Cowboy Jam Session: Holed up and hunkered down
The New Year broke cold on the Northern Plains with temperatures and wind chills the lowest in two decades. Weathermen blamed the frigid conditions on a Polar Vortex–a term I think would make a good name for a bucking horse. It was the kind of weather that makes you hurry every chance you get while outside.
It was also the perfect opportunity to watch Bayou Cowboys of Louisiana: Vaquero Ten, released in December 2013. In it, directors Susan Jensen and Paul Singer continue their cross-country excursion examining the cowboy lifestyle, this time focusing on southern Louisiana. I’ve previously highlighted other titles in the series, including The Californio; The Buckaroo; Holo Holo Paniolo: Hawaii; Houlihan: Northern Range; and Texas Cowpunchers.
While cattle ranching is a facet of the South, both past and present, the cowboy of the American West is most often depicted in books, photographs, poetry, and movies. Fact is, the U.S. cattle business got its start in Mexico and what is now Florida when explorers offloaded cattle from their ships. Hard as it might be to imagine, New Orleans was once a thriving cowtown.
This 95-minute installment opens in a bayou where Spanish moss hangs from bald cypress trees and alligators glide silently in muddy waters. The action quickly switches to a marshland roundup where air boats are used. In a land of bogs and marshes, where it takes only one to two acres to graze a cow, getting around horseback has it challenges. The maneuverability of boats makes them equal to roughly 15 or 20 riders and reduces the chances of horse and rider getting bogged down. (Watch a 6-minute YouTube clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnhHhGB5sK4)
Footage from a roundup on the beach got my attention, as did talk of death losses attributed to hurricanes. There’s discussion of the cattle breeds best suited to the climate of this coastal region, the role Creole cowboys have played through the generations, and the Zydeco music of rancher and horseman Geno Delafose. It’s an adventure that I think you’ll find enlightening and entertaining.
Bayou Cowboys of Louisiana: Vaquero Ten sells for $22.95 check or money order (US orders only) from J&S Productions, PO Box 91560, Santa Barbara, CA 93190; http://www.tapadero.com. Order by phone using a credit card at 805-695-0164. The complete 10-DVD set with over 16 hours of cowboy entertainment sells for $160 plus $15 (US priority).
It gives me great pleasure to announce that Jeff Streeby’s Sunday Creek, a collection of 85 posthumous monologues, is available in paperback (2012, InCahoots Film Entertainment LLC, 274 pages, b/w photos, ISBN: 978-0982742372). I’ve followed Streeby’s ongoing work on the project for more than a decade. To hold this version in my hands is akin to revisiting a beloved museum: checking to see if my favorite items are still there; looking to see what’s been added.
The “Six Black Horses” in the prologue still pull the hearse that takes the deceased to the cemetery. There was “Wiley Rawlins,” (1867-1889), his life cut short by a lightning bolt. More recently added to those interred is railroad laborer “Huge Murphy” (1844-1883). (Read these and others at http://www.cowboypoetry.com/sundaycreek.htm)
A horseman, educator, cowboy poet, and performer, Streeby drew heavily on all of these aspects of his life to craft the historically-inspired, first-person epitaphs of the now-deceased citizenry of Sunday Creek. To be certain, Sunday Creek as a tributary of the Yellowstone River exists, however, there was no such settlement. Streeby constructed the frontier town just as he assembled the farewell soliloquies, masterfully assuming the personas of his characters and interpreting their lives: Native, immigrant, gallant trooper, cattle baron, wild young cowboy, lawdog, pious preacher, blushing maid, painted jade, miner, gambler.
An appendix serves as a walking guide for readers considering the headstones. In it, Streeby cites historical references, stating if the character is real or fictional, and providing sources for additional reading. Many are composites, based on historical figures and incidents, stories in the oral tradition, and myths. The poems–often reading more like stories–are complex, poignant, and sometimes funny. They encompass more than 150 years of life on the Northern Plains.
Sunday Creek retails for $19.95 from Amazon.com. For more on Streeby, visit jeffstreebyauthorizedsite.com.