Monday, May 25, 2020

Happy Memorial Day -- Sorta


My tribute to our forefathers who fought to protect our nation.






My father never met me. He died in WWII in the cockpit of his P-51. I wouldn't be here, except for a brief leave between flight school and his assignment to Iwo Jima. He provided escort service to the B-29s that bombed Japan daily.

I don't have many pictures of him, but this one was posted to a website honoring the 506th Fighter Group. My father is the furthest out on the wing.

My father and many soldiers throughout our history fought to preserve our freedom. Now in a matter of weeks, it has all been taken away. Sometimes it's hard to believe this is still the United States of America. I believe it's time to once again become the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

I'd like to wish him and all of his compatriots that helped keep us safe and free, Happy Memorial Day ... and thank you.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Story Behind the March 1882 Poster Warning “Billy, the Kid”

Ran across this paper by Robert J. “Bob” Stahl at Arizona State University. Fun Old West trivia. Highlight mine.




Since the 1920s, professional and lay historians as well as supporters of the various Billy, the Kid impostors have differed widely in the purposes or meanings of the March 24, 1882 poster that read:

NOTICE!
TO THIEVES, THUGS, FAKIRS AND BUNKO-STEERERS,
Among Whom Are
J. J. Harlan alias “Off Wheeler;” Saw Dust Charlie, Wm. Hedges, Billy, the Kid, Billy  Mullin,  Little  Jack,  The  Cuter, Pockmarked  Kid  and  about  Twenty  Others:
If Found within the Limits of this City after TEN O’CLOCK P.M. this Night, you will be Invited to attend a GRAND NECKTIE PARTY,
The Expense of which will be borne by
100 Substantial Citizens.
Las Vegas, March 24th, 1882

Those who believe that Billy, the Kid, Bonney was not killed by Pat Garrett at about 12:20 a.m. on Friday, July 15, 1881 in Pete Maxwell’s bedroom use this poster as evidence that Billy Bonney was still alive, lest why would 100 “substantial citizens” of Las Vegas, NM, a town where Billy was well known, want him out of town before 10 p.m. the evening of March 24, 1882. This poster as dated is often one of their primary pieces of ‘hard’ evidence that Billy was alive and known by prominent people to be alive eight months after his reported death in Fort Sumner. Meanwhile, individuals convinced Billy Bonney was killed by Garrett have had difficulty coming up with a convincing reason why this poster would even mention a “Billy, the Kid,” as it made no sense to state that a man, eight months dead and buried 125 miles away, would be ordered to leave the town. Consequently, they searched for a plausible other ‘Billy, the Kid,’ who was or who might have been in and around Las Vegas in March 1882. 

Some contend it was Billy, “the Kid” Wilson, a former member of Bonney’s cow-boy outlaw group. However, this is a stretch because Wilson had been in a Santa Fe jail since late December 1880 ... Others suggest the Billy referred to was “Billy, the Kid,” Claiborne, of Tombstone fame. However, Tombstone and Cochise County newspapers report Claiborne as being in and around the county the entire spring of 1882. So there is no evidence that Claiborne was the “Billy” referred to in the poster. A few have even suggested that the creators of the poster referred to the remains of Billy Bonney that had allegedly been snatched from Billy’s original Fort Sumner grave in late July 1881 and brought to Las Vegas to be assembled as a skeleton in one or more doctors’ offices. The most desperate interpreters of this poster have either printed up a version of the poster with the “1882” replaced by “1881” or argued that the “1882” date on the poster was a misprint, because Billy, the Kid was alive in 1881 but not in 1882. However, this made no sense because Billy Bonney was in a Mesilla jail through March 1881. The one thing that these people have in common is the conviction that a particular “Billy, the Kid” had indeed been in and around Las Vegas for at least a few days or weeks as well as on the day the poster was nailed on street posts and displayed in Las Vegas businesses.

            Actually, none of these explanations is accurate.

In July 1926, James A. Carruth, owner of a printing business in Las Vegas from the mid-1870s on past 1900; owner and editor of the short-lived Las Vegas Free Press; and, after a short time in California, owner of a highly successful printing business in Santa Fe, responded to recent rumors about Billy, the Kid being alive in Texas. He wrote the following undated letter to the Editor printed under the title, “Several Billy The Kids,” in the July 7th issue of the Santa Fe New Mexican:1

Editor New Mexican:
            I notice in an article the other day you state that the date given in the poster printed at Las Vegas and now in the rooms of the First National bank, mentioned “Billy the Kid,” though he had been dead a year or so. I printed that poster, and the Billy the Kid mentioned was an imitation of the genuine one. There were several in different towns in New Mexico, and probably the one mentioned by the El Paso writer was one of these.
            The poster was written by Col. J. A. Lockhart, who had not long previously “presided” at a meeting which disposed of a tough, who died on a telegraph pole, and the parties mentioned in the poster did not care to argue any point with the colonel. A party who was going down-town, along Railroad avenue, that night, was stopped by a couple of men with six-shooters on, who asked what he wanted on that street that night, and told him he had better go back up-town. He did so, and went into a restaurant just as a party came in the back door with a suspicious red line around his neck, and said: “Charlie, give me something to eat quick.” Charlie asked him what was the matter with his neck, and he said a crowd of fellows had put a rope around him and hauled him up on a telegraph pole, let him down, and gave him 10 minutes to get out of town, but “I had nothing to eat since breakfast and cannot go without eating.” So Charlie gave him a lunch to go on.
A SANDY MARSHAL
            Colonel Lockhart was a small, wiry man, and full of grit. A party here tells me that he used to be marshal right after the war at Fort Smith, and one time the judge told him to take a posse of 25 men and go out and bring in a man who had been indicted on a very serious charge. He was an ex-Confederate, and Lockhart had to go right into a big settlement of 1,400 or more Confederates, and he went and got his man.2
            The gentleman who told me this says that he once “aided and abetted” the James brothers in their nefarious work to the extent of $75 and a $200 gold watch. This contribution was not voluntary on his part, but at the request of the James brothers, who had Colt & Co. as attorneys, and Colt & Co. under those conditions were powerful attorneys.
            Speaking of hanging bees, another one took place in Las Vegas after wards when a crowd went and took a party out of the east side lockup and went over and started to hang him on a pole right under the window of the office of the district attorney, who came up and said: “For God’s sake, boys, don’t hang him here. There’s a much better pole in the next block. So the boys very kindly took the “candidate” to the better pole, where he was duly hanged.
J. A. CARRUTH.

Carruth made it clear that (a) Col. Lockhart created the wording for the poster, (b) Carruth and his print shop designed, type-set and printed the poster; (c) Lockhart and Carruth were convinced that the ‘real’ Billy, the Kid, Bonney had been dead for about a year; (d) the poster in no way referred to the Billy Bonney who was dead; and (e) the Billy mentioned referred to any and all of the living Williams and Billys in New Mexico who had picked up or who were thinking of picking up the nickname “the Kid.” His letter comes as close to stating the actual purposes and meanings of the poster as we are likely to get.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Westerns in Literature




Western fiction has been hugely popular for almost two hundred years. Not only were Westerns popular in the United States, but the whole world devoured them. For decades, the Western was a staple of fiction, Hollywood, television, and daydreams. Today, many think Western fiction is moribund. They’re wrong. Authors like Johnny Boggs continue to carry on the tradition, and my own novels sell well. The popularity of Westerns is often measured against the impossible yardstick of the 1950s.

Some say we’ve become too sophisticated to swallow the traditional Western mythology. Those are people who have not taken a thoughtful look at Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or even the glut of superheroes that plague theaters, bookshelves, and toy boxes. The stories are the same, only the venue has changed. The Western in its traditional garb will come roaring back when audiences tire of yet another iteration of CSI or men in tights.

Western fiction is frequently dismissed as not being serious literature. This misconception is perpetuated by classifying literary stories that occur in the Old West as something other than a Western. Many of the smart set believe Westerns can only be dime novels, pulp fiction, or straight-to-paperback formula bunkum. But the Western has a long and valid history in literature.

James Fenimore Cooper may have been the first Western author of note. The Last of the Mohicans and the rest of the Leatherstocking Tales were told in the Western tradition. Written in 1826 about events that supposedly occurred nearly seventy-five years prior, The Last of the Mohicans incorporates all the characteristics of a modern Western.

Mark Twain is universally acknowledged as one of the great American literary figures, but is seldom referred to as a Western writer. Yet, Roughing It is a first-hand description of the Wild West of Virginia City during the heyday of the Comstock Lode. Granted, Roughing It is Twain-enriched non-fiction, but The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are coming-of-age novels set in the American frontier. (By the way, Mark Twain hated James Fenimore Cooper's writing. You can read all about it here. Pretty funny.)

When Owen Wister published The Virginian in 1902, the novel received critical acclaim and was a huge bestseller, eventually spawning five films, a successful play, and a television series. An instant success, it sold over 20 thousand copies in the first month, an astonishing number for the time. It went on to sell over 200,000 thousand copies in the first year, and over a million and a half copies prior to Wister's death. This classic has never been out of print.

Max Brand, Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, Jack Schaefer, Elmer Kelton, Larry McMurtry, and Cormac McCarthy continued the Western tradition and all of them have been highly successful. Recently Nancy E. Turner (These is my Words) and Patrick deWitt (The Sisters Brothers) have penned praiseworthy Westerns that are popular with readers.

Western literature has a grand heritage and will continue to appeal to readers all over the world.   Good writing, plots that move with assurance, and great characterization will elevate the genre back the top of the bestseller charts.

Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters.


Thursday, April 2, 2020

Musings on the CoronaVirus

My stomping ground, sans people.


We winter in San Diego. Nothing against the grandkids, but everything against snow, cloud cover, and biting cold. This year we got chased home before Easter by something we couldn't even see. A little bugger. For a couple days, I wondered if we did the right thing. Our San Diego condo is walking distance to everything. If fuel became a problem, we could still live there forever.

Now, I'm glad we're ensconced in Omaha, Nebraska. During the Cold War, the Air Force put the Strategic Air Command in Omaha because it was smack-dab in the middle of the country, which made it harder to hit with a big ol' honkin' ICBM. Evidently, that pesky little virus has trouble hitting it as well. At any rate, we have the bug, but not nearly as severely as the rest of the country.

In the meantime, California has gone coconuts. The whole state is in lock down. You can't walk with anyone who doesn't reside in the same house. You can't walk on the beach. You can't walk on the strand. You can't go in the ocean. You can't surf. (By the way, the best surfing is getting a wave to yourself. So, social distancing helps make a great day in the water.) The police can even ask you why you're walking on the sidewalk.  I wish people well and hope this isolation protects the health of Californians.

As for Nebraska, we're under similar guidelines but, for the most part, enforcement is on the honor system and disciplined by peer group pressure. I'm not sure it's any different, but it feels less onerous. I hope it continues along this line, but that will depend on the behavior of people. So far, so good.

As for myself, I haven't left the house and yard for a few weeks. Okay, a few walks around the neighborhood. But that's it. Honest. My daughter keeps calling to see if I'm bored yet. I keep reminding her that I'm a writer. I just sit down at a keyboard and transport myself to another place and time. Without friends, relatives, or the ocean interfering, I'm getting more done than usual.

I am getting nostalgic, however. I pine for the days when I could run out of the house on a whim, hug my grandkids, and have dirty hands.

Ah, for the good ol' days.

By the way, if you're bored, try one of these. They'll take you to another place and time. Unfortunately, when you set them aside, they'll drop you right back in the same world.

Honest stories filled with dishonest characters.





Thursday, March 12, 2020

Author Wars

Writers can be a competitive bunch and can say nasty things about others in their profession. A good barb needs to be pithy and clever. Here are a few of my favorites.









 







Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Roundup Magazine reviews No Peace




Now a married man, Steve Dancy hopes that his life will become one of normal, marital bliss. But if you've read any of the author's work, then you'll know it isn't likely to happen, especially when Dancy's friend, Jeff Sharp, appears on the scene. This author pens a riveting story, every page brimming with action and suspense.
                                                                          R. G. Yoho





Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters.


Thursday, January 30, 2020

Books, editors, and publishing in a man's world

Update: In the Land of Men is now available.

In previous posts, I mentioned that several times a year I read books about writing, the publishing industry, or literary criticism. My next will be In the Land of Men by Adrienne Miller. (Publication February 11, available for pre-order) Adrienne Miller was the literary and fiction editor of Esquire from 1997-2006. This "fiercely personal" memoir tells us about her experiences as the often lone female editor in a male dominated industry.

A rich, dazzling story of power, ambition, and identity

The New York Times named In The Land of Men as one of 14 New Books to Watch For in February, The Washington Post includes it in their Top Ten Books to Read in February, and it’s Parade’s February Must-Read. The book is also on major “Most Anticipated Books of 2020” lists, including Vogue, Esquire, Parade, Maclean’s, Bitch, and has received amazing early endorsements from authors Jonathan Lethem, John Hodgman, Meghan Daum, Gary Shteyngart, Eleanor Henderson, among others. Early reviews appear in the latest print issues of Vogue and InStyle.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

San Diego for the Winter

Me at the Boston Library this fall.


For the last fourteen years, my wife and I have made extended visits to San Diego. When we lived in the Phoenix area, we went in summer. Now that we live in Omaha, we go in the winter. We arrive just after Christmas and return home just before Easter. In the meantime, I'll do a little surfing, visit friends and relatives, and hopefully do a lot of writing.

My current book project is The Templar Reprisals. It's a modern day thriller using the same cast of characters as The Shut Mouth Society and Deluge. Greg Evarts is the police chief for Santa Barbara and his wife Patricia Baldwin is a UCSB professor and renowned Abraham Lincoln historian. Fun story.

My latest book, No Peace, A Steve Dancy Tale has leaped out of the gate faster than any of my previous books. I'm pleased it has been well received by Steve Dancy fans. I'm already doing research for the next Steve Dancy, so stay tuned.

I'm participating in Constituting America's 90-Day essay event again this year. I'll let you know when my essays are published, but if you're a Constitution enthusiast, you'll want to bookmark the site to read all 90 essays. More on this with the essays start publishing in February.

Another reminder: If you would like a free Steve Dancy short story, Kindle book, or a audio book, send me a request at jimbest@jamesdbest.com. I have some left over promo codes that you can share with friends and family. (Or strangers, if you're inclined.)

Honest Westerns filled with dishonest characters.