THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

WHEN THE DALTONS RODE (Universal, 1940)

DIRECTOR: George Marshall; WRITERS: screenplay by Harold Shumate based on book, When the Daltons Rode by Emmett Dalton; CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hal Mohr

STUNTS: Yakima Canutt (archival footage), Cliff Lyons (archival footage), Eddie Parker, Bob Reeves, Duke York

CAST: Randolph Scott, Kay Francis, Brian Donlevy, George Bancroft, Broderick Crawford, Stuart Erwin, Andy Devine, Frank Albertson, Mary Gordon, Harvey Stephens, Edgar Dearing, Sally Payne, Edgar Buchanan, Al Bridge, Bob Kortman, Ethan Laidlaw, Tom London, Eddie Parker

The Dalton Clan: (back row L-R: Bob (Broderick Crawford; Emmett (Frank Albertson); Ben (Stuart Erwin); Grat (Brian Donlevy).  Seated in the front is Ma Dalton (Mary Gordon)


The above is part of the prologue that appears on the screen right after the credits.  It serves as a warning: You are not going to learn the truth about the Dalton brothers by viewing this film.  You are not going to because "to a large extent" the story is based on"the tales that the old settlers still tell of them -- woven together with strands of fiction."  The implication is that the tales told by the old settlers are fact, but in reality those tales are just as likely to be as fictitious as those "strands of fiction" that were woven together with them.  And were the Daltons really "so incredible ... that no man can say where fact ends and fancy begins"?

Well, of course, movies are under no obligation to render exact history and no one should go to a movie for a history lesson, and that goes double for WHEN THE DALTONS RODE.  But it was, and is, possible to "say where fact ends and fancy begins."  Fact ended right after the credits rolled and fancy began with the prologue and did not end until about here:

But there's more.  In the climatic shootout, all three Daltons -- Bob, Grat, and Emmett -- die in a blizzard of bullets fired by the local citizenry. 

Then how to explain this?

If Emmett perished in the failed holdup, how did he write the book that the film is based on?  Well, he didn't die.  He could have, because his body was riddled with bullets, but he did survive, and he did write the book.  That doesn't mean that we can totally trust his version of the events, but they would seem to be more reliable than screenwriter Shumate's version.

There are a number of things about the casting that don't add up.  To begin with, I don't know why Randolph Scott is even in this film, but he is.  He doesn't have much to do and despite the fact that his name is at the top of the credits he is not the star.

In the previous year in JESSE JAMES, he is a lawman who befriends Jesse and his brother Frank, portrayed by Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda, respectively.  In that film, however, Scott is listed fourth in the credits, as he should be.  In the Daltons film, he is an old family friend and a lawyer who defends the brothers and falls in love with the leading lady, but pretty much stays out of the way.

Even though he is miscast, the real star of the film is Broderick Crawford.  I could never completely accept him in a Western, but in his role as Bob Dalton, the leader of the gang, he does have the most important part in the film.  So, where does his name appear in the credits?  How about fifth. 

Bob Dalton (Broderick Crawford) slugs the town marshal.  Lawyer Tod Jackson (Randolph Scott) is a bystander, as he is for much of the film. 

Listed fourth in the opening cast credits is George Bancroft.  He was a well-known name who had given a memorable performance the previous year in John Ford's classic Western, STAGECOACH, in which he portrayed Curley Wilcox, a lawman whose tough exterior hides a tender heart.

In the Daltons film, he is on the other side of the law.  He is a banker who is in cahoots with a land corporation that is stealing the land of the Daltons and other settlers in order to sell it to the railroad for its right away.  However, despite being the boss villain and being billed fourth, he is hardly onscreen at all. 

Listed third in the credits is Brian Donlevy, who portrays brother Grat.  Donlevy is another of those actors who were often cast in Westerns, but shouldn't have been.  Like Crawford, he was never quite believable as a westerner.  But he was better known than Crawford and therefore was billed ahead of him.

He was in two 1939 classic Westerns.  In JESSE JAMES, he portrays a railroad tough who is responsible for the death of the James brothers' mother (not really; she outlived Jesse by three decades and died only four years before Frank).  As a result, Jesse dispatches Donlevy early in the film.

His other Western role that year was in DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, directed by George Marshall.  In that one, he is a saloon owner and, therefore it goes without saying, is the chief villain.

Then there is Edgar Buchanan. Supposedly, Andy Devine, who portrays a fictititious character named Ozark, a friend of the Daltons who becomes a member of their gang, supplied the comedy in this film.    

It never mattered if Andy was in an important film like STAGECOACH, which he was, or if he was portraying Roy Rogers' sidekick, Cookie Bullfincher, or Wild Bill's deputy, Jingles P. Jones, he always played the same character.  Thus, it is that character that we see in WHEN THE DALTONS RODE.  I'm afraid that I find his character to be more irritating than humorous.

It has been written that Andy Devine's role as the stage driver in STAGECOACH was partly due to his ability to handle a 6-horse hitch.  Maybe that explain why he was cast in the role of Ozark.

Now back to Edgar Buchanan.  Even though he was only in his late thirties at the time, he portrays an old-timer who adds a light touch to the film.  And even though his scenes bookend the film in a pleasant fashion, he isn't even listed in the credits.  Surely, that was an oversight.  A year later, however, Buchanan was given his first major role.  The film was TEXAS (1941), also directed by George Marshall.  In fact, he would become one of Marshall's favorite actors and, as we shall later see, he was cast in several of the director's Westerns. 

Kay Francis was a native of Oklahoma, which is the setting for part of the film.  She appeared in her first film in 1929.  By the mid-30's, while under contract to Warner Brothers, she became the highest paid actress in the business.  But before the decade ended, and after being divorced from her fifth husband, the studio did not extend her contract.  And that is how she ended up in this film, her only Western.

WHEN THE DALTONS RODE did nothing to advance her career and by the mid-40's, she found herself working on Poverty Row at Monogram.  She made three films there, in which she was both star and producer.  The last was released in 1946 and it was her last film. 

Now we get to the good stuff. It is probably hard to tell up to this point, but I like this film. To enjoy it, one just needs to forget about history and think of the Daltons as being fictitious characters and set back and enjoy the action. The real stars are the stuntmen who make this little production one of those films that put motion in motion pictures.

The list of stuntmen is a who's who of stunting: Yakima Canutt, Cliff Lyons, Eddie Parker, Bob Reeves, and Duke York.  According to the IMDb website, Canutt and Lyons are in the film by way of archival footage, but they are in it, and that's good enough.

Most of the stunts are performed by Broderick Crawford's doubles, which reinforces the fact that he was the real star of the film -- along with the stuntmen.

We see the famous Yakima Canutt stagecoach stunt (could be stock footage from another feature), which is supposed to be Bob Dalton (Crawford). 


Bob leaps from rocks onto a stage: 

All five gang members attempt to use a stagecoach to outrun a posse.  Since the coach is too slow, four jump onto the coach horses, cutting them loose and using them as mounts.  Bob then rides back and picks up Ozark (Devine) who is driving the coach.

Even after they are cut loose from the stage, the horses are incapable of outrunning the well-mounted posse.  Luckily, the outlaws hear an approaching train.  All five jump from overhanging rocks onto the top of the train.

The most famous stunt in the film is this one:

After the gang leaps from the rocks onto the top of the train, they move inside and rob the passengers and the express car, even though there is a boxcar full of lawmen guarding the train.  The outlaws make their getaway by jumping the lawmen's horses off the moving train.
Due to the danger to the horses, this is apparently the only time this stunt was ever staged.

Naturally, Bob is the last to jump from the train.  And because of that, he is forced to jump over a cliff into a lake.  (This very much appears to be archival footage. The year before, Cliff Lyons jumped a horse off a cliff into a lake during the filming of JESSE JAMES. Lyons survived but the horse was killed. This scene is not from that film and it doesn't appear to be the portly Mr. Lyons either. But I'm not sure who it was or from what movie it first appeared in. Nevertheless, it is spectacular.)

The Daltons met their Waterloo when they attempted to rob two banks -- simultaneously -- in broad daylight -- in their hometown.  In the film, it is Grat's idea, but in reality Bob was the mastermind.  It has been written that he wanted to outdo the James boys.

The name of the town is never mentioned in the movie, but it was Coffeyville, located in southeastern Kansas a few miles from the Oklahoma border.

The three brothers, along with two other gang members, rode into the town on a day when there were many people on the street.  In an effort to disguise themselves they wore fake beards -- that fooled nobody.  In a town in which they were well-known, they were easily identified by people on the streets.

This is a depiction by local artist Paul Sprague of the Daltons raid on Coffeyville in 1892
Bob and Emmett entered the First National Bank while Grat and the other two gang members entered the C. W. Condon and Co. Bank across the plaza.

Everything went awry for the gang.  As they left the two banks, they were fired at from all directions by the town marshal and other townsmen who had been able to acquire weapons, many of them from a local hardware store located next door to the First National Bank.  

As the outlaws attempted to reach their horses in an alley where they had left them, four of them, including Bob and Grat, were killed.  Twenty-one year old Emmett, despite what occurs on the screen, and despite being wounded many, many times, was the only survivor.

Four townsmen, including the marshal, were also killed.

Emmett was later tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.  He was pardoned in 1907.  He wrote two books: Beyond the Law (1918) and When the Daltons Rode (1931).  He died in 1937, three years before the film based on the book was released.

Well, at least all is well that ends well for some folks in Coffeyville:

Edgar Buchanan, Kay Francis, and Randolph Scott in the closing scenes of WHEN THE DALTONS RODE


Director George Marshall, star Marlene Dietrich, and producer Joe Pasternak on the set of DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939)
George Marshall entered films in 1912 as an actor.  In 1917, he made his directing debut.  In the silent era, he often directed Westerns including films starring the likes of Tom Mix, Harry Carey, and Jack Hoxie.

In the sound era, he specialized in Westerns that often poked gentle fun at the genre.  He is best known for DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939) starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart, with Brian Donlevy in a supporting role. 

After WHEN THE DALTONS RODE (1940), he directed TEXAS (1941), starring William Holden, Glen Ford, and Claire Trevor, with George Bancroft and Edgar Buchanan in support.  In 1954, he made DESTRY, starring Audie Murphy, a remake of the Dietrich-Stewart film.  Edgar Buchanan appears as the mayor. One of his most enjoyable Westerns is THE SHEEPMAN, starring Glen Ford and Shirley MacLaine.  Good old Edgar Buchanan is in that one, too.

Bosley Crowther in a review of WHEN THE DALTONS RODE in the New York Times wrote that "of one thing you may be sure: Universal will never make a sequel to 'When the Daltons Rode.' No, sir, friends, you'll never see a 'Return of Bob Dalton,' for instance, or 'The Daltons Ride Again' .... For the climax of this titanic Western ...  results in such wholesale tribal slaughter, such a complete patrilineal blackout of the clan, that 'When the Daltons Rode' is decisively the last of the Daltons. The Dalton gang is no more."

Five years later, Universal released THE DALTONS RIDE AGAIN.  You can look it up. It seems that old outlaws never die, they are just recycled.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A CHILDHOOD: The Biography of a Place by Harry Crews

When Harry Crews died in 2012, Elaine Woo in the Los Angeles Times wrote, [t]he word ‘original’ only begins to describe Crews, whose 17 novels place him squarely in the Southern gothic tradition, also known as Grit Lit. He emerged from a grisly childhood in Georgia with a darkly comic vision that made him literary kin to William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Hunter S. Thompson, although he never achieved their broad recognition.

In 1968, he began a long tenure on the University of Florida faculty. Woo writes that during his three decades there, he swore, drank and generally fractured the academic mold. With piercing blue eyes set deep in his craggy face, a limp caused by one or another violent encounter, a wardrobe that ran to sleeveless T-shirts and denims, and an assortment of tattoos (including one of a skull with a line from ee cummings, how do you like your blue-eyed boy/Mister Death’), he looked like the type of person one would cross the street to avoid meeting.

I have read most of his novels and though I have to admit that they are not among my favorites, I will always have vivid memories of each of them, for they are impossible to forget. How could I forget a story about a man who sets out to eat an entire car, a Ford Maverick, piece-by-piece (Car, 1972), or a man who makes a living by knocking himself out (The Knockout Artist, 1988)?

His books never made the best-seller lists and that was because, as one critic wrote, in part because they bewildered some readers and repelled others.  But he did develop a cult following, a huge, loyal one.

Maud Newton wrote:
A Childhood, his autobiography, is by most critics' reckoning, his best work.  A Feast of Snakes, a novel about a rattlesnake revival, comes close, exposing the hypocrisy and strange allure of Pentecostalism with an intensity matched only by Baldwin's Go Tell It On The Mountain.

His novels are a bit too bizarre for some readers, but that shouldn't cause them to shy away from A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, which is a straight forward account of the first six years of his life, and is just as memorable as his novels, and will always be one of my favorites.

The son of agricultural sharecroppers, he grew up in extreme poverty in south Georgia during the '30s and '40s. In 1937, when Crews was a small boy, his father died as the result of a heart attack. His description of what happened the night after his father was buried is one of the most devastating descriptions of grinding poverty that I have ever read:

The night after the day daddy was buried, somebody went in the smokehouse and stole all the meat that had been cured and hung there before he died .... Mama knows who got the meat, not because she has any hard proof, but because in her heart she knows, and I know too, but the one who got it is himself lying in the same graveyard daddy's in and I see no reason to name him.

He was one of my daddy's friends. I do not say he was supposedly or apparently a friend. He was a friend, and a close one, but he stole the meat anyway. Not many people may be able to understand that or sympathize with it, but I think I do. It was a hard time in that land, and a lot of men did things for which they were ashamed and suffered for the rest of their lives. But they did them because of hunger and sickness and because they could not bear the sorry spectacle of their children dying from lack of a doctor and their wives growing old before they were thirty.

arry Crews life proved at least one thing: It is possible to overcome what appear to be the insurmountable odds of one’s childhood. How many people could have survived paralysis and a full body hot water scalding before age six?  However, it should be added that only a few people – a mighty few – could have surmounted the odds he faced. But not only did he have to survive a harrowing childhood, he also had to survive an adulthood that would have finished off anyone who was not blessed with his iron will and intestinal fortitude.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Serials, sometimes called chapter plays or cliffhangers, were an early staple of movie production, even during the silent era.  And from the beginning, many of them were set in the Old West.  Later it was inevitable that the producers of serials, targeted as they were toward a juvenile audience, would also look to comic strips for source material.  It wasn't long before various studios began to churn out serials starring the likes of Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy, Mandrake the Magician, and others.  

Since studios were looking for both comic strip heroes and Western settings as inspirations for their serials, it was only a matter of time before Red Ryder appeared on the big screen.  Created by Fred Harman, the strip had been an immediate hit when it debuted in 1938.  Two years later, Republic released ADVENTURES OF RED RYDER as a 12-chapter serial. 


DIRECTORS: John English, William Witney; PRODUCER: Hiram S. Brown, Jr.; WRITERS: screenplay by Franklyn Adreon, Ronald Davidson, Norman S. Hall, Barney A. Sarecky, Sol Shor; CINEMATOGRAPHY: William Nobles

CAST: Don "Red" Barry, Noah Beery, Tommy Cook, Maude Pierce Allen, Vivian Coe, Harry Worth, Hal Taliaferro, William Farnum, Bob Kortman, Careleton Young, Ray Teal, Gene Alsace, Reed Howes, Lloyd Ingraham

STUNTS: David Sharpe (double for Don 'Red' Barry), Gene Alsace, Art Dillard, James Fawcett, Bud Geary, Duke Green, Eddie Juarequi, Ted Mapes, Post Park, Ken Terrell, Bill Yrigoyen, Joe Yrigoyen

Stop me if you have heard this one.  The Santa Fe railroad is planning to run its line near the town of Mesquite.  As in all such cases in the B-Western West, there are crooks that have inside information about the proposed right-of-way.  They institute a reign of terror and intimidation against the local ranchers in order to grab their land and place themselves in the path of the right-of-way, which will then be purchased from them by the railroad.

In the first chapter, Col. Tom Ryder (William Farnum), father of Red, and sheriff Luke Andrews (Lloyd Ingraham), father of Red's friend Beth (Vivian Coe), decide to organize an effort to counter the terroristic activities.  Both are killed by a group of henchmen headed by One-Eye Chapin (Bob Kortman).

Red (Don Barry) then becomes the leader of the fight to defeat the outlaws.  In his efforts he is assisted by his juvenile Indian sidekick, Little Beaver (Tommy Cook), and a loyal ranch hand by the name of Cherokee Sims (Hal Taliaferro).  He is also supported by his aunt, the Duchess (Maude Pierce Allen), who is in jeopardy of losing her own spread. 

Almost from the beginning,  saloon owner Ace Hanlon (Noah Beery) is suspected of being the leader of the gang.  This could be because nearly all saloon owners in the B-Western West were crooks.  However, what is not known is that banker Calvin Drake (Harry Worth) is the real brains behind the illegal activities.  It should have been known, of course, because Drake wears an eastern suit and, especially, because he sports a thin mustache.  The combination was a dead giveaway but it took Red and his allies twelve weeks to catch on.  But they do, and in the end, the forces of good prevail over the forces of evil.

Fred Harman's Red Ryder (and Little Beaver)

The directors were not pleased with the choice of native Texan Don Barry in the lead role.  And that is putting it mildly.  Here is what William Witney, one of the serial's co-directors, wrote about the casting in his memoir (In a Door, Into a Fight, Out a Door, Into a Chase):

Jack [co-director John English], Bunny [producer Hiram Brown] and I had started to look for actors to fill out the cast.  We were looking for a lean, craggy-faced western type about six-foot-six.... 

One morning the front office called Bunny and told him that they had solved our problem.  They had cast Don Barry in the part and had just signed him to a long-term contract.  None of us knew Don, so we checked him out with casting.  He had been cast in small roles in a mesquiteer series picture and a couple of Roy Rogers pictures.  We wanted to meet him.

After we met Don we all decided that he was too short to play the role and his brain matched his size.  The only thing he had that was big was his ego....

When the picture was finished we decided not to have our usual party.  The picture hadn't been pleasant.  Jack and I went across the street to have a drink.  At the bar Jack turned to me. 'Remember when we were wardrobing the midget and I said everything looks too big for him, and that hat he picked was ridiculous?  Well, I was wrong.  His head grew into the hat.  God help the next poor directors who have to work with him....' 

Little Beaver (Tommy Cook) rides double with Red Ryder (Don Barry) on Red's black stallion, Thunder.  Unfortunately, Barry's big hat makes him seem even smaller than his actual size. Fortunately, having a sidekick of Cook's stature makes him seem larger than his actual size.

Barry, who stood only about 5-5,  got the part because he was the personal choice of the man who bossed the studio, Herbert Yates.  Yates viewed the cocky, diminutive Barry as another Cagney.

William C. Cline in his account of the serial genre, In the Nick of Time, described the Barry persona in words that could have been used to describe Cagney:

With a jaunty carriage and high-pitched husky voice that clipped out his lines in an unmistakably authoritative tone, the swaggering young hero brought to mind as much as anything else a confident, self-assured gamecock.


Co-directors William Witney (L) and John English (R) flank producer Hiram Brown

At age twenty-five, William Witney, a native of Lawton, Oklahoma,  was a veteran serial director.  He had been pressed into service when he was only twenty-one, when the director of the picture was fired for drunkenness.  He went on to become Republic's busiest and most talented director of serials and B-Westerns.  He was a director who loved to stage action scenes and he became adept at doing so.  In later years, when he was put in charge of the Roy Rogers series, he eliminated as much of the music as possible and they became much more action oriented.

John English was born in England in 1903, but grew up in Canada.  He became a director at Republic at about the same time as Witney.  Despite the age difference, the two worked extremely well as a team and were responsible for Hollywood's very best serials, giving Republic a huge advantage over its competitors.  As a team, they directed seventeen consecutive serials.  

Most serial productions utilized two directors in order to expedite production.  Each director was in charge of filming on alternate days.  While one filmed, the other prepared for the next days filming.  Witney and English were a good team because Witney did what he did best, which was staging the action scenes, while English preferred to direct the scenes involving character development and story.

Maybe Barry was too small for the part, but it is not very apparent on the screen, except when he is astride Thunder, and he was a much better actor than just about any other B-Western performer.  He was a competent rider who could also handle himself in the fight scenes -- and there were many, of course, as there were in nearly all serials.  Plus, his double made him look even more proficient.  Maybe it is true that the directors did not like the actor and that he was hard to work with, but that doesn't show up on the screen.

Barry, for his part, had higher aspirations as an actor than starring in lowly serials or B-Westerns.  He was also unhappy with the moniker that he was stuck with for the remainder of his B-Western career.  Although the above poster lists his name as Donald "Red" Barry, which the actor didn't like either, his name in the opening credits in each chapter of the serial is Don "Red" Barry.  And to his dismay, he would be billed as Don "Red" Barry for the remainder of his B-Western career.    

The supporting cast, especially old pros such as Beery, Taliaferro, and Kortman, were important factors in explaining the success of the serial.  As child actors go, Tommy Cook, who had appeared in only two short films prior to the serial, was quite good as Little Beaver.  Despite the fact that he had never been on a horse, he was athletic and became quite proficient at riding after only a few lessons. 

In a departure from Harman's cartoon strip (and the Red Ryder comic books, the subsequent feature movies, and the radio show), Little Beaver, for some reason, is identified as Apache rather than Navajo.  Also, his pinto pony has no name, while in all the other mediums it was identified as "Papoose."

Serials above all were about action -- and more action.  And that in turn meant that their success was highly dependent on stuntmen (there were practically no stuntwomen at the time) and directors who knew how to show them to their best advantage.  This serial is a veritable "Who's Who" list of stunters and in Witney, they had the best director in the business to guide them.  And while the director never had much good to say about the actors who starred in his serials, he admired and respected the stuntmen.

In many ways, the most important performer in the serial, even more important than its star, is the man who doubled him.  David Sharpe was one of the very best in the business.

It wasn't absolutely necessary, but it was helpful that Sharpe wasn't much taller than Barry was.  It wasn't necessary because Sharpe often doubled actors much taller than him.  His small stature also allowed him to double women at a time in which, as mentioned, there were few stuntwomen in the business.

Sharpe was an acrobat who had been a champion tumbler.  He could ride and fight and he could perform stunts that nobody else could.  Early in the serial he reprises the old Yakima Canutt stunt of falling from the tongue of a stagecoach, allowing the coach to pass over him, then grabbing the under carriage and pulling himself back onto the coach, at which point he proceeds to best a young Ray Teal in a battle of fisticuffs.  It was all in a day's work for Sharpe -- and Witney.  


Davey Sharpe, legendary stuntman

Davey Sharpe leaping onto a moving truck, while doubling for Ralph Byrd in one of the Dick Tracy serials.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

FRED HARMAN: Cowboy Cartoonist

Leslie Fred Harman (1902-1982) was an American artist and cartoonist best known for his creation of the Red Ryder comic strip.  The strip was so popular that at its peak it ran in 750 newspapers and reached forty million readers.

Harman was born in St. Joseph Missouri in 1902, but when he was just two months old, his parents moved back to Pagosa Springs, Colorado.  It was there in that scenic setting that he grew up on a ranch and among horses.  His formal schooling ended after just seven years and he never received any formal art training. However, it must have been a natural talent that required little or no training since his two younger brothers also became cartoonists.

Beginning at age twenty, he worked as an animator at the Kansas City Film Ad Company.  Among his co-workers were his two brothers, Hugh and Walker, and a fellow by the name of Disney.  In fact, Harman and Disney decided to go into business for themselves, but their company, Kaycee Studios, folded after a year.  It was then that Harman headed back to Pagosa Springs.

The following years saw him working at various jobs including advertising.  He and a partner formed their own agency but it failed after a few years.  He did marry musician Lola Andrews and they had a son in 1927.  Six years later the family moved to Los Angeles where he began a Western magazine that – you guessed it – failed.  Only three issues were published.

Bronc Peeler

From 1934 to 1938, he syndicated a Western cartoon strip titled Bronc Peeler, but not many newspapers were interested.  His luck began to change when he moved to New York in 1938.  There he met Stephen Slesinger, a merchandizing genius who helped him in the evolution of Bronc Peeler into Red Ryder.  The redheaded cowboy first rode the range in November of that year.

Promoting Red Ryder as “America’s famous fighting cowboy,” Slesinger began doing what he did best, which was merchandising and licensing.  What followed were Big Little Books, novels, a movie serial, a radio program, and twenty-seven feature movies and numerous merchandizing promotions including, of course, the Daisy Red Ryder BB gun, still produced to this day. Not only that, it holds the longest continuing license in the history of the licensing industry.

In 1941, Fred and Lola bought a spread in the Blanco Basin.   They named it the Red Ryder Ranch.  Harman’s studio was located on the property in a small building near the main house.

In 1964, Harman retired from the strip and devoted more time to painting.  But that wasn’t the end of the Red Ryder strip.  It was continued by his former assistant, Bob MacLeod, and others.

Harman died in 1982.
The Red Ryder Round-up is held every year as a July the Fourth event in Pagosa Springs, which is also the home of the Fred Harman Art Museum.


Friday, October 10, 2014

THE BORDERLAND: A Novel of Texas by Edwin Shrake

The Borderland is an old-fashioned, thoroughly researched, skillfully written, not to mention entertaining, historical novel set in Texas in 1839. The author, the late Edwin “Bud” Shrake, a native of Texas and one of its bigger-than-life, legendary writers, knew the history and geography of his state and through exhaustive research, he also became acquainted with the people of that bygone era. As a result, he was able to intermingle fact and fiction and to intertwine historical and fictional characters without the story becoming stilted, as is often the case with historical novels.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

THE BRANCH AND THE SCAFFOLD: A Novel of Judge Parker by Loren D. Estleman

I stumbled onto Loren D. Estleman years ago when I checked out "This Old Bill" from my local library. I had never heard of the author but since the book was a fictional treatment of Buffalo Bill, I couldn't resist it. I followed up that one by quickly reading two more of his historical westerns: "Aces & Eights" (Wild Bill Hickok) and "Bloody Season" (the Earps). By then Estleman had become one of my favorite authors of western fiction.

He is not only a prolific writer, but also a somewhat unusual one, in that he specializes in two genres: westerns (especially historical westerns about real people) and crime novels. Since the appearance of his first novel in 1976, he has now written 40 crime novels, 24 westerns, two works of non-fiction, and three short story collections (one western and two crime). If you are keeping score that is 69 books in 34 years!

In "The Branch and the Scaffold" Estleman covers the same ground as the late Douglas C. Jones, who also specialized in historical westerns (and a favorite writer). It is the story of Judge Isaac Parker, the so-called "hanging judge," who battled to bring law and order to the Western Arkansas District and the Indian Nations (later Oklahoma Territory). It is an episodic novel that does not include a single fictional character. The characters, even the minor ones, were real people. That was not the case in his other historical westerns. In those stories, he created fictional characters in order to enliven the historical events.

Judge Isaac Parker
"The Branch and the Scaffold" is not my favorite Estleman novel. That may be because I have read much about the people and the events that are covered and since Estleman does nothing to embellish the story -- it reads almost like a work of history rather than a work of fiction -- and I am already familiar with that history.

But to those who do not know much about the life and times of Judge Parker and the lawmen who rode for him or the famous and infamous outlaws they brought to justice, the novel will be both entertaining and informative.


Loren D. Estleman