Writing Resources To Explore
Writers collect inspirational resources like a low-lying pond collects water: from anywhere around. Here are three writing resources that I recommend you try for helpful advice.
Author C. Hope Clark is a South Carolina novel writer with several book series (Edisto Island Mysteries) to her credit. Her Funds for Writers is on the Readers’ Digest list of 101 Best Websites for Writers. The emailed newsletter comes in either a free edition or an expanded paid edition. It lists contests and funding sources for writers. Following Hope’s own active marketing, and prolific writing habits, can also teach newbies, and more experienced writers, a bundle of useful tips.
Joan Dempsey is a writer and Editor with several online courses. I recently enrolled in her Revise with Confidence course and found it well organized and quite helpful. You will likely see some improved blog posts here as a result of my participation in Joan’s course.
I had previously read several books recommended by Joan. One I had not read until recently was Several Short Sentences About Writing (Verlyn Klinkenborg, Vintage Books, 2013). This is an easy-to-read book of common sense about writing. I am sure I will reread it a number of times in the future.
So, go explore—and let me know what you think.
Chisholm Trail Cowboys from Texas
A lone Longhorn steer leaves the herd. The steer trots off toward a nearby thicket along a creek. A cowboy turns his horse, loosens the reins, and uses his knees to nudge the trained horse in the direction of the wayward steer. The rider removes a lariat from the saddle horn while the horse closes on the Longhorn at a gallop.
Often, the steer can be headed off and returned to the herd by the horse and rider’s maneuvers. If not, the cowboy opens the slip-knotted loop at one end of the rope and twirls the open end above his head. He heaves the loop neatly over the steer’s horns and neck. The near end of the lariat is then tied off to the saddle horn. The horse braces, coming to a stop as the cowboy slides from the saddle. He dashes to the steer that is thrown to the ground, either by the cowboy or the rope held taut by the horse.
The cowboy takes a short line from his gun belt and binds the steer’s two hind legs together while the steer is still shocked from being thrown. The binding is deftly closed with a half-hitch knot. The steer is helpless and cannot stand up.
Once the steer realizes its incapacity and the total dominance of horse and rider, the cowboy undoes the leg binding. The steer is either led back to the herd, or the lasso is removed and the steer is kept directed by the rider’s yells and solid whacks from the lariat .
Training for The Trail
Young Texas ranchers in the 1800s learned cattle handling skills early. So, too, did the horses. Herding and handling Longhorn cattle required a sense of dominance and courage to show authority over the often testy Longhorns. These skills were also critical on the cattle drives that took place along the Chisholm Trail.
After trail drives had begun in earnest, in the late 1860s, the stories of trail hands came back to teenagers on Texas ranches. Boys were anxious to leave the ranch and experience the adventures of a cattle drive. Some boys in their mid-teens were hired as extra hands, or for horse wrangler duties, if cattle drive organizers were short of the dozen or so experienced cowboys required. In later drives, the cattlemen who owned the herds usually used their own ranch foreman, or an experienced trail hand, as a trail boss.
The Cowboy’s Equipment and Trail Duties
Newly-hired Chisholm Trail hands were required to provide their own primary horse, and extra mounts if possible. The cowboy’s other required equipment included a saddle, a gun, and a parka that served as weather protection and bedding. Personal clothing normally consisted only of pants, a shirt, boots, a broad-brimmed hat, a pair of leather “chaps” or leg coverings, and a bandanna which helped protect the mouth and nose from dust.
Trail hands were often hired for “$100 and found” which meant the cattle owner provided food and extra horses, plus about thirty dollars per month for a normal three-month trip.Cowboys were required to herd the cattle all day, and sometimes through the night if needed, to reach available water. Two shifts of guard duty were required each night. If a herd stampeded, or outlaws attempted to rustle part of the herd, all hands were roused to recover the cattle. At flooded river crossings, trees might need cutting to build a raft for the chuck wagon. Together, these activities often left trail hands with less than four hours sleep a day.
Where Did That Baby Come From?
Driving through Colorado, several miles south of Las Animas, I spotted a nicely dressed man walking on the shoulder of Highway 350. He was pushing a baby stroller . There was nothing protruding from the bright yellow stroller that would indicate that the stroller might contain a homeless person’s possessions.
The stroller was a three wheel, newer type. The sunroof was up as protection from a late morning sun. The man was walking facing traffic, and by all appearances had an infant out for a morning walk. However, I was unable to see a baby in the stroller as I drove past.
Here is the mystery: for the next several miles, there were no homes in sight. No disabled car beside the highway. It was seven miles to the edge of the next town on the wide open prairie landscape. It was as though the walker and the carriage had suddenly dropped out of the sky.
I eventually guessed that the man was headed back to Las Animas after a long walk out of town earlier that morning. Still, it was an unsolved puzzle. Just where did that man and his baby come from? It is the same question I may have asked my mother seventy-two years ago when my first sibling arrived on the scene.
“Where did that baby come from!”
Chisholm Trail: I Find an Answer to My Question at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, Oklahoma
It takes a half an hour to travel the twenty-six miles from Waurika to Duncan, OK over rolling prairie swells. About two and a half day’s travel was required for the average cattle herd on the Chisholm Trail to cover the same distance. The herds usually gained between ten and twelve miles a day barring unforeseen delays. When I reach Duncan I’ve driven ninety-two miles total from the Red River crossing.
Duncan is surrounded by mixed prairie grasses and fertile farmlands. The city has been designated as the official Crepe Myrtle Capital of Oklahoma. The official birth date of Duncan is June 27, 1892, the date marked by the first train arrival. However, a trading post, once located at the intersection of the Chisholm Trail and an east-west military trail to Fort Sill, preceded the town.
The Chisholm Trail followed a route just east of the current city location and, of course, the town did not exist during most of the major years of cattle drives to Kansas, 1867 to 1890. Duncan developed rapidly after the first oil wells were drilled in the county in 1918.
The Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
I’m anxious to visit the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center before it closes at five o’clock. Of course, I turn at the first trail marker sign into the downtown’s historic district. Wrong! After I find no further indications of where to go, a friendly passerby tells me the Heritage Center is located farther north on Highway 81. “Just turn left at the Burger King,” she tells me.
I see the restaurant a long block ahead of me when I come to an intersection with a Chisholm Trail Heritage Center sign directing me to the left. Which directions to follow: the person or the official sign? I choose the latter and discover the Heritage Center is actually on a parallel street. It can be reached either way. I then conjecture that my friendly guide probably lived in the north end of town and passed the Burger King first as she made her way to downtown going in the opposite direction from my own. But it’s only conjecture.
I arrive an hour before closing. I seem to be the only visitor at this hour. Greeting me is a delightful and perky docent, Suzanne Bernal, who issues me a token in exchange for the entrance fee. She instructs me to put it in a turnstile slot to gain entrance. After some fumbling, I accomplish this task and she leads me to an auditorium for an orientation movie. Suzanne briefly introduces the movie and museum as “experiential” and tells me that I will experience a cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail. She mentions that I will also feel some of the effects, such as an early morning breeze, and fragrances of some of the prairie grasses and flowers.
She does not tell me that I will also be thrown into the chaos of a thunder and lightning storm and a resultant stampede of cattle. Nor does she mention that I might actually feel some of the rain I will see on the screen. What fun follows! I get a visceral sense of what a cattle drive was like. I will reveal some of that in a forthcoming post.
(Muse Gus taunts me: “Well, you wanted to experience the Trail for yourself didn’t you?”)
After that experience, I am led to another room where I sit around a campfire with two automatons: a cattle drive cowboy and the founder of the Chisholm Trail, Jesse Chisholm. The two animated figures while away some time talking about life on the Trail and some problems involved in Texas cattle drives to the Abilene market. I could also hear a heated side conversation taking place in a nearby chuck wagon where a cook is extracting a cowboy’s abscessed tooth.
The museum includes many other exhibits of cowboy equipment and prairie life. One of those is shown here with the permission of the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum’s Director. The museum also includes The Garis Gallery of the American West that displays related paintings by recognized western artists Byron Wolfe (1904-1973), and Frederic Remington (1861-1909), among others.
It is here at the Center, too, that I am able to solve the mystery of the closed museum in Waurika. “Oh, they must have closed ten years ago!” Suzanne informs me.
Saddling up again, I drive my little green pickup northward toward El Reno where Interstate 40 now crosses the north to south Chisholm Trail route. I’m pretty sure I-40 wasn’t there between 1867 and 1890.