An occasional look at the West, wild and otherwise, in fiction and nonfiction, comics, moving pictures, radio, music, and in ways yet determined or created. Caveat lector: Irregular postings from The Woodstove Whittlers and Wrangling Association may include a tall tale whose veracity may be difficult to ascertain, but whose sincerity should never be doubted. This blog may go on unexpected hiatus due to natural disasters, stampedes, seasonal roundups, or spontaneous potluck suppers. (Oh, and everything here is copyright Duane Spurlock unless otherwise noted.)
George Lewis Rickard, known as Tex, died January 6, 1959—four days after his 59th birthday.
He was a true entrepreneur. He launched the New York Rangers franchise of the National Hockey League in 1926. He owned the team until his death.
Tex was the primary force behind building the third incarnation of Madison Square Garden in 1925. It was located at Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets in Manhattan.
Rickard was an innovator. Between 1921 and 1927, Tex raised the popularity of boxing by promoting a number of fights for “The Manassa Mauler,” world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey. For the Dempsey-Charles Carpentier bout in 1921, Tex was responsible for the first live radio broadcast of a title fight and the first million-dollar fight.
Tex promoted the July 4, 1910 Fight Of The Century in Reno, Nevada, between former heavyweight champion and “Great White Hope” Jim Jeffries and reigning heavyweight Jack Johnson. 15,760 fans paid $270,775 to watch the bout. Tex sold the film rights to the match for $101,000.
In 1906, while running a saloon in Goldfield, Nevada, Tex organized the first boxing matches in that state.
After moving to Alaska in 1895 during the Gold Rush, Tex earned and lost several fortunes. As owner of The Northern Saloon in Nome, he befriended famous lawman and gunman Wyatt Earp. And in 1900, he met down-on-his-luck bareknuckle boxer Jean St. Vrain—an encounter that would lead to a very different sort of fight.
You can read about the results of their meeting in FIGHTING ALASKA, a Fight Card book, now in paperback, by clicking here.
Western fans may be interested in my new tale, Fighting Alaska, an entry in the Fight Card series. Although it focuses on a NorthWestern setting, its action begins in the Texas Panhandle.
Set in 1900, Fighting Alaska tells the tale of a reluctant fighter's trip to the Alaskan gold rush. On the way, he encounters a fictional hero who may be recognized by fans of TV westerns from the late 1950s and early 1960s, as well as historical folks like Wyatt Earp, Rex Beach, and Tex Rickard.
You can find the ebook version now at Amazon. You can reach it by clicking here. (For those who prefer paper and ink over Kindle pages, the print version should be available soon.)
You can also find my article on writing Fighting Alaska, "A Fighter's Trail to the Alaskan Gold Rush," at the Fight Card site. Read the article to find out why Charles Bronson's photo is included with this post. Click here to visit the site and see the article.
Allan Vaughan Elston was a writer for the pulps--remembered primarily today as a writer of westerns--who also wrote for TV. Apparently, according to the Wyoming Author's Wiki, he's claimed by Wyoming, although he was born July 28, 1887 in Kansas City, Missouri, and died October 21, 1976 in Santa Ana, California. The Wyoming Author's Wiki page also includes a nice listing of Elston's books.
His papers are housed by the UCLA Special Collections at the Charles E. Young Research Library. You can find a tidy biographical summary at the Social Archive maintained by the University of Virginia. Elston lived a varied and interesting life.
Elston wrote extensively for the pulps. However, the passage from The Sheriff of San Miquel I quote below originally saw print in the Toronto Star Weekly, a newspaper supplement, of December 18, 1948. It was later published in book form by J.B. Lippincott Company in 1949. That's my source for this example of vigorous pulp prose. Elston demonstrates his mastery and his confidence by describing in a very elegant manner a character who could easily be described in a moment with clichés:
. . . through the veins of each ran generations of an impulse called sporting blood. Alfredo was a Mexican of the ruling class, directly descended from the original Conquerors. He was only twenty-eight years old, with a face smooth, olive and gentle, a mustache thin and black, flashing dark eyes and mellow, courteous speech. In build he was slight, in feature delicate, in dress quietly elegant. Nothing visible to the eye gave evidence that he was sheriff of San Miguel County. Being a scion of los ricos and the owner of a great rancho, he had no need for the pay of a sheriff. But he liked hazard and excitement. That too was in his blood. His trimly fitting vest showed no badge. The badge was in his pocket, along with his cigarillos and watch. His slender waist showed no belt or gun. But a gun was on him somewhere, and upon certain occasion Alfred Baca had been known to produce it with eye-baffling celerity. His real weapons were dignity, self-confidence and a reputation for being utterly fearless. Once he'd walked into this very bar to arrest an outlaw. Showing no gun, he'd merely taken from his pocket a sheriff's badge and exposed it in the palm of his hand. "I am Alfredo Baca. You will follow me, senor." Whereupon, taking obedience for granted, he had turned his back on the outlaw and walked three blocks to the carcel. "After you, senor." And the wanted man, two guns and all, had marched sullenly in.
Iron Men and Silver Stars
Gold Medal, Greenwich, Conn. (Fawcett Publications: 1967)
Donald Hamilton is known among PBO readers and Gold Medal collectors as a writer of vigorous prose, dramatic situations, careful plotting, well-delineated characters with realistic, human personalities and reactions. He's best known as the creator of the Matt Helm series of thrillers. But he's also a writer of westerns.
Based on this last qualification -- and probably to capitalize on the popularity of the Helm novels -- Fawcett had Hamilton edit a western anthology, Iron Men and Silver Stars.
The collection opens with a slight piece by the editor about writing westerns, originally published in the Western Writers of America's April 1956 issue of The Roundup. But everything that follows that preface is a fine example of solid writing by masters of the short prose form. I'll share a few opening paragraphs to demonstrate the energetic, engaging qualities of the writing in this book:
"Green Wounds," Carter Travis Young
He was a big, easy man with a way of relaxing completely that was rare in Burt Haskins' experience. Strangers just didn't settle down on the other side of the sheriff's scarred oak desk and act like they'd come home! (p. 11)
"Epitaph," Tom W. Blackburn
The man in overalls could run like a rabbit. He was shifty on his feet and fast as hell, but he was a sitting duck, just the same. Like the shot Jack Dall had put through his hat inside the Pioneer Bar when the fellow had loudly claimed the marshal of Fort Sand was a saloon marshal, Dall's shots here on the street were precisely planted. A warning, a chastisement, stinging the man's heels, driving him to a more frantic retreat. There was only one way to rule a turbulent town.
"In the Line of Duty," Elmer Kelton
The two horsemen came west over the deep-rutted wagon road from Austin, their halterless Mexican packmule following like a dog, its busy ears pointing toward everything which aroused its active curiosity.
"Coward's Canyon," John Prescott
Jimmy Conroy's mouth was dry and sour in an acid-like way and the jogging of his horse intensified it in some way. The bullet-laden bandoliers, crossing at his breastbone, the big Frontier Colt, slapping at his thigh, and the buck-loaded double shotgun in his scabbard, all dragged their weight upon him in a nagging way, and failed to provide him with the assurance he thought he should expect of them. If he alone of the posse had felt this weight of fear he might have drawn sustenance from the others, but in three days they had lost two men from ambush, and he could tell they all felt the thing by now.
Each of these paragraphs sets a stage for a compact drama that will engage the reader in a narrative as compelling as a novel-length work, but with fewer words. To simply call these pieces short stories denies the energy and craft evident in each. They are all small but potent bursts of narrative magic.
Once upon a time, the western short story ruled the publishing market. Tons of ink and paper were devoted to satisfying the reading public's desire for more western fare.
Options for placing western short stories are far fewer now. But the examples in Iron Men and Silver Stars provide a picture of a time -- late in the heyday, to be sure, but still viable at the time -- when the western short story still commanded respect in the mainstream publishing industry.