Pecos Bill: Fact or Fiction?

Pecos Bill is a character most often associated with American folklore; the tall tales, myths and legends about fictional and real individuals whose stories embodied the pioneer spirit and captured the imagination of the American public.

The author Edward S. O’Reilly first introduced the fictional Pecos Bill in the early 1900’s in stories written for “The Century Magazine,” a monthly periodical published in New York that promoted American nationalism through stories that emphasized such values as strength and courage in humorous exaggerated narratives. Pecos Bill was the personification of the western hero – orphaned as a baby during a trek westward with his family, raised by coyotes, ultimately stumbling on his true calling as the quintessential cowboy. Pecos Bill is credited with inventing calf roping and cattle branding and creation of the six-shooter.

His popularity was such that these stories were collected into a book, “The Saga of Pecos Bill,” published in 1923. Bill’s exaggerated exploits would also capture the imagination of Walt Disney who in 1948 introduced the character in an animated short that accompanied his movie “Melody Time.” Disney Studios would later make the short into a stand-alone film featuring Pecos Bill, his horse Widowmaker, and his lady-love, Slue-Foot Sue that aired on television in 1954 as one of Disney’s “Tall Tales” episodes.

The flesh and blood Pecos Bill was also larger than life. William Rufus Shafter weighed in at over 300 pounds. He was hardly the image of a career military officer, however, in July 1875, in command of the Tenth Cavalry, the Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Fifth Infantry, and both Tonkawa and Seminole Indian scouts, he mounted an expedition against the Apache that would last over six months, cover over 2,500 miles, and earn him his nickname.

In addition to the Apache, the terrain across the Llano Estacado in West Texas and in the Big Bend area of South Texas was both treacherous and unforgiving. Water, or the lack thereof, was just as much the enemy as the Plains Indians. The Buffalo Soldiers under his command were exhausted and dying not only from their human adversary but thirst. It was up to their commander to lead them to the Pecos River if they were to have any chance for survival.

The stretch of river wasn’t overflowing with water, but when you’re in possession of the only water source anywhere around, it looked like the oasis that it was. The men’s doubts and anger were forgotten. Many dismounted and abandoned their mounts;not a good idea since, left to their own devices, the horses also headed straight to the water where they would drink way too much and potentially harm themselves. Right now, the men didn’t care. Many dove head first into the water, shouting and carrying on like kids who’d just received their best gift ever. “Hurrah for Colonel Shafter,” went up the cry… only to be replaced by – “Hurrah for Pecos Bill. Hurrah for Pecos Bill! That’s his name now”… and it would be; William Rufus Shafter would carry the nickname for the rest of his life. – Excerpt from Palo Duro.

 

Some Thoughts on Writing

To be an author is to be a public person. Anyone that communicates their thoughts, emotions, and ideas in story form invites others to share in the experience. The writing process, however, is not participatory. It is accomplished alone.

Eventually every author deals with agents, editors, publishing coordinators, interior formatting and cover design specialists. But from its inception to its completion, the writer works independently to develop a concept.

Every such undertaking requires passion, commitment and perseverance. The initial effort is almost always flawed. Revision after revision is necessary. Drafts are modified and discarded. Sometimes  projects are put aside completely to allow further reflection before their resumption, or everything written to that point may be scrapped in favor of a fresh start. At some point, however, the writer must decide that is finished, that it is acceptable. Completion doesn’t necessarily equate to total satisfaction. Ideally the writer is never completely satisfied. Rather, completion simply means that he or she has reached an emotional point at which they’re willing to put the book and themselves out there subject to criticism and possible rejection. Every author understands and accepts that not everyone is going to appreciate or relate to what they’ve written.

There is certainly a sense of personal accomplishment when a work is published, but to be successful commercially the book must also speak to a broad audience. If an author has an established following it is a beginning. However, it is just that… a beginning. It isn’t enough to add another title to the hundreds of others being released to the public at any given moment. It needs to be marketed through book tours, readings, signings, festivals and social media to expand access and readership.

I have written two books to date; Silver Taps, a memoir, and Palo Duroa novel of the Plains Indian Wars. The former was written and published for my children and grandchildren. There was no thought to further distribution. It was they who convinced me to share it and I’m glad they did. The positive reaction to the book encouraged me to continue writing. My novel dealt with western expansion. The genre, historical fiction, is my personal favorite. All future endeavors on my part will continue to focus on this literary category.

Speaking of future publications, I’ve been asked when my next book is due for release. Tarnished Brass, which I started writing in March 2015, is finished (for subject matter see my blog post “The Roots of Evil,” February 8, 2018.)  However, there is much yet to do to obtain a book deal or even self-publish. My goal is to have it available online and at retail stores sometime later this year.

Until then I’ll be involved with sending out copies and proposals to agents and publishers while also continuing to promote my first two books, working on my next novel, and drafting new weekly blog entries. I encourage readers to submit comments or feedback to my site at WordPress.com so that my entries each week reflect your interests.

Thanks for your continued support.

 

Another Mass Shooting

 

The deaths of seventeen people at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day has again ignited debate in this country over what, if anything, can be done to end or at least impact the number of mass shootings in the United States. The debate focuses on the Constitutional right to bear arms guaranteed in the 2nd Amendment, the power of the National Rifle Association, what constitutes reasonable gun control measures, the need to address mental health issues and access to guns by the mentally challenged, and how to improve communications between law enforcement and social service organizations that may have prior knowledge of attack planning or indications that someone might carry out such an attack.

In the aftermath of this latest mass shooting social media is once again abuzz with prayers from the faithful for healing, comfort, and peace for the victims and their families. These are followed by dismissal of those prayers as ineffective or a waste of time by secularists. There are similar camps and arguments over access to military assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks and their ownership by ordinary citizens, with both sides of the divide ensconced in their positions. There are calls for Congress to arbitrate the discord and act, not along Party lines, but in response to the public outrage that demands that something be done. Sadly we have seen this all before and are very likely to go down this road again, again, and again.

Perhaps we’ll witness a different outcome this time. The teenage survivors of this shooting are determined to make this tragedy a turning point in the debate. A March for Our Lives demonstration is scheduled for March 24th in Washington, D.C.

There is, however, another factor that underlies the cyclical nature of these mass shootings and our response to them. I wrote about it previously in this blog (April 18, 2017) in the context of my reaction to the death of my father, but I believe it to be applicable to this discourse.

Though any loss is tragic, my feelings and reactions are directly proportional to how well I knew the deceased. I do not feel the same in the presence of strangers nor, I believe does anyone; we distance ourselves. We may be horrified by the brutality or enormity of it in case of wars or natural disasters [or mass shootings], we may empathize and find it sad that he or she is no longer with us, but we immunize ourselves and continue on without much further thought or reaction. – Excerpt from Silver Taps.

We must force ourselves to get past this human tendency. We need to identify with the parent who lost a child, to the sibling who lost a brother or sister, to the relative who lost a family member, to the teacher who lost a student or colleague, to the individual who lost a close friend. Their pain and anguish over these sudden deaths must become our pain and anguish. We must put ourselves in the mindset that this might have happened to me or someone I love. Otherwise our defense mechanisms will keep us from being invested over any length of time and once again  we’ll move on… until the next mass shooting.

 

Cowboys and Cattle Drives

FEB 3 (1)

Today’s San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo parade featured 125 longhorn cattle. It celebrated a tradition of moving large herds of this special breed from Texas to markets in Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, and Montana where the post-Civil War demand for meat to feed a hungry nation brought higher prices.

The trek was both arduous and dangerous, and required special skills to both protect and control the cattle along the way. This new methodology gave birth to the cowboy; men who were willing to forgo sleep to keep the cattle moving, faced threats from Mother Nature, Indians, and cattle rustlers, and endured long stretches of isolation with few comforts and infrequent interaction with anyone other than their fellow trail riders.

The cowboys worked sun-up to sun-down throughout a cattle drive, doing so in shifts to allow both rest and time to eat. The herds were especially vulnerable at night and had to be guarded lest any occurrence like lightning and thunder, animal predators, sudden movement or strange sounds caused them to stampede. To keep them calm during the hours of  darkness cowboys took to singing. Not every man had to have a “soothing voice,” but all had to know how to sit a horse, handle a rope, set a brand to the hide without burning the animals flesh, saw off horns when they got too long and posed a danger to other livestock, administer medicine when infection or disease threatened the herd, and shoot with a rifle or revolver to fight off Indians and rustlers. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

The cowboy legacy lives on in rodeos, movies, television, books, and at active cattle ranches across the West. While there are only a few longhorn cattle remaining (a symbol of a bygone era,) for its part Texas remains the largest cattle raising state in the nation, still providing beef for both domestic and international consumption.

Lone Star Literary Life

RECENTLY ON TOUR: FICTION

Palo Duro by Max L. Knight

I wanted to give one final shout out to Lone Star Literary Life (LSLL) for their recent sponsorship of my blog tour. They are truly an asset to Texas authors and I’m most appreciative of their efforts on my behalf.

I also wanted to thank all of you who participated in the Giveaway. There was an overwhelming response (almost 800 entries)! Congratulations to the winners – Stella M. of Paltaka, Florida, Amanda S. of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and Amy D. of Franklin, Pennsylvania. Though LSLL focuses on writers and stories from the great state of Texas, it’s obvious that their literary reach each extends well beyond its borders!

Prizes will be mailed later this week. Enjoy the book.

Day Ten – 2018 Blog Tour

Blog Tour Banner

Everything in life has an ending, and today marks the last day of Lone Star Literary Life’s promotional tour for Palo Duro. My thanks go out to everyone involved in making it a success – the bloggers, reviewers, and coordinators, especially Kristine Hall who orchestrated the entire project.

The start of this journey began in 2015 when my wife and I made the trip to West Texas so that I could complete my research for the story. Visiting Palo Duro Canyon and the surrounding area left an indelible impression on me, and some of the memories of that trip are captured in the Scrapbook Page photos appearing in Books and Broomsticks.

If you have never visited the canyon or that part of the United States, I encourage you to go. Palo Duro Canyon is second only to the Grand Canyon in size and is just as majestic in its own right, and the West Texas plains are both vast and starkly beautiful.

The final entry in this tour is fittingly another review of my book by Ruthie Jones. For those of you considering whether to add Palo Duro to your reading list, look to the comments of other readers, not my own, as your guide.

The complete review can be accessed on Reading by Moonlight. Here is an excerpt –

“All the accounts in Palo Duro paint a bloody picture that the author neither sugarcoats nor glosses over. But the book also shows the many people on all sides who were filled with determination to build and preserve their culture and history (Native American) or promote and maintain their culture and way of life (white settlers, military, or just someone looking for a new life in the Wild West). And don’t skip the Afterwards as it provides a nice follow up on the real characters.

A big Thank You goes out to the author, Max L. Knight, for presenting this historical fiction of a volatile time in US History in such a unique and interesting fashion.”

 

Day Nine – 2018 Blog Tour

Blog Tour Banner

Next to the last day. For me its been a fast and fun experience. I have especially appreciated the forthright reviews of Palo Duro. Someone once said “there is no pride in authorship.” That is not true… I certainly take to heart all comments about substance, style, and grammar. It is the only way to move forward as a writer.

Today’s review comes from Kristine Hall. The following is an excerpt from her website, Hall Ways Blog.

HALL WAYS REVIEW: ✪✪✪✪ 

“In Palo Duro, readers are given thirteen sub-books, each focusing on a historical event or person(s), as related to the Southwest of the 1800s.  The events and people tend to weave in and out of the bigger novel because they are all connected in some form or fashion. While initially, some of the stories seem to be irrelevant (but highly entertaining and immensely interesting), author Max Knight makes sure readers know that nothing is randomly placed in Palo Duro.”

As a former school teacher, Kristine Hall does point out the misuse of semi-colons and quotation marks in the book, commenting…

“I don’t imagine there are many who are distracted by a misused semi-colon or quotation marks, but anyone who reads my reviews knows it’s my curse/blessing.”

Such attention to detail is not only warranted, but much appreciated!