Last week I wrote about Lonesome Dove. This week we’ll take a look at the inspiration for the book.
In June 1866, former Texas Ranger Charles Goodnight and cattle rancher Oliver Loving went into partnership to drive cattle to western markets. Settlers, soldiers stationed on forts and Navajos recently placed on reservations were all demanding food supplies, and the two men took a chance that their venture would be profitable.
They planned to drive 2000 Longhorn cattle from Texas to Wyoming on a trail that later became known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail. That meant passing through dangerous Indian territory. But given Loving’s knowledge of cattle and Goodnight’s background as a Texas Ranger and Indian fighter, the two men were confident they could succeed.
Not only was their venture a success, but it also led to an amazing act of friendship that inspired the Pulitzer prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove.
Things went well for the two men until their third drive in 1867. Heavy rains slowed them down. To save time, Loving went ahead of the herd to secure contracts, taking a scout with him. Despite telling Goodnight that he would travel only at night through Indian country, he rode during the day.
That turned out to be a bad decision as he was trapped by Comanches along the Pecos River. Though he was shot in the arm and side, he managed to escape and reach Fort Sumner.
His injuries were not life-threatening, but he developed gangrene. The doctor at the fort was unwilling to do an amputation and Loving died. He was buried at the fort, but that was not his final resting place. Before Loving died, he turned to his good friend Goodnight and asked that his body be returned to Texas. He did not want to be buried in a “foreign land.”
Goodnight promised Loving that his wish would be carried out, and that was a promise he meant to keep. But honoring his friend’s request couldn’t have been easy.
Credited with inventing the chuckwagon, Goodnight arranged for a special wagon and metal casket to be built. With the help of Loving’s son, Joseph, he had his friend’s body exhumed and carried him 600 miles back to Texas—an act of friendship matched by few.
Loving is buried in Weatherford, Texas.
What is the truest form of friendship that you’ve experienced?
“Yesterday’s gone on down the river and you can’t get it back.” -Lonesome Dove
One of my favorite books is Lonesome Dove, which was made into a TV mini-series. Written by Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove isabout two retired Texas Rangers, “Gus” McCrae and “Woodrow” Call who drive a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning story is loosely based on the true story of Charles Goodnight’s and Oliver Loving’s cattle drive from Texas to Montana. Goodnight and Loving were close friends. Before Loving died, he asked that his body be returned to Texas. He did not want to be buried in a “foreign land.” Charles Goodnight and Loving’s son, Joseph, carried the metal casket 600 miles back to Texas.
In Lonesome Dove, Gus dies and Call (played by Tommy Lee Jones) hauls his friend back to Texas as promised. If this doesn’t make you cry, I don’t know what will.
McMurtry originally wrote the story as a short screenplay named the Streets of Laredo. It was supposed to star John Wayne as Call. But Wayne dropped out and the project was abandoned. 15 years later McMurtry saw an old bus with the phrase “Lonesome Dove Baptist Church” on it. He rushed home to revise the book into a novel and changed the name. (Ah, inspiration.)
The book went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. The mini-series also won many awards, including a Golden Globe. It was cheated out of the Emmy for best mini-series by War and Remembrance. Considered the “Gone With the Wind” and “Godfather” of Western movies, Lonesome Dove has sold more DVDs than any other western.
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Robert Duvall as Gus, but he was actually offered the role of Woodrow Call, and turned it down. His wife had read the book and told him, “Whatever you do, don’t let them talk you into playing Woodrow F. Call. Gus is the part you should play.”
James Garner was also considered for the role, but he had to turn it down because of health problems.
McMurtry said that he wrote Lonesome Dove to show the real hardships of living a cattleman’s life vs. the romantic life many think they lived. Some think he failed in this regard. Instead, many readers and critics see Lonesome Dove as a celebration of frontier life.
What is your favorite western book, movie or TV show?
Thanks to the pandemic, entertainment options are dwindling quickly. Usually I’m getting geared up for new fall shows about now, but this year, I’m scraping the streaming service barrels to try to find something new to watch.
I ran across a western called The Legend of 5-Mile Cave and thought I’d give it a try. It’s available to stream free for those who subscribe to Amazon Prime or you can rent it for $2.99. If you like sweet and clean, family-friendly movies, you’ll like this one. It’s a split-time story told both from the 1890’s and the Depression-era. It’s a dime novel romp come to life with adventure, romance, villains, and fancy gun play.
A mysterious drifter befriends a widow and her son just when they are about to lose their ranch to the bank. The boy loves to read pulp fiction and is immediately fascinated by his latest story – The Legend of 5-Mile Cave – and the missing gold that was never found. The drifter warns him he can’t always believe everything he reads and reveals that he knew Shooter Green, the main character of the story, and starts to tell the boy his own version of events. As they work to save the ranch, secrets are revealed that tie past to present.
This was a fun movie with a good story and subtle Christian overtones. It won’t be winning any Oscars, but it was worth the watch, especially if you enjoy wholesome westerns that remind you of the old-fashioned oaters of the 1950’s.
If you don’t have access to Amazon Prime, but do have access to Netflix, I’ll recommend another show involving horses. It’s not exactly a western. It’s more of a down under-ern.
Ride Like a Girl is the inspirational true story of Michelle Payne, the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup despite facing odds of a 100 to 1. She was the youngest of 10 children, raised without her mother who died when she was just 6 months old. Her father was in the racing business, so his children tended to gravitate to that world, but none more strongly than Michelle. I love watching stories about strong women who defy the odds, and if there are horses and Aussie accents involved, even better!
What have you streamed lately that you would recommend?
No western romance trope is more cheesy or more famous than the old Damsel on the Railroad Tracks trope. Which is why when I recently wrote a scene that ended with my heroine stuck on a railroad bridge with a train heading for her, I just had to giggle. I promise the scene is ripe with tension and believability. There is no mustachioed villain cackling in the background. And she’s not actually tied to the tracks. She doesn’t even scream for help. Though our hero is still called upon to rush in to make a daring rescue.
So how did this trope get started and how has it endured so long in tongue-and-cheek fashion?
Most people credit the damsel on the tracks to the melodramas of silent movies. However, the first time it appeared with significant impact was on stage in an 1867 play called Under the Gaslight by Augustin Daly. By 1868, the trope reportedly could be found in five different London plays all running at the same time, and remained a theatre staple for decades. But here’s the kicker. In the original story, it is a man who has been tied to the railroad tracks and a woman who rescues him!
This trope became so popular in the theatre, that even though there are no original silent movies that use this plot in a serious fashion, several used it for comedic effect. The most notable of these spoofs was a Keystone Komedy called Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life from 1913. Note the top hat and impressive mustache on the villain. Those become staples of the trope.
Some of you will probably remember watching the classic cartoon The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, either when it aired in the 1960’s or in reruns in the 1970’s like I did. This was a silly spoof that used over-the-top villains to hilarious effect. One of the main characters on the show was the dim-witted yet heroic Mountie named Dudley Do-Right. His nemesis Snidely Whiplash wore a top hat, sported a curvy mustache, and had a tendency to tie damsels to railroad tracks. Hence the trope was preserved for a new generation.
In 1969, Ray Stevens released a song called Along Came Jones which reached #27 on the billboard charts. My husband and I are big oldies fans, so we love this silly song and have even shared it with our kids – successfully perpetuating the trope into the future.
Do you remember any of these songs or shows?
Besides the top hat and mustache, what are other villain elements that have become cliche over time?
Speaking of damsels and railroads, my Harvey House Brides novella collection, Serving Up Love, is on sale this month for only $1.99.
Grab a copy while you can!
As a child, Saturdays were my favorite day of the week. I remember getting up early and rushing through chores just so I could spend the afternoons watching Westerns. I had an unstable childhood, so I found comfort in the predictability of those old shoot em ups. When a cowboy rode into town, you just knew he would set things straight before riding into the sunset.
I also knew that when the camera zoomed onto the hero’s spurs as he walked into a saloon, he was sending a clear message; No one had better mess with him.
I became fixated on spurs and for good reason. As a foster child, I was constantly being bounced from family to family. This meant I was forever having to change locations. But the hardest part for me was having to walk into a new school, which I did more times than I can remember. This never failed to make me feel like an outsider. Because I was shy, thin as a rail, wore glasses and had red hair, I endured much teasing. No one called it bullying back then, but in modern terms that’s what it was.
After going through an especially hard first day at a new school, I remember thinking enough was enough. Would Hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard or Bob Steele stand around while the town picked on them? They would not! Only ten at the time, I decided what I needed was spurs, just like my favorite western heroes wore. The next time I walked into a new school, my spurs would send a clear message that no one better mess with me.
Convinced I had an answer to my problem, I asked for spurs the following Christmas, but never got them. It didn’t matter. The next time I walked into a new school, I pretended I was wearing spurs just like I’d seen one of my cowboy heroes do the previous Saturday. They only jingled in my head but, you know what? It worked. Somehow the jingle-jangle sound that only I could hear helped drown out the teasing and that made me smile. And that smile helped me do something I’d not been able to do at other schools: make new friends. It was a lesson I never forgot.
In that spirit, I wish you all a jingle-jangle holiday season filled with lots of smiles, good friends and loving families. May all your spurs, imagined or real, be shiny ones and bring good things your way.
For a chance to win this “don’t mess with this house” doormat, tell us what movie or TV show made an impression on you as a child?
Thanks so much for having me here today. I’m really excited to be a part of Petticoats & Pistols.
I was taking a tiny break from writing recently and checking out Facebook (not procrastinating at all!). A trailer for a new Netflix movie caught my eye and I wanted to share because it was so intriguing.
Have you heard of ‘The Highwaymen’? It releases at the end of this month and stars Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson – which might be enough of a recommendation right there. They play two former Texas Rangers who are hired to track down the infamous duo, Bonnie and Clyde.
I’m familiar with Bonnie and Clyde but admit that some of that comes from the old Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway movie, which somewhat romanticized their violent crime spree. What I found so fascinating about the new movie is the contrast between the ‘newfangled’ innovations in law enforcement – it was the early 1930s and the FBI was now a part of things along with air surveillance and more modern technological advances. But the governor of Texas calls on the ‘cowboys’ to bring in the bad guys when everything else fails.
There’s something really special about the lore of the western lawman. To me, that history is what makes western romance so captivating – even when it’s contemporary. There’s the spirit of self-reliance coupled with a huge sense of community – those two things make a perfect backdrop for characters finding their way to love.
Which is why I’ve been honored to be part of the Fortunes of Texas continuity for the past several years. Writing is such solitary work most of the time so it’s fun—and sometimes challenging—to bounce ideas around with other authors and make sure character development and plotlines work together. Because all of us see the outline for each of the six books, I really enjoy reading the books when they release to see how each author has made the story their own.
In 2019 readers meet ‘The Lost Fortunes’ – and the miniseries kicked off with my hero, Gavin Fortunado, in A Deal Made in Texas. He is tired of his family’s matchmaking ways and embarks on a pretend engagement with longtime friend Christine Briscoe. But their feelings become real all too quickly and it was so fun to write the two of them struggling not to fall in love when they’re perfect for each other.
I’ll be giving away 2 print copies of A Deal Made in Texas (US only). To win, tell me your favorite western movie or TV show.
I have a feeling ‘The Highwaymen’ might end up on my list of faves.
Here’s a little more about A Deal Made in Texas:
It’s like a page ripped from her diary when Christine Briscoe finds herself dancing with Gavin Fortunado at his sister’s wedding. It’s like a scene from her dreams when the flirtatious attorney asks her to be his—pretend—girlfriend. But there is nothing make-believe about the sparks between the quiet office manager and the sexy Fortune scion. Considering Gavin’s reputation, she might be heading for heartbreak. Or maybe, just maybe, straight down the aisle!
A dear friend, Jennifer Jacobson sent me a link to an article on a wonderful artist, Felice House. It’s her amazing work you see in this post. Her paintings and Evan Porter’s write up got me thinking more than usual about heroes and heroines.
We all love a strong, confident hero. The phrase alpha male comes to mind. When I started writing, I attended countless workshops on how to create a strong hero. But writing this, I paused and thought for a moment. How many workshops had I taken on how to create a self-assured, strong heroine? I’ve attended a few, though not nearly as many as ones on heroes. That thought led me to realize whether I’m reading a book or writing one, for me, the stronger the hero’s personality, the stronger the heroine must be. She can’t be a wimpy Missy Miss who crumbles under a strong wind or the hero’s stinging retort.
I want a heroine who doesn’t need a man in her life because she’s fine just the way she is, thank you very much. But should she find one, she believes he’s lucky to have her in his life. She has skills she’s proud of and helps the hero as much, often more, than he helps her. She’s not sitting back moping about the obstacles fate has thrown in her path. No, sir. Instead, she tugs on her big girl panties and develops a strategy to overcome her problems. And if the hero is one of those obstacles? He’d better watch out.
Felice House’s painting reminded me of that type of heroine. When House moved from Massachusetts to Texas, like many of us, she fell in love with “western” culture: the clothes, cowboy boots, music, the whole thing. However, when she watched classic western movies starring actors such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and James Dean, she found women’s portrayal as helpless damsels in distress disturbing. House described the situation as “the empowered and the powerless.” Already familiar with creating work that fought stereotypical women’s images, House set out to re-envision these cowboy heroes with women.
As you can see from House’s paintings, she and her models succeeded in portraying woman every bit as formidable, compelling and fierce as the original actors. To add emphasis, House made the paintings 1.25 times larger than life to ensure these western women towered over people. These paintings portray images of strong, capable women who can handle anything life sends their way.
House’s paintings have inspired a 2019 goal for me—create heroines half as awe-inspiring, assertive, and frankly, badass as the women in Felice House’s paintings. If I can do that, I’ll be more than happy.
Now it’s your turn. Leave a comment about what you think makes a compelling heroine to be entered to win a copy of To Catch A Texas Cowboy. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.
To read Evan Porter’s article click here. All images of Felice House’s work are used with permission. To view more of her paintings click here.
Language is such an interesting subject and I’m always intrigued by the older terms and words. Our forefathers sure had a more colorful way of speaking. In fact, the vivid words drew pictures a lot better than today’s jargon. Since I write historicals I love finding one or two to throw in. Too many can make for difficult reading though. See how many you know. Some may be familiar.
Tub-thump – a forceful or violent way of speaking such as a politician
Carking – causing distress or worry such as: the carking of the homeless
Purse-proud – a showy or arrogant manner
Thunderstone – flint arrowheads or axes turned up by a plow and thought to have fallen from the sky
Slang-whanger – a political rant or a noisy talker (I know a lot of these!)
Sixes and Sevens – a condition of confusion or disarray
Mercurial – sudden or unpredictable changes of mood or mind
Omnishambles – a situation full of a string of blunders or miscalculations
Blue Skins – Presbyterians
Black leg – a gambler
Stanchion – a strong or durable support or barrier
Snipper-Snapper – an insignificant but pretentious person; a trifler
Booklore – book learning
Cactus-bloomers – longhorn cattle
Corpse and Cartridge Occasion – gun battle
Not born in the woods to be scared by an owl – not easily frightened
Do you have any to add to these? I’m giving away a 2019 calendar to two people.
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Now that we’ve had some fun, I want to tell you about a Christmas movie that John Wayne starred in. How many have seen or heard of “The 3 Godfathers?” It came out in 1948 and was about three bank robbers running from a marshal when they stumble across a woman alone in a covered wagon giving birth. Before she dies, she makes them promise to take care of her baby and get him to the town of New Jerusalem. It’s a story of redemption. I watched it when I was young and remember some funny scenes as they try to take care of this infant. So if you’re wanting a different Christmas movie, you might try to find it. The trailer is on YouTube and the movie is on Amazon.
Few things have made such a huge impact on our lives than the movie industry. I don’t know about you but I love sitting in a dark theater and watching magic unfold on the screen. I’m drawn into the story and love watching how the actors chose to portray each scene. Some are excellent and I lose myself to the magic to the point where I’m up there in the story with them. It’s a beautiful thing and deeply personal.
Roundhay Garden Scene was the first recorded short silent film in 1888 by a Frenchman named Louis Le Prince. It’s definitely the oldest surviving one. Amazing!
Thomas Edison started capturing motion on film around that same time. Everything was very short, approx. a minute or two.
The first film with a sustained plot was a 12 minute one titled The Great Train Robbery. Suddenly America had a new form of entertainment. They called those early films flickers and I’ll bet you can guess why.
They were all silent as no one had figured out yet how to record sound. The theaters hired men and women to play the piano while the movie showed. Slow songs, fast songs, medium songs designed for the biggest impact.
They built huge movie palaces with ornate lobbies, crystal chandeliers, and luxurious carpet. Instead of hiring one pianist, they had orchestras and they hooked the American public.
I recently watched an eight part documentary that Robert Redford made called The American West and it was so interesting. I found it on Amazon Prime. Redford started at the end of the Civil War and showed each step in the progression of the settlement of the west. President Grant actually opened up the west and offered cheap land as a last ditch effort to keep another Civil War from starting and hold the country together.
I didn’t know that.
At the end of the documentary, was a clip of Wyatt Earp on a film set in Hollywood. He was 80 years old and a young John Wayne (21) was working as a prop boy. John Wayne was enamored by the man he idolized and hanging out with Earp forever changed John Wayne. He imitated Earp’s manner of walking and talking and he adopted the Code of the West that Earp lived by.
Wyatt Earp must’ve been drawn to movie making. I’d love to have known what he thought. He was often found on movie sets and that’s where John Ford, the director met him. Ford got Earp to draw on paper exactly how the gunfight at the OK corral happened and he used the sketch to film the gunfight scene in My Darling Clementine.
Wyatt died in 1929 in Los Angeles and cowboy actors Tom Mix and William S. Hart were pallbearers.
Can you imagine a world without cinema? I can’t. I’m sure glad they invented sound though.
Tell me—do you like to go to the movies? If so, what is it that draws you? Maybe it’s the popcorn. Or what is one of your favorite movies? I’m giving away a copy of either To Catch a Texas Star or Gunsmoke and Lace to two people who comment. In addition to title, winner chooses either print or ebook. I’ll draw the winners on Sunday.
My western mystery, The Reckoning, was recently released by The Wild Rose Press. It’s set in 1868 and follows Ike McAlister, a Union soldier who returns from the Civil War to his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas to find that his parents have been killed by Quantrill’s raiders. He sets out on a single-minded hunt to find the murderers; a search that takes him to the high plains of Colorado. My sequel, The Renewal, set in South Park, Colorado, 1872, was released in March 2108, also by The Wild Rose Press.
Let’s talk westerns for a minute. We’ve all heard that the traditional American western is dead—which prompts the question, ‘If that’s so, why write westerns?’ Well, it’s true the golden age of westerns was some time back. Since then, there’s been a bit of a dry spell until recently when several big box office westerns based on great new novels have been released.
Are they’re coming back? It sure seems like it. Why would they be mounting a return? Probably because westerns and the Old West embody timeless values—a place and time where right triumphs over wrong. Not always, certainly, but in our stories it does. The American West in the nineteenth century was a black and white society with clear-cut rules—there were things you were supposed to do as well as things you weren’t. And if you did wrong, there were consequences, oftentimes immediate.
Code of the West
There was a code of the West, even observed among the bad guys. Simple rules for simpler times. Unwritten, but adhered to nonetheless. The Code drew its strength from the underlying character of westerners, both men and women alike. Life back then was hard, but it was also simple. Things that needed to get done got done. Whining wasn’t tolerated. Complainers were ignored. You weren’t a victim. You played the hand you were dealt.
If you’re getting the idea I like that kind of culture, you’re right.
The world we live in today sometimes baffles me. Everything seems to be different shades of gray. Honor and fidelity seem to be out of fashion. People are entitled. The media are advocates, not observers.
While the Code of the West was unwritten and existed in various forms, there were certain common elements everyone—from the hard-working sodbuster, to the law-abiding citizen, to the hardened criminal—typically abided by. Granted, there were exceptions, but generally that held true.
In 2004, Jim Owens synthesized the Code into ten guiding principles in his book, Cowboy Ethics- What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West.
Live each day with courage.
Take pride in your work.
Always finish what you start.
Do what has to be done.
Be tough, but fair.
Keep your promises.
Ride for the brand.
Talk less and say more.
Some things aren’t for sale.
Know where to draw the line.
Let’s look at three of these.
How about number seven—Ride for the Brand. It means be loyal to the people in your life—from family and friends, to those you work for. Support the people you’re involved with.
Take a look at number four—Do what has to be done. Life is oftentimes messy. Our days are filled with ups and downs, and we make choices all the time. This is about choosing to get done what has to be done, then getting on with life.
Next, there’s number nine—Some things aren’t for sale. The Code gave westerners a guide to live by that they broke at their own peril. Are there still things today that aren’t for sale? What are they for you? They might be different for each of us, but at the end of the day I’d wager we all still have values that are non-negotiable. After all, values don’t really change—only times, circumstances, and people do.
The good news is the values the Code embodied haven’t vanished from today’s America, but more often than not it seems they have been marginalized. Popular culture tends to look down on old-time values, or should I say the timeless values of nineteenth century America. We’re an instant gratification society that focuses on the here and now, and disregards the lessons of the past. Imagine a world where you sat with your family for dinner at night, even going so far as to talk with each other. Imagine a world where a man’s word, and a woman’s, was their bond. Where handshakes took the place of fifty-page contracts and lawyers.
Arthur Chapman captured these principles in a poem he penned in 1917.
“Out Where The West Begins”
Where there’s more of singing and less of sighing,
Where there’s more of giving and less of buying,
And a man makes friends without half trying—
That’s where the West begins.
So, yes, occasionally I yearn for those simpler times amid the hustle and bustle of our world. We’re inundated today with various media from morning to night. Sometimes Ike’s and Lorraine’s world-my main characters-looks pretty appealing. Especially right now.
At the end of the day, westerns remind us of our solid roots and what we were and could become again. That’s why the American western will never die.
To buy a copy of Mike’s latest release The Renewal, click here.
Mike is giving away the winner’s choice of either a print or digital copy of his novel, The Renewal. To be entered in the drawing leave a comment about one of the ten Code of West principles listed above.