Old West Book Review: My Ranch, Too

My Ranch TooMy Ranch, Too.  A Wyoming Memoir, Mary Budd Flitner, University of Oklahoma Press, $24.95, Cloth. 2 maps, 23 Photos, 232 pages.

There are not many books that I read twice, but My Ranch, Too is one of them.  If you have ever lived on a ranch, or handled horses, dogs, cattle or sheep, or even thought about it, you will smile at the author’s astute observations, and wonderful way of describing it all.

Mary Budd Flitner’s great grandfather Daniel Budd, settled in Wyoming Territory in 1878.  He inherited a herd of cattle from his brother who died unexpectedly at a young age.  Budd moved his family from Kansas to Wyoming, and thus began the story.

Today, great granddaughter Mary Budd Flitner owns and operates a large cattle ranch in Wyoming, known as the Diamond Tail Ranch.  Her husband Stan is also a descendant of a Wyoming ranch family.  The land, weather cattle, horses and sheep are part of their heritage.  Mary’s wonderful stories are written chapter by chapter filled with original detail.  Every experience imaginable having to do with Wyoming ranch life is described with clear and careful thought.

Readers will enjoy her subtle sense of humor in chapters like the horse race, and the disappearance of her children’s bum lambs.  Things usually turn out for the best with happy endings, although Mary is fair and tough when circumstances require a firm hand.  Her dealings with horses, cowboys, hired and amateur helpers, terrible cold winters and seasons of drought are part of her life.  Raising four kids through thick and thin, high interest rates and livestock losses are dealt with head-on.

Mary Flitner’s great love for her land, her family and way of life comes through on every page.  This is a family story about hard-working people who have managed to survive under harsh conditions, with plans to leave the land to the next generation.

Mary admits there are times when she’s anxious to drive to town for a few hours of “girl talk” with her lady friends.  She has found a balance between life in blue jeans, driving pickup trucks, changing tires, delivering calves, mending fences, herding cattle, or getting bucked off a frisky colt.  Thus she enjoys a brief respite with female friends who themselves understand ranch life.

Her stories are true, carefully written, easy to understand, sometimes filled with sentimental humor showing her ability to laugh at herself.  She writes tenderly about the friends she has had over the years, those who worked hard and shared their personal tragedies.  She has kept a journal in which she checks back over the good times as well as bad, including scary happenings like the time her husband was pinned under a fallen horse a long way from home.  (No cell phones).  Her kids were taught to ride and rope almost as soon as they could walk, and they grew up happy and strong amid their horses, cattle drives, dogs, and lambs.

This is a story of a woman’s place on a working ranch, where she handles being a wife, mother, bookkeeper, cook, adviser, and business partner besides fixing farm machinery, and using branding irons.  Readers will feel the cold, the dust, the wind and snow through Mary’s admirable talent for describing details.  Readers sense her true grit as she drives a truckload of cattle down an icy canyon road, or stoically prepares wash tubs filled with food for hungry roundup crews.

There is no whining here, no blaming others. Mary Flitner’s story gives readers much to think about. She’s a tough, honest, kindly person you’d be proud to ride with.

Editor’s Note:  Reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including the non-fiction Death For Dinner, The Benders of (Old) Kansas, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York 10988.  www.silklabelbooks. com.

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE.

Jack Abernathy

Jack AbernathyJack Abernathy was born in Texas. At the age of six he and his older brother would sneak away from home to play piano and violin in the local saloon. Following a Christmas shootout in the saloon with several victims, his parents discovered what he was doing, thus ending his entertainment career. 
 
But that didn’t inhibit the enterprising young man. By the age of nine he was working as a cowboy, and at eleven he went on his first cattle drive. At fifteen Jack was a full-fledged cowboy breaking horses for Charles Goodnight. 
 
Jack acquired a couple of greyhound dogs. He found they would hunt wolves. He also discovered a unique way to catch them alive by jamming his hand in the wolves’ mouth. It worked so well that on December 1, 1891 he bought three more dogs and started catching wolves full time. Getting paid $50 per wolf, Jack caught more than 1,000 wolves, supplying them to zoos and traveling shows. 
 
Jack later became a deputy U. S. marshal in Oklahoma. President Theodore Roosevelt learned about “Catch-‘em-alive Jack”, and came outwest to see his skills. He was so impressed with Jack that he made him marshal of Oklahoma. 
 
As a lawman Jack captured hundreds of outlaws and ended up seeing close to 800 of them go to prison. Jack was called to New York to become a Secret Service agent, and for a short time even worked for the Mexican secret service.
 
Returning to Texas in 1919, Jack became a wildcat oil driller making and losing a fortune. Finally, Jack Abernathy, a man who had defied death literally thousands of times finally succumbed, dying of natural causes in Long Beach, California at the age of 65.    

John Tunstall and Billy the Kid

John Tunstall and Billy the KidJohn Tunstall was an Englishman who came to America with some capital to invest. He wandered over to New Mexico where he met a lawyer named Alexander McSween. McSween suggested that there were good business opportunities in Lincoln County. What he probably didn’t mention was that there was a bit of a rivalry, over government beef contracts, going on between a J. J. Dolan and John Riley, owners of a general store called “The House,” and local cattle ranchers. Thus begins the story of John Tunstall and Billy the Kid.
           
So Tunstall came to Lincoln. He bought himself a cattle ranch… which was bad enough. But then, he and McSween decided to open a general store in competition with The House.
               
Tunstall wasn’t familiar with the ways of the West. He was used to a more genteel country, where disputes were settled in court. In Lincoln County it was might makes right. And the law was controlled by his competition.
 
Unfortunately for Tunstall, his partnership with McSween brought him into the middle of the feud. The owners of The House brought legal action against McSween regarding a debt. Since Tunstall became McSween’s partner, the law was convinced that Tunstall’s debt was also McSween’s. So, on February 18, 1878, a posse, led by men loyal to The House, headed to McSween’s ranch to confiscate some horses. McSween went out to meet the posse, and was greeted with a bullet to the head.
 
Dolan and Riley of The House probably figured McSween’s death would stifle the opposition. And it very well could have, had it not been for McSween’s 19 year old friend named William Bonney who became a whirlwind from hell. Incidentally, for anyone who may not know it, William Bonney is better known as Billy the Kid.

Chuckwagon: Railroad Cake

Railroad Cake1 cup sugar
1 tablespoonful of butter beaten to a cream
3 eggs beaten to a froth
1 cup flour
3 tablespoonsful sweet milk
1 teaspoonful cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoonful soda
1/2 teaspoonful salt

Cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs, blending well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda. Add to creamed mix slowly, alternating with lemon juice and buttermilk. When well blended, turn out into two 8-inch cake pans that have been well-greased and floured. Place in a preheated oven. Done when an inserted toothpick comes out dry.

(from an 1888 cookbook)

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE.

John Daly and the Vigilante Committee

John Daly and the Vigilante CommitteeJohn Daly was born in New York. As a young man, he migrated to California. Leaving a string of dead men behind him, he then went to the gold mining town of Aurora, Nevada. The mining company and the town fathers were looking for someone to protect their interests from the criminal element. Since Daly carried himself well, and seemed to know how to handle a gun, they hired him as a deputy city marshal. No one ever thought they would one day need a vigilante committee.
           
Daly convinced everyone that he needed some policemen to help him, so he hired Three Fingered Jack, Italian Jim, Irish Tom and a couple of other men who seemed to be of questionable character.
               
In a short time, the men augmented their income by shaking down the local merchants. Also, people who protested ended up in the local graveyard.
 
Finally, one of Daly’s policemen attempted to steal a horse from a local merchant by the name of William Johnson. In the process, Daly’s man was killed. It took a few months, but on February 1, 1864, Daly and his associates made an example of Johnson. He was clubbed, shot in the head and his throat cut.
 
The honest citizens had looked the other way long enough. They formed the Citizens Protective Order, which is a fancy phrase for a vigilante committee. Daly and his gang were arrested and jailed. For a short time…a very short time, if seems as if the men were going to be tried before a judge and jury. But on February 10 the Citizens Protective Order the gang out of jail, escorted them to a scaffold, and ended the whole affair right then and there.
 
This action angered Governor James W. Nye so much that two days later he headed for Aurora with a Provost Marshal Van Bokkelen and United States Marshal Wasson and was going to call out the troops from Fort Churchill to put down the vigilantes. After the Marshal looked into the facts, no action was taken against what was now called the “Citizen Safety Committee.”
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