Why Do We Read Books?

The answer to that question is as varied as individual preferences and literary genres. As a young boy, my tastes tended towards adventure stories. I saw myself as a Knight of the Round Table, a buccaneer or pirate roaming the high seas, an explorer in deepest darkest Africa, a defender at the Alamo. The descriptions of far away places, heroic deeds, and narratives about mythical kingdoms and creatures fueled my imagination.

As I grew older, the power of the written word translated into thoughts and emotions about the human condition. I learned details about history and insights into other people’s lives that caused me to view things from different perspectives, and my awareness of the world past and present built a sense of community and empathy with different cultures, languages, religions, social situations and mores. It opened me up to the connection that we have with one another in spite of our differences and the shared manner in which we handle life’s challenges. The expression of this commonality can be found in flowery language or gritty realism, beautiful and captivating imagery, deeply personal pain and suffering, the triumph over adversity, or in the extraordinary nature of commonplace things.

My love of literature led me to a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Texas A&M University, and more recently to write books of my own. My first book Silver Taps looks at death, suffering and growth, the importance of family in healing, past regrets, faith… a very personal reaction to my father’s passing. If you’ve suffered loss because of the ongoing COVID-19 virus, I cannot claim to know what you’re going through, but my thoughts and emotions might mirror your own or perhaps help you out of such an emotionally significant event. My second book Palo Duro hearkens back to my love of westerns. It looks at westward expansion and the Southern Plains Indian Wars. It is an ode to a genre that is fading from public consciousness, and a tribute to the the individual ruggedness that forged this nation. My latest book Tarnished Brass is based on my experiences in El Salvador during its ten-year civil war. It looks at America’s involvement in that war and how our immigration and border issues and the rise of the brutal street gang MS-13 evolved from this conflict.

Books can be the pathway that lessens our isolation from one another and in these uncertain times that bond is essential. Obviously, I’d love to have you as one of my readers, and should you choose to do so, I’d very much appreciate your feedback by providing comments on this website or by writing a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Most importantly, I encourage you to read! Today many of our libraries and book stores are closed to the public but are finding ways to offer curbside service or availability of books online. Virtual book club meetings and readings are ongoing. Podcasts allow authors to discuss their books, and social media platforms offer blog tours of the latest releases. Support them all if you can. You’re sure to find something to your liking that will ease your social isolation and lift your spirits.

Publication Update

In January I announced that my latest book Tarnished Brass would be published sometime in 2019. Though I still don’t have a firm release date from Page Publishing, we’re getting closer!

For anyone unfamiliar with the publishing process, the submitted manuscript goes through various stages including editing, page and cover design. My book is currently in the cover design phase. I hope to approve the artist’s concept in the next couple of weeks, after which the hard-copy, paperback, and e-book formats should be available in four-to-six weeks. So, we’re probably looking at the June time frame for the book launch.

The novella looks at America’s involvement in El Salvador during its civil war (1980-1992) and the consequences of that conflict some twenty-seven years later. Gang violence from MS-13 and Barrio-18 is widespread throughout the capitol city of San Salvador and extends to all regions of the Central American country (consistently ranking its homicide rate among the highest in the world), and MS-13’s influence has also spread here in the United States.

Tarnished Brass will be the third book that I’ve published. However, since many of you have only recently started to follow this blog, here is a brief synopsis of the two prior publications:

Completed Book CoverSilver Taps was written following the death of my father. The memoir looks at our relationship, the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease and its effects on a family, and also discusses faith in the context of coping with loss. The title is derived from the time honored tradition at Texas A&M University remembering the deceased during the academic year. I am a proud graduate of that institution.

Palo Duro CoverPalo Duro is a novel of westward expansion focusing on the Plains Indian Wars in the Southwest United States towards the end of the nineteenth century. It is an ode to the rugged individualism that made this country and pays homage to the western genre with depictions of the great cattle drives, the cowboys and gunslingers that would become icons of the “Old West,” as well as the struggles of Native Americans and white settlers over contested land.

Both of these books are available online at Amazon.com

 

 

History and Legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers

In honor of Black History Month I thought it appropriate to revisit the history and legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers (see my post, Top Soldier, November 24, 2017.)

These all-black units were formed in the aftermath of the Civil War and served at posts stretching from the Texas frontier to the Dakota territories performing duties that included improving the nation’s infrastructure (the building of forts, roads, and telegraph lines), acting as rangers within our national parks, and participating in the Indian Wars.

Their record of outstanding military service begins in 1866 when six regiments (two cavalry and four infantry) were mobilized in concert with the peacetime restructuring of the Army. Eventually the four infantry regiments would be consolidated into the 24th and 25th Infantry, while the two cavalry regiments would be designated as the 9th and 10th Cavalry. All would adopt the name Buffalo Soldiers.

Native Americans originated the name. Its derivation has been attributed to their comparison of the soldiers’ hair to the hide of a buffalo, but it also reflects their admiration for their courage in battle.

The Indian Wars ended in the 1890’s with the capitulation of the Apache, however, the Buffalo Soldiers also fought in the Spanish-American War and in the Philippines. During World War I their duties were limited to patrolling the border with Mexico, and they did not see any action during World War II.

Military segregation came to an end in 1948 and the last all-black units were disbanded in the 1950’s. Today associations such as the Bexar County Buffalo Soldiers Association proudly carry on that heritage by dedicating themselves to the preservation of the Buffalo Soldiers’ history through educational programs and historical reenactments that inform the general public about their extraordinary record of accomplishments.

During their existence the Buffalo Soldiers have the distinction of having the lowest desertion and Court Martial rates in the Army. Many were recipients of the Medal of Honor. The nation’s highest award was bestowed upon eight members of the 9th Cavalry, four members of the 10th Cavalry, and six members of the 24th Infantry for acts of heroism from 1865-1899 during the Indian campaigns. Additionally, five members of the 10th Cavalry received the honor for their actions during the Spanish-American War.

I dedicated chapters of my book on westward expansion, Palo Duro, to their legacy. They are only now receiving the recognition that they so justly deserve.

 

Texas Legends

Charles Goodnight, Cynthia Ann Parker, and Quanah Parker are legendary figures in the history of Texas and their stories have been the subject of numerous books and movies to include my own novel, Palo Duro.

On September 26th, Cowboys & Indians Magazine and Legacy of Texas the official store of the Texas State Historical Association both carried articles that once again showcased their amazing inter-related lives.

C&I Magazine focused its piece on an art exhibit by Lee Cable entitled “The Life and Times of Charles Goodnight” that is currently on display at the Bryan Museum in Galveston, Texas and runs through October 14th. The exhibit contains twelve historical paintings and twelve associated pencil sketches depicting important moments or achievements in Charles Goodnight’s life. “The paintings portray everything from Goodnight’s evolution into one of the most prosperous cattlemen in the West to his relationship to bison (first removing them from his land, then preserving them) to his close relationship with Quanah Parker.” The exhibit will also be on view November 16, 2018 – April 22, 2019 at the Cattle Raisers Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

TSHA provided background information on Cynthia Ann Parker, one of five captives taken by the Comanche during a raid on Fort Parker May 19, 1836. She would remain with the tribe for almost twenty-five years during which she married a Comanche war chief, Peta Nocona, and gave birth to three children, boys Quanah and Pecos, and a daughter, Topsannah. “She never returned voluntarily to Anglo society.”

On December 18, 1860 a Texas Ranger Company under the command of Lawrence Sullivan Ross attacked a Comanche hunting camp capturing three Native American prisoners. They were subsequently surprised to find that one of the captives had blue eyes. Colonel Isaac Parker would later identify this person as his long-lost niece.

Among the Texas Rangers that day was Charles Goodnight. He and Quanah Parker would be bitter enemies following the raid but would eventually overcome  their enmity and forge a close and lasting friendship.

For earlier posts related to these three individuals refer to my blog entries A Fate Worse than Death, October 12, 2017; Historical Figures & Fictional Characters, July 4, 2017; The Last Comanche War Chief, June 27, 2017; and Saving the Buffalo, March 7, 2017. Better yet, pick up a copy of Palo Duro!

 

 

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.

 

Bad Hand

 

From 1871-1874 Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie distinguished himself in military campaigns against the Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache. He’d already made an indelible impression on General Ulysses S. Grant during the American Civil War by his valor, gallantry, and meritorious conduct in several seminal battles including Second Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Petersburg. Grant would describe him as “the Union Army’s most promising young officer,” and assign him to duty on the Texas frontier. The Southern Plains Indian tribes would give him the name Bad Hand for wounds sustained at the battle of Petersburg where he’d lost two fingers on his right hand.

Initially, Mackenzie commanded one of the all black regiments, the Forty-First Infantry, made up of freedmen and former slaves, commonly known today as Buffalo Soldiers. Their exemplary record of accomplishments under his leadership at a time when institutional racial prejudice still existed in the Army brought him to the attention of General William Tecumseh Sherman. Sherman would re-assign him to Fort Richardson, Texas at the head of the 4th U.S. Cavalry, and task him with implementing Grant’s Quaker Peace Policy.

More than any policy, however, it would be Mackenzie’s tenacity against the Southern Plains Indians that led to their eventual defeat and subjugation. He would put an end (for a time) to the Apache raids against settlers along the Rio Grande by boldly crossing the border to attack their encampments at Remolino, Mexico. He would mount multiple expeditions into the previously unexplored Llano Estacado (Staked Plain,) each foray yielding new new information and tactics to be used against the Comanche and Kiowa, finally resulting in the decisive engagement against these tribes at Palo Duro Canyon September 28, 1874, and an end to the Red River War.

Ranald Mackenzie surveyed the burned encampments. All his efforts seemed to point to another campaign where he’d been unable to keep the Indians from escaping; another failure. He then looked toward the captured horses. Past experience told him he would be unable to keep the pony herd intact all the way back to friendly lines. The Indians would once again mount raids to recapture their mounts and the cycle of resistance and the so called “Red River War” would continue. Mackenzie had long since hardened himself against any pity for the enemy and now knew what was required of him. He ordered his Adjutant to drive the pony herd to Tule Canyon, to select fresh mounts for the troop and his Tonkawa Scouts, and to shoot all the remaining horses. – Excerpt from Palo Duro.

Read the book to learn more about the Plains Indian Wars, Ranald Mackenzie, and this gut wrenching decision!

 

 

 

The Texas Literary Scene

Book Blog Tours

I know you’ve seen the Lone Star Literary Life logo on my blog before, specifically this past January when they featured my historical novel Palo Duro on one of their blog tours, and most recently when it appeared again in their “Texas Reads” section on March 11th.

Because of their commitment to advancing Texas authors and their works and my wholehearted support of that effort, I recently asked if I might join their team of bloggers. I’m very pleased to announce that I was accepted and will henceforth be using this forum to not only post about my books, but to also write reviews and carry promotions on the latest releases and tours in the Lone Star State.

I hope to add my voice and perspective to the ongoing efforts of the professionals at Lone Star Literary Life who strive to encourage literacy throughout this great State by informing the public about Texas writers and their books. Look for related posts in the weeks to come, and in the interim be sure to check out their website!