Friday, June 5, 2009
Needless to say, I've decided to consolidate all of these into a single blog and have moved all of the most important entries from the others to this one.
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Written in Blood: The Further Exploits of Hayden Tilden
by J. Lee Butts
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Berkley (February 3, 2009)
On a late night trip to Walmart to pick up another pair of rubber boots for doing some prospecting, I decided to check out the ample selection of westerns that our local Walmart carries. As is my habit, I generally grab at least two Westerns. Usually one by an author that I like such as Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey, Luke Short or William Johnstone, and then another by an author that I typically haven't read. If I can't do that, I pick them by publisher. In this case, I picked up a Leisure reprint of John Trace's "Trigger Vengeance" and "Written in Blood" by J. Lee Butts.
had heard a lot about J. Lee Butts, but must admit that until recently, I hadn't read anything by him.
"Written in Blood" begins with an aging Hayden Tilden. He is a sassy old cuss, a retired lawman living in an old folks home during the 1940's. Nearly 90 years old, but still full of piss and vinegar, he despises his situation, his age. He sees ghosts of his long gone friends, yearns for the old days and begins to recall the past. Tilden begins to tell us a story from his younger days.
Let me say right here, that J. Lee Butts can write. The first chapter or so of "Written in Blood" is remindful of some of my favorite works of Elmer Kelton or Johnny Boggs. Tilden is a very likeable character and you can't help but to sympathize with his plight of old age. I really thought I was going to enjoy the story that Tilden's character was about to relate.
Butts soon introduces us to Hayden Tilden's old sidekick. The fella begins to relate to Tilden the exploits of a notorious outlaw gang that they need to track down immediately.
Well, never mind the outlaws, because I found Tilden's pal's description of the exploits so annoying that I was kind of hoping that Tilden would plug him with his Peacemaker. The sidekick launches himself into page after page of overdone, old Hollywoodesque, Western vernacular to the point that I would have kind of liked to have plugged him myself.
It may be that the character's overuse of stereotypical vernacular was intended to be a bit humorous (much like was done in the exploitation film "The Terror of Tiny Town" during the 30's), but I personally found it very distracting and unrealistic. Real people in the Old West simply did not speak this way and though a Western should be entertaining, like Louis L'Amour, I believe that Westerns are a type of historical fiction. As writers, we should all be striving not just to entertain, but also to enlighten people about the authentic Old West.
Needless to say, I simply had to put "Written in Blood" down. It's not often that I don't finish a Western, but this was one of those rare instances.
However, as I said earlier, J. Lee Butts can definitely write and up until the sidekick came on the page, I really liked "Written in Blood".
Needless to say, I will be trying him again in the hope that Tilden's sidekick isn't on the scene.
Fire At Eden's Gate: Tom McCall & The Oregon Story
by Brent Walth
If you were born in Oregon, or if you have ever lived in Oregon, even if you don't know anything about the man himself or what he accomplished, you have probably heard of Tom McCall.
Born Thomas Lawson McCall in March of 1922, as the grandson of two powerful American figures (Copper king Thomas Lawson and politician Samuel W McCall), for nearly thirty five years, McCall's influence over Oregon reigned supreme over nearly every public figure in the state. Starting as a newspaper journalist in the 1930's, McCall was a pioneer among early radio news announcers and later graduated to early television. McCall entered the Oregon political arena in the late 40's as an assistant to Governor Douglas McKay. By 1954, McCall had won the Republican nomination for Oregon's Third Congressional District only to lose the election to Edith Green. However, having remained out of politics for some time, in 1966, McCall was elected to his first term as Oregon Governor under the Republican ticket and was later re-elected in 1970.
In an era of notoriously corrupt politics, with the exception of his private life where he struggled with debt, the drug addiction of his youngest son and his own affliction with cancer, McCall shines through as an enormously forthright and human individual despite holding a major public office. While other polititians of his day despised and often avoided the press, McCall routinely sought the press out in an effort to inform people of the inner workings of Oregon's government. Considered too much of a populist for Republican tastes and too conservative for the tastes of Democrats, McCall firmly established himself with a reputation of being a maverick. While the people loved him, others in politics distrusted him.
As governor, McCall was finally in the position to do something about the issues that had always been dear to his heart. Namely, this included McCall's profound respect for the Oregon lands. During his tenure, he restored Oregon's beaches to public ownership, introduced the nation's first bottle bill, blocked the U.S. military from dumping chemical weapons in Oregon, guarded stands of wilderness from clear cutting, cleaned up the Willamette River and halted the advancement of urban sprawl into precious farm land. Long before the appearance of Ross Perot, Tom McCall spoke of the need for what he called a "Third Force" in American politics. He was also largely responsible for bringing down the Nixon administration over Watergate, by publicly demanding that Nixon resign.
Tom McCall made himself many enemies.
On January 12th, 1971, as McCall was entering his second term as governor, he was propelled to nationwide fame. That evening he appeared on CBS and was asked to sum up his views on conservation. (Which he was already famous for). What came out of McCall's mouth, is still the subject of a lot of debate, when McCall promptly remarked:
"We want you to visit our State of Excitement often. Come again and again. But for heaven's sake, don't move here."
Having long been enraged over urbanization, Oregonians instantly embraced McCall's "Visit, but don't stay" remark. Anti-tourism materials promptly appeared statewide. One pamphlet of the period stated:
"Tom McCall, governor of the Great State of Oregon, cordially invites you to visit ... Idaho, Washington, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, California, Hawaii or Afghanistan"
"People in Oregon love to see out of staters. Send us some photos of yourself when you get a chance."
Meanwhile, in my neck of the woods, bumper stickers began to appear that read:
"We Shoot Every Other Car With California License Plates"
Commercials appeared on TV pushing Oregon made products, while trashing products made elsewhere.
Though a tremendous sense of statewide pride surged through Oregonians due to McCall's statement, as well as a major boom in Oregon made products, McCall's words actually backfired on him and actually incited a rush to Oregon that had not been seen since the days of the Overlanders.
In the end, Oregon's economy actually collapsed. Tom McCall was an easy scapegoat, in that people claimed that "Visit but don't stay", as well McCall's legislation had discouraged business interests in coming to Oregon. Meanwhile, the enviornmental movement had somehow outgrown McCall, regarding him as out of touch on current issues.
In 1978, and anxious to do more work for his ailing state, Tom McCall once again desired to be governor, but in refusing to run as an Independent, he was beaten in the Republican primary.
In 1982, Governor Vic Atiyeh sought to remove the last vestige of "Visit, but don't stay" in the form of a sign that sits at the Oregon border with California on I-5. The sign read "Welcome to Oregon. Enjoy your visit". Atiyeh wanted to blow the sign up with dynamite to get the press there and publicly announce that Oregon was open for business, regardless of the potential damage.
Despite the fact that he was dying of cancer, McCall crashed Atiyeh's press conference and had the last word, saying:
"There's been a lot of bad mouthing about 'visit but don't stay'. It served its purpose. We were saying 'visit but don't stay' because Oregon, queen bee though she is, is not yet ready for the swarm. I am simply saying that Oregon is demure and lovely, and it ought to play a little hard to get. And I think you'll all be just as sick as I am if you find it is nothing but a hungry hussy, throwing herself at every stinking smokestack that's offered."
Brent Walth, a reporter at the Eugene Register Guard, does an excellent job in writing "Fire At Eden's Gate". Through his work, you can get a real sense of the sort of man that McCall was. Unlike other writings about McCall (which portray him either as a saint, or a demon) Walth gives us a genuine look at the man himself, as well as how he came to be, where he succeeded and where he failed.
If you're interested in Oregon, in politics, historical figures or if you're just pissed off at the state of the country and would like a breath of fresh air, pick up a copy of "Fire At Eden's Gate".
Get "Fire At Eden's Gate" at Amazon.
Recently, in celebration of The Duke's 102nd birthday, The Encore Westerns film channel ran a 28 hour John Wayne marathon. And what could get any better than that?
Included in the marathon were a number of Lone Star Westerns from the 1930's, including "The Star Packer" from 1934, which for my friends in the UK was released under the title "He Wore A Star". I happen to be a big fan of these old Lone Star Westerns, even though they were shot on the cheap.
"The Star Packer" features John Wayne as U.S. Marshall John Travers, who together with his Indian side kick Yak (played by Yakima Canutt) are looking for wanted men in an unnamed area of The West, but they soon get more than they bargain for when they encounter a gang of outlaws run by a mysterious man known only as "The Shadow".
"The Star Packer" was written and directed by Robert N. Bradbury (1886-1949), a very prolific writer and director of many early Westerns. "The Star Packer" was one of the eight Westerns Bradbury directed in 1934. Originally born in Walla Walla, Washington Territory, Bradbury's NorthWest heritage shines through, in that on numerous ocassions, Yakima Canutt's character can clearly be heard speaking some very broken Chinook Jargon when his atypical Injun sidekick character continually exclaims "Hiya Skookum!(Much good!)Big fun!" every time John Wayne's character does something particularly impressive.
See a trailer for The Star Packer.
You can also download the whole film at:
Or grab yourself a DVD at Amazon.
(Voice Pictures, 2007)
Directed by: Christopher Cain
Written by: Christopher Cain & Carole Wang Schutter
Lloyd Brackett had been trailing Joe Skookum for five days through a beautiful, yet wild and dangerous country that skirted the rushing white waters of the Rogue River. Far below him, from where he rode on the tree lined canyon rim, he could see the river boiling several hundred beneath him. As it raced on toward the town of Ellensburg and emptied into the Pacific some seventy miles away, that water ran as fast and as wild as its name sounded and had swallowed up many a white man and many an Indian over the eons who had taken a single, but fatal mis step on the jagged rocks upon which he now rode. Even if the distant fall did not kill a man, the river most surely would and even if the Rogue failed, this wild forest would certainly finish a man off.
The only other thing that was absolutely certain, Brackett knew, was that Joe Skookum was somewhere here in this wild land and that the star pinned to his flannel shirt made it his sworn duty to hunt him down. Joe could be a dangerous sort of man. He was half Takelma Indian, one of the last of his kind and had sure as hell lived up to one meaning of his surname. Back in the day, before they had been mostly run out of this valley and sent on the long, hard march to the Grande Rhonde Valley Reservation, local Indians had often used that word "skookum" to indicate a good, strong man. But it was also a name given to some sort of evil spirit that they all worried about meeting and the latter certainly described Joe Skookum well when he was drinking, for the man had committed a list of public offenses that ran the gamut from spitting on the sidewalks all the way up to assaulting a local preacher with a picket he had torn from the church fence.
Joe had always been a salty sort of character, but now he had gone much too far, for he had shot down two men in cold blood and had even dug his way out of what Lloyd Brackett had thought was a secure jail and had high tailed it up the canyon despite wearing an Oregon Boot on one foot. The boot was a terrible sort of contraption that consisted of a stirrup that slipped under the sole of a man's foot and was attached to a heavy weighted ring that was locked around the ankle and the thing weighed enough to slow any man who wore it down to a stagger instead of a normal walk. The reputation of this thing was known far and wide and it was said that no man had ever escaped wearing an Oregon Boot. But Joe Skookum had done just that and despite the fact that he was probably still wearing the damn thing, he had led Lloyd Brackett into some of the roughest country on God's green earth and had managed to stay far ahead of him judging from what little sign he was leaving behind.
If the word got out and Joe Skookum managed to get away, Brackett would surely be the laughing stock of every lawman between here and Kansas. That idea did not bother him so much, but the thought that it might confirm the fact that he was getting old, did get under his skin. The pity of it all was that Joe was a likable sort of fella when he laid off the whiskey and otherwise tended to be hard working and upstanding. He'd spent many a night in the drunk tank, and Lloyd had to admit, that when the alcohol wore off, he kind of liked Joe Skookum and sometimes they played cards together until the wee hours.
Lloyd and this old horse that he was riding had been the law in this valley for years and they were both definitely feeling the wear and tear from it of late. Old Judge, a large chestnut with a white blaze and boots, was still sure footed and dependable, but the old horse no longer seemed to see very well, while his rider, now sixty five years old, tended to feel every bump on the trail in his bones. He had even taken to having slipped an extra blanket beneath his trail worn saddle. It cushioned his backside enough to absorb some of the shock and even made Lloyd appear a bit taller in the saddle, which was a good thing, for he was pretty sure that he'd shrunk a bit in height these last few years. However, that extra padding didn't do a damn thing for his eyes and ears, both of which were failing, and for a man who needed sharp senses and quick reflexes, it was a disturbing development.
Brackett had always been fast with a gun and he could shoot out the eye of a bird in flight when he was a younger man. While he was still fast, he knew that he wasn't quite as quick as he had once been, for that big .45 Colt he had always carried seemed to have gained a bit of weight. Lloyd liked to think that maybe they were just loading the cartridges a little heavier these days and that accounted for the difference, but he knew that wasn't true. He'd even thought about maybe trading the old gun in for one of those new fangled lighter models, but he didn't want sacrifice the fire power, nor did he think that those newer models looked quite right. As for shooting out the eyes of birds, that too had changed, but he was still a bit of a shootist and provided he could see something and it didn't move too fast, he could still hit it. Still, if it came down to it, he kind of wondered how quick he'd be compared to a younger man like Joe Skookum in a stand up fight on even ground.
Even though Lloyd's eyes and ears might have been failing, one thing that had not ebbed was his sense of smell. As he came to the top of a rise in the canyon wall and looked out over where the canyon opened up wide and the green of Doug Firs ran clear to the horizon until they met with a line of blue green peaks, Lloyd could smell a faint, but distinct smell of wood smoke on the gentle breeze. He didn't think that Joe would be fool enough to light a fire, but he had ran him hard for five days and the man still had that contraption on his ankle, so maybe he had forced him to risk a camp fire. On the other hand, maybe Joe Skookum thought that Lloyd was an old man who could no longer cut it and was waiting somewhere out there for him to catch him up so they could have it out. This area was so isolated that if Joe was true to his Takelma roots and crept up on him at night to slit his throat with that big skinning knife he carried, Lloyd reckoned that it would be years before anyone would find his bones, if they ever found his remains at all. Apart from some sturdy folks, most of which were the Metis offspring of old trappers and their brides of assorted Indian tribes, who lived near the big bend in the river at Illahe, damn few people ever came out this way. It was still a wild place disturbed only with the constant roar of the Rogue, and Lloyd figured that it would probably always be that way for it took some hard souls to manage in this land.
He squinted out over the dense forest and canyon below him looking for a sign of the smoke that he was smelling, gradually surveying the half circle of the expanse before him. It was then that another smell came to him, a bit sweet, but like burnt sugar. He took in a deep breath to try to place the smell and soon did.
It was Camas, he decided, their onion like bulbs roasting in the coals of a fire somewhere nearby. Lloyd had tried them once at Digger Haines' place and they had reminded him of the Sweet Potatoes that he had eaten as a boy. He had quite liked them, but only Indians and old woodsmen like Digger Haines ate the stuff for most said it was "Injun food" and therefore, not fit for consumption by god fearing folks. Joe Skookum was not exactly what you could call a god fearing man and Brackett was certain that the renegade Metis was nearby.
Lloyd withdrew his Winchester from the boot and stood up in his stirrups to take a better look at his surroundings. And it was then that a sort funny feeling swept through his gut and Lloyd dove off the back of Old Judge just in time to hear a bullet sing past him and the sound of single gunshot echoing up and down the canyon. He immediately took cover behind a large tree that had been knocked over during some storm in ages past. The bark had been stripped off by the weather and the log was already heavy with rot on one side, but was big enough to shield his body. Another shot rang out from somewhere in the canyon below and smashed through the tree limbs above him, the wicked sound putting the rider less Judge into a bolt.
"Joe?" Brackett called out to the shooter below, not knowing if the man would answer or it.
"Yeah?" a voice said from far below.
"This is Lloyd Brackett."
"Whaddya want?" Joe Skookum shouted back.
"You know damn well what I want!"
Read more by picking up a copy of "Skookum" in Kindle format from Amazon.com
Copyright 2008 by Kerby Jackson. Work archived by WorldWideOCR.com www.western-stories.com
Buncom, Oregon, however, is a REAL ghost town and it's one of only two of its kind in this part of Oregon (the other is Golden). But unlike Golden, Buncom is not even too well known by long time locals, likely because it is located in some forested country that is a eleven miles from Highway 238. That said, Buncom is not exactly isolated. The buildings are located on the private property of Mr. Reeve Hennion (the official "Mayor" of Buncom) who lives in a house nearby and sit upon the shoulder of the crossroads of Sterling Creek Road and Little Applegate Road. Though these are not busy roads, they are paved and a great number of people do live out here, hence a few cars go by every so often.
Despite the fact that Buncom is not well known by even locals, people have lived here for eons. Prior to the 1850's and the coming of American settlers, the Latgawa Indians had a village nearby at the mouth of Sterling Creek. Miners discovered gold here in 1854 and during the Rogue River Indian Wars, the Latgawa who lived on the banks of Sterling Creek were entirely wiped out. Owing to the fact that a good amount of gold was located in the basic vicinity, a number of communities were established, one of which was Buncom, as well as nearby Sterlingville which was believed to be the larger of the two and also had its own cemetery.
Buncom proper is composed of three standing buildings including the Buncom Post Office (which also doubled as a general store), a large cookhouse and a long narrow bunkhouse. The remains of a fourth building are also across the road, but as you traverse the area, one can also see old sheds, barns and cabins in varying states of condition that were also part of Buncom.
The main cluster of buildings mentioned above are maintained by the Buncom Historical Society who has done quite a lot of restoration work to see that they remain for the future. Due to its relative isolation, vandalism is a problem.
In 2003 their society released a book entitled "Buncom: Crossroads Station" and written by Connie Fowler and J.B. Roberts to document the history of this aging ghost town.
Until recently, the society held an annual Buncom Days festival on the grounds that attracted hundreds of attendees, but just like Buncom's occupants, it too is now a thing that belongs to the ages.
Though one is free to visit Buncom, visitors should remember that the site is private property and to follow the cardinal rule of all ghost town enthusiasts - no relic hunting - and to leave only with your memories and some photographs.
Map courtesy of Mapquest. The blue line indicates the Oregon-California border and is roughly between Portland and San Francisco.
Photos of Buncom, Oregon by Kerby Jackson. (Jan. 3rd, 2008)
Buncom, Oregon. You likely expect to see a tumbleweed blowing by in this photo, but we don't have any sagebrush on this side of Oregon, hence we have no tumbleweeds. All in all, there's not a hell of a lot of going on in Buncom these days.
Even the woodpeckers gave up a long time ago.
The remains of a house at Buncom, Oregon. As indicated by the growth of moss on its foundation, it has been gone for decades. Part of the fireplace can be seen on the right.
A side view of Buncom, Oregon.
The false fronted building on the right was originally the post office for Buncom, Oregon. It's the youngest building at Buncom, dates back to about 1910 and also doubled as a general store. Quite a lot of restoration has actually been done to it, including repairs to its roof and front porch. The Buncom Historical Society has done a wonderful job preserving it, as can be seen in the historical photos of this building on their web site.
The "bunk house" at Buncom, Oregon. Note that the rear door is ajar. Someone with no respect for history broke the lock on the door and forced it open. Though I chose not to venture inside, I did poke my head in enough to make sure they had not thrashed the place (fortunately, they hadn't). When we got home, I gave local author and Buncom Historical Society officer Connie Fowler a call to let them know about the door being open and she told me that they were having a constant problem with vandals breaking windows and doing other damage. I suspect the problem would be even worse if Buncom was not located on a relatively well traveled road with houses nearby. A close up of the back door. Note that electricity was put in here at one time. Once Buncom officially expired as a town, these buildings were used as homes by a few hardy folks over the years.
Another view of the backdoor ajar. Is that a lens flare or the ghosts of Buncom's past standing guard?
The "cook house" at Buncom, Oregon. Quite a bit of restoration work has been done here.
Another view of Buncom's post office.
And yet another. Notice the broken window pane that a vandal smashed?
A rather unique looking tree at Buncom (behind the burned out house), likely the result of decades of neglect on what was originally a grafted sapling. I'll bet this guy looks a lot like a headless Wampus or Sasquatch on a full moon night.
Here's a side view of the post office. Note the stove pipe hole.
Yet another unique tree. You can almost imagine a bunch of local boys riding it as a make-believe-horse in an age gone by when there was a bit more going on in Buncom, Oregon.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Fortunately, Gary Dobbs is trying to do something about the vanishing Western genre by filing a petition to chain booksellers. (Gary lives in Wales and writes Westerns under the name of Jack Martin. His current novel is "The Tarnished Star", available soon from Black Horse Westerns in England. Get your copy at Amazon here
If you lament the the vanishing job that the Western is pulling as much as I do, please take the time to sign the petition.
If you trawl the internet for information on gold mining in Oregon, sooner or later, you'll find mention of the Armstrong Nugget. This huge lump of placer gold was discovered near the ghost town of Susanville, Oregon in 1913 by George Armstrong. (Info here) This big monster weighed in at 80.4 ounces. Today, it's gold value alone would fetch over $80,000 U.S. dollars. The Armstrong Nugget is currently on display at U.S. Bank in Baker City, Grant County, Oregon.
Most internet sources claim that the Armstrong Nugget was the biggest gold nugget ever discovered in Oregon, but it isn't so.
In fact, here in Josephine County, on the opposite side of the state, a number of larger gold nuggets have been discovered near what was refered to as Sailor's Diggings. One of them, pulled out of Sucker Creek, weighed 15 pounds. But that's still not the biggest one.
In 1859, a little Irish fellow by the name of Mattie Collins was mining along the East Fork of Althouse Creek when he uncovered a huge lump of almost pure gold that became known as the Collins Nugget. Mattie's find weighed in at a whopping 204 ounces (approximately 17 pounds troy), which he sold for $3500. At today's gold prices, the Collins Nugget would be worth over $200,000, but typically a nugget will fetch a significantly higher price.
The Collins Nugget is the largest single hunk of gold ever pulled from the Oregon lands, but unlike the Armstrong Nugget, it doesn't survive today. As was always done in those days, Mattie took his find to the local smelter, traded it for cash and then drank himself into poverty.