Tag Archives: American West

THE SIRINGO SAGA: HAPPY FRONTIERADO 2021!

western scenery“All through the year we waited” as the song lyric goes, but in this case regarding Frontierado instead of Christmas. The first Friday of every August marks this holiday devoted to the myth of the old west rather than the grinding reality. For some of us the celebration kicked off Thursday night, for others they wait until the actual day of Frontierado to hold their festivities. Enjoy yourselves today and tonight, and enjoy the leftovers on Saturday and Sunday.

SiringoCHARLIE SIRINGO – Like a real-life Harry Flashman of the American West, Charles Angelo Siringo, cowboy, bounty hunter and lawman, fought alongside or against some of the biggest names of his era. Siringo crossed paths with the likes of Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, the Wild Bunch, Tom Horn, Clarence Darrow, Kid Russell, Will Rogers, William Borah and many others.

Charlie was born February 7th, 1855 on the Matagordo Peninsula in Texas. In 1867 he began doing ranch work in whatever positions his youthful frame could handle. By April of 1871 he was working for Abel “Shanghai” Pierce as a full-fledged cowboy. Siringo went on to work on cattle drives throughout Texas, New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma (then called Indian Territory).

L Q Jones as Siringo

L.Q. JONES AS SIRINGO

In 1876 our hero rose to the position of trail driver and led his subordinate cowboys in herding roughly 2,500 head of Longhorn Cattle from Austin, TX along the Chisholm Trail to Dodge City, KS. Spring of 1877 found Charlie once again serving as trail driver from Austin to Dodge City.

On his trips to iconic Dodge City, Siringo had supposedly friendly encounters with the likes of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson and witnessed an altercation between a pair of Dodge City merchants and Clay Allison, the notorious gunfighter and bullying rancher. Continue reading

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JEFFERSON SMITH: 1800s GANGSTER

The Frontierado holiday is this Friday, August 6th. As always the festive occasion is all about the myth of the old west, not the grinding reality. Here’s another seasonal post.

soapy smithJEFFERSON “SOAPY” SMITH – This figure was one of the closest things to a 20th or 21st Century gangland chief in the 19th Century. Jefferson Randolph Smith II was born on November 2nd of 1860 in Coweto County, GA. In 1876 his family moved to Round Rock, TX, where his mother died of natural causes in 1877.

Jeff was one of the Round Rock citizens who witnessed the Sam Bass Gang’s shootout with Texas Rangers when the gang arrived in town intent on robbing the Williamson County Bank. The date was July 19th, 1878 and Smith would forever after state that he had yelled “I think you got him!” as Rangers Richard Ware and George Herold shot Bass, mortally wounding him.

soapy smith hatlessShortly after that event Jeff moved to Fort Worth, TX. The story goes that Smith had begun working at confidence games to make money when he was 16 and in Fort Worth his savvy and leadership qualities let him gather around him a gang of talented and experienced crooks and con artists. The group traveled from town to town running rigged poker games plus 3-card Monte, the shell game and similar rapid-fire, uncomplicated cons and ripoffs.

Jeff was soon on his way to earning a name as a crime boss, with his gang being called the Soap Gang and Smith himself being tagged with the nickname Soapy. The soap references came from one of the gang’s favorite grifts. Continue reading

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CANYON DIABLO: THE MOST LAWLESS TOWN OF THE OLD WEST

It is now less than a week to go until the Frontierado Holiday coming up this Friday August 6th. Balladeer’s Blog will be making a few more seasonal posts between now and then.

railroad over canyon diabloCANYON DIABLO: THE MOST LAWLESS TOWN OF THE OLD WEST – In 1880 construction crews for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad reached the wide chasm called Canyon Diablo in what is now Coconino County, Arizona. Construction had to pause for several months when the crews discovered that the wrong size bridge had been manufactured and would not reach all the way across Canyon Diablo.

canyon diabloWhile waiting for new bridge materials to be manufactured and shipped to the site, workers stayed in the area doing stonemasonry, surveying, cutting and preparing railroad ties and preparing the grade & bed. A quick Hell On Wheels town sprouted called Canyon Diablo, named after the canyon. Unlike most such towns this one lasted for decades, from 1880 into the 20th Century but was at its peak for a few years in the 1880s.

This wasn’t just another of the many Hell On Wheels towns that sprang up along all railroads under construction in the 1800s west. Canyon Diablo earned a reputation as the deadliest and most lawless town in the old west. Law enforcement officers of any kind were not welcome in the place and so, many drifters, criminals and fugitives paraded in and out of the town, sometimes even taking up residence there. The nearest officers of the law were located 100 miles away.

canyon diablo bridge 1882Canyon Diablo is not a household name like Dodge City, Tombstone, Deadwood, Silver City or others because not only law enforcement, but anything resembling newspapers, churches or schools or any other of the usual fixtures of civilization failed to survive there.

For that same reason, few details survive about the gunfights, knife fights and ambushes which filled the graves in the town’s nearby Boot Hill Cemetery. There was simply no one on hand to chronicle events in the town. And that’s exactly how the violent and larcenous denizens liked it. 

Boozing, gambling, prostitution and shelter for fugitives from the law were the figurative economic base of Canyon Diablo. According to one historian “Murder on the street was common. Holdups were nearly hourly occurrences, newcomers being slugged on mere suspicion that they carried valuables.” Continue reading

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MARIE LORDS: 1861

marie lordsWith the Frontierado holiday coming up on Friday August 6th it’s time for another seasonal blog post. Marie Lords is still remembered for her 1861 quote “A cowgirl gets up early in the morning, decides what she wants to do, and does it.”

With increasing numbers of “menfolk” going off to serve in the Civil War that was raging, plenty of other women gained experience working as cowgirls like Marie had been doing.

From cowgirl to entertainer, Marie Lords’ life deserved a lot more attention than it has gotten. Continue reading

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THE APACHE KID

The annual Frontierado holiday arrives Friday, August 6th this year, so here is another seasonal post. As always, Frontierado is about the myth of the old west, not the grinding reality.

apache kidTHE APACHE KID – Born as Haskay-bay-nay-ntayl in the early 1860s this Apache legend and future outlaw leader was captured and enslaved by the Yuma Indians as a child. Freed by the U.S. Army the little boy became a street orphan/ camp mascot in army camps. Since his name was such a handful he was nicknamed the Apache Kid early on.

In 1881 former Union General Al Sieber was recruited by General George Crook to become his Head of Scouts. The Apache Kid enlisted that same year as one of the United States Army Indian Scouts whose tracking expertise was needed against their fellow Apaches who were actively fighting the army. Sieber grew to consider the Kid his finest Native American scout and by most accounts “practically adopted” the Apache Kid.

(Another figure who served as a scout under Al Sieber was Tom Horn, the future gunslinger and hired killer.)

apache kid wanted posterThe Apache Kid, who became a Sergeant by July of 1882, served under Sieber and General Crook during the Apache Wars, participating in the Battle of Cibecue Creek (August 1881), the Geronimo Campaigns/ War (1882-1886) and the Crawford Affair of 1886 which nearly started a second war between the U.S. and Mexico. American and Mexican troops inflicted a few fatalities on each other while hunting for Geronimo. Continue reading

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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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