THE HISTORIC Arkansas Valley National Bank building in Pawnee, Okla., lost some stones when a 5.6 quake struck at 7:02 am Saturday, Sept. 3. I was shaken awake in my bed at Emporia, about 210 miles to the north. Because the epicenter of the quake was near the Arkansas River, and because I’m writing a book about the river, of course I headed south to investigate. On Saturday afternoon, I found most of the damage in town had been cleaned up, although many buildings in the block west of the intersection of Sixth and Harrison were cordoned off with police tape. There weren’t many townspeople on the street, but I counted nine television news vans and cars. The building–which says “Pawnee Co Bank” on the side, but was actually the Arkansas Valley National Bank when it opened in 1918–is apparently for sale. Note the sign that declares, “New Price.” Saturday’s earthquake tied for the largest in state history with another 5.6 from the same general area in 2011; a swarm of earthquakes during the past seven years have been blamed on wasetwater injection from oil fracking. The state ordered 37 waste injection wells (of more than 3,000 in Oklahoma) to cease while the cause of the quake is investigated. Nobody was seriously hurt in Saturday’s quake, which was felt across seven states, according to the Associated Press.
Here’s a shot form the Arkansas River Coalition’s Twilight Float last Wednesday through south Wichita. That’s the Lincoln Street Bridge and dam in the background; beyond that is the downtown Wichita skyline. The float ended at Garvey Park.
ANOTHER SHOT of Vince Marshall during Saturday’s float on the Arkansas River south of Wichita. This was done with a GoPro, which has an extremely wide lens (look at how it curves the river) I kind of like it, for it’s Dutch angle, the water spots on the lens, and that it conveys the feeling of being on the water.
HERE’S A SHOT from yesterday (Saturday, 7-16-2016). It was taken from my kayak during the Arkansas River Coalition’s float from the 71st Street canoe launch in South Wichita to the old “Goat Ranch” near Mulvane, a distance of about 12 miles. The gentleman in the orange shirt in the kayak just ahead of me is Vince Marshall, the ARC’s river guru and historian, who shepherded 13 kayakers and one canoeist along the river, which is still rather high from recent rains. This trip, of course, was research for my forthcoming book, Elevations: A River’s Journey through the Heart of America, under contract with the University Press of Kansas. This was a leisurely float with a group of friendly paddlers (and newly made friends) on a stretch of the river that is pretty tame.
Another shot of the supermoon, with a borrowed 800mm lens from the Lower Fox Creek School. This was taken about an hour before the lunar eclipse began. You can clearly sea the dark spots, lunar “seas,” that make up the face of the man in the moon–or, in Native American and other cultures, form a rabbit. The ears are to the left. Or, to the right, depending on the story.
The supermoon rises above the prairie near Strong City, Kansas, Sept. 27. I was standing in front of the Lower Fox Creek School, at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, when I took the photo. At about the same time as I took this, the Wichita Eagle’s Travis Heying took this photo; that’s me and Kim just to the left of the school building.
CHRISTOPHER GUINN of the Dodge City Daily Globe interviewed me in the Long Branch Saloon at Boot Hill during the launch for the second novel in the Ophelia Wylde paranormal mystery series last month for a feature story.
I’m a difficult subject, as recovering journalists tend to be, but Christopher did a great job. He asked difficult questions, was a good listener, and came to the interview having done his homework. It was encouraging. I would like to say he reminded me of myself, when I first starting working for daily newspapers, but the truth is that Christopher may be better. More likeable, certainly.
I’m a little (well, a lot) late posting about it, but things have hectic this summer. I’ve always felt that my job was to write, and not do continual self-promotion (my publisher would probably disagree), and frankly it’s difficult for me to always be blogging or tweeting or whatever to convince readers to buy my books. It just feels hollow. It’s not that I don’t believe in the books–I believe strongly in Ophelia Wylde and her world, and apparently there are many readers who do as well. Some authors, I know, pay someone else to blog for them, but for me that’s out of the question. So, if you wonder why there are big chronological gaps in the blog, the reason is that I’m working on Ophelia’s next adventure.
PLEASE JOIN ME in celebrating the release of the new Ophelia Wylde paranormal mystery, THE SPIRIT IS WILLING, at a launch party and signing at the Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City. The event, which lasts from 2 to 4 p.m., will kick off with a brief presentation about the paranormal and the Old West.
Last year at about this time, the first Ophelia Wylde novel, OF GRAVE CONCERN, made it’s debut at Boot Hill. It was only fitting, because the books are set in Dodge City in 1877-78. While the books are, of course, fiction, there is quite a bit of historical research that has gone into each. In the new book, Ophelia takes a jaunt to Denver and Leadville, Colo., on the trail of a murderer.
Many thanks to Brent Harris, the marshal of Boot Hill, for making this possible.
Even if Brent’s name doesn’t ring a bell, I’ll bet you know his face — Brent is the iconic, mustachioed western lawman that is featured on much of the publicity surrounding Boot Hill. As I have come to know Brent during the past year, I was delighted to discover that in addition to being famous, he’s a genuinely nice guy.
Brent is pictured, below left. Click on the photo and it will take you to his Facebook page.
So, stop by Boot Hill on July 5 and meet Brent. He’s one of the good guys. I’ll be there, too, talking about the research I did for the books, signing books, and doing a quick cartoon in the front of each one. It’s something I started last year with the Ophelia books, and the cartoons have been a hit. It takes more time than just singing them, but fans seem to like it. The cartoons vary, but typically feature Ophelia’s pet raven.
I’m a terrible artist, but at least the cartoons are much more personal and heartfelt than just scrawling “Best Wishes” or something similar. Come to think of it, I should start grabbing photos of some of the better–meaning least awful–cartoons and posting them here.
OF GRAVE CONCERN has been named a 2014 Kansas Notable Book, I learned today from the State Library of Kansas. An official announcement, and a list of all winners, will follow next week. There was also be a ceremony Saturday, Sept. 13, in Topeka.
I’m pleased, and honored.
A few years ago, I won the same award with a very different novel, HELLFIRE CANYON. Although both stories are set in the Old West, that’s where the similarity ends. Jacob Gamble, the protagonist of the Hellfire books, is an outlaw who’s been on the run since the age of 14, and the trilogy goes from the Civil War to the 1930s. Gamble is a fiddle-playing antihero who embraces violence as a means to protect the weak and earn some measure of justice in a wicked world. Ophelia Wylde abhors guns, travels with a pet raven, and is a former con woman who has turned psychic detective, and she believes in a benevolent universe.
If they ever meet each other–and I’ll make sure that never happens–they would hate one another.
More details on the Kansas Notable Book award as they become available.
MENTION George Armstrong Custer at any gathering of western scholars and you’ll likely find you’ve tugged at a painful scab on the collective American subconscious. Our feelings about Custer are deep and contradictory and mixed with guilt over our treatment of native tribes, and it’s difficult to reconcile Custer’s ultimate sacrifice with accounts that portray him as a fool or a madman. We like our hero stories to be tidy, and the Custer story is a mess.
It’s exactly this complexity that keeps us fascinated, and makes Custer a perennially viable topic for university and commercial publishers alike. From the gems (think Evan S. Connell and Nathaniel Philbrick) to the duds (Larry McMurtry), there are enough books to keep Custer buffs reading for a lifetime. The challenge is to find work that will offer some new understanding of one of the defining moments of the American psyche.In his new book, Shooting Arrows and Slinging Mud, James E. Mueller does just this. He examines the role that journalists had in shaping the public perception of Custer in the immediate aftermath of the 1876 battle in which Custer and 267 under his command were killed in an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapahoe near the Little Bighorn River in Montana.
Mueller, a professor of journalism at the University of North Texas, at Denton, is a veteran reporter and the author of two previous books, both examining the relationship between the press and recent presidents. In Shooting Arrows, Mueller combs contemporary accounts in the days and weeks after the battle to present a mosaic that outlines that thinking of America while the news was still fresh and bloody in our minds.
The conversation turned on questions that resonate to this day, from our policy toward the Indians to who really was to blame for one the greatest military blunders of all time. Mueller is a careful and restrained writer, and Shooting Arrows can be slow going at times, but the journey is worth it. Consider his wealth of detail about Mark Kellogg, the only reporter to accompany the Seventh Cavalry to the Little Bighorn.
Kellogg was 43, a widower with two young daughters, trying to start a new career as a reporter for the Bismarck Tribune. “The reporter trotted after Custer,” Mueller writes, “riding on a mule carrying two saddlebags bulging with paper and pencil and enough bacon, sugar, and coffee to last fifteen days.”Mueller dispels the myth that journalists of the time were hacks and hucksters that capitalized on the sensational to sell newspapers—and who beat the drum for revenge against the Indians.
Instead, Mueller’s account shows that, despite their cultural biases, journalists provided credible accounts of the battle and wrote thoughtful editorials. In addition, at least one journalist made the ultimate sacrifice in reporting first-hand from the Indian campaigns, a story that was largely ignored until the shock of the Little Big Horn.
Mark Kellogg, the Bismarck Tribune reporter, died with Custer.
– Review by Max McCoy for the Spring 2014 issue of The Great Plains Newsletter.