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

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

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

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

Chuckwagon Vocabulary

As with everything the cowboy did, when it came to eating, the cowboy developed his own chuckwagon vocabulary. Sometimes it was a perversion of a commonly used word. Other times it seemed to have no relationship to anything other than what was in a cowboy’s mind.
Here are a few of the terms cowboys used for various aspects of eating:

Airtights: Canned goods. Usually corn, peaches, tomatoes and milk.
Arbuckle’s axle grease: Arbuckle brand of coffee was the one most used on the range. Axle grease referred to the strength of the coffee.
Cow Grease: Butter.
Hen Fruit: Eggs.
Padding Out His Belly: Someone who eats anything, anytime.
Slow Elk: Someone else’s steer slaughtered for food.
Swamp Seed: Rice. A staple on the trail.
Texas Butter: Gravy made from steak grease and flour. If available, milk was used.

chuckwagon vocabulary

Heard Around the Bunkhouse #4 – Cowboy Slang

cowboy slangIn our feature Heard Around the Bunkhouse we bring you cowboy slang and sayings that they used back in the Wild West. Hope you enjoy them, and let us know your favorite terms from those past times.

OLD STATES – Back east.

PILGRIM – Cowboy term for an easterner or novice cowboy.

SHAVER – Slang for a young boy.

KNOCK GALLEY WEST To beat someone senseless.

SIMON PUREThe real thing.  A genuine fact.  “This is the Simon pure.”

HOLD CANDLE TO To measure up and compare to.

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

Old West Book Review: Comanche Jack Stilwell

Comanche Jack StilwellComanche Jack Stilwell, Clint E. Chambers and Paul H. Carlson, University of Oklahoma Press, $24.95, Paperback, Non-fiction, 288 Pages, 2 Maps, 26 Illustrations, Notes, Index, Bibliography.

When Arizona history buffs hear the name “Stilwell,” we immediately think of Frank Stilwell, killed by Wyatt Earp at the Tucson, Arizona train station in 1882.  However, Frank had an older brother “Comanche Jack Stilwell” who led a far more productive and adventuresome life than his younger brother, but not in Arizona.

This book delves into the life and times of Jack Stilwell, beginning with his family history and looking into Jack’s running away from home in Kansas when he was thirteen years old.  Unhappy about the separation of his parents due to his father’s infidelity, young Jack decided to head West with a freight outfit lumbering along the Santa Fe Trail.  A family story says he went to the local water well where he met a group of lusty men with wagons filled with goods, and the boy signed on.

Thus began years of adventures first as a freighter crisscrossing the vast prairies, learning to speak Spanish as well as several Indian languages, including Comanche, earning him the nickname “Comanche” Jack.  He eventually found work as a civilian scout for the U.S. Cavalry.

The Battle of Beecher Island comes up frequently in Stilwell’s biography.  This event took place in September 1868 in northeastern Colorado.  The fight lasted nine days between Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho warriors against soldiers of the Ninth Cavalry.  During fierce fighting, Major Forsyth requested that Stilwell try to make the ninety-mile run for help to the closest army fort.  On foot, draped in blankets, living on raw horse meat, Jack somehow got through enemy lines and is forever remembered as the hero of the Battle of Beecher Island.

Stilwell met Custer and scouted for him, was a friend of Buffalo Bill Cody, and knew many other famous westerners including Quanah Parker and Frederick Remington.  Everyone seemed to like him, speaking and writing favorably about his willingness and good disposition.  When his health began to fail he quit scouting and became a cowboy for several years.

In 1882 his younger brother Frank, who lived near Tombstone, Arizona was shot and killed by Wyatt Earp.  Jack came to Arizona only long enough to settle his brother’s estate before returning home.  With his health deteriorating badly, but still determined, he studied law, became a sheriff, and eventually a judge.  Late in life he married a woman half his age.

His health continued to fail, and after a long series of painful issues related to his many years of hard outdoor living, he died February 17, 1903, probably of Bright’s disease.  Today he lies buried at Old Trail Town, on the west side of Cody, Wyoming, and is remembered as a true Old West frontiersman.

This book goes into great detail about this man’s personal history, and is a fitting tribute to Comanche Jack Stilwell, “army scout and plainsman.”

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

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

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