The Romance Reviews

Sunday, July 28, 2013

In The Good Ol' Summertime

Summer is one of my favorite seasons. I love fresh fruit, veggies fresh from the garden (and this year, we seem to have moved from garden to JUNGLE in the manner that the squash and cucumbers are going EVERYWHERE), and soaking up the sunshine in the pool. This year, though, as much as I love being out of doors, it’s been difficult because of the rain and the heat contributing to the insect population. We have a bumper crop of mosquitoes and chiggers this year. Around dusk, we’re forced to retreat into the house and a few hours after I’ve been in the garden, I’ve discovered I have a new round of chigger bites. There is nothing on the planet more itchy than a chigger bite! Take my word for it. And, I’ve yet to find anything that makes the itching stop for more than a few hours at a time.

The ticks were horrible this spring. It’s not often I have to treat the collies more than once (usually in late April to early May) for those horrible little parasites, but this year I had to treat the whole kennel three times. The fleas are as bad, as well. I have two collies who chew massive hot spots into their hides if they even think they have a flea, so treatment to prevent fleas has been the order of business this summer.

I have to say, though, that the growing season here has been incredible. We tried container gardening this year with some of the veggies, and my heirloom tomatoes look incredible. We’ve already had several big tomatoes and I can say there is nothing better than biting into a tomato warm from the sunshine. I’ve put up several quarts of squash and have several more to do. We have cucumber salad (in some variety or form) every day.

We didn’t put in any green beans because I hate the things. I never learned to like them and if I won’t eat them, there is no sense in planting them. We also didn’t put in corn this year because every year we’ve put in corn, apparently the raccoons believed we planted corn just for them.

I should be working on my next writing project, but the weather is just too alluring to be resisted. I can always write when the house has settled for the night and everyone else is asleep and in bed. And, with that being written, I'm going to post this blog and go do exactly that.



Saturday, July 20, 2013

Johnson County Range War: Vigilantism or Defending Property Rights?

The Johnson County War, also known as the War on Powder River and the Wyoming Range War, was a range war that took place in Johnson, Natrona and Converse County, Wyoming in April 1892 and became so brutal and disruptive that the US Cavalry was ordered by President Benjamin Harrison to intervene. This range was fought between small ranchers and the large, wealthy, and much longer established ranchers and culminated in a lengthy shootout between the local ranchers, a group of hired killers, and a sheriff’s posse.

Conflict over land was a somewhat common occurrence in the development of the American West but was particularly prevalent during the late 19th century and early 20th century when large portions of the west were being settled by Americans for the first time. Historian Richard Maxwell calls this time period the “Western Civil War of Incorporation” and Johnson County seemed to be the epicenter. Early in Wyoming’s history most of the land was public and open to both raising stock on the open range and for homesteading.

Large numbers of cattle were turned loose on this open range by the large ranches. Ranchers would hold a spring roundup where the cows and the calves belonging to each ranch were separated and the calves branded. Before the roundup, calves (especially orphan or stray calves) were sometimes surreptitiously branded. Many of the ranchers owning large swaths of land tried to defend against rustling by forbidding their employees from owning cattle and lynching (or threatening such) suspected rustlers—often without benefit of a trial. Heaven help the cowboy found with a branding iron in his saddle bags. Property and use rights were usually respected among big and small ranches based on who was first to settle the land (the doctrine is known as Prior Appropriation) and the size of the herd. Nonetheless large ranching outfits would sometimes band together and use their power to monopolize large swaths of range land, preventing newcomers from settling the area.

It was against this backdrop that the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) was formed with a membership comprised of some of the state’s wealthiest and most popular residents. Socially, the group met at the Cheyenne Club in Cheyenne, Wyoming. As the membership was made up of the elite, the organization carried a great deal of political sway in the state and even in the region. The WSGA carried so much political clout that they were able to set a schedule for roundups and shipments of those beeves East. They also created a detective agency to investigate cattle rustling.

The often uneasy relationship between larger, wealthier ranches and smaller ranch settlers became steadily worse after the poor winter of 1886-1887 when a series of blizzards and temperatures of 40-50 degrees below 0 °F (-45 °C) had followed an extremely hot and dry summer. It started snowing in October of ’86 and didn’t stop until late May of ’87. When it wasn’t snowing, the weather complicated matters with freezing rain, creating a crust so thick on the snow that the cattle couldn’t paw through to get to what there was of the drought stricken grasses. Thousands of cattle died and while many large ranches went belly up, others of the large land and cattle companies began to appropriate land and control the flow and supply of water in the area. Some of the harsher tactics included forcing settlers off their land and setting fire to settler buildings as well as trying to exclude the smaller ranchers from participation in the annual roundup. The justification for these strong armed tactics was the catch-all allegation of cattle rustling.
In Johnson County, with emotions running high, agents of the larger ranches killed several alleged rustlers from smaller ranches. Many were killed on dubious evidence or were simply found dead while the killer(s) remained anonymous. Frank M. Canton, Sheriff of Johnson County in the early 1880s and detective for the WSGA, was rumored to be behind many of the deaths. The double lynching in 1889 of Ella Watson and storekeeper Jim Averell (who never owned a cow in his life) enraged local residents. A number of additional dubious lynchings of alleged rustlers took place in 1891. At this point, a group of smaller Johnson County ranchers led by a local settler named Nate Champion formed the Northern Wyoming Farmers and Stock Growers' Association (NWFSGA) to compete with the WSGA. The WSGA “blacklisted” the NWFSGA and told them to stop all operations. The NWFSGA refused the WSGA's order to disband and announced their plans to hold their own roundup in the spring of 1892.

The WSGA, led by Frank Wolcott (WSGA Member and large North Platte rancher), hired gunmen with the intention of eliminating alleged rustlers in Johnson County and break up the NWFSGA. Twenty-three gunmen from Paris, Texas and four cattle detectives from the WSGA were hired with Idaho frontiersman George Dunning who later turned against the group. Some WSGA and Wyoming dignitaries also joined the expedition including State Senator Bob Tisdale, state water commissioner W.J. Clarke, W.C. Irvine and Hubert Teshemacher, both instrumental in organizing Wyoming's statehood four years earlier. They were accompanied by surgeon Dr. Charles Penrose as well as Ed Towse, a reporter for the Cheyenne Sun, and a newspaper reporter for the Chicago Herald, Sam T. Clover, whose lurid first-hand accounts later appeared in eastern newspapers. A total expedition of 50 men was organized. To lead the expedition the WSGA hired Canton, a former Johnson County Sheriff-turned-gunman and WSGA detective. The group became known as “The Invaders”, or alternately, “Wolcott's Regulators”.

The first target of the WSGA was Nate Champion at the KC Ranch (of which today's town of Kaycee, Wyoming is a namesake), a small rancher who was active in the efforts of small ranchers to organize a competing roundup. The “Regulators” traveled to the ranch late in the night of Friday April 8, 1892, quietly surrounded the buildings and waited for daybreak. Three men besides Champion were at the KC. Two men who were evidently spending the night on their way through were captured as they emerged from the cabin early that morning to collect water at the nearby Powder River, while the third, Nick Ray, was shot while standing inside the doorway of the cabin and died a few hours later. Champion was besieged inside the log cabin.

During the siege, Champion kept a poignant journal which contained a number of notes he wrote to friends while taking cover inside the cabin. “Boys, I feel pretty lonesome just now. I wish there was someone here with me so we could watch all sides at once.” The last journal entry read: “Well, they have just got through shelling the house like hail. I heard them splitting wood. I guess they are going to fire the house tonight. I think I will make a break when night comes, if alive. Shooting again. It's not night yet. The house is all fired. Goodbye, boys, if I never see you again.”

With the house on fire, Nate Champion signed his journal entry and put it in his pocket before running from the back door with a six shooter in one hand and a knife in the other. As he emerged he was shot by four men and the invaders later pinned a note on Champion's bullet-riddled chest that read “Cattle Thieves Beware”.

Two passers-by noticed the ruckus that Saturday afternoon and local rancher Jack Flagg rode to Buffalo (the county seat of Johnson County) where the sheriff raised a posse of 200 men over the next 24 hours and the party set out for the KC on Sunday night, April 10.

The WSGA group then headed north on Sunday toward Buffalo to continue its show of force. The posse led by the sheriff caught up with the WSGA by early Monday morning of the 11th and besieged them at the TA Ranch on Crazy Woman Creek. The gunmen took refuge inside a log barn on the ranch. Ten of the gunmen then tried to escape the barn behind a fusillade but the posse beat them back and killed three. One of the WSGA group escaped and was able to contact the acting Governor of Wyoming the next day. Frantic efforts to save the WSGA group ensued and two days into the siege Governor Barber was able to telegraph President Benjamin Harrison a plea for help late on the night of April 12, 1892.

Harrison immediately ordered the U.S. Secretary of War Stephen B. Elkins to address the situation under Article IV, Section 4, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which allows for the use of U.S. forces under the President's orders for “protection from invasion and domestic violence”. The Sixth Cavalry from Fort McKinney near Buffalo was ordered to proceed to the TA ranch at once and take custody of the WSGA expedition. The 6th Cavalry left Fort McKinney a few hours later at 2 am on April 13 and reached the TA ranch at 6:45 am. The expedition surrendered to the Sixth soon after and was saved just as the posse had finished building a series of breastworks to shoot gunpowder on the invader's log barn shelter so that it could be set on fire from a distance. The Sixth Cavalry took possession of Wolcott and 45 other men with 45 rifles, 41 revolvers and some 5,000 rounds of ammunition.

The WSGA group was taken to Cheyenne to be held at the barracks of Fort D.A. Russell as the Laramie County jail was unable to hold that many prisoners. They received preferential treatment and were allowed to roam the base by day as long as they agreed to return to the jail to sleep at night. Johnson County officials were upset that the group was not kept locally at Ft. McKinney. The General in charge of the 6th Cavalry felt that tensions were too high for the prisoners to remain in the area. Hundreds of armed locals sympathetic to both sides of the conflict were said to have gone to Ft. McKinney over the next few days under the mistaken impression the invaders were being held there.

The Johnson County attorney began to gather evidence for the case and the details of the WSGA's plan emerged. Canton's gripsack was found to contain a list of seventy alleged rustlers who were to be shot or hanged, a list of ranch houses the invaders had burned, and a contract to pay each Texan five dollars a day plus a bonus of $50 for each person killed. The invaders' plans reportedly included murdering people as far away as Casper and Douglas. The New York Times reported on April 23, that “The evidence is said to implicate more than twenty prominent stockmen of Cheyenne whose names have not been mentioned heretofore, also several wealthy stockmen of Omaha, as well as to compromise men high in authority in the State of Wyoming. They will all be charged with aiding and abetting the invasion, and warrants will be issued for the arrest of all of them.”

Charges against the men “high in authority” in Wyoming were never filed. Eventually the invaders were released on bail and were told to return to Wyoming for the trial. Many fled to Texas and were never seen again. In the end the WSGA group went free after the charges were dropped on the excuse that Johnson County refused to pay for the costs of prosecution. The costs of housing the men at Fort D.A. Russell were said to exceed $18,000 and the sparsely populated Johnson County was unable to pay.

Emotions ran high for many years following the “Johnson County Cattle War” as some viewed the large and wealthy ranchers as heroes who took justice into their own hands in order to defend their rights, while others saw the WSGA as heavy-handed vigilantes running roughshod over the law of the land.

A number of tall tales were spun by both sides afterwards in an attempt to make their actions appear morally justified. Parties sympathetic to the invaders painted Nate Champion as the leader of a vast cattle rustling empire and that he was a leading member of the fabled “Red Sash Gang” that supposedly included the likes of everyone from Jesse James to the Hole in the Wall Gang (of which the most famous members were Butch Cassidy and The Sundace Kid). These rumors about Champion have since been discredited. Parties sympathetic to the smaller ranchers spun tales that insinuated the Regulators hired some of the west's most notorious gunslingers such as Tom Horn and Big Nose George Parrot (whose skull was later used by the warden at the prison in Laramie as an ash tray). Horn did briefly work as a detective for the WSGA in the 1890s but there is no evidence he was involved in the war.

As many historians as there are is as many theories as to why this dispute over land and resources turned into a shooting war, but one thing remains consistent and that is the popular image depicts the Johnson County War as an act of vigilantism by aggressive foreign-owned land and cattle firms against small, individual settlers defending their rights.

Sources include: 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

My Ten Favorite Movies

I’ll admit it, with the summer heat and working on a new idea for a novel, I’m lazy and don’t want to write a full blown blog entry. So, I decided to do a “top ten” list.  I toyed with my top ten list of my favorite books, but I realized that there were too many and I’d never fit them into a list of ten. So, I decided to do a list of the ten movies I would want with me if was stranded on an island (and actually had a way to play and view the movies in my list). So, without any further ado and in no particular order, here is my list of the movies I’d want with me on that island.

The Searchers, released for DVD by Warner Home Video in 2007. Jeff Shannon said of this movie “A favorite film of some of the world's greatest filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, John Ford's The Searchers has earned its place in the legacy of great American films for a variety of reasons. Perhaps most notably, it's the definitive role for John Wayne as an icon of the classic Western--the hero (or antihero) who must stand alone according to the unwritten code of the West. The story takes place in Texas in 1868; Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a Confederate veteran who visits his brother and sister-in-law at their ranch and is horrified when they are killed by marauding Comanches. Ethan's search for a surviving niece (played by young Natalie Wood) becomes an all-consuming obsession. With the help of a family friend (Jeffrey Hunter) who is himself part Cherokee, Ethan hits the trail on a five-year quest for revenge. At the peak of his masterful talent, director Ford crafts this classic tale as an embittered examination of racism and blind hatred, provoking Wayne to give one of the best performances of his career. As with many of Ford's classic Westerns, The Searchers must contend with revisionism in its stereotypical treatment of "savage" Native Americans, and the film's visual beauty (the final shot is one of the great images in all of Western culture) is compromised by some uneven performances and stilted dialogue. Still, this is undeniably one of the greatest Westerns ever made.” They don’t make ’em like the Duke any more. More’s the pity…

Gone With The Wind, released for DVD by Warner Home Video in 2009, this is what Tom Keogh had to say about the movie: “David O. Selznick wanted Gone with the Wind to be somehow more than a movie, a film that would broaden the very idea of what a film could be and do and look like. In many respects he got what he worked so hard to achieve in this 1939 epic (and all-time box-office champ in terms of tickets sold), and in some respects he fell far short of the goal. While the first half of this Civil War drama is taut and suspenseful and nostalgic, the second is ramshackle and arbitrary. But there's no question that the film is an enormous achievement in terms of its every resource--art direction, color, sound, cinematography--being pushed to new limits for the greater glory of telling an American story as fully as possible. Vivien Leigh is still magnificently narcissistic, Olivia de Havilland angelic and lovely, Leslie Howard reckless and aristocratic. As for Clark Gable: we're talking one of the most vital, masculine performances ever committed to film.” Gable was definitely one of a kind.

Independence Day, released by 20th Century Fox in 2003, Tom Keogh is less than admiring of the film—but it is nothing but great fun. Keogh writes “In Independence Day, a scientist played by Jeff Goldblum once actually had a fistfight with a man (Bill Pullman) who is now president of the United States. That same president, late in the film, personally flies a jet fighter to deliver a payload of missiles against an attack by extraterrestrials. Independence Day is the kind of movie so giddy with its own outrageousness that one doesn't even blink at such howlers in the plot. Directed by Roland Emmerich, Independence Day is a pastiche of conventions from flying-saucer movies from the 1940s and 1950s, replete with icky monsters and bizarre coincidences that create convenient shortcuts in the story. (Such as the way the girlfriend of one of the film's heroes--played by Will Smith--just happens to run across the president's injured wife, who are then both rescued by Smith's character who somehow runs across them in alien-ravaged Los Angeles County.) The movie is just sheer fun, aided by a cast that knows how to balance the retro requirements of the genre with a more contemporary feel.” Besides which, who doesn’t laugh when Will Smith’s character punches out the alien and says, “Welcome to Earth.” And, it has the additional bonus of eye candy in both Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman. 

(I’m cheating with the next two selections—because I can’t decide of the two series which is my favorite from the two.)
The Harry Potter movies: Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows I & II. I mean, seriously…there is no way I can pick my favorite. Added bonus: Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. I could listen to that man read the telephone book.

The Star Wars movies—all six of them. (I’m reserving judgment on the one forthcoming in a few years from the Disney Studios.) I was sixteen the summer Star Wars (yes, the one later renamed Star Wars IV—A New Hope) and I was such a geek, I saw the steps of The Hero’s Journey in this movie and was elated. Not to mention, there was that scruffy looking smuggler who showed up halfway through the movie. He wasn’t too hard on the eyes.

Truly, Madly, Deeply was released by MGM for DVD in December of 2001. “Truly Madly Deeply is an intelligent, moving, and deeply funny story about love and death. Nina (Juliet Stevenson), a scatterbrained professional translator, has lost the love of her life, Jamie (Die Hard's Alan Rickman). As her life (and her flat) slowly falls to pieces, she's inundated by an endless stream of repair men and eligible suitors. But rather than go on with life, Nina dwells on her dead love, slumped at her piano, endlessly playing half of a Bach duet. Then, in a truly magical sequence, his cello suddenly joins her melody ... and Jamie's back from the dead. At first it's bliss. (Think of the superficially similar blockbuster Ghost--only with real people instead of pretty faces Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze.) But Nina gradually realizes it's a thoroughly real Jamie who's back, complete with every annoying, argumentative fault she'd conveniently forgotten. (He might be dead, he explains, but he still attends political meetings.) Moreover, he has to hide whenever any of the living are around. And he's constantly ice-cold. And he invites his dead pals to her place at all hours. What's a living woman to do? Director Anthony Minghella went on to create the melodramatic period piece The English Patient--but in this film, he shows a far more sensitive, subtle touch. The photography is brilliant, capturing the simple beauties of suburban London. And the wonderfully acted characters, quirky and all too real, will keep you laughing--and always guessing what will happen next. --Grant Balfour”

How to Train Your Dragon was released for DVD by DreamWorks in 2010. And, yes, I know it’s a “kid’s movie” but I love this movie. Charles Solomon says of the movie “A winning mixture of adventure, slapstick comedy, and friendship, How to Train Your Dragon rivals Kung Fu Panda as the most engaging and satisfying film DreamWorks Animation has produced. Hiccup (voice by Jay Baruchel) is a failure as a Viking: skinny, inquisitive, and inventive, he asks questions and tries out unsuccessful contraptions when he's supposed to be fighting the dragons that attack his village. His father, chief Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), has pretty much given up on his teenage son and apprenticed him to blacksmith Gobber (Craig Ferguson). Worse, Hiccup knows the village loser hasn't a chance of impressing Astrid (America Ferrera), the girl of his dreams and a formidable dragon fighter in her own right. When one of Hiccup's inventions actually works, he hasn't the heart to kill the young dragon he's brought down. He names it Toothless and befriends it, although he's been taught to fear and loathe dragons. Codirectors and cowriters Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who made Disney's delightful Lilo and Stitch, provide plenty of action, including vertiginous flying sequences, but they balance the pyrotechnics with moments of genuine warmth that make the viewer root for Hiccup's success. Many DreamWorks films get laughs from sitcom one-liners and topical pop culture references; as the humor in Dragon comes from the characters' personalities, it feels less timely and more timeless. Toothless chases the spot of sunlight reflected off Hiccup's hammer like a giant cat with a laser pointer; Hiccup uses his newly found knowledge (and an icky smoked eel) to defeat two small dragons--and impress the other kids. How to Train Your Dragon will be just as enjoyable 10 or 20 years from now as it is today.” Yeah, I think so, too.

Lassie Come Home was released in 2004 by Warner Home Video. I cry EVERY SINGLE TIME I watch this movie. I blame this movie for my deep love of the collie and as one of the factors that contributed to my raising and showing this wonderful, magnificent breed. Amazon’s review of this movie is as follows: “is a classic for all the usual reasons: its timeless, universal appeal, its first-of-its-kind status, and its exceptional cinematography, direction, and performances. What makes this 1943 charmer especially fun for grownups who haven't screened it since their own preteen, pet-obsessed days, though, is a couple of cute-as-a-button cast members. An adorably over-earnest Roddy McDowall stars as Joe, the mostly hapless lad whom Lassie refuses to part with despite his down-and-out family's decision to sell her, for a paltry 15 guineas, to a wealthy duke; and Elizabeth Taylor, already stunning at around age 10, surrenders a sweet if mawkish performance as Priscilla, the Duke's tenderhearted granddaughter, who lends a hand in Lassie's escape from her family's unkind kennel master and winks her way into winning the fearless pup a permanent place at her true master's side. Beyond that, it's no mystery why generations of dog-loving audiences have marveled at the precocious collie's career--Lassie is a great actor. She so convincingly digs impossible trenches, leaps towering fences, swims raging rivers, knocks out bad guys, and betrays the essence of brokenheartedness with her bedraggled coat and woebegone expressions that it's sometimes hard to shake the suspicion that she's really an incredibly limber person in a cute dog suit. All told, Lassie Come Home delivers a lot to love, not the least of which is the deeply dramatic score--quirky sounding to the modern ear--which returns audiences to simpler, irony-free times, as does the movie's message of loyalty at all costs. --Tammy La Gorce”

Beauty and the Beast. Disney routinely releases this classic from “the vault”. Here’s what the official review on Amazon has to say about this wonderful love story: The film that officially signaled Disney's animation renaissance (following The Little Mermaid) and the only animated feature to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination, Beauty and the Beast remains the yardstick by which all other animated films should be measured. It relates the story of Belle, a bookworm with a dotty inventor for a father; when he inadvertently offends the Beast (a prince whose heart is too hard to love anyone besides himself), Belle boldly takes her father's place, imprisoned in the Beast's gloomy mansion. Naturally, Belle teaches the Beast to love. What makes this such a dazzler, besides the amazingly accomplished animation and the winning coterie of supporting characters (the Beast's mansion is overrun by quipping, dancing household items) is the array of beautiful and hilarious songs by composer Alan Menken and the late, lamented lyricist Howard Ashman. (The title song won the 1991 Best Song Oscar, and Menken's score scored a trophy as well.) The downright funniest song is "Gaston," a lout's paean to himself (including the immortal line, "I use antlers in all of my de-co-ra-ting"). "Be Our Guest" is transformed into an inspired Busby Berkeley homage. Since Ashman's passing, animated musicals haven't quite reached the same exhilarating level of wit, sophistication, and pure joy. --David Kronke”

And, last but not least is the Hallmark Hall of Fame Production in clay-mation of The Little Drummer Boy. I remember seeing this for the first time during the Christmas season when I was about six or seven. When I was all grown up and had kids of my own, I had to find this for them. It quickly became a favorite of theirs, as well. Amazon’s review states: “The model animation techniques in this 1968 Rankin and Bass TV chestnut are primitive by today's standards, and picky kids may reject them out of hand. The story, however, which elaborates on the popular Christmas song about a shepherd boy who plays his drum for the baby Jesus and makes the animals dance, is a little more tough-minded than you might expect. The kid begins the story as what we'd now call a neglected child, a surly urchin who says he hates all people. He's pulled back from the brink, first by learning to make music, and then by his encounter with the Christ child. The underlying message alone--that everybody has something worth contributing--qualifies the show for holiday-perennial status. The big-name voice performers, Jose Ferrer and Greer Garson (who narrates), may be a little too ponderous for the occasion, but the familiar cartoony tones of Paul Frees (aka Boris Badenov) and June Forey (aka Rocket J. Squirrel) help liven up the proceedings. It's only 23 minutes long, so it's worth a shot for younger children. --David Chute”


What are movies you’d want with you on a deserted island? Did any of mine make your list? Any gems I should reconsider for my list?
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