Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Sgt. James W. Bell - 33rd Iowa Infantry

Post (c) Doris McCraw

aka Angela Raines

Photo (C) Doris McCraw

James Warren Bell was a Sergeant with Company F of the 33rd Iowa Infantry. He served from 1862-1865.

He was born April 28, 1833, in Indiana, near Williamsport in Warren County. His family appeared to be farmers. however, by 1859 when he married Martha Linn, in Steady Run, Keokuk County, Iowas, he was still engaged in farming. 

James Bell & Wife Martha
photo from Find A Grave

When the war began he enlisted as a corporal, although married, on 13 August 1862 and mustered in on September 2, that same year. He mustered out on June 10, 1865, in Fort Gaines, Alabama. 

After the war, James, Martha, and their family started moving westward. In 1880 they were living in Luka, Pratt County, Kansas. James was working as a carpenter. By 1885 the Bells were living in Colorado Springs where James continued working as a carpenter. 

The town of Colorado Springs, founded in 1871, was growing, so James was probably kept busy. His wife, Martha, died in 1892. James passed in 1893. 

The couple had two daughters: Lulu Bell, born in 1866, and Annie Bell, born in 1868. Lulu married Dr. William Sinton in 1885. Annie married Gordon Merrick, who was seven years her junior. 

James died, according to the news report in Chicago, Illinois while attending the Columbia Exposition with his daughter Lulu and her husband William.

For those who would like to know more about the 33rd Iowa Infantry, this website has additional information about the activities of this unit in the Civil War: Historical Sketch - 33rd Iowa

For links to past writing on Civil War Veterans and Civil War Wives: 

Martha Lynn Bell - Prairie Rose Publications

Captain Richmon Finch- Western Fictioneers

Sarah Jane Durkee Anderson - Prairie Rose Publications

Esther Walker, Part 2 - Western Fictioneers

Esther Walker - Prairie Rose Publications

Alpheus R. Eastman - Western Fictioneers Blog

Helen Rood Dillon - Prairie Rose Publications Blog

Virginia Strickler - Prairie Rose Publications Blog

Henry C. Davis - Western Fictioneers Blog

Chester H. Dillon - Western Fictioneers Blog

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


Wednesday, June 19, 2024


I know we have a lot of western movie lovers here—heck, we love just about ALL THINGS western, don’t we? Today I thought I’d talk a little bit about some western movies that are wonderful (for all kinds of different reasons) and one that, though it was highly acclaimed, is not among my favorites. (Please, hold the rotten tomatoes, and be kind!)

No one is ever going to agree with everyone about what makes a movie “great” or more meaningful, because viewers look for different concepts when they sit down and watch a movie. Some values, and “points to ponder”, are more meaningful to some than to others. There is no right or wrong here, just a fun discussion, so y’all chime in and don’t be shy!

I really don’t have a particular order for these except my favorite, and I’ll start with that one. I would definitely have to say my favorite is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, starring John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Woody Strode (as Pompey) and Lee Marvin—who was absolutely perfect for the Liberty Valance character. I realize that not everyone has seen all these movies, so will try not to give any spoilers. It’s very rare that I enjoy a movie more than the book it was taken from, but The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of those for me. It was taken from a short story by Dorothy M. Johnson. Although the actors who were slotted in the key roles were much more “mature” than they were in Johnson’s story, I can’t help but think of those portrayals as more realistic—probably because John Wayne’s Tom Doniphon and James Stewart’s Ransom Stoddard were embedded in my mind long before I ever read the short story.

An idealistic lawyer, Ranse Stoddard (Stewart) comes west to bring some law to a place that has none. Tom Doniphon (Wayne) generally pokes fun at him and the na├»ve way he handles himself. Stoddard changes Doniphon’s opinion as he shows the courage and backbone he’s brought with him to accompany his law books. At first, Doniphon faces down the ruthless Liberty Valance (Marvin) to protect Stoddard, but Stoddard learns how to use a gun and in the end, goes out on the street to face Liberty Valance in a fight he’s sure to lose. As the Gene Pitney song goes: “When the final showdown came at last/A law book was no good.” But…who really shot Liberty Valance? This is a movie you will not want to miss.

Another favorite is Purgatory—the story of outlaws who have died going to a place where they must be good for the length of their “sentence” if they ever hope to make it to heaven. So…what happens when some ruthless outlaws who are NOT dead find the town of Refuge? Is there any way the inhabitants can defend themselves without voiding the time they’ve spent there trying to do good?

The final showdown between both groups will have you on the edge of your seat. Now, bear with me. This sounds hokey, in a way, but it’s really a very interesting movie with a premise that I would not have thought of in a million years. Stars include Sam Shepard, Eric Roberts, Randy Quaid, Donnie Wahlberg (a few years before Blue Bloods) and musician/songwriter J.D. Souther, one of my favorite singer/songwriters, and one of my favorite characters in this movie. I hope if you haven’t seen this one, you’ll give it a chance—it is very entertaining and different.

Another classic, The Magnificent Seven—starring heavy hitters such as Yul Brynner, Robert Vaughan, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn—also makes my list of best westerns. A group of mercenaries band together to protect a small Mexican village from a marauding outfit of outlaws who will stop at nothing to take over. But…there are only seven of them and they must stand against what looks to be unbeatable odds.

Although it’s somewhat predictable, it’s one you won’t want to miss. Realistic, but avoids a lot of gore, and it’s well worth watching if for no other reason than the beautiful score by Elmer Bernstein. (Well, and who DOESN’T want to watch Yul Brynner in anything he’s in!)

John Wayne has made a LOT of western movies, but one of my favorites is El Dorado—probably because I really enjoy seeing Robert Mitchum in just about anything. This flick also includes James Caan in one of his very early appearances on the silver screen. In a nutshell, Cole Thornton (Wayne) is a hired gun who comes to the aid of an old friend, J.P. Harrah (Mitchum), a sheriff who has become a laughingstock because of his drinking. A wealthy cattle baron is determined to steal water from another ranching family, the MacDonalds, and hires his own gunfighter, Nelse McLeod, (Christopher George), an old nemesis of Thornton’s.

Is there any way that Thornton and Harrah can protect the McDonalds? It’s been common knowledge for years that Thornton and McLeod are evenly matched in their shooting abilities, and Thornton has a bullet lodged near his spine that sometimes affects his ability to draw and shoot—a secret he must hide if he has any hope of surviving and saving the MacDonalds.

As for western movies that didn’t make it to my “favorites” list, probably my number one pick for this week would be, surprisingly, a John Wayne movie that he often said was his own personal favorite—The Searchers. Many readers will disagree with me on this, I know.

Ethan Edwards (Wayne) returns to his brother’s home after an eight-year absence. In a nutshell, his brother’s daughters, Debbie (Natalie Wood) and Lucy, are abducted by Comanches. The Comanches have killed almost everyone else in the family and burned down the house.

Edwards goes in search of the girls, finding Lucy murdered. When, five years later, he and Martin Pawley (Debbie’s adopted brother) find Debbie, she refuses to leave with them. Edwards tells Debbie he’d rather see her dead than living as a Comanche and tries to kill her! Martin saves the day, and in the chaos, Edwards is wounded by a Comanche.

There’s a lot more to this before the end of the movie, but I don’t want to give away the last part of it. The main reason I don’t enjoy this one is because of Edwards’ obsession with finding Debbie, even to the point of wanting to kill her because she’s chosen to stay with the Comanche. Also, it just seems like this entire movie goes on and on and on…That being said, there’s no denying that I’m definitely in the minority. The Searchers won many awards and is filmed beautifully, and it’s hard to say anything bad about any movie John Ford directed. It’s a masterpiece, but it’s not my cup of tea, mainly because I was so disappointed in Edwards.

We’ll do more on this next month! I have really enjoyed revisiting these movies and I always see something I never saw before when I watch them. Hmmm…maybe I better give The Searchers another chance…

What’s your least favorite western movie and why?

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Western Fictioneers Announces the Peacemaker Award Winners

Western Fictioneers is proud to announce the winners of the 14th Annual Peacemaker Awards, presented for the finest in Western fiction published in 2023. Congratulations to all the winners and finalists, and special thanks to the judges who make the Peacemaker Awards possible.


John Legg


Winner: 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)


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

RIDE A FAST HORSE, Kevin Warren (Kensington)          


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

CHANGING WOMAN, Venetia Hobson Lewis (Bison Books)

THE PENITENT GUN, Rod Timanus (Thorndike Large Print)


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


“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 (SADDLEBAGS DISPATCHES, SUMMER 2023)

Thursday, June 13, 2024

On This Day in the Old West: June 14

Today is the anniversary of two important patents so we will just take a look at them in our post for June 14. These are American inventions, of course, and ones your characters would have either used themselves or at least heard of in the news.

In 1834, Leonard Norcross of Dixfield, Maine patented the hardhat diving suit. The deep-sea diving suit, hard hat or copper hat equipment, or just heavy gear is a type of diving suit that was used for all relatively deep underwater work such as marine salvage, civil engineering, commercial diving work (like pearl shell diving), and similar naval diving applications. 

In 1739, German engineer Konrad Kyeser described a “diving dress” made of a leather jacket with a metal helmet fixed with two glass panes. The jacket and helmet were lined with sponge, which was thought to “retain the air,” and a hose was attached to a bag of air.

The first real helmet was created in the 1820s by brothers Charles and John Deane as a “Smoke Helmet” to be used by firemen. This apparatus consisted of a copper helmet with an attached flexible collar and garment. A long leather hose attached to the rear of the helmet was to be used to supply air. The original concept was that the air would be supplied by pumping it in with a double bellows. A short pipe allowed de-oxygenated air to escape. This firemen’s garment was composed of leather or airtight cloth and secured by straps. In 1828, the brothers decided to find another application for their device and converted it into a diving helmet, which they marketed with a loosely-attached “diving suit.” A diver could work in this suit, but only in a full vertical position, otherwise water flowed in.

Norcross improved on this design, creating a better suit that could be used in any position so that divers could work more efficiently underwater. Your characters could easily have been familiar with underwater engineering and salvage work from newspaper and magazine articles or even from direct observation.

On land in 1834, a new method of producing sandpaper was patented by Isaac Fischer, Jr. of Springfield, Vermont. The first sandpaper we know of was from 13th Century China, when crushed shells, seeds, and sand were bonded to parchment using natural gum. Shark skin was also used as a natural sandpaper, as was the horsetail plant.

According to the patent, Fischer’s idea involved coating paper sheets on both sides with a reducing or polishing solution that would then be glued. At this point, they were making better-quality sandpaper with powered steam rollers. Isaac Fischer Jr. is regarded as the creator of industrialized sandpaper even though he wasn't the first to actually make sandpaper.

Your characters would certainly have used sandpaper, whether mass-produced by Fischer’s method or hand-produced in the more old-fashioned methods. Some of the materials used for the abrading part of sandpaper, in addition to plain old sand, could have been flint (not commonly used in modern sandpaper), garnet, emery, and aluminum oxide. In addition to paper, backing for sandpaper includes cloth or rubber, used for discs and belts, and “fibre” or vulcanized fibre, a strong backing material consisting of many layers of polymer-impregnated paper. Flexible backing allows sandpaper to follow the irregular contours of a workpiece, while inflexible backing is optimal for regular rounded or flat surfaces. Stronger paper or backing increases the ease of sanding, so good quality paper is best.

From diving suits to sandpaper, the Old West saw many important inventions in the 1800s.

J.E.S. Hays

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