Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book Review - "Go West Young Woman" by Nancy Quinn

The story of America is the story of westward expansion. There were the Pilgrims and early colonists who crossed the Atlantic to reach the shores of New England. Braving storms, disease, and uncertainty, they endured harsh and crowded conditions on their ships in order to have a new, better life in the western “New World.” Men like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Simon Kenton felt the call of the west, and helped to pioneer the western expansion across the Appalachians and down the Ohio River valley toward the Mississippi. Spurred on by accounts from Lewis and Clark, and the Corp of Discovery, mountain men like Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, and Hugh Glass crossed the Great Plains to trap beaver in the icy rivers and streams of the Rocky Mountains.

Many adjectives could be used to describe their experiences, but “easy” would never be one of them. It was a difficult way of life, and those answering the call of the west had to face any number of challenges in their efforts to conquer and subdue the land. The blazing summer sun was contrasted by freezing winter snows that could continue for days. Downpours of rain that could cause flash floods were met by drought, dust, and blowing sand. The winds could be so heavy on the plains that they often drove the pioneer women mad. Besides the weather, there were the native inhabitants to deal with as well; Indians, grizzlies, mountain lions, wolves, and a host of others.

It was Horace Greeley who, in the mid 19th century, was credited with saying, “Go west young man, and grow up with the country.” With national policies like Manifest Destiny, and legislation such as the Homestead Act, tens of thousands took the advice. Even more poured into the western territories with the discovery of gold and silver in places like California, Colorado, Nevada, and the Black Hills.

Much has changed over the past two hundred years. The ease and speed of modern transportation has made the Conestoga wagon a thing of the past. Amenities provided at nearly every exit off of the Interstate mean that people no longer have to sleep outside under the stars, or hunt for their evening meal. But other things still remain the same as they were for those early pioneers. Although they may be a dying breed, many people still hear the call of the west, and never rest satisfied until they see towering, snow-capped peaks and fill their lungs with cool, clean mountain air.

Go West Young Woman,” by Nancy Quinn, is the story of one such modern pioneer family who answer the westward call, giving up their lives on the beltway in Washington, DC to move to the mountains of western Montana. Although the times have changed, many of the challenges remain the same, including encounters with predators like grizzlies and mountain lions; severe weather; and learning to live peacefully with the native inhabitants (cows, ranchers, loggers, etc.).

Nancy Quinn has an easy to read, almost conversational, anecdotal style of writing that makes it seem as if you are sitting down with her over a cup of coffee, listening to the latest adventures of her family, dogs, horses, or the numerous animal visitors that frequent their mountain property. Written with warmth and humor, you will find yourself moving effortlessly from chapter to chapter as Nancy, her husband, Bill, and their two daughters face one new challenge and adventure after another; and when you are finished, you will wonder, right along with me, how long will it be before the next book comes out!

Nancy has a background in conservation law enforcement, and has spent many hours in wildlife rehabilitation. This gives her a perspective into wildlife that helps to inform her writing. But not only is she a gifted writer, she is an award winning, internationally known wildlife artist. Nancy writes about her artwork:

“I believe art has a purpose other than decorating our walls. I think it can touch our minds and our hearts. When I sit down to create art, I think about how best to give an animal or bird a soul and how to foster an emotion on canvas, paper, or precious metal. If I can have a positive effect in someone's life, then my work has served an important purpose.”

Whether you are reading her book or enjoying her art, you will have made a friend in Nancy Quinn; and you will have experienced what so many of our pioneers and early adventurers have experienced – a love, admiration, and respect of the American west that still lives on today.

Her artwork can be viewed here on her website.

You can check out Nancy’s blog here.

You can connect with Nancy on her Facebook page.


Monday, November 13, 2017

The "Bear" Facts About One of Hollywood's Finest...

Bart and Trainer Doug Seus
Bart the Bear (1977-2000) is arguably one of the best known animal actors of all time, staring in twenty-two motion pictures and television shows. His film credits include The Great Outdoors, with John Candy; The Edge, with Anthony Hopkins; and On Deadly Ground, with Steven Seagal. Bart also starred in several westerns such as Legends of the Fall, Windwalker, White Fang, and Louis L’Amour’s Down the Long Hills.

Bart was born at the Baltimore Zoo and was subsequently adopted by animal trainers, Doug and Lynn Seus. Bart got his first acting job as a cub, appearing in the television series, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, playing the part of Ben – Adams’ companion grizzly – as a cub.

As an adult Alaskan Brown bear, Bart stood nine and a half feet tall and weighed over seventeen hundred pounds. As an actor, Bart reportedly earned $10,000.00 a day. The money was used to start the Vital Ground Foundation, an environmental land trust which works to protect and promote grizzly bear populations through wildlife habitat conservation.

Bart was diagnosed with cancer in October of 1998. He underwent two separate surgeries, but the cancer persisted. He was euthanized in May of 2000 at the age of twenty-three, and is buried on the Seus ranch near Heber City, Utah.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Frankenspider and the Mouse…

I was recently reminded of an incident that occurred several years ago while we were still living in Colorado. One day my redheaded sweetheart, Tami, was putting something away under the kitchen sink. All of a sudden, I heard her scream as she quickly backed away from what she was doing. The mouse trap under the sink had done its job and had caught a mouse. For some reason, Tami has developed an aversion to mice that she never had when we were first married. Of course, I just laughed at her silly fear. I mean mice are so cute and fury, who could be afraid of them?

Being the big, strong he-man protector of my wife and home, I volunteered to dispose of the remains. I picked up the trap, with its contents and headed outside to toss the fury little carcass into the trees and brush behind the propane tank where I had unceremoniously dispatched previous mouse cadavers.

As I opened the door and prepared to step down onto the first of two steps that led to the walkway, I spotted a spider that – and I kid you not – was the size of a Volkswagen Beatle! Frankenspider saw me and JUMPED up the first step right toward me. I screamed, dropped the mouse and slammed the door.

Tami steadfastly refused to go outside because of the dead mouse. I was just as adamant that I wasn’t going outside because of Frankenspider. I rested all of my hopes on the possibility that Frankenspider would satisfy his hunger by eating the mouse, and he would leave us alone.

Eventually, he moved on to terrorize some of the other villagers, which is a good thing, because, if he hadn’t left, I would have been forced to call 911 again, which I am loath to do. Ever since the time I called to tell them about the flying monkeys that were eating all of our crabapples, they don’t seem to take me serious. Can you imagine someone not taking me serious?!?


Monday, August 28, 2017

Home Alone

One night not too long ago, after getting ready for bed, I managed to step on a push-pin that was on the floor as I walked into our bedroom. I managed to push it in to the hilt, which meant that it was almost a half of an inch into the heel of my right foot. There was some gnashing of teeth and a fleeting dalliance with a short list of some colorful expletives.

Tami was not home at the time so I was left up to my own devises with regard to the ministration of first aid. I did not want to pull it out right away because I knew that I would bleed all over the carpet and leave a trail of blood all of the way to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom downstairs. So I managed to hobble carefully downstairs, placing my weight first on my left foot, then judiciously on the toes only of my right foot. In this manner, I made it safely to the bathroom – almost. Crossing the kitchen on my way to the bathroom, I discovered some Goat-head burrs that the dog had brought into the house. They stick to his coat like some type of Satanic Velcro when he lies down in the yard. Unfortunately, I discovered them by stepping on one with my left (my good) foot.

Instinctively, I took the weight off of the foot with the Goat-head imbedded in it, and placed it on the foot with the push-pin imbedded in it. Having literally no leg to stand on, I wound up prostrate on the floor with both feet in the air in some foolish and futile belief that I could drain the pain out of them by lofting them heavenward. Somehow, on the way down, I managed to hit my elbow against the corner of the kitchen counter, thus accomplishing the rare and allusive trifecta of injuries within mere minutes of each other.

I believe that there was more gnashing of the teeth, and I may have developed a more intimate relationship with an expanded list of expletives. I can’t say for sure because I think I blacked out for a while.

In any case, Tami came home shortly thereafter and tended to my wounds and tucked me into bed.

If any of you remember the movie “Home Alone,” I felt like one of the robbers.




Friday, August 25, 2017

The Battle of Summit Springs

“Rescue during the Battle of Summit Springs”
Painting, 1908, by Charles Schreyvogel (1861–1912).
The Battle of Summit Springs occurred on July 11th, 1869, when a regiment of the U.S. 5th Cavalry, under the command of Major Eugene A. Carr, successfully engineered a mid-day attack on a camp of Southern Cheyenne Dog Soldiers led by Chief Tall Bull. The U.S. Army was ordered to attack in retaliation for a series of raids by the Cheyenne in north-central Kansas.

Monument to Susanna Alderdice

Remarkably, only a single trooper was wounded during the engagement, while 52 Indians were killed, including Chief Tall Bull. Seventeen women and children were captured, along with more than 300 horses and mules.

One white woman, who had been captured by the Cheyenne forty-two days earlier, Susanna Alderdice, died of a tomahawk wound to the head during the battle. Susanna's four year old son, Willis, was found the next day with four arrows in his back. Remarkably, he survived his wounds and lived until the age of fifty-five. Another white captive, Maria Weichell, was shot in the back but survived her injuries as well.

About fifty Pawnee, who were scouting for the Army, took part in the battle, as well as at least one white scout, William (Buffalo Bill) Cody.

The "road" leading back to the battle site
The site of the battle field is located about five miles south of Atwood, Colorado. We had to hike about a mile into the prairie off of County Road 43 to find the actual site where there are three monuments and a couple of other markers in place – including one marker on the actual spot where Chief Tall Bull’s tipi stood.

The author's wife, Tami, reading one of the monuments. In the background
are the ravines where some of the Indians made their stand.

A monument to an amazingly brave 15 year old Cheyenne boy


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Revisiting The Golden Age of TV Westerns: The Rifleman

One of my favorite old-time TV westerns is The Rifleman, staring Chuck Connors. The show aired on ABC, and ran for five years from 1958-1963. Connors stood an imposing six-foot, six inches, so before landing his gig on The Rifleman, Connors played professional sports and is one of only a handful of American athletes to have played both Major League Baseball (with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Chicago cubs) and in the National Basketball Association (with the Rochester Royals and the Boston Celtics). Connors was also pursued by the Chicago Bears to play professional football, but a football career never developed.

The uncredited star of the series was arguably the rifle used by Connors, which was a modified 1892 Winchester .44-40 carbine. The rifle was actually a little ahead of its time in the series, which was set in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s, which meant that Conner’s character, Lucas McCain, was using a rifle about twelve years before it was even produced.

In the opening scene to the show, McCain is walking down the center of Main Street in North Fork, New Mexico Territory, rapid firing the Winchester at some off-screen foe. Although the .44-40 Winchester carried eleven rounds in its magazine, viewers can watch McCain working the lever action on the rifle to fire off twelve shots. The reason for this is that the blanks being fired were shorter than the actual standard .44-40 Winchester Center Fire cartridges, so they were able to fit twelve rounds in the magazine. If you listen closely, however, you can hear a thirteenth round being fired. This additional round was dubbed into the audio track to sync the firing with the theme music for the show.

What I always got a kick out of was that after emptying his rifle in the opening scene, McCain deems it adequate to remove a single bullet from his shirt pocket in order to reload.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Father Pedro's Prayer

Painting by Arthur William Best.

Father Pedro knelt at the altar of the little chapel in the mission de Valero. Several times a day for the last sixteen years he had accustomed himself to petition God from the foot of this alter. More times than he could recount, he had beseeched God’s blessing and His mercy upon the people of the mission. Many souls had been touched. Many lives had been changed down through the years. But his prayers today were more urgent than ever, for things were very desperate. He finished his prayer and stood to his feet.

“Father, may I have a word with you?” It was Jose Hernandez, one of his parishioners.

“Of course you may, Jose. What can I do for you?”

Jose stood sheepishly in the center aisle, nervously twisting the brim of his sombrero, which he had removed upon entering the little chapel. “Father, is it true what they say?”

Father Pedro looked lovingly at this faithful member of his flock. Jose was a skilled craftsman in leather. His belts and harness, boots and saddles, were among the finest made. He worked very hard to feed his wife and four daughters, and he never missed a mass. What would happen to his flock now, he thought to himself?

Father Pedro sighed and gave a slow nod. “If you are referring to the rumor that the church is going to close the mission, then I am afraid it is true.”  He took Jose by the arm and said, “Come with me.” The two men walked out into the courtyard alongside the little chapel. The sun hung low over the western horizon, but it was still very hot outside, as it usually was in EspaƱa Nueva at this time of year.

“Let us walk down by the river,” said Father Pedro. The river was one of Father Pedro’s favorite places to be, especially when the summer sun was unrelenting. Its banks were lined with beautiful, huge cottonwoods which provided a cooling shade under which Father Pedro received the inspiration for many of his sermons. Across the river to the west was the village of Bexar where many of Father Pedro’s flock lived.

The two men stood side by side along the bank of the river. Silently, they listened as a warm breeze rustled through the leaves of the majestic old trees. The leaves seemed almost to be whispering something. There might have been hope in the whisper. There might have been encouragement. Jose strained to hear what the leaves were saying, but he could not understand.

They watched the sun settle over the village of Bexar. Its light played a symphony of color and shadow across the red clay tiled roof tops of the adobe buildings. But Jose could not hear the music. He could not hear the whisper of the leaves. He heard only the buzz of an irritating fly that landed on the back of his hand. He saw only the setting of the sun; the end of the day; the end of the church that he loved.

“But how can they do this? What will happen to us?”

Father Pedro shrugged in resignation as he explained. “It is mostly a matter of policy, Jose. It has always been church policy not to start missions closer than seven miles from each other, yet we have five other missions located within nine miles of this very spot.”

Jose bent down and picked up a leaf. Tossing it into the river, he watched as the current carried it downstream and out of sight. The river was always flowing; always moving; always changing. The water that flowed by one second was gone the next, never to return. It made Jose uncomfortable. He had buried his father this past spring, and his oldest daughter was soon to marry and would be moving out of his home. Too much was changing, and Jose did not handle change very well.
“But what will happen to us? And to you, Father? What will become of you?”

“You will be well taken care of Jose. Father Miguel at the mission San Jose de Aqyayo will assume responsibility for your souls. As for me…” There was a pause, and then a slight tremor in the Padres voice as he continued. “I will return to the Franciscan Seminary in Mexico City to be reassigned.” Sixteen years was a long time to invest in the lives of others. 

They stood together in silence now and stared back through the years. Each man sorting through the memories and assigning value, knowing that it was the memories that would remain to provide comfort and stability. How many marriages had there been? How many baptisms and funerals had the little church witnessed down through the years? They turned to walk back to the courtyard of the mission.

“There is a time and a season for everything, Jose. We must have faith and trust that God knows what is best for us.”

Jose felt little comfort in Father Pedro’s words. “I do not like it when things change.”

“Everything changes, Jose. A wise man will see the change, and grow with it. Change is the only way that things get better.”

From where he stood in front of the chapel, Jose could see the little church cemetery where his father was buried. “That is also how things get worse!”

Father Pedro just smiled. “People change. The seasons change. Even the times change, Jose, and you must change with them. Look how much Bexar has changed. How it has grown and prospered with all of the new comers.”

Jose frowned at the mention of the new comers. “I must confess, father, I do not care much for the new comers.”

“But why not, Jose? What do you have against them?”

Jose pointed to the village across the river. “Bexar used to be a quiet, peaceful town; it was a town to raise a family in. It was a town where my ninjas could play in the street. The new comers want to change everything to suit them. They even want to change the name of the town. Bexar is not good enough for them. They are now calling it “San Antonio.”

Father Pedro stood in front of his parishioner. Smiling, he reached out both arms and placed his hands firmly on Jose’s shoulders. “San Antonio is a good name. It honors a revered and godly saint.”

Father Pedro led Jose to a bench in the court yard. As the two men took a seat, Father Pedro said, “Jose, do you remember when your oldest daughter, Maria was born?”

Jose’s eyes narrowed as he looked quizzically at the priest. He knew there was a lesson coming. “Of course I remember. Who doesn’t remember the birth of their first born?”

“Good!” Father Pedro patted Jose on the leg and continued. “Then you remember how sick she was as a young child. There were several occasions before she was even weaned when we were not sure that she would even make it to her next birthday.”

Jose recalled the constant anxiety that he and his wife felt over the poor health of their daughter when she was little. He recalled the many sleepless nights; the prayers and pleadings with God to spare her life and make her strong and healthy. “Yes, Father. I remember. God answered our prayers.”

“Yes, Jose. God did answer all of our prayers for Maria. He changed her from being a sickly child and he made her to be a strong, healthy, normal little girl. And over the years he has made her to be a beautiful young woman who will soon be married and have children of her own. He caused all of that change to take place, and it was a good thing, was it not?”   

Jose sighed and turned to look back across the river toward town. Lanterns were being lit to illuminate the streets, and the sound of music and laughter from the cantina was carried on the night breeze. Perhaps Father Pedro was right, he thought. Perhaps he could learn to live with the changes that came upon him, whether he wanted them or not. Perhaps they would turn out for the better after all.

The two men sat in silence for a long while. Jose was cataloging all of the changes that were taking place in his life; all of the things that he had no control over, that seemed to want to carry him away like the river had carried away the cottonwood leaf.

Father Pedro sat listening to the clicking sound of cicadas and watching the fireflies dart in and out of the trees down by the river. He felt better after talking to Jose. As was often the case when he counseled one of his flock, he often wound up preaching to himself.

Darkness had settled in and Jose needed to get back home to his family. He said goodbye to the Padre and then started down the path that would take him to the footbridge across the river. After a few steps, however, he turned to face the Padre one last time. He had one more question to ask. “Father, what will become of the church?”

“That is what I was praying about when you entered the chapel, Jose.”

Look at her, thought Father Pedro. Her walls were cracked, and in some places her roof was falling in. “I do not know what will become of her. Perhaps she has lived the life God intended for her and will return to the dust. But I was praying that God would not abandon her, and that she would yet find some usefulness. That is in God’s hands, and we must have faith, Jose.”

Jose just smiled. “You know, Father, the new comers even have a new name for our mission?”

“I was not aware of that. What do they call it?”

Jose called back over his shoulder as he started for home again, “They call it after the cottonwoods that grow along the river. They call it the Alamo.”