- let alone get up close and persona with his celebrity son. 


The historical Crockett he finds is a man of contradictions.  Born dirt poor, he received little education.  He fought the Creeks and took part in several important skirmishes in the Indian war.  After several unsuccessful attempts are raising his standard of living, he married (after his first wife died) a woman of modest means, but still of relative means.  He became a local politician and ended up going to Congress – first as a supporter of Andrew Jackson, and then as his bitter enemy. 


The paradoxes are many.  Here was an Indian fighter who went to Congress and bitterly fought Jackson on an illegal Indian land grab.  He was really “the poor man’s friend,” but he hobnobbed (or tried to) with Eastern Brahmans.  He concocted the most outrageous tall tales about himself, but took umbrage (mostly) when others did so.  Losing his seat in Congress – thanks mostly to Jackson (a man who makes our current politicians look like Mother Theresa) – he heads West again and becomes embroiled in the battle for Texas liberty. 


How and why?  Well, Davy’s time in Texas is just little more than the last three months of his life, but Thompson devotes more than a hundred pages to it.  Like all men, Davy was complicated and self-contradictory.  He really did believe the fight in Texas was “the good fight,” but he also saw it as a way to revive his flaccid political career, and maybe get some land out of the deal.


Thompson starts the book by explaining that his two young daughters became interested in Crockett after hearing Burl Ives sing the Ballad, and how he spent years becoming fascinated himself.  He also spends a great many pages on the Crockett craze of the 1950s, and examines where fact and fiction overlap.  (Not very often is the verdict.)


Thompson was a longtime features writer for The Washington Post, and his Born on a Mountaintop is an eccentric, elliptical, solipsistic and often discursive book.  However, it is also a fascinating read and an interesting meditation on Americana, past and present.  It comes highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Western Movie Taglines Blog Series - June 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 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.

January Movie Taglines

February Movie Taglines

March Movie Taglines

April Movie Taglines

May Movie Taglines

Onward to the June Western Movie Taglines—

100 Rifles

The man-hunger who captured a town. The hunted gun-runner who sabotaged a train. The tigress who seduced an army.

Alvarez Kelly (1966)
The renegade adventurer and the reckless colonel

Conagher (1991)
Outlaws, rustlers, thieves. No one ever took anything away from Conagher…until she stole his heart.
None tougher. None faster. None deadlier.

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
First contact. Last stand.

Gunfight at the O. K. Corral (1963)
The wildest gunfight in the history of the West!

The Missouri Breaks (1976)
One steals. One kills. One dies.

 Ned Kelly (2003)

When the law tried to silence him, a legend was born.
You can kill a man. But not a legend.

Purgatory (1999)
For a band of outlaws, the only thing worse than being bad is spending eternity being good.

The Virginian (2000)
Times change, heroes remain the same.

Young Billy Young (1969)
Billy better learn fast…or die young!

See you in July with the next ten western movie taglines.

Kaye Spencer

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Captain Richmond Finch

Post by Doris McCraw

aka Angela Raines

Photo (C) Doris McCraw

Captain Finch died on September 28, 1898, in El Paso County, Colorado, of heart disease. His story, like many of the veterans who are buried here, is one both universal and unique. 

Born in Albany County, New York in 1837 the third child to parents John and Mary Finch. Around 1850, according to his sister Theresa, (Thirza), the family moved from New York to Prince William Valley, Virginia. However, by 1858 Richmond appears to have separated from his family. So far, the reason for the break hasn't been found.

His military career began on August 1,1861. At twenty-four in 1861, he joined the 3rd New York Cavalry as a quartermaster sergeant. By November 1863, he accepted a commission with the 15th New York Cavalry as a second lieutenant. By the end of 1865, he was a Captain.

In the letters and diaries of this sister Thirza, Richmond was in Washington, N.C. during the Confederate siege of the city. He was in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 and served under Sheridan in the campaigns of 1864-65. She mentions that he was ' an avid, apparently fearless soldier and was as aggressive as he was successful in pursuing a military career'.

He also had a younger brother, Edwin, who served with the 15th NY Calvary and also took part in Sheridan's campaigns. 

His older brother, Madison, was a Unionist sympathizer,  was drafted into the Confederate 4th Virginia Calvary. He served until November of 1863 when he was captured. After five weeks in Old Capitol Prison in Washington, he was paroled and returned to remain with his family for the duration of the war. 

His other brother, Foster, joined the 7th N.Y. Heavy Artillery in July 1863. He was captured by Mosby's Rangers and spent time in a Confederate prison in Virginia. Upon his release from prison, he spent time in the hospital to regain his strength. He rejoined his regiment in March of 1865. (One of the doctors buried in Evergreen just above where Richmond's headstone rests was with Mosby's Rangers.)

Photo (C) Doris McCraw

In 1870, Richmond married New York-born Caroline Smith. He spent two years after the war where he and his wife lived and ran a business. By 1880 the two moved to Leadville, Colorado where they had a Lodging House at 204 W. 2nd St. In 1890 the couple were in Colorado Springs where Richmond was the proprietor of the restaurant, The New England Kitchen. He had this business until he died in 1898.

As we prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, the stories of these veterans and those who followed, deserve to be found and shared. If you see a headstone of a veteran, take the time to research the stories. You never know what you will find.

For those who may have missed the earlier posts:

Sarah Jane Durkee Anderson - Prairie Rose Publications

Esther Walker - Veteran - Western Fictioneers

Esther Walker - Prairie Rose Publications

Alpheus R. Eastman - Western Fictioneers

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

14th Annual Peacemaker Awards Finalists and Lifetime Achievement Peacemaker Award


John Legg



14th Annual Peacemaker Awards Finalists

For Western Novels and Stories Published in 2023






GRAY’S LAKE, John Hansen (Summit Creek Press)

THE GOLD CHIP, Douglas Hirt (Wolfpack Publishing)

CHANGING WOMAN, Venetia Hobson Lewis (Bison Books)

RIDE A FAST HORSE, Kevin Warren (Kensington)

THE BOOT HEEL, Kevin Wolf (Thorndike)




THE GOOD TIME GIRLS, K.T. Blakemore (Sycamore Creek Press)

CHANGING WOMAN, Venetia Hobson Lewis (Bison Books)

. . . BY THE WAY THEY TREAT THEIR HORSES, M. Timothy Nolting (Austin Macauley Publishers)

THE PENITENT GUN, Rod Timanus (Thorndike Large Print)

RIDE A FAST HORSE, Kevin Warren (Kensington)




“Clarence Flowers”, John Neely Davis (FORTITUDE, Five Star)

“Prairie Blossoms”, Sharon Frame Gay (FORTITUDE, Five Star)

“The Sound of Buffalo”, Lisa Majewski and Del Howison (FORTITUDE, Five Star)

“Next to the Last Chance”, John D. Nesbitt (BRIGHT SKIES AND DARK HORSES, Five Star)

“The Great Burro Revolt”, P.A. O’Neil (SADDLEBAG DISPATCHES, Summer 2023)

“The Would-Be Bounty Hunters”, Michael R. Ritt (FORTITUDE, Five Star)


Winners will be announced June 15, 2024 on the WF website (www.westernfictioneers.com) and on this blog.

Western Fictioneers (WF) was formed in 2010 by professional Western writers, to preserve, honor, and promote traditional Western writing in the 21st century. Entries were accepted in both print and electronic forms.

The Peacemaker Awards are given annually. Submissions for the Peacemaker Awards for books and stories published in 2024 will be open in August 2024. Submission guidelines will be posted on the WF website. For more information about Western Fictioneers (WF) please visit: http://www.westernfictioneers.com

Western Fictioneers would like to thank the judges for the excellent job they have done and James Reasoner for being Awards Chair.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

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


Here is a wonderful action painting by our friend, Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926), the Cowboy Artist. I have been trying to get a sense of the man and his philosophy through his pictures. 


We can start with the obvious: the title of this work, Loops and Swift Horses are Surer Than Lead. In all the Western Art I have looked at 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. Yes, 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.