Monday, March 20, 2017

The Oatmans Crossed A Lava Infested Landscape Straight Into Hell

March 20, 2017
   Here's a report on my first day of a research trip out to the Oatman massacre site. One of the reasons the Great Western and the Oatman family wanted to make it to Yuma Crossing is because of the new fort placed there to protect settlers:

Early Quartermaster Sergeant on display at the Yuma Quartermaster Museum

  Kathy and I drove out to the massacre site yesterday—two and a half hours—and it finally makes sense to me. Those weird bluffs in all the drawings of the Oatman family massacre seemed so odd to me, but now I get it. They  all must have thought they were entering hell.

   The Oatmans were members of a Mormon sect that broke off from the Brigham Young faction after Joseph Smith's murder. Their leader, "The Boy Prophet" told of an Eden-type place at the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers. Cantakerous and argumentative in their zeal, the group broke up and splintered on their Westward journey with some members dropping off near Socorro, New Mexico and others dropping off elsewhere. By the time the Oatman wagon train reached Maricopa Wells, southeast of present day Phoenix, there were only three families left. Two of those decided to stay in the In-din village (one of the wives was about to give birth). Roys Oatman decided to push on even though his own wife was 8 months pregnant. Plunging westward into rough country, ringed by blackened bluffs and lava scarred ridges, they must have thought they had entered the gates of hell, and in a fevered, strange way, they were.

 A dust devil with lava flows covering the entire mountain
 to the north of the Oatman massacre site.

Today the mighty Gila River is dry, but in 1851, the Oatmans had to cross the surging river at this point, below, and, in fact, could not make it across and had to spend the night on an island in the middle of the channel.

A dead tree on the banks of the dry Gila River where the Oatmans probably crossed.

I intend on illustrating my version of the incident, that's why I was interested in seeing this local version done by someone in the Gila Bend area:

A painting in the Gila Bend museum of the Oatman Massacre

    The artist got the lava beds right. The Oatman wagon was actually pulled by oxen and they were on top of the lava laden bluffs when Roys and his son Lorenzo saw two In-dins walking towards them on the road. They spoke in Spanish and professed friendship. Perhaps, "Ola, amigos. Como estas?" It gives a weirdness to the event. We have been conditioned by movies to think of an attack as coming in a rush of aggression, usually on horseback, accompanied by a rain of arrows. Here we have some dudes walking up the road feigning innocence.

As near as I can tell, this is the long bluff of lava rock that the Oatmans
 were traversing when things went south.

Frankly, even though I was in phone contact with Vince Murray, someone who has been to the site, we couldn't find the monument or the graves, even though our GPS said "you have arrived at your destination."

A blow-up of the previous panorama, showing our car and Kathy waving.

  Roys Oatman wrote a letter to the commander at Fort Yuma to help him on February 15, 1851, "at camp on the Hela  River." This was three days before the attack.

   Ultimately Major Heintzeiman did not send anyone out because the Oatmans were massacred on the south side of the Gila River, which, at that time, was in Mexico.

   I always thought that after the murders, the group of In-dins headed east and north from the Gila (everyone assumed it was Tonto Apaches), but new research indicates they went back west, retracing their route, some say all the way to Agua Caliente, which is quite a hike. We drove it and out in the middle of nowhere we saw a street sign, for "555th Ave." which is apparently the Phoenix numbering system of Avenues which run westward from Central Ave. My mother-in-law, Betty Radina, lives off of 51st ave, which is some 15 miles from Central. Crazy to see that sign out there in the middle of nowhere. But not half as crazy as it must have been for two little girls.

"We were started and kept upon a rapid pace for several hours. One of the Indians takes the lead, Mary Ann and myself follow, bareheaded and shoeless, the Indians having taken off our shoes and head covering."
—Olive Oatman describing her first hours after she and her sister were kidnapped

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Oatman Massacre Site and The Great Western's House in Yuma

March 19, 2017
   Taking off today on a research trip to Yuma to see where the Great Western's house was located and the ferry and the fort in relation to early Yuma. As you know, Sarah Bowman was the first resident of Yuma and we are doing a cover story on her in the fall. A Yuma archeologist is giving me the tour. I was going to stop at the Oatman Massacre site on the way there (it's west of Gila Bend), but the roads look a little convoluted and iffy, in terms of where the actual massacre sit is, and the graves. The Great Western allegedly made sure the Oatmans received a decent burial, so I want to finally see the site. I've driven by a hundred times. Need to get some better insights from a pro like Vince Murray.

   Still noodling mules. Did this one yesterday morning.

Daily Whip Out: "The Steam Swirled Around That Jack"

   Also experimented with skies. 

Daily Whip Out: "Johnny Depp Sky"

"To start is easy, to persist is an art."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Friday, March 17, 2017

Custer Scouts Riding Mules or Horses?

March 17, 2017
   Got a debate going on here regarding mules or horses. This is a wonderful photo of Custer's scouts, including California Joe, on the right. The caption on the photo (from the original archives) says they are on "mules," but that paint, at left doesn't look like a mule to Deb Kidwell (our mule expert) and even the second one is debatable. What do you think?

Custer's Scouts, 1867

A Jackass At Midnite

March 17, 2017
   Here's where we are on the jackass front. Originally, for our May issue, I had the bright idea to lean on the word—Jackass!—with a vengeance. After all, we were covering mules and donkeys in the Old West and the word is completely legit in this context.

   We had Deb Kidwell's byline on the cover as "The Jackass Lady" (full disclosure: Deb herself prefers this moniker) and I had my editorial titled, "Jackass Nation." Plus, the original title of the feature was "The History of Mules And The Jackasses Who Love Them."

   About a week ago, my partner, Ken Amorosano, took me aside and said, "I know you are enamored with the word 'jackass' but the folks in Bishop, California have named you the grand marshal of this year's parade and I'm not so sure they are going to appreciate this?'"

   I thought about it for a moment, and then said, "Good point, jackass!"

   Seriously, Ken suggested I run this by them. So I sent a query to some of the fine people in Bishop who will be hosting me over the Memorial Day weekend and more than a few saw the humor in what I was trying to do, but this is the response that impacted me: "I do not think the word jackass on the front cover of your prestigious publication will be well received by the population of subscribers of whom the majority are most likely uneducated about the mule and donkey."

   Point taken, Tammy. I mean, whoever wrote that. So, here's what I feel like right now:

Daily Whip Out: "A Jackass At Midnite"

Young feller, you will never appreciate the potentialities of the English language until you have heard a Southern mule driver search the soul of a mule.” 
—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Wild Bill Mule Man

March 16, 2017
   Another Westerner who preferred mules was James Butler Hickok. 

Daily Whip Out: "Wild Bill Mule Man"

"He frightened nervous men and timid women."
—A contemporary newspaper put down of Hickok's mankiller reputation

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How Offensive Is The Term "Jackass"?

March 15, 2017
   Got a bit of a controversy going here at the True West World Headquarters. We have a big, 12-page feature on the history of mules going to press tomorrow and I wanted to use the title, "The History of Mules And The Jackasses Who Love Them," but several on the staff think the usage of the term jackass, in this connotation could be seen as too offensive, or disrespectful.

A Resident Jackass Seen Here With A Mammoth Jack

   I personally think it works on two levels: You get a mule when a jackass makes love to a mare, so, "the jackasses who love them" is especially accurate since fathers love their sons. Then when you factor in all the crazy people in history who rode mules, from Alexander the Great, to Napoleon, Santa Anna, Buffalo Will, Wild Bill, not to mention Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, you could safely say they were characters—okay, jackasses—who loved mules. Hey, I love mules and in this regard I am not ashamed to say I'm a bit of a jackass on the subject.

Six Gold Rush Jackasses And A Mule.

   Anyway, what do you think? Too negative? Too disrespectful? Besieged and befuddled editors want to know.

"He has had to plod and work through life against the prejudices of the ignorant."
—Muleskinner Harvey Riley,  on the mule, 1867

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Another Custer, Another Cody, Another Race to The Death

March 13, 2017
   Took another swing at a scene for an episode in our mule extravaganza issue: Custer thought his thoroughbred could best Cody's mule in a 65-mile run. He was dead wrong. 

Daily Whip Out: "Cody vs. Custer: A Race to The Death"

Daily Whip Out: 'Mule Lights Up The Night"


Daily Whip Out: "The Mighty American Mule"


Daily Whip Out Cover Sketches: "Missed It By A Mule Mile"

Daily Whip Out: "Sitting On Top of The World"

Question From A Friend:
In the March 2017 issue on page 44 "To the last Man," BBB quotes one of Tewksbury's clan telling James Stinson that he has been 'BULLDOZED' long enough. How would the Tewksbury man known about a thing "Bulldozer" decades before it was invented? Since I've never known Bob to be wrong I'm sure there is a good explanation.
—Allen Fossenkemper

Answer From A Friend:
   In the beginning “bulldozers,” however, were violent bullies. The word “bulldoze” appeared during the year 1876 which had the root meaning “bull dose”. ‘Bull dose” meant to beat someone in an extreme cruel and brutal. In other words it meant giving the “dose” of lashing and whipping as one whips a bull.
There were racist bullies and rowdies who used to terrorize African-Americans after Civil War South. They used to spread terror and often killed many people brutally. These thugs came to be known as “Bulldozers” or “bull-dosers” around 1881.  Even a pistol was also named “bulldoser”. Californian bull-doser is a pistol which carries a bullet that is so heavy that it destroys human life with all the certainty.
Slowly “to bull doze” began to be used in the form of a verb and became synonymous with “to intimidate with a great force”. “Bulldozer” was used as a label for anything that “gets the job done,”. Soon “bulldoze” became metaphorical in usage. Even in the present times it is used to mean “push through” or “oppress” or  “overpower”.
—Mark Boardman

"Ask and ye shall receive."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Trouble Rides A Fast Horse, Forgiveness Rides A Mule

March 12, 2017
   Thanks to Mark McDowell I got to go to a nearby home last night for a birthday party. Lots of Creekers in attendance:

Mark McDowell and Scott Allen, the sign painter
who did our True West World Headquarters sign.

 We were all treated to a concert by the musician and painter Tom Russell. The concert was in the living room so it was quite intimate. The dude can wrangle a lyric:

"Well it's three eggs up on whiskey toast and home fries on the side, you wash it down with the truckstop coffee, that burns up your inside."

Tom Russell, center, "on stage," flanked by Kit Carson (the soundman)
and Tom's Swiss wife

More Funky Fantastic Russell Lyrics:

When I'm too damn old to sit a horse, I'll steal the warden's car
Break my ass out of this prison, leave my teeth there in a jar
You don't need no teeth for kissin' gals or smokin' cheap cigars
I'll sleep with one eye open, 'neath God's celestial stars

It was a canyon, Colorado diner
A little waitress I did love
Well we sat in the back 'neath the old stuffed bear
And a worn out Navajo rug.

I slept through the Nineteen Sixties, I heard Dory Previn say
But me I caught me the great white bird, to the shores of Africay
Where I lost my adolescent heart, to the sound of a talking drum
Yeah, East of Woodstock, West of Vietnam

And this one got a standing ovation, from me:

"Racist, sexist, moved to Texas, passed a dozen worthless checks, killed three men and made it cross the border. . .his mother said he was a good kid when he was sober. . ."

   Tom has an art opening today at The Cattletrack Art Compound in Scottsdale and a concert tonight, which is sold out.

"Trouble rides a fast horse, forgiveness rides a mule."
—Tom Russell