Reading the West 6-7-10
Short stories, nonfiction essays, and poems make up the newest anthology from Western Writers of America: “Roundup!” This collection is billed as “Great Stories of the West from Today’s Leading Western Writers.”
The organization was founded on traditional fiction about the West, but this anthology shows the diversity of today’s Western writers. There are traditional stories including one featuring the great hero Hewey Calloway, written by the late, great Western writer, Elmer Kelton. But today’s traditional Western stories push beyond cowboys or gunfighters.
And even this story of Hewey Calloway (you may remember him as the cowboy in “The Good Old Boys”) is not traditional although Hewey is sure enough a cowboy. But when he’s riding to town looking to wash the dust from his whistle with a drink or five, Hewey comes across a family that’s in a bad way. Good man that he is, even if sister-in-law Eve has a hard time seeing his goodness, he sets out to help them by caring for their flock of sheep while they go to town to the doctor. When Hewey finally reaches town, his whistle drier than ever, he finds that sometimes he has to do the right thing, even if it leaves him high and dry.
C.K. Crigger’s story, “Left Behind,” is a seemingly sad tale that becomes uplifting as a family copes with the disappearance of a father who has more than once had them pick up and move to a new place, proving that a rambling man is just plain bound to ramble and roam. Cotton Smith serves a good traditional story in “Return of Smolan Grant,” while Dusty Richards adds a short piece, “Grandma’s Hope Chest.” Traditional nonfiction is an essay by Robert M. Utley, “Chiricahua Apache Leaders: A Comparison” which deals with Geronimo, Mangas Coloradas, Victorio, Cochise and Nana.
D.L. Birchfield opens the section “Native West” with his short story, “The Fast Dancing People,” that places a middle-aged college professor who is facing a mid-life crises into an unfinished movie that sends him to the camp of the “Fast Dancing People” in order to steal the finest mare from their herd. Birchfield (himself a college professor) is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and quite naturally the story revolves around how superior the Choctaws are. He is a master of satire, and of telling a story that will perhaps leave you scratching your head wondering what the devil it means. Knowing Birchfield as I do, I am certain there are underlying meanings to the words and the scenes that only Choctaws and those who know Choctaws will grasp. The rest of us can read this story wondering what possesses the writer as he cuts loose telling stories such as this one … and, yes, marveling just a little at his ability to entertain.
Other Native West stories are included by Kent Blansett, Cherokee; and Cheewa James, Modoc. Stories of the Frontier West include “The Spaniard and Meriwether Lewis” by Rita Cleary, plus the nonfiction essays “Kenneth McKenzie, King of the Upper Missouri” by Bill Markley and “Medicine Bill’s Last Ride,” by Susan K. Salzer.
Fiction of the “Wild West” era includes “The Ghost of Billy the Kid” by Matt Braun, “The Last Nightmare of Commodore Perry Owens” by Tom Carpenter, and the nonfiction essay, “Buffalo Bill Cody’s Celebrated ‘First Scalp for Custer’ or What really happened at Warbonnet Creek that day in 1876?” by Paul L. Hedren.
The stories of the contemporary West include “Death Comes to Deaconville” by Johnny D. Boggs, “John Stone’s Tomb” by Wayne Davis, “Ashes” by Arthur Winfield Knight, “Paddle Your Own Canoe” by John D. Nesbitt, “The Bells of Gold” by Miles Swarthout, and “The Great Filibuster of 1975” by Richard S. Wheeler.
The anthology is completed with an introduction by Paul Andrew Hutton, and a novella, “The Big Guns: or, Whose Little Lily is She?” by Andrew J. Fenady, and the poetry of John Duncklee, “Soledad Canyon;” Rod Miller, “Newe Dreams: Massacre at Bar River, 1863;” Vernon Schmid, “Priests’s Lodge;” Red Shuttleworth, “Sun City, Kansas (1903);” and Susan Cummins Miller, “Two Roads Diverged.”
The book is published by LaFrontera Publishing.