Posts tagged ‘Elmore Leonard’

July 26, 2008

The Day of the Ur-Cowboy

by cowboylands

In honor of Day of the American Cowboy, I hereby proclaim New York City the official Urban Cowboy State. Someday to join the real Cowboy State, Wyoming, and receive a parade of cowboys up Madison Avenue (fuggeddabout astronauts and sport teams). This day should be for cowboys of all creeds, genders, ethnicities, sexual persuasions, or anyone who can stay on a horse. That should be the only qualification, which means I wouldn’t ever be in the parade.

 Cowboy in Spur, Texas 

courtesy of Library of Congress 

In honor of this special day, emblazoned across American blogs and small-town newspapers in the cyber-frontier, I have a list of Ur-Cowboys. There are many lists of Real Cowboys, Honorary Cowboys, Cowboy Heroes, usually centered around a couple presidents and  John Wayne. For this list I wanted to move away from the usual suspects and round up a different breed. 

In no certain order, the Ur-Cowboys 

Elmore Leonard: I can hear you now–“What? The guy who wrote Get Shorty?” Why, yes, he wrote that, after writing a herd of impeccable, classy westerns without an ounce of sentimentality or one wasted word. He may not be able to ride a horse–I have no idea–but his spare and rhythmical prose has created more than its share of classic celluloid cowmyths. I’m not the only one to think so.

From The Law at Randado. 

Frye felt the anger hot on his face.  “Doesn’t killing two men mean anything to you?”

“You picked yourself a beauty,” Sundeen said to no one in particular.  “Why does he pack that gun if he’s so against killin’?”

Jordan said, “Maybe it makes him feel important.”

“Now if it was me,” Sundeen said, “I wouldn’t pick a deputy that whined like a woman.”

Jordan was looking at Frye.  “Maybe that’s what this deputy is…only dressed up like a man.

Sundeen grinned.  “Maybe we ought to take his pants off and find out.”

Frye held his eyes on Sundeen.  Just Sundeen–he felt his anger mounting.  “Sundeen, if you want to try, stop by the jail tomorrow. 


The Beefcake Cowboy. Nearly naked, usually with a sheen of clean, honest sweat. Nothing can match the smolder of his stare. He has launched many a romance. The Beefcake Cowboy makes both genders say “ride ’em, bucko!” I’m not the only one to think so! And because ND of the AC is for everyone, these folks think so too.

My personal favorite is well, a personal one. Stopping off at a western reenactment tourist trap in Wyoming,and wandering far from the madding crowd made up of khaki-shorts-wearing tourists, I came across a rather unassuming man braiding a lanyard. He was politeness personified, and we fell into lengthy conversation. At last he stood and asked if I wanted to take a stagecoach ride. Turned out he was the guy who drove the stagecoach for all the tourists (including me), and he proudly introduced me to his team of horses and the beautiful vehicle itself. He then asked if I would like to “ride shotgun,” which effectively separated me from the riffraff for good and joined me forever with him, my Ur-Cowboy. He is the kind of guy who was at the end of a long, illustrious career of wrangling Hollywood actor butts in and out of his stagecoaches, as well as raising horses in Texas, and now, plodding around in the center of a trailtown with mind-numbing regularity. “I used to be able to run the horses along the riverbed,” he told me in his slow, ambling voice, which to me says everything about the changing of the West. His hands were the size of Christmas hams, and he had a rodeo champion belt buckle that flashed like a laser in the sun. I’ve written about him time and again, never quite finding his combination of humor and deference, acceptance of his lot and pride at his accomplishments. He is the Ur-Cowboy of the modern West. I have no pictures of him. He may have been in my imagination. 

The next is an institution. Call me crazy, but geddaload of this: I chose the San Juan Historical Society, whose list of accomplishments doesn’t have to be laced with tall-tale hyperbole: those people out-Pecos Pecos Bill. So far, the SJHS in Silverton, Colorado, has asked for and received funding of well over $600,000 from national, state, and local organizations. They have not only transformed a jail into a museum, but also created an archive and a building to house it. They have saved the Durango-Silverton narrow-gauge train depot, rebuilt the town hall completely from just a burnt-out shell  (an effort which has become a national model for restoration projects), negotiated with a local mining company and the EPA to acquire a mill and run tours, and amassed one of the most complete collections of mining equipment and artifacts in the world.

Silverton Museum copyright es 2007  

To house it, they bought a rundown boarding house that was listing under the weight of rockfall, and trucked it from high along the timberline, around winding mountain passes, all the way to Silverton. And they have more plans. They embody the make-it-so spirit of the Ur-Cowboy. 

Those are three.  I also think of Bill Pickett and Calamity Jane, both of whom require posts unto themselves. May they soon receive their due! Happy virtual trails, and Happy National Day of the American Cowboy!

Badlands, by Bennett Foster
cover illus. Norman Saunders
Bantam Books, late 40s, early 50s
from the collection of ES

April 22, 2008

Best Western

by cowboylands

A writing buddy of mine had a few e-questions when he saw Owen Wister in the last post. Then he had a few more e-thoughts and a few more e-thoughts, and then by the end of the day he had a list. And what a list it is! I’m proud that this list will be inaugurating the
CowboyLands Best Western Lists.

What Western authors do you like? was his question. I mentioned Owen Wister in the last post, but I can’t say he’s a favorite or even in the stable of favorites. I’ll corral all my likes and just saddle the ones whose job is to tell a story and nothing but the story. Three come to the fore:

Luke Short: (Not the historic gunfighter.) Short’s prose is as laconic as one of his heroes. His gunslingers have eyes like gimlets, his women have mouths shaped for kissing, his landscapes are bleak, and his words are hard and muscular. A title like Ramrod says it all. Blood on the Moon was made into a movie, starring Robert Mitchum.

Ernest Haycox: As voluble as Short is taciturn. His gunfighters nurse secret sorrows, his women turn away so no one will see their tears, and his landscapes are as literally and figuratively furrowed and convoluted as Einstein’s brain. If that makes sense. The Far Country and Stagecoach were based on his stories.

Elmore Leonard is the master of the Western short story. Words are cheap in the land of the cowboy; Leonard’s are spare and worth gold. His words are chosen with such care that one short story can create a visual epic like 3:10 to Yuma.

So here is my writing buddy’s list gleaned from “various e-sources,” which is rather coy of him, and I hope it doesn’t get me into trouble. Interestingly, no McMurtry. What’s up with that? He also recommends, apart from the list, The Last Cowboy by Jane Kramer and The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert. Looks like I have some reading to do in my bedroll tonight….Any additions? Subtractions?

1. The Virginian by Owen Wister
2. The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter van Tilburg Clark
3. Shane by Jack Schaefer
4. The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
5. The Searchers by Alan Le May
6. Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
7. Paso por Aqui by Eugene Manlove Rhodes
8. Bugles in the Afternoon by Ernest Haycox
9. The Long Rifle by Stewart Edward White
10. Vengeance Valley by Luke Short
11. The Hell Bent Kid by Charles O. Locke
12. Cheyenne Autumn by Mari Sandoz
13. Destry Rides Again by Max Brand
14. Hondo by Louis L’Amour
15. The Sea of Grass by Conrad Richter
16. Ride the Man Down by Luke Short
17. The Day the Cowboys Quit by Elmer Kelton
18. Stay Away, Joe by Dan Cushman
19. The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton
20. True Grit by Charles Portis
21. Monte Walsh by Jack Schaefer
22. Flint by Louis L’Amour
23. From Where the Sun Now Stands by Will Henry
24. Hombre by Elmore Leonard
25. The Wonderful Country by Tom Lea
26. The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout
27. The Shootist by Glendon Swarthout
28. Valdez is Coming by Elmore Leonard
29. The Rounders by Max Evans
30. The Hi-Lo Country by Max Evans