Friday Friends – Museum’s exhibit pays tribute to cowboy legends, legacies

Friday –  The cowboy is an iconic image, bringing to mind cattle drives, rodeos or even the Hollywood version on the big screen.

The cowboy played such an important role in the development of Nebraska, that the Nebraska History Museum is honoring their contributions with a year-long exhibit: “Nebraska Cowboys: Lives, Legends and Legacies.” The exhibit opened in late September and will be on display until Jan. 5, 2015.

Chadron’s Jim Potter played a big role in creating the exhibit, according to Ann Billesbach, the museum’s associate director of education and interpretation. Potter wrote the exhibit script and was instrumental in finding pieces for the large display.

“Nebraska Cowboys: Lives, Legends and Legacies” will fill four galleries in the Lincoln museum, an unusual event as each gallery is generally devoted to different subjects, Billesbach said.

“We really committed to the story,” she added.

The museum’s director Mike Smith actually promoted the idea of an exhibit dedicated to cowboys and their role in Nebraska, Potter said. It hadn’t been done before and he felt it was too important a part of Nebraska history to ignore longer. Potter was tasked with the logistics of making the exhibit happen. That included writing the script and locating pieces to complement the museum’s own collection.

Potter researched all aspects of cowboy history, crafted a plan for the exhibit and then traveled the state searching for pieces to feature in the exhibit.

“Everybody was pretty accommodating,” Potter said. “We borrowed a variety of pieces and integrated them with our own.”

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Western Novel Spotlight – Folly and Glory

Western –  The Berrybender Narratives are not something you can jump into. While McMurtry is incapable of writing badly, this series is best read from the beginning, as it is most definitely a sequential narrative. FOLLY AND GLORY begins with the Berrybenders under a forced yet luxurious house arrest in Santa Fe, Mexico. The mood of the party, particularly Tasmin Berrybender’s, is somewhat subdued due to the murder of Pomp Charbonneau at the hands of a deranged Mexican Army captain. The party as a whole, however, passes the time in relative comfort. Their somewhat idyllic incarceration is abruptly ended, though, when it is learned that the Mexican authorities plan to arrest them — for real this time — and, in all probability, execute the entire party. Lord Berrybender plans to proceed to Texas, and the party effects a hurried exit out of the compound. Danger and death await at every turn, not only from pestilence but also from a party of slavers.
Meanwhile, Jim Snow has as his wont been absent more than present, guiding a wagon train and procuring a weapons shipment for the always overbearing and self-centered Lord Berrybender. When an attack by the slavers results in the death of two members of the party, Jim Snow becomes The Sin Killer once again, exacting a dark and terrible but fitting vengeance upon the slavers. Snow’s action also indirectly results in a complication that will affect his wife Tasmin and the rest of the company, forcing Tasmin to make a decision regarding her future and that of her offspring.

FOLLY AND GLORY may well be the best of The Berrybender Narratives. McMurtry is perfect here, capturing the feeling of danger and casual brutality that was part of the everyday existence of the frontiersmen in the mid-19th century. FOLLY AND GLORY also neatly weaves its way through one of the major historical events of the period, while a number of real-life figures make brief but important cameo appearances. FOLLY AND GLORY is, ultimately, the capstone of what may well be McMurtry’s penultimate work in a career that has been marked by creative summits.

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Friday Friends – Glendale City Council OKs cowboy cutouts

Friday –  A life-size cutout of Clint Eastwood in cowboy garb won’t be the only likeness of a western star to become city property.

In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the City Council approved accepting the donation of five western-inspired art pieces, including the one of Eastwood, from a Los Angeles artist who had originally placed some of the cutouts secretly along the hills above Glendale.

“This is the kind of organic art that I really respond to,” said Councilwoman Laura Friedman. “It was an artist who took it upon himself to have a vision that included Glendale.”

The artist, Justin Stadel, created the cutouts to evoke a feeling of freedom in commuters driving on the Glendale (2) Freeway beneath the hillsides.

As part of the donation package, Stadel plans to also give the city cutouts of John Wayne, Annie Oakley, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers riding Trigger, his horse.

Of the five, Annie Oakley is the only one who was an authentic old-west character.

A cutout of Wayne once stood on a hillside overlooking Glendale High School, the star’s alma mater, but was eventually destroyed. The Autry cutout still resides on a hill northwest of the Glendale Sports Complex. The Eastwood statue is set to be placed near the entrance of the complex.

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Western Novel Spotlight – Terms of Endearment

Western –  As the author of Lonesome Dove and The LAST PICTURE SHOW , the Texas-theme entry into this Houston area novel is typical – little else is for McMurtry. Written predominantly while living in Europe, this book came after intense reading of 19th century classic authors and many references to the soul and intimate relations in this novel compare to the great accomplishments of novelists 100 years earlier.

More feminine than his usual novel, the book’s most feminine character is a “woman”: Aurora Horton – an extremely strong willed and almost founder-to-the-core feminist, who simultaneously flirts and commands numerous male suitors as her widow’s life strangely appeals to her. Her dialogue and constant contrarian comments make her one of literature’s great characters. And the strength of her character makes one only conclude he was right when he said ”I think good novelists, or most of them, realize that if you want to learn anything about emotion, you have to talk to women. You won’t find out from men…. All through the history of the novel, you know, women have been the emotional articulators. And I’ve always had very deep women friends — everything I learned, I learned from women.”

Aurora, for all practical purposes, is the book. She has a venomous tongue and berates everyone who is within listening distance. And, at times such actions are relatively mild when compared to her silent treatment. “He waited for her to apologize, but she merely sat looking at him. Her words were bad enough, but her silence was so infuriating he couldn’t stand it.” If one held their breath while waiting for an Aurora apology, their life could be counted in seconds.

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Monday Music Spotlight – I Ride an Old Paint

Cowboy Spirit – Michael Martin Murphey does a more mournful take on this classic, but we prefer the upbeat version by Riders in the Sky complete with great fiddlin’ by Woody Paul, King of the Cowboy Fiddlers. As far as capturing the American spirit, my vote’s in for this as our National Anthem. It’s got all the REAL American elements: horses, wide open spaces, cussed independence and a touch of violence in the form of a “bloody knife fight” that doesn’t dampen a cowboy’s spirit.

I ride an old paint and I lead old Dan
I’m goin’ to Montana for to throw the hoolihan
They feed in the goat, they water in the draw
Their tails are all matted, their backs are all raw

Ride around little dogies, ride around them slow
They’re fiery and snuffy and rarin’ to go

Old Buck Jones had a daughter and a son
His son went to Denver, but his daughter went wrong
His wife got killed in a bloody knife fight
Still he keeps singin’ from mornin’ till night

Ride around little dogies, ride around them slow
They’re fiery and snuffy and rarin’ to go

When I die, take my saddle from the wall
Put it on my pony and lead him from his stall
Tie my bones to his back, turn his head to the West
Let me ride forever on the plains I love best

Ride around little dogies, ride around them slow
They’re fiery and snuffy and rarin’ to go
Ride around little dogies, ride around them slow
They’re fiery and snuffy and rarin’ to go

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Friday Friends – The cowboy boot-seller of South Sixth

Friday –  The dizzying array of cowboy boots in outlandish colors like Easter egg blue or shocking pink fills the aisles of the store.

In a corner of the Cowboys Western Wear store at 1938 S. Sixth Ave., amid the smell of exotic leathers, Larry Mahan Western hats and Western pearl snap shirts, lay a few simple Mexicanhuaraches, or indigenous leather sandals.

Few believe store owner Mauro Muñoz when he tells people that he started out by selling six pairs of huaraches on a street corner.

Even fewer would have predicted that Muñoz’s store would turn out to be a hit. From Tucson’s working-class laborers to lovers of Western flair like U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (who is really into cowboy boots), the store sees a steady string of customers all day.

An easygoing, burly man with a mustache, Muñoz has a voice — loud — that carries over the entire store when he talks in Spanish in his lively accent from his home state of Sinaloa. He makes it a point to personally greet every customer.

Muñoz, 54, loves Western clothing, but he readily admits that he’s no fashion expert. Still, businesswise, he said he is emboldened by two key factors: He believes that he has God on his side and knows how to treat his customers well and make them feel at home.

On a recent Friday, José Hernández, a construction worker in his 50s, seemed at home at Muñoz’s store. His wife and nephew took him there so he could choose something for his birthday.

“He has always wanted a hat, some boots and a belt,” said Diego Ramírez, Hernández’s nephew, as his uncle tried out a straw hat.

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Western Novel Spotlight – Leaving Cheyenne

Western –  Larry McMurtry grew up among ranchers and cowboys, and his familiarity with this rural world makes his early novels set in and around Thalia, Texas, genuinely alive with rich detail and believable characters. He knows this world as it’s seen and understood by the people who live there, both young and old. Most revealingly (and colorfully) he knows how they really talk to each other and to themselves — not in the stereotypical ways often ascribed to country people.

You read “Leaving Cheyenne” slowly (the reference is to an old cowboy ballad, not the town in Wyoming), savoring the re-creation of real times and places, even when the story itself may move with no great urgency. The insights into characters and the observance of their behavior make them come alive on the page, and you simply enjoy the portrayals of them, their values, beliefs, and experiences.

Part I of this novel is told from the point of view of Gideon, a rancher’s son, about 20 years old, around the year 1920. There is his friend Johnny, from a neighboring ranch, and the two of them compete for the affection of Molly, a barefoot, independent-minded girl who willfully and unwisely marries another boy, an oilfield roustabout.

In Part II, it is 20 years later, during WWII, and Molly, now widowed, remains friends with the middle-aged Gideon and Johnny, each of whom happens to have fathered one of her two sons. This part is told from her point of view. Gideon has married another woman (also unwisely) and has become a prosperous rancher, while Johnny works for him, content to be a happy-go-lucky cowboy. Molly lives alone, her sons off to war, and yearns for the company of each of her two old friends and lovers.

In Part III, it is again 20 years later, about 1960 (the novel was published in 1962), and the three characters are now much older. Told from the point of view of Johnny, this section is farcically comical. Meanwhile, Gideon is haunted with guilt for his infidelities with Molly, and Johnny, as he says, has never lost a night’s sleep feeling shame for anything he’s ever done.

Written in 20-year jumps, the novel gives a sense of how quickly life passes and how people remain the adolescents they once were even as they age. We see that choices made in haste cannot be undone and can leave a life-long legacy of regret. Yet there is also solace in affection, loyalty, and tenderness of heart. The novel celebrates the special quality of friendship among friends who have lived their whole lives together in the same small rural community. And over the years, there is the land — and working the land — to ground their rural lives with purpose.

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Monday Music Spotlight – Beer for my Horses

Cowboy Spirit – You couldn’t have a list like this and leave out the original outlaw, Willie Nelson. This is his explanation of frontier justice back when even the cowponies were tougher than you’ll ever be. Not that I’m advocating the return of “Necktie Parties”, but there are certain news days where you can almost see it Willie’s way.

Well a man come on the 6 o’clock news
Said somebody’s been shot, somebody’s been abused
Somebody blew up a building, somebody stole a car
Somebody got away, somebody didn’t get too far yeah
They didn’t get too far

Grandpappy told my pappy, back in my day, son
A man had to answer for the wicked that he done
Take all the rope in Texas
Find a tall oak tree, round up all them bad boys
Hang them high in the street for all the people to see that

Justice is the one thing you should always find
You got to saddle up your boys
You got to draw a hard line
When the gun smoke settles we’ll sing a victory tune
We’ll all meet back at the local saloon
We’ll raise up our glasses against evil forces
Singing whiskey for my men, beer for my horses

We got too many gangsters doing dirty deeds
We’ve got too much corruption, too much crime in the streets
It’s time the long arm of the law put a few more in the ground
Send ’em all to their maker and he’ll settle ’em down
You can bet he’ll set ’em down cause

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Friday Friends – Preacher becomes cowboy Western star

Friday –  He realized that his movies were a pulpit from which he could reach a vast audience of boys whose letters fell upon him like blessings: “I’ll never use guns when I grow up, Fred, because you never use guns to kill anybody.” “You and Silver King capture the bad guys by tricks.” “I’m kind to animals, Fred, on account of you’re kind to animals.”

Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, Art Acord, Buck Jones, William S. Hart, Big Boy Williams, Jack Hoxie, Ward Bond … of the great Western stars, the name Fred Thomson has faded into history, but during his six-year career, his popularity was rivaled only by Mix and Hart.

Frederick Clifton Thomson was born January 1890 in Pasadena, Calif., one of four boys and the son of Clara and James Harrison Thomson. Extremely athletic, Fred was a star fullback at Occidental Academy High School, and at 16 entered Occidental College where he continued to play football. Working hard to live up to the extremely high standards set for him by his mother, he was a member of the high school band, the yearbook staff and in his senior year was elected president of the student council.

After graduation Thomson followed in his father’s footsteps, entering Princeton Theological Seminary to become a Presbyterian minister. He continued to play football, and before starting at Princeton won the AAU National Championship, defending his title while there.

Passing up the opportunity to enter the Olympics, Thomson instead began preaching. During July and August of 1912, his last year at the seminary, he served as pastor at Peck Memorial Chapel in Washington, D.C. Despite his devotion to his calling, Fred continued to train and competed at AAU National meets, beating records set by Jim Thorpe in the Olympics.

After graduation, he returned to Los Angeles and became the pastor at Hope Chapel. Under his byline, the Los Angeles Evening Herald featured a 14-week series of articles extolling the virtues of clean living.

On Aug. 1, 1913, Fred and college sweetheart Gail DuBois Jepson, a teacher, became engaged and two months later were married. Thomson was assigned to the Presbyterian Church of Goldfield, Nev., a remote mining town on the edge of Death Valley halfway between Carson City and Las Vegas (where he also served as commissioner of the Boy Scouts of America in Nevada.) Three years later, Gail died of tuberculosis, and soon after the United States entered World War I Fred decided to enlist. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to Battery F of the 143rd Field Artillery as chaplain, where he organized sports events, lent a sympathetic ear to the enlisted men and arbitrated spats between the officers and the enlisted men.

During a football game Fred broke his leg, and it was in the hospital that he met and fell in love with scenarist Frances Marion, a best friend of Mary Pickford. While arranging for the appearance of the 143rd for the film “Johanna Enlists,” Pickford had noticed the handsome young man and was determined that her friend would meet him. Romance blossomed, but with activity in Europe Thomson was sent overseas with his battalion.

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Western Novel Spotlight – Horseman, Pass By

Western –  When Larry McMurtry’s classic novel of the post-World War II era was originally published in 1961, it created a sensation in Texas literary circles. Never before had a writer portrayed the contemporary West in conflict with the Old West in such stark, realistic, unsentimental ways.

In 1961 Larry McMurtry’s debut, HORSEMAN, PASS BY, would revitalize the image of the cowboy in literature. With the release of the movie HUD (starring Paul Newman, Melvyn Douglas and Patricia Neal) two years later, it would be the first of many McMurtry stories to be adapted to film.
HUD was a big success: Melvyn Douglas and Patricia Neal both won Oscars, while Paul Newman’s performance in the title role is considered to be one of his finest. Over the years the novel has unfortunately become somewhat obscure, being searched for mostly by those who are fans of the film. But, as is usually the case, book and movie differ significantly in a variety of ways.

Exemplified in the antagonism between the stoic and hardworking Homer Bannon and the arrogant and amoral Scott “Hud” Bannon, HORSEMAN, PASS BY and HUD both present a stark and unsentimental account of the Old West losing ground to the modern world. Nevertheless, McMurtry’s novel is less willing to compromise with its message that there are those of us who are simply bad people.

While the movie naturally focuses on its namesake-character, utilizing a handsome and charming Paul Newman to portray him as a deeply flawed but ultimately misunderstood antihero, McMurty’s book reads from the perspective of Homer’s 17 years old grandson, Lonnie, who witnesses the demise of his grandfather’s life and everything the old man spent 80 years of hard work and patience to build. Despite a teenaged boy’s likely envy for the older man’s independence and easy way with women, Lonnie is mature enough to see little good in Hud. He shows Hud for the swaggering, self-serving, mean-spirited bully that he is. Lonnie knows Hud despises Homer, and realizing that their isn’t much he can do about it. So, while Hud spends his time beating up on smaller and weaker men or bedding down married women, Lonnie works hard with his grandfather and a ranch hand named Jesse, admiring and learning from their life experiences. Except for these men, Lonnie’s only regular company was the Bannons’ young black housekeeper, Halmea.

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