Old West Book Review: The Frontier World of Fort Griffin

Fort GriffinThe Frontier World of Fort Griffin, Charles Robinson Ill, University of Oklahoma Press, 800-627-7377, $14.95, Paper. 236 Pages, Illustrations, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

This fast-paced, fun to read book tells of the exciting, albeit short, life of the rip-roaring Texas town called Fort Griffin.  Wild and dangerous, it sprouted from the desolate prairie to fulfill the needs of pioneers battling Indians, thus an army post was established.  Next came buffalo hunters with hides to sell, then cowboys on cattle drives. Nicknamed “The Flat”, Fort Griffin was also known as “Hide Town”.  The biggest settlement between Fort Worth and El Paso back in the 1870’s, it eventually dwindled into little more than a few stone foundations found today.

When the buffalo hunting days ended, and the great Indian raids ceased, the army moved out.  The only real business for the town ended too when the great cattle drives no longer came through the area.  Cattle were shipped by train, and into the late 1880s the land around Fort Griffin was slowly turned into small farms crossed by barbed wire fences.

Today, Fort Griffin does not exist as a town at all. But Western historians frequently come across stories about it as one of the wildest towns in the Old West.  The author has delved through newspapers, court documents, and personal interviews to find the stories about what happened here.

It all started when the Republic of Texas was annexed to the United States in 1845.  Next came a few hardy settlers demanding protection from marauding Indians.  Protecting the early settlers came the Army, followed by ranchers with cattle raising ideas.  More feuds, more fights, and eventually the buffalo hunters arrived decimating the great buffalo herds that provided sustenance for the Indians.  Through all this Fort Griffin with its bustling activity naturally attracted gamblers, prostitutes, rustlers and gunmen who in turn were soon at odds with the local vigilance committee.

Rustlers and thieves were regularly hanged by night-riding locals seeking law and order, and sometimes revenge.  Meanwhile, infamous people such as Henry “Doc” Holliday. Big Nose Kate, Pat Garrett, Lottie Deno, Wyatt Earp and a passel of lesser-known characters who were just as vicious and handy with guns came through town making plenty of trouble.  Several chapters in the book are dedicated to downtown merchants, newspaper editors and the otherwise law abiding, but the real story concerning Fort Griffin seems to be about the tough, gritty, ambitious folks who were willing to shoot first and ask questions later.

This book is filled with odd and unusual characters who lived and sometimes died in Fort Griffin. For instance, Mrs. Lam drove a fast-moving buggy to town to try to save her husband from the vigilantes, but arrived too late.  A man named Brock spent years traveling about the country trying to find a man he was accused of murdering in Fort Griffin because Brock wanted to clear his name.

Fort Griffin is compared with other tough towns such as Dodge City and Tombstone, but Fort Griffin was not to become a tourist town or a modern-day survivor.  Only a few scraps of lumber and the walls of the Fort Griffin Lodge No. 489 remained in 1992 when this book was written.  Each year locals gathered to celebrate the old town’s history filled with cowboys, buffalo hunters, soldiers, soiled doves, gamblers and vigilantes.  Researchers will find that browsing through the various chapters will likely turn up some valuable information not easily found elsewhere.  I discovered Glen Reynolds, a sheriff killed by Apaches in Arizona, had originally ridden at least one time with the vigilantes in Fort Griffin.  This book is a little treasure for sure.  It belongs in your Old West library.

Publisher’s Note:  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 700, Unionville, New York 10988-0700. Phone (845)-726-3434.  Www.silklabelbooks.com

Chuckwagon: Southern Fried Apples

To make Southern Fried Apples:

Fry 4 slices of bacon in a Dutch oven.  Remove bacon.

Peel and slice 6 to 8 Granny Smith apples.

Put apples in Dutch over with bacon grease, cover and cook down the apples, but not to mush.

Serve topped with butter or cream and crumbled bacon.  They’re great for breakfast or desert.

Cowboy to Cowboy - Southern Fried Apples

 

Old West Book Review: A Thousand Texas Longhorns

A Thousand Texas LonghornsA Thousand Texas Longhorns, Johnny D. Boggs, Pinnacle Books Kensington Publishing, paperback, $8.99, 500 Pgs, Western Fiction.

The time period for this novel is shortly after the American Civil War.  The protagonist is a surly individual named Nelson Story living in a rough mining town in Montana Territory.  Nelson Story wants to make money and become a successful rancher, and gets the brainstorm to acquire a herd of cattle lie must buy in Texas, and drive the herd back to Montana where the population is hungry for beef.  So the adventure begins.  He heads for Texas and prepares to drive a herd of longhorns all the way across the country filled with sheriff’s posses and angry homesteaders afraid the Texas cattle will bring fever to their own stock.  Meanwhile Nelson Story has to maintain discipline among the drovers and freight wagon drivers, plus having to face electrical storms, driving rain, roaring rivers, drown cowboys, hordes of insects, cantankerous military commanders and Indians on the warpath.

Some of the cowboys are ex-Civil War veterans, both North and South.  Two young women disguised as men sign on to drive freight wagons filled with goods for the trip.  One is wanted for murder and both fool Nelson Story until one gets her clothing eaten off during a locust attack.  Tired men commit mutiny, one cowboy dies in river, another is the victim of a rattlesnake, plus several others are brutally killed by Sioux stalking the herd hoping to rustle horses and beeves.

Nelson Story left a wife back in Montana when he skedaddled for Texas, and the book switches occasionally to what is going on with her as she anxiously awaits her husband’s return.  She is pregnant when he departs, and must handle delivering and caring for a baby while keeping her meager household together.  Her doctor fails in love with her although she remains faithful to Nelson Story, the author takes his readers from the gritty trouble-filled cattle drive to the desperately poor circumstances of a Montana mining town struggling to survive hard times, including a diphtheria epidemic.

Nelson Story eventually makes it to Montana with most of the herd, and there is a happy reunion with his wife who is nearly as tough as he is.  Unfortunately readers never really get to know Nelson Story.  He’s tough and determined, but rarely shows empathy or compassion that we can relate to.  We never find ourselves cheering for his success.  His quick temper and tough as nails attitude works to bring in the herd, but we never feel like we’d want to ride with him.  Don’t look here for a John: Wayne or Matt Dillon hero.  This story is mostly about grit and determination with little room for sentiment.

Author Johnny D. Boggs, a Spur Award winner, knows his business.  Before writing this book, he followed the trail in an automobile to get the feel of the land, weather, and what it must have been like to cover all those hard miles on horseback.  It is well told, with lots of realistic Old West action, and sometimes a tough book to read, but we find this story a good Western adventure for sure.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including Lost Roundup, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York, 10988, Ph. (845) 726-3434. www.silklabelbooks.com

Old West Book Review: Thunder in the West; The Life and Legends of Billy the Kid

Thunder in the WestThunder in the West; The Life and Legends of Billy the Kid, Richard W. Etulain, University of Oklahoma Press, $29.95, Non-fiction, Cloth. Illustrations, Photos, Essay on Sources, Bibliography, Index.

At various times he was called Henry McCarty, Kid Antrim, and Billy Bonney.  However, most of us know him as Billy the Kid.  This biography of the Western outlaw is carefully researched and well written in a style that keeps readers turning pages even though we have been exposed to this character via books and movies as far back as we can remember.

The author, Richard W. Etutain is the former Director of the University of New Mexico. He has had a long and important career as a writer and editor of more than 50 books pertaining to the American West.  This book takes the reader on a journey beginning with Billy’s original birth place in New York in 1859.  His mother moved west with young Billy and his one brother when the boys were children; it is not known who Billy’s father was.  The family’s trait continued to New Mexico Territory, and the information includes the death of Billy’s kind, hardworking mother of consumption.  Billy meandered after that from one situation to another.

Without real parental supervision or help, he drifted in and out of trouble, killed a man in Arizona before his 20th birthday, fled back to New Mexico ahead of a hot Arizona posse, and was arrested several times always managing to escape.  Later, arrested for murders in New Mexico, he was jailed and awaited execution when he escaped again this time shooting and killing two sheriff’s deputies in Lincoln, New Mexico.

New Mexico politics comes into the life of Billy the Kid as he got mixed up in shoot-outs and became a gun-for-hire as various powerful political factions and wealthy land owners vied for power.  In time, Billy ran with a gang of outlaws stealing horses and cattle.

Meanwhile, there were many people who considered Billy a good friend and many girls were attracted to him.  He had friends in the Hispanic community, and spoke Spanish fluently.  Eventually Billy was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garret inside a house in Fort Sumner, New Mexico in 1881.

Everything pertaining to Billy the Kid has some controversy involved.  His birth, his little known family history, his mothers brief life, her marriage to a man who seemed to take no interest in his stepson, Billy’s involvement with politicians as well as land owners and desperadoes is all mired in controversy.  As his fame grew, many people remembered him and wrote or talked about their relationships with him even many years after his death, thus adding to the intrigue.

The second part of the book delves into all the best-known books and movies featuring Billy the Kid.  Etulain separates fact from fiction, complimenting those authors who have done serious and lengthy research.  The movies featuring Billy the Kid are mostly contrived plots filled with fistfight action and gun battles.  In the end we are still wondering why all the interest in a young, wayward character who even by modern standards would be known as little more than a dangerous juvenile delinquent.

This book takes the reader on a detailed, from beginning to end, Wild West journey featuring everything you ever wanted to know about Billy the Kid. It belongs in your Old West library.

Editor’s Note:   The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de La Garza is the author of many 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. www.silklabelbooks.com

Heard Around The Bunkhouse #8 – Western Frontier Terms and Sayings

Western frontier terms In our feature Heard Around the Bunkhouse we bring you Western frontier terms and sayings that they used back in the Old West. Hope you enjoy them, and send us your favorite terms from those past times.

WEARING THE BUSTLE WRONG: A pregnant woman.

BEST BID AND TUCKER: Wearing your best clothes.

GET THE MITTEN: Being rejected by a lover.

BEND AN ELBOW – Have a drink.

BANG UP JOB – First Rate.

PONY UP – Hurry Up.

ROOSTERED – Drunk.

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

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