Gotta say, the loss of Texas songster legend Billy Joe Shaver last Wednesday hit me pretty hard, especially coming as it did on the heels of the passing of Jerry Jeff Walker. They were hard-worn old men, and their time had come, but… damn. These days it feels like an awful lot of things I value deeply are slipping into the gloaming. My family has taken some loss lately — my nephew Kenny died a couple of weeks ago, well before time. The outlook for our beleaguered Republic is grim, regardless of what happens on November 3. A whole lot of my beloved American West burned in a hellish summer.
My outlook seems dark. In fact, a friend of many years expressed concern that my political pessimism has left me “no ground to stand on” and that in my outlook “all roads lead to the abyss.” While I may seem to be staring into some dark Davey Jones’ Locker of the soul, I’m really doing fine. I know what I must cleave to.
After writing a small tribute to Billy Joe, I just did what I do, good times or bad. I took up the rucksack and the rifle and hit the woods. A six-mile woods ramble, a kettlebell+shooting session followed by a picking session on some of those immortal songs put me right, at least for a few hours. I’m grateful I can do these things — grateful for the music, for the forest, for steel and walnut and old-school craftsmanship.
Know this: It means a great deal to me to be able to share my passions and my work with a community of like-minded souls — most of whom I’ve never met in person. Thank you all for coming to this campfire. We’ll keep it burning as long as we can — a beacon in the long night.
Speaking of the work…
Trekked over the Misty Mountains cold last weekend for a recording/editing tutorial with daughter Ceili. She has been doing a podcast for the Western Fire Chiefs Association for several months and has become well versed in the tech end of podcast creation. We did a hands-on run on Garage Band and Adobe Premier, and created a preview “Episode 0.” On track for launching this month.
I’ve done a fair bit of recording, but I’ve always had an engineer to handle the technical side. For this endeavor, that’ll be me….
Thank you to all who participated in the crowd-funding and who purchased trade goods, proceeds from which are going into the podcast. There are still some expenses in getting this going that I’m working on getting covered. If you would like to contribute, click on the GoFundMe link on the Frontier Partisans main page. Very much appreciated.
I’ll make an announcement here when the preview is up, which will be followed in short order by the first series, which explores the the controversial life and legacy of the Mountain Man, guide and soldier, Kit Carson.
Coincidentally, I’ll be on a Fremont-Carson route on November 7, when I take my Dad down to California. The route is in part that taken by Fremont’s Third Expedition when, possibly on secret orders, Fremont abandoned his exploratory and topographical mission and headed south from Oregon into California to foment rebellion against Mexico.
Cowboys: A Documentary Portrait will finally be released worldwide on November 17, on an array of streaming platforms. Frontier Partisans first reported on this film in 2017. The film industry, like the music industry is weird and complicated, and getting weirder and more complicated due to the pandemic. It takes a while to get a film distributed (just ask Tamara Saviano, maker of the Guy Clark documentary Without Getting Killed Or Caught). I”m thinking this is worth the wait.
Craig Rullman scouted up a brand-new and most exciting history of the Hudson’s Bay Company. I really like what I’ve seen of this book, though it’s apparently going to take a while to get an actual copy in my hands. Publishing is so weird these days. It’s published by Doubleday Canada; available instantly via Kindle, but a hardback is apparently being shipped by canoe from Canada to Tennessee and thence West via keelboat and pack train to Oregon. This ain’t an electronic read. Anyhoo — the author’s approach meshes with Frontier Partisans…
I take a biographical and narrative approach to my writing, using the techniques of fiction writing — storytelling, creative language, emphasizing people, their decisions, actions and motivations — to tell factually and historically accurate stories. I believe that people and their behaviour never change, only the context is different. My lifelong interest in history is fueled by the lessons to be learned from studying the successes and failures of history’s greatest thinkers, leaders and innovators, those who challenged conventional thinking and entrenched power structures to change their world. I am particularly interested in how the world we live in today was formed by individuals who were responding to the big challenges of their time, and in particular, how and why those individuals became pioneers.
I have long been interested in the North American fur trade, particularly the early days during the first tentative meetings between peoples, when the world was a very different place socially, scientifically and technologically. For whatever reason it seems that this period is often misrepresented and misunderstood. While the data- statistics and numbers and facts-are obviously a fundamental background to understanding the history, it has always been the people who have fascinated me. People who were biologically the same as you and me-just as intelligent and motivated by the same basic urges-but who lived their lives and made their decisions within the boundaries of different cultural and geographical constraints.
Being, well, me, I immediately dived head-first down the rabbit hole and ordered a previous book by the same author:
Check this out:
The merchant kings of the Age of Heroic Commerce were a rogue’s gallery of larger-than-life men who, for a couple hundred years, expanded their far-flung commercial enterprises over a sizable portion of the world. They include Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the violent and autocratic pioneer of the Dutch East India Company; Peter Stuyvesant, the one-legged governor of the Dutch West India Company, whose narrow-minded approach lost Manhattan to the British; Robert Clive, who rose from company clerk to become head of the British East India Company and one of the wealthiest men in Britain; Alexandr Baranov of the Russian American Company; Cecil Rhodes, founder of De Beers and Rhodesia; and George Simpson, the “Little Emperor” of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who was chauffeured about his vast fur domain in a giant canoe, exhorting his voyageurs to paddle harder so he could set speed records.
Merchant Kings looks at the rise and fall of company rule in the centuries before colonialism, when nations belatedly assumed responsibility for their commercial enterprises. A blend of biography, corporate history, and colonial history, this book offers a panoramic, new perspective on the enormous cultural, political, and social legacies, good and bad, of this first period of unfettered globalization.
The Age of Heroic Commerce. That is a perfect description of the milieu of Frontier Partisans. Wish I’da thunk of it…
Tom Hanks is headed out into the frontier in News of the World, scheduled for a Christmas release. The trailer dropped last week. From Entertainment Weekly:
The new footage from the anticipated epic dropped Thursday, previewing Hanks’ turn as Civil War veteran Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who travels the nation spreading non-fiction tales of presidents, queens, international feuds, world disasters, and more to townsfolk across America.
Kidd’s world unexpectedly intertwines with that of a 10-year-old girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel), previously taken in by the Kiowa people and raised as one of their own before an accident leaves her square in Kidd’s path. Against Johanna’s will, the captain takes her with him on a journey to reunite her with her biological aunt and uncle — a trek that poses significant dangers both environmental and human.
“It may be that this will cause talk yet.”
— Big Duncan MacKenzie
Swordmaster Paul Macdonald is back with his series Master-at-Arms with an episode on the broadsword of Big Duncan MacKenzie. The Highlander smote a British Dragoon a a mighty, skull-splitting blow at the Battle of Prestonpans during the 1745 Jacobite Uprising. Macdonald is certain that he has found the sword that struck the dragoon down.
Aye, and I’ll be picking this one up after it drops November 3. A wee birthday present for meself, perhaps?
A road trip book with a difference. Stars of Outlander – Sam Heughan & Graham McTavish – explore Scotland, a land of raw beauty, poetry, feuding, music, history, and warfare.
From their faithful camper van to boats, kayaks, bicycles, and motorbikes, join stars of Outlander Sam and Graham on a road trip with a difference, as two Scotsmen explore a land of raw beauty, poetry, feuding, music, history, and warfare.
Unlikely friends Sam and Graham begin their journey in the heart of Scotland at Glencoe and travel from there all the way to Inverness and Culloden battlefield, where along the way they experience adventure and a cast of highland characters. In this story of friendship, finding themselves, and whisky, they discover the complexity, rich history and culture of their native country.
I realize that
Jamie Sam Heughan makes all the ladies swoon, but being a shaved-headed, silver-bearded old bastard, one must look to the corn-grindin’ Dougal MacKenzie Graham McTavish as a paragon of Scottish manhood:
Ah, yes, paragons of Scottish manhood. We must pause to salute the great Sean Connery, who has gone into the gloaming at the age of 90.
The Wind and the Lion, The Man Who Would Be King — these are among the best of Frontier Partisans cinema. A full tribute is due in short order. For the moment…
“An honest man here lies at rest,
The friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d;
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.”
And still more Scots…
asked DEMANDED that I make a serious reading commitment. Years ago, I read the first couple of Eliot Pattisons Bone Rattler series of mysteries set in the mid-18th Century, featuring exiled Clan chieftain and healer Duncan McCallum, but I didn’t keep up. Now there are six of ’em, including The King’s Beast, released last spring. I ordered them all from the library and plan to spend the dark of the evenings once the clocks roll back on November 1 in the company of Scots exiles, Indian mystics, African slaves and the full range of characters Pattison puts forward in his acclaimed exploration of how the American Revolution came to be — from the forest floor on up.
I know not (yet) just why the Muse beckoned my down this trail, but I ken the WHY of it. In the current crisis of the Republic, I’ve been thinking a lot about revolution. Why and how it happens; why and how it almost always collapses in a welter of blood; why and how our own avoided that fate. It also dovetails with Marilyn and my current re-watch of the estimable pirate yarn, Black Sails, which is built around the historical Republic of Pirates on Nassau in the early 18th Century. In their way, Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, Charles Vane and that whole motley crew can be seen as Founding Fathers.
Once again, I become enraptured with the strange and wondrous tale of how misfits, dissenters, economic and religious refugees, rebels, natives, freemen and slaves became Americans. The Founders and Framers were themselves a wilder and weirder bunch than the civic piety we’ve been fed for a couple of centuries would have you believe — but the bottom-up change of mind and heart that made the Revolution possible was the province of a surprisingly diverse cast of characters of decidedly varying levels of virtue.
There may be a bit of hope to be found in the tale of our founding…
As Pattison notes:
The miracle of the founding of the United States wasn’t that of heroic military victories, it was the unprecedented victory—unique in prior human history—of shared values over ethnicity, culture, religion and race. In many ways that is the essential message of my Bone Rattler series, as vividly reflected in my latest installment Savage Liberty. It isn’t by coincidence that the casts of my novels include Scottish indentured servants, Mohawk matriarchs, Irish laborers, English aristocrats, African slaves, Oneida warriors and German missionaries, for it was such a diverse collection of characters who made up the threads that were bound into the unique tapestry of America.
I recently went into considerable depth about the many virtues of Black Sails. Truly, it is a well-wrought tale of a proto-American Revolution. To quote Charles Vane, glorious, ardent-hearted badass that he is:
“I was once a slave. I know too well the pain of the yoke on my shoulders and of the freedom of having cast it off. So I’m resolved, I will be no slave again. And as I am free, I hereby claim the same for Nassau. She is free today, and so long as I draw breath, she shall remain free.”
I hold the thrillers of Barry Eisler in high esteem. They’re very well crafted, and Eisler has the background and expertise to give them verisimilitude. Eisler is a martial artist as well as a keyboard pounder and he’s studied backcountry survival with Cody Lundin. So when he posted about a knife inspired by one of his characters, I took notice. I took even further interest when I discovered that one of the design team members for SoMiCo Knife and Tool is Rory Miller, a corrections officer and martial arts practitioner whose work I admire greatly.
The knives and the design philosophy behind them are intriguing.
Stumbled upon a 1976 BBC doco titled The Gun. Worth the time. The flintlock predominated through most of the frontier era in North America. Percussion locks were available by the 1830s, the last strong decade of the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade but didn’t really catch on in the Far West until the 1840s. Clearly faster and considerably more reliable. I remember reading a memoir of a mid-19th century hunter who opined that anyone who stubbornly refused to adopt the new technology was manifestly a fool.
A bit Anglocentric obviously…
It’s amusing to note that the Ferguson rifle is touted as the best rifle on the battlefield in the American Revolution. While it’s true that the Ferguson was an innovation, its inventor was slain by American Frontier Partisans wielding the good ’ol muzzleloading “Kentucky” rifle. So…