Tag Archives: American West

TOP THREE FRONTIERADO MOVIES

gunslinger costumeAnd with many people home from work for the day the 2020 Frontierado Holiday Weekend has started! The actual holiday is tomorrow, August 7th, but many of you have indicated that you’ve taken to getting started on the Thursday night before, or “Frontierado Eve” I guess we could call it.

So with the big outdoor meals scheduled for tomorrow, let’s kick off this three-day weekend tonight with some Tumbleweed Pizzas and a variety of drinks. For the mixed-drink fans there are Cactus Jacks and Deuces Wilds (both red and black).

Devils River BourbonOr if you prefer your drinks with no mixers there’s plenty of the OFFICIAL bourbons of Frontierado – Devils River Whiskey and Horse Soldier Bourbon. Barrel strength (117 proof) is my personal preference but your tastes may vary.

Anyway, for tonight’s movies, here at Frontierado Headquarters we’re doing a mini-marathon of the Top Three films for the holiday. Below are my reviews of those three:

NUMBER ONE

Top Frontierado Movie

Top Frontierado Movie

SILVERADO (1985) – I’ve never made any secret about how Silverado is, to me, THE official movie of the Frontierado holiday. The film has all the high spirits and family appeal of Star Wars plus the well-choreographed action scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. On top of that Silverado features all the  highly stylized gunplay of the best Spaghetti Westerns but NOT the mud, blood, sweat and brutality of that genre.

This movie is pure escapism and features the kind of preternaturally accurate gunslingers that I jokingly  describe as “Jedi Knights in the Olllld West”. These guys (as well as most of the villains) can literally shoot the needles off a cactus, simultaneously draw and shoot with pin-point accuracy and can just “sense” when some low-down hombre might be pulling a gun on them, even with their backs turned and from half a room away.   Continue reading

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LAS VEGAS, NM AND THE DODGE CITY GANG

The Frontierado Holiday is coming up this Friday, August 7th! Balladeer’s Blog will be squeezing in some more seasonal posts until that grand event kicks off on the upcoming three-day weekend. Frontierado focuses on the myth of the Old West, not the grinding reality.

Las Vegas NMWHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS STARTED IN DODGE CITY – The Las Vegas in this article is Las Vegas, NEW MEXICO, not the more famous Las Vegas in Nevada. This lesser known Las Vegas held a degree of renown from the 1846-1848 war with Mexico onward. Its earliest history dated back to the 1600s.

On the 4th of July in 1879 the first train reached Las Vegas from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. At least half a dozen times a day trains would stop in the city and with all this new activity Las Vegas increased exponentially in size and population almost immediately. Many shady types from Dodge City settled in Vegas.

With business of all kinds soaring, so too did crime. The summer of ’79 saw plenty of infamous gunslingers, gamblers and outlaws from Dodge City and other locales arrive in town on the railroad. Doc Holliday and Kate Elder, Mysterious Dave Mather, Dutch Henry, the Durango Kid, Arkansas Dave Rudabaugh, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, California Jim and many others made Las Vegas their temporary home. Continue reading

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KID RUSSELL AND SALLY SKULL: TWO MORE NEGLECTED GUNSLINGERS

Painting by Charles Marion Russell aka Kid Russell

Painting by Charles Marion Russell aka Kid Russell

Frontierado is just over a week away! The joyous day is coming when we can enjoy our meals of buffalo meat, Tumbleweed Pizzas, Southwest Fried Rice, corn on the cob, Cactus Salad, mashed potatoes and Western Spaghetti ! Later we can wash down some Deuces Wilds (Red or Black) and Cactus Jacks while playing Frontierado Poker or watching Silverado.

My most popular Frontierado articles over the years have been the ones about neglected gunslingers of the American West. Here are another man and woman whose lives were at least as interesting as those of the bigger names.

Self-portrait by Kid Russell

Self-portrait by Kid Russell

KID RUSSELL – How cool is it that an authentic, acclaimed international artist spent some of his younger years wandering the Wild West, even earning the nickname Kid Russell? Charles Marion “Kid” Russell was born in 1864 in St Louis, Missouri. As with Klondike Kate Rockwell, most of this figure’s life story is outside the purview of this article.

Since Frontierado is about the myth of the Old West I’ll focus on the legends about Kid Russell’s wild, wandering younger years full of guns, ranches, saloons, cattle drives, bordellos and sketches drawn on any nearby flat surface, sketches that showed the nascent talent that would one day make Russell world-famous.  

Charles Marion RussellWhen he was age 16 Charles’ well-to-do parents gave up trying to force him to continue his schooling at an eastern military academy and let him move to Montana, where, clad in a brand-new buckskin outfit, he worked on a friend’s sheep ranch north of Helena. It took skill with a gun and a true survival instinct to live through encounters with rustlers, hostile cattlemen and their hired gunmen but Charles, already being called Kid Russell, thrived and felt more at home in this rough and tumble lifestyle than among his family’s hoity-toity friends in St Louis high society.     Continue reading

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COMIN’ AT YA! (1981): MOVIE REVIEW

Comin at Ya 2COMIN’ AT YA! (1981) – Directed by Ferdinando Baldi, Comin’ At Ya! is often credited with starting the pointless and bizarre 1980s revival of 1950s-style 3D movies. The film stars Tony Anthony, famous to us Spaghetti Western fans for the movie series in which he played a gunslinger called the Stranger. He appeared in others, as well, some reasonably good and others, like Blindman, so bad as to be virtually unwatchable.

Tony’s standout feature is the way he always looks like he’s ready to burst into tears, which always set him apart from the countless tough guys in Italo-Westerns. That feature stands him in good stead in Comin’ At Ya!

Tony Anthony

Tony Anthony IS Tinsley – I mean H. H. Hart – in Comin’ At Ya!

Anthony stars as gunfighter H.H. Hart. No, not H.H. Holmes, which would be an entirely different type of movie. Hart has, like many a fictional gunman, decided to leave his past behind and settle down with his one true love – a female gambler called Abilene aka the Cajun Queen. Abilene is portrayed by European actress Victoria Abril.

On their wedding day, H.H. and Abilene are separated when the ceremony is crashed by a gang of white-slavers led by brothers Pike and Polk Thompson. Our story inverts the setup of Louis L’Amour’s western The Shadow Riders, in which two brothers who fought on opposite sides of the Civil War set aside their differences to recover female family members from white-slavers headed for Mexico. 

In Comin’ At Ya! it’s the villains who are such a pair of brothers. Pike served on the Union side and Polk on the Confederate side. The duo command an enormous gang made up of veterans from both sides of the war in addition to renegade Indians and Mexican pistoleros. They steal the lovely Cajun Queen from her new husband and add her to the rest of their haul of young women to sell into slavery down in 1870s Mexico.

comin at ya - cinema quad movie poster (1).jpgOur main character, Triple H, ain’t havin’ it and sets out to recover his new bride and set free the other unfortunate women seized by the Thompson Gang. Needless to say he’ll also kill every member of the gang as well as some of the snobbish, upper-class Mexican aristos – male and female – who buy the ladies at an elegantly-appointed mansion/ former convent now used for slave auctions.

Even though this is really just a Spaghetti Western, albeit with slightly better production values, releasing a film titled Comin’ At Ya! clearly means you want it to stand or fall purely on its gimmick: 3D. First I’ll address the 3D effects and then examine the movie as a whole. Continue reading

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JOHN BULL: NEGLECTED GUNSLINGER

The Frontierado Holiday, which is coming up on Friday, August 7th, is about the myth of the Old West, not the grinding reality. Here’s another Frontierado Saga in honor of the season:

Union JackJOHN BULL – Very little is known about the early life of this mysterious British expatriate who became a famous gambler/ gunslinger. Even his name is in question – for obvious reasons – since “John Bull” had already been a standard nickname for British men in general for over a century.

Many accounts say the John Bull tag stuck to the Brit because he was so evasive about his real name, while other accounts claim his real name was John Edwin Bull or John C Bull. In my opinion it seems like a cosmically unlikely coincidence that an actual Englishman’s name would just HAPPEN to be John Bull, so I view it as an alias. Sort of like if an Irish gunslinger picked up the nickname “Paddy O’Rourke.”

The first accounts of him in the American West came in late 1861, when he took part in the Gold Rush to Elk Creek Basin back when Idaho was still technically part of Washington Territory. John Bull, giving his age as 25, claimed never to have engaged in anything as strenuous as prospecting, but said he had spent the last few years at multiple Boom Towns on the west coast, making a living as a card-player. 

PistolFor the next few years nothing can be pieced together except tales about “John” winning some big pots, losing others, gunning down sore losers and sometimes fleeing gold or silver camps with angry, shooting victims of his card-sharp skills on his trail. In 1865 or 1866 Bull arrived in Virginia City, NV where he met notorious gambler/ gunslinger Langford “Farmer” Peel and played a well-known practical joke on the young Mark Twain.    Continue reading

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BREAKHEART PASS (1975)

Breakheart PassBREAKHEART PASS (1975) – (Frontierado is coming up August 7th and, as always, it’s about the myth of the Old West, not the grinding reality.) Alistair MacLean may be more closely associated with espionage and crime thrillers like When Eight Bells Toll, The Eagle Has Landed and Puppet on a Chain but his lone Western, Breakheart Pass, is a very solid story which transfers MacLean’s usual themes to the American West.

Charles Bronson stars as Deakin, a former man of medicine turned gambler, con-man and gunslinger. Needless to say his wife Jill Ireland is along for the ride, this time playing a woman being wooed by oily Governor Fairchild (Richard Crenna). Ben Johnson portrays Marshal Pearce, Ed Lauter IS Major Claremont and Bill McKinney takes on the role of Reverend Peabody.

Breakheart Pass 2Some critics bash this above-average film because they apparently thought Alistair MacLean’s name on the script meant it would be an over-the-top Western Spy actioner along the lines of Robert Conrad’s old Wild Wild West television series crossed with Where Eagles Dare. Instead, Breakheart Pass comes closer to grittiness than slickness and is all the more enjoyable for that. Continue reading

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SAM SIXKILLER: NEGLECTED GUNSLINGER

Frontierado is coming up on Friday, August 7th. Balladeer’s Blog is, as always, the international hub of this holiday which is now celebrated on 6 continents. Anyway, as the glorious day approaches here’s another neglected old west figure. 

Sam Sixkiller

Sam Sixkiller

1. SAM SIXKILLER – Not only does this  gunslinger have a name that screams out for cinematic treatment (or at least a cable television series) but he also saw more action than many western figures who are better known. Born in 1842 Sam Sixkiller was a Cherokee lawman in Oklahoma back when it was still being called Indian Territory and had not yet been opened up for white settlement. The unique setting of life in Indian Territory and the way it served as a microcosm of issues that the nation at large was dealing with after the Civil War adds layers of depth to Marshal Sixkiller’s tale that I find incredibly intriguing. 

After starting out in the Confederate Army, in 1863 Sam enlisted in the Union Army as the Civil War raged and saw action in Arkansas and Indian Territory. Because many Native Americans owned slaves (black and mixed-race) as their tribes had for centuries the Indian Territory was as split in terms of support for the Union and Confederacy as were badly-divided states like Missouri. Between conventional battles and Bushwacker raids the Territory was reduced to a wasteland in many areas by the  end of the war. In May 1865 Sam was discharged and returned to his wife Fannie to attend to their farm.

masc chair and bottleFollowing the Civil War the slaves in Indian Territory were declared Freedmen like the slaves in the late Confederacy, and as citizens of Indian Territory those Freedmen were in theory entitled to some of the money that was still being paid to the tribes in the Territory and to land. In reality the Five Civilized Tribes who called Indian Territory home were resentful of their former slaves’ new status and often used violence to drive out the freed slaves, even burning down their homes in many cases.

Outlaw bands would ride in to loot and pillage in the Territory then flee outside its borders to escape prosecution. In addition bootlegging and rustling were rampant and construction of railroads through Indian Territory brought new crimes. Throw in the usual inter-tribe conflicts that still surfaced and the Territory was a very dangerous place at the time. Continue reading

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“COME ON, YOU DANITES” … THE MISSOURI MORMON WAR (1838)

MASCOT COWBOY 1The Latter-Day Saints aka Mormons, faced very real oppression and bigotry because of their faith. In Missouri in the 1830s the Church’s opposition to slavery added to the usual mistrust and suspicion that Mormons faced. The series of Mormon “Wars” were not truly large-scale wars (with the exception of one).

The Mormon Wars bore more of a resemblance to Range Wars of the American West, which is one of the reasons I’m covering them during Frontierado Season. I’m not claiming either side was entirely innocent. Only political propagandists and immature fools pretend conflicts are clear-cut “good guys vs bad guys” situations.

FOR MORE ABOUT WHY I FEEL MORMONS AND DANITES FIT IN WITH FRONTIERADO CLICK HERE

MISSOURI MORMON WAR (August 6th – November 1st, 1838) 

Missouri Mormon WarAUGUST 6th, 1838 – This was Election Day in newly-formed Daviess County in Missouri. One of the candidates, William Peniston, called Mormons “horse-thieves and robbers” and warned them not to vote. A band of 30-some Mormons DID show up to vote on August 6th and were blocked by roughly 200 Anti-Mormons.

Legend has it that a cry of “Oh yes, you Danites, here is a job for us” (sometimes claimed to have been “Come on, you Danites!”) rallied those Mormons who belonged to the armed sect of Mormon “Knights” called Danites, from the Book of Daniel. 

In the resulting clash the outnumbered Mormons drove off the Missourians who were illegally trying to stop them from voting. Continue reading

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PISTOL PETE – NEGLECTED GUNSLINGER

Frontierado is Friday, August 7th! 

Pistol Pete

Pistol Pete

PISTOL PETE – Frank “Pistol Pete” Eaton was another of those real-life figures that some people mistakenly think are fictional characters. The elementary alliteration and the association of the name Pistol Pete with the mascot of the Oklahoma State University sports teams are part of the reason. That mascot was named after and was designed to look like the real-life Pistol Pete.

Eaton was a man who LIVED what would eventually become a cliche of Wild West fiction:  the quest for revenge over the murder of a loved one, no matter how many years it takes. 

In 1868 young Frank was eight years old and living with his parents in Twin Mounds, Kansas. Frank’s father had served in the Union Army during the Civil War and was being harassed by several former Confederate Army men who had ridden with Quantrill’s Raiders for a time. One day six of those men shot our hero’s father to death right in front of him, setting the course for the rest of the young man’s life.  Continue reading

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MAVERICK (1994) – MOVIE REVIEW

Mascot new lookFRONTIERADO IS COMING UP ON FRIDAY, AUGUST 7th! As always the Frontierado holiday (now celebrated on 6 continents) is about the myth of the Wild West, not the grinding reality. It’s just like the way medieval festivals celebrate the era’s romantic aspects, not “the violence inherent in the system” (for my fellow Monty Python fans). Here’s another Balladeer’s Blog review of a seasonal movie. 

MaverickMAVERICK (1994) – Richard Donner directed and Mel Gibson starred in this excellent tribute to the 1950s and 1980s Maverick television series. The original series starred James Garner as slick-talking gambler/ gunslinger Bret Maverick AND, in old-age makeup, as “Pappy” Beauregard Maverick, the gambler and con-man patriarch of that family of rogues.  (No relation to the real-life Maverick family of Texas, for whom “maverick” cattle were named.)

Maverick was just as often comedic as dramatic and nicely anticipated the many deconstructions of Old West mythology that were to come in the decades ahead. Sometimes the program was daringly farcical as in episodes like Gun-Shy, a spoof of Gunsmoke, and Three Queens Full, a Bonanza parody set on the Sub-Rosa Ranch (as opposed to Bonanza‘s PONDErosa). The storyline featured Maverick encountering a Ben Cartwright-styled rancher and his three less-than-straight sons, hence the episode’s title.

The original series centered on Garner’s Bret Maverick (and later other Maverick family members) vying in cardplaying and con-games with assorted rival gamblers, gunslingers and con-men. Efrem Zimbalist Jr – in his pre-FBI years – played Dandy Jim, one of the recurring members of Maverick’s Rogue’s Gallery of foes. 

Elaborate schemes and multiple double-crosses often kept viewers guessing who would come out on top til the very end, since Bret sometimes ended up on the losing side. 

The constant betrayals and double-crosses were part of the charm of the television series and were perfectly captured by the 1994 big-screen adaptation of Maverick. This thoroughly enjoyable film is often dismissed as just another of the pointless movie adaptations of tv shows that began to flood theaters back then, but that is far from the truth.

Maverick 2Mel Gibson portrays Bret Maverick since by 1994 James Garner was too old for the role. Jodie Foster co-stars as rival gambler Annabelle Bransford and the iconic James Garner provides memorable support as a lawman. 

NECESSARY SPOILER: Many people that I’ve discussed this movie with said they avoided it or stopped watching it once they realized Garner was not portraying a member of the Maverick family. In reality – as we learn near the very end – he IS. He may have been too old to play Bret this time around but he reprised his role of Pappy Beauregard from the original series. Pappy is just POSING as a lawman and his son Bret obligingly plays along without blowing his Pappy’s cover. Continue reading

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