Monday, October 16, 2017

Bill Anton: Western Artist Spotlight

Today I'm taking a look at the western art of Bill Anton. Here are a selection of his pieces, for more information and more art, check out his website.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Krystii Melaine: Western Artist Spotlight

Today I am featuring some of the western art of Krystii Melaine. Check out her website for more art and more information.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Mark Maggiori: Western Artist Spotlight

Today I am featuring the western art of Mark Maggiori, a french artist who recent;y turned his eye towards the American West. Check out his website for more images, here is his Facebook page if you want to follow him and give him a shout-out.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Twilighters by Noel Loomis - review

The Twilight Zone stretched for a hundred miles between Texas and Louisiana, and harbored more killers, thieves and assorted human monsters than any area its size in the world. But law-abiding men fought their way through it--on the other side lay Texas and all the great Southwest: the frontier that restless Americans were pushing westward. Some made it, got through. Some didn't...

Two qualities mark the best of Loomis’ work. First, he wrote about violence in a way that that was ahead of its time and still remains relevant today. Second, he was able to find these pockets of history where really interesting stories could be told that were unlike any others. For example, The Twilighters takes place right around the time of the Louisiana Purchase. 

I've remarked before that reading old westerns these days is a lot like panning for gold. There are a substantial amount of forgotten, under-remembered, great writers and books. And holy shit is this a good book. One that even the western cognoscenti seems to have forgotten about. He was a contemporary of DeRosso and his work was, in many ways, darker. DeRosso has been able to find a small cult audience over the years, Loomis is still waiting for his. 

Loomis is forgotten and shouldn't be. His reputation should rest on his five best novels. A Noel Loomis omnibus (maybe 2 vols.) from Stark House with the following novels: West of the Sun, Shortcut to Red River, Rim of the Caprock, Cheyenne War Cry, and The Twilighters, introduction by Bill Pronzini is a thing that should exist. Stark House and Loomis would make a great fit. 

Noel Loomis’ entry in Twentieth Century Western Writers is worth quoting at length:

Violence shapes the work of Noel M. Loomis. There is a savage force at work in his novels, evoking the atmosphere of a harsh untamed land. His writing captures the taste and scent of another time when danger stalked a man with every stride and life hung by a thread. Yet the violence is not all. Against the cruelty of man and nature Loomis sets his heroes, tough, honest men embodying the frontier virtues, strong enough to face the challenge of the land and tame it.

Some of Loomis's early work appears under pseudonyms such as Sam Allison and Frank Miller, names which served him for the novels Trouble on the Crazyman and Tejas Country. Nevertheless, his reputation rests justly-on the handful of novels produced under his own name between 1952 and 1959 when his creative powers were at their peak. Five outstanding works, whose merits indicate their author as the foremost in his field, are Rim of the Caprock, The Twilighters, Rifles on the River, The Leaden Cache, and Connelly's Expedition. In each of these novels, Loomis selects a precise time and place, and brings then stunningly alive. The "feel" of the period is magnificently caught in description, in attitudes revealed by the laconic dialogue, most of all in full-blooded action which at times takes the breath away. The sense of barbaric savagery in whites and redskins alike anticipates the Eastwood vogue in the cinema by 10 or 15 years, in works which that cult has never equalled. The with its casual stomach-turning violence, is among Twilighters, the most savage books in the genre. It is also a tour de force, a superb picture of wilderness America at the time of the 1802 Louisiana Purchase. And in the honest, hardy Nathan Price it has possibly the finest of Loomis's heroes, a man whose struggle with his conscience renders him more human than most.

Though brutality is part of the world he describes, Loomis does not rely on it for his effects. His plots are authentic and imaginative, often with a strong historical basis. Rifles on the River (in the U.S., West to the Sun) takes the frontiersman Dan Shankle through Comanche ambushes and imprisonment in Mexico in the 1770's, returning him at last to unmask and kill the gunrunner Meservy prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Ross Phillips in Connelly's Expedition (Short Cut to Red River in its American edition) braves attacks by Indians and renegade whites as he leads a trading expedition from Chihuahua to Arkansas. Rim of the Caprock shows life among the Comancheros in Texas while in The Le Cache (Cheyenne War Cry in the U.S.) Stuart Nichols undertakes a dangerous mission to prevent lead and powder from falling into Indian hands. Captured by the Cheyennes, he undergoes horrifying tortures before being rescued. The savagery is present in every book- the scalping and mutilation, the massacres, the vicious frontier fighting with its biting and eye gouging. Loomis describes this darker side of western life without comment, but at no time is he seen to condone it. Though never "soft" or "liberal" in his sentiments, he shows a refreshing racial tolerance, with Indians and Mexicans often shown in a good, if unromantic, light. Two of his heroes marry Mexican girls, and most of them count them among their friends. The strength of Loomis lies not in his cruelty but in his vigor, and this breathes life equally into villains and men of solid virtues. Usually the latter prevail.

This is true of The Twilighters, most violent and convincing Loomis's works. The plot brings together two related threads, the family of the despotic Mat Foley-run out of Mississippi for the killing of a neighbour's son and the outlaw bands of Harpe and Mason. Opening with a murder by Harpe and his accomplice Claydon, the plot shifts to the Foleys, and traces the circumstances which lead to the death of the boy, and the family exodus which crosses the path of the outlaws Nathan Price defies Mat, his father-in-law, and with his wife sets off to begin afresh. He avoids the fate of the others, who are massacred by the Twilighters at a river crossing. A fight to the death between two of the outlaws ends the book. The violence described in terse prose, is often appalling. Yet at the heart of it, Nathan endures, and it is with him that the reader's sympathies lie. In time, we know, his kind will tame the wilderness.

The work of Loomis is far ahead of its time. No other western writer of the 1950's depicts so honestly the nature of the land and its people, or renders them so alive. Avoiding commentary concentrates on the atmosphere of time and place experiences with him the of Indian camps and frontier trading posts, the breathtaking vision of the Caprock, the of a surprise attack. Loomis, in his swift en terror character his descriptions, his lithe brings world to life before our eyes. In the field he chose, he has yet to be surpassed as cadier

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Broken Country by Court Merrigan - review

I really liked The Broken Country.

It manages the fine trick of being both an original take on the western while also being a recognizably, full-throated western. Elements of some of the traditional western story lines are combined to great effect. There's the "you shot my pa" story; the "revenge soaked western" story; there's the "prodigal western son returns home to reclaim what's his" story. While Merrigan may be aware of the traditional western story elements, he only wants to flirt and dance with them, not be married to and limited by them because they are all small parts of a larger whole.

And the whole is a bloody, violent, and harsh story (as stories in the west should be).

Stray observations:

-Hal the bounty hunter is like a Tarantino character (which is meant as a compliment).
-More Qa'un!


Set in post-apocalyptic 1876, THE BROKEN COUNTRY tracks the scabrous exploits of the outlaws Cyrus and Galina Van. The pair kidnaps a na├»ve, young scion and head west in pursuit of gold, glory, and respect. Along the trail they met Atlante Ames, a mapper who euthanized her own father and now seeks her twin brother, himself gone outlaw in the ravaged West. In cold pursuit rides the implacable bounty hunter Hal, who takes scalps in the name of Jesus Christ and the science of phrenology, and the contemplative Buddhist assassin Qa'un, paying off the bloodprice he owes Hal … bounty by bloody bounty. Cyrus and Galina's hard road west comes to a head in a dynamite-tossing, six-gun-blazing shootout at the old train depot in Laramie. A dark journey to a time when wagon trains have retreated and the Old West is haunted by bonepickers and starving tribes, THE BROKEN COUNTRY: BEING THE SCABROUS EXPLOITS OF CYRUS & GALINA VAN, HELLBENT WEST DURING THE EIGHTH YEAR OF THE HARROWS, 1876; WITH AN ACCOUNT OF MAPPERS, BOUNTY HUNTERS, A TATAR, AND THE SCIENCE OF PHRENOLOGY is unlike any other book you will read this year.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Death on the Bozeman - review

One year after the end of the Civil War, three southerners are heading northwest on the Bozeman Trail to the gold mining camp at Virginia City. When they find the army has closed the trail because the Sioux are on the warpath, the three friends accept work at Fort Phil Kearny. After an Indian ambush, the men flee the fort, together with a man called Slade. But there is more to Slade than meets the eye, and when he is revealed as a hired gun and murderer the southerners are drawn into the hunt to apprehend him to clear their names.

Death on the Bozeman starts off with three Southerners after the Civil War. They are an affable bunch and the reader quickly falls into the familiarity that they share with each other.  However, the story quickly widens up to include a larger than life bad guy, some crooked vice peddlers in a gold town, Union soldiers, and a larger than life man write out of the history books, Jim Bridger. The pace is swift and always forward moving, the action comes swiftly, and the reader will be satisfied with the ending as everyone gets what’s coming to them.

The classic traditional western is alive and well in Black Horse Westerns

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Upcoming movie and TV westerns

Some upcoming westerns that are worth keeping tabs on. I'll post more when I know more.  
Godless from Steven Soderberg is coming to Netflix in November 2017.
Godless,” a new seven-part original limited series from creator Steven Soderbergh, will premiere on Netflix Nov. 22.

The western stars Jeff Daniels as notorious criminal Frank Griffin, who, along with his band of outlaws, is on a mission of revenge against Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell), who betrayed Griffin and his men. While on the run, Roy seeks refuge with hardened widower Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery), an outcast herself, in the worn-down, isolated mining town of La Belle, N.M., which is governed mainly by women. When word reaches La Belle that Griffin is headed their way, the town bands together to defend itself against the murderous gang in a lawless western frontier.

Hostiles starring Christian Bale is an

"...Army captain who agrees to help bring a dying Cheyenne war chief and his family back to their tribal lands in the year 1892. The two men are joined by a suicidal widow, played by Rosamund Pike, who is still grieving over the murder of her family by Comanche Indians.
Bale 'stache

Here's the trailer:

Hyde Park is an upcoming western flick. Here's what we know:

Based on one of the most intense gunfights in the history of the Wild West, Hyde Park tells the story of the rival Sheriffs Mike McCluskie and Billy Bailey and the war waged in South Central Kansas during a 24-month stretch in the early 1870s.

With an almost overnight explosion, Newton found itself in the cross hairs of two rival communities, the Ohio rail road workers and the Texas Cattle Ranchers who sought to take over the land between their ranches and the tracks. Former Train Policeman and roughman Mike McCluskie is hired by the Santa Fe Train Depot to try to keep the peace. During the election season of 1871, tensions mounted and the patrons from both sides began taking out their frustrations at the town’s brothels and saloons.

The Texas Cattle Ranchers, determined to stake a claim in the city, inserted their own political force, equipped with their own sheriff, the dangerous and violent Billy Bailey.

A cast of Western characters began taking hard line positions. Anchored only with the support of James Riley, a vagrant 19-year old boy dying of tuberculosis, McCluskie took it upon himself to rid the town of the Texas Cattle Ranchers once and for all.
And, the rest, as they say… is history.

And here's the trailer

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a 6 part anthology series coming to Netflix from The Coen Brothers. No images yet but here's what we know about the six parts.

The first of the six is about a singing cowboy and is the title story.
The second, “Near Algodones,” is about a high-plains drifter whose own fecklessness dogs his attempts at bank robbery and cattle driving.
The third, “Meal Ticket,” follows an actor and impresario of a traveling show.
The fourth, “All Gold Canyon,” is about a prospector who happily finds a gold seam but then unhappily finds an evil encroacher.
The fifth, “The Gal Who Got Rattled,” follows two trail bosses on the Oregon Trail and a woman on the wagon train who needs the help of one of them and who might be a marriage prospect for the other.
Lastly, “The Mortal Remains,” about the five very different passengers on a stagecoach of mysterious destination.

August 2017 new release westerns

Cleveland Westerns August releases
I did this for myself and thought it would be worth sharing. I wanted to kind of take the temperature of the genre, I was curious to see just how many new westerns were being published.

I'm not sure if this will be a regular monthly feature or not, but if there is enough interest in this type of post, maybe.

A couple of notes. I did not include any William Johnstone titles. I didn't include most of the reissues I came across. The publishers that have a regular monthly slate of westerns are listed first. I didn't really look at the University presses. I did not include non-fiction titles.

This is substantial but incomplete

If you found this helpful, let me know. 

The Long Trail by John Armstrong

At seventeen, Dot Pickett is young to be taking on the role of trail boss on a cattle drive. But Dot’s life has been hard, and he has learnt to be brave, resourceful – and occasionally ruthless. Now he has successfully led a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas and is setting off for home with the bag of gold owed to the Texan ranchers. But Dot has fallen foul of a notorious outlaw family and he knows that they will try to ambush him. Then when Dot goes to the aid of a young woman, the gold disappears and he embarks upon a quest to retrieve it. Dot’s search takes him on a long trail of danger, deception and intrigue, leading him from Abilene deep into the bayous of Louisiana, where his courage and determination are pushed to the extreme in order to survive and reclaim the cattlemen’s gold.

Spanish Gold Fever by Bill Sheehy

Gold discovered out in California excites young Dan Bartlett, but life as a ’49er isn’t what he expected. Penniless, hungry and still innocent of life, he takes work holding a few horses, and when his new partner Tom Hodges yells at him to get in the saddle and ride, he naturally does as he’s told. Then Dan realizes that they are riding stolen stock and, believing the law is behind them, they head into Nevada Territory, where Hodges remembers having seen a little valley, a place where they can start a ranch. But en route for the valley, they come across an abandoned gold mine. It doesn’t matter it isn’t California gold; any gold draws interest – and when Dan finds himself looking into the barrel of a Colt .45 is when he really begins to grow up.

Long Rider by Colin Bainbridge

Wes Stretton has ridden a long way to gain vengeance on Yoakum, who he holds responsible for killing his friend. The trail takes him to the town of Buckstrap where he meets the enigmatic Lana Flushing and walks straight into a range war between rival ranches: the Bar Seven and the Sawtooth. But someone knows of his arrival and is out to bushwhack him. Then the foreman of the Sawtooth is shot. But was Stretton the intended target? And was Yoakum responsible?

Lightning Strike! by Brent Towns

His name was Billy Swift and he wore a brace of .45s, grips inlaid with silver lightning bolts. They said he was dead, but now he’s back … For five years it was thought that the gunfighter known as ‘Lightning Swift’ was dead. He’d just crawled off into the desert to die after being wounded in a gun battle with Harley Mossop and his gang. How wrong everyone was. Someone shot the man who saved his life, so the Lightning Colts have been strapped back on. Soon the air is filled with the smell of burnt powder as the gunfighter with the lightning-fast hands returns from the grave. He’s mad and is not going to stop until the person responsible is planted in the ground. Then from the past looms a killer. The famous Lightning Swift may not be able to outdraw this one. His name … Laredo Mossop, king of the fast-guns!

Hunting Harker by Greg Mitchell

When Ollie Harker’s wagon fails to arrive at Logjam Creek, his employer, JD Cookson, hires Tom Parry and Durango Finch to find it. It appears that Harker has been killed by hostile Indians, but when a murder in the town is linked to him, Harker’s mission is revealed to be something more than a routine freighting operation. The trail leads Parry and Finch to an illegal whiskey-running operation in which Monson, Logjam Creek’s saloon owner, is implicated. But getting proof of this is both difficult and dangerous, and the two hunters find themselves in deep peril when they come up against a ruthless gang of moonshiners.

Death on the Bozeman by Paul Bedford

One year after the end of the Civil War, three southerners are heading northwest on the Bozeman Trail to the gold mining camp at Virginia City. When they find the army has closed the trail because the Sioux are on the warpath, the three friends accept work at Fort Phil Kearny. After an Indian ambush, the men flee the fort, together with a man called Slade. But there is more to Slade than meets the eye, and when he is revealed as a hired gun and murderer the southerners are drawn into the hunt to apprehend him to clear their names.

Piccadilly Publishing
(publishing schedule copied directly from their site)

Floating Outfit 14: Rangeland Hercules (J.T. Edson)

Wilderness Double 9:Trapper's Moon & Mountain Cat (David Robbins)

The Dragoons 4: Whiskey River: (P.E. Andrews)

Bannerman 9: Mad Dog Hallam (Marshall Grover)

Released 15th

Waco 5: The Drifter (J.T. Edson)

Sundance 18: The Nightriders (Peter McCurtin)

Released 27th

Gunsmith 428: A Place Called Exile (J.R. Roberts)

Pinkerton's Gold by Thom Nicholson

SHOOT-OUT IN HELL: A Western Duo: Featuring Lou Prophet, Bounty Hunter by Peter Brandvold

Buzzard Bait: A Widowmaker Jones Western #2 by Brett Cogburn

Cleveland Westerns
(ETA: it was brought to my attention that Cleveland is all reprints now)

Cleveland Westerns: The Loner (Legends of the West Book 99) Kindle Edition by Scott McLure

Cleveland Westerns: Only A Stinkin’ Nester! (Legends of the West Book 100) Kindle Edition by Emerson Dodge

Cleveland Westerns: War Cloud’s Bride (Bison Book 1581) Kindle Edition by Sundown McCabe

Cleveland Westerns: The Will Of Judah Zane (Legends of the West Book 98) Kindle Edition by Brett McKinley
Cleveland Westerns: All’s Hell On Peach Street (Legends of the West Book 101) Kindle Edition by Brett McKinley

Cleveland Westerns: Cable’s War (Bison Book 1582) Kindle Edition y Brett Waring
Cleveland Westerns: The Fatal Star (Legends of the West Book 97) Kindle Edition by Emerson Dodge

Cleveland Westerns: Gun Swift (Legends of the West Book 102) Kindle Edition by Brad Cordell

Misc. Publishers/Titles
Sunset Showdown Kindle Edition by Onias Bondo (Author)

Blazing Uncanny Trails by Sam Knight (Author), Rhye Manhattan (Author)

Michelle Tanner - Going West: The Complete Saga (Michelle Tanner Going West) Kindle Edition by Ron Lewis (Author)

Three Times the Trouble Kindle Edition by Scott Coleman (Author)

Gunsmoke: The United States Bounty Hunter: A Western Adventure (The Clint Clay Western Collection Book 1) Kindle Edition by Clint Clay (Author), John D. Fie Jr. (Foreword)

On The Far Horizon: A Collection Kindle Edition by Clint Westgard (Author)

Night Wind: The Amado Lopez Saga Begins Kindle Edition by C.M. Curtis (Author)

Sunrise Over the Jumanes (Ten Men of Courage Book 3) Kindle Edition by Dave P. Fisher (Author)

Slade's Law (The Lawman Book 2) Kindle Edition by Lyle Brandt (Author), Michael Newton (Author)

Blood on the Wagon Wheel: The Struggles of a Young Pioneer by William C. Seigler (Author), J.C. Hulsey (Foreword)

James Tylor: The Bounty Hunter: A Western Adventure (The Sheriff Western Adventure Series Book 2) by Clint Clay (Author)

Boot Hill Valley: The Bottle or the Bullet Western Adventure: (Revenge of the Bullet Western Adventure Book 1) Kindle Edition by R.G. Yoho (Author), David Watts (Author), J.C. Hulsey (Preface)

U.S. Marshal Shorty Thompson: Women in the West Did Survive by Paul L. Thompson (Author)

Silence of the Drums: A Western Adventure: From The Bestselling Author of Western Bestseller "The Hard Ride" (The Speeding Bullet Western Adventure Series Book 1) by J.S. Stroud (Author), J.C. Hulsey (Foreword)

River Whiskey by J. L. Guin (Author)

A Single Slug : And Other Western Tales Kindle Edition by Bruce Harris (Author)

Bounty Hunter Package: Bounty Hunter: (Bounty Hunter # 7) The Bounty Hunter: (Bounty Hunter # 8): A Western, The Hanging Bounty Kindle Edition by Jeff Breland (Author)

U.S. Marshal Shorty Thompson: Please Don't Leave Me by Paul L. Thompson (Author)

Silence of the Drum by J.S. Stroud (Author), J.C. Hulsey (Foreword)

Stealin' From The Neighbors by Ed Ashurst (Author), Mike Capron (Illustrator)

A Place Called Exile (A Gunsmith Western Book 428) Kindle Edition by J. R. Roberts (Author)

Bought With A Gun Kindle Edition by Luke Short (Author)

First Campaign Kindle Edition by Luke Short (Author)

Barren Land Showdown Kindle Edition by Luke Short (Author)

The Outlaw Jenny Lee by Jess Bryan (Author)

The Last Notch (Black Gat Books) by Arnold Hano (Author), (Introduction by David Laurence Wilson) (Author)

Blackshot: Blood Money: A Hard Action Adult Western Kindle Edition by Kurt Barker

Warriors of the Plains Kindle Edition by Robert E. Vardeman

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: June Westerns watched

Welcome to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I hope to turn this into a regular what westerns I watched column with some focus on modern westerns from the last few years.

We are in the middle of a small western film boom. Some of the titles are high profile projects with acclaim and wide theatrical release. For every high profile release there may be ten low-budget, straight to VOD or streaming service westerns that go practically unnoticed.

The new westerns seem to fall into three categories.

There are your big budget, high profile, wide-theatrical release movies like The Revenant, True Grit, Hateful 8, Django Unchained, Magnificent Seven, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and others.

There are your Independent releases that are often acclaimed but don't get as wide a theatrical release. Movies like Meek's Cutoff, Slow West, Jane's Got a Gun, The Salvation, and others.

There are your low-budget/no-budget westerns that drop somewhere with little to no fanfare. They may feature a "big name" actor in a small role, used more for promotional purposes. A fair bit of them seem to be filmed in Canada and may use filming locations not typically associated with the traditional western, lots of wooded/forest shots for example. What marks them most is lower production values, wooden dialog, and stiff acting.

With these low-budget/no-budget westerns, curiosity is getting the better of me, I'm tired of scrolling passed these movies so I'm going to start taking a look at some of them.  There has to be a diamond in the rough, right?

As I said, those movies won't be all I watch. I want to re-watch some classics, dip into some TV shows (both old and new), and just create place to talk about western movies.

Frequency: whenever I have enough to justify a post, I'll post. If something deserves it's own post, I'll do that. These could come weekly, or once a month. We'll see.

Enough rambling, after the jump is what I've watched recently.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Relentless by Brian Garfield

I was going to do a fuller review of Relentless but Cullen Gallagher already covered some of what I was going to write. Check out his review.

Some quick thoughts.

I feel like the works of Brian Garfield, who is very much still alive, isn't talked about as much these days as they should be. Garfield wrote popular novels, with popular characters. He wrote in multiple genres, he won major awards in those genres. Multiple movies were made from his books. If you have never tried a Brian Garfield novel, fix that. If you like his stuff, say so.

Relentless is an old-school thriller, with a grounded main character, Sam Watchman, who has the kind of competency that you don't see as much in thrillers these days where everyone is a borderline superhero. This is a thriller with its feet on the ground, which makes it more thrilling. One aspect of that groundedness is the little nods to accuracy, in this book you'll find no fantastical briefcase stuffed with millions of dollars. 

"Too cramped in here to count it but Baraclough had a good eye and had estimated it at a minimum of nine hundred thousand dollars. About ten cubic feet of tens, twenties, fifties and hundreds. Walker had hefted the four duffel bags when they'd put them aboard and the things weighed maybe sixty pounds each."

Any of fans of Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn and Chee books should give this one a try.

Relentless is also considered a neo-western. Neo-westerns are books set in modern times that utilize western tropes and imagery.

Highly recommended

Relentless was filmed as a TV movie in 1977 starring the great Will Sampson. It is out of print but available on Youtube. I won't tell you it's a great movie but it is worth checking out, even out of curiosity. I would love to see a remade filmed version.

Random quotes:

1) "She was a remarkable woman, full of endurance and spirit, but women who chose to live isolated lives on the fringes of the wild country tended to be strong characters. At one point Vickers had told her how anxious her husband was about her and Mrs. Lansford had given him a twisted look and said, How intrepid of him," and looked around as if to emphasize the fact that Ben Lansford wasn't here, hadn't come after her It was evident, and therefore sad, that Mrs. Lansford despised her husband; Watchman found himself regretting that be cause it violated his sense of orderly romantic neatness: a woman is in peril, you rescue her from it, you prepare to return her to her man, and you want her to look forward to that reunion with ecstatic joy. For a moment he resented Mrs Lansford, he made her out to be an ingrate for obscure reasons, he even felt that her attitude somehow threatened everything good between himself and Lisa.
It was a brief passing irrationality and he had no time to dwell on it."

2) "Jasper isn't any less dead today than he was yesterday Watchman said, but then he had to think about that. He hadn't been raised to believe in eye-for-an-eye retribution; that was a white man's concept. Indian law didn't lean hard on revenge and punishment; it emphasized compensation of the victim instead. But you couldn't compensate Jasper Simalie The question had run through his mind at odd intervals in the past two days and although he had never developed much of an introspective habit he was beginning to realize what was behind this dedication of his that had come out of nowhere and taken him by surprise and stripped away a good many superficial layers of easygoing indifference. When you came right down to it, it didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense: they had killed a Navajo, therefore they needed to be caught by a Navajo. It was a streak of what? nationalism? tribalism? he had never thought he had in him. And there was another idea, too, hard to articulate: somehow he needed to demonstrate that they couldn't be allowed to kill a Navajo brother and get away with it."

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance by Dorothy M Johnson

For as big as the western genre once was it doesn't have a lot of awards. Other genres have multiple awards, each with a different focus, that offers a broader cross section of that genre. What the western does have is the Western Writers of America. The WWA was founded in 1953, and its main award, The Spur, has been given since then. On one hand the Spurs give some guidance and stability to the genre, offering up a body of nominees and winners going back 60+ years. On the other hand, since the genre is filtered through only one lens, important western stories get missed.

The WWA has convened and surveyed its members three times to vote on categories like: Best Western Authors, Best Best Western Novels, Best Best Nonfiction Books, Best Western Films, Best Western Short Stories, Best Western TV Series, Best Television Mini Series. The results provide a great jumping off point for the genre, taken with the grain of salt mentioned above.

One of the more interesting categories is Best Western Short Stories. There were five spots and Dorothy M Johnson placed in four of them. That's how this book came about. It gathered the four stories that placed in the vote into one edition: "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", "A Man Called Horse", "The Hanging Tree", and "Lost Sister" (It's worth mentioning as a quick aside that "The Hanging Tree" clocks in at approximately 140 pages in a trade paperback so to call it a short story is a stretch).

These stories are ones that western fans are likely familiar with, even if they haven't read them, since three of these stories were made into movies.

I want to focus on "Lost Sister". One of the realities of life on the frontier was that people were captured by Indians. There is a large body of work, much of it primary source material, about these captures. And the reality is far more nuanced than the fiction. The life of one woman in particular, Cynthia Ann Parker, became a largely influential national obsession. Captured as a child, she lived with the Indians for 24 years. She was married and had children. The life she knew, prior to living with the Indians, was forgotten. Then she was "rescued" by Texas Rangers and returned to her family at the age of 34. Her story, and the story of her son, Quannah Parker, are worth studying and knowing and has been portrayed, or was an influence of, many stories, novels, plays, and movies.

Westerns are, by and large, a male dominant genre--male protagonists and male authors. The male response, as clearly demonstrated in the many stories told about Indian raids, is revenge, violence, and bringing the civilized white woman back into proper society. One of the greatest American movies of all time, The Searchers, focuses on this topic and was largely influenced by Parker's life.

In "Lost Sister", published in 1957, Dorothy Johnson, brings a different approach to this story. Johnson chooses to focus on the affects of the forced relocation back into a now unknown world. She recognizes the great sorrow that his woman would have felt for her only known life and her strong desire to return to it. I think that Johnson recognizes the loss and pain in a way that male writers of the time were unable to.

Dorothy M Johnson is a great writer and one of the very best that the western genre produced. Her work is marked by a great amount of research, empathy, and a broader representation of all who lived on the frontier.

Highly recommended