Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Studio Props? Geronimo-Chatto Photos Spark Controversy

January 16, 2018
   Our February issue on Chatto, "Apache Traitor Or Hero?" has sparked an interesting controversy. So far, we have received a half dozen letters pointing out the stunning similarities between these two photographs. 

Geronimo and Chatto sporting the exact same necktie and rifle. Notice the same cactus. Some even see the same bracelet.

Here is the latest letter:
   "It is interesting that both photographs of Chatto 1884 and Geronimo 1887 not only show show use of the same props (foliage) by photographer but use —without a doubt the same gun! Gun shown, in my opinion is a sporterized .45-.70 trapdoor Springfield rifle. Interestingly it may at one time have belonged to a Western post army officer. Custer had an earlier .50 cal. Allen conversion Springfield for his personal use. Also sporterized.

   "Western photographers often used same props over and over. Many, but not all, Western photographs often show dudes all decked out in new store bought gun rigs with empty cartridge belts, new chaps, boots, clothing often in real tough poses.

   "The Springfield here for sure did not belong to Chatto or Geronimo but they for sure would have wished it did at the time."

—Donald M. Yena, San Antonio, Texas

This Just In:
   So I called Mr. Yena (he doesn't do email) and on further inspection he claims that Geronimo is wearing a spur strap, "upside down!" and that above the strap you can see a shackle.

The Top Secret Writer Responds
"The photos were both taken by A Frank Randall at San Carlos in 1884 (your caption is wrong in the Feb TW). There is also a similar photo of Mangas, but with a different gun, obviously taken at the same time. I doubt if the scarf is a prop as Geronimo wears scarves in other photos, but it certainly could be. I agree that it is a prop rifle, perhaps owned by Randall. Geronimo is of course photographed with his own Springfield in the famous surrender photos. Very observant reader."
—Paul Andrew Hutton

Our Gun Expert Weighs In
"While there is no way to know for sure who owns the rifle, my guess is that it was probably a studio gun. This was a common practice and can be seen in photos from other frontier photographers to spice up their images. A good example is L.A. Huffman of Montana, whose Sharps rifle appears in a  number of photos, including being held by Indians in his studio, then again propped next to an Indian burial scaffold, and so on. 'Sporterized,' means the stock has been modified for sport, usually by cutting down the length. However, cutting the stock down is only part of what could be a custom sporterizing of a firearm. One could also change the sights, refinish the arm,  add a padded butt to the end of the stock for comfort, and a myriad of other personal options or alterations to make the gun more into a custom sporting arm, rather than a straight military firearm."
—Phil Spangenberger

"A louse in the cabbage is better than no meat at all."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Monday, January 15, 2018

Wyatt Earp In Color

January 15, 2018
   Someone has colorized this classic photograph of Wyatt Earp, that dates from the 1920s. I'm not sure I like it. 

Wyatt Earp in color.

   On the one hand, it brings him closer to our world and makes him seem more human in some ways, but on the other hand, it kind of destroys the sepia-mists-of-time magic of the black and white. What do you think?

Wyatt in black and white

"Everything looks worse in black and white. . ."

—Paul Simon, Kodachrome


They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away
If you took all the girls I knew
When I was single
And brought them all together for one night
I know they'd never match
My sweet imagination
Everything looks worse in black and white

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I Need to Step Up My Game!

January 14, 2018
   After a mammoth project like the one I just finished, I usually take a day, or two, to veg out. So I read ("Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, by Joe Hagan) , took a walk, puttered around, cleaned off my Olive Oatman desk. Wandered around Facebook and found this on Red Shuttleworth's website, where he is promoting his latest project, Americana West:

An Abandoned Farm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma, 1936
Photo by Arthur Rothstein, Library of Congress, Public Domain

   Red is a poet, but don't know it, but his legs show it, they're longfellows. Old joke. Here's his website:

   I don't quite know why, but pictures like this really speak to me. Is it the loss of a way of life? Is it the haunting, impending, wreck of all human effort and existence? Or is it just cool to see old wagon wheels?

   And speaking of wagon wheels, I made a note to study prairie schooners a bit more. I feel like the wagons I drew for the Continuous Picnic portion of the Olive Oatman feature could have had a bit more authentic accuracy:

Authentic pioneer wagons pulled by oxen

   I'll be honest: depicting those front and rear wheels with accuracy is a bitch. 

   Got a cool picture from one of my favorite Kid Krazy Compadres, Shelly Buffalo Calf:

San Juan Church, Lincoln, New Mexico

  I also wandered around online, looking for artistic inspiration, and found this site:

   Found some very cool cartoon art there.

Art by the Brussels cartoonist Francois Schuiten

   Dang! I need to step up my game.
For everything you need to know about The Obscure Cities, head to Altaplana.
These are the original albums:
The Great Walls of Samaris
Fever in Urbican
The Tower
The Road to Armilia
The leaning Girl
The Shadow of a Man
The Invisible Frontier (Volumes 1 and 2)
The Theory of the Grain of Sand
Memories of the Eternal Present
You can catch up on all The Obscure Citiesavailable on Amazon.
    Nice couple of days, recharging and planning. I'll leave the last word to one of the funniest guys on the planet:

"You all need to step up your game. Everything at Timmy's house works."
—Dave Chappelle to his parents after his first sleepover at a white kid's house

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Successful Hanging of Wild Bill

January 13, 2018
   Drove down to Cattletrack Arts Compound yesterday morning to hang the Wild Bill art show. Here's a sneak peek:

Brent Bond and Mark McDowell make quick work
of mounting my Wild Bill Art Show.

The painting, above, left, is, in fact, the album cover art for Justin Johnson's newest album, "Soundtrack for A Western."

The cover painting, "Wild Bill In Smoke."

The Show takes up three rooms and includes artwork
from my Vincent van Gunfighter series.

   The painting at right has already been sold to Craig Schepp and is the signature piece on the invite, below.

My curator Kristi Jacobs who mounted the show.

The artist is pleased.

The Invite

   This will also be the official premiere of the book as well.

"A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down."
—Edna St. Vincent Millay

Friday, January 12, 2018

Girl With The Blue Tattoo Cover Final

January 12, 2018
   Thanks to Andy Sansom for posting old news items from the Mohave County Miner. This is from the January 2, 1957 edition, reporting on my 10th birthday party on December 19, 1956:

What I remember about this birthday party is that one of these guys, I think it was Dennis Poulson, made Charlie Waters laugh so hard, that Bugs stuffed napkins in his mouth to try and stop. Yes, it seemed weird even at the time, but I have to say, we all did some serious laughing. The legendary Kimo Cafe is today Mr. D's, which is across from the Powerhouse Museum.

   If you are following along on our Olive Oatman cover controversy, here is our final choice which uploaded last night to the printer in Liberty, Missouri:

Now to shift gears and lay out the book. I have been studying the masters. In the case of writing creative nonfiction, with sound structure, there is no one better than John McPhee in his new book, "Draft No. 4." Here are a few of my notes from his process:

"You must build a strong, sound and artful structure. . ." and "you can build a structure in such a way that it causes people to want to keep turning pages."

"There is considerable tension between chronology and theme. You must develop a thematically dominated structure." And "Readers are not supposed to notice the structure. It is meant to be about as visible as someone's bones."

"A piece of writing has to start somewhere, go somewhere, and sit down when it gets there. Beginning, middle, end. Aristotle, Page 1."

"If you want to get to a place where the writing lives, imagine you're dead."

—Bono, quoting a poet friend of his in Rolling Stone magazine

"The lead—like the title—should be a flashlight that shines down into the story."

"A lead is not good not because it dances, fires cannons, or whistles like a train but because it is absolute to what follows."

Buy "Son of The Morning Star" by Evan S. Connell, and read the sequences that lead to the bio of Gall. According to McPhee it is masterful and he taught a semester at Princeton on the subject.

"A thousand details add up to one impression."

—Cary Grant

Olive will begin and end with flashbacks: swimming in the Colorado.

"Fiction must stick to facts, and the truer the facts the better the fiction."

—Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

The efforts to get it right is daunting. As John McPhee puts it, there are "errors of misinformation from flawed books or living sources, items misinterpreted or misunderstood." Amen.

Breasts On Water

John McPhee writes about riding on a thousand foot barge down the Illinois River, reporting on everything he sees for an article that will appear in The New Yorker. The barge churns down the river past a cabin boat McPhee notices is "drifting idly on the eponymous Illinois while a vessel longer than an aircraft carrier bore down upon it sounding five short blasts, the universal statement of immediate danger." As the barge grinds and glides past the cabin boat, McPhee sees two men and two women on the boat, and the nearest woman "seated left rear in the open part of the cockpit—is wearing a black-and-gold two-piece bathing suit. She has the sort of body you go to see in marble. She has golden hair. Quickly, deftly, she reaches with both hands behind her back and unclasps her top. Setting it on her lap, she swivels ninety degrees to face the tow boat square. Shoulders back, cheeks high, she holds her pose without retreat. In her ample presentation there is defiance of gravity. There is no angle of repose. She is a siren and these are her songs."

McPhee, who is waxing lyrically on fact checking and its many perils then adds, "It was my experience, my description, my construction, my erection."

"In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed—but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock."

—Attributed to Graham Green, but actually written by Orson Welles

Beauty Is In The Eyes of The Beholder

January 12, 2018
   Sometimes beauty is a combination of unattractive traits:

"Her feet are too big. Her nose is too long. Her teeth are uneven. She has the neck, as one of her rivals has put it, of 'Neapolitan giraffe.' Her waist seems to begin in the middle of her thighs, and she has big-half-bushel hips. She runs like a fullback. Her hands are huge. Her forehead is low. Her mouth is too large. And, mamma mia, she is absolutely gorgeous."

—John McPhee, describing Sophia Loren 

Daily Whip Out: "Sultry Sophia"

"It's not easy for a beautiful girl to believe that love is blind."

—Old Vaquero Saying

"If a woman knows she's pretty, it's not because some other woman told her so."

—Old Maid Saying

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Olive Oatman Typos, Revisions, Contrition And Closure

January 11, 2018
   Last pass at the Olive Oatman package. The issue starts uploading to the printer in Liberty, Kansas this afternoon. Lots of hangouts, revisions and questions.  Went for a walk up to Morningstar for inspiration and saw this:

Sister Saguaros On Morningstar

   I am often inspired by the saguaros in my neighborhood, like this sweet little scene from a couple weeks ago:

Moonshot Saguaro Inspiration

   Came back to the studio and wrote up a new introduction for the entire package. Shot it off, via email, to Meghan in Texas, and she came back with a couple revisions and, before I drove into work, we ended up here:

   In 1857, Olive Oatman’s ghostwriter said this about her life story: “Much of that dreadful period is unwritten, and will remain forever unwritten.” Never say never. Here we are, 161 years since the Rev. Royal B. Stratton wrote those words, and we are ready to look at the brutal truth. Did Olive suffer a “fate worse than death” during her years of captivity among the American Indians? What follows is a closer look at the historical evidence. 

   Yes, that is exactly what I want to say. Now on to the 15 other typos and map revisions. Should finish by noon. Hard work, but it keeps me off the streets.

"There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I'm greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed."
—John Kenneth Galbraith

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Rescue of Olive Oatman

January 10, 2018
    I woke up this morning and wanted to add one more sidebar to the Olive Oatman package that would help explain some of the conflict about her release. Here is the angle I wanted to pursue.

The Rescuers

  A Quechan warrior named Francisco brought along three of his brothers on the 250 mile trek to reclaim Olive Oatman

The Rescue
   In February of 1856 a Quechan warrior accompanied by three of his siblings showed up in the Mohave Valley announcing to everyone he had the authority from the commander at Fort Yuma to take "Spantsa" back with him. Spantsa was the Mohave name for Olive Oatman and the liberator's name was Francisco. A council was called. Over a three day period, while Olive was taken to another part of the village, Francisco argued for her release. The Mohave Chief Espaniola objected to her release and finally denied the request to set her free. Francisco and his brothers left, crossing to the other side of the Colorado, where they pressed the case to the Mohaves living on that side of the river. After much pleading, he convinced them that if the Mohaves who held onto Olive kept her, all the Mohaves up and down the river would suffer. Francisco crossed again with his new lobby group and a second council was held, this time with Olive present. Francisco presented the Spantsa pass (see below) and, with some difficulty (she hadn't read, or seen, English in five years), Olive read it and translated it into Mohave. Francisco pressed his case claiming if he didn't return with Olive the soldiers would kill him and all the Quechans. Finally an elder said, "I am satisfied. . .we raised her so that if anyone wants her back, they can have her." It didn't hurt that this time Francisco threw in a white horse for the trade. Olive had mixed feelings about all of this. She was part of a family and perhaps even had a family of her own. One final tidbit seems to underscore that: when she was getting ready to depart the valley, Chief Espaniola's son insisted on stripping Olive of her Mojave possessions, beads and a blanket. Was he, in fact, a husband who wanted his marriage presents back?
    Several years later Olive landed in the Rogue River country of Oregon. One of the women of Phoenix, Oregon remembered that Olive was "subject to the deepest fits of melancholy and despondency, often walking the floor at night weeping and wringing her hands." As the author, Brian McGinty so aptly puts it, "Olive had left the Mohave Valley. . . but the valley had not left her."

 The handwritten pass issued January 27, 1856 and signed by Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Martin Burke of Fort Yuma. The pass authorized Francisco to go to the Mohave Valley and bring back Spantsa (Mohave for "sore vagina").

"A sore vagina by any other name would be an improvement."
—Old Vaquero Saying

   Update: Ran out of room and had to punt. This episode will be in the book but not the March issue of True West.