Sunday, June 30, 2013

Western Fictioneers Presents West of the Big River: The Artist

Before he was a world-famous Western artist, Charles M. "Charlie" Russell was a horse wrangler on a ranch in Montana during the worst winter in that state's history. The danger of freezing to death while riding for the brand isn't the only threat Russell has to face, however. A ruthless band of rustlers is sweeping the range of cattle, and a beautiful but trouble-making rancher's daughter complicates Russell's life even more. He'll need more than his artistic ability to survive this deadly winter!

THE ARTIST is the latest volume in the popular West of the Big River series from the Western Fictioneers. Acclaimed author Jackson Lowry spins as entertaining a tale as any of those from Charlie Russell himself in this superb new historical novel.


Once, Rusty tossed his burnt steak over his shoulder, a coyote ate it and got so almighty sick, the marshal rode out from town and threatened to arrest him for abusin' the wildlife.

How could you not love a book that serves up this kind of prose? It's like Mama putting a dish of strawberry shortcake on your plate, and smothering it with a dollop of fresh whipped cream topped with just the right amount of shaved sweet chocolate.

The story of Charlie Russell is full of adventure, amusing tall tales, and rich with characters who come alive on the pages and work their way into your heart. You can feel the cold of a Montana winter, as well as the camaraderie of the cowboys who fight not only nature, but a gang of cattle rustlers.

Best of all it gives considerable insight into one of the greatest artists whoever put pencil to paper portraying what the real west was like. This is a must read for anyone who loves westerns; and a magnificent addition to Western Fictioneers "West of the Big River". A five star effort for sure.

-- Kit Prate
       nook link
Also available on Smashwords

Friday, June 28, 2013


I always enjoyed those "comic" interludes in various western movies. If the hero was serious, having a humorous sidekick added a lot to the "teamwork" and gave a great break in between the tense times. It's not easy adding humor to anything - whether in a book, a theater production or a movie. I'm doffing my Stetson (well, okay, it's just a knock-off) to those colorful western cowboy movie sidekicks who made me laugh. Without their presence, it just wouldn't be a classic western movie.

This by no means all of the sidekicks who appeared in the glory days - only those I remembered while watching westerns. I raided Wikipedia for most of this information, so don't blame me if it's wrong. (wink)

Dub Taylor - born 1907, Walter Clarence Taylor, Jr. in Virginia. He was the father of Buck Taylor who portrayed Newly O'Brien on TV's Gunsmoke. Dub was known for his trademark bowler hat, unruly gray hair and unshaven face, along with a particularly funny cackle. Dub portrayed 'Cannonball' as a comic sidekick in almost fifty films over a decade beginning in 1939. He also appeared as Casey Jones' fireman, Wally, in the Casey Jones television series. Dub portrayed a minister in The Wild Bunch, appeared in Junior Bonner, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and was an ornery chuckwagon cook in The Undefeated with John Wayne and Rock Hudson. Dub played the drunken Doc Shultz in Support Your Local Gunfighter and also guest starred in television series such as Little House on the Prairie, Cheyenne, Laredo, High Chaparral, The Range Riders and Custer among many others. Taylor died in 1994.

Gabby Hayes - born 1885, George Francis Hayes in New York. Hayes and his wife were so successful in vaudeville that Gabby retired in 1928 at the age of 42 to a home in Long Island, New York. Unfortunately, the couple lost everything in the 1929 Stock Market Crash. His wife Dorothy convinced him to move to Los Angeles and try his hand in films, so they headed west. George Hayes was well-educated, always groomed and intelligent, and wasn't a fan of westerns -- but ended up in plenty of them, muttering phrases such as "dad gum it," "persnickety female," "young whippersnapper" and "yer durn tootin'." For four years, 1935 to 1939, he portrayed Windy Halliday, the sidekick to Hopalong Cassidy. He then moved to a different studio where they chose a new name, Gabby Whitaker, as a sidekick to Roy Rogers, Gene Autry or Wild Bill Elliott. He also portrayed sidekicks to John Wayne and Randolph Scott. From 1950 to 1954, he hosted The Gabby Hayes Show on television, introducing the stories while often whittling. He died in 1969. In Blazing Saddles, a character named Gabby Johnson spouts off a bunch of 'western' gibberish in homage to Hayes.

Chill Wills - born 1902, Chill Theodore Wills in Texas. His unique voice (although he didn't get billing) pushed sarcastic Francis the Talking Mule to stardom in several movies with Donald O'Connor. He portrayed Uncle Bawley in Giant, which also starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. Chill Wills earned an Emmy nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Beekeeper to John Wayne's Davey Crockett in The Alamo, but after a disastrous vote-getting campaign, he lost to Peter Ustinov. Chill Wills also portrayed Drago in McLintock! He appeared in The Over-The-Hill Gang, The Over-The-Hill Gang Rides Again and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. He died of cancer in 1978.

Jack Elam - born 1920, William Scott Elam in Arizona. A childhood accident left him blind in his left eye, which skewed to the side (I can personally attest that people do notice a lazy eye!). That trait led to him playing villains for the most part in his early career, and comedic roles in later films. Jack had roles in movies such as Rawhide, High Noon with Gregory Peck (Elam played a drunk in jail), Rancho Notorious with Marlene Dietrich, The Far Country with James Stewart, Wichita, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Comancheros, 4 for Texas and Firecreek. Jack  got a good guy role as Deputy Marshall J. D. Smith in The Dakotas, a TV show that ran for one year in 1963. In 1968, he played a gunslinger in Once Upon A Time in the West, John Wayne's sidekick in Rio Lobo and a comical role in Support Your Local Sheriff. Jack also portrayed comic roles in The Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County, Support Your Local Gunfighter, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again and Hot Lead, Cold Feet. His portrayal of a thief along with Strother Martin in the TV special The Ransom of Red Chief is my personal favorite, incredibly hilarious. Jack died in 2003.

Strother Martin - born 1919, Strother Martin, Jr. in Indiana. He's best known for his role of the prison 'captain' in Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman, when he uttered the famous line, "What we've got here is... failure to communicate." His unique voice and way of speaking is what I remember best of the actor in many western films. Martin played the comical incompetent Indian agent in McLintock! and the beleaguered horse trader in 1969's True Grit -- where the dialogue, his cantankerous manner and voice seemed to match perfectly! Martin also appeared in numerous other film and television westerns, such as The Horse Soldiers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Sons of Katie Elder, The Flim-Flam Man, The Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Rooster Cogburn and The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday. Martin died in 1980.

Slim Pickens - born 1919, Louis Burton Lindley, Jr. in California. An excellent rider, he worked in rodeo for twenty years despite a salary of "slim pickings" - which led to his name. Slim also worked as a rodeo clown. He'd developed a unique Oklahoma-Texas drawl that earned him roles in many westerns, the first being Rocky Mountain with Errol Flynn. He also appeared in The Story of Will Rogers, The Sheepman, One-Eyed Jacks, Stagecoach, Will Penny, The Cowboys, The Sacketts, The Apple Dumpling Gang and Tom Horn plus numerous TV episodes like Annie Oakley, The Wide Country which was a rodeo style show, Outlaws, The Lone Ranger, Alias Smith and Jones, Daniel Boone, The Virginian, Kung Fu and Bonanza. Slim noticed a huge difference in his career after he starred as Major "King" Kong in Dr. Strangelove. Instead of "hey you," he was now called "Mr. Pickens." Stanley Kubrick re-shot the bomb-riding scene in over 100 takes, which didn't sit well with Slim. He turned down a role in Kubrick's The Shining due to the multiple takes Kubrick had demanded. Slim was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame in 1982, and also the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame for his rodeo clown work. He died in 1983 after surgery for a brain tumor.

Walter Brennan - born in 1894, Walter Andrew Brennan in Massachusetts. After serving in World War I, Brennan raised pineapples in Guatemala and then became rich from the real estate market in California. After he lost his fortune during the Great Depression, he took bit film parts such as 1938's role of Muff Potter, the murderer, in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In 1932 Walter lost several teeth in an accident, and that along with his thinning hair, slim build and shuffling gait led to playing much older men in roles. He also took on a "gee whiz, shucks" speech pattern perfect for westerns, and not always as the sidekick. Walter played a shop owner in Sergeant York with Gary Cooper, but also a few villains such as Judge Roy Bean in The Westerner, 'Old Man' Clanton in My Darling Clementine with Henry Fonda and Colonel Jeb Hawkins in How the West Was Won. He starred in the six-year television series The Real McCoys and the two-year series, The Guns of Will Sonnett. Walter played the cranky sidekick to John Wayne and Dean Martin in Rio Bravo, co-starred with James Garner in Support Your Local Sheriff, and got top billing in The Over-The-Hill Gang and The Over-The-Hill Gang Rides Again. Deservedly so, since Walter won three Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards for his work - and he is still the only actor to reach that level. He died in 1974.

Don Knotts and Tim Conway - Jesse Donald Knotts, born 1924 in West Virginia, and Thomas Daniel Conway, born 1933 in Ohio, made a formidable comedy team in The Apple Dumpling Gang and its sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. Don is best known as Barney Fife, sidekick to Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show. He also played Mr. Furley in Three's Company, plus starred in the films The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Reluctant Astronaut, Hot Lead and Cold Feet and The Shakiest Gun in the West. Tim is far better known as Ernest Borgnine's sidekick on McHale's Navy, but he did star as an inept Texas Ranger in 1967's brief western television series, Rango. Tim's work on The Carol Burnett Show, however, as Mr. Tudball and 'The Old Man' plus his skits with co-stars Carol, Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman and Lyle Waggoner, remain fan favorites. Don died in 2006, although Tim is still toodling along in retirement. Who doesn't love Tim Conway?

Add your favorite sidekicks in the comments below!

Meg Mims is the award-winning author of Double Crossing (WWA Spur Award - Best First Novel, 2012) and Double or Nothing, the sequel. She also writes contemporary romance novellas. Meg loves westerns on film and TV despite her lack of enthusiasm for riding a real horse -- a mutual feeling in the few instances they've attempted to pair up. Meg prefers her sofa while watching cowboys at work. Less dust, bugs and sunburn, too.

Meg is also one half of the team D.E. Ireland, contracted for a cozy mystery series featuring G.B. Shaw's Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle - coming in 2014 from St. Martin's Press.

Thursday, June 27, 2013



Part 2    BULLETS

Keith Souter aka CLAY MORE

Doc Galen Adams was really adept at digging out bullets. With his spectacles perched on the end of his nose, his sleeves rolled up, a look of intense concentration and a bit of fiddling with a forceps he would deposit yet another slug into a metal tray. The same scenario has been played out in countless novels and movies over the decades. 

 Not all doctors are portrayed as benevolently as Doc Adams. Some are hardened drinkers, who either need to be revived with a bucket of water, or fortified with a good drink. Doc Willoughby (played by Ken Murray), in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a doc of the latter school. He is called to see Liberty Valance after he has been shot. He calls out: "Whiskey, quick!"

A willing aid appears with a bottle, which the good doc puts to his lips and takes a hefty swig. Thus, restored and ready for action, he turns Valance's body over with his foot, then announces: "Dead!"

The Minie bullet
A few blogs ago, Matthew Pizzolato showed us some Minie bullets, found on the Civil War battlefields. What an advance that was on the type of balls that were used in earlier times. The Minie ball was the brainchild of Claude-Etienne MiniĆ©, a French Army officer. He invented the Minie ball in 1847 and soon it enhanced the accuracy and the ability to maim and kill. Essentially it is a muzzle-loaded, spin stabilised bullet. It was made slightly smaller than the bore of the weapon. Its hollow base would expand so that it would fit the spiral grooves of the bore. Its head was conical, so it cut through the air at higher velocity.

They made a mess when they hit a person. Inevitably, out of necessity, War service increased the surgical expertise of surgeons on both sides. And of course, after the War this meant that many doctors who went west would have considerable experience in removing the various types of bullets.

Digging it out
This description is in keeping with the stoical nature of the good folk that we see depicted in novels and movies. But actually, even in the days of the old west, surgeons tried to remove bullets in the most efficient and least painful way that they could. I will be dealing with pain and anaesthesia (that's how we spell it over this side of the Pond), so for now I'll simply talk about the surgical process. 
Hippocrates, the father of Medicine advised doctors to 'first, do no harm.' He meant, don't make the patient worse off through bad or incompetent treatment. This is certainly the case in the treatment of bullet wounds. You don't dig, but you assess, then locate, then remove, having as clear an idea as possible of the anatomical structures in the vicinity, which may have been damaged by the bullet, or which could be damaged in its removal.

            Note the wooden handle on the scalpel. Pre-sterilisation days

The assessment took into account the clothing and the wound itself. Clothes or anything that was in the bullet's path could be lodged inside the body. Some materials caused more problem than others. Indeed, Dr George Goodfellow, whom we shall come to in a moment, studied materials and bullet wounds and considered that silk could be a potential material for making bullet-proof vests. He even wrote a paper on it, entitled 'Notes on the Impenetrability of Silk to Bullets.'

Bullets were felt for by inserting a finger into the hole and prodding. We shudder at this nowadays, but there was no concept of microbes until the end of the  century. Indeed, a bullet would be pretty well sterilised as it came out of a gun, thanks to the immense heat that was generated. The risk of infection was actually increased by the surgeon's probing fingers.

Surgeons used a variety of probes and  forceps to locate bullets and to retrieve them.

The Nelaton bullet probe  was a French design. It had a porcelain knob at the end. When it came in contact with a firm object, it was rotated against it and withdrawn. If it was a bullet it would leave a lead mark on the porcelain. If it did not then there was a strong likelihood that it was a fragment of bone and the search had to continue.  Remember there were no such things as x-rays and so the doctor had to build up a picture of what had happened as the bullet went through the body.

              The Nelaton probe, invented by Auguste Nelaton (1807-1873)

Some extractors had a screw, so that they could be screwed into the soft lead to remove it. Others had a sort of spoon that could be passed beyond so that they could scoop the bullet as it was withdrawn. Others could be passed beyond the bullet and then rotated so that a hook-like end-piece could pull on the far end of the bullet, allowing it to be retrieved. And a whole variety of forceps were developed. In general they had long thin blades with serrated ends to grasp the end of the bullet. But of course, often other instruments could be adapted for the task, including dental or gynaecological forceps.

Dr George Goodfellow

The doctor who achieved greatest fame with regard to bullet wounds was Dr George Goodfellow (1855-1910). He was a remarkable character; a doctor, naturalist, writer and intellectual. He became the acknowledged expert on gunshot wounds, as well as a pioneer in other types of surgery. He was no shrinking violet, however, but a man of his times. He would gamble, drink and on occasion, fight. Indeed, he had been the boxing champion at the US Naval Academy (from which he was dismissed) before he took up the study and practice of medicine.

He is famous as the doctor who treated both Virgil and Morgan Earp after the Gunfight at The OK Corral. Some months later he had to operate on Virgil again, after another gunshot wound, this time removing three inches of his left humerus. And a few months after that he performed a post mortem examination on the body of Morgan Earp, who was fatally wounded in Tombstone.

Dr Goodfellow shared his expertise in papers that he published in the medical journals. His paper, Cases of Gunshot Wound of the Abdomen Treated by Operation, published in May 1889 in The Southern California Practitioner is an erudite account of several cases that he personally treated.

His descriptions are excellent and he describes the exact path of the bullet in each case, describing the anatomical structures that had been damaged, and outlining how he treated them. He details how he closes intestinal holes, mesenteric vessel damage, liver tears and liver holes. He even talks about repairing the rectum in one case

But by this time he had absorbed the scientific discoveries that had been made and he understood the need for sterility in the operation. He talks about this in one case.

"At the time of operating in '81-82 I used Lister's method in its entirety. The intestines were sutured with gut; and in my cases the continuous Glover suture was used. In Mathews' the silk interrupted."

He is referring to Lord Joseph Lister, the pioneer of aseptic surgery. He advocated using carbolic acid to sterilise instruments and to cleanse wounds. George Goodfellow was therefore at the forefront of aseptic surgery.

[A Glover's suture is a means of bringing together two surfaces of a wound by making a continuous suture, with each stitch passing through the loop of the preceding one. When he talks about Mathews, he is referring to a Dr Mathews who had operated on another case. Matthews used individual sutures or stitches. It is the surgeon's individual preferences]

Caliber of bullets
He talks at some length about the type of bullets and the damage that they do. He mentions that the caliber of weapons and the amount of powder behind the ball is greater in the West than the East.

"the 44 or 45-caliber Colt revolver, cut off or long, with the 45-60 and 44-40 Winchester rifles and carbines, are the toys with which our festive and obstreperous citizens delight themselves; and it may be stated as a truism that, given a gunshot wound of the abdominal cavity with one or other of the above caliber balls, if the cavity be not opened within an hour (I here put a very long limit on the time to be allowed) the patient by reason of hemorrhage is beyond any chance of recovery, and this without anything injured of greater moment than vessels of capillary size or a trifle larger, in either mesentery or intestines. With smaller caliber balls, 32 downward, there may be more propriety in waiting, and the smaller the ball, the more advisable it may be. Any ball from 32 up may be expected to inflict damage enough to necessitate immediate operation; at least such has been my experience."

A surgical rule of thumb
He also makes a broad distinction between upper and lower abdominal wounds.

"With wounds of the pelvic portion of the abdominal cavity more time is accorded the surgeon in which to make up his mind, and he can more justifiably act upon the laissez faire principle. Even here too much waiting proves disastrous in a majority of instances, and it is usually found when too late that surgical interference would have been advisable. Barring the cutting of a considerable vessel in the lower cavity there is no danger of immediate death from hemorrhage. The danger usually lies in the subsequent inflammatory action  caused by fecal or urinary extravasation from wounds of bowel or bladder. Even where these are wounded, death is by no means inevitable without surgical interference. In these cases, however, the nature of the wound and the gravity of the symptoms must be the surgeon's guide. The same may be said of wounds of the extreme upper portion of the abdominal cavity which chance to pass the hemorrhagic stage without interference. I can just now recall but one that I have ever seen do so; and she must have been bullet proof to have stopped a 45-caliber Colt pistol ball with her stomach.

"This is the exception. The rule is that wounds of the abdominal cavity produce death immediate or remote, generally immediate."

[In other words, you can delay perhaps with lower abdominal wounds, but never with upper ones. Surgery is needed]

And finally - the gunman's maxim
He  concludes his discussion with his emphatic view, based on his experience, about the need for surgery in abdominal gunshot wounds and mentions the gunman's maxim:

"I feel more than ever that a surgeon who delays longer than for necessary preparation is guilty of criminal neglect. A 44-40 or 45-35 Winchester pistol bullet through the abdomen gives no chance for life. Death is the inevitable result, usually within an hour. And the laity need no learned dicta upon this point, particularly those who live by the pistol and die by the pistol. Their maxim is "shoot for the guts", knowing that death is certain, yet sufficiently lingering and agonising to afford a plenary sense of gratification to the victor in the contest."


Writing as Clay More, Keith Souter  is currently writing his series of ebooks about  The Adventures of Doctor Marcus Quigley, dentist, gambler and bounty hunter, published by High Noon Press.  The third in the series The Covered Trail is due today, June 27th.

He also writes the character of Dr Logan Munro in the Wolf Creek series and has a short story about Doc Munro in the forthcoming Wolf Creek 6,  Hell on the Prairie.

His latest project is a novel about Dr George Goodfellow, entitled The Doctor for the West of the Big River series, published by Western Fictioneers.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Civil War Reenacting: Getting Started

By Matthew Pizzolato

The first step to getting started with reenacting is pretty simple. Attend an event.  Reenactments take place all over the country, pretty much year round.  The majority of reenactments are during the fall and winter months, because wearing wool during the heat of the summer isn't exactly fun.

Once you are there, talk to a reenactor.  All of us are pretty friendly and love talking about what we do.  We are always looking for new recruits to swell the ranks.  Anyone can be involved, young or old, male or female.  It's something the whole family can do.

My little baby
sister and I standing in front
of an A-Frame tent.
Most reenactments require participants to be registered before they can take part in an event.  So if immersing yourself in the time period seems like something you'd enjoy, make plans to attend the next local event. 

I can say from personal experience that the first article a new reenactor should acquire is a canteen.  Regardless of the time of year, marching to and from a battlefield is thirsty work.  Unless of course you choose to join the artillery, then you can ride everywhere you go.

The next thing would be clothing.  Period correct clothing can be ordered online or purchased at the events from one of the sutlers.  The next would be a tent.  Tents come in all sorts of sizes, from the Shelter tents, to the A-Frames.  Then there are Wall Tents and even the Hospital Tents, which are huge. It just depends on how much space you want or need. Most of us use the A-Frame, although the average soldier of the time didn't have anything as grand.  When they had tents, it was the Shelter Tent that was little more than a piece of canvas strung across some branches to keep them out of the rain. 

The most expensive thing to acquire would be the musket. There is a wide assortment of firearms that can be used depending on which branch you join. Most infantry use the replicas of the Springfield or Enfield muskets.  The best way is to start small and gradually acquire your gear over a period of time. 

If you are just looking to try out the experience, most reacting groups are willing to outfit newcomers completely their first time, so stop by an event, make some new friends, and then see the elephant!

Matthew Pizzolato's short stories have been published online and in print. He writes Western fiction featuring his antihero character, Wesley Quaid, that can be found in his story collection, The Wanted Man and the novella Outlaw

Matthew is the editor and webmaster of The Western Online, a magazine dedicated to everything Western and can be contacted via his personal website or on Twitter @mattpizzolato

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Western Comics Focus: JONAH HEX

Troy D. Smith

A couple of years ago, Western Fictioneers invited a panel of experts to cast their votes for THE TOP TEN WESTERN COMICS . 

I plan to occasionally use this column (the last Tuesday of every month!) to put a spotlight on the characters they chose. I'm going to start at the top, with the overwhelming choice for #1...

Jonah Hex first appeared in the pages of ALL-STAR WESTERN #10, DC Comics, in 1972. Created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga, Jonah was very much a child of the 1970s: far from the heroic western heroes of previous decades, audiences were treated to the adventures of a cynical, anti-heroic bounty hunter, who owed far more to Sergio Leone and The Man with No Name than to Gene Autry or Roy Rogers. His moral ambiguity was visibly demonstrated by his face, horribly scarred by a red-hot tomahawk while being tortured by Apaches.

With issue #12, the comic's name was changed to WEIRD WESTERN TALES... and boy, could it get weird. Jonah Hex stories tended to be a lot darker than other mainstream western heroes (except maybe the original Ghost Rider.) Eventually, in 1977, Jonah got his own title (Scalphunter took over the starring role at WEIRD WESTERN TALES), which was scripted by Michael Fleischer, with most issues drawn by Jonah's co-creator Tony DeZuniga. Jonah's own book ran for almost a hundred issues; when it was finally canceled in 1985, Jonah had long been the last remaining regularly appearing western hero. (In a bizarre move, Jonah was catapulted forward centuries into a post-apocolyptic, Mad Max-like future in a series called simply HEX, best forgotten.)

But you can't keep a bad man down. Jonah appeared in three very successful miniseries in the 1990s, all written by Joe R. Lansdale and drawn by Timothy Truman. The stories were even weirder than they had been in the 70s, as Jonah faced down zombies and giant worms in addition to the regular outlaws and Indians.

There is a lot to like about Lansdale's Jonah Hex when compared to Michael Fleischer's version. One thing I liked was that Lansdale portrayed Jonah as a proud Rebel from East Texas, whereas Fleischer had written a backstory (Jonah's co-creator John Albano had simply never delved into the bounty hunter's past) in which Jonah, sold into slavery with the Apaches by his drunken father, grows up and joins the Confederate Army- and is shocked (shocked!) when he realizes the South supports slavery, whereupon he deserts... but continues to wear his Confederate uniform as a reminder of how terribly wrong he had been. Which is a patently ridiculous example of presentism and 20th century mores being imprinted on characters from the past (I think Mel Gibson's THE PATRIOT is ridiculous for the same reason... and admire the AMC TV series HELL ON WHEELS for addressing its hero's Confederate background and racial attitudes more honestly.)

In 2006, Jonah once more got his own ongoing series. JONAH HEX (vol.2) ran until 2011, written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and drawn by several different artists, to much critical acclaim. In another case of DC taking Jonah out of his element for no apparent reason, the book was canceled and Jonah joined the cast of a new iteration of ALL-STAR WESTERN -which takes place in Gotham City (?) and has Jonah teamed up with the founder of Arkham Asylum (you know, that place were they lock up Batman's enemies between rampages.)

But perhaps that was an appropriate move; if I were Jonah, I think I'd rather be in Arkham Asylum than in the JONAH HEX movie that came out in 2010. Josh Brolin nailed the role, and looked the part, but that was the only good thing about the (very disjointed) film. They did use Jonah's arch-enemy, Quintin Turnbull (John Malkovich), but "misused" might be a better term. Also, again for no apparent reason, they decided to give Jonah weird superpowers that involved resurrecting the dead (power gained, naturally, from an Indian shaman), rather than just being content with the only superpower the comic book character needs: being the baddest man in the West.

To give you a feel for the character, I am going to quote the wikipedia plot synopses of the stories in FACE FULL OF VIOLENCE, a graphic novel that reprints the first six issues of the 2006 JONAH HEX series:  [DANGER! SPOILER ALERT!]

"When a rich family hired him to track down their kidnapped son, he found the boy had become part of an underground dog-fighting ring and was forced to put him down when he contracted rabies. In a conflict involving a stolen gold crucifix, he burned an entire mining town to the ground. Bat Lash helped him take revenge against a corrupt sheriff who framed him. The Mayor of a small town tried to execute him to cover up the incestuous rape of his mute daughter, but the townspeople lynched the politician instead. On Christmas he got into a gunfight, killing a dozen men to protect one of his bounties from their revenge attempts. In the small town of Salvation, he met a local gang who posed as nuns and tried to murder him before he could reveal their secret."
Now THAT'S Jonah Hex.

Here are some Jonah Hex graphic novels, available at amazon and B & N -this is only a partial list:

Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex, vol. 1  (this one reprints the original WEIRD WESTERN TALES stories)

Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex, Vol. 2 (reprints the last several Jonah Hex stories in WWT, and the first 22 issues of the 1977 JONAH HEX series.)

Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo

Jonah Hex: Face Full of Violence

Jonah Hex: Guns of Vengeance

Jonah Hex: Tall Tales

Jonah Hex: No Way Back

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review Roundup: Wide Open

Wide Open
By Larry Bjornson
Berkley Books, June 2012
$28.00 hardcover, ISBN 1410460584
$15.00 paperback, ISBN 0425247481
$15.00 Kindle, ASIN B0074VTH6G
384 pages

In 1871, Abilene, Kansas, is a raucous cow town on the cusp of a historic shift that will define the future of an entire region. Residents are well aware that without the massive cattle drives from Texas, Abilene wouldn’t exist, yet they grow increasingly alarmed by the violence and sin thousands of wild Texas cowboys bring with them. Some Abilene citizens are convinced the farmers flooding in to homestead free federal land represent the town’s salvation, if the dirt-poor sodbusters can overcome Kansas’ relentless summer heat and drought.

Young Will Merritt firmly supports the pro-cowboy faction, publicly shaming the stubble-jumpers at every opportunity. Abilene is the first real home fifteen-year-old Will and his family have known after following his vagabond father’s reckless dreams. Gregarious J.T. Merritt finally has found success as a land speculator. He’s an important man in town … until he gambles on a solution that will save the farmers and point Abilene in a new, more respectable, direction. Overnight, Will’s life — and his perspective — undergo a monumental change. Growing up can be bittersweet.

Nominated in two Peacemaker categories, Larry Bjornson’s Wide Open won the 2013 Best Western First Novel award against stiff competition. Though all of the nominees were worthy, Wide Open pulled away from the pack on the very first page. The nearly flawless writing is breathtaking, presenting cinematic panoramas, riveting action, and heartfelt emotion without ever compromising the first-person point of view, slowing the pace, or dipping into maudlin.

Bjornson’s voice is fresh and evocative; his effortless prose breathes astounding beauty, chuckle-worthy cleverness, and heart-rending pathos in equal measure. This is literature in the Steinbeck tradition.

Although wild and woolly certainly describes Bjornson’s Abilene and the surrounding Kansas prairie, Wide Open runs far deeper than a young man’s first-person adventure. Will’s journey is universal and profoundly moving. Regardless readers’ personal histories, they’ll recognize themselves in Will.

I cannot recommend Wide Open highly enough, as both an excellent story and an education in elevating fiction, regardless of genre, to art.

Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and a novelist in training. She received a review copy of Wide Open from the author. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

SHORT STORY SUNDAY - James Reasoner's "The Wish Book"


Sometime back I mentioned that I had several short stories that I number among my favorites, but that I wanted to talk about three in particular. I've previously discussed Dorothy Johnson's "The Last Boast" and Ed Gorman's "The Face"... today I'm talking about James Reasoner's "The Wish Book" (though I have since thought of at least one or two others I want to highlight in the future.)

"The Wish Book" features Reasoner's Texas Ranger hero, Cobb, who has appeared in several short stories -including "Rattler" in WF's The Traditional West, and "Presents for One and All" in Six-Guns and Slay Bells.

This particular story first appeared in 1996 (I think), in the audiobook How the West Was Read (Robert J. Randisi, ed.), read by George Kennedy. I missed that one; I was introduced to the story a couple of years later when it appeared in print, in The Best of the American West (Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg, eds.) The story was one of those that stuck with me for years afterward -not just for the taut plot, but for the dark mood the author created.

Texas Ranger Cobb is delivering a prisoner, a brutal killer named Spivey, to his hanging. They have become enveloped in a thick fog, from which they hear gunfire and screams. They take refuge in a line shack, only to discover they have entered a world of madness. The three cowboys staying at the shack have been isolated so long it has driven them insane, and they are engaged in a bloody feud over the most priceless possession they have: a mail order catalogue, or "wish book." Each man has picked out the object of his own desire within its pages, and is willing to kill his partners to have it all to himself.

While Cobb is occupied with his own efforts not to be killed by the lunatics, and to stay alive without hurting them if possible, his murderous prisoner escapes. Now Cobb has four killers loose in the fog to contend with.

I won't tell you any more beyond that, you'll have to read it for yourself. It is included in Reasoner's short story collection Texas Rangers, available at amazon and barnes & noble .

Saturday, June 22, 2013


A discussion of western exclamations...

What do you say when you don't know what to say? The casual profanity common today was taboo in the Old West, most especially in the presence of women and children...and "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" had yet to be invented.

Many of the terms commonly heard today were considered profanity in that era. For instance, one did not take God's name in vain, so euphemisms for God and his rival the Devil abounded. One most certainly did not use the word "damn," and as for the even more vulgar terms heard in today's society ... forget about it. However, a few of the terms we consider coarse or vulgar today once meant something entirely different. One of the first to come to mind is, of course, "gay," but there were other words and phrases which once had wildly different meanings than they do today. A gentleman, and most Western males aspired to be one, knew which words he could use and which were taboo.

A gentleman did not even discuss such things as sex, gender, or certain body parts in public. A bull was often called a "cow critter," and a leg was a limb. At one point in the century, even the legs of furniture were covered lest someone see more than they should. A Western gentleman was far more polite than many men you'll meet today. Part of this, it is to be admitted, was due to the ready availability of the six-gun and the ready acceptance of the use of the same. If you felt that a man showed less than sterling manner, you were not only entitled to "call him out," but were expected to do so. This resulted in an extremely polite population.

People did not curse in public, but substituted a more acceptable euphemism for the unacceptable terms. Women, especially, never sullied their lips with profanity, but were expected at all times to speak in soft and gentle tones. Even the act of cursing was not directly spoken of, but referred to as "airing the lungs."

Here are just a few of the many exclamations and euphemisms you might have heard in the Old West.

All-fired, hell-fired, or joe-fired: completely or totally. Don't be in such an all-fired hurry. He's joe-fired determined to go through with it.

All my eye: nonsense, untrue. All my eye, you ain't no gentleman!

Balderdash: nonsense, empty babble. You say you won the rodeo? Balderdash!

Balls: to make a mistake. If he don't watch out, he's going to balls that up good!

Beat the Dutch, beat the Devil: above what is expected; an exclamation of surprise. He's playing that horn to beat the Dutch. Don't that just beat the Devil?

Blame or blamed: damn or damned. Dad blame it! I'm going to ride that blamed hoss if it kills me.

Bosh, bunkum: nonsense. That's a load of bunkum!

Blazes: hell. Go to blazes!

Bully, bully for you: congratulations, good job, excellent; can be sarcastic as well. You rode that ornery hoss? Well, bully for you!

By jiminy: an exclamation. I'll clean his plow, by jiminy!

Cap the climax: exceeds expectations. That'll cap the climax all right.

Claptrap: nonsense. Don't feed me a bunch of claptrap!

Corral dust: lies and tall tales. He's full of corral dust.

Crimany, crimminy: an expression of surprise. Crimany, it's cold out here!

Dad or dog: God. I'll be a dog-blamed fool!

Dang, darn, dash, ding or drat: damn; also variations such as gosh-ding, gol-durn-it, dagnabbit, ding-blamed, dang-blatted or whatever other syllables a creative curser could invent.

Deuce, dickens: the Devil. The deuce you say! That hurt like the dickens!

Don't care a continental: don't give a damn.

Do tell: an exclamation of surprise. Do tell! I had no idea the man was married.

Fudge: an expression of contempt, usually of what was just said.

Go boil your shirt: get lost, take a hike.

Gosh or G: God; usually combined with some euphemism for damn. Gosh-dang-it, I told you to tie that filly up before you saddled her!

Gummy: an exclamation. Gummy, I had no idea you'd take offense!

Hobble your lip: shut up.

Humbug: nonsense. Bah, humbug!

I dad: an exclamation of surprise. I dad, where'd that extra ace come from?

I swan, I swamp it, I swow: corruptions of "I swear;" an exclamation of surprise. I swan if he didn't win that hand!

Land sakes, law sakes, or sakes alive: (for the) Lord's sake, a generic exclamation. Land sakes, is that the sheriff? Sakes alive, but I'm powerful thirsty!

Man alive: a generic exclamation. Man alive, that's a big rattler!

Old Scratch: the Devil. Old Scratch have you for that!

Poppy-cock: nonsense. That is pure poppy-cock!

Pshaw, shaw: an exclamation of disbelief or disgust. Pshaw, I missed the son of a biscuit.

Push your barrow: get out of here.

Rip-roaring, rip-snorting, rip-or rib-staver: exceeds all expectations. That was a rip-snorting rodeo! I had a rip-roaring time.

Sam Hill: the Devil. What in the Sam Hill do you think you're doing?

Shut your cock holster: shut your mouth.

Some pumpkins: something impressive. That five-story building sure is some pumpkins!

Son of a biscuit: son of a bitch. That little son of a biscuit cheated at poker!

Stall your mug: make yourself scarce.

Take the rag off: surpass, exceed expectation. Don't that take the rag off?

Tarnation, or 'nation: damnation. What in tarnation is going on over there?

Wipe your chin: shut up.

Oh, and the exclamation in the title? Nobody really knows where it came from. It seems to have first occurred in a song from 1842, and the songwriter may have just made the thing up to fit his rhyme scheme.


A Dictionary of the Old West, Peter Watts, 1987
Everyday Life in the 1800's, Marc McCutcheon, 1993
Heavens to Betsy! and Other Curious Sayings, Charles Funk, 1955
Legends of America website:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Dispatches from the Yukon by Marc Cameron

I figure I’m finally too old to die tragically young. It’s one of the reasons I allow myself to ride motorcycles.
I’m pretty danged blessed to have lived the life I have. Law enforcement, horse shoeing, travel, a good scrap or two—it’s given me all sorts of opportunity for research. And frankly, I find I enjoy the research nearly as much as the writing. Now that I’m retired and the kids are all out of the house, I have even ramped it up a bit, doing some things I might not have done when they were younger and my job depended on me staying off the injured list.

I’m writing this in the back of a multi-purpose room on the shores of  village on the Bering Sea coast. Frankly, the fact that I owed a blog today slipped my mind until late last night. So, I thought I’d give you a quick description of life in Western Alaska.  

Been sleeping on the floor in various schools along the Yukon River for the last three weeks, working with Yupik Eskimo youth in a series of Public Safety Academies with my friends with the Alaska State Troopers and US Marshals. It’s interesting work. Allows me to keep a finger in the law enforcement pie, keep up my contacts in the business and, basically, do what writers do—research the human condition.  

I went out on the Bering Sea in a skiff yesterday, watching some Yupik friends on a seal hunt in between checking set nets for salmon.  Got to experience some good four-foot waves and Bering Sea spray in an open skiff.  Went up river a bit and talked to some families who were cutting fish for their winter food. Ate some dried seal meat—and found it pretty tasty but also good at cleaning out the system. Thankfully, unlike last week, this school has working toilets.

Rode through the village on an ATV, waving at kids until my arm was sore. Watched a little girl wearing nothing but denim diaper pants splash in a muddy puddle in front of her weathered plywood house—while I was dressed in Smartwool long underwear and a heavy float coat. “Tundra tough” they call it.

Since English is the second language in many of their homes, there is a particular way of talking out here, that I would never have known had I not heard it firsthand.
“Whach you’re doing?” they say, looking wide-eyed over snotty-nosed smiles. They’re used to marshals or troopers giving them trinkets when we come to the village so it doesn’t take long to build up a following while they check out what you have. “Tattoo, tattoo, pencil, gum?” They are quick to laugh, and have a great sense of humor—taking and dishing out good-natured ribbing but always ending with “I joke.” 

In one village, I attend the ‘Forty Day’ for a five-year-old girl, shot in the head by her eight year old brother.

In another, salmon, herring and herring roe drapes across driftwood frames, drying in the wind. A lady my age finds out what we’re doing and stops to talk to me about parenting. “My kids try to turn me against their teachers,” she says, “But I bite their toes off.”  Nice turn of phrase. I often “bit my kids’ toes off” when they were growing up.
This an awesome place—and by that, I don’t necessarily mean all good. There’s beautiful scenery, a rich culture, and all the salmon a guy can handle.
Domestic violence is rampant out here, as is sexual assault and sexually transmitted disease. One friend of mine has been a public safety officer for seventeen years and answered over thirty suicides—in a village of 1400 people. I am told that a young girl out here is six times more likely to be raped than the average female in the US. It is rare that I spend three days in a row in a village without some sort of violent crime occurring.
In a village on the lower Yukon, I watched a weathered and all too world-wise fifteen-year-old girl go from a five-cups-of-coffee-a-day hard case who dipped punk ash (a burned tree fungus that, when mixed with tobacco will give the unaccustomed a mind-blowing buzz) into a beautiful, giggling kid when she had a safe place to sleep and eat.  Gotta admit, I got a little teary-eyed at graduation when she started to put back on her shell to return to her own village.
Tragically young for such a life—as so many of them are out here.  I already know how her character fits into my next story.