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Where are the Good Westerns?

Are there Any Good Westerns Out there Anymore?

That depends on what you believe a “good” western fiction story should be. Some believe a good western is an “authentic” western. They are convinced that the writer was obligated to “tell it like it was” and not add the glitter and glamour, nor romanticize.  They seem to forget that the main reason so many writers of western fiction became popular was because they did add some of those elements to their stories. Zane Grey was one of the first to brush broad colors across his canvas and inflame the imaginations of tens of thousands of readers. James Fenimore Cooper did it a generation or three before him.  Others are firm believers that a good western ought to be decent, without the sex, without the language and coarseness and vulgarities that were, of course, prevalent. There is much to their argument and frankly, where the western story is littered with corpses and sex, many minds simply become turned off and the writer’s story is ultimately one of those corpses.

[stextbox id=”gunman” float=”true” align=”right”]The Dean of Western Fiction, Louis L’Amour once said that a writer of westerns should simply tell a good story. Of course, he did that better than just about anyone else when it came to writing westerns. [/stextbox] That really is the essence of it all: telling a good story. A writer who wishes to have a following, to have readers who desire to read the next western that comes from the writer’s pen, has to tell a good story. That, of course, involves some mechanical skills, but mostly, it involves the writer’s imagination, his or her ability to create scenes that are acceptable to the reader, scenes which enhance the story and make the reader want to turn the page.

Ultimately, every reader will decide for himself what a good western story is or should be, and they will do that by not purchasing certain books that don’t measure up.


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Stetson Hats: The Boss of the Plains Hat

Stetson HatThe Stetson Hat was created by John B. Stetson. During the Civil War in 1862, Mr. Stetson, having no desire to die an untimely death, headed for Colorado to pan for gold long after John Sutter’s fabulous discovery of gold in California. He’d been working as an apprentice milliner but had grown weary of the work. After not finding much gold, Stetson tried his hand at trapping and found it to be a bit more profitable. It would turn out to be the genesis for an idea that would make him rich.

Stetson made himself a large, wide-brimmed hat from beaver pelts sewn together. It was a utlilitarian hat in that it not only provided a large, sombrero-like cover that shaded the entire face, but it doubled as a water bowl (and some say, was often used for hot stew).

The hat became popular with some of the miners and trappers, so after selling a few, he left Colorado for Philadelphia where, with a mere $100, he started making hats in earnest. But, that first year was pretty dismal and he neary went bankrupt since he only managed to sell about a dozen hats.

Old West Novel Down from the Mountain

Suddenly, Stetson’s  hat caught on with the cowboys who spent all their days under blistering hot suns, and with the gold miners who sweated under the hot sun day after day, and he found himself deluged with orders. The hat became known as the “John B.” or as it was popularly called, “The Boss of the Plains,” and his hats became as popular as the Colt revolver. At his death in 1906, the company was selling hats internationally and sales were reported in excess of 2 million hats a year. Beaver top hats became quite the rage in New York City and even in Paris and London and other European cities.

Today, the company pulls in more than $200 million a year in sales.

Below is a video that shows some rare, vintage film of the making of a Stetson hat, circa 1920’s.

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Western Books|The Old West in Science Fiction

Western Sci-fi or science fiction westerns have been somewhat rare, and have not been totally accepted by true western fiction affectionados. There are some who have espoused ideas about aliens visiting the Old West. Whether or not aliens actually visited the west during the years of the gunfighters and the Indian wars is an intriguing question.

One fascinating movie of recent vintage was Cowboys & Aliens It had all the flavor of an Old West movie, plus the imaginative thrill of a good sci-fi movie.

Gene Autry, the classic western fiction movie star in the early days of “westerns” learned that. (Below is a movie starring Autry in an early attempt.)

Some have said that every sci-fi is, at heart, a western. The series Firefly
certainly carried that flavor. Another book that carries the flavor of a western, at least in terms of good guy bad guy aspects, is the book Millennium Soldier.

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America’s Love Affair with Western Fiction Began with James Fenimore Cooper

Western Novel Red Mountain Ranch WarWestern Fiction Impacted America as early as 1813

Westerns have been with us (Americans) since at least 1813 with the release of Daniel Bryan’s The Mountain Muse, and in James Paulding’s The Backwoodsman in 1818. But, the man who would impact American culture more than any man for generations was James Fenimore Cooper, who began life in the new America in 1789 in New Jersey.   Back then, one didn’t have to wander very far to be in the “wilderness.”

While his early days were in New Jersey, after the end of the Revolutionary War, Cooper’s father bought land in Central New York. Cooper was just ten years of age. The family house his father built was in the wilderness on the shore of Otsego Lake, an area in central New York that was surrounded by the Iroquois of the Six Nations. It would later become Cooperstown, New York. His father would become a United States Senator.

These years of close proximity to the wilderness, the “leather-stocking,” bearded hunters, and the wild, savage Indians that roamed the region colored Cooper’s mind. He would pass those images along to the world with his many tales, the most famous of which would be The Last of the Mohicans, written in 1826 as part of the well-received Leatherstocking Tales, a series of 4 books spaced years apart. Life was an adventure and Cooper was as wild and adventurous as the land in which he was born. [stextbox id=”gunman” float=”true” align=”right”]Cooper’s father was very well off, enough to send him to Yale. Alas, after 3 years, Cooper was expelled when he blew up the door to a fellow student’s room. Apparently, Cooper was a bit of a rebel in his teen years. [/stextbox]

Cooper decided that college was not for him so at the tender age of 17, he picked up work in 1806 as a sailor, signing aboard a merchant ship. He managed, by 1811, to  obtain the rank of midshipman in the fledgling United States Navy. Cooper obtained an Officer’s Warrant signed by none other than Thomas Jefferson.  

His years in the wilderness and later, the navy, would greatly influence his writings. He was perhaps the world’s first true “western fiction” writer. True, there were others, such as Paulding, but none of the others had the richness, the reality and the sense of “being there” that Cooper conveyed. Cooper wrote a lot of history (such as The History of the United States Navy, which today is considered the authoritative work for that history). He even did some political writings.

But, nothing has endured like his book, The Last of the Mohicans. It endured because it captured the very best elements essential to a good novel. It had adventure, passions of fear, love and hate, and best of all, it had a memorable, bigger-than-life hero. Some things just don’t change and if you’re honest, you’ll agree that you enjoy those stories that have good prevailing over evil, and if the hero is of  heroic proportions, even if flawed, that makes the story memorable.

This was one of the reasons why the Louis L’Amour westerns were so popular. It wasn’t that he gave beautiful descriptions of the land in which he placed his characters. It wasn’t that there was good and evil.  [stextbox id=”gunman”]The reason his novels were so popular was because L’Amour brought to life a protagonist who was as strong as the land in which he found himself. Readers always loved his strong, virile heroes who were willing to meet the challenges of the Old West head on.[/stextbox] Probably, there was no better characters created by L’Amour thanThe Sacketts (preview the movie below). All of them are perfect illustrations of why Louis L’Amour was considered the Dean of Western Fiction.

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Western Fiction|Old West Novel|A Wyoming Adventure

Wyoming Territory was the Wild West in 1860

[stextbox id=”manonhorse”]Wyoming Territory was a pretty wild place in the1860’s and right into the 20th Century. The entire Territory was open range to various tribes of Indians, including the Cheyene, Crow, Arapaho, Lakota, and Shoshone. Some have said the Comanche found their way that far north, too. One thing is certain, though. Wyoming Territory was a dangerous place to be in those days.[/stextbox]

Against this backdrop, Voyle Glover has written Bloody Wes Teague, a novel set in Wyoming Territory. Cheyenne  is little more than a rail head and vigalantes rule many of the smaller towns and camps. Some men are buying land, starting ranches, bringing in small herds, and beginning the settlement of this wild territory.

Bloody Wes Teague a western adventure novel of the Old westWeston Teague fits into this setting well. He’s a big man, muscular from the hard work on his ranch, and hardened by the harsh environment he’s worked and lived in all his life. Teague is the son of a former Sheriff in Texas who was gunned down in front of Wes when he was still a child. He’d later grow up and become a lawman known for his fairness, but perhaps better known for being very good with a gun. Indeed, after a gun fight with five outlaws in which only one of the outlaws survived, he became known as “Bloody” Teague to many in Texas.

Wyoming was good for Teague. It brought him out of the blistering heat of Texas, something he’d grown weary of, but it also brought him to a land where he could earn a good living not having to shoot other men. He quickly became a pillar of the growing Cheyenne community. His ranch was only twenty miles from Cheyenne.

Teague meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman on a Colorado ranch. He had come there to buy cattle. She is there visiting her father’s ranch. Abitha Claymore is the daughter of a rich rail magnate who owns a ranch, but who lives, with his family, in New York City. Teague follows Abitha to New York City, proposes, and in a very short time, they are in Wyoming, settling that Territory with other men and women who came to the American West to make a new home for themselves, and to bring law and order.

But, one day trouble arrives. Abitha is home with her main, Maria, when James Wood, the foreman of her father’s ranch, and a man bitter over losing Abitha to Teague, rides up with several men.  In spite of the fact that Abitha is very obviously pregnant, he kidnaps Abitha and her maid., forcing them to ride into the mountains, intending to take her back to Colorado over the mountains.

Teague takes up the chase and soon catches up with them. He is forced to surrender after Wood threatens to kill Abitha. This scene follows:

[stextbox id=”manonhorse”]He had Teague’s hand tied in the front which permitted him to hold the reins of his horse, then walked over to Abitha, who was still sitting on the ground. “My, my, it was touching seeing you two.” He turned and looked at Teague with a grin, then patted Abitha on the swollen stomach and said, “I’ll raise the kid for you, Teague.”

It was too much for the big man. All the anger and rage he’d controlled erupted like a pent up dam that had burst. He leaped at the smiling man with the strange green eyes, then went crashing to the ground as the man behind him smashed the butt of the rifle against his head. When he awoke, he was sitting in a saddle. He could feel the moist blood that soaked his shirt, and his head ached with a dull throb.

The riders moved out of the grove of trees keeping close to the river, with Wood’s man in the lead, followed by Abitha, then Maria, then Teague, and at the rear, Wood. They reached the crossing. Wood ordered the women to cross first, with the other man.

They reached the other side and were made to get off their horses. Then, Wood motioned for Teague to move into the river. At the crossing, the waters were shallow, but downstream, the water crashed into a broiling froth against large boulders lying hidden just beneath the surface in the river. Teague moved his horse slowly into the river.

He’d just reached midpoint in the river when Wood called out, “Hold up, Teague!”

He turned in his saddle and looked back at Wood. The man had pulled his revolver, and it was pointed directly at Teague’s back. The man was grinning, and a maniacal laugh sounded from him. The man was laughing as though someone had just told him a joke.

Teague said, “I really thought this is what you meant all along. Frankly, I expected to be shot when I walked out of the trees.”

Wood shouted, “Abitha! You watching this? Watch your husband die!”

Teague didn’t wait for the shot. He flung himself out of the saddle. Something akin to the kick of a horse thudded into his side as he fell, and knew he’d been shot. He heard Abitha scream, then the shock of icy cold water hit him, and he was tumbling down the river, rolling, trying to stand, getting bowled over, and groaning with pain as he slammed into rock after rock. He managed to wrench a hand free from the rope, but it seemed to make little difference.

He rolled down the river like a small log, hitting one obstacle after another. Teague could not see the pitiful sight of his wife standing there watching him disappear, heartbroken, the tears flowing freely down her dirty face, and suddenly so tired and so empty that she slumped over in a dead faint.  He could not see the spreading stain of red that darkened her dress, nor could he hear the scream of anguish from Maria as she tried to help Abitha.[/stextbox]

You can steal from a man and he may forgive you. Beat a man, and he may try to hurt you. But, harm someone he loves, touch his family, and he’ll not forgive you. And, if you harm the wife of a man like Weston Teague, he won’t just hurt you. One man, a marshal in the little town where Teague finally catches up with Wood, said this to Tyrel Claymore, Abitha’s father:

[stextbox id=”gunman”]“Your foreman shore made a fool’s play when he tangled with that man, sir. I know who he is, and I reckon if your foreman had knowed what I know, he’d have never took up a hand against that man. There’s some men in Texas still get nervous when there’s talk of Wes Teague.” He wiped the gun and stuck it into a soft deer casing, then continued, “Had a rep for bein’ a fair man, mind you, but sudden. Awful sudden. I reckon ‘Bloody’ Teague was ‘bout the hardest man Texas ever saw, Mr. Claymore.”[/stextbox]

Enjoy this magnificent western fiction tale of the Old West where hard men ruled, and where it took tough men who were fighters to tame the outlaws and the lawless riders who flooded the West after the Civil War.

Interesting Facts About Wyoming History

After the Union Pacific Railroad had reached the town of Cheyenne in 1867, the region’s population began to grow steadily, and the federal government established the Wyoming Territory on July 25, 1868. Nearly all of Yellowstone National Park lies within the far northwestern borders of Wyoming. Wyoming was the location of the Johnson County War of 1892. On December 10, 1869, territorial Gov. John Allen Campbell extended the right to vote to women, making Wyoming the first U.S. state to grant suffrage to women. In addition, Wyoming was also a pioneer in welcoming women into politics. Women first served on juries in Wyoming (Laramie in 1870); Wyoming had the first female court bailiff (Mary Atkinson, Laramie, in 1870); and the first female justice of the peace in the country (Esther Hobart Morris, South Pass City, in 1870). Also, in 1924, Wyoming became the first state to elect a female governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross, who took office in January 1925. The Crow, Arapaho, Lakota, and Shoshone were but a few of the original inhabitants.




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