Saturday, May 28, 2016
People say all small towns look the same. The old brick buildings guarding the streets silently speak of the past, when they were new and full of life. The traffic light on Main Street measures the slow pace of life in increments of green, yellow and red. Most times, the Christmas decorations go up on the streetlights after Halloween and don’t come down until the first warm day of spring.
The flag at the courthouse is no odd sight; flags in small towns are common and patriotism runs high along with societal values. The speed limit is no more than 35, and everyone knows that. There’s no reason to rush, anyway.
My first clue that something was different about Madill that August day was the sign. On the very far northern edge of the “city” limits someone had placed a huge banner by the side of the two-lane highway. It stood unfurled between two wooden poles.
“A TRUE AMERICAN HERO,” the lettering read, and below that, “2ND LT. JOE CUNNINGHAM.”
Red and blue magic marker starbursts filled the white void of the background around the letters, leaving no doubt that the banner had taken hours of loving, painstaking precision to create.
And the rockets’ red glare,
The bombs bursting in air…
The banner stood as the beginning of what was to be a somber twenty miles of driving for me that day. Only a few feet from where the banner had been placed, small roadside flags were planted in the parched Oklahoma soil. There had been no rain for weeks, and with our record-breaking number of triple-digit days, I could only imagine how hard it must have been to push those small, fragile twelve-inch sticks into the rock-hard ground at such measured intervals.
If you’ve ever lived in a small town, you know Saturday mornings are the liveliest, busiest times of the week. Not so on this Saturday morning. As I topped the hill and the main part of town came into view, my heart skipped a beat. I had never seen such a profusion of color. Red, white and blue—everywhere. Flags flew from every porch, every small business, every conceivable place visible…and that could only mean one very tragic thing.
Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there…
I slowed down to twenty-five as tears blurred my eyes. A car pulled out in front of me a little further down the road, and I looked to my right. The side road had been blocked off. There were at least two hundred motorcycles parked beside the First Baptist Church. The Patriot Guard Riders had come to pay their respects—and to be certain that everyone else did, too, should a certain crazed group of fanatics from Kansas decide to make an appearance.
Across from the motorcycles, a huge, beautiful American flag was unfurled, the field of blue lending its stars to heaven, the stripes perpendicular to the ground. In front of that flag stood perhaps fifty lawmen of every type, a mix from both sides of the Red River, Texans and Oklahomans.
The parking lots for the businesses in the immediate area were full to overflowing, even though none of those businesses were open. Signs filled the windows under where the flags flew: “CLOSED. BACK AT 1:00 P.M. REST IN PEACE, JOE.”
I stopped at the light on Main Street. The courthouse flag was, of course, flying at half-mast. There were no other cars on the road. The one that had pulled out in front of me earlier had turned off a block back, at the first available parking place, a long, half-mile hike away from the church. I was driving through a ghost town.
The signboard at the Grab & Go read, “OBAMA MAY BE PRESIDENT, BUT GOD IS STILL IN CHARGE.” Any other time, I might have smiled, but not with that small picket of flags that still sporadically lined the road, reminding me of the terrible loss this town was reeling from.
Another hand-lettered sign by the road: “WE’LL MISS YOU, JOE. GO WITH GOD.”
And yet, another: “REST IN PEACE, JOE. WE WILL NEVER FORGET.”
I drove out of Madill, headed for Kingston, another small town, a few short miles away.
Small towns, close together, are usually rivals on the high school football field and in most other things, but when all is said and done, we remember that we are, all of us, citizens of the same wonderful country, and that’s what matters—more than who wins the game on Friday night, more than which town has the best point guard on the basketball court, and more than which quarterback has better chances with the big college scouts. As Americans, we all have equal ‘bragging rights’—we are Americans, and no other country pulls together as we do when the going gets tough.
I couldn’t think of anything, anywhere, any time being tougher than losing even one of our young men to war. A bright smile that would never be seen again, coming through his parents’ door; two arms that could never open to hug his best girl again; the echoing sound of emptiness forever where once his steps fell—an aching, empty hole in the lives of every person he ever knew that could never, never be filled.
My thoughts rolled over one another as I drove. I wondered about him, about his family—about what he’d left behind, and how the people he’d known would ever manage to survive without him in their lives forevermore.
I was on the fringes of Kingston when the roadside flags started up in earnest again—though they’d never completely stopped. But now, it looked as if someone had planted a beautiful garden of red, white, and blue flowers in the cracked, dry Oklahoma soil.
As Kingston came into view ahead, flags fluttered in the wind at every business. Some buildings had bunting on their storefronts.
It doesn’t take long to cover the few miles from one end of Kingston to the other. But with every inch of ground I traveled, there was no doubt that 2nd Lieutenant Joe Cunningham was remembered, respected, and revered.
As I drove out of town, yellow ribbons tied around several branches of a tree in someone’s yard caught my eye.
“HE IS HOME. REST IN PEACE.”
No small town rivalry, now. As Americans all, we share only a unified, joint loss of a shining star; the precious, irreplaceable light of someone’s life.
He was 27. He loved to hunt and fish. He had dreams of becoming a highway patrol officer and finishing his degree. He always wore a smile.
I will never drive that sad stretch of road again without remembering a man I never met. A hometown hero is gone forever, but he will never, never be forgotten.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
I'm gonna date myself severely here and admit that I grew up with a telephone party line.
In this future-I-never-imagined, where everybody has instant access to a phone of their very own, the concept of a communications line shared by several neighbors seems almost surreal. But it's indeed how we lived.
The big plastic phone with the rotary dial went off twice in quick succession, and we knew it rang for us. If it went off with one long ring or three quick rings, or any other combination of rings, it was for somebody else. Which didn't stop my mom from picking up the phone to listen to the conversations there.
They say there's no privacy in small towns, but back then there was no privacy in the country either.
So I always wanted to write a story about a phone.
Last week, I had a chance.
I was typing waist deep in a story called "Drowning on Dry Land," treading water. The hero was a greenhorn cowboy with a twisted ankle, stuck with a newborn calf in a flooding creek and more rain on the way. I needed him to find a way to call for help.
Insert handy plot device: a low-hanging telephone line. My hero finds an unlikely branch and miraculously tosses it up, snags the line, pulls it down. The old busybody on the other end notices the phone is out of order and sends a posse from the ranch to repair it. Naturally, they find the hero and all is well.
I typed THE END, reviewed the story, wasn't satisfied with it (did it seem phoned-in?) and archived it for later.
But the image of vexing a telephone busy-body by tearing down the line stayed with me.
So with a new blank document, I sat down and wrote "Ida Tully and the Telephone."
A new story from the fragments of another. Have you ever had that happen?
Ringing in around 2,500 words, this one took three sessions (not counting the original story) --one hour and two half hour sittings.
After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. In 2016, Richard roped the Spur Award for short fiction given by Western Writers of America. Read more at www.RichardProsch.com
Monday, May 23, 2016
Marta’s shotgun and some oddball weapons
I guess first a brief word on Marta is in order. Marta, no one knows her real name or much about her. She’s a stray 16-year old mute Mexican girl, trail-smart—her murdered family had been migrant workers doing any odd job they could find—tough, self-reliant, practical, opinionated, and didn’t take any gruff from anybody. And especially from Bud Eugen, an out of work cowpoke unprepared to handle the spunky girl.
The next mention of arms in The Hardest Ride is a brief reference to some old rifles used by renegade Indians when Bud found Marta’s murdered family. Bud reflects, “Poor Mexes almost never had guns. They were easy pickings….” This was often true. Besides lack of money for such expensive implements, it was common for Texicans to simply disarm Mexicans encountered with firearms. There wasn’t a lot of mutual trust. All Bud found were empty cartridge cases at the murder scene. The rimfire .50-70 Government was used in the obsolete Model of 1866 Springfield trap door rifle issued by the Army until it was replaced by the well-known .45-70 Government in 1873. It was the first centerfire cartridge adopted by the Army. The other cases he found at the scene were .40-50 Sharps. There were about two dozen different .40-caliber rifle cartridges in use by the mid-1880s for buffalo and other large game. Most of these were long-ranged, but the .40-50 Sharps was the smallest of the many Sharps rounds and mostly used in Remington rolling block rifles, which did not have the strongest breech blocks around. He also found some .32 Long Rifle cases. This was a reloadable centerfire version of the older .32 Long rimfire. It was never too popular and eventually pushed out of the way by the .32-20 Winchester and other newer .32-caliber rounds. The .32 Long Rifle was found in various single-shot rifles from 1875 like the J. Stevens. The 12-gauge empties Bud found he assumed were from Indians. Later he decides Marta’s papa probably had the shotgun as she obviously knew how to handle one.
Springfield .50-70 Model of 1866 rifle.
Bud encountered a lone cowpuncher heading home after a long absence and besides the revolver holstered on his belt; he noticed he carried a “horse pistol in a saddle holster.” This was not a particular type of pistol, but any make and model of revolver carried in a holster attached to the saddle. It was simply a backup. It might be his “second best” pistol. Occasionally a flap of cowhide with hair might cover it for protection from the weather or concealment. There were also pommel holsters, usually two holsters connected by a leather piece, often with a hole that fitted over the saddle horn. This was mainly a military rig, but occasionally fancied by lawmen.
With Bud’s encounter with some murdering Indians, we learn he not only uses ammunition sparingly, but is very self-conscious about his ability to hit targets, especially at the close ranges he experiences here. This is where he acquires the shotgun that becomes a major player in The Hardest Ride. It’s a Parker Brothers 16-gauge long barreled, double-hammer piece mainly used for fowling. This particular piece had 30-inch barrels. From muzzle to butt it was almost as long as Marta was tall (she’s 4 feet 11 inches). Double-hammer meant exposed hammers cocked manually. It would not be until 1888 that hammerless, self-cocking models appeared. Bud views its acquisition as a hunting piece, but his practical mind tells him to purchase some buckshot and later slugs. In those days the most popular gauges were 10-, 12-, and 16-gauge. The massive 8-gauge also saw some use. Today the 12- and 20-gauges are the most popular. As a side note, anything today over 10-gauge is illegal and has been since 1918.
I realize most know that in the gauge system the larger the number the smaller the shotgun’s bore. The following is just for those who are not clear on it. A shotgun’s gauge is determined by the number of balls of the shotgun’s bore diameter that can be formed from one-pound of lead. A 16-gauge shotgun requires sixteen balls from that pound of lead while a larger 12-gauge has twelve balls.
I’ve been asked why just a 16-gauge and not something bigger? First it had to be something the diminutive Marta could handle and I simply wanted to avoid making it a big bore just because its macho—“My scattergun’s bigger than yours.” She makes pretty effective use of the smaller gauge gun as it is. The Parkers were quality pieces for their day, a basic model going for about $40.00. Even basic models sported some fancy engraving. What else went for $40.00 in 1886? A Grade A Michigan four-seat family wagon.
This little event with the three Indians also lands Bud a nice Smith & Wesson Russian No. 3 in .44 S&W. S&Ws were the second most popular revolvers after the Colt. The S&W Russian was based on the pattern purchased by the Russian government in 1870 and chambered for the .44 S&W Russian, a popular and accurate cartridge. They began to be sold in the States in 1878. The Russians were chambered for other cartridges including the .44 S&W American, .44-40 Winchester, .32-44 S&W, .38-44 S&W, and .45 S&W Schofield. S&Ws were quality revolvers and quite popular. Besides obvious external differences in design from the Colt, the two big differences were: Colts were loaded through a side gate on the right side and cartridges were emptied one at a time and loaded one at a time rotating the cylinder for each round. S&Ws broke open to eject all empties at once and could be loaded much quicker since all chambers were exposed and did not require cylinder rotation for each round to be loaded. And, Colt cylinders—viewed from the rear—rotated clockwise and S&Ws rotated counterclockwise. There is no particular benefit for the direction of rotation. It’s just the way they were made. A shooter needed to know this so he could rapidly load a round or two so the cartridge would align when the revolver was cocked without having to ratchet the cylinder all the way around in the opposite direction.
The Remington Army .50-caliber Model of 1871 pistol Bud later liberated from a wannabe desperado was outdated the day it was adopted. Revolvers had been popular and in wide use since the 1850s and after the Civil War the Army adopted a single-shot pistol of all things! It was a rolling block action as used on rifles and breech-loaded using an internally primed cartridge (no visible primer—it looked like a rimfire). It is little wonder Bud had difficulty selling it, which was fortunate as Marta made effective use of it in a moment of dire need. The Army wisely adopted the Colt single-action Army model, the Peacemaker, two years later. As useless as Bud considered the old Remington .50-caliber, it later has its use.
Part IV to appear on 20 June (third Monday).
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Anyone who knows me knows how crazy I am about name collecting. I’ve done it ever since I was a little girl—probably because my own name has such an odd pronunciation. Bear with me if you’ve read this before—it won’t take long. My parents named me Cheryl—but not pronounced SHARE-yl like most people would say. No, my name is pronounced CHAIR-yl. But wait, there’s more! As if that wasn’t bad enough—my dad had the bright idea to use “Kathlyn” for my middle name—not Kathryn or Kathleen—but his own combo. I think he did it on purpose so he could roll the entire thing off his tongue when he got perturbed with me.
Is it any wonder that I named my daughter Jessica and my son Casey? Though that proved to me nothing is fool-proof—Jessica was on a little league softball team with 8 other Jessicas, and Casey had 2 girls in his kindergarten class named Casey. The thing that saved the day was that there was also a girl named Michael—so he didn’t have to listen to “Casey’s a girl’s name”—since it really hadn’t been until the year he was born, evidently.
(CASEY AND JESSICA AT THE LAKE--THEY GREW UP AND DID OKAY!)
I wanted to talk a bit about Indian names we are all familiar with and what the meanings are—I thought that might be fun. Though no one really knows what their children will grow up to be, many of us choose names that have “meaning” behind them. My dad’s name was Frederic—which meant “Peaceful Ruler”—we had great fun with that over the years. Mom’s name was El Wanda—which she always told us meant “The One”—and my dad would say, “Well, THAT’S the truth! You’re THE ONE for me!”
(MY MOM AND DAD NEWLY MARRIED AND READY TO TAKE ON THE WORLD)
But what about some of the famous leaders in history who were Indian?
GOYATHLAY m Native American, Apache
Means "one who yawns" in Apache. This was the real name of the Apache chief Geronimo, who fought against Mexican and American expansion into his territory.
(GERONIMO IN HIS YOUNGER DAYS)
HIAWATHA m History, Native American, Iroquois
From the Iroquoian name Haio-went-ha meaning "he who combs". This was the name of a 16th-century Mohawk leader who founded the Iroquois Confederacy. He was later the subject of a fictionalized 1855 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
NANOOK m Native American, Inuit
Variant of NANUQ. This was the (fictional) name of the subject of Robert Flaherty's documentary film 'Nanook of the North' (1922).
POCAHONTAS f History, Native American, Algonquin
Means "she is playful" in Algonquin. This was the name of a young Algonquin woman, daughter of a powerful chief, who married a white colonist.
QUANAH m Native American, Comanche
Means "fragrant" in the Comanche language. This was the name of a 19th-century chief of the Comanche.
(IN THIS PICTURE, GERONIMO IS ON THE LEFT SIDE AND QUANAH PARKER ON THE RIGHT)
SACAGAWEA f Native American
Probably from Hidatsa tsakáka wía meaning "bird woman". Alternatively it could originate from the Shoshone language and mean "boat puller". This name was borne by a Native American woman who guided the explorers Lewis and Clark. She was of Shoshone ancestry but had been abducted in her youth and raised by a Hidatsa tribe.
TECUMSEH m Native American, Shawnee
Means "panther passing across" in Shawnee. This was the name of a Shawnee leader who, with his brother Tenskwatawa, resisted European expansion in the early 19th century.
WINONA f English, Native American, Sioux
Means "firstborn daughter" in the Dakota language. This was the name of the daughter of the Sioux Dakota chief Wapasha III.
These are just a few of the names and meanings that I found at this site. You might find it interesting to check out the others!
I'm curious--is there something odd about YOUR name? Do you wish you had a different one, or are you perfectly satisfied with the one your parents gave you?
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Vicky J. Rose grew up a small central Texas town listening to stories about gunfighters, outlaws, buried treasure, and Indians. So it made sense to write about them. And she did.
In the sixth grade, she wrote a play about Jesse and Frank James. The desire to write pushed her to complete a couple of novels in her twenties that, by her own admission, didn't find the light of day.
About a year after submitting them, an editor finally got around to looking at one of the stories.
"Obviously searching for something, anything, complimentary, to say about it, the editor said, 'It has a very nice title,' ” Vicky recalled. "I quit writing for a long time, thinking I needed to gather further experience and wisdom before trying again," she said.
Several years later, she tried again. This time, the results were different.
She has written articles for Angelo State University’s Oasis and other publications as well as the anthologies of the Texas Folklore Society.
Her short story, "A Promise Broken, A Promise Kept," in La Frontera’s Broken Promises anthology, ranked as a 2014 Spur Finalist.
Lately, Vicky has turned her focus to writing novels.
1. You received an award last year for your short story—"A Promise Broken, A Promise Kept"—which ranked among the top three stories in Western Writers of America’s short fiction category. Tell us a little about that memorable author moment.
I could lie and say, “Oh, I was so thrilled; it was such a great honor,” etc., etc. But my first feelings were of disappointment because I didn’t win the Spur! I had a great belief in that story.
Later, I did begin to realize what a great honor it is be a Spur finalist, and I am thrilled.
2. You've written in the novel and short story formats. What different challenges to each present?
It’s hard not to be too verbose in a short story. Everything has to be leaner. Every sentence, every word, has to count toward the point the author is trying to make.
I took a class in screenwriting at Sam Houston State University, Dan Rather’s alma mater. The professor had us do an outline and all that stuff first.
Then he told us our script could only be ten pages long. You should have heard the whining and complaining that it couldn’t be done but it is possible to pare down a story to its basic idea.
When an author begins a novel, he or she is getting into a canoe and rowing down a river. The challenge is to stay on course, keep moving, and not be led down byways that go nowhere
3. What was the inspiration behind your novel, "Treasure Hunt in Tie Town"?
I had done some interviews around my hometown about local buried treasure legends for a paper I wanted to present to a history organization I belong to. It was turned down, and instead, the woman who was choosing the papers talked about her mother-in-law’s plate collection.
I tweaked it, submitted it to Lost Treasure magazine, and they jumped on it. Later, I thought it would make an interesting premise for a novel. Being shoved aside for somebody’s mother-in-law’s plate collection was the best thing that happened to that story.
On a broader note, when I sit down to write a novel, it helps me to ask myself, “Who am I writing this for?”
Larry McMurtry stated he wanted to write a really good Western that would debunk the mystique of the Old West. With Lonesome Dove, I think he added even more layers to the mystique of the Old West, but he did write a fantastic novel.
With Treasure Hunt, my goal was to simply write a really good Western. I don’t know how men feel about it. Women tell me they love it. But that’s the difference between men and women.
I used to cut hair for a living. Men will say, “Thanks,” and that’s about it. With women, they either love it, or they are crying because they don’t like what you’ve done. That’s the reason I cut mainly men’s hair; I couldn’t take the drama.
Another novel, tentatively titled Muskrat Hill, has been picked up by Kensington and will soon be published in their e-book and print-on-demand line.
4. You write both fiction and non-fiction. How does your background play into your storytelling?
I grew up in a small town steeped in the history of the Wild West. After the Civil War, it became a hotbed of violence. It was so bad, Print Olive and his family had to leave and move to Colorado.
I had ancestors with ties to both sides of the law. It took vigilante justice to put a stop to the bloodshed because the law was afraid to even go there.
We knew we were from a backward small town that other people in the county looked down upon even years later, but we also realized we were special because of it.
While in my fifties, I went to SHSU and later earned a degree in journalism from Angelo State University. Screenwriter and movie producer Frank Q. Dobbs told our newspaper writing class, “English majors read; journalism majors write.”
5. When did you first discover your love for writing? Any particular book or film or anything else inspire you?
I’m not sure about a book or film, but when I was in sixth grade that play I wrote about Jesse James earned me praise from my family and friends. Since I’d never been praised for anything else, I thought it might be something I could possibly be good at. All my life, I’ve been a sporadic writer.
6. How do you approach the storytelling process once you get an idea? Do you plot things out or create as you write?
I never was good at outlines, but since taking that screenwriting course, I’ve had good luck writing a screenplay about an idea first, and then turning it into a novel.
They don’t always resemble one another closely when I’m finished, but writing a screenplay helps me to visualize the story I’m trying to tell.
7. If you could meet one person from the Old West, who would it be and what one question would you ask?
I would want to talk to my g-g-g-grandmother, Zillah Thompson Jackson, and I couldn’t stop with just one question. I would want to ask her:
And when she answered, I would hope that just a little bit of her courage would rub off on me.
- Why did you allow my g-g-g-grandfather to put a ladder against your window and steal you away on a fast horse when you were engaged to another man?
- Why did you come to Texas? What was it like to be on the run from Santa Anna’s army?
- How did it feel to be so close to the Battle of San Jacinto, you could hear the gunfire?
- How did you tolerate living in fear of Indian attacks?”
More about Vicky Rose: