Old West Book Review: Contention and Other Frontier Stories

Contention and Other Frontier StoriesContention and Other Frontier Stories: A Five Star Anthology of original Western stories by seventeen authors, Edited by Hazel Rumney, Five Star Publishing, $25.95, Cloth, Frontier Fiction.

Most of the authors of these short stories are well-known winners of writing awards, having plenty of experience with word-wrangling. These stories are fast- paced, filled with original detail. Here you will find a wide selection of ideas and varied circumstances pertaining to our American frontier.

A good short story hooks the reader right away, and almost always ends with a surprise. The reader will arrive at the end and get a laugh, or perhaps be entertained when the villain gets his or her comeuppance.  Nearly all of these stories live up to our expectations.

The editor is Hazel Rumney who began working for Thorndike Press in 1983.  By 1995 Thorndike began publishing the Five Star western series, and soon the books began winning awards.  Hazel Rumney was right in the middle of it all.  She retired in 2011, but in 2012 Five Star called her back, offering her the job doing work from home, via computer.  She grabbed the opportunity to edit in the comfort of her own home “drinking coffee” and avoiding travel; her dream job.  Writers will tell you she is strict, she’s demanding, she looks for good stories that are exciting, believable, and true to Old West authenticity.

This collection has all the right combinations that make short stories work.  The authors keep you guessing until the last page.  Here you will find a deserter from Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders; another is about a young ranch wife avenging the brutal and sudden murder of her husband; a wounded Pony Express rider brings in the mail during a blizzard; Geronimo sends one of his wives away to save her from life in captivity; a young cowboy and his sweetheart get even with a nasty gambler; a Mormon wife treks across the plains toward Utah, protecting her family even after her husband was killed; a tough old buffalo hunter stands firm in the face of removal from his home by encroaching civilization; two cowboys stranded in the mountains with a cantankerous old cook resort to cannibalism; a mysterious rider rescues two young girls held captive on a lonely ranch-far from town; a cocky young troublemaker finds himself involved in a shotgun wedding; a city girl newspaper reporter gets stranded in a dust storm, a miner tries a variety of imaginative ways to bury his dead partner, an aged colonel from Civil War days struggles with his memory; a preacher is embroiled in a Texas blood feud; a baseball player living in the past tries to avoid the reality of giving up the team; a young man with a speech impediment finds clever ways to defend himself.

These stories highlight protagonists with grit and imagination, who forge ahead against difficult circumstances.  A variety of provocative issues are explored.  These were tough people surviving tough times.  This is good frontier fiction, a fun book to read.

Publisher’s Notes: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including Death For Dinner, the Benders of (Old) Kansas, Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York, 10988. Ph. (845) 726-3434. www.silklabelbooks.com

Chuckwagon: Cowboy Sourdough Starter

Cowboy Sourdough Starter

Sourdough biscuits were a delicacy whether on the trail or at the ranch. Once a cook got a good sourdough starter he cherished it like a baby. On the trail he would store it in a dark, cool place in his chuckwagon. Here is one cooks recipe for a sourdough starter.

2 cups of lukewarm potato water.
2 cups flour.
1 tablespoon sugar.

Make potato water by cutting up 2 medium-sized potatoes into cubes, and boil in cups of water until tender. Remove the potatoes and measure out two cups of the remaining liquid. (The potatoes can be used for the evening meal.) Mix the potato water, flour and sugar into a smooth paste. Set the mixture in a warm place until it doubles its original size.

Cowboy Sourdough starter

Sitting Bull Goes to Canada

After the defeat of Custer in 1876, realizing there would be retaliations, the Indians broke up into smaller bands so they could move faster and not be easily found. But many of the bands were tracked down, and relocated to reservations.

Sitting Bull, in command of the western party, took his people to Montana, and avoided any major confrontations with the army. Four months after Little Big Horn, Sitting Bull met with American commander Nelson Miles. Sitting Bull refused to surrender. So Colonel Miles stepped up his campaign against him and his people.

With the scarcity of buffalo, the cold winter and the army’s constant pressure, Sitting Bull’s people began to suffer. So, on May 5, 1877, Sitting Bull decided to avoid war by going to Canada. The Canadian government, with a more tolerant attitude toward Indians, let them stay in peace. With plenty of buffalo and no harassment from the military, it was a great life. But within a couple of years the young warriors, who had grown up doing battle, became restless. They started making trouble with their neighboring tribes, and the Canadian government started putting pressure on Sitting Bull to leave Canada.

The final straw was the disappearance of Canadian buffalo. With promises that they would have plenty of food, and with most of his people having already returned to America, four years after he had left, and five years after his great victory at Little Big Horn, Sitting Bull returned to the United States leading just 187 Indians, most of who were old and sick.

 Deacon Jim Miller

Deacon Jim MillerDeacon Jim Miller was a little man who was quiet, and he never cussed. He dressed like a traveling minister, and was an avid churchgoer. At the same time, he was one of the most ruthless assassins of the Old West. It’s estimated that 40 or more people died from lead that came from his guns… Some of them were even his relatives. His contracts were usually carried out on unarmed men from behind a rock or tree, while using a rifle.
           
There are those who say he was involved with the death of Pat Garrett, the lawman who shot Billy the Kid. A man named Brazel confessed to killing Garrett. But at the time, a mysterious man, who fit Deacon Miller’s description, by the name of Adamson, was negotiating the purchase of the ranch. Some feel that if he didn’t actually pull the trigger, he paid Brazel to do it. But like many theories about events from the Old West, we’ll probably never know the truth.
               
Deacon Miller’s last contract kill was on a lawman named Gus Babbitt. As was his style, Miller ambushed Babbitt. Unfortunately, Babbitt lived long enough to describe Miller. Miller and his three helpers were arrested.
 
Now, Deacon Miller was noted for being a smooth-talker. And he bragged that with his ability to con, and a high-priced lawyer, he was going to beat this rap. Some of the Ada, Oklahoma locals believed him. So, on April 19, 1909 they broke Deacon Miller and his three friends out of jail; escorted them to a barn; and hanged them. Deacon Miller went to his reward. And there was little doubt by anyone who knew him, the direction of that reward. 

Denver’s 1863 Fire

 A constant fear for western towns was fire. The buildings were wood, and with the dry weather, they soon became kindling. During Denver’s 1863 fire that fear became a reality. A pile of garbage behind the Cherokee House Hotel ignited. A wind whipped up the flames into a citywide inferno. The resulting damage was estimated to be in the range of $350,000, which doesn’t sound like much, but in the 1860’s that was most of Denver.
               
As with most tragedies, it brought out the worst and the best in men. When it came time to rebuild the area the local Kountze Brothers Bank announced that they were willing to give loans to merchants… The best in men? Not really. The interest was a whopping 25% per year… And we think interest rates are high today.
 
Prior to the fire there was quite a bit of animosity between Denver City and neighboring Cherry Creek. With both cities adversely affected, they put aside their animosity and worked together… Truly the best in men.
 
One of the individuals who borrowed money from the Kountze Brothers Bank was a Black entrepreneur by the name of Barney Ford. He operated a barbershop that was destroyed in the fire. Barney borrowed $9,000 at the going rate of 25% interest.
 
But, Barney Ford didn’t use it to reopen his barbershop. He used it to open the People’s Restaurant. Along with great food, the restaurant advertised fresh oysters and Havana cigars. How did Barney Ford do? Well, even at the high interest rate, he paid off the loan in just 90 days. 
Denver's 1863 Fire
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