To The Duke

To The Duke

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Conspiracy Theory?

In St. Louis, our newspaper has a Sunday section called A & E. Honestly I would have given up taking the paper if not for the small pleasure I get every Sunday morning while drinking my first cup of coffee and reading about the films and books our newspaper deems worthy of valuable column space. I sometimes agree with the book reviews but almost never agree with the ones written about the movies I've seen. I haven't seen Aliens and Cowboys yet, but this mornings review of it might just drive me to discontinue the paper...which I threaten to do almost daily anymore. Here's the review.

"Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford star as two cowboys who have to rescue humans from alien spaceships invading Arizona in the 1870's. Jon Favreau directs this genre-mashing story and provides some exciting sequences, but the film falls short ultimately because of its lack of originality."

I am totally perplexed and blurbubbled. How much more original can you get! I've not seen a movie set in Arizona with alien invaders before. Stephen King wrote the Dark Tower series, but it was such a mishmash of genres I don't think it could be considered aliens meet cowboys. It had fantasy, horror, science fiction and western all rolled into one. So it came to me as I stood over the garbage disposal shoving todays edition of the St. Louis Post Dispatch down the hole into oblivion, maybe it's a conspiracy to destroy westerns. 

I never see a review of a western book. Come to think of it, I don't think in the 25 years I've taken the Post, they've reviewed one single western novel. When they review the western movies they are never favorable. Yet movies like Jackass 1 and 2 get rave reviews. That's it. It has to be. It has to be a conspiracy against westerns. And probably against cowboys too. We need to stand up and revolt. Take it to the streets and voice our complaints. And as for the guy who wrote today's review that got all this started, he should run for congress. Anytime I see someone who doesn't seem to be thinking very clearly I think they're great congressional material.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chuck Wagon Cookin'

This morning I was thinking about food. Okay, I think about food every morning, that's why I'm not saddle weight anymore, but this morning, as I grabbed the eggs out of my beautiful stainless steel refrigerator and walked to my beautiful stainless steel cook top stove to make an omelet, I again  wondered about the "old days." How did a trail drive years ago feed all those hungry men? The movies always had a crusty old codger cooking for the cowboys out on the trail. His wagon jiggled and squeaked as it followed the herd in a plume of dust and grime. You know why it rode behind them in the dust? I do. It was so that if the herd stampeded, it wouldn't run over the wagon and wipe out all their supplies. See...hangin' around with cowboys makes you smarter. But back to the chuck wagon. Here's a quote from a neat website that details the history of chuck wagons. I've listed the link below so you can check it out, they also have some wonderful old pictures.
"During the long trail drives, the chuck wagon was the headquarters of every cattle outfit on the range. The cowboys didn't just eat their meals there; it was their social center and recreational spot. – a natural gathering place for exchanging "windies," or tall tales, listening to music if their happened to be a musician in the group, or just recounting the experiences of the day."

Now go fix your breakfast and enjoy the day!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Native Americans and Witchcraft

As most of you know, Cactus Country is publishing its first anthology on September 3rd.  I guess I shouldn't be amazed at the overwhelming number of submissions we received--it was the famous western writer, Dusty Richards, who sent out the call. Writers from all over the country sent hundreds of worthy stories, articles, poetry and art work. One submission by well-known western writer John T. Biggs is about Native American Withcraft.

I did some research and ran across a site devoted completely to the Cherokee pracatice of medicine. Here is the first paragraph from that site and a link to reach the site yourself.
Didanawisgi is the Cherokee word for medicine man. A common thread woven through all Native American remedies is the idea of “wellness” a term recently picked up by some in the modern medical professions. A state of “wellness” is described as “harmony between the mind, body and spirit.” The Cherokee word “tohi” - health - is the same as the word for peace. You’re in good health when your body is at peace. The “medicine circle” has no beginning and no end and therefore represents a concept of “harmonious unity.”

As you'll see, Cherokee Medicine, which they've been practicing for centuries, is much like what our doctors are talking about now as being "new." One of my grandfathers was part Cherokee. We didn't know his true history until after he died and my uncle reseached our family. We knew we had Native American blood running through our veins, but not even what tribe until after Grandpa died. He talked about things from his past, and it was plain that he knew the ways of the Native American, but for the most part it was something he didn't share. There were times though, when he got older, that I'd follow him through the woods while he gathered herbs and bark from trees. I wish I'd paid more attention because I realize what my grandpa was doing was practicing Cherokee medicine. And perhaps if I'd known then that they refer to it as Witchcraft, I would have been more interested. What kid doesn't perk up when you say the word witch.

The one thing I vividly remember Grandpa doing was gathering and burning sage for healing.  Sage has a musty smell to it and whenever I step into a shop that sells herbs, that smell takes me back. And I noticed a couple years ago while visiting the Grand Canyon, that most of the Indian shops there sold bundles of sage with directions on how to use it for well-being and peace of mind. Hummm, I think I might take a trip downtown today and see if I can't find me some sage.

And for more contemporaty information about Native Americans go to

Red Cloud and his famous Warbonnet
This site has a neat historical picture gallery of famous Native American headdress and their symbolic uses.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Let's All go to a Rodeo!

My Uncle Jack used to rodeo. That was before the high dollar prize money, the private jets, and the endorsements. In the old days Jack traveled to the rodeos in an old beat up Ford truck pulling a trailer held together with bailing wire. It wasn't just Jack that traveled to the rodeos, it was Jack and his old horse Beaver Butt. That's right, his horse's name was Beaver Butt. The story is that when Jack got him his tail had become so matted that it stuck out like a Beaver tail. He looked a lot better after Jack had him for awhile, but the name just stuck.

I don't even have any pictures of Jack's days in the rodeo, but I remember watching him a few times in Fort Madison, Iowa when I was a kid. He was pretty good. Even made it to the Nationals a couple of times. But broken bones and no medical insurance drove him out of rodeoing.

The other day something made me think of those rodeos in Iowa and I did a little research. Rodeos are major events now and I hope that if you haven't already, you make plans to see one someday. There's nothing like it. Enjoy the links and photos below.

Read About Rodeo History

The beginnings of rodeo can be traced back to the ranches of the early 1700’s, when the Spanish ruled the West. The Spanish cattlemen, known as vaqueros, would influence the American cowboy with their clothing, language, traditions and equipment which would in turn influence the modern sport of rodeo. Duties on these early ranches included roping, horse breaking, riding, herding, branding, and much more.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Is Cowboy Time Slower Than City Slicker Time?

I've got a couple cowboy friends that I've met over the years while attending the Western Writers of America conferences. Lately I've noticed that when I talk to them, they don't seem a bit concerned over the time or the date. Yesterday I called a man I've been working with who has a great memoir about his life as a cowboy. He lives on a ranch near Dallas, I asked him about the news that said Dallas had broken a record with 26 straight days of temperatures over 100 degrees. In that wonderful Texas drawl, Charlie said, "It been that long? Don't seem like more than a day or two."

Later in the conversation I asked Charlie about a gig he has coming up. He's also a cowboy poet and often recites his poetry for libraries. He didn't "recollect" the date. Then he said, "Think it's in the afternoon sometime. I told 'em to do it later so I could get all the chores done and my nap in before I drove to town."

Charlie wasn't concerned at all about any of it. And after talking with him, I wasn't either. What a peaceful feeling. Then about five minutes after I talked to my friend in Texas, I talked to a gal from Illinois and for the next half hour she worried about dates and times and sales and signings and everything under the sun. When I hung up from that phone call I know my heart rate was double and I could feel my blood pressure rise. I wanted to call Charlie back, but he'd already told me he was due for his nap.

Is cowboy time slower do you think? Could it be that they've found a secret? I know that everytime I talk to Charlie he'll mention that he doesn't understand how anyone could live in a subdivision. He said that land is a natural noise buffer. When I worried about the heat in Texas, he said that 100 degrees in his ranch is a lot cooler than 100 degrees in the city. I know he was kidding, but the fact that he wasn't complaining like I was and all my friends here in St. Louis were, was refreshing. When he told me he was "due for his a nap," I teased him that it was only noon. He said, "Well, I just won't look at the durn clock and that way my body won't know what time it is."

Recently, when frustrated over not being able to get everything done one day, I remembered something my grandpa told me years ago. He always piddled with things around his yard, in his shed, under the hood of his car, on his boat and sometimes on the kitchen table. Whenever he plopped his toolbox down, you knew he'd be working on some project for hours. "Just do what ya feel like doin', when you feel like doin' it, and you'll get a lot more done that way," he told me. Grandpa wasn't a cowboy, although he did seem to live that carefree life, but he was wise and I think he didn't let the clock or the weather stand in his way no more than Charlie does.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Mexico

Several years ago, my husband and I were lucky enough to take a tour of the West with famous Western Writer, Dusty Richards. When we drove through New Mexico, Dusty circled around the Santa Fe area to show us the land he had fallen in love with on his many trips through the state researching his novels. We spent one night in a small little town called Santa Rosa. They had a weird body of water there called a Blue Hole. Although I grew up a river gal and will swim almost anywhere, that blue circle of 80 foot deep water scared the you-know-what right outta me. How do you know what monsters lurk under you when the water is that deep? We just sat and watched from a park bench while kids jumped off a natural waterfall into the beautiful Blue Hole. But I kept thinking of how the pioneers must have felt when they ran across the pool.

The Blue Hole in Santa Rosa
Also in Santa Rosa was an old abandoned mission. The tombstones out front had dates that went back to the early 1800's. Most of the walls were gone, the roof had fallen in decades ago, and there was nothing left inside except a tree that had taken root and grown to nearly ten feet. I took pictures at sunset and the light that shone inside the adobe walls looked like gold. It was truly a miraculous place and it made me fall in love with New Mexico. It truly is the Land of Enchantment.

That trip west was the one that made me see the land like it was before towns and highways marred its deserts and mountains. Before the sound of car horns and tractors covered the peaceful wind through the trees. And before red aluminum canoes dotted the Rio Grande River.

The Rio Grande going through New Mexico.

Hills around the Taos area in the late nineteenth century.
Santa Fe in the early 20th century.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens?

     Wow! Now I've seen it all. But I'm willing to suspend my disbelief long enough to watch this one. The classic Western movie gets mashed with the alien invasion flick to create Cowboys & Aliens -- a new twist on two popular movie genres. But Steven Spielberg is an executive producer and we all know that he loves aliens. I guess he might be a Western fan too. It's got an interesting plot which begins in 1875 in the New Mexico Territory. A stranger with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. (Now isn't that the greatest Western town name ever?) The only hint to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. What he discovers is that the people of Absolution don't welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde. (Again, great name for a bad guy in a Western town!)     
      But Absolution is about to experience fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by marauders from the sky. Screaming down with breathtaking velocity and blinding lights to abduct the helpless one by one, these monsters challenge everything the residents have ever known.
     Now, the stranger they rejected is their only hope for salvation. As this gunslinger slowly starts to remember who he is and where he's been, he realizes he holds a secret that could give the town a fighting chance against the alien force. With the help of the elusive traveler Ella he pulls together a posse comprised of former opponents--townsfolk, Dolarhyde and his boys, outlaws and Apache warriors--(there ya go, now it's Cowboys, Indians, and Aliens) all in danger of annihilation. United against a common enemy, they will prepare for an epic showdown for survival.

Come on, even Dusty should watch this one. And anything that helps bring back the Western is okay with me.

Friday, July 22, 2011

What is the West?

A gal wrote to me yesterday asking what I considered to be the "Old West." I didn't know how to answer so I did a little research. Here is what I found on Wikipedia...

The American Old West (often referred to as the Far West, Old West or Wild West) comprises the history, geography, people, lore, and cultural expression of life in the Western United States, most often referring to the period of the later half of the 19th century, between the American Civil War and the end of the century. After the 18th century and the push beyond the Appalachian Mountains, the term is generally applied to anywhere west of the Mississippi River in earlier periods and westward from the frontier strip toward the later part of the 19th century. More broadly, the period stretches from the early 19th century to the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1920.

That's a great explanation. I have a small blurb about what western writing is on the High Hill Website and it really says a lot about the West too.

The Western is not just about shootouts and the gold rush, or wagons going west. The true Western can cover the Texas Ranger battling a cattle rustler in the year 2011. The true Western doesn't simply tell us about Wild Bill Hickok and his last hand of cards, it'll tell us about the dandies who played poker in the saloons of New York City in the 1800's. The Western Frontier is alive and well today. America is unique in its history and rich with the myth of its beginnings. Today the cowboy still rides the range and ropes the cow he needs to put a brand on. But when he goes into town to relax behind a frothy mug of beer, he probably does it in his F-350 Ford pickup. The sky is still wide and blue over this country and the tales of the West are still written and read.

High Hill Press
Cactus Country Page

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Here's Some Cowboys For Ya!

I started reading True Grit again last night. It's an amazing book. I think I was feeling a little guilty because I talked about western movies the other day, when it's western writing that Cactus Country wants to promote. But almost all the good movies started with a good book, right? And all-in-all I think the movies help the book industry. I wonder how many people watched a western movie, then decided it's a genre they might enjoy reading. I imagine John Wayne sold a ton of books in his day by making all the western movies he made. So I guess discussing the movies is a good thing. And I truly believe that most writers write because of their love of story. And story is everywhere. So here are some of my pics for the best cowboy film stars of all times.
Naturally John Wayne has to be first.
I have no idea what movie this is, he basically always wore the same clothes unless it was an army movie and he wore a uniform. But did you ever notice that no matter how much fighting and hard dusty riding the Duke did, his bandana never moved.

Sam Elliot makes a pretty good cowboy.

Tom Selleck
This might be my favorite cowboy, but John Wayne would haunt me if I say that for sure.

Brad Pitt as Jesse James.

And who can forget that Henry Fonda also played in a lot of westerns. Although I think this picture is one of his bad guy roles.

Kris Kristofferson as Billy the Kid.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thinking About the Old Days

Bright and early this morning, a big truck parked in front of my house to drop off a bunch of angry looking machinery. I guess they meant it when they sent me a notice awhile back that said I should not park on the street as of July 20th until July 29th. They're repaving! Our tax dollars at work. And how ingenious to schedule it for the hottest week in history. I think maybe the heat makes the blacktop dry faster or something. Anyway, while I was watching them unload all the expensive looking equipment, I got to thinking about the "old days." In the old days they didn't have trucks the size of a house or machinery that dug and ground the dirt and old concrete, they had horses and mules and oxen, but most importantly they had men who didn't mind hard work. Men who worked with their bare hands, a shovel, and a horse or mule. I never tire of hearing the story about my grandpa and how he dug basements under houses by hand. He would dig, put the dirt on a wooden sled, then climb up and move his horse forward to get the sled out of the hole. Then he'd climb back in and do it all over again. He used the same horse to move snow from the brick roads of town so that wagons and cars could make it through. 

Even farther back than Grandpa's old days were the days when the hard work of men and animals built everything in this country. Roads were dug and smoothed through forests and mountains. Trees were chopped and turned into lumber so that towns could be built. And in the early days it was all done without the benefit of heavy equipment. Men and animals did the heavy lifting, the grading, the moving of earth and rock. I decided to do a little research. Here are some photos I found to show the way it was done in the "old days." I think I'll print them off and take them outside to the crew standing at the end of my driveway. Maybe it'll make them feel a little better while they labor in the hot summer sun.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Another Surprise

Wow, this Cactus Country gal woke up today and found a few followers on the new blog. Blog fairies work late I guess. But here's another video for all you Western fans. I know many may disagree, but I think Brad Pitt makes a great cowboy.

And a question for today . . . what's your all time favorite western movie?
Here's mine.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I Love Western Writers

I got a neat package in the mail today. Jory Sherman sent me a copy of his new book, Savage Vengeance, and what a surprise when I read the dedication. It says to Lou Turner and Squeak. That's me! The Lou part is anyway. The Squeak part is my husband, Bryan. I met Jory about 15 years ago and we were friends from that first meeting. Jory is a legendary writer, and if you've not read one of his 500 published books you should find one and read it today.  High Hill Press recently published a poetry collection of Jory's, Reflections, and it's now available on either the author's website or

Reading Jory's work is truly inspirational, especially if you're a writer. I tell everyone that when I read something of Jory's, I want to become a better writer myself. I want to create something that sticks with the reader like Jory's words stick with me. His way with prose is magical. And we're lucky to have one of Jory's stories, Comes a Hunter, in Cactus Country Anthology Volume I, which will be out in September.  Watch for the anthology, and please find one of Jory's books and read it as well. And be sure to visit his website at

A letter from Dusty Richards, two-time winner of the coveted Spur Award, recipient of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame “Wrangler Award,” Winner of the Will Rogers Medallion Award, and recently named The Greatest Living Western Author in 2011, by True West Magazine.

Howdy from my ranch house to yours,

When Lou Turner of High Hill Publishing sat down and talked to me about THE WEST and doing an anthology, I thought what all does she want done?  How restricted should we be? What should we fence in. Then I began to think—why restrict it to a time period.  A rodeo held today, or one held a hundred years ago, are basically the same. Daniel Boone opened the West for all Americans.  So I told Lou, “Let’s shoot for anything we can shade under a western hat in fictional short stories, western poetry and western historical articles. Maybe we can round up a little art work, too.” So from that meeting The Cactus Country Anthology Volume One was born
            I was not disappointed in the submissions I received.  I sure have enough, and even more that we plan to use in future issues.  Many award winning authors sent me short stories, in fact I was over whelmed.  And in our first anthology you will also read some folks unknown to western publications. Lou likes to call them “future Spur Award Winners,” and they’re damn good story tellers. 
            You can consider this publication to be a fresh breeze out of the West.  Unlike a book, this will give you different outlooks on the West you may not have considered.  Call them yarns. Even when looking at the same scenery and events, none of us see things the same.  And when you settle back to read short fiction it is this trait that wets our mouth. There are some great authors between the covers of Cactus Country Anthology.  You’ve probably read some of their work in the long form, but in short fiction the author is challenged to tie things up in fewer words.
            I want you to have an arm chair adventure over and over by reading our first anthology.  My hope is that in these words bound between the covers, you will silently hear the soft hymn in the pine trees. And that the flavor is real enough to make you smell boiling coffee over a wood camp fire, and the drum of horse hooves loud enough to take you to the settings the authors so brilliantly write about.
            “I can’t find westerns.”  That’s a common complaint I hear from many folks. I spoke to a young man stocking a book store shelf one day—told him who I was and said, “You might sell some of my books if you had my latest one here.”
            He told me in no certain terms that his company knew how to sell books and didn’t need any advice from me.  Fine, but that’s no help to the person who tells me, “I can’t find westerns.” 
            Please tell your friends about the Cactus Country Publishing blog.  We plan to make special offers on our books from time-to-time, and as we grow we’ll expand the line making more westerns available. Our dream is to one day have a Western Book of the Month Club.
            In the meantime, bear with us, we are small, but soon we’ll be much larger as we fulfill your western likes and needs.  Join this blog as a follower, and send us your email address so we can get you signed up as a Cactus Country Club Member.  We’ll provide lots of information on the West, and hopefully we'll have lots of fun.
            Thanks for dropping by today.  And please don’t stay away too long.
     Dusty Richards
     Dusty Richards, western writer and anthology editor.
Dusty Richards
PO Box 6460
Springdale, AR 72766

Friday, July 15, 2011

Welcome to Cactus Country

Welcome to Cactus Country. For those of you who love all things western, Cactus Country will bring what you love to the web with books, short stories, movie trailers, reviews, and often discussions about the west and what it means to you. We'll interview famous western writers, perhaps a western actor or two, and for sure a cowboy here or there. As award winning western writer, Dusty Richards, often says, the west isn't just the land between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean, the west is all around us. From the beginning of this country, to the Western Expansion and the Civil War, the west is a huge part of America. If there's something you'd like to see us talk about or feature, please let us know.