Archive for August, 2008

August 27, 2008

The World According to Bucko; or Cowboy Fact #23

by cowboylands

All it takes is some spaghetti western soundtrack woo-woo, and my eyes refocus to squint into the distance–which invariably becomes dry, dusty, prone to wavy mirages that look like tall trees or figures, and super far away. With mountains or buttes. Way off there. Way, way, way…way far away. 

Whatever I’m dealing with at the moment shrinks to the size of a dust speck on the polished leather of my saddle’s pommel.  I flick that speck away, and urge my horse down the steep embankment. It’s time to drift into town–the one way off in the distance, the traces of its streets barely discernible from the heights–no, wait!  I’m on the owlhoot trail, ducking lawmen and Apaches. Hold on! I know! I’m riding my trusty steed to the Lazy Bar Triangle ranch to rescue…


That speck won’t go away, however many times I try to flick it off–I will have to deal with it–but for a few moments, my muscles are tensing with each sway of my horse’s strides and my world is filling with vast skyrockland. 

#23. I can’t put this into words. Damn. 



P.S. Whose eyes are these? One is an actual cowboy. We’ll call him….Bucko.

Answers in the next post. 


August 24, 2008

Wanted: Cowboy Presidents 2008

by cowboylands

I’ve been unwilling to saddle up the presidential cowboy analogies for some time–Dubya too easy of a target–but THANK ALL THAT IS COWPOKE for recent presidential candidate news. 

Barack Obama resists the cowboy hat–all I can see him as is the lawyer/Dude from a big city, or maybe as a laid-back (yet pistol-packing) James Stewart in Destry Rides Again, if the senator from Illinois is able to put away the bad guys with Stewart’s aplomb. Yet it becomes difficult to ignore the pungent smell of Western Mythos when pundits connect the dots of presidential, public, and popular appeal. 

It has come to pass that Obama’s “Yes We Can!” is not enough to draw the public into the new day, while McCain’s “Drill here and drill now” is.* While the Democratic candidate continues to stride along into the future in his lanky (yes, James Stewart-like) way, his messages are coming under fire for their subtlety, or their ambiguousness, or their vagueness, or their wiffle-waffleness–depending on your POV. 

Charles M. Blow of the New York Times opines thus in the August 28, 2008 Op-Ed section

Lately, you’ve demonstrated an unsettling penchant for overly nuanced statements that meander into the cerebral. Earth to Barack: to Main Street America, nuance equals confusion. You don’t have to dumb it down, but you do have to sum it up.**

I have to agree, even though I appreciate shades of gray, because when you’re a working Joe or Joette and you have little time between the 9 to 5, kids, and having to do things like negotiate with city and state and country to make sure your basic human right of shelter doesn’t get yanked away (…where was I? Oh yeah…), you don’t have the time or energy to pore over the voting history of the candidates, their platforms, and the ins and outs of issues facing your community. You tend to go to the summary, and if it’s a well-crafted bit of razzle-dazzle, then it sticks in your mind as much as Starship’s horrid “We Built This City” has been clogging up my synapses the past two days.***

Blow continues, and–saddle the horse–up rises the allure of the Cowboy in his glory.

For example, your [Obama’s] performance at Rick Warren’s faith forum came across as professorial and pensive, not presidential. McCain was direct and compelling. Your initial response to the crisis in Georgia was tepid and swishy. McCain was muscular and straightforward.

I’d prefer a muscular, straightforward cowboy! But then I recall that similar epithets were thrown at Stewart’s Thomas Jefferson Destry, Jr., when he arrived in town of Bottleneck to bring back law and order. Looking more like a shopkeeper than the dead-eye shot he is, he is ridiculed and ribbed and compared incessantly to the example of his father, a famous tough-guy lawman. But the perception of being a milquetoast has been carefully crafted by Destry a.) to trick the black-hat wearing bad guys and b.) because he really doesn’t believe that violence is the right path to law and order. 

I’m going to assume that Obama isn’t a trickster, and so what is left is his desire to find a world order founded on mutual respect and communication, as well as his embodiment of this: on good days nuance and on bad days wishy-washyness. Is that appealing to Americans? We’ll see on Election Day, but signs are pointing to “no.” Why?

Blogger CNULAN describes the American public’s cowboy-wish in  the blog Subrealism, in a summary (I do love an undumb sum-up)  of an article in the American Spectator. Apparently, for reasons of security–and I’m talking about deep-down “reptilian” limbic brain kind of security–Americans vote for a world leader who will respond to situations with his (or her) gut. Countless westerns glorify this shoot-from-the-hip approach, and as a consequence or as a reason, to an American, having presidents who are called “cowboy” (from TR, to RR, to GWB) is a positive thing. Defining the allure of the Cowboy thus, it looks as if McCain is the next Decider. 

But will Obama’s choice of sidekick, Biden, bring the requisite straight-shooter-ness to the Dems? Biden’s words tend to get him into trouble, which might be a sign that he calls a spade a spade****, a well-known attribute of of the Cowboy. Or that he is brash and impetuous, ditto. I can’t say whether Biden looks good on an ATV rounding up cattle, but this pithy running mate could lead to a line of White House-themed Barack Obama cowboy boots, western yoke shirts, and fancy ten-gallons. 

In absence of personal knowledge, I’ll follow the lead of the rest of America and use the Cult of the Cowboy to divine the future. I’ll turn to Destry Rides Again, because once you start on a trail, you have to follow it to its end. 

In Destry Rides Again, Stewart’s lawman stays his pacifistic course until he is pressed into taking up the gun by a dastardly deed-doer who threatens to upset the order of Bottleneck. Marlene Dietrich dies in his arms after taking the bullet meant for him, but still the ending is upbeat–Destry has righted the world (after seizing the power that was always his own–see discussions about this moment in Sixguns & Society: A Structural History of the Western and in a Cowboylands post*****). Yes, he “drill[s] [the bad guy] here, drill[s] [him] now.”

Take heart, fans of subtlety.

Despite the typical oater showdown, if this 1939 classic is on a best-of-westerns movie list, it is accompanied by other “nuanced” westerns, such as High Noon, Ride the High Country, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. These films are notable because their writers, directors, cinematographers, and actors have not only produced great entertainment but have also artistically shown the high price of cowboy-like actions, layering messages that both praise and condemn what is an integral part of the American psyche. These films are more powerful than their simpler, less complex comrades. They have won more accolades, provoked more questioning. They are better movies. 

If Americans want the Cowboy (and they do in the silver screen/pulp sort of way, not in the job’s gritty reality), they still have a choice.  

Tom Destry Jr.: Well, you will fool ’em, Wash. We’ll fool ’em together. 
Washington Dimsdale: The only way to do that is fill ’em full of lead. 
Tom Destry Jr.: No, no, no, what for? You shoot it out with ’em and for some reason or other, I don’t know why, they get to look like heroes. But you put ’em behind bars and they look little and cheap, the way they oughta look. —Destry Rides Again, directed by George Marshall, 1939


* accompanied by the roar of cheers and whistles and rumbling hogs at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. His speech was probably squeezed between Kid Rock’s concert and the infamous beauty pageant. Hard to believe those chopper-riding tough guys would be agog over a khaki-and-loafer wearing rich guy, but times change. Click here to watch this priceless video. 

** Note the awesome use of catchy internal rhyme: dumb/sum. Even I will be able to remember it. 

*** The horror. I’ve been waking up  with it in my ears. My only consolation is that it’s been rated as the worst song ever by Blender

**** That’s the last metaphor. I promise. 

*****Always wanted to be in the same sentence as this seminal book. Does it matter if I’m the one writing the sentence? 

August 22, 2008

Cowboy Fact #24; or, Yes, Virginia, There Still Are Cowboys

by cowboylands

A recent sojourn to Idaho revealed another essential cowboy truth–cowboys still exist. You just have to know where to look for them. 

Oliver’s in Pocatello: Deep into a thick omelette and excellent coffee. Along the counter are seated several men, all with sneakers and jeans and polo shirts or button-down shirts and baseball caps (the new rancher/farmer garb). All but one, that is. A tall, rangy man, tanned and fit. His broad-rimmed cowboy hat is centered and low on his head* and his cowboy boots show honest wear, and they show styling shine. He’s settled on the counter stool as if he’s riding on the range: careless and easy. His handlebar mustache is gray and thick and curled just so, a la  Sam Elliott**

and when I caught his eye, I also caught this far-off squint of Elliott’s, the exact look of this still from Conagher. I felt the breath of the plains cross over me. I felt the rub of a saddle and the easy sway of a horse. In his eyes was the West. 

I was stricken with shyness and couldn’t even approach him. The Cowboy. 

Idaho Vista copyright 2008 es

Young Cowboy: You’re a hard man, Conagher. 
Conn Conagher: It’s a hard country, kid. 

from Conagher (TV 1991) ***


* Apparently okay to wear hats inside nowadays. I guess I missed something. 

**Apparently others also sense a smolder despite culture-notions about age. See this Sam Elliott fan site

*** The quote selections are dizzying, especially when you pair them with the sound of Elliott’s deliberate delivery. L’Amour (author of book) can deliver the hard-boiled goods. 

August 20, 2008

My Public Idaho; or, Ida Hoes Very Well

by cowboylands

Idaho is more than potatoes, although they have damn good spuds. 

It’s a rich and varied state, which is a polite way of saying it kicks the asses of popular vacation states. It has potato fields 

and Sawtooth mountains overlooking ranchland. 

It has lakes and ponderosa pines and Douglas firs and all sorts of thingslakeIdaho such as an old state penitentiary you can tour.

Solitary confinement, maximum security, death row…and a very complete collection of weapons from paleolithic times to Desert Storm. Not for the faint of heart. I also recommend their exhibit on prison tattoos. So gritty it hurts.  

It’s a land of sagebrush.

And forgotten feed terminals.


And the site of one of the worst dam disasters in North America: the failed Teton dam (source of photo on right: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation–I hope they are reborn as slugs).


God bless the historical museums, who hold the things we once held dear. 

Pioneers thought the Craters of the Moon a cursed land 

and the City of Rocks, weird, but rather nice.


The Shoshone Tribe, among others, found themselves crammed into a small corners of this paradise. Some fought back, and others adapted. (Bad photo, but I love how a sacred rite is explained in terms even a white man can understand.)

It’s got dust storms from Armageddon. But it’s a good place to go when the end of the world is nigh. 


Unless the end of the world is caused by any of Idaho’s nuclear-waste holding grounds, toxic-chemical seeping mines, or EPA Superfund sites, such as this phosphorus slag dump above Soda Springs. Yes, that’s molten slag they are dumping–approximately every twenty minutes. 

The rest is my private Idaho (or saved for another trail-happy post). There were also cowboys. *satisfied sigh*



all photos but one copyright 2008 es


August 19, 2008

Stay on Target….

by cowboylands

One of my favorite lines is from the space western Star Wars, in which one of the pilots zeroes in on a tiny vulnerable point on the Death Star. Despite lasers and near-death experiences, the pilot keeps his cool with the mantra “stay on target…stay on target!” So, back from the land of spuds to deal with the weird shifting text of the site. Still working on it. See that huge white space above the main post? It should be filled with images. Once that is worked out, I’ll show you what Idaho has to offer. Oh, and right! The look has changed. Thought I had better drift on to the next theme. 

Happy trails, and stay on target,




August 5, 2008

What Does Ida Hoe?

by cowboylands

I’ll let you know.

For a few days I’ll be on real trails, hunting down cowboys and cow patties, spuds and starlit nights, lava bombs and limpid lakes, and real live rigamorole. And when I am back, I will deal with the wackness that is the site. (Anyone notice the blessed space that appears and disappears on the sides? Not supposed to happen. If you see nothing but white space on the sides, scroll down to find links to blog, sites, my Librarything library, archives, and scintillating commentary.)

Until then, thought I would leave you with this:


Destry Rides Again, by Max Brand

Cover illustration by Michael Aviano

Pocket Books, 1959

from the collection of es

Stunned and bitter, Harry Destry, the young, headstrong firebrand who had already earned the reputation for reckless bravery and flashing speed of hand and eye in the use of a “six gun”….



August 3, 2008

Old Jeans Are a Gold Mine; or Cowboy Fact #25

by cowboylands

A pair of one hundred-year-old blue jeans, found in an abandoned gold mine in California? $36,099. The chance to touch or even *gulp* wear these worn Levis? Priceless.

But such is the glamour of honest toil. Denim designers must have been salivating at the sight of the old, ripped, stained, and soiled pants, because while no one will buy a pair of newly minted jeans for that price, a pair of carefully ripped, faded, and designer-wrinkled jeans that emotes diligent hard work is still expensive.

The seller on eBay found the jeans in an gold mine while exploring the Mojave desert. That desert is a starkly beautiful place, and it’s easy to find nothing there beyond Joshua trees, stink bugs, and small mammals that run from your approach, so kudos to his or her eagle eyes. The jeans are speckled with candle wax (miners used to use candles affixed to their hats to illuminate the mine shafts),

Miners\' hats in the Silverton Museum, Silverton, CO  copyright es 2007Miners’ hats, Silverton Museum, Silverton, CO, copyright es 2007

faded on the seat, and worn along the front of the legs. Either they are part of Diesel’s new line or the real deal. But they appear to be authentic: the jeans have a Levi Strauss & Co. label, and they were found next to a paper bag that had the name of a shop in the area, a shop that had reportedly stopped trading in 1898.

And that is why the the seller was able to recoup years of striking out in abandoned mines in one fell swoop, thanks to the wonder of eBay. This leads me to my next Cowboy Fact.

Cowboy Fact # 25: Cowboys personify the stirring ethic of physical labor=honest labor.

From beefcake buckos to slick urban cowboys, there is something alluring about a man who smells like leather and just a touch of sweat.* The grime can’t go below the belt, but it is quite acceptable, and even preferred for a man to have calluses and muscles from labor. Gyms have sprouted up everywhere, not just because modern people do more sitting than walking: folks are willing to sign over their freedom to personal trainers to sculpt those same muscles. And there is even cosmetic surgery for washboard abs, if you want them enough.

There are the muscles, and there are the clothes. The ass-worn, faded, ripped look says more than “I’ve worn these jeans for several years in a gold mine” or “I have enough money to buy jeans that looks as if I have worn them for several years in a gold mine.” It says “I, the wearer of these worn jeans, have experienced the joy of physical labor. I have been transported by the intensity of the experience and am a moral, good-to-the-core person. I am honest, as a result. I am generous, as a result. I am independent, as a result. I could kick your ass but I will buy you a drink instead.”

There are few jobs that have the kind of sweat-haloed allure of a cowboy, and that is because there are few physical jobs that allow that illusion of freedom, personal responsibility, independence, and meaning. I say “illusion” because the life of a cowboy is quite grueling, subject to extreme stress thanks to looming foreclosures and the cost of keeping huge animals healthy, and I think most of modern cowboys are heartily pleased that the ass of their jeans can be worn by the seat of an ATV or comfortable and powerful pickup truck.

This illusion is what draws people’s eyes to the silver screen, to photos of actors and handsome models as cowboys. It’s why movies that subtly or outrageously undermine the epic, monumental quality of cowboys tend to be less popular than those that celebrate the mythos. It’s why we may never see that day when the following worn jeans will be sold on eBay for thousands of dollars:

The assembly-line worker’s jeans: Worn at the seat, stretched out at the waist because they never get a break to exercise and shed the calories from the cheapass food they are forced to eat because they can’t afford to feed themselves or their children on anything better.

The waste collector’s jeans: Despite having had an overlay of protective coveralls, these jeans have acid burns from improperly thrown away batteries, are slashed by shards of broken light bulbs, and punctured by hypodermic needles. And they smell. Boy, do they smell.

The UPS delivery person’s shorts: I think these could be auctioned off, actually. Is it a requisite that men who deliver UPS packages have great legs?

Happy trails, and keep your eyes peeled for a pair of buckskins worn by Gary Cooper. Will pay top dollar. Because I’m not going to wear out my own pair.

Mystery Ranch, by Max Brand

cover illus. Stanley Borack

Pocket Books, 1952

from the collection of ES

* There’s a glass ceiling for women in this area too. A woman who smells like leather is a dominatrix or a man-eater of some sort. But sweat is okay on a woman if she has been involved in a sport or sex, and then only as a slight sheen that smells like perfume.