Standing Rock – “Water is Life”

On February 23rd the Army Corps of Engineers (the federal body overseeing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline) closed the Oceti Sakowin Camp where protests against plans to build the oil pipeline through sacred Indian land had been ongoing since August 2016. The closure ends this chapter in the dispute between the Standing Rock Sioux and Energy Transfer Partners LP, but the matter is far from resolved. The Standing Rock Sioux claim the pipeline threatens the environmental quality and sacred nature of the water at Lake Oahe, and have filed an injunction to withdraw the easement that would allow the project to move forward.

However, tribal and federal claims to the land conflict. Though the land was granted to the Indians in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the treaty remains contested to this day. Energy Transfer Partners LP contends that the pipeline crosses private land while the Sioux hold to the conviction that the area is tribal or treaty land and that Article VI of the U.S. Constitution “grants treaties as equivalent to the Constitution itself.” As a sovereign nation, the Sioux assert their right to control the integrity of their natural resources. They have never accepted monetary compensation from the U.S. government for broken treaties. To do so would cede the provisions of the 1851 treaty.

Historically, Indians have not fared well in disputes with the federal government. The ruling in December that temporarily halted construction until a thorough evaluation of the environmental risks could be completed has given way to an executive order issued January 24th to “expedite” approval of the pipeline’s completion. The protesters apparent victory celebrated just a few months ago has once again been affected by a change in administrations. The final outcome is yet to be determined, but the parallels to the past  are striking.

What the majority [of Indians] didn’t comprehend and couldn’t understand was that as U.S. expansion continued westward, it meant the circumstances as well as any promises made today would change tomorrow. It mattered not that these promises were put in writing. A different day, a different administration, a different treaty; each time the new document diminishing or totally negating any assurances previously given. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

Standing Rock represents the ongoing fight to preserve Native American cultural traditions and sovereignty. You can read about the Southern Plains Indians struggles in my novel.

Roping, Bronc & Bull Riding, Barrel Racing, Livestock Exhibitions and Chuck Wagon Cooking

The 68th San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo is currently ongoing (February 9-26, 2017.) Nationally, rodeos have been held since the mid-1880’s. Multiple locations lay claim to staging the first rodeo; Santa Fe, New Mexico – 1847, Deer Tree, Colorado – 1869, Pecos, Texas – 1883, and Prescott, Arizona – 1888, to name just a few.

The sport grew out of the cattle industry and showcases riding and roping skills, the working practices of herding cattle. And, just as today’s exhibitions and shows stir the public’s imagination, the adventure of moving large herds across the Southwest led countless cowboys to sign on with the large ranches and cattle barons to take their livestock to market.

It took tremendous courage and fortitude to brave hostile terrain, uncertain weather, attacks by Indians and rustlers, as well as the recalcitrance and unpredictability of thousands of cattle easily spooked by lightning strikes, random noise or other predators. It required specialized skills that included knowing how to brand the animals without burning their flesh, sawing off horns that grew too long, and administering medicine when disease threatened the herd.

The cowboys worked 24/7. Anyone shirking his duties or causing problems along the trail faced swift justice. The trail boss exercised absolute authority.

Feeding the cowhands required innovation. The distances traveled didn’t allow each rider to fend for himself; he couldn’t carry the quantity of provisions needed for the duration of  the trail drive, nor did he have the time to cook his own meals. Texas cattleman and entrepreneur Charles Goodnight is credited with solving the problem with the invention of the chuck wagon. The wagon carried necessary supplies and utensils and elevated the importance of the person selected as cook.

The selection of such a person took into consideration not only his acumen with horse flesh, but his ability to forego sleep while brewing and doling out coffee all hours of the day and night; cooking up biscuits, flapjacks and bacon for breakfast, and beans, cornbread and stews for lunch and dinner – all without affecting the rotation of the riders or their duties on the trail drive. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

Read about Charles Goodnight and his epic cattle drives along the Goodnight-Loving Trail in my novel, and visit your local rodeo to witness living history.

Black History Month

In the aftermath of America’s Civil War freedmen and former slaves served in the United States Army throughout the western frontier in all black units. This past Sunday, February 12th, members of the Bexar County Buffalo Soldiers Association donned period uniforms to pay tribute to these men and woman (Cathay Williams enlisted in the Army under the pseudonym William Cathay– the only documented African-American woman to serve posing as a man.) The living historians at the Institute for Texan Culture in San Antonio wore uniforms representative of the 9th Cavalry and the 38th Infantry, proudly articulating the little known story of their forebears who, in spite of institutional prejudices and a hostile and unforgiving environment, mapped huge swaths of the American Southwest while protecting settlers, cattlemen, the U.S. mail service, and lines of communication stretching from east to west.

Their distinguished record of selfless service to this country is part of the story told in my novel.

The Buffalo Soldiers’ legacy would be similar to that experienced by generations of blacks serving in the United States Armed Forces. Their bravery and accomplishments would go unrecognized until long after their unmarked graves in the Trans-Pecos and the Southwest were overgrown and disappeared. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

Press Release

Marketing yourself as an author is not a one-stop process. Besides an online presence, reaching out to the media is an important step in reaching a wider audience. Page Publishing has assisted me in this effort by sending out the following press release. Just as it is intended to raise visibility through their points of contact, its inclusion here is a means for me to ensure its distribution to any of you who might not otherwise see it except through this medium or associated websites.

press-release-jpg

Cultural Differences

Reviewing the visits to the site since its launch, I was struck by the international identity of those who had clicked on the website. Four were from Greece, and one was from Israel. As an Army Officer I spent twenty-four years in the military; sixteen of those specifically related to duties as a Foreign Area Officer (FAO.) Additionally, after retirement, I travelled worldwide as an Independent Contractor for another ten years. Those twenty-six years gave me an appreciation for people of different races and creeds – their languages, customs, cuisine, art and religion. They highlighted our similarities as well as our differences and opened a window into the world and an understanding of different cultures that unfortunately many individuals do not share.

As westward expansion took place after the Civil War, it was the inability of the different cultures (Indian and white) to understand one another that led to conflict along the frontier. Neither side understood the other’s perspective, nor made much of an attempt to do so. The result was violent confrontation instead of accommodation, and the eventual defeat and subjugation of Native Americans.

It is in this context that the story told in my novel Palo Duro takes place. Hence, when I write that “Our Past is Prologue” it is meant to convey the message that there is much to be learned from history. Today we are witnessing misunderstandings and divisions that without context may seem to be unprecedented. However, it behooves us to draw parallels with the past and realize that our common goals and aspirations are far more important than our differences. The clash of cultures and ideologies is not predetermined. We have much more to gain through cooperation than confrontation, through inclusion not exclusion, through dialogue instead of intransigence.

In the end, both sides lost something; the Indians their freedom and way of life, the white man his freedom and sense of rugged individuality. Nostalgia over these losses resulted in the Wild West shows, dime novels, books, and eventually motion pictures. They seldom reflected the harsh realities of life by either side.  —  excerpt from Palo Duro.

Opening Dialogue

It is rather daunting launching a blog, especially if you’ve never written one before. How do you introduce yourself or your topic? Where do you start?

In 2014 I was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer resulting in treatment often referred to as the trifecta by cancer patients – chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Needless to say it was a life altering experience that required a reassessment of careers. For twenty-four years I’d worn the uniform of the U.S. Army, for another five I’d been a management director of a computer software company, and following the events on 9/11 I’d served as an independent contractor providing counterintelligence support worldwide. All of these jobs, if not demanding a 24/7 commitment, did require an energy that I no longer possessed. Nonetheless, sitting idle while undergoing treatment was not an option, so to maintain my sanity I turned to writing.

My first book, “Silver Taps,” was published in 2015 by Outskirts Press. It is a personal memoir; a tribute to my alma mater Texas A&M University, and an exploration of my relationship with my father, a veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam who passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. Its positive reception and the enjoyment I found in writing led to my second effort, “Palo Duro,” a historical novel focused on the Indian Wars in the Southern Plains at the end of the nineteenth century. It has just recently been released by Page Publishing.

The two books may seem worlds apart, yet both are connected by the love and respect I had for my father and the love he passed on to me for history and the Old West. Certainly history is not everyone’s cup of tea. Facts, dates, events, and historical figures in and of themselves can be dry sterile material; yet the historical fiction genre allows the writer latitude in bringing a particular historical period and the people involved to life. Similarly, the western may not hold the public’s attention as it once did in cinema or published media, yet it remains a window into our past, the expansion of our borders east to west, and the rugged individualism and entrepreneurship that forged a nation.

Both my books are currently available through retail and digital distributors (OutskirtsPress.com, PagePublishing.com, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon).

As we continue this conversation, I look forward to your feedback, questions, comments, and reviews on either or both.