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Impressions of the West: James Crumley


James Crumley (1940-2008) was a mystery writer of extraordinary power. In Dancing Bear, strung out investigator Milo Milodragovitch is trying to kill himself, or not, while he cruises between western Montana and Seattle trying to unravel a nearly unravel-able story of drugs, toxic waste, and Milo himself. Of Crumley’s writing abilities, Barry Hannah said it best: “Crumley works with fever on the brow, and the most lyrical and true English sentences I’ve seen lately. Dancing Bear is a wonder of compression, truth and wisdom.”

This is the first paragraph of the book:

We had been blessed with a long, easy fall for western Montana. The two light snowfalls had melted before noon, and in November we had three weeks of Indian summer so warm and seductive that even we natives seemed to forget about winter. But in the canyon of Hell Roaring Creek, where I live, when the morning breezes stirred off the stone-cold water and into the golden, dying rustle of the cottonwoods and creek willows, you could smell the sear, frozen heart of winter, February, or, as the Indians sometimes called it, the Moon of the Children Weeping in the Lodges, crying in hunger. - Dancing Bear, p. 7

Credit: Visualist Images

Credit: Roger Lynn

Available at ABEBooks


Holy Moses and Hipshot

By Bennett Owen

©Used with permission of Stan Lynde

Rick O'shay was deputy sheriff...his girl was bar owner Gaye Abandon...his sidekick, a mysterious and taciturn gunslinger named Hipshot Percussion.  There were others, of course.  Doctor Basil Metabolism and Chief Horse’s Neck, plus a regular side show of colorful characters residing in Conniption a tiny, non-descript frontier village...visited by about 15 million people every single day.  For two decades.

©Used with permission of Stan Lynde

Rick O'Shay and his cartoon cohorts were the brainchild of Stan Lynde, award-winning author of eight western novels, a master storyteller with a singular talent for dialog. That combined with a draftsman's sensitive eye for detail to produce Sunday morning masterpieces like this:

©Used with permission of Stan Lynde

And they were historically accurate as well right down to the hardware. One fan recalls Hipshot flashing a smile as he exchanges an old set of ‘navy’ revolvers for a new pair of ‘armies’ while quietly remarking, ‘blessed are the peacemakers.’

©Used with permission of Stan Lynde

A cowboy’s son, one generation removed from the pioneers, Lynde grew up in central Montana, among the Crow Indians near Little Big Horn.  He was mesmerized as a young boy by tails of the Wild West and legends like “Jim Bridger, Wyatt and Doc, Wild Bill.” He poured all of that knowledge and respect into Rick O’Shay, with plenty of laughter and melancholy and lessons of life to go around: 

©Used with permission of Stan Lynde

You may be wondering where Moses fits into all of this. On his blog,, Lynde tells of basically having the strip that he created and nurtured taken away from him by the distribution syndicate...and receiving a letter of condolence from one Charlton Heston.  Lynde quotes the letter on his blog and it reads in part...  “I cannot help regretting that we will see no more of the beautifully drawn and engaging characters with which you populated Conniption.”  And it ends, “Let me thank you for the pleasure you’ve given me.”  High praise from on high.

©Used with permission of Stan Lynde

Hipshot was also a man of the "talk less say more" breed. And despite his hair trigger temperament, he had time for his cat and an occasional talk with ‘The Boss.’ He does so in my favorite and most memorable Sunday cartoon of all time.  And if we're lucky enough to receive Mr. Lynde's blessing, we'll be showing it to you on Christmas day.  He is featured in the current edition of True West Magazine. The article is called ‘What History Taught Me,’ and it’s well worth reading.


Impressions of the West: Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac. Credit: personalshoplifter

In On the Road, Jack Kerouac chronicles the fantastic journeys of a group of friends as they crisscross the American continent. The pace is breakneck, the story a celebration of being vitally aware – of all of the thoughts and sensations and emotions that are the sum total of living in the 20th century. On one leg of their trip, Jack and friends end up staying in an old miner’s shack in Central City, Colorado – a town that had once seen a silver rush so vast that it had been called the Richest Square Mile in the World. One evening Jack and his friend Rawlins go bar hopping, when they meet their friend Major:

Major staggered up a dark street. ‘What the hell’s the matter? Any fights? Just call on me.’ Great laughter rang from all sides. I wondered what the Spirit of the Mountain was thinking, and looked up and saw jackpines in the moon, and saw ghosts of old miners, and wondered about it. In the whole eastern dark wall of the Divide this night there was silence and the whisper of the wind, except in the ravine where we roared; and on the other side of the Divide was the great Western Slope, and the big plateau that went to Steamboat Springs, and dropped, and led you to the western Colorado desert and the Utah desert; all in darkness now as we fumed and screamed in our mountain nook, mad drunken Americans in the mighty land. We were on the roof of America and all we could do was yell, I guess – across the night, eastward over the Plains, where somewhere an old man with white hair was probably walking toward us with the Word, and would arrive any minute and make us silent.

 - Jack Kerouac, On the Road, p. 55


Panorama of Central City, circa 1970. Credit:

Credit: OscarTracker


Impressions of the West: John McPhee

John McPhee. Credit: Office of Communications, Princeton University

In Basin and Range John McPhee describes, in fascinating detail, the formation of the great Basin and Range area covering nearly all of Nevada, and significant portions of Utah, California, Arizona and New Mexico. In essence, the Basin and Range region was formed by the stretching of the earth’s crust (up to 100% of its original width). As the crust pulled apart, great faults were created. Along these faults, which generally run north-south because the stretching was east-west, mountains were uplifted and valleys were down-dropped, producing the alternating mountain-valley pattern that is distinctive of the Basin and Range region.

Credit: mrlaugh

Credit: MiguelVieira

Here’s what McPhee has to say about it:

“Basin. Fault. Range. Basin. Fault. Range. A mile of relief between basin and range. Stillwater Range. Pleasant Valley. Tobin Range. Jersey Valley. Sonoma Range. Pumpernickel Valley. Shoshone Range. Reese River Valley. Pequop Mountains. Steptoe Valley. Ondographic rhythms of the Basin and Range. We are maybe forty miles off the interstate, in the Pleasant Valley basin [in central Nevada], looking up at the Tobin Range. … The Nevada terrain is not corrugated, like the folded Appalachians, like a tubal air mattress, like a rippled potato chip. This is not – in that compressive manner – a ridge-and-valley situation. Each range here is like a warship standing on its own, and the Great Basin is an ocean of loose sediment with these mountain ranges standing in it as if they were members of a fleet without precedent, assembled at Guam to assault Japan.

Credit: Marly Bryant Miller

"Some of the ranges are forty miles long, others a hundred, a hundred and fifty. They point generally north. The basins that separate them – ten and fifteen miles wide – will run on for fifty, a hundred, two hundred and fifty miles with lone, daisy-petalled windmills standing over sage and wild rye. Animals tend to be content with their home ranges and not to venture out across the big dry valleys. ‘Imagine a chipmunk hiking across one of these basins,’ Deffeyes remarks. ‘The faunas in the high ranges here are quite distinct from one to another. Animals are isolated like Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos. These ranges are truly islands.

Credit: brewbooks

"Supreme over all is silence. Discounting the cry of the occasional bird, the wailing of a pack of coyotes, silence – a great spatial silence – is pure in the Basin and Range. It is a soundless immensity with mountains in it.”

Basin and Range from space. Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center


Impressions of the West: Thomas McGuane


Thomas McGuane’s Keep the Change is the story of Joe Starling, who grew up in Montana and moved to New York to become a successful painter. When he decides to move back to a ranch in Montana (“What made you want to go back to Montana?” “Nothing else seems to be home.” “Is that important?” “It is to me.”), he rediscovers what he loved about the western sky and grass and smell in the air.

“Joe made it a habit to ride through the yearlings every day. They were pretty well scattered out and it always took an entire morning. But he enjoyed saddling his horse in the dark and then to be rolling along as the day broke to count and check the cattle. … The great pleasure came from the grass, traveling through it horseback: the movement of the wind on its surface, the blaze of sunrise across its ocean curves. As the full warmth of the day came on, the land took on a humming vitality of cows and grass and hawks, and antelope receded dimly like something caught in your eye. Joe always rode straight into at least one covey of partridges which roared up around his horse. After the first burst, the little brick and gray chickens cast down onto a hillside and resumed feeding. Joe’s horse watched hard, then went on traveling. Instead of being someplace where he waited for the breeze through a window, Joe had gone to where the breeze came from.”

Thomas McGuane, Keep the Change, pp. 169-170.          

Credit: Christopher Owen

Credit: Christopher Owen

Credit: Christopher Owen

Thomas McGuane was awarded the Center Of the American West’s Wallace Stegner Award in 2009. Here is what the CAW had to say about McGuane:

“With precision, outrageous humor, and clear-eyed candor, you have given us today’s true West, with your disdain of greed and pomposity, your everlasting love of a good stream, a fine horse, and a plain sweep of land, and your passion for simple, productive work, all of which causes you to call cowboys “drunken, wife-beating, snoose-chewing geeks” while winning them over and a great many westerners with your honest high regard for ranch hands and others who do things carefully and right, thereby showing respect for a big-sky place that may yet save itself through honoring its best traditions.”