Robert M. Utley is the gold standard for the history of the American West. This short, but scholarly life of Billy the Kid shows him to be scrupulousRobert M. Utley is the gold standard for the history of the American West. This short, but scholarly life of Billy the Kid shows him to be scrupulous about providing nothing but well-researched fact instead of the all-too-available legends.
Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life shows young Henry McCarty alias Henry Antrim alias The Kid alias Billy the Kid to be a lesser figure than the facts would dictate. He had committed four murders that could be laid at his feet (including three sheriffs) and participated in some cattle and horse rustling, but he never really led a gang. In fact, he was only 21 years old when Pat Garrett came upon him by luck at Fort Sumner and plugged him.
Billy the Kid had numerous allies, particularly among the Hispanic population of New Mexico, and he was a frequent participant at local bailes, with a marked preference for young senoritas. It is very likely that if he had found his way across the border into Mexico, he would have lived farther into adulthood. Or not: Billy was a violent young dude. ...more
This novel of a childhood at the edge of New Mexico's Llano Estacado, or Staked Plain, is as good as anything I have read this year -- and I have readThis novel of a childhood at the edge of New Mexico's Llano Estacado, or Staked Plain, is as good as anything I have read this year -- and I have read a lot of good books. Different from many other childhood memoirs, Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya does not merely tell of a series of childhood events, but of a war between the forces of good and the forces of evil.
Antonio Marez lives in a world in which there is the Catholic Church, but there are also brujos and brujas (warlocks and witches), but also a powerful and wise curandera named Ultima, and also remnants of other pagan observances, such as a giant golden carp and the ghosts of three Comanche who had been hanged and deprived of burial. Antonio must choose his footsteps carefully in a world where there are many choices to be made, many of them seemingly contradictory.
No one can explain why there is evil in this world, especially the evil represented by the murderous Tenorio Trementina and his three evil daughters, who leave a broad trail of death in the area. The Christian God is a jealous God, but He does not always choose to get involved. In a nightmare that Antonio has, God says that if Antonio calls for Narciso -- murdered by Tenorio -- to be forgiven of his sins, God says Tenorio must also be forgiven. In his dream, God replies:
You foolish boy, God roared, don't you see you are caught in your own trap! You would have a God who forgives all, but when it comes to your personal whims you seek punishment for your vengeance. You would have my mother [the Virgin Mary] rule my heavens, you would send all sinners to her for forgiveness, but you would also have her taint her hands with the blood of vengeance....
Who would have thought that a regional novel such as this would have so much religious and philosophical subtlety. Bless Me, Ultima has left me with a lot to think about....more
The American West is indebted to Robert M Utley for his many books on the history of the area. For many years, he served as chief historian for the NaThe American West is indebted to Robert M Utley for his many books on the history of the area. For many years, he served as chief historian for the National Park Service. His biography of Geronimo is superb at threading his way through the blind canyons of history to arrive at a well-reasoned appreciation of the role that Geronimo played for the Chiricahua Apaches that raided with him in Arizona, New Mexico, and across the border into Mexico.
Instead of concentrating exclusively on the more sensational raids of Geronimo and his allies, Utley also discusses at length his treatment as well as that of his fellow Chiricahuas in captivity in Florida, Alabama, and Oklahoma. ...more
The Jornada del Muerto is a vertical strip of desert taking up most of south central New Mexico. Under Spanish and Mexican rule, the road through thisThe Jornada del Muerto is a vertical strip of desert taking up most of south central New Mexico. Under Spanish and Mexican rule, the road through this desert was known as the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road to the Interior Lands. Alan Boye in Tales from the Journey of the Dead takes a historical look at this desert road, from Clovis and Folsom man some 10,000 years ago, through to the Civil War (the Battle of Valverde was faught here), through the Apaches under Victorio, through Billy the Kid, all the way to the first nuclear teste at the Trinity Site and the governments battles between the ranchers and the government regarding the White Sands Missile Range.
Howe's book is well written and contains detailed notes and an excellent bibliography....more
She lived in Independence, California, not far from Lone Pine and even closer to Manzanar, the most famous of the Japanese internment centers during World War Two. It is an area which can be strikingly beautiful; and it is rich in Indian folktales, many of which Austin tells in her books.
My favorite story is "Mahala Joe," in which a young Paiute becomes a blood brother to the son of a white rancher. When there is trouble between the Whites and the Indians, Joe takes his blood brother oath seriously and refuses to fight against his blood brother's family, for which he is made to wear a squaw's outfit for the rest of his life
... Under the slack usage of the tribe, Mahala Joe as he came to be known, might have thrown aside his woman's gear without offense, but he had the courage to wear it to his life's end. He kept his sentence as he kept his vow, and yet it is certain that Walter [his blood brother] never knew.
Although I firmly believe that Jorge Luis Borges was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, he was perhaps only an indifferent professoAlthough I firmly believe that Jorge Luis Borges was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, he was perhaps only an indifferent professor. His An Introduction to American Literature is essentially an outline of writers which the professor deemed important enough to highlight.
In the process, he downgrades William Faulkner for being too complicated and spends more space on such writers as Edna Ferber, Gertrude Stein, Louis Bromfield, S.S. Van Dine, and Robert Heinlein.
I get the feeling that Borges did not read most of the authors he describes, as his blindness set in during the 1950s. ...more
I did not think I would like Jack Kerouac after having been away from him for so long -- oh, say, half a century. But then I read David Halberstam's TI did not think I would like Jack Kerouac after having been away from him for so long -- oh, say, half a century. But then I read David Halberstam's The Fifties; and I thought I was missing something in my knowledge of that time, a time which I lived through only comprehending a small part of what I saw.
Big Sur is like a triptych consisting of three trips that Jack takes, alone or with friends, to the Raton Canyon cabin of Lorenzo Monsanto (whom I think is none other than Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and founder of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco).
At first, Jack is there alone for several weeks. It is a happy time, during which he writes an onomatopoeic poem called "Sea: Sounds of the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur," which is included at the end of the book. A second trip is with a group of friends. Things are not too bad as yet.
But then Jack takes up with Willamine (Billie), who has a disturbed son named Elliott from a previous marriage. It is as if his friend Cody Pomeray were passing her off to Jack, and things start going bad quickly. Rather than face his feelings head on, Jack hits the bottle in a big way. He goes with Billie and Elliott, and another couple, to the cabin at Raton Canyon where he appears to have delirium tremens.
When they finally return to the bay, Jack fantasizes:
I'll get my ticket and say goodbye on a flower day and leave all San Francisco and it'll all be like it was in the beginning -- Simple golden eternity blessing all -- Nothing ever happened -- Not even this -- St. Carolyn's by the Sea will go on being golden one way or the other -- The little boy [Elliott] will grow up and be a great man -- There'll be farewells and smiles -- My mother'll be waiting for me glad -- The corner of the yard where Tyke [Jack's pet cat] is buried will be like somehow -- On soft Spring nights I'll stand in the yard under the stars -- Something good will come out of all things yet -- And it will be golden and eternal like that -- There's no need to say another word.
Alas, Jack's manic mantra leads to him continuing to drink heavily. He died of cirrhosis at the age of forty-seven.
I had always wanted to read this book, thinking it was a different sort of novel, perhaps from the point of the wealthy. Also, I had no idea that TheI had always wanted to read this book, thinking it was a different sort of novel, perhaps from the point of the wealthy. Also, I had no idea that The Gilded Age was such a serious work. Oh, Mark Twain's humor comes across frequently, especially in the sections taking place in Washington. Unfortunately, Twain had a co-author: the book is signed by both Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warren, his friend.
Twain wrote the first eleven chapters, which were brilliant at times, but the story began to sag when Warren took over. Gradually, the book improved; but it was never too difficult to tell when Warren was the sole author.
The Gilded Age is a tale of the American dream of entrepreneurship. Everyone wants to speculate, to go for the quick kill. What usually winds up getting "killed," however, are their own prospects and those of the people who love them. Perhaps the book's signature character is "Colonel" Beriah Sellers (notice those initials: B.S.), who is an insatiable dreamer around whom much of the plot revolves. Curiously, although virtually everything he undertakes fails, he receives sympathetic treatment because he is basically a nice guy who, himself, is caught up in his impossible dreams:
As may be readily believed, Col. Beriah Sellers was by this time one of the best known men in Washington. For the first time in his life his talents had a fair field.
He was now at the centre of the manufacture of gigantic schemes, of speculations of all sorts, of political and social gossip. The atmosphere was full of little and big rumors and of vast, undefined expectations. Everybody was in haste, too, to push on his private plan, and feverish in his haste, as if in constant apprehension that tomorrow would be Judgment Day. Work while Congress is in session, said the uneasy spirit, for in the recess there is no work and no device.
It is this feverishness which is at the heart of The Gilded Age.
For all the ignes fatui, however, there is only one uccess in the novel, and it comes at the very end, when it is almost too late.
For Mark Twain's participation in this novel, I would give it five stars, but Warner lowers it to four. It's not that he is so bad: It's just that he is so far from Twain....more
But when Borrego Beginnings launches into descriptions of real estate transactions, constructions, and brief sketches of the earliest hotels/motels, shopping facilities, etc., the reader knows he is in for a lot of puffery and very little substance.
Still, the book is competently written, but the Anza Borrego deserves better....more
On the face of it, this is an odd book. It deals with L.A. noir years before noir really existed as a literary genre. And it views a strange slice ofOn the face of it, this is an odd book. It deals with L.A. noir years before noir really existed as a literary genre. And it views a strange slice of history, from 1927 to 1933, through the eyes of two people of whom I had never heard: the prosecuting attorney Dave Clark and the criminal investigator/detective writer Leslie White. Not really a promising field.
And yet, the British writer Richard Rayner manages to carry it off. Using primarily newspapers and autobiographies as his main sources, Rayner shows us the proto-noir Los Angeles, with it corrupt politicians, attorneys, and mobsters. He begins with the breaching of the St. Francis Dam, which killed hundreds on a broad swath of carnage from Santa Clarita to the sea. We see the genial mobster Charlie Crawford, and how he was killed by Dave Clark, who managed to be acquitted because, well, he was a very good prosecuting attorney and knew how to look good to female jurors. We see the murder/suicide of Ned Doheny and his servant Hugh Plunkett; the destruction of the acting career of Clara Bow, the "It" girl who seemed to be out of a job during the ravages of the Depression; and a plethora of minor characters who made the headlines during that formative period.
It is no secret that California produced Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Horace McCoy, and Dashiell Hammett. They were just writing about what they saw.
This is the second of the Images of America series I have read from Arcadia Publishing. There is something both endearing and amateurish about the serThis is the second of the Images of America series I have read from Arcadia Publishing. There is something both endearing and amateurish about the series, especially if one has a special feeling about the place or event being described. I visited Lone Pine in January of 2010 and 2012. Instead of just passing through the area as I used to do when I did some camping in the Eastern Sierras decades ago, I begin to appreciate the town of and by itself.
The history of Lone Pine is not like that of other desert towns: In addition to the usual Indian Wars (with the Paiutes and Shoshone) and mining (Cerro Gordo in nearby Keeler was the biggest silver strike in California), Lone Pine impacted on the history of Los Angeles in two very special ways. First, Los Angeles rather sneakily bought up most of the land so that it could steal its water. (See Roman Polanski's film Chinatown for a fictional retelling of how William Mulholland engineered the L.A. aqueduct, bringing water over two hundred miles across deserts and mountains to the thirsty city.)
Secondly, Hollywood found in the Alabama Hills just west of Lone Pine an ideal location for filming Westerns. Beginning with Fatty Arbuckle in 1920's The Round-Up, made just before his career went south with scandal. From 1920 on, the Alabama Hills saw John Wayne, Tom Mix, Jack Hoxie, Tex Ritter, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Randolph Scott and countless other Western stars making the trek to the Owens Valley to incorporate its vast and gorgeous scenery into their movies.
The L.A. Aqueduct is still flowing, but Hollywood seems to have developed hardening of the arteries, so Lone Pine must depend on a very uncertain flow of strange tourists such as myself for it to survive. I hope it does, because I want to go back.
I had always wanted to read this, and I thought there was no better time for it than while I was in Montana recently driving through the same some ofI had always wanted to read this, and I thought there was no better time for it than while I was in Montana recently driving through the same some of the same areas in which the Lewis & Clark party traveled. Mind you, neither Lewis nor Clark wrote anything of literary quality, but the picture of an American West in which thousands of bison can be glimpsed at a time and areas which it was impossible to be traversed without being simultaneously attacked by multiple grizzly bears was a sad harbinger of the changes to come. I like Bakeless's Signet Classics abridged edition because the central idea comes across without getting lost in spelling variations. Also, his footnotes are generally helpful....more
I did not know what to expect when I picked up Warlock by Oakley Hall. Suffice it to say that here was an incredibly told tale of the Old West, its guI did not know what to expect when I picked up Warlock by Oakley Hall. Suffice it to say that here was an incredibly told tale of the Old West, its gunmen, cowboys, miners, lawmen, whores, even the U.S. Cavalry and, farther off, the Indians. Instead of paying lip service to the legend of the West, Hall sees the endless violence as leading to a kind of speeded-up karma working itself out, leading to both madness, glory, and dissolution.
As storekeeper Henry Holmes Goodpasture writes among the diary entries scattered through the length of the story:
Is not the history of the world no more than a record of violence and death cut in stone? It is a terrible, lonely, loveless thing to know it, and see ... that the only justification is in the attempt, not the achievement, for there is no achievement; to know that each day may dawn fair or fairer than the last, and end as horribly wretched or more. Can those things that drive men to their ends be ever stilled, or will they only thrive and grow and yet more hideously clash one against the other so long as man himself is not stilled? Can I look out at these cold stars in this black sky and believe in my heart of hearts that it was this sky that hung over Bethlehem, and that a star such as these stars glittered there to raise men's hearts to false hopes forever?
For the first two-thirds of the book, there is a four-way tug of war between a bunch of marauding cowboys at San Pablo under the leadership of Abe McQuoyn; the mythical marshal, Clay Blaisedell, patterned on Wyatt Earp; his good friend the morose gambler Tom Morgan (who seems to know more than he should); and the deputy sheriff Johnny Gannon, who rises from nowhere to become a force in the town.
If there is a Great American Novel about the Old West, this is it. This is no Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey novel that accepts the myth unthinkingly, but rather a commentary on the legends of the Old West and the price entailed by endless violence.