Top 5 Grossest and Most Repulsive Things In Frontier History

Here we go (drumroll please):

Hand carved human skull from the Yucatan.

5. Mountain man, Peg Leg Smith (not known by that name at the time), takes an Indian arrow in the knee and amputates his own leg with his knife in front of all the men in his camp – early 1830’s, Nuevo Mexico.

4. Alfred Packer is accused of murdering and eating five of his prospecting companions in the high mountains of Colorado – February, 1874, Colorado Territory.

3. Cortes’s Spanish conquistadors doctor the battle wounds of both horses and men with rendered fat (oil) taken from the bodies of Aztec dead. Next to branding captive women and killing hundreds of thousands with smallpox, this may be the grossest thing Cortes’ men did – Vera Cruz, Mexico, New Spain, 1519.

2. Emperor Montezuma’s Aztec priests use flint knives to cut out the heart of a living victim, chop off the head to let it roll down the temple steps, throw the hacked-off arms and legs to the waiting crowd for food, and save the victim’s torso to feed the zoo animals. During the fighting of the Noche Triste (Sad Night), the Aztec’s sacrifice several Spaniards in plain sight of where the other conquistadors are fighting to keep from becoming sacrifices themselves. Aztec warriors hold the impaled heads of Spanish horses on long poles to intimidate their enemy – Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), Mexico, New Spain, 1520.

1. Sand Creek Massacre – Col. John Chivington and 700 troops and volunteers attack Black Kettle’s peaceful Cheyenne village, even though the chief was flying a U.S. flag. The troops murder, scalp, and mutilate men, women, and children. Among the atrocities, one of the attackers is said to have made a tobacco pouch of a Cheyenne man’s scrotum. Famous scout and mountain man, Kit Carson, a man who had fought Indians himself, called Chivington and his men “dirty hounds” – Nov. 29, 1864, Colorado Territory.

Disclaimer: The horrors and atrocities of the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and other wars of the Americas prior to 1900 were so numerous and daunting as to be in a category of their own.

A Real Life Old Yeller

A real life Old Yeller – I recently ran across an intriguing mention of a dog on the western frontier that bears a striking resemblance to the fictional and famous yellow mutt of book and movie. Granville Stewart, iconic Montana pioneer and rancher, mentioned a similarly brave and loyal dog in his journals, later published as a book titled, Forty Years on the Frontier.

Granville was on his way to the California gold fields when he and his party came across some fresh graves while camping on the Platte River. A cholera epidemic was raging through the emigrants along the trail, and Stewart and his party assumed that the graves were from victims of that sickness. More importantly, a “large yellow dog with a bushy tail” was lying on one of the fresh mounds of earth. He was thin and half-starved. In the morning, Granville coaxed the dog to his camp and fed him. However, the dog immediately went back to the grave, presumably that of his dead master. When the Stewart party hitched up their wagons and started off, the dog followed them a little ways and then ran back to the grave and began to howl pitifully. Granville said that the mourning sound was so sad that it brought tears to his eyes. The dog later tried to follow them, but was too weak and lame to keep up. Granville put him on the footboard of the wagon and let him ride there until he was fed up and not so footsore.

The yellow dog traveled with them all the way to California, and was given the name, Watch. While living in a prospector’s cabin in the Feather River country of California, there was a time where Granville and friends lived on nothing much but the squirrels he killed out of the great pine forest surrounding them. Come to find out, Watch was a excellent tree dog. He trailed the scent of the squirrels to the tree they lie in and barked until Granville or one of his friends could come shoot a meal. Granville must have been about to starve before he started killing squirrels, for he gave Watch credit for saving his life during those months. Watch guarded their camp, was a willing companion, and became no less a pioneer than his human friends – a real life Old Yeller on the American frontier, 1852.

Note: Watch and his starving prospectors recently inspired me to write a short story, Cabin Fever, for the upcoming Cactus Country III Anthology put out by High Hill Press.

Jim Bowie’s Knife

What did Jim Bowie’s knife really look like?  Jim Bowie, the Louisianan and hero of Texas, made a name for himself packing a large sheath knife he had a blacksmith make him according to his own design.  Historians have long argued what the original Bowie knife looked like.  According to Jim’s brother, Rezin (Resin), Jim had a wooden model he’d carved, and he took that model to the blacksmith/knife maker.  While there are many takes on what the end product looked like, and the identity of the blacksmith, the only things we know for sure about the knife’s design and appearance came from Rezin.  He said that the knife was large, well-balanced, and had a hilt to keep the hand from sliding down the blade.
There was a great need for sheath knives on the frontier for skinning game, as well as utility.  However, the knife Jim Bowie had made was for fighting, and along the rugged backwaters, gambling dives, and frontier camps Bowie’s design rapidly became popular, helped in part by the number of duels and fights he is said to have fought with his big blade.  Soon, knife makers across the South were making large combat knives imitating Bowie’s design.  Many of the period accounts of Eastern travelers in the South and in Texas mention the rough, bearded and big-hatted men they encountered with belts loaded with pistols and Bowie Knives.  It wasn’t long before “Bowie Knife” became a generic term for any large sheath knife vaguely similar to those first copies of Bowie’s knife.  Blacksmiths who’d never seen Bowie’s blade were asked by customers to build similar weapons with only second-hand descriptions of what the knife should look like, and incorporating individual’s modifications.  English cutlery companies in Sheffield and Birmingham saw the demand for such knives on the American frontier and came up with their own take on the style and sent them across the Atlantic by the boatload.  In fact, I would say that most of the Bowie Knives in America from the 1830′s through the 1870′s were English made.  Confederate soldiers carried “Bowie’s” during the Civil War, and even as late as WWI, manufacturers were creating supposed Bowie knives for trench warfare.
Today, while browsing through the Bowie offerings of knife companies and custom makers you will notice a wide variety of styles, some of them so dissimilar that it seems odd that they are called by the same name – coffin handles, straight handles, fat blades, skinny blades, big hilts, little hilts, full tangs, half tangs, etc.  But now, like in 19th Century, a Bowie knife was never an exact, one-size-fits-all style, at least for every other Bowie knife made after Jim Bowie’s original.  Our concepts of what a Bowie knife looks like may have been affected and prejudiced by movies such as Alan Ladd’s, The Iron Mistress.  Despite the number of specimens in private and museum collections, Jim Bowie’s knife isn’t around to compare to the earliest known surviving Bowie knives, and the original appearance may forever remain a mystery.
There is an interesting side note to this tale.  What happened to the knife that Jim Bowie carried after he died at the Alamo?  No two historians can seem to agree on this matter either.  Many men who lived in the old days made claims in their elderly years as to the knife’s location or demise.  However, Rezin Bowie, a man who traveled and fought with his brother, said that Jim had another, silver-mounted knife made after the original.  He wore the fancy model at fandangos and other social functions, while using his original, plain one when he was in the field.  According to Rezin, Jim lost the original Bowie knife while traveling in Indian country well before the battle at the Alamo Mission.  He was using it at the edge of camp and rode off and left it lying on the ground, somewhere in the country west of Austin, Texas and along the San Saba River.  I think it is safe to say that we have about as much chance of determining what Jim Bowie’s knife looked like as we do of going camping in West Texas and stumbling across its rusted remains.

The Conquistador

This simple little Frederic Remington sketch, “The Conquistadore,” is one of my favorites. I like art that tells a story, and the more subtle, the better. We often think of the Spanish conquistadors as cruel men of steel, heartlessly roaming the Americas in a quest for gold, and dispensing smallpox and slavery to the natives they encountered.  And yet, skillfully, Remington managed to give this art a feel that is anything but violent.

It’s well known that the conquistadors preferred riding stallions, or geldings at the very least. However, the men who followed Cortez and Pizarro were usually outfitted in Cuba, and there were few horses to choose from in the earliest days of the Spanish conquest. Later expeditions like that of Coronado might have little more to choose from when leaving Mexico, and difficulties of the trail could decimate the animals taken along. Men of lower rank who were lucky enough to get a mount sometimes had to settle for mares, despite their macho bias against them. Remington’s conquistador looks haggard and weary and as gaunt as his horse. One can easily assume that he has long wandered the waterless wastes of a country in which he is ill-equipped and lost. Perhaps the tribes he encountered stood against him, and whittled his force down until there are only a few survivors without supplies. Maybe the mare was originally a pack horse, but the journey has turned out so rough that the Spaniard is forced to ride her.

However, the image of a Spanish soldier of fortune doesn’t incite a sense of adventure within me when viewing this sketch.  In fact, the presenence of one little horse gives the work an almost whimsical touch.  The foal following along lets us know that the mount is a mare, and the kind, playful imagery of it following its mother and perhaps trying to get her to play is in sharp contrast with the violent hardship of the trail and the warrior image of the conquistador. It reminds me that even a conquistador could be human and have a little milk of human kindness to give.  He could have just as easily killed the foal at birth to relieve himself of the burden, but he has chosen to tolerate a slower pace and having to stop to let the it nurse.  The mare is gaunt, and the foal’s nursing demands on her malnutrition may weaken her to the point that it strands the conquistador in a land where it is a long way between waterings and where a man afoot is as good as dead. And yet, the foal is still with the conquistador.  Maybe that’s why the conquistador’s head is lifted away from the foal.  Perhaps he’s studiously ignoring the frolicking youngster, hiding the soft spot in his armor-covered heart for a pet.

In the romantic West of Frederic Remington the caballero, or the Spanish gentleman on horseback, thinks of his horses above all.  And perhaps there is irony there, that even a man so capable of conquest and bloodlust can love an animal.  Hats off to that old yankee in a pith helmet who gave us so many great images of the western frontier and its history.

Texas Longhorns

Texas Longhorns came in a variety of colors. Old-time cattlemen could often tell what part of Texas (which gene pools) herds came from by the color of the cattle’s hides (red, black, motley, roan, brindle, gray, etc.).

You always hear how cowboys used to be tougher in the old days, but few mention that the cattle of the Old West were tougher too.  The Texas Longhorn wasn’t the gentle, feed sack animal that populates the pastures and rangeland of many modern ranches and livestock farms.  The longhorn was a descendant of the Spanish cattle the conquistadors brought to Mexico, and by the trail drive era from Texas to the Kansas railroads, those longhorns had almost 300 years for natural selection to whittle the population down to one of the toughest cattle breeds on the face of the earth.  Early Texas colonists often hunted the longhorns like deer – they were that wild.

Later, the Civil War scattered many of the longhorns that had been semi-domesticated over the years to mix and mingle with those maverick cattle still running wild in the Texas brush.  In the late 1860’s and throughout the 70’s, with the cattle market booming, hundreds of thousands of those wild longhorns went up the trail.  Unbranded, mavericks were soon in short supply.  A man wanting to operate on a shoe string had little choice but to go after the worst of the worst, which were those outlaws wild and crafty enough to avoid being captured.  Those outlaw longhorns, some of them with horns in excess of six feet, would often tree a man afoot, and charge a man on horseback when on the prod.  They were gathered from the thickets via traps or fast horses and good ropers.  Capturing them wasn’t the end of the challenge.  Getting them to market was a feat in itself.

Horn growth and frame size often depended on nutritional merits of the region where the longhorn lived. Age was also a primary factor. The term “mossyhorn” usually meant a large steer, cow, or bull who had evaded roundup long enough for its horns to grow massive – time enough for moss to grow on them just like that on tree bark).

Those trail herds, sometimes as many as 2, 500 cattle, would spook at almost anything and stampede at the drop of a hat.  Some of the worst of the runners, fighters, and bunch-quitters took some special handling.  Many experienced foremen would turn down a soured or outlaw herd, as they were too much trouble to handle.  Cowboys would often sew up the eyelids of an especially unruly cow-critter.  Cattle are herd animals, and the temporarily blinded steer or cow would hang close to the comforting sounds of its fellow herd members.  If the animal became “herd broke” the cowboys might eventually rope and throw it to cut the stitches from its eyelids.  Cattle that wouldn’t stay with the herd were often “tailed.”  A skilled rider would steer his horse close to a running longhorn, grab its tail and tuck in under his right leg, and then spur ahead and steer left.  The bunch-quitter was unceremoniously “busted,” much like modern steer tripping.  Sometimes it took a couple of tailings and bustings to break a longhorn from trying to escape.  Like many of the pioneer types, the longhorn could be a little unruly, independent, and stubborn when it came to its freedom.

Longhorns could thrive anywhere, from the salty mesquite plains of the Gulf Coast to the high country of Montana.  They were as tough and stringy as a piece of beef jerkey left lying in the hot sun for a week.  Longhorn cows raised their calves among bears, wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, and jaguars with nothing to ward those predators off but a set of horns and a fighting spirit.  They could make do on scanter diet, and walk farther than any cattle breed ever known.  However, the need for such a tough customer ended with the long trail drives and the setttling of the frontier.  Short-legged, heavier muscled, better fattening European breeds like the Hereford, Shorthorn, and Angus were gradually mixed with the longhorn until it almost disappeared.  After the Turn of the Century, a few breeders managed to save the longhorn, and supporters still tought the qualities of the wildest of Texas’ native offspring.  The longhorn’s day may have passed, but it will forever remain a Texas icon, just like the Alamo or the bluebonnet.

Trail drivers often told stories of blue lightning tickling across a longhorn herd’s horns during a thunderstorm. When pressed close together, the rattle of those horns was a distinct sound. There are tales of steers so old and large that their horns had to be sawn off to get them up the ramp and through the door into a train’s boxcar.


An Eskimo hunter stands over his polar bear kill in 1924.

     In olden times the tribe would feast and celebrate a successful hunt, or a great deed such as the killing of a polar bear with a bow and arrows.  Songs might be written to the beat of drums or the shrill of bone whistles, and tales of the mighty hunter passed down through the generations.  A man like this Eskimo understood that he was the master of his world, more cunning than any other beast he walked among.  His heart was strong, and he gloried in the moment he took up his weapons and met the sunrise.  The meat he gathered gave succor to his loved ones, and memories of the hunt made him relish the flavor all the more.
     In this day and age, there are many who are against hunting, and just as many who can’t understand why so many hunters enjoy pursuing and killing “dumb animals.”  First and foremost, I would say that anyone who calls some of the prey I’ve hunted “dumb animals” has no knowledge of wildlife and isn’t qualified to speak on the matter.  Secondly, as a man of my era, I don’t have dragons to slay or a cave to defend from saber-toothed tigers.  I can’t impress my mate with my skill at providing a fire, or blaze trails through an undiscovered frontier to stake a homesead among the wilderness.  I’m a man of action, yet my actions are limited in this modern world, and many of them are politically incorrect.  In most households, both husband and wife are employed to financially make ends meet.  A man’s role as provider and defender has been greatly limited.  I think that’s why so many men continue to play sports, race cars, or hunt and fish long after their youth.  We are looking for challenges and ways to fulfill our natural inclinations to be what makes us men.
     There is a bit of “primitive man,” more in some than in others, that roars and thumps its hairy chest and needs to test muscle and wit against anything or everything. Primitive Man wants to butt the boney brow of his Neanderthal, orbital ridge against something that does not move easily, so that he may say that he has achieved.
     And then again, it isn’t simply the challenge that drives certain men to the great outdoors.  Wild country calls to us like a siren’s song.  No hunter who spends a lot of time alone and on the hunt is’nt also a lover of nature and its creatures.  Any hunter will tell you that for every second of excitement before a shot is fired, there are days and days of sitting, waiting, and simply soaking in the scenery.  Watching the grand panorama of nature is what gives a hunter the patience and the peace of mind to endure and to wait for that moment of opportunity.  A pretty mountain range, or turkeys drifting out of the fog like ghosts in the twilight soothe the soul, and make a hunter thankful that he’s a part of what he’s seeing.
     I like the sights and the sounds of the wilderness, and the feel of the wind on a cool morning.  My heart races at the sight of game and the thought of a fair chase.  I love sitting over a campfire and passing tales with fellow hunters, and the memories are sweet.  The smell of woodsmoke, gun oil, and musty horsesweat is like perfume.  The crackling fire and the coyote’s howl are music like no other.  A fine-edged knife and a straight-shooting gun that fits me are works of art.  Moments such as when a big buck’s antlers appear above and through the brush, or when the bugle of a bull elk stops you in your tracks can never be truly captured in film or on canvas.  Those moments must be felt.
     I ask my gentler friends to forgive me for thumping my chest and feeling two inches taller at the end of a good hunt.  The heat, cold, and long days of scouting I endure are a measure of my fortitude. I’m happy when I can plan an ambush, and when my aim is true, no matter the range, nor the conditions of the shot.  I don’t rejoice in the fact that I have killed, but I’m proud that I’m able to kill.  I am the smarter than all the beasts of the world I walk among.  I’m proud.   I make no apologies nor any excuses for what it is that I am.  I am the hunter.   I am primitive man, if only for a few days or a few weeks of every year.  Come with me, let’s hunt.  Let’s prove our worth for all to see that we are mighty men, and gather around the fire and feast.  And when the winter winds blow too cold, or the rain is coming down, you and I will sit and talk of brave deeds, wily prey, and of the men who made memories.

10 Question Interview With Author, John D. Nesbitt

Author, John D. Nesbitt

I had the privilege to visit with award-winning author, John D. Nesbitt a couple of times over the last few years, and found him to be a genuinely nice, humble fellow.  John has won multiple Spur Awards for his western novels, and in my opinion, had the greatest title for a western ever — One-Eyed Cowboy Wild.  He is a an avid hunter, outdoorsman, and lives in Wyoming where he is a college instructor.  John’s latest book is Blue Horse Mesa, a collection of western short stories.  If you like westerns, about the Old West or the contemporary West, check out John’s books at

John is so danged nice that he let me con him into participating in an interview, despite his hectic schedule.  He was courteous enough to take the time to give some really insightful, lengthy answers.  Pay close attention to John’s advice for aspiring writers.

So, without further ado, here we go:

1)  How did you first get published?

[John] – My first two publications came close together in 1978.  I had an article on Louis L’Amour published in Western American Literature, an academic journal that I subscribed to (and still do), as I have been a student and teacher of literature of the American West.  At about the same time as the appearance of that article, I had a short story published.  I was not yet a member of Western Writers of America, but I subscribed to Roundup, and I saw a call for submissions for western short stories.  The magazine was called Far West, and it lasted for two or three years.  The editor accepted my story and sent me a contract with an offer of $250.  That was a lot of money in those days, especially to me, and I was elated.  So those two publications were very auspicious to a fellow starting out in a career as a college instructor and a writer.

2)  How would you describe your style of western novel?

[John] – I think of my work as straddling the line between literary and popular western writing.  I try to write for a serious, thoughtful audience.  I try not to be esoteric or exclusive, but I also try not to depend on pure physical conflict and action.  People who have read my work and commented on it tend to classify my work in ways similar to the way in which I think of it.  They say that I write character-driven stories and literary traditional westerns, and there is often a comment in there to the effect that I do not write straight shoot-’em-ups.  As for my characters, they are usually every-day people who work for a living.  I do not heighten my characters by giving them a huge ranch, a huge herd of cattle, or a long trail of dead enemies.

3)  What novel or short story are you most proud of?

[John] – Naturally, I’m proud of all my work, and especially the work that has gained me some recognition.  If I had to single out one novel, I would say my best achievement is Poacher’s Moon, a contemporary western mystery.  For short stories, I will cite my new collection entitled Blue Horse Mesa.

4)  As a Wyoming resident, what do you most like to write about, western people or western settings?

[John] – My first impulse, both times I read this question, was to say “both.”  As I re-consider it, though, I think I tend to write about human nature that is not always identifiable as or limited to being western.  Very often I will take an aspect of human character that I think I have a sense of, and I will bring it out in a western setting.  As for setting itself, my tendency is to set my stories in landscapes that are composites of places I know and have some feeling for.  I rely on place much more than on historical figures or events.

5)  If you only had one piece of advice for aspiring writers, what would it be?

[John] – Don’t kid yourself.  No one is going to come knocking on your door asking for your work.  No one is going to make you rich for your awesome ideas.  No one is going to fix your grammar, punctuation and sentence structure.  You have to do it yourself, and you have to find people to help you.  Usually, the people who are going to help you are people who owe you nothing and have little or nothing to gain by helping you.  The world of writing is not waiting for you to show up, and if you lose heart and drop out, no one will miss you.  So, the one piece of advice, once again, is: Don’t kid yourself.

6)  Often in your writing you mention the school of hard knocks and the trials and tribulations of our attempts at romance.  What do you find poignant or captivating about those subjects?

[John] – The school of hard knocks kind of goes along with my answer to the previous question.  For the average person, like my characters and like my humble self, no one owes us anything.  We have to work for what we get, and we have to face up to and learn by our mistakes.

As for the trials and tribulations of our attempts at romance, I say in jest that I once read a book on the subject.  Actually, I wrote a book on the subject.  It is called Lonesome Range, and it is about a man who gets into an ill-fated love affair in Wyoming in the 1890′s.  He is a literate fellow, and he has read a few novels about love and love affairs, which makes for a nice serious joke, but he has to learn it for himself in his own terms.  I think that’s the way life is, and love affairs that allow us to fly with the eagles do not always turn out happy.

7)  Did you always want to be a writer?  And if not, what did you want to be?

[John] – I don’t know if I always wanted to be a writer, but I don’t remember a time when I wanted to be anything else to the exclusion of that.  When I was about fourteen I identified my career goal to be an educator, but I was already writing things that the teacher picked out (along with the work of others) and posted on the bulletin board in her classroom.  That was my sophomore year, and I was getting small recognition for fiction and non-fiction.  In eighth grade, I was known among my classmates for the poems I wrote.  So when I identified my career goal, I just assumed that it would include writing.

8)  How did you come up with the title for One-Eyed Cowboy Wild?

[John] – As is seen in the story, it is the name of a card game.  Those of us who play poker, especially dealer’s choice, are familiar with games in which the dealer calls this or that card wild.  The one-eyed cowboy, of course, is the king of diamonds.  I had not seen the movie One-Eyed Jacks when I wrote this novel, but I hit on the same idea of a person (or people) having one side visible and one side hidden.  The title applies to the main character’s brother, Zeke, who has a hidden side in more ways than one, and who goes wild in a fight when his opponent tries to gouge his eye out.  If someone is interested in reading this book (my first published western novel), I’ll also mention that the title applies to half-brothers as well.  I had a nice complex idea to work with, and although the editor had me suppress the idea about the half-brothers, it’s still in there, and, I think, it’s a nice bit of irony.  Well, I guess I’ve talked about my cleverness enough.  I did have a reader come up to my table one time and have me sign a copy of the large print edition for him.  He was an old cowboy and had one bad eye, and he said, with good humor, that he was a one-eyed cowboy and wanted to read this story.  That was fifteen years ago, and I don’t have much contact with him, but we are still friends, and every once in a while he sends me greetings through one of his grand-daughters.

 9)  Is effective writing purely a talent, a learned craft, or a combination of the two?

[John] – I think it’s a combination of the two.  People inherit artistic tendencies.  My three brothers and I all liked to draw when we were growing up.  My oldest and youngest brothers were the best at it, and my youngest brother settled on a career as an artist.  A couple of us also liked to write.  I turned out to be the one who stuck with writing.  We all did creative work of one kind or another, but none of us got anywhere with any of it without practice, study, and learning.  I have known people who claim to be self-taught, just as I have known people who believe that it is a matter of talent that merely needs to find its outlet, but for writing, at least, I am rather skeptical of those claims and beliefs.

10)  A lot of western writers either come from an urban background or live in an urban environment.  Do you know what a sweaty horse blanket smells like?

[John] – Yes, I do know what a sweaty horse blanket smells like.  The same goes for gutshot antelope and a lot of other things, including sagebrush, alfalfa fields, cedar trees, and the cold winds coming out of the north.  This question goes back to # 6, about the school of hard knocks.  For my purposes, at least, it is best to write from some kind of personal experience.  I am a little flexible here, because we can’t go back to an earlier era and know everything at first hand, but we should know some of those things well enough at first hand that we can approximate some of the others.  We pick our topics, and we had better be convincing at them.  I don’t write about truck drivers or police officers, much less spies and millionaires, and I don’t drop my characters down into places I know only from a trip to a website.  I have lived in the country and have been around animals almost all my life (I did have to go to some evil cities and large towns for my education, which I value very much), and I have been blessed in Wyoming to be able to live in the landscape every day and to be able to make frequent trips to other locales.  It’s nice to be able to look out the window and see my horse, and it’s nice to see deer in the fields down the hill and to see geese flying low overhead when the sun goes down in the winter.  It’s also nice to live in a place where a person can get more than one permit for antelope, for deer, and for elk.  That makes for more time hunting, more excursions, more impressions.  A great many western writers lay claim to authenticity in one way or another, and even though some of those claims may be a bit exaggerated or even spurious, I think the tendency shows that having experience in and feeling for the subject really does matter.  As for those who don’t know-how to wear a hat (and it does take some know-how if a person is going to wear one for something other than looks) or saddle a horse, they can lay claim to other areas of expertise, like firearms.  And some of them are good at incorporating material from historical sources.  So I try to be relative in my judgments.  At the same time, I am thankful for being able to live in the West day in and day out, and I am glad to be able to draw on my experience with confidence.

Contest Winners – The Greatest Western Never Told!

Roping Grizzlies by Jack Swanson

Greatest Western Never Told Flash Fiction Contest Winners

There were so many great entries that judging this contest was tough.  In the end, High Hill Press and I narrowed the entries down to 39 winners who will be published in Cactus Country III.  Also listed are “honorable mentions” that will possibly make CC IV – still being discussed.  Many writers had multiple works that were excellent, but we only allowed what we thought was that author’s best entry to be among the winners.

If you are listed among the winners, please pay close attention.  Contact me @ , listing your hometown, state and permission to publish your four-sentence western if you wish your story to appear in CC III.  We had first thought to allow a short, two-sentence bio for each winning author, but time and space constraints have changed that.  If you are a winner and do not provide permission to publish your flash fiction story and your hometown and state, you will not be published.  No royalties will be paid to the flash-fiction authors in CC III, however, they will see their creations in the book alongside some well-known and accomplished writers’ short stories.  Already, one talented winner from the contest has signed a short story contract with High Hill Press.

Again, thanks to all of you for your fabulous stories.  You’re a truly creative and impressive bunch of folks.

Our grand prize winner was Paul Homestead.  Paul, if you will send me contact info and a mailing address I will send you a free copy of Rooster, Panhandle, or The Devil’s Hoofprints, your choice.  Also, if you wish, I will post your bio and mention any of your works or samples of them on an upcoming blog.

And without further ado, here are the contest winners in no particular order, as well as the honorable mentions (drumroll please):

Please forgive any formatting issues, as I only had time to paste the winners stories in from an MS Word file.

  1. She’s always been the one that spoke to my heart and I’ve waited for her to come around. But the dust is rising from the old barn’s floor, sticking to my sweaty suspicions. And the fiddler’s tune is throwing my thoughts off pitch, ’cause Claudia’s been gone so long. – Nick Nixon
  2. Caught the rugged paint in the valley. After much ado I got him saddled. He stood for a moment while I climbed aboard, then he showed me how happy he was to have this ole codger on his back. I still hurt. – Elsie Moon Floyd, Quinton, OK
  3. Slim stepped square in the middle of a cow patty. He hopped around on one foot, trying to shake the residue off his boot. Sally stepped forward, held his arm, and proceeded to wipe his boot with her petticoat. Slim grabbed Sally, wrapped her tight, and gave her a huge smack on the lips. – Faye Adams
  4. The sharp pain in her belly hit again stopping her from chopping the weeds from around the cotton. The oldest rode to get the mid-wife, but she hoped to finish the row before she had to quit. The stew, bubbling over the fire helped to warm the rising bread. Dinner would be ready when he came in from branding. – Peggy Chambers
  5. The saddle creaked and groaned like the old man’s bones, as he headed into the rising sun. They say if you don’t work you don’t eat, and even western kids need an education. – Phillip Judkins
  6. Looking out he saw the dark front coming; a rain-wall, iron rails over the landscape scraping up what once: ground sacred and nomad. The tin skin of his coffee- strong and ripe for more- he dusted over the night’s nearly gone coals and mounted his ride, knowing his surroundings eclipsed, never to return. The West had one climax, and he knew he was it. Cowboys, rough-riders, the Red Skins of this Great Nation now will forever eat industrialization and ride Iron Horses. – Heather E. L. Farrar
  7. “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us,” he said, after downing two fingers of ole’ redeye and pulling his duster back behind his holstered 45.  They laid him in the ground, coat still tucked behind his unfired weapon. – Dean Winstead/pen name – Charles Dean
  8. I should’a listened to Pa. Don’t poke the bear! – Tom Lowry
  9. He snorted fire with ears pinned flat and wild, wicked eyes. He trembled at the touch and gathered himself ready to strike back at any opportunity; before he could move it was over and the cowboy was on his back! Flashing hooves and bellowing dust, grunts and yells, spit and sweat. It was over in a flash man and beast both beaten, a friendship forever forged, a cowman and his horse. – Rachel Hill, TX
  10. Hank ran for County Sherriff. His opponent, Bob was running for the same post, and he shot holes in Hank’s posters. Hank heard about this at the saloon, went outside and shot holes in Bob. The Judge, frightened, congratulated Hank and swore him in on the spot. – Matt Bernau, Sioux Falls, SD
  11. Doc and Ike Copeland were rivals since birth. They fought over land, liquor, and ladies. It would all be settled in a bloody gunfight one foggy, cold December night. Gunshots rang out along the Arkansas River as one man lost his life. – Monica Phillips, AR
  12. Luke drove his Mustang like a wild stallion with reckless abandon. In Deadwood, he cocked his Winchester and shot off his mouth. Sheriff fired back, “Get out of my town or go to jail.” Luke roared off in a dust devil and went over the edge. – Linda O’Connell
  13. Zeke stole the gold from Pa’s claim at Cripple Creek and lit out for parts unknown. It took months but I trailed him to a faro table in Denver. While Zeke eyeballed the cards, I squared my shoulders, reached down into what should have been my wedding bodice and pulled out the double barrel derringer he gave me. And to think Ma said no good would come from me shooting rats out by the barn with them McCloskey boys. – Kristin Nador
  14. On those wild Kansas plains, near the south fork of the Solomon River, sat a solitary cabin and its resident hermit. “He lives alone,” the townspeople chattered, “on the run from the outlaws he stole his fortune from.” They said it, but no one really believed it, until after the coldest winter on record. That’s when they found his frozen corpse, with a bullet through the temple. – Everett Robert
  15. “It’s you or me,” said the bounty hunter.  The chase ended in the desert, sun burning, the breeze only stirring around the heat. 
The outlaw reached for his gun to have the bounty hunter shoot first.
 “Now it’s just me,” he said. – Chris Bauer
  16. Do-si-do-ing tumbleweeds. Unhinged saloon doors. Passionate kiss from unseen lips. Silhouette in the window as I fled the ghost town. – Staci Troilo
  17. I bought a mule and it would not go in the barn so I shot him in the butt with
rock salt. Now the mule will not come out of the barn. – Chet Daniel
  18. The chuck wagon was taken by the Indians. Tramps and whiskey were overflowing in the saloon. Tumbleweeds were out-running the horses. Tex slept under his hat while waiting for the dust to settle. – Jewell Mize
  19. He circled into the woods and headed toward the rocky hillside where he had seen what must have been sunlight glinting off a gun barrel. He dismounted, tethered the horse and crawled silently toward the sighting. No gun barrel was in sight. She sat alone, looking into her little mirror as she combed her fingers through her bright red hair. – Trudy Judkins, OK
  20. Mama ran the Indian off the day before by throwing boiling soap on him. Next day, he came back with four braves and crushed the older girl’s head with a rock and scalped the younger one. She lived a long life after. Just without those red curls. – Sue Britt
  21. She answered an ad in the newspaper. They exchanged a few letters before he asked her to join him on the farm in the Dakota Territory where he had four motherless children and a barn full of animals. He told her she would learn to love him. More than a decade later, back hunched over the wash in the local brook, hands cracked and bleeding, she wondered when she would find that love. – Mimi Bernard
  22. The graveyard was quiet, unlike the cowboys at the Quarter Horse Saloon. She strolled from the shadows, a stigma of red on her slender neck. Kissed by a cold, heartless outlaw with fangs of white. Gone was he, when twilight gave way to dawn’s burning bliss. – Rhonda Lee
  23. Darkness chased me to the cabin where I drug the saddle off my mare and turned both horses into the back pasture. Inside I unbuckled my gun belt, sat down at the table and relaxed in the perfect silence. They’ll never find his body in that deep hole in Devil’s Canyon. With a grin I touched the last black eye he’d ever give me. – Velda Brotherton
  24. The calf flashed an indignant look as Jack pulled away the branding iron. The sight of those big brown eyes turned his mind to Sarah, who wasn’t the prettiest gal in town, but never nipped his heels the way some women did. Jack dusted off his hands and wondered how to win her. He figured a tender song would do the trick until he remembered Sarah’s one fatal flaw…a gol-durn tin ear. – Pat Wahler
  25. He came over the ridge, riding a palomino. Slowly he descended the rocky bank. I recognized him as I lay dying. My scalp was still strapped to his saddle. – Lucia Dulin Dawkins
  26. There’s a boot on my neck mashing my nose into the blood and beer. A bottle breaks over somebody’s head and a barstool over another. Saturday night at the Red Rooster. We’re having fun now! – Eddie A Owens
  27. Charlie had warned him and Charlie was purt near always right, so why hadn’t Mitch listened this time? It was because lemon verbena on her neck and wildflowers in her hair got his blood poundin’ so loud that he couldn’t hear Charlie’s words over the rush.
 Mitch traded his pony for a mule team, hung his spurs in the barn, took up a rake and begun to throw hay on a wagon for a livin’.  Now and again he felt lonely for a lowing herd, his head resting on a pillow of chaps wrapped around his boots, but that loneliness faded when he crawled under the quilt with his wife. – Marcia Gaye
  28. We suffered many tribulations over the long months on the trail, including a wagon master that took us the wrong way twice. Everyone rejoiced when he said lush green grass and plentiful water lay over the next hill. Indians attacked at first light, and I was the only one who got away. Wounded, mouth parched, I struggled through the cactus and sand to the crest of that next hill, but he’d been wrong again. – Delois McGrew
  29. There weren’t a spittoon, and the boardwalk croaked ‘neath the weight of four lovelies advancin’ at a clip.  When I spitted, cat took it on the snout an’ he dis’peared.  Got for them women a clean mouth an’ a witless smile. ….Cat ain’t gonna lick for a while. – Lance Otto
  30. Tex sent back East for a mail-order bride and she was a knockout. But she couldn’t churn butter, couldn’t rope a steer, and was afraid of horses. Tex introduced her to the banker who married her, and they lived happily ever after. Tex then married the cowgirl next door and they also lived happily ever after. – Margaret K. Gates
  31. The raucous bray of wheels sliding on rails kicked the young man awake. His cash, horse and rifle were all victims of the wide-open poker tables. He’d sold his pistols and gear for food, whiskey, and the ticket. The only thing he had left was the desire to return to Philadelphia where he’d convince everybody he had been a great hero out west. – Paul Homestead
  32. Rowdy was a mountain cur dog and blue heeler mix. He was smarter than wild cattle and most any kind of human. He seldom made a mistake, but if he did, he would make it look like he really didn’t. I think he learned that from spending too much time around my third wife. – Tommy Johnson
  33. The saloon went quiet when the huge gold miner slammed his fist on the bar and roared, “Anybody here what don’t believe I’m the baddest man in the Rockies?”
Nobody moved until a skinny little cowpuncher stood up to answer, “Can’t tell by lookin.”
“Reckon I need to show ya,” the big man said as he slid off the stool to flex his muscles. He woke up with a headache the next morning and mumbled, “That horse shoe he was carryin’ packs a mean wallop.” – Doyle Suit
  34. Just buried my husband, my partner. Damn fever’s gone and taken everyone I ever loved. All I got now is Shep, the mangy mutt curled up by the fire over yonder and Young’n, my mare who ain’t so young no more. About now, most would probably decide to ride off into the sunset, but I think I’ll wait ‘til sunrise. – Jan Morrill
  35. Why would he be this far out with no herd? He fixed her wagon’s broken wheel with rawhide, spit, and silence. “Tweren’t nothin’, Ma’am” his only words. She watched him ride away, her knight in weathered chaps and a dusty Stetson. – Keli Wright
  36. The young bull calf peered at her from under his tree with the big ol’ eyes that only a calf can have. She could read his apprehension as clearly as if he was speaking, “Do I stay here and hold real still like momma said, or make a run for it?”  “No worries, little man” Jacklynn whispered “you’re safe right there for now.” She clucked to her mare, nudged her with her leg and continued through the trees in search of the momma cow. – Judy Pence
  37. Constance stepped down from the stagecoach, brushing the dust off her neatly fitting dress, as she surveyed the town and its people. She’d ridden a long and bumpy distance to arrive at a place that until a few weeks ago had been nothing more than a dot on a map. Soon a cowboy was right in front of her, tipping his hat saying, “Miss Constance? I’m here to take you to your cabin next to the school house.” She thanked him with an outward appearance of self-confidence, but inside she shook with excitement as her career as a school teacher was about to begin. – Becky Povich
  38. So many lives lost throughout time, pistols, rifles, arrows and tomahawks, many just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Horses, wagons and shelters alike, temporary havens on the short list to survive, no rhyme, reason or sense to who made it where they sought. Only the great spirit of all knows why. – Robert Parks
  39. I told that painter fella, ” You nearly got stomped by that horse rearing up.”
He laughed and set up his gear again. “I’ll get famous by painting it like real,” he said. And he did. – Janet K. Gallagher

Honorable Mention

  1. Lame horse. Parched cowboy. Female barkeep ran the saloon. Preacher spoke the nuptials within a week. – Stacy Troilo
  2. A cowboy on a mule? Crazy they called him. He didn’t care what they thought. The cows didn’t know the difference. – Phillip Judkins, OK
  3. I figure ten or fifteen miles to Yuma. Old Ned carried me far as he could. Don’t believe I’ll make the dance tonight, sun’s straight up. Take my gear but please, write my Ma. – Eddie A. Owens
  4. The game is poker, deuces wild. Aces dropped from a sleeve. Pistol raised, executioner style. Swindlers lay like daisies in a field. – Rhonda Lee
  5. At sunrise, I woke to find Apaches had stolen ole Dan. I harnessed Bob, threw Dan’s harness on the trail weary milk cow and hitched them to the wagon. We headed on west with the cow barely holding up the harness. I’d just have to make do til I could get another horse. – Trudy Judkins, Talihina, OK
  6. The saloon doors moved ever so slightly as bluestem breezes danced though the Osage night. Inside, the scents of sour mash whiskey, trail dust, and cigar smoke mingled with the perfumes of painted ladies, filling the air with a warning — like a storm on the way. Drinking the shot down, I tapped my empty glass on the bar, but the bartender carefully nodded towards the back door where I recognized the black hat with silver conchos resting on a flat gunfighter’s brim. A blanket of electricity covered my body as I looked into the steel grey eyes of my challenger, who moved with short side steps, closer and closer through the departing crowd — my storm had arrived. – Tommy Johnson
  7. Paiutes raided my place. Took my wife. Two hours later they brought her back. Left five ponies for boot. The End. – Eddie A. Owens
  8. Me and Satan’s been riding double in the saddle with him perched high on my back. Daddy said I’m doomed for life with him at the reins, and so far he’s been right. But Mama saw something and she wrote it in the clouds for me to read at the gates. For all Ghost Riders who’ve been toting the Devil, look up cause outside Heaven’s door there’s a low hanging limb. – Nick Nixon
  9. The cadence of the trace chains had put me in a trance. I was unable to see the black clouds off to the west. The plow acted like an anchor as the wall of water swept me off my feet, buried, was I alive? — Matt Bernau, Sioux Falls, SD
  10. Six days in the saddle. Wanted poster in hand. A blazing gun fight. Life of a bounty hunter. – Joy Keeney
  11. After a wild eight-second ride, the horn blew and he landed lightly on his feet. He tipped his hat to the cheering crowd and to the clowns. He collected another buckle and a prize check large enough to impress the ladies. He’d be broke by morning. – Paul Homestead
  12. He dodged my fist in the saloon, but not my bullet in the street. Hit him right between the eyes. I took his fancy timepiece and rode away on his horse. Never underestimate a woman with a Remington and long held grudge against the man who killed her Pa. – Lisa Ricard Claro
  13. I mustn’t breathe or make a sound cloaked in this hollow tree.
 Through the crack I see the dirty savages and fear fills my soul.  
Sweat trickles down my spine watching them burn the cabin.
Life kicks within me Shh, baby it’s not time. – Rhonda Lee
  14. I rode west and my past lay east. We were both happy with the prairie between us. I had no direction and was happy with that. I knew that if a bullet came to me that it would come from those close to me and not from some shadowy enemy, so I kept riding west because I could, knowing now where the bullets would come from. T.M. Eaton
  15. Traveling east through Eagle Pass, brother crow sat on a rock and cocked one yellow eye at me. He showed no fear. He made me wonder, was it true, he was a messenger of death? Next day, death came riding a pale horse and took my loved one away. – Fran Cook, Holdenville, OK
  16. She surveyed him from across the bed with eyes lined with cheap makeup and disappointment. He was not what she had been promised in those penny dreadfuls she readily devoured while planning to escape London for the American west. Instead, he was just like all the miners before him that had graced her bed, just like the New York City bulls and stevedores, and the sailors, just like her father who forced himself upon her; fat, missing hair where he should have it and sprouting hair where he shouldn’t, clad in rough flannel, denim and cotton. Her hero knight, dressed in white linen with silver revolvers slung low on his hips, the man who would save her from this foul existence, wasn’t coming, she realized, as the man laid down a penny for services rendered. – Everett Robert
  17. He sat astride his trusty paint in the fading glow of his cabin’s fire, too heart sick with dread about the loss of his loved-ones to the outlaw band, preying like moon crazy coyotes thereabouts of late–to even look back that one last time. Instead, his smoldering gaze was locked dead-eye unwavering, upon their trail, leading west. His hand stroked most lovingly, the breech of his repeater rifle that he had loaded on Sunday with seven rounds. It was now two shy of a full load, but the last five would serve his purpose just fine. – Todd Holjeson
  18. The land race was on with dust miles wide. The anticipation and adrenaline of making a claim that would change your life forever gave a new meaning. With a mighty thrust with sweat and even tears the final act of pride shakes the whole earth! The embrace of two souls trembling whisper to one another “welcome home”! – HUB
  19. The outlaw stood toe to toe with the rogue beast. Ole mustang pony hung at the end of his rope pawing up a fury. Dodging bullets and running from the law, the rugged man knew no match. No rifle or six gun could put in him the dirt like the powerful horse flesh he briefly sat upon. – Jennifer Dubach
  20. Aunt Adele always said, “Don’t get between two dogs fighting.” So she waited ’til the greenhorn fell and just before his opponent landed a kick. One well-aimed blow with her rifle butt and moments later the cur was cuffed and shackled.  Flashing her badge, she offered the kid a hand, saying, “Thanks for softening him up for me.” – Alison Bruce
  21. I hadn’t rode horseback for years and my butt was as raw as a winter Wyoming wind.Nobody made me try to cross the great divide basin this way,I just felt like doing it. Now, two days in,I’m beginning to wonder if it can even be done. I’m running out of water, my horse is going lame, and I doubt I can walk out of here. – Ray Moore
  22. Crashing through the moonlight, plowing through the undergrowth, he somehow tracked me to the meadow where I sat upon my restless gray mare. Long gone were the iron chains, ripped from his muscular chest, releasing him from his eternal prison. His golden orbs were like twin candles in a dimly lit saloon, searching for the traitor within me. The moon broke through the clearing, hacking a ray of white as the change twisted both man and beast, I sighted my Winchester, Liquid Silver is my name. – Rhonda Lee
  23. His hair is turning silver. He has a slight limp from too many broken bones and bruises along the way. The spirit in his smile still makes people laugh, everybody knows him. That old cowboy is the icon of the west. – Tommy Johnson
  24. Little blue butterflies drank from the water filled wagon tracks after a spring rain. Between the tracks were some paw prints with more butterflies. My Grandfather knelt down and made a sweeping motion with his hand. He looked up as we sat on the wagon seat and said, “Big panther made these, I’m guessing the one we heard scream.” – Tommy Johnson
  25. The Painted Lady vanished one summer’s day, round and round her paddle turns, drifting precariously down the mighty Mississippi. Long gone are the sounds of rowdy cowboys, smoked filled saloons, and tinny songs of the Old West, late-night gamblers and calico queens are nothing but a fragment of my imagination. Silence now fills her moldy bow, once in a while a groan may rumble from her wooden hull. I gaze at the unknown shadow that haunts me through the shards of glass. – Rhonda Lee
  26. Clutching her shawl, she turns from the stick-fashioned crosses. Prairie grass peeks through the snow at her feet. No money for flowers, she left prayers at each grave site. She returns to her cabin and dries her skirts by the hearth, alone. – Stacy Troilo
  27. At high noon, Wayne walked into the saloon with his revolver. Taking a shot of whisky, he snatched Nelly from her brother. “I want to make my own decisions,” Nelly confessed to Wayne. Nelly rode off into the sunset with Wayne, and she managed his ranch until she died five years later. – Jennifer Phillips Denny
  28. I took a slow deep breath and tried to focus only on my target area like Uncle Willow kept telling me. Making this shot was doubly important as we needed the meat and I desperately wanted to prove to Unc I could use his bow in spite of my white father’s scoffing. I let fly without noticing the leaf stems in the way. As my shaft rattled between the buck’s antlers I heard Unc’s giggles and I knew it would be a long trudging hike back to my family’s cabin. – Rick Breeden

The Greatest Western Never Told Writing Contest – sponsored by High Hill Press and Brett Cogburn

Here you go – the “why,” the “how,” the “what,” and the “what for,” about the greatest, latest writing contest to hit the web in, well, the last second or two…

I’ve long wanted to write Western novels that could eclipse the standard, formulaic, shoot-em up genre fiction that so many readers have come to expect from any book with a Western title.  Why can’t a Western address social issues?  Why can’t a Western be more about characters and the trials and tribulations of life, rather than a morally and physically invincible white-hatted gunfighter rescuing the damsel in distress from the wicked, power-hungry villain in the black hat?  Isn’t a good book or story simply good no matter the setting?  Despite my attempts at creating literary quality Western short stories and novels, a friend of mine recently taught me a great lesson.  This native Texan friend is no professional writer, but he may have sired one of the greatest Western stories of all time.  At the very least, he says it all without saying too much – no minor feat at all.

His story has no title, has never been published, and certainly has received no critical acclaim.  Here you go, a “My Two Cents” exclusive – the greatest Western never told (hang your head in shame All the Pretty Horses and Lonesome Dove).

“The horse died.  My saddle rotted and my stirrups fell into the creek.  The Indians shot my partner through the hat.  The End.” – Wallace Johnston, Amarillo, TX

Can you get any more Western than that?  The entire horde of Western movies and scores of Louis L’Amour and Ernest Haycox stories absorbed over the span of my life flashed through my mind as I read Mr. Johnston’s tale, and I understood its meaning as if in a vision.  Ah, such simplicity masking the overall complexity of the metaphors and allegory.  He pokes fun at the genre, while at the same time paying homage to it.  His clever use of stereotypical cowboy plotting destroys my notions that pulp fiction and Saturday afternoon matinee cowboy horse opera can’t be art.  In so few words, the story says it all.  It may be the mold by which all further Westerns are measured against, or should be.  An outline, if you will, of perfect construction and writing – as sparse as an Arizona desert, but at the same time filled to the brim with cool, clear meaning.

In all seriousness, I find this little piece strangely effective and enjoyable.  Not only does it have lessons to teach about editing, and the impact of words, but it also reminded me not to strain so hard trying to create a masterpiece, but to simply write a good story the way I like to write them.  The author reminded me that despite all the clever characters I attempt to create and portray, and all the philosophical depth I strive for, a story is never more than just that… a story.

Hats off to you, my friend.  Thanks for reminding me not to take writing so seriously.

IN THE SPIRIT OF JOHNSTON’S MASTERPIECE, I’M GOING TO HOLD A WRITING CONTEST IN CONJUNCTION WITH HIGH HILL PRESS.  I dare those of you out there stranded upon the barren wastes of the web to top Johnston’s story.  Can you write a better Western using no more words than he did?  There are short stories, short-shorts, and flash fiction.  Perhaps we can create a new form – the Western Mini.  Go ahead, dare to be bold and leave your stories in the comments box.


1. Use no more than four sentences (not counting “The End”).

2. Multiple entries are allowed.

3.  Western / Old West topics are a must.

4. The contest closes 9/23/12 at the last stroke of midnight (0oooh!  Dramatic, huh?).

5. No poetry, and please, no excerpts from novels where you make what should be ten sentences into four with creative punctuation.  Please adhere to the spirit and intent of the contest.  I know a lot of you want to show off your skills and work, but do so by writing something exceptional in the form we want.  We need four-sentence stories with the wording carefully chosen.  That is the fun and educational part of trying to write a western story in four sentences – sparsity of words and those words having an impact.

6. I, Brett Cogburn, get to be the sole, judge, jury, and executioner… I mean congratulator.  Although, fan comments will be taken into consideration, and death threats will assure entries of winning.

7. WINNERS WILL BE POSTED ON A NEW BLOG POST THE WEEK AFTER THE CONTEST CLOSES.  An email address will be given for the winners to send their hometown info and bios.

Grand Prize: [This is really cool.]


I will pick one winner, and maybe multiple winners, to receive a free, signed copy of their choice of my books.  I will also post the winner’s story in it’s own blog post with an interview of the author, as well as putting it on my author FB page (every little bit of advertising helps for those of you who are aspiring authors). Some top notch successful western authors have agreed to post their western minis throughout the coming days.  Pay attention to what they do, and see if you can top them.


check out High Hill Press @

Cactus Country’s Blog @

Brett Cogburn @ or

Dusty Richards @

John D. Nesbitt @

P.S… And in the spirit of enlightenment, I’ll close with one last bit of wisdom passed on to me years ago by another sage of the pen and pistol.  His name eludes me, but his words still ring true.  ”Shooting a pistol may be just like pointing your finger, but then again, you might be surprised what you actually hit if your finger were to go off.”




Bang For Your Buck At WWA Convention, 2012

Release date – Sept. 1, 2012, Kensington

I just got back from attending the 2012 WWA Convention at Albuquerque, NM.  As usual, there were lots of great folks there, plenty of booze, a bit of history, and a never-ending supply of good conversation.  For those of you aspiring to be the next bestseller, I would strongly urge you to make it to the convention at Las Vegas next year.  It’s a hell of a platform for writers to build a career and to meet lots of other people who share a love of things Western.  In fact, there’s so much bang for your buck that there should have been pistol smoke on the air (Any reports of actual gunsmoke are just a viscious rumor, and I deny any participation in said events or legal liability).

For those of you who don’t know, it was one of these very same conventions that provided the platform for me to get my foot in the door in the publishing business.                Two years ago, I made plans to attend the WWA Convention at Knoxville, TN.  The financial means required to make one of those week-long events can be challenging for working folks, and I started to back out on taking the trip the very morning I was supposed to head out for Knoxville.  I told my wife that I didn’t want to wipe out our meager bank account just to take a long shot at getting published.  She threw a fit, and to make a long story short, I jumped in my pickup and drove thirteen hours to Knoxville (I wouldn’t tackle her if she had a frying pan in her hand and I had a gun).  In the end, I sold my first book to Kensington Publishing and acquired an agent two days after I returned home from Knoxville.  That’s not bad for a guy that had never even tried to sell a manuscript.  I’ve now sold three books to NY companies, one small press short story collection, multiple national magazine articles, and have several more deals currently in the works.  All my success stemmed from one little gamble I made by attending a WWA convention.

Available now from High Hill Press/Cactus Country

Publishing is a tough business right now with very few slots available for aspiring authors, but there is always a legitimate chance of achieving your goals for those who are truly determined to succeed.  I heard a little scuttlebutt from my agent that a couple of writers impressed her enough for her to ask for manuscripts – a giant step in getting published.  I’m sure there are even more success stories from the convention that I didn’t hear.  This is America, land of opportunity.  Don’t let the “doom and gloom” sorts get you down.   Join the Western Writers of America if you haven’t already.  Write until you write well, and get off your butt and make the next convention.

I’m looking forward to meeting ya’ll in Las Vegas next year, or stop by and give me a shout at My Two Cents, my blog, if you like Old West history and articles and interviews from the publishing world.

Release date – Nov. 1, 2012, Pinnacle

I want to give a special shout-out to Candy Moulton and her first convention as the wagon boss of this outfit.  Great job.  Don’t think your hard work isn’t noticed and appreciated.

May your horse always know the way home,