A California Adventure

We were young. We had worked for a year. It was time for a vacation and we had planned it for months. We were going west to sightsee and scuba dive in the Pacific Ocean. My brother-in-law Russell Spoor had introduced me to diving with the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus the previous fall. We had weekend dived in the clear waters of the southern Missouri lakes Bull Shoals and Table Rock many times and felt we were ready for bigger things.
Tablerock

Me (on the left) and Russell after a scuba dive in Table Rock Lake. Table Rock Dam is in the background.

 

It was 1962, and for several years the popular underwater diving adventure television program, Sea Hunt, starring Lloyd Bridges, had captivated viewers. For you youngsters, he is the father of movie stars Jeff and Beau Bridges.

Russ had taken a scuba training class in Kansas City. He had shown me the basics and I had researched all the current publications I could find and bought some gear. We had talked about diving in the ocean and perhaps exploring the American River in California.  The discovery of a gold nugget in the American River started the gold rush of 1849.  That fact was not lost on us.

Rattlesnake_Bar_1910

Closeup of map from American River & Natomas Water & Mining Company – 1910.
http://insuremekevin.com/1910-map-of-water-canals-in-sacramento-and-placer-counties/#hEc0ESMgwgdloJKw.99
Full map of area here: 1910 American River Canal Map

 

 

We scheduled our vacations to start in mid-July. Joined by our wives, we loaded scuba gear and luggage in Russ’s convertible and headed west. The first stop was Pikes Peak. That red Chevy took us all the way to the top. Royal Gorge, the Painted Desert, and the Grand Canyon were next. We visited Boulder Dam and took time for a swim in Lake Mead. We zoomed right on through Las Vegas. After a drive through the desert we stopped to stay overnight in a quaint little town named Yermo, California. I don’t remember many of the places we stayed at. My wife remembers staying in Yermo because the older lady that checked us in gave us some cookies, but told us we could not eat them in the motel rooms.

The next day we went through Los Angeles and on to Fillmore, California. There, we were guests of our aunt and uncle who lived on the Spalding Ranch. The ranch was a part of the historical Rancho Sespe. The aunt was my mother’s twin sister (see The Battle of Beecher’s Island). Her husband managed the citrus packing plant on the ranch just west of Fillmore.

We had a busy agenda visiting Hollywood, Pacific Ocean Park, Knotts Berry Farm, and of course we spent some time on the beach. We spent a long day at Disney Land.

Finally the time came to go fishing and scuba diving in the ocean. Our uncle and his brother took us out in their boat. Russ owned two wet suits that we had used winter diving in fresh water. We knew because of the extra buoyancy of the wet suits in saltwater we needed weighted belts. We bought weight belts and special abalone prying tools. With my uncle and his brother, we started for the ocean before daylight, stopping for a big breakfast at a truck stop restaurant.

We put the boat in at a boat lift on a pier at Redondo Beach. Then we started for an area where we could dive for abalone. Along the way, we fished for bonito fish.

Left to right, me and Uncle Louie Yett in the driveway of the Spalding house showing some bonito fish caught in the ocean near Redondo Beach, California.

Left to right, me and Uncle Louie Yett in the driveway of the Spalding house showing some bonito fish caught in the ocean near Redondo Beach, California.

 

Pretty soon the sea swells began to work on us landlubbers. Russ and I were sharing a deep sea rod. I sat down waiting my turn. I was munching on soda crackers, having read that was a help in combating seasickness. Russ was making fun of me saying, “Look, look, Walt is getting seasick.” I knew Russ well enough to know that he was striving to cover his own nausea. The boat was riding the swells up and down, up and down. Suddenly, Russ threw the rod at me, rushed to the transom, and started upchucking that truck stop breakfast. Luckily, he had already caught a number of good sized bonito.

Eventually, we arrived at the intended diving area. Russ was still mighty green and wisely decided not to go down. I had my sea legs and was in good shape. I came to dive in the ocean and I intended to do it. I put my gear on and went down alone. Not knowing how much weight was needed, I found I was having trouble descending. Rather than go back for additional belt weights, I followed the anchor line down and carried the boat anchor around. I was at a depth of 75 feet according to my wrist-mounted depth gauge. Examining some boulders, I found no abalone. I was seeing lots of fish. A giant manta ray swam above and a bit to the side of me. From fin tip to fin tip it appeared to be approximately 20 feet wide. I thought perhaps the water was having a magnifying effect. Seeing the huge ray helped me decide that I had achieved my goal to dive in the ocean. I went back up to the boat, and we finished out our day fishing for bonito. I researched rays later and read that some species could reach a width of 18 to 22 feet.

We said our goodbyes to our aunt and uncle and left early that morning to visit our cousin and family at Sacramento before journeying home. Little did we know, the adventure was not over! We arrived at their home about mid-afternoon. They had their boat and trailer hooked up ready to go. They said they thought we would enjoy finishing the day out diving and boating in the American River and Folsom Lake.

A short drive brought us to the beautiful waters of the lake. We put the boat into the river near the beginning of the lake. The water was cold and very clear. We busied ourselves exploring the bottom, turning over stones, and picking up some colored ones for our cousin’s rock garden. There was a small cove across the river and several hundred yards down. Our cousins had fished there before, and they were interested in the depth of the water in that cove. They called the area Rattlesnake Bar. You can see it listed on the map above. Since I had used up some of my air in the ocean, I ran out before Russ did. Russ agreed to check it out. The area was several hundred yards from us. Russ said if we took the boat closer he would swim the rest of the way.

We crossed over and dropped anchor in the cove. I dried off, put on a jacket, and watched Russ’s air bubbles on the surface as he made his way toward us. I remarked to the group that he was almost out of compressed air. With the equipment used at the time you could see the air bubbles and gauge the status. He was steadily pulling harder on the regulator. All of a sudden there was a big rush of air and Russ popped to the surface. “I am out of air, but there is something down here that you must see!”

“Aw man,” I argued. “I don’t want to get wet and cold again.”

“You’ve got to see this! It is a stump or mannequin on the bottom, that looks just like a man! I am not getting out of here until you look at it.”

I put my frogman flippers on, donned a mask, climbed on top of the boat cabin, and dived deep while Russ waited on the surface. Twenty-five feet down, I found what had gotten my brother-in-law so excited. Swimming in one pass beside the object, I determined it was a man. The figure was trapped on the bottom by gravel covering the lower portion of his legs. I could see red hair, a glass eye, and a pendent around the neck. The man’s arms were floating in front of him, palms upwards. Russ knew what he saw. He just could not believe it. I came up and quietly said, “It is a person. Now what do we do?”

We all talked it over and decided to go to the park headquarters. Darkness set in by the time we had the boat out of the water and found the headquarters office. Luckily, there was someone there and he called the sheriff’s office. Russ and I reported the discovery and location and thought we had finished our part, but the ordeal was not over. The park person put us all in a conference room with a map on the wall and instructed us to wait for sheriff’s officers.

After an hour or more wait, two sheriff’s deputies showed up. One was smaller in stature and very polite and professional. The second was a large brawny tough guy with a pock marked face and a personality to match. He did most of the talking. “Let’s hear the story,” he said. After we explained again what we found and where we found it. Tough guy leaned in, gave Russ and me a look up and down, and then asked gruffly, “You guys been drinking?” We assured him we had not. He grilled us some more and finally said, “Okay, meet us at Rattlesnake Bar with your diving equipment in the morning and show us where it is.”

“We need to get started back to Missouri, we are about out of vacation time. Also, our air tanks are empty,” Russ informed him.

“You can get your tanks filled in Sacramento and meet us and the patrol about mid-morning at Rattlesnake Bar,” the big deputy said. “We had better find a body there or you guys are going to spend some more time in California,” he added.

We arrived back at our cousin’s home in Sacramento late in the night and went to bed. I don’t know about Russ, but I did not sleep a wink. The deputy’s threat had gotten to me.

 

By morning I had almost convinced myself that it was not a body. We found the divers supply and had our tanks refilled to the standard 2200 psi. The two deputies and the coroner were already at the gravel bar cove waiting when we arrived.

Still wanting to leave as soon as we could, we timidly asked if they would need us to help retrieve the body. The tough guy deputy told us that we could not leave because the sheriff would have papers for us to sign the next day. I knew he still didn’t believe us. He informed us they were experienced divers and certainly did not need our help. That part suited us fine, but staying another day did not.

The coroner gave us a balloon float attached to a long cord. He told us to attach it to the body. I got my gear on. Russ was having trouble with some tangled webbing. I could not wait. I had to know for sure. I grabbed the cord and went over the side. Russ followed, and we easily found the body. I tied the cord to a rock near the body and we went back to the surface. Russ and I withdrew to some boulders near shore and our cousins took their boat back upstream a ways.

The sheriff deputies worked off the patrol boat and the coroner used a small flat jon boat with a transport basket. As we watched from the bank, both boats positioned over the balloon float, and the two deputies dove in.

The retrieval operation assembling at Rattlesnake Bar.

The retrieval operation assembling at Rattlesnake Bar.

 

Not too far into the task the coroner jumped up, stripped to his undershorts, and dove in after them. He came back up with the big deputy in tow. Seems the tough guy got sick and upchucked into his scuba gear. Even though it was a solemn and serious occasion, Russ and I found just a little bit of satisfaction out of that.

 

The coroner told us he would have the discovery papers we had to sign at the mortuary early the next day. We spent the rest of the day with relatives and said goodbye the next morning. We stopped at Placerville to sign the papers and started a marathon drive back to Missouri.

Clipping from the Sacramento Bee newspaper July 1962.

Clipping from the Sacramento Bee newspaper, July 1962.

 

Newspaper accounts later erroneously reported finding the body of Walter Anton Wood in 15 feet of water.  It was actually 25 feet.

 

 

Each year about this time, I think of the young drowning victim and his family. He journeyed so far to meet with a fatal accident. We journeyed so far to accidentally find him.

 

 

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America’s Lion

Two recent mountain lion reports in Tennessee have made the news lately.  They were verified by trail camera recordings.  The first was in western Tennessee in the Clarksville area. The second was just west of Nashville.

 

I would not have taken much notice, except for the fact that several years ago my daughter had reported the sighting of a mountain lion east of Nashville in Wilson County.  She almost hit one with her car.  It bounded right in front of her, and she had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting it.  When she reported the incident, she was politely told: “Hun, there hasn’t been a mountain lion in Tennessee for a century.”

 

Now, my daughter had spent a summer working at the St. Louis Zoo as she attended a nearby college.  She has watched as I called a mountain lion out of his lair at the zoo with a rendition of a rabbit’s death scream.  It stood and watched us through the fence for quite a while.  She had also observed a mountain lion at a large cat refuge in Florida.  I guess my point is, a mountain lion in the wild looks the same as one in captivity, and she knew she saw a mountain lion.

My daughter emailed me this picture as she was proofreading my blog. I quote: "How's this for 'observing' ;-)" she quipped. I suppose "observed and interacted with" would be more appropriate descriptions for her time at the wildlife refuge.

My daughter emailed me this picture as she was proofreading my blog.  “How’s this for ‘observing’ ;-)” she quipped. This is her feeding a mountain lion with supervision from one of the trained experts.  I suppose “observed and interacted with” would be a more appropriate description for her time at the wildlife refuge.

 

As I noted in my book Tales From Clear Creek, my interest in mountain lions began as a young boy.  I was mesmerized by the stories my grandfather told of hunting them in New Mexico.  Mountain lions are called by many names, including: cougar, puma, mountain lion, and panther.  Granddad’s name for them was panther.

 

In 1956-57, I was working at a service station in El Dorado Springs, Missouri… A milk hauler pulled his truck up to the gas pump and got out of the truck to talk to me as I fueled it up.  He said, “I saw something this morning that I don’t think many people will believe.  A mountain lion came out in the road in front of me.  It was near Clear Creek, out by Pape.”  I had no reason to not believe him.  I knew him.  I gassed his truck each day.  The gentleman was sober and not a prankster.  He traveled the same road each day picking up cans of milk from farms and delivering the cans to the local cheese plant.  He had no way of knowing of my interest in mountain lions.

 

Though the years other sightings of mountain lions were reported in that area and other areas of Missouri.  A lady I worked with in recent years told me that in 1968 she and her mother were driving on a road near Pointers Creek in Osage County, Missouri when they saw a mountain lion walk out in front of them and then turn and walk back into the brush.

During the 1980’s I worked and lived in Howard County, Misssouri.  Several times people I knew reported sightings of mountain lions.  Back in my home area the editor of the ElDorado Springs Sun, reported seeing one.

Each time a sighting was claimed, the Missouri Conservation Department would issue a statement saying there were no mountain lions in Missouri.  They always finished the denial with a statement that killing a mountain lion in Missouri was prohibited.  I, as many others, viewed the contradictory statement with a certain degree of mirth.  But, after thinking, it over I realized they about had to approach it that way.  They could not have someone killing one just to prove it existed.  They needed legitimate proof.

In October 2002 they got it, from a most unlikely place.  A car struck and killed a mountain lion on the interstate in Kansas City, Missouri.  It had deer hair in its stomach, as a wild cat should have.  Scarcely a year later a car struck one on US 54 highway near Fulton in Callaway County, Missouri.  It also had deer remains in its stomach.  The conservation department had that mountain lion stuffed, and it is on display at the Runge Nature Center in Jefferson City, Missouri.

Mountain Lion 006

 

The wide use of trail cameras has proved that the mountain lion is back in Missouri; if it really ever left.  Kentucky, Tennessee, Nebraska and Kansas are seeing an increase of mountain lion reports.

 

There are primarily three reasons for the increase in lion sightings.

First, the deer population in these areas has increased in recent years.  Deer are the number one food for mountain lions. The varmints, dogs, house cats, and squirrels it catches are just tasty snacks.  After a mountain lion gorges on a fresh deer or elk kill, it will drag the carcass into the brush.  Leaves and trash will be scratched over the carcass to protect it so the mountain lion can return and feed.  Should a person find a suspected mountain lion kill as I have described, it should be left alone and reported to authorities.  The mountain lion could still be near.  It would be dangerous to tamper with its lunch!

Second, as a local mountain lion population increases, young cats are forced out to search for a territory of their own.  It would not be unusual for a young male to travel a hundred or more miles.

Third, humans are getting out into remote areas more.  Hiking, biking, and camping is on the increase.  The reclusive American lion is getting conditioned to seeing, hearing, and smelling humans.

 

My mother worried that I was taking my grandfathers mountain lion hunting tales too seriously.  But later, she unwittingly told one of her own… About 1910 my maternal grandparents homesteaded 320 acres on a mesa in southern Quay County, New Mexico.  It was south of Plaza Larga Creek Canyon and near the start of Alamosa Creek.  They built a dugout to live in near an existing wagon road.  Native Americans were still using the road occasionally.  Since my grandfather was a carpenter and blacksmith, he built a sturdy roof and wood door.

One day as the children were playing outside near the door, my mother said a “wildcat approached.”  Her mother hurried the children inside and bolted the door.  Mother said the cat made strange sounds like a bird chirping.  I always figured she was talking about a bobcat.  Several years ago my daughter called me as she was visiting the Florida animal refuge.  She said, “Dad!  Listen to the sounds this mountain lion makes as it paces back and forth in its pen.”  She was just a few feet away from the large cat, and held her cellphone up to catch the sound.  It was the sound of a chirping bird!  Mother was not talking about a bobcat.

 

As mountain lions become more numerous, so have encounters with humans.  Should you encounter one, do not approach it, do not run from it, (they pull their prey down from behind), back away slowly.  Make a lot of noise, make yourself look larger than you are by spreading your coat or sweater out.  Never make direct eye contact.  They seem to consider it a challenge.  If one attacks,… fight.  Use a stick, rock, knife or even your fists.

 

Yes, I have hunted mountain lions twice but have yet to bag one.  I wanted to hunt mountain lions in Southern New Mexico, where my grandfather hunted.  So, I hired an outfitter in the Gila River headwaters area.  He was more of a trail rider than hunter. Nevertheless, I got over some of the same ground my grandfather hunted.  A year later I traveled to Otero County and had a fun time trying to call one in using a call that mimicked the bleat of a fawn in distress.  Instead, I called up a herd of mule deer that quickly left when they figured me out.  It was a nice experience and I am sort of glad my mountain lion is still roaming the mountains of Southern New Mexico.  I guess you could say he’s still roaming that branch of the Sundown Trail.

 

Want to learn more about mountain lions in the Southwest? Suggested reading:

Hunting American Lions
By Frank C. Hibben

Ben Lilly’s Tales of Bears, Lions And Hounds
Edited by Neil B. Carmony

Mountain Lions In Missouri
at Missouri Conservation Department Official Website

Cougars In Tennessee
at TN.gov

Categories: hunting, outdoors | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m offering personalized copies of my latest book for Christmas!

 

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

For the holidays, I’m offering autographed copies of The Shenandoah Sharpshooter.

A great gift for the history buff or bookworm in your life – or a gift to yourself.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000446_00067]

Read the first chapter of The Shenandoah Sharpshooter HERE.


 

 

 

While the Civil War burns around him, a young man fights a battle of his own.

It is strange how a man’s best-made plans can change. Stephen Purcell’s quiet, happy life changed in an instant of violence. Then he found himself on the run. But before he left the war-torn Shenandoah Valley, Purcell vowed to kill the man who changed it all . . . an evil man named Striker.With the best horse in the valley underneath him, Purcell headed west with only a knife and a sack of potatoes. The buckskin jacket he wore was the only reminder of his loved ones that were so horrifically taken from him. Early in his journey, Purcell’s promise to a dying soldier gave him a weapon, a mission and some battle scars.

To save himself and his horse, Purcell hid in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He did not know how he would do it, but he would kill Striker. Along Purcell’s travels, his will would be tested, his life would be challenged, he would learn to trust again, and even find love. His knowledge of the telegraph became a valuable help to new friends and a crucial turning point for the Union army.

A boy becomes a man on a hard road through Confederate lines. Will Purcell’s path lead to destiny or blood? Discover what becomes of the man who finds himself known across the valley as a hardened shootist – a force to be reckoned with – the man they call The Shenandoah Sharpshooter.

Categories: American History, antique guns, Book, Civil War, guns, History | Tags: | Leave a comment

Book Signing This Friday

Book Signing

Recent book signing at the Missouri State Fair

 

I wanted to let the readers of the Sundown Trail Blog know, I will be holding a book signing this Friday, November 6th, from 5-9pm at Hastings in Jefferson City, Missouri.  Below is a copy of the press release.  Hope to see you there.

 

MISSOURI AUTHOR HOLDING BOOK SIGNING THIS FRIDAY

Local author Walt Ryan will be holding a book signing this Friday, November 6th, from 5-9pm at Hastings.  Ryan will be signing copies of his Civil War novel The Shenandoah Sharpshooter.

This exciting hero’s journey follows young Stephen Purcell as he takes to the Blue Ridge mountains to avoid the men who took away his entire life. Armed only with a good horse under him and a will to live, Purcell is tried and tested many times as he heads towards the western frontier. Action, mystery, romance, and surprising turns guide him to his final destination.

“When Walt Ryan spins a tale you can bet he’s shared the same campfires, walked the same dusty streets and watched the same sun rise over the mountains as his characters. Walt’s latest effort is set in a time and place little explored by American western writers, the Shenandoah mountains during the Civil War. Upon finishing it, you will be begging him — as I did — for a sequel.”
– Jim McCarty, Editor of Rural Missouri magazine.

Original painting for the cover art done by Missouri artist Ann Shockley Schafer. The Shenandoah Sharpshooter is available for purchase at Hastings, and online at Amazon.com.

Walt Ryan is an independent author and blogger based in Mid-Missouri. Ryan grew up with an appreciation for the people of the western frontier, then and now. He enjoys writing about them in fact and fiction. Ryan’s many work experiences include mill hand, long haul truck driver, newsletter editor, photographer, writer, electrician, and over the years he worked through the ranks at several consumer cooperatives.

For more information about the author and his latest book, visit Ryan’s blog at http://www.SundownTrailBlog.com.

Categories: Book, Book Signing, Civil War, Missouri | Tags: | Leave a comment

Sod House Memories

Sod House

My sister Mary and I standing on the east side of our sod-walled house probably in the mid 1940’s. Dad and Mom had re-plastered the outside giving it a mottled look. They had re-roofed the house adding dormers.

 

The above picture is of a sod-walled house formerly located southwest of St. Francis, Kansas, in Benkelman township.  The house and farmstead were located on a rise about a mile or so south of the Republican River.  I have heard the farm referred to as “The Downy Place.”  A longtime friend of my late father thought that the house was constructed by the Downy family in about 1910.

 

The walls were constructed of Buffalo Grass sod.  The wiry roots were quite evident when the sod was exposed.  A conventional four-sided wood-shingled roof rested on top of the sod walls.  The floor was of regular pine flooring, attached on floor joists resting on stringer supports above the ground.  The walls were twenty-four to twenty-six inches thick.  The inside of the sod walls were plastered with old-fashioned hog hair reinforced lime plaster, and then painted.  The inside partition walls and ceiling were standard frame lumber covered with a fiber wallboard.  Our family stretched poultry netting wire over the outside and pegged it down.  A cement mix was then troweled over the outside.  This is called stucco.  Earlier plaster without wire reinforcement failed to stick for long periods.

The freezing and thawing action during the winter months would cause the cement stucco to crack and break.  My mother was constantly patching the stucco and worrying about mice and the snakes that would follow.  Her worries were justified.   During a visit to the area several years ago, Merle Moberly, a family friend and neighbor from the past, told of being present during a noon meal when a young rattler peeked over at the junction of the ceiling and the top of an outer wall.  He said that there wasn’t much fuss.  My parents quickly dispatched it and carried it from the house and went on with the meal as if it was a normal occurrence.

 

Mary and I

Close-up from picture above.

I was not born in the sod house, but it is the first home that I can remember. However, my double cousin was born in this sod house.  My next youngest sister Mary and I were born in a frame house on a nearby farm that my parents were renting at the time.  We moved to the sod house farm when she was a baby and I was probably two and one-half years old.  My youngest sister Joan was born near the time this picture was taken.  She too, lived in this sod house as a baby.  She was the first of us born in a hospital.  I remember the emergency run and my mother telling my father he did not have much time to make it.

My sister Mary and I appear in this picture.  I think the picture was taken about 1945 or 1946.  It was taken during the winter.  There are no leaves on the tree near the well and garden, and the cold frame used to start garden plants in the early spring is clearly in disuse.  My sister wears lace-up shoes and warm thick stockings.  I have on an ear-flap cap and overalls.  I quit wearing overalls when I became a self-conscious teenager.  In recent years, I’ve rediscovered the comfort and practicability of bib overalls.

 

At first glance the old sod house looks like something from a hardscrabble district.  If it was, we did not know it.  There were two other similar sod houses in the area that I know of.  One was about a mile southeast of our farm.  It was owned by the Owens family.  It was in very good repair at the time.  I don’t think it exists anymore.  There were many sod houses in the county in the beginning.  The early ones were very rough.  It was a treeless country and lumber for construction just was not available.  Kansas winters can be severely cold.  A sod house is easy to heat in the winter and cool in the summer.  We heated ours with coal and used corn cobs for fuel in the kitchen range.  The hand-husked and gathered corn ears were ran through a mechanical sheller that stripped the grain from the cob and left the cob whole.  I have eaten many a biscuit that was baked to perfection in the oven of a kitchen range using corn cobs for fuel.

A closer look tells us much about life in rural Western Kansas in 1945. To the far right, one end of a solar dryer, commonly called a clothes line, is visible.  The chicken house was beyond that.  The little house with a path was somewhere back there discretely hidden from easy view.

The ball bat with the taped handle leaning against the house indicated we were probably interrupted at play for the picture.  The erosion around the base of the house was not from water but from the relentless currents of wind.  The vines on the east facing windows kept the sun out and helped keep the house cool in summer.  In winter they lost their leaves and let the warm sun in.

The bushel basket of fruit jars in the cold frame were being collected and stored for reuse.  As many farm families did, we canned and preserved much of our table fare.  The hoop with the slat cross was a screen used by my mother to sift the chaff out of wheat.  She washed, then dried the wheat in the cook-stove oven.  She ground the cleaned and dry wheat with a hand powered grinder to make flour for whole wheat bread and pancakes.  We grew and produced most of our own food.  The fertile soil grew a good garden when irrigated from the windmill.

One or two coal-oil lanterns always hung by the side door.  The pail and string mops have significance.  During a windstorm fine particles of sand and dust would come through the smallest of cracks.  After a big blow there was always the chore of swabbing the place down.

 

Side of the sod house.

Close-up of side of the sod house.

The pipe protruding from the roof was a support for the radio antenna wire.  The battery-powered radio was a source of news and entertainment.  The resonant voice of Lowell Thomas reported the events of the war.  “Fibber McGee and Molly” and “Amos and Andy” gave us mirth and laughter.  “I Love a Mystery,” led us on thrilling adventures limited only by our own imaginations.  On this radio I first heard Gene Autry’s “Back in the Saddle Again” and Eddy Arnold singing Tex Owen’s “The Cattle Call.”

With an old guitar I tried mightily to imitate Gene.  My harried mother finally banished me to the outdoors.  Taking refuge on the seat of the John Deere tractor, I plunked away for hours.  I never succeeded in making a recognizable sound.  After awhile the old guitar mysteriously disappeared.

Only the lower part of the small tower for the Delco wind-driven charger is visible in the picture.  Anchored on top of the dormer, the wind-powered generator charged wet cell storage batteries located in the attic.  They in turn furnished six volt, direct current electricity to the radio and to one lone light bulb on the ceiling of the kitchen.  The batteries had to be serviced periodically. How do I remember the apparatus was six volt?  Because, when the wind stopped and the storage batteries ran down, my father took the battery from the old Model A Ford and ran the radio from that battery.

The fact that the storage batteries in the attic had to be checked regularly led me into one of several close calls during an active childhood.  My father went up the ladder and into the dormer to check the water level in the storage batteries.  An adventuresome family cat followed him up the ladder and hid in the attic.  My father left, closing the dormer door.  A few hours later the cat put up a howl to be rescued.  My mother told me to go open the dormer door and let the cat out.  As I opened the door, a gust of wind caught the door and it knocked me off the roof.  I fell headfirst onto the step below, breaking a board.  When I regained consciousness, I was stretched out on a bed with my anxious parents hovering over me.  They took me to Dr. Peck’s office in St. Francis, and after an examination he pronounced that he could find nothing wrong.  However, I carried one shoulder down for several years, finally growing out of it.

 

It was about that time that my grandfather Cole started calling me “Toughie.”  He was already calling my travel-prone older brother “Bigfoot.”  Not long before the fall from the roof, a horse I was riding fell when an embankment caved off.  I threw myself to the side, but the horse rolled on over me.  The old high back saddle kept the horse’s weight off me (a few inches back or forward and I would not be here telling this story).  The horse got up.  I got up, pulled myself back into the saddle, and went about business as usual.

Getting on a horse was a chore for a kid. I could not reach the stirrup with my foot… My brother buckled a harness strap through the fork of the pommel and left it hanging so I could get ahold of it and pull up.  Once up, I could not reach the stirrups from the top side either.  My father finally bought me a youth saddle. Once I had that saddle, life was better.

 

My brother Wayne “Bigfoot,” was the cowboy among us.  He was an irresponsible, happy-go-lucky teenager.  Wayne started running away from home when he was fifteen.  As he explained, “just to see what was on the other side of the hill.”  Finally the folks just let him come and go as he wanted.  He wanted to be a cowboy, and eventually he did work on several ranches in Nebraska, Colorado, and even in Florida.

The Cowboys

The Cowboys
When my older brother Wayne returned home for a while, the first thing he would do was break any unbroken horses that dad had purchased while he was gone. In a few hours he had the big deep-chested gelding doing anything he asked it to do.
The stupid part-Shetland pony was a different story.
Not many days after this picture was taken, I was riding it along the road and a pheasant flew up out of the road ditch. The pony went crazy and dumped me in the gravel. I had a bad wrist spring as a result.

There was almost a ten year gap between Wayne and me.  The folks had lost an eight-year-old girl ten days after I was born.  She evidently died after a long illness from what we now call polio.  My mother had her hands full with an inquisitive, overactive youngster and a runaway teen.  She often said her worry was that I tried or would try to do every thing my older brother did.  And I did, but I never ran away.  I accepted responsibility early and stayed with it.  Subsequently, my work has let me do many things and taken me to some amazing places.  The adventure stories our Tennessee-born, Texas/New Mexico-homesteader grandfather told us no doubt influenced “Bigfoot” and “Toughie,” but in different ways.

 

A windmill in the corner of the barn lot pumped water to two large stock tanks. It was my job to switch the pipe from a full tank to the empty one.  One full tank had to be held in reserve at all times.  In my mind’s ear I still hear the kee-lunk, kee-lunk of the pumping wind mill.  That sound is a heritage of the Plains born.

Rattlers were commonly found on the farm.  When on foot I usually went protected by a couple of vigilant stock dogs.  One dog was named Teddy, because he resembled a bear.  Teddy was a dedicated snake killer.  He would tease a rattler until it struck at him.  The moment the rattler was stretched out from the strike, Teddy would grab it behind its head.  After a few powerful shakes of Teddy’s head, blood would fly and the snake would start coming apart.  I learned to always keep some distance.  Teddy got bit once in a while, but developed an immunity.  Perhaps, the snakes just did not get through his heavy black fur.  Teddy had a litter-mate we called Timmy.  He was an even-tempered dog, but he was not as smart as Teddy.  Teddy was a natural heeler and made a good stock dog.  Timmy ran at the cow’s head and never learned to round up or drive cattle very well.

Teddy the Dog

Teddy the stock dog stands in front of the wood frame building being moved in near the sod house.
We named him Teddy because he looked like a bear. Don’t you agree?

Badgers were common on the farm.  They were destructive and left dangerous holes for the horses to step in.  One time Teddy and Timmy cornered a badger over in the rough land we used for pasture.  He backed up against a soap weed (yucca plant) and proceeded to fight them off.  Growing tired of the fight, he decided to dig himself in.  Dirt and sand flew every direction.  I watched in amazement as he dug while facing the dogs and holding them off.  He was soon out of sight.  Try as they might they could not dig him out.  If you ever get a chance to look at a badger’s feet up close you will see they look like, well sort of look like miniature shovels with claws.

 

Many of my sod house memories are of the different horses we had.  One mare was very gentle.  She would ride me around until she grew tired of it, then she would lie down.  I could kick and holler to no avail.  When I gave up and stomped off toward the house, she would get up and go to the barn.  Another mare learned that when I rode bareback, she could put her head down, give a slight buck, and slide me off over her head.  It seemed to me that she always picked a patch of sand burrs to do it in.  You haven’t experienced pain until you pull imbedded sand burrs out of your hide.  I put a stop to that nonsense when I got tall enough and strong enough to push my saddle on her and jerk the cinch reasonably tight.  We enjoyed many fun rides along the old irrigation ditch to the west of us.  It was constructed by homesteaders in the 1890’s in a failed attempt to irrigate that dry land.

There was a large depression in a field to the southeast of the sod house.  It was thought to be a former buffalo wallow.  After the field had been worked or after a hard rain, my mother would take us arrowhead hunting.  We often found arrowheads at the wallow site.  A young boy didn’t have to stretch his imagination much to picture Roman Nose or Tall Bull hidden in the grass and weeds, bow and arrow in hand, waiting to ambush the varied types of game that frequented a buffalo wallow.  We found large arrowheads and small “bird” sized arrowheads.  That experience and visits to Beecher’s Island whetted my appetite for frontier history.

During the summer our parents would sometimes let Wayne and I sleep outside.  Because of the rattler problem, we were relegated to making our pallets up on the floor of the hay wagon.  We would go to sleep watching the twinkling stars.  In our minds we were cowboys, camping out on a cattle drive.  In my travels I’ve never found skies equal to Kansas skies, night or day.

In later years, I found that the cattle drovers trail called the Western Trail went through our area.  Perhaps trail cowboys “Teddy Blue” and Tom Wray may have driven Texas cattle across those same buffalo grass and sagebrush hills.  Wray Colorado was named for Tom Wray.  He wintered a Texas herd there and became the first settler in the area.

 

My parents sold the sod house farm in 1947 and moved north into Nebraska.  In 1950 we moved to Missouri.  My brother Wayne was married by that time and stayed out west.  Our mother died an untimely death from cancer in 1956.

 

Dad and House

Our father John Ryan with the sod-walled house in the background. He remembered the touring car as being a Starr brand. He did not own the property at the time but was visiting some one living there.
Dad told me he believed the picture was taken in the 1920’s.

 

I drove my father to Cheyenne County, Kansas for a visit in 1958.  The old sod house was gone.  The sod walls had been torn down and returned to the land they were plowed from fifty-some years before.

Homestead

The old sod house homestead on the horizon viewed from the Highland school site. The sod house was gone by the time this picture was taken in 1958.
For more about Highland School, see the Oct. 24, 2012 post Alma’s Fire Shovel.

 

Other House

Another well-kept sod-walled house in the same community. It was the home of the Rollie Owens family. I remember visiting there as a child. Although it was in good repair, no one was living there when I took this picture in 1958.

When we lived there, my father had moved a frame house from a neighboring farm.  That is the building on the house-mover’s trailer in the above picture with Teddy, our dog. My father had placed it near the sod house and used it for a bunkhouse and storage.  That house had been added to and remodeled into a small home.

 

During a summer vacation in the mid-nineties I stopped in Cheyenne County, rented a plane and pilot, and flew over the farmstead on the way to Beecher’s Island.  Sure enough, the outlines of the old buffalo wallow could be seen from the air.  A Google map fly-over today shows a nice modern farmstead. A sprinkler crop irrigation system is used.  I can still make out the outline of the old buffalo wallow.

Photo From Airplane

Photo taken from the airplane flight over the sod house farm. As you can see here, it is now a modern, well-kept farm.
I was pleased that I could plainly see the outline of the old buffalo wallow where we picked up arrowheads. The outline is visible just below the airplane wing strut. The Republican River is in the tree line in the background.

 

The land of my birth still intrigues me.  In fact, I could say my Sundown Trail started there.

 

Categories: History, Kansas, times gone by | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Desperado’s Hidden Gun

1869 Smith and Wesson

Pond .32 Caliber Revolver

 

Manufactured by Lucius W. Pond – Worcester, Massachusetts.  This is a single action belt or pocket revolver made from 1861 to 1870.  It is a .32 caliber, six shot, rim fire cartridge gun.  Pond infringed on a patent owned by Smith and Wesson and lost a lawsuit over it.  He was forced to stamp on the barrels of the remaining inventory of pistols: “Manufactured for Smith and Wesson pat’s April 5, 1855.”  This gun is so marked.

 

One of the desperadoes in my latest book, The Shenandoah Sharpshooter, carried a hidden gun like this one.  On page 162, the criminal Canter goes for his hidden Pond revolver. In an instant Purcell meets the challenge. To read the exciting action surrounding this incident and others, order your copy today.

Set in the Civil war, this hero’s journey follows young Stephen Purcell as he takes to the Blue Ridge mountains to avoid the men who took away his entire life.  Armed only with a good horse under him and a will to live, Purcell is tried and tested many times as he heads towards the western frontier.  Action, mystery, romance, and surprising turns guide him to his final destination.

 

Available on Kindle and paperback here: The Shenandoah Sharpshooter

Read the first chapter in its entirety here: The First Chapter of the Shenandoah Sharpshooter.

 

Categories: American History, antique guns, Civil War, History | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The First Chapter From The Shenandoah Sharpshooter

Front-Cover

 

I am pleased to announce the release of my second book, The Shenandoah Sharpshooter.

This adventure novel takes place during the last year of America’s Civil War.  It begins in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  The fictitious characters are set against a backdrop of real places and real events.

For the most part, the characters are portrayed with the fears, anger, concerns, and emotions of people living the experience of war.  On both Union and Confederate sides there are the good, the bad, those that love, and those that hate.  Although the book is fiction, it is my intent to frame real life as it was.

This is the first book of an intended trilogy called The Coldiron Series.  The other two books are still in the works.  I have released The Shenandoah Sharpshooter to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the ending of the War of the Rebellion.

Here is the first Chapter of the book.  I hope you enjoy it.  The Shenandoah Sharpshooter is available at Amazon in both print and Kindle form.

Amazon.com – The Shenandoah Sharpshooter

 

 


 

The Shenandoah Sharpshooter

Chapter One

Granville Coldiron stood up and brushed the dirt from the knees of his pants. His eyes searched up and then down the valley below. His gray shaggy head moved slowly on his hunched shoulders. Suddenly, he locked in on something in the distance. He squinted at the valley road for a few seconds, shielding his eyes against the mid-morning sun with his hand. “Don’t stand up,” he said to his younger companion kneeling over the potato row. “There are riders coming up the road. Where’s Colonel Ben?”
“He’s tied in the sprouts below the back stone fence. He still has the harness on,” Stephen Purcell answered. “Who are they?”
Ignoring the question, the old man gazed intently down the valley road. He was uneasy. The younger man could tell.
Finally he answered, “They are some of Mosby’s Loudoun County cutthroats, coming back here again. Somebody has told them they missed some stock. I can see at least a dozen of them. Listen close, boy. They’ll be out of sight for a few minutes. When I give the sign, run to Ben, and take him up the hollow where the stock is hidden. Take the sack with the rest of the seed potatoes with you. Don’t leave any tracks.”
“Should I come back?”
“Stay there. Take the harness off Ben, and get ready to run. If they get too close, ride out. Go up into the mountains, you can lose them there. You can circle around, and come back in after a day or two.
“Now Stephen, they may go on without any problem, but if something happens to Eppie and me, you light out. You go west to get away from them. Don’t come back until this damn war is over. Go on across the Alleghenies. Go into West Virginia, or better yet to Pennsylvania. Follow the same route we used to take the mules to Ohio. As long as you’re on that horse you’re safe. He’ll outrun anything they got. Take care of him, and he’ll take care of you.
“This place is your home. We have done signed it over to you. Bos Hartley and Mose both know about it. The banker has the papers. Now you take good care of Eppie’s spring garden. Her garden has tolerable value. You can come back when all this is over.”
The old man turned and looked at the youngster. “Remember what I’ve told you, boy. All right they’re out of sight, get going.” As an afterthought the old man said, “Don’t go onto Massanutten Mountain unless you must. They could trap you against the river or the pike if they was a mind to.” Then he turned and started down towards the house.
Stephen Purcell ran to the sack, snatching it and his buckskin jacket as he went by. Reaching Colonel Ben, he threw the potato sack and jacket across the big chestnut horse’s withers. Jerking the picket rope loose, he grasped a harness hame and threw himself up behind the potatoes. Picking a path over hard ground, he traveled up the draw just below the crown of the hill and out of sight of the road.
The stock pen was under a large rock overhang. It was well-hidden and almost out of sight. The horse, a cow, and two sows had been kept there since the last raid on the farmstead the previous fall. Water trickled through the pens from a spring. Grain for the hogs was carried to the cave in sacks on Colonel Ben’s back. The cow and Ben had been grazed in secluded fields, well away from the farmstead.
Purcell circled around hurriedly and came in from the far side, still trying to hide his tracks. He jumped down and pulled the harness and collar off the horse. He tied the rope to an oak sapling and raced back down the draw. He feared for the old man. Uncle Granville had said, “If something happens to Eppie and me…” Purcell figured Granville was expecting trouble. He disobeyed the order to stay put, without a second thought. His mouth was dry, his chest tight. He wasn’t even conscious of his feet hitting the ground.
Purcell reached the lower stone fence and hurled himself over it. He paused to catch his breath. He heard shouting, followed by the crack of the squirrel rifle, and the thundering boom of a heavy caliber gun. There was more shouting accompanied by three pistol shots. Someone swore loudly. Then silence. Purcell crept along the fence on his knees. As he reached a vantage point over the yard below, he cautiously peered over. The scene below made him sick.
Eppie lay face down in front of the doorstep, the squirrel rifle still clutched in her hands. Granville lay motionless on the ground. A dead man in a Confederate uniform was sprawled a few feet behind his uncle, back against the wood pile, with his unsheathed saber lying across his legs.
Several feet away some of the raiders were standing over the body of another Confederate cavalryman. The woodpile axe lay nearby.
Purcell knew what had happened. The man with the saber had threatened or stabbed Granville. Eppie had grabbed the squirrel rifle and killed him. The other one had shot Eppie. Granville, in a fit of rage, killed Eppie’s shooter with the axe. The raider mounted on the gray horse had shot Granville. The pistol was still in the raider’s hand. He had deliberately put three balls into the old man.
Purcell dropped to the ground. He felt rage and despair. He was helpless, he could do nothing. He had no weapon except the old Green River butcher knife he had been using to cut the potato seedlings. If he only had a gun…
Purcell knew what he would do. He would wait. Wait for his chance. After the first raid, Granville had hidden his heavy old Hawken plains rifle and Ben’s good plantation saddle with some other things under the floor of the house. Purcell planned to retrieve the rifle and saddle after the Rebs left. He vowed that he would hunt down the man with the pistol.
He looked again. Some of the raiders were looting the house. Others were digging graves in the corner of the yard. He slumped down again, unable to watch them bury Eppie and Granville. He fought back tears of grief, and finally the tears came. He sat there for a long time collecting himself.
Suddenly he heard a crackling sound and the smell of smoke reached his nostrils. The raiders were burning the house! The feeling of utter despair filled his gut again. All Granville and Eppie’s belongings, the Hawken, the saddle, any supplies and utensils would be gone.
After a time, he heard the sound of men mounting up. He looked again to observe which way they were going. The bearded leader on the gray horse was sending them out in different directions. They were not leaving. They were searching for him.
Fear welled up in his throat. He fought the urge to jump up and run. The old man’s words came to him. “When you get in a tight spot, don’t panic, keep your wits about you. Act only as fast, or take as much risk as you have to.” Purcell would crawl back down the fence and save his strength for a last chance sprint to the horse.
He crawled fifty yards, and looked through a hole between stones in the fence. Two riders were making their way toward him. One stopped at the stone spring house. One rider poked the door open with the barrel of his carbine. The other rider kept on coming up the fence.
That rider stopped a few feet down the fence to wait. Purcell slipped the knife from the sheath, gathered his right leg under him, and flattened against the fence. His mind raced. No, that would not work. He put his knife back. His only chance was to wait them out.
They came nearer and stopped on the other side. The one with the gravely voice eased his horse over against the fence. He was directly across the fence from Purcell. Purcell could see a patch of horse hair through the hole between the stones. If the rider looked over the fence he would see him.
The other raider said, “They got a cow hid somewhere, there was butter and a crock of fresh milk in the spring house.”
“Yeah,” Gravel Voice answered. “Striker said he’d been told they had some stock hid out as well as a hell of a good horse. The horse is a big Kentucky Saddler. He wants the horse. Striker is still a huntin’ money, too. He says there is a boy here in his late teens. He wants to make the kid tell him if there is any money around. He says after we git the information, we need to kill the kid ‘cause he knows we killed the old folks.”
“I’ll tell you what I think of that. Striker can do his own killing. I’ve had enough of shooting helpless old ladies and old men. I ain’t for hurting no youngster.”
“Yeah, me too,” Gravel Voice responded. “That old man wasn’t exactly helpless, though. One on one, I would have bet on the old man. Against any of us. Did you see the way he threw that axe? He just sort of scooped it up and brought it over his shoulder. It just sort of slipped out of his hands, right through the air. Bennington never knew what hit him.”
“They say the old man was was a mountain man from the west,” the other rider explained. “Bennington shouldn’t have shot the old lady. She’d done all the damage she could do.”
Gravel Voice gestured toward the disturbed earth farther up the hill. “They were using that horse to scratch up this potato patch. See that double shovel. The dirt on it ain’t all dry, yet. The kid’s hidin’ out. I wish him luck. I hope him and his horse git away. A Kentucky Saddler is too damn good of a horse for the likes of Striker to be ridin’, anyhow. We better be movin’ on, or he’ll be hollering at us.”
Purcell waited until they were well away from him. Then he worked on down the rock fence. At the end, he snaked over the wall and crawled into the underbrush, retracing his earlier route.
When Purcell reached the overhang he went to the pig pen. He opened the panel gate. The hogs would survive if the raiders didn’t find them. He let the cow loose. Grass was coming on and the cow was heavy with calf. The milk flow was about ready to dry up, anyhow.
Looking at the small sack of seed potatoes, he realized that he had some scant provisions after all. He tied the open end of the gunny sack securely with twine, then he distributed the potatoes evenly in both ends of the sack. Picking it up in the middle he placed the sack over the horse’s shoulders. He pulled his jacket on to cover his easily-seen red shirt.
He picked up the harness bridle and despaired again at his lack of equipment. With the knife he cut the blinders off the bridle. Before this was over Ben would need to see on all sides.
He cautiously worked his way up the ridge. He turned the horse toward the top, knowing that he would probably be seen when he went over. There were four or five hours of daylight left. Once into the Blue Ridge he could lose them. When night came he would slip back, swim the river if needed, cross the Pike below Harrisonburg, and go into the Alleghenies. In his mind it was as simple as that. He would get supplies and equipment along the way, somehow.
There was a shout, followed by more shouts from below. They had found him. Purcell started over the crest, then he turned the horse around to face the riders below. He cupped his hands around his mouth to make his voice carry. “Come on, you women-shooting sons-of-Satan! I’ll give you a run for your money!” His challenge was met with curses and a volley of gunfire. Over the crest he let the big horse pick his way down the timbered hill.
Reaching the open valley floor at the bottom of the slope, he gave Colonel Ben his head and hung on. They entered the timber on the other side long before the raiders came over the ridge. The horse wasn’t even breathing hard.
The ground was higher. The timber thicker. The sun was getting low. Purcell was sure he had lost them. He found a grass-covered opening ringed by brush. He slipped off the horse’s back and opened the potato sack.
The horse eagerly began to graze. Squatting, Purcell held the picket rope and munched on a potato. It was crisp and tasted good. He would find something else tomorrow. He knew he would soon tire of raw potato.
The buckskin jacket felt good against the evening’s damp chill. Eppie had made it for him two years ago. He and Gran had scraped and tanned the deer hide themselves. She had made it much too large. Her explanation was that it would last a long time, and he would grow into it. Although it was still a little too large, he realized he was beginning to fill it out.
The jacket, the red flannel shirt he wore, and the jackknife in his pocket was all he had to remember Eppie by. In the hours since the killings he had reconciled to the fact that Granville and Eppie were gone. He was alone again.
The incident of the jackknife amused him. Like most youngsters he heard and saw a lot more than the adults realized. He recalled that he was sitting on the stairs leading to the loft, when the conversation drifted around the corner…

It was his first Christmas with them. Eppie asked, “Granville, what are you going to give Stephen for Christmas?”
His uncle had grumbled, “Nothing. I’m giving him a home, and teaching him a man’s ways. He’s a good boy, that’s all he will need.”
“Now Granville, the boy follows you around like a hound pup. He hangs on to every word you say. There should be something from you Christmas morning.”
“If you say so,” he said. “What should I fix up?”
“Nothing, I took care of it. I bought a jackknife at the hardware store. The boy should be carrying something like that instead of a butcher knife in his belt, like a half-wild savage. Now, when he gets the knife, you just act like you knew all about it.”
The old man did too, saying proudly, “That’s a good one. It’s a Barlow.”
Granville and Eppie had treated Purcell well. He knew he had became the child they never had. Granville Coldiron was a great-uncle, the older brother of Purcell’s mother’s father.
Purcell’s mother died shortly after his birth in New York. His father was a sea captain, and left the baby with his maiden sister. When Purcell was ten years old, she succumbed to the ague. His father placed him in a private boarding school to prepare him for application to a military school.
Young Stephen Purcell was a bright student, full of energy that sometimes brought him trouble. Tall with dark hair, Stephen looked older than he was. The headmaster decided he needed something in addition to his studies to keep him busy. He was hired out to a telegraph office as an office boy.
In a few weeks time, Purcell had learned to use the telegraph. He worked as a part time operator. He became familiar with the sending and receiving equipment. He studied the maintenance of the batteries and wires. Purcell was all eyes and ears when the line construction and maintenance crews were in the office. He occasionally went to the construction site with them.
It was shortly after Purcell’s fifteenth birthday when the headmaster called him to the office and gravely informed him of his father’s death. His father’s ship was believed to have gone down in a storm off the coast of South America near Cape Horn.
Knowing that the money for schooling would soon run out, the headmaster quizzed the boy about relatives. He found that Stephen Purcell had few known relatives, the closest being an older brother to Purcell’s mother. The uncle was, or had been, a politician that had resigned his office and went west with the forty-niners seeking his fortune in California. He had not been heard from for many years.
The other relative was an older brother to Stephen’s mother’s deceased father. That uncle was living in the Shenandoah Valley near Cross Keys, and Port Republic. The headmaster wrote to Granville and Eppie Coldiron, inquiring what he should do with the orphaned boy. The response came back with a bank draft, along with instructions on how to send the boy by railroad. Granville and Eppie met him at the railroad station at Mt. Jackson.
They traveled to the farm in a carriage behind a team of horses. Staying overnight in New Market, they arrived at Granville and Eppie’s home late the next day.
When Stephen Purcell awoke the next morning, he realized he was in a strange and entirely different world than he had known before.
The farm was located among rolling hills, close to the mountainous area on the East side of the Shenandoah Valley. It consisted of rail-fenced fields, pasture, and timber. A large barn housed the horses and mules. Breeding pens and sheds were located on another run, a little farther from the main buildings. Other stables with smaller sheds and buildings for cattle and swine were located in an opposite direction. The Coldirons were traditionally a family of blacksmiths, so there was a blacksmith shop and a carpenter’s shop. A rock-walled flower garden, and a large vegetable garden completed the farmstead.
The first floor walls of the house were made of logs. There was an opening in the center with a flagstone floor, commonly called a dogtrot. The second floor, constructed of board and batten, contained the sleeping rooms.
Three log-and-board cabins located to the side of the yard made living quarters for the stock handlers and field hands. It looked nothing like the New York City streets Purcell was familiar with. He knew he would hate the farm, and had decided to leave as soon as he could.
It didn’t happen that way. He had liked the valley, the mountains, the farm, and the work that came with it all. He helped train and care for the horses and mules. The colt they called Colonel Ben became his constant companion.

Colonel Ben snorted, interrupting Purcell’s thoughts. Darkness had closed in around him. The Reb raiders would be around their cooking fires now. It was time to move.

 


To follow Purcell on the rest of his journey, order your copy of The Shenandoah Sharpshooter today.

Amazon.com – The Shenandoah Sharpshooter

Categories: American History, Book, Civil War, History, Military | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Christmas Gift From Me to the Sundowntrail Readers

I’d like to share a story from my book Tales From Clear Creek. The story is titled The Horse.

Some backstory to the tale below . . . the horse’s name is not mentioned in the story. My Tennessee-born grandfather came to visit us the same day we bought the horse. We gave my grandfather the honor of naming the colt. He promptly said, “Call it Dixie.” The name would have been more suitable for a mare than a colt, but Granddad said to call him Dixie, and we did. The horse soon learned to come to it. Dixie the horse was always trustworthy and gentle. My younger sisters and kids from the community rode him, yet I would get on him and ride breakneck, chasing cattle.

As noted in one of the stories in Tales From Clear Creek, I sold the horse in 1963. Earl Powers contacted me when I came home on leave between basic training and AIT training. He knew the horse was gentle, and wanted him for his grandchildren to ride. Years later, probably about 1968 or ’69, Earl came into my office at the local electric cooperative and showed me pictures of the horse with at least a half dozen kids sitting on him. They were lined up from his withers to his rump. The horse would have been close to twenty years old at the time Mr. Powers gave me that picture.

 

Dixie Horse picture

Mr. Powers and Dixie

 

I hope you enjoy the story. If you’d like to purchase a copy of Tales From Clear Creek, click the “Books” tab above. To see all the wonderful illustrations done for the book by Tom Runnels, go to my Facebook Page.

Merry Christmas from the Sundown Trail.

 

First Horse

 

First Horse

 

He was just a weanling colt. We bought him at an auction. I rode home in the pickup truck with him. I wrapped my arms around his neck, and talked to him to reassure him. We had other horses, but this one would be mine to break, to train, and ride.

The months went by. He learned to trust me. He let me handle his feet. He grew accustomed to the halter, saddle, and then the bridle. We trekked all over the place. The colt followed me decked out in full riding gear.

We were buddies. He thought he was my peer, my equal. He was a pet and that would cause him to be more difficult to break. I knew I must ride him soon before he grew older and stronger. It took a long time for me to work up the nerve to make that first ride.

Finally it was time. I led him out into the middle of the hay meadow. I fussed with the tack, tightening the cinch on the old rodeo association regulation tree saddle. Made by the Gallup saddle makers of Pueblo, Colorado, it was a splendid, all-around, old-time, working saddle. I figured that once I was firmly anchored in the deep seat, I could ride him out.

I caught my breath, turned the stirrup out, shoved my foot in, and swung on. I hooked the off stirrup and settled in. I had my firm seat.

He turned his head to size up what was happening. I clicked my tongue and nudged him with my right foot. He stepped out, got his head down, and started to buck.

He made several short bone-jarring jumps. Then he bucked sideways. I lost a stirrup, then regained it. It seemed like an eternity. The border fence loomed up beside us. A barb on the top wire caught my pants leg and ripped a hole. I bailed off, fearing injury to the horse or myself.

My knees were weak. I leaned against him, letting him calm down. I let him blow, building up my nerve. I knew I couldn’t stop. I had to finish the job. Finally I led him back out into the meadow.

I stroked his shoulder and talked to him, taking the reins up in my left hand. Mounting up, I kept a tight rein, holding his head up this time.

He began to run. When he started toward the fence, I turned him by pulling his head around. He ran the full length of the meadow and then back again.

He was larger and stronger, but I stayed with him. Out there in the meadow we finally came to terms. I would ride and he would carry. A partnership began that was to last many years. He never bucked again.

His training progressed nicely. He learned to work cattle. We drove them from pasture to pasture or to the barn lot. Nothing fancy was needed, our stock was a mixture of dairy and beef. Dad had given me orders to go easy on the dairy stock.

I decided to train him with the rope. After all, every good stock horse should know how to work under a rope. I started by dropping loops over fence posts. Then I secured the rope to the saddle horn. I would get off and make him back off to tighten the slack. I would jerk and tug on the rope. He would face me and set back on it like a pro.

I shook a loop out, and twirled it around his ears and across his rump, time after time. I would ride alongside and pop the flies off the cows with the loop just to keep him familiar with the rope…

Several weeks later, we were bringing some yearling heifers up from the pasture. The small herd consisted of some Shorthorn and some Jerseys. One of the Jerseys was a little roguish. She had a perfect picture book set of small horns. In fact, she looked just like the picture that we used to see on the condensed milk can.

The cows were filing through the gate when the Jersey decided to make a break for it. The horse wheeled and went after her on his own, but she had a lead on us and was about to get away. In frustration, I flipped the loop after her.

Then things started to happen. The loop floated out over her back and settled perfectly over her horns. The horse went into a slide, throwing his weight to his rear legs. He was as solid as an oak tree when the heifer hit the end of the rope. She went airborne, turning a cartwheel through the air and landed on her side with a sickening thud.

I jumped off the horse and raced to the heifer thinking I had killed her. I jerked the loop off her horns and she just laid there groaning with her eyes rolled back in her head. I nudged her with the toe of my boot. To my relief she finally scrambled up and trotted towards the gate.

I coiled the rope and started to get back on the horse. Looking toward the barn, I saw my Dad standing in the doorway. “Bring it here,” he said. Head down, I shuffled over and reluctantly handed the rope to him.

The rope disappeared for several weeks and then one day it suddenly appeared on a nail in the feed alley. I watched it for several days. Finally, I slipped it down and tied it back on the saddle.  The horse and I were back in business. I never had anymore trouble from that heifer. She knew I could reach out and touch her!

 

Categories: Missouri, times gone by | Tags: , | 1 Comment

A Visit to Cody and The Cap From Meeteetse, Wyoming

In July of 2006, my wife and I were returning from a vacation out west. We stopped overnight at Billings, Montana, and traveled south into Wyoming the next day. We followed the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River towards Cody, Wyoming. We cut across country to the Shoshone River and stopped at Cody to visit the Buffalo Bill Museum.
 

I learned that the annual meeting of The Western Writers of America was in progress in Cody. They had set up a meet-the-authors book signing room at the museum. Looking over the room of tables, I spotted Texan Elmer Kelton, one of my favorite Agricultural Journalist/Western Authors.

I introduced myself and bought a book, which he signed. We visited awhile and learned that some of our ancestors left tracks across the same general area of Texas. Mine of course, wandered on into New Mexico. Sadly, Mr. Kelton passed on a few years later. He was, as they say, a gentleman and a scholar, but most of all he was the real thing. It was an honor just to sit and talk to him for a few minutes.
Of course the motels were full up in Cody. Calling around, we found a room at Worland. We left Cody and journeyed across the grassland country southeast of Cody. We watched the landscape for antelope and other wild critters. We observed plenty of sheep and cattle and fields of alfalfa. Suddenly, just as we passed it I spied a large antelope standing stoically in a fence-corner next to the road. I braked hoping for a picture. Glancing in my rear view mirror, I saw it cross the road behind us. It was road-smart and was long gone by the time I stopped.

 
By the time we reached the small town of Meeteetse it was time for a gasoline and restroom break. I pulled into an old-fashioned corner service station turned modern day convenience store. As I went inside to pay the young man behind the counter for the gasoline, I spied a row of caps on a shelf. They were the out-of-style high crown sign board type. Now that is my kind of cap and I just had to have one. They all had the same logo, a strange looking little masked varmint wearing a kerchief and a cowboy hat. I picked one and brought it to the cash register.

“What kind of animal is that?” I asked the young man behind the counter.

“It is a black-footed ferret,” he replied. “There is a story behind the cap. The black-footed ferret was thought to be extinct. One day my grandparents’ dog brought a dead one in and left it on their doorstep. My grandfather, noting it was a different looking little feller, took it to a local taxidermist. The taxidermist recognized it as being an important find and called in the Wildlife people.

“They conducted a local search and found the colony. The US Fish and Wildlife people captured several animals from the colony and are using those animals to raise enough in captivity to start new colonies in the wild.”

Ferret Hat

 
It is one of my favorite caps. I wear it and remember Meeteetse, a friendly little town with a story to tell. Meeteetse is approximately halfway between Cody and Thermopolis. It is beautiful country where the grasslands of northern Wyoming touch the mountains. A tip of my cap to Meeteetse, Wyoming.

Best wishes from the Sundown Trail.

Black-Footed Ferret

“Mustela nigripes 2” by USFWS Mountain Prairie – Black-footed Ferret Uploaded by Mariomassone. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mustela_nigripes_2.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Mustela_nigripes_2.jpg


 

Some interesting facts about Meeteetse and its informal mascot:
1. The name of the town is a Native American word meaning, “a meeting place”.
2. The town is also known far and wide for its gourmet chocolate.
3. Saddle bronc rider Tim Kellogg was needing money to buy a new saddle and decided to manufacture and sell chocolate to earn some funds. He still makes and markets chocolate goodies.
4. The black-footed ferret’s main food is prairie dogs.
5. The ferret’s population declined as the number of prairie dogs started to decline.
6. A disease named sylvalic plague was thought to have wiped the black-footed ferret out.
7. The surviving colony was found at Meeteese in 1981.
8. New colonies have been established again in eight western states.

 

Links:
Elmer Kelton’s Official Website
The Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Program
The US Fish and Wildlife – Black-Footed Ferret
Meeteetse, Wyoming Website

 

Categories: Endangered Species, travel, Wyoming | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The Copper Kettle Gun Show

I will be signing my book Tales From Clear Creek at The Copper Kettle Gun Show, Ashland, MO Saturday Oct. 4. Stop by and see me at The Copper Kettle this Saturday!
Categories: Book Signing, guns, Missouri, times gone by | Tags: | Leave a comment

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