No, no — this ain’t a COVID-19 post.
After a long sojourn in the woodlands of the 18th Century Ohio River frontier, I’m turning my focus back on one of my other favorite theaters of operations: Southern Africa. And in so doing, I ran across news of a coming re-issue of Charles van Onselen’s Masked Raiders: Irish Banditry in Southern Africa, 1890-1899.
Due out in June.
Masked Raiders follows the wild exploits of legendary brigands like the McKeone brothers and ‘One Armed Jack’ McLoughlin, who ravaged the subcontinent, from the mining towns of Barberton, Kimberley and Johannesburg, to the borders of Basotholand, Bechuanaland, Mozambique and Rhodesia. With tales of heists, safecracking, illegal gold dealings, prison breaks and hidden roadside treasure, the book reveals the potency of the highveld’s ‘criminal heroes.’ Startling insights also reveal how the hidden grammar of brigandage informed political actions of the day, such as the Jameson Raid, and how the movement of bandits across the interior helped shape the borders of what was to become modern South Africa.
Van Onselen is quite the scholar. His works are dense and incredibly deeply researched. He’s a social history guy, of a Marxist bent, working the same vein as Eric Hobsbawm around social banditry and the like. Hey, don’t look at me. It ain’t my fault that it’s mostly the Marxists who dig into this stuff.
Speaking of outlaws, and Irish outlaws at that…
The man who gave the world Vikings and The Tudors is doing a series on Billy the Kid.
Premium network Epix has greenlighted Billy the Kid, an hourlong series about the famous American outlaw, written by Vikings and The Tudors creator Michael Hirst.
Otto Bathurst is set to direct the first two episodes of the eight-episode first season, executive produced by Hirst, Donald De Line of De Line Pictures, Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey of Amblin Television, and Bathurst and Toby Leslie via One Big Picture.
The series is described as an epic romantic adventure based on the life of Billy the Kid, also known as William H. Bonney — from his humble Irish roots and his early days as a cowboy and gunslinger in the American frontier, to his pivotal role in the Lincoln County War and beyond.
“Billy the Kid has always been a hero of mine since I was – well, a kid. I grew up in the North of England but it made no difference. Billy was a special kind of outlaw,” Hirst said. “For a start he was so young – and for another thing, he wasn’t a psychopath who enjoyed killing, nor a criminal who robbed for material gain. He was an outlaw most of his life, but he never wanted to be. Born into a poor Irish family of immigrants, he always wanted to go straight, to be a ‘new American.’ But he was never allowed to.
“Billy’s story is much more than a fantastic drama about a charismatic cowboy – although it is that. It’s also the story of the immigrant, and the story of the creation of the new America from the lawless, violent chaos of the mid-West and its many nations. So in the end it’s not just a story at all – it’s an American myth.”
Back to Southern Africa…
I also have an interlibrary loan on Storm Over The Transvaal, T.V. Bulpin’s narrative history of the Transvaal in its “Wild West Days” at the end of the 19th Century. Bulpin is a delight to read.
This book tells the turbulent story of the Transvaal from 1884 until 1900 – a period which covers a singularly lurid stretch of South Africa’s past. In his remarkably engaging style of writing, Bulpin transports readers back to the rugged Transvaal where gold seemed to be the center of all things. It was a time of adventure in which any man could find his golden bonanza, or die alone with little else than disappointment as company. The fascinating story of the Witwatersrand provides an often hilarious background to a history of events so important that they are still of vital interest to every South African today. The intrigue, corruption and double-crossing which built up like the gathering clouds of an African thunderstorm, eventually leading to the grim climax of the Anglo-Boer War, are described with a wealth of detail and anecdote.
Where am I going with all this? Not sure… exactly. I’m thinking my next podcast series will cover this time and place, dominated as the great Martin Meredith book has it, by “Diamonds, Gold & War.” It’s a big bite to tear off, but I so love this wild, weird and wooly history, and I think listeners will be intrigued by the obvious parallels with the American West. Tombstone or Johannesburg?
Of course, I simply can’t let the mention of that Gomorrah on the Veld pass without a self-indulgent call out to my favorite mercenary from a later wild, weird and wooly era…
This is an interesting tale, hearkening back to my post Bastards Of All Nations…
It may take a bit of time to prep a full South Africa series, so it’s likely that I’ll first do a bit on mountain man Jim Bridger, since the new bio is wending its way to my trading post.
Yet more news from the cowboy empire that Taylor Sheridan has become…
LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) – The legendary 6666′s Ranches, first established in 1870 and now spanning hundreds of thousands of acres across west Texas, are now under contract after being up for sale since December 2020. The ranches are were on the market for a total of $347.7 million.
Reports are that the buyer could be the screenwriter/producer Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan’s Paramount+ Western series “Yellowstone” shot segments last year on the ranch’s Guthrie and Borger County divisions. The actual offer on the historic ranch is not known.
Sam Middleton, Owner/Broker of Chas. S Middleton and Son Farm – Ranch Sales, announced the 6666′s Ranches sale in a release in December.
According to The Texas Spur, “Sheridan is the face of the buyer group,” said Middleton, who said that the new owners plan to continue running the working ranch and to offer employment to all employees. “It’s all one deal, 266,000 acres with all three ranches . . . cattle, horses, equipment, furniture, brand, name, everything.”
Sheridan, reached by The Texas Spur through his Los Angeles manager while traveling, said, “I can’t comment on a pending transaction but I will say this: the legacy of the 6666 Ranch and Miss Marion’s vision for the ranch are vital not only to the ranch itself, but the rich heritage of ranching in Texas.”
He added, “This legacy is so important to me I chose to highlight it in the upcoming season of ‘Yellowstone’ and will continue to further the legacy and preserve its operations in a manner consistent with that great vision.”