Friday, June 3, 2022

At the Utah Arts Festival.

Every summer (pandemics permitting) some 70,000 people make their way to downtown Salt Lake City for the Utah Arts Festival. On display is art of every kind, from sculpture and painting to music and dance to film and photography and more.

There’s literary art as well, and that’s where I come in. Or go on, if you’d rather.

On Friday, June 24, at 4:00 p.m. I’ll be reading selections from my writings about the 1863 Massacre at Bear River, the bloodiest encounter between the US Army and Indians in the history of the American West. It’s a tragedy largely forgotten and ignored in our collective memory, and that needs to change.

Selections from song lyrics, poetry, short stories, a novel, as well as a nonfiction book and magazine article are on the agenda.

If you’re anywhere near Salt Lake City from June 23 through June 26, be sure to visit the Utah Arts Festival. I’ll be there, and watching for you.

Monday, May 2, 2022

My Favorite Book, Part 28

Here’s a book that I had not heard of until the movie came out, but I did read News of the World by Paulette Jiles before I saw the movie. And, as is usually the case, even though I liked the movie when I finally saw it, the book is better.

The premise itself is an unusual one—a man, Captain Jefferson Kidd, wanders around the isolated settlements of Texas reading from newspapers he collects when possible, informing people—at a price—what is going on in the world beyond the borders of their limited experience. His life gets complicated when he agrees to take on a passenger, a young girl who has been held captive by a Kiowa band and has, for all practical purposes, become Kiowa herself. Kidd is to deliver her to her only surviving relatives, an aunt and uncle.

Along the way, among other adventures, they confront a trio of bad men attempting to steal the girl for nefarious purposes and violence ensues. The delivery to the girl’s relatives doesn’t work out, and the Captain’s and the girl’s lives take an unexpected turn leading to a satisfactory conclusion to the story.

The book is engaging and well written, and is one of the few Western novels nowadays to make its way to the big screen. I liked it. However, even in a novel from a major publisher and as well written and meticulously edited as this one, mistakes sneak through. As an inveterate nitpicker, I scoffed when one of the characters said, “This ain’t my first rodeo,” a phrase completely anachronistic to the time and place. And the author repeatedly refers to a part of a printing press as a paten (which is a little tray used in the Eucharist) when what she means is platen.

Picky, picky, picky.

But we all make mistakes, and News of the World is still a fine book.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Where I’ve been—out with the Pony Express.

Not long ago I wrote here of a desire to visit the Pony Express Station sites in Utah’s west desert. That’s one I can check off the list.

With the able guidance and expertise of Patrick Hearty, former president of the National Pony Express Association as well as the Utah Division, Utah Division Historian, and the author, with photography by Dr. Joseph Hatch, of The Pony Express Stations of Utah and The Pony Express in Utah, we drove the trail and stopped at all the Pony stations out to the Nevada border. The road was laid out by army engineer James H. Simpson, and served the Jackass Mail, the Overland Stage, freighters, the US Army, and emigrants as well as the Pony Express.

The desert out there is still an empty place, with few—most of the way, no—residents outside of wild horses and antelope for a hundred miles. But the isolation is beautiful in its way, with blue sky and mountains and plains that stretch as far as the eye can see and beyond. The view is not much changed from what the Pony riders saw as they raced through there in 1860 and 1861. All the stations are marked, some with interpretive information. Some still show ruins and fainter traces from the stations that once stood. The photograph above shows the station site at Simpson’s Springs, where you’ll find a monument erected by the Civilian Conservation Corps and a replica of a station building erected years ago by FFA students, as well as interpretive information posted by the Utah Division of the National Pony Express Association.

The original Willow Springs Station building still stands—barely—at the Willow Springs Ranch in Callao, and houses a number of artifacts and collections from the history of the Pony Express as well as local history. Besides a tour, the owners of the ranch offered help and assistance of another kind—but that’s a story for another day.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Next, please: Father unto Many Sons and This Thy Brother

Father unto Many Sons, released in hardcover by Five Star Publishing in August 2018, was a finalist for the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best Western Novel. Any day now, Speaking Volumes will release Father unto Many Sons in paperback and ebook. That’s the cover of the new edition, above. In related news, come August, Five Star Publishing will release the sequel to Father unto Many Sons.

This Thy Brother picks up the story where we left the Pate and Lewis families, newly arrived in New Mexico. Watch as the members of the families attempt to build new lives in a new land in This Thy Brother.

Also in the pages of This Thy Brother, you’ll find connections to yet another of my novels, A Thousand Dead Horses.

If you missed Father unto Many Sons or A Thousand Dead Horses, you still have time to get the stories started that will make reading This Thy Brother much richer and more enjoyable.

On a personal note, I never intended a sequel when I started—or finished—Father unto Many Sons. But my brother, Zeb Miller, said there should be one. I wrote This Thy Brother for him. I only wish he had lived to read it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Pairs of Aces.

In a recent post I mentioned the on-screen chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. Some readers wrote to say they agreed that it was a fine pairing. That set me to thinking about other pairs that, together, made their characters and the movie better than they would have been otherwise. Here are some that are embedded in my memory as winning pairs—pairs of aces, if you will.

At the top of my list has to be Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall in the television mini-series Lonesome Dove. Both these actors are favorites of mine, and together they made one of the best duos ever.

Going back a few years, there’s the unforgettable combination of Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda in The Rounders.

Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen were outstanding in Appaloosa. An altogether different kind of movie, a hilarious spoof of Westerns, teamed up Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson in Shanghai Noon. In the category of remakes that improve on the original as well as demonstrate the importance of casting, don’t miss True Grit with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon (and, of course, Hailee Steinfeld).

Finally, there’s a movie on my list far removed from a Western—but it stars two old cowboys who can’t help but be cowboys. Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth were a pair of aces in the baseball movie The Natural—two actors I liked in any role, and especially enjoyed seeing together. They also co-starred in a short-lived TV series, The Boys of Twilight. It was set, and shot in part, in my home state of Utah. I didn’t see it (me and everybody else, it seems) but I hope to find it somewhere, somehow. Those two old codgers make a good pair to draw to.


Thursday, March 3, 2022

Where I’m Going—Part 7


One of the most famous high-speed roads in Western history passes a few miles from where I live: the Pony Express Trail.

The trail passed through the middle of Salt Lake Valley from roughly north to south, then headed west across the desert until reaching what is now Nevada, leaving a string of swing stations and home stations in its wake. Monuments mark most, if not all, their locations and there are traces of some still standing.

Sad to say, I have yet to venture out into the sagebrush, shadscale, and greasewood to visit them. Not that I haven’t wanted to. It’s just that I haven’t made a definite plan to do so and carried out that plan. Thank goodness the pony riders weren’t as remiss in their travels on that road.

Still, I am determined to do it. I will see what there is to see at places like Simpson’s Springs, Fish Springs, Boyd’s Station, Willow Springs, Deep Creek, and places in between and beyond. I will see sights and sites that are much the same as those seen by the brave boys of days gone by.

One of these days. For certain sure. You can count on it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

My first rodeo.

I don’t remember my first rodeo. Or my second rodeo. While I have memories of many, many rodeos over many, many years those memories are somewhat muddled and there are no numbers assigned.

Most likely, my first rodeo was a hometown Pioneer Day affair during which little kids like me were screwed down onto the backs of Hereford or black bally calves, with two hands in a death grip on a loose rope, then turned out into the arena for a few (very few) frantic seconds of jolting and jarring and jerking before landing in the dirt with a better than even chance of getting a mouthful of the stuff.

The first rodeo I have record of was a Little Buckaroo Rodeo in Orem, Utah, on Friday, May 31, 1963. On the printed program, right after “Specialty Act—Trampoline” came Section III of Pony Bareback Riding, and there I am, in black and white, with my age listed as 10. Next to my name, in my dad’s handwriting, is my score: “0.” I learned nothing from the experience. For several more years I kept getting on bareback horses that didn’t want me on them—through high school, amateur, college, and pro rodeos.

 When circumstances require, I can honestly say (for what it’s worth), “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

I am now of an age that my last rodeo, like my first, is so long ago that any memory of it has leaked out of my porous brain. There may be a connection.

P.S. My latest novel, All My Sins Remembered, is now available in hardcover from Amazon and other online booksellers. Your local bookstore can order it, and it should be in libraries soon.