Cowboy Jam Session: The Old West and the New West
January 21, 2011
The boundaries of the American West have been in flux for generations. For my German-born great, great-grandfather, it was Illinois. He put down roots near Peoria prior to the Civil War. His eldest son moved westward from there to Nebraska and Iowa before homesteading in eastern Montana. With the dry and dusty ’30s, some within the family left for western Montana. During WWII, a good number worked in the defense industry, or were stationed in naval and air force bases, up and down the West Coast.
One of the most intriguing concepts to cross my desk deals with the western frontier. “The Remembrance Album of Harriet Pruden” by Richard K. Pate (2009, 152 pages, 4 images, paperback ISBN 978-1-60910-033-9) follows the aspirations and trials of young Harriet Pruden, who longed to see the frontier of her era: northern Indiana. Pate fuses 100 heartfelt, 19th-century pioneer-settler poems with a fictional narrative to escort readers along on the adventure.
Born into a prosperous Ohio family, Harriet’s parents expected her to marry and settle in the college town they helped pioneer. But, Harriet fell for a young man who shared her dream of adventure beyond civilization. In desperation, her mother enlisted townspeople to write poems to Harriet, encouraging her to abandon the folly. The poems were copied into a remembrance album and presented to Harriet. Although touched by the gesture, it did nothing to dissuade her. (Read an excerpt from the book at http://www.booklocker.com/books/4507.html)
The album remained a work in progress, the last entry added in 1909. At one point, it was used as a school text. Pate presents the poems in chronological order: 1831 to 1836, Athens, OH; 1837 to 1852, Logan, OH, and Elkhart County, IN; 1853 to 1909, California. As Pate notes, Harriet’s album “was almost continuously on the far western edge of our country. As the border to the States moved further and further west, so did the album and its owners.”
“The Remembrance Album of Harriet Pruden” sells for $15.95 + $3 s/h (media mail; U.S. addresses only). Order online from http://www.rkpate.com or via mail (check or money order) to RK Pate, 5341 Todd Rd., Sebastopol, CA 95472.
Northeastern Colorado takes center stage in Jane Ambrose Morton’s “In This Land of Little Rain” (Cowboy Miner Productions, 2010, 131 pages, 28 images, paperback LCCN: 2010931921). Morton selected nearly 60 poems – plus three pieces of prose – for this, her second book of cowboy and western poetry. Her previous, “Turning to Face the Wind,” was a 2005 Willa Literary Award Finalist. (For more on Morton: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/janemorton.htm)
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“In This Land of Little Rain” spans ninety years of the ranch where Morton was raised. She familiarizes us with the country, the people who lived their lives in stewardship of the land and animals, their sacrifices, and the cyclical labor that followed the seasons. While the poetry was spawned by personal experiences, the story belongs to all who have roots in ranching. It expertly captures the essence of what it means to be a ranch family.
Two non-ranch pieces are worthy of note: “Coloring the Horses” and “The Men Who Rode With Custer Dakota Territory, May 1876.” Both relate to General George A. Custer. “Coloring the Horses,” about Custer’s plan to color-code the troops’ mounts, is the result of historical research and many rewrites.
I know, because Morton shared the piece with me while she worked to perfect it.
“In This Land of Little Rain” sells for $13.95 + $4.50 s/h. Send check or money order to Jane Morton, 7961 East Natal Ave., Mesa, AZ 85209; 719-495-9304; firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s hard to get much farther west than where Janice Gilbertson lives, in the foothills of California’s Santa Lucia Mountains. The range juts up from the Pacific Ocean on the west and tumbles and rolls down to the Salinas Valley on the east. This is the West that she imbues in the poetry and prose in “Riding In” (BK Publications, 2009, 24 pages, chapbook ISBN 978-0-9794521-3-0).
Gilbertson’s coastal West is inhabited by pasture frogs, white-faced calves, and oak trees; seasoned with biscuits and milk gravy and the smells of a good tack room. A past performer at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV, Gilbertson successfully ventured into free verse with “The Rough Stock Rider’s Kid,” which appears in this collection. (For more on Gilbertson: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/jgilb.htm)
“Riding In” sells for $11 postpaid. Send checks to Janice Gilbertson, PO Box 350, King City, CA 93930.