Santa Fe Stampede

A none-too-flattering contemporary review of the 1938 Three Mesquiteers film, “Santa Fe Stampede,” published in the April 26, 1939 issue of the New York Times:

“Don’t go expecting to see a lot of cattle in ‘Santa Fe Stampede,’ at the Rialto, because there aren’t any cattle: not one scrawny maverick, not a single unbranded heifer, not a sign of a little dogie. Aside from this curious fact, and the unaccountable absence of guitars, it seems to be a Western picture, all right; there are three fellows dressed up in cowboy suits, and drawls, and a villainous claim jumper who nearly gets John Wayne lynched in a typical Republic mob scene—that is, a mob scene filmed in close-up, for economy’s sake. And oh, yes—in case you don’t remember—Mr. Wayne seems to be the D’Artagnan of a curious trio known as the Three Mesquiteers, whose success up to now is probably due to the fact that nobody has thought of ambushing them with a Flit gun.”

The most curious thing about the review is who wrote it – Frank Nugent, the journalist/film reviewer who in his second career as a screenwriter would script some of Duke Wayne’s best films, including Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers, and The Quiet Man.

Skin and Bones

Buffalo hide hunting was big business in the 1870s. Even after the great slaughter of the herds, folks found a cash crop in the sun-bleached bones. Want to know more? Check out my February 2009 Wild West Magazine article about the dual trades of buffalo hunting and bone picking, now online here.

Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival

I’ll be signing books and meeting folks on April 21 and 22 at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival’s Buckaroo Book Shop, along with fellow Western writers Johnny D. Boggs, Bob Brill, Al Bringas, Jim Christina, Eric Heisner, Dale Jackson, Richard Paolinelli, Katie Ryan, and Peter Sherayko.

In honor of the Festival’s 25th year, general admission this year is free, so come on out and pay a visit!

Who thought this was a good idea?

Stage a head-on train wreck as a publicity stunt, out on the Texas plains, and invite spectators by the thousands to witness it. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty – as Katy Railroad passenger agent William Crush learned on September 15, 1896.

See my Wild West Magazine article on the “Crush Crash” here.

And listen to Scott Joplin’s “Great Crush Collision March” here.



First casualty in America’s war on drugs?

On August 20 1900, Sheriff John Henry Dillingham of Platte County, Missouri, was summoned to the sleepy little town of Farley over a case of multiple murder. A local physician named Sterling Price “Sturley” Harrington had gone on a day-long, drug and alcohol fueled killing spree. Taking his ten-year-old daughter along on his bloody errands, the doctor shot and killed his mother-in-law in cold blood, then calmly drove to the home of his wife’s uncle and killed him as well. He drove across the state line into Leavenworth, Kansas, where – apparently with further killing in mind – he resupplied with ammunition and more weapons before returning to Farley.

In what was likely part of an addle-brained plan to escape, Harrington tried to rob the town’s general store, and engaged in a point-blank shootout with the store’s clerk. About this time Sheriff Dillingham arrived with a trio of deputies, one of whom was his son, Henry. As the lawmen approached the store, Harrington met the sheriff at the entrance. Shots were exchanged and Sheriff Dillingham was killed instantly. As the murderous doctor fled toward his wagon, Henry Dillingham fired three times and Harrington fell dead in the street.

Twenty-two year old Henry Dillingham was appointed to finish out his father’s term as sheriff. Thirty years later he would also serve as the United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri

Sheriff John Dillingham’s eventful career, and the tragic events leading up to his death, are detailed in Chapter 8 of Some Gave All.

Marshal Gosling’s Final Train Ride

Kindness is an admirable trait in a lawman, but it must be tempered with a healthy dose of suspicion. It was a lesson U.S. Marshal Hal Gosling learned too late. His good nature led to his death, setting events in motion that would break up of one of the worst outlaw gangs to plague south Texas in the 1880s.

You can read about Marshal Gosling’s sad demise, and the end of the Helotes Gang, in my article from the December 2013 issue of Wild West Magazine, recently put online at Historynet. For a fuller account, see Chapter 3 of my book, Some Gave All.

125 years ago today, one gave all

On Jan. 14, 1891, City Marshal James F. Isbell of Bells, Texas was shot and badly wounded intervening in an armed robbery at a Bells saloon where he moonlighted as a bartender. By the time this article appeared in the Dallas Morning News, the marshal had died.

Two trials, one insanity plea, one appeal, and a year and a half later, George Smith would pay the ultimate penalty for the killing. Marshal Isbell’s tragic end and Smith’s long and winding road to justice are detailed in Chapter 5 of Some Gave All.

To Marshal Isbell, and all the brave law officers before and after who have given the ultimate sacrifice – you are remembered. To those who continue to risk their lives daily to keep our communities safe – thank you.

Isbell site

John Wayne to be portrayed onscreen in “Trumbo”

David James Elliott, who starred in TV’s JAG, will play John Wayne in Trumbo, the biopic about blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston, and due out Nov. 6.

I’m going to go ahead and guess that it won’t be a sympathetic portrayal of the Duke, considering the film’s subject matter. Still, it’ll be interesting to see.

You can catch the Trumbo trailer (Duke-free, unfortunately) here.

Duke - Trumbo


Elliott as the Duke. They’ve got the look right, anyway.

Duke - DJE