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"Boots" & Saddles - a Western Miscellany

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In tribute to Boots Reynolds, a fortean look at the Western Mythos. From the Files of the River Journal's Surrealist Research Bureau

“Better smile when you say that, pardner!”

Those classic sardonic words from the 1902 Owen Wister novel “The Virginian” was but the opening salvo in the building of the Mythos of the Western Frontier. Featuring the strong, silent stranger with a six-gun, it saw its greatest surge in the 30s and 40s with the pulp novels of Louis L’ Amour, Zane Grey, and yes, Texan Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian), whose shoot-em-up western tales far outnumbered his sword and sorcery sagas. (His friends Clark Ashton Smith and H. P. Lovecraft nicknamed him “Two-Gun Bob.”) 

The films of John Ford and others cemented the mythos and raised it to archetype status, though my own favorites would include Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece The Wild Bunch, Shane, Valdez is Coming, and possibly even (for a Fortean like myself) Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. 

It’s fascinating to speculate that Butch and Sundance might have escaped their final, Bolivian shoot-out and a local Spokane resident seemed to have the best shot at being the still-living bandit Butch for a number of reasons too long to get into here. (Check out “Robert Leroy Parker” online for the reasons why many believe he was actually Butch Cassidy.) Alas however, one must go where the evidence leads us and the sad, inescapable fact is that the Pinkerton Detective Agency actually intercepted and read all of Butch’s and Sundance’s letters to their families and friends, including those from Bolivia, and their chatty missives all ceased totally after that final, bloody shoot-out.

I’ve told the tale in a column here before of the not-so-heroic O.K. Corral Gunfight, and how reading the official inquest of the incident (easily available at a number of online sites) can only lead one to the conclusion the killings were the result of a squabble between the Earps and Clantons for control of Tombstone’s lucrative gambling concessions. Far from the Earps being the outnumbered underdogs (5 to 4) of lore, it should be noted that one of the Clantons was unarmed, one was trapped on a wildly bucking bronco when the first shots were fired, and one was cut down immediately by notorious gambler Doc Holliday, who fired the first shot. So in the first seconds the Earps actually outnumbered the Clantons 4 to 2. History remember, is written by the victors.

The wealthy perpetrators of the infamous Johnson County War, along the Wyoming/Montana border, got away virtually scot-free. Though in films it’s usually portrayed as a victory for the little guy, as in virtually all of the Old West sagas truth was, and is still, the first casualty. That Johnson County War was immortalized in a number of Western films (the best of the bunch starred Tom Berenger) but is perhaps rightly or wrongly remembered for being one of the worst films ever made, Heavens Gate, which caused the downfall of the studio that financed it (United Artists) and cost some $50 million to make ($200 million in today’s money). I agree, by the way. I watched the whole three hours of it, boggled by its ineptitude, flabbergasted nearly beyond endurance, in stunned awe of its sheer... weirdness, with scenes hanging on the screen far past their usefulness, interest or reason.

The women of the Old West, too, deserve far more respect and recognition and need to have their stories told more fully. Many years ago I read a small press chapbook, Calamity Jane’s Letters to her Daughter and it was heartbreaking, reminding me these Old West ladies were real, living flesh and blood women in a violent, hardscrabble world, not the painted caricatures we’ve come to ignore, gloss over, idealize or place on an impossible pedestal. Etta Place for example: what a subject for an enterprising investigative biographer. Lover of the Sundance Kid, who leaves him in Bolivia shortly before his death, what stories could she tell? What letters and memories are even now lying dust-covered in some great-great-granddaughter’s trunk?

Mark Twain, to my mind, though not strictly in the Western Mythos tradition, with the stories “Roughing It” and others fits in comfortably within the mythos, and I agree with Norman Mailer, I believe it was, who said, “American Literature begins and ends with Huckleberry Finn.” 

Boots Reynolds is another authentic, classic writer/artist of the Old West Mythos. I first met him years ago when he donated a piece of his artwork to the local Disabled American Veterans Chapter. He appeared to step out of the pages of my beloved pulps, out of Louis L ‘Amour or Zane Grey, and it was an honor to shake the firm hand and catch the smile and the twinkle in the eye of a real American Cowboy. Hope you like this column, Boots!

‘til next time, keep spreading the word: Soylent Green is People! All Homage to Xena!

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Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

Tagged as:

Boots Reynolds, Surrealist Research Bureau, Western mythos, Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid, OK Corral

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