Old West Book Review: Riding the Edge of an Era

Riding the Edge of an EraRiding the Edge of an Era; Growing up Cowboy on the Outlaw Trail, Diana Allen Kouris, High Plains Press (800) 552-7819, $17.95, Paperback.

High mountain trails deep with snow, ice storms and hail, bone-chilling wind mingled with the faraway cries of wily coyotes fill the pages of this real-life adventure.  Carefully written from beginning to end by a lady whose family spans several generations of ranchers, the setting is Butch Cassidy country where Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado meet.  From the writer’s earliest days, there was a no-nonsense approach to life where one mis-step could lead to serious injury and even death.  The family consisted of parents and six children; a cowboy father, and a mother who could ride and rope as easily as rustle up Christmas dinner.

There was no TV or electricity, but the kids had many horses and memorable days filled with everything from hummingbirds to snowflakes.  Picnics, swimming, and favorite pets are remembered, including a pony named Comet whose favorite sport was scraping his riders off under trees.  Long trail drives, wild horse roundups, killer storms, and the learning of independence, the children grew into teenagers, and eventually adults.  The reader grieves when a favorite horse is found dead where he fell in the mountains, and when another struggles in vain against fever, leaving his heart-broken young owner to mourn over the carrion remains.  When the seven-year-old sister is crushed under the back wheels of a farm truck, and when at the end of the story the brave mother dies of cancer, and a favorite brother is lost in an accident, you will close the last page with a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes.

The author has captured real ranch life as it existed in the days between the old and new West, before battles between ranch families and the government’s Bureau of Land Management. Eventually the land is lost to Uncle Sam for a recreation area, and the family must make profound decisions.

Along the way, the author rides past crumbling cabins and deserted home sites where historic murders took place, and bodies were found.  Most crimes were never solved due to a lack of enough lawmen in territories too sparsely populated for a sheriff to be interested.  People faced life as it came at them on a daily basis.  They were tough and independent, they solved their own problems, they never asked for a handout.

Filled with photographs complimenting the text, we see Nonie and Diana, Bob and Marie and Bill Allen and the others in the story as they grin back at camera lenses.  The author writes with a sharp eye for detail and never misses describing scenes of “candy colored cactus flowers,” or “nighthawks darting overhead in evening coolness.”  There is love, devotion, loyalty, sacrifice, and through it all, the powerful bond existed between Marie and Bill Allen, and their children.  There were no crybabies here.  If you fell off your horse, bloodied your knee, bumped your head or fell into the creek, you learned to laugh about it.  This book is not about fluffy toy animals on Sesame Street or even fairness.  It’s about surviving the elements, self-sufficiency and courage.  It’s about cold winter cabins deprived of hot water, indoor plumbing or electric light.  It’s about doing laundry by hand, milking a cow, and stacking hay during school vacations.  It’s about Diana Allen, the smallest of the children helping drive a herd of cattle in a snowstorm when she was only 6 years old.

This highly memorable book reminds us of what good writing is about, how important original detail is to the text, and in the age of hard to find good stories, we can be grateful some wise storytellers still exist.  This book is almost breathtaking in its sincerity; a most memorable read. You can grab a copy of Riding the Edge of an Era; Growing up Cowboy on the Outlaw Trail HERE.

Editor’s Note: The Reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of many published books, including Silk and Sagebrush: Women of the Old West, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 (845-726-3434) www.silklabelbooks.com

Texas Rangers Surrender

Texas Rangers SurrenderThe stories of the bravery of the Texas Rangers are legendary. However, there was one incident when a group of them were cowards.  It was when events made the Texas Rangers surrender.
 
About ninety miles east of El Paso, Texas, are salt beds where people went to gather this essential mineral, not only for food, but also for silver mining. In 1876, Charles Howard tried to get control of the salt beds by filing a land claim on them. The salt gathers living in the area didn’t like this. In a confrontation, Howard killed one of their leaders. This caused an uproar. Texas Ranger major John B. Jones was sent to investigate. Seeing the need for more help, he organized Company C of the Texas Rangers.  
 
To be fair, the men he recruited were toughs from Silver City, New Mexico, and the man he put in charge, John Tays, was no leader. Under normal circumstances, none of these men would have met the Texas Ranger standards. But, these weren’t normal circumstances. 
 
On December 12, Tays and the other Rangers entered San Elizario. As soon as they got there, the salt gathers knifed to death the local storeowner. The Rangers did nothing. The next morning a sniper shot their sergeant. With the Rangers under siege, they surrendered to the mob. 
 
The Rangers were locked up in a building and then the salt gathers killed anyone they thought was against them. After the killing was done the Rangers were released to return home the best way they could.
 
Within days military troops showed up, but by then all of the killers had fled south of the border.
 
Never before, nor since have the Texas Rangers stood by and watched crimes take place, or surrendered without a fight.    
 
 

Buffalo Bill Cody

Buffalo Bill Cody was born William Frederick Cody, and at the age of 11 his father died. As the middle child of seven brothers and sisters, William Cody had to go to work to help support his family. His first job was carrying messages on horseback between wagon trains for a freight company. For a while he was a rider for the Pony Express where he became acquainted with his lifelong friend, Wild Bill Hickok.   
 
After failing at running a boarding house, he got a job killing buffalo to feed the workers on the Kansas Pacific Railroad. This is where he got his nickname “Buffalo Bill.” The railroad workers who called him by that name didn’t do so as a compliment. They got so tired of buffalo meat that when they saw him they would say, “Here comes that ‘Buffalo Bill.’”  
 
In 1872, now known as Buffalo Bill Cody, he starred in a play entitled “The Scouts of Prairie.” Although he had a couple more stints as a scout for the army, his head was in show business. In 1882 “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show” appeared for the first time. 
 
In 1887 he took the show to England. In 1889 he went on a tour of Europe… And again in 1891 his “Wild West Show” went back to Europe. The European citizens were enthralled with the Indians, the skills of the cowboys and wildness of the west.
 
Inspired by Buffalo Bill Cody, Europe has had a love affair with the Old West, even through two world wars. It’s interesting that although they were inspired by the theatrics of Buffalo Bill’s show, they, much more than American Old West re-enactors, strive for authenticity in their attire and reenactments.  
Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show - Europe

Sunset Route of the Southern Pacific Railroad

Collis P. Huntington - Southern Pacific RailroadWith the completion of the transcontinental railroad by the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads in 1869, the men dubbed as the “western railroad barons” decided to join forces and create a monopoly on any rail traffic coming to the West Coast. So, in 1870 Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford and Mark Hopkins created the Southern Pacific Railroad.  
 
These men had very strong, commanding personalities. But, Collis P. Huntington was much stronger and determined that the others. Starting with nothing, Huntington had gone to the California gold fields in 1849, where he shoveled gravel for just one morning… which he considered the most foolishly squandered time of his life. The next day he started selling hardware, and never looked back. 
 
By 1877, the Southern Pacific Railroad controlled 85 percent of California’s rails. From there Huntington and the Southern Pacific looked at creating a transcontinental railroad through the southern part of the United States. With the Texas and Pacific Railroad already on the project, Huntington had to work fast. Marshaling all of his resources, in 1881 the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe Railroads united at Deming, New Mexico, creating the second transcontinental railroad. It took two more years, and on February 5, 1883, by gaining control of a number of smaller railroads, the Southern Pacific now had what they called the “Sunset Route” from New Orleans to California.
 
Now with a virtual monopoly over rail service to California, Huntington and his business partners started charging exorbitant shipping rates. With its tentacles creating a stranglehold on much of California’s economy, the Southern Pacific got the nickname of “the Octopus.” This resulted in California became the first state to start regulating the railroads.  
Mickey FreeWherever Mickey Free went, death seemed to follow. Even when he was a kid.  
 
On January 27, 1861, at the age of 12, Apache Indians kidnapped Mickey. An inept soldier by the name of Lt. Bascom led a command to find him. Lt. Bascom came across Cochise and some of his braves. And although Cochise knew nothing about the kidnapping, Lt. Bascom accused Cochise of stealing Mickey. A fight ensued, and some Indians were shot. Cochise went on the warpath, and in 60 days, he and his braves killed 150 whites. 
 
Later Mickey gained his freedom. Although Mickey’s real name was Felix Martinez, when he returned he started using the name Mickey Free. Some say Mickey came from his Irish father. His last name “Free” came from his being free from captivity.
 
Mickey has been described as having long, unkempt, fiery red hair and a red mustache. He only had one eye. He supposedly had a mug that looked like the map of Ireland. A nice way of saying that he was really ugly.
 
Mickey was a scout for the Army in the Apache campaign. The Apaches didn’t like him, and the feeling was mutual. He would spread rumors about the Apache, and when the Army used him as an interpreter, his translating was to the detriment of the Indians.
 
One time Mickey was sent to capture an Apache. He tracked him for 300 miles. After Mickey killed the Apache, realizing the body was too heavy to carry, he carved off the Indian’s face as proof of the kill.
 
Mickey only had one friend, chief of scouts, Al Sieber. Even he said of Mickey, “He’s half Mexican, half Irish and whole SOB.”  
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