Monday, June 30, 2014


By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

Okay dear friends, this is a long post about one of my favorite Old West legends who, it just so happens, is a supporting player in my sensuous time travel romance, WHISPER IN THE WIND. Some of you may remember that I wrote about this fella a couple years ago when I was doing research for this book. But there are some who know nothing about him. So, without further adieu, read on to learn all about LUKE SHORT. And IF you read the post all the way to the end, including the book excerpt, you might just win a signed copy of this best-selling book. Yay! :)

The American West had some interesting men, many who lived hard and died fast. Some found notoriety and won fortunes in an honest game of chance. Some stacked the deck. Others turned to robbery, meeting their fate at the end of a rope. And a handful became so famous they are now viewed as legends of the Old West. Let's face it, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who has never heard of Wyatt Earp or Bat Masterson. But, like the heroine in WHISPER IN THE WIND, I have always been more curious about someone Earp and Masterson considered a good friend...Luke Short.

With striking cobalt eyes, handsome good looks, meticulous grooming and an obvious sense of Victorian fashion, one can well imagine the impression Luke Short made wherever he went. It would not be a stretch of the imagination to think he'd just arrived from England, or was even an aristocrat with an impressive title.

Well, this Arkansas born, Texas reared young man did earn a couple titles in his young life, namely: “King of the Gamblers” and “The Undertaker’s Best Friend.”

But these labels don’t really tell us who Luke Short really was, or why such important men like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson valued his friendship so much.

Born in 1854, Luke Short was one of ten children born to Josiah W. Short. His parents moved to Texas when he was two years old and settled on a ranch near Fort Worth. His youth, like much of his life, has been shrouded in mystery. In fact, many rumors still exist today. One such rumor is that he killed a Kiowa Indian and wounded another when he was just 8 years old. Whether or not this is true, we know Luke was fearless with a gun and had an adventurous spirit that led him to many new places and a variety of jobs.

In 1870, a 16-year old Luke drove cattle to the Kansas railheads. Admittedly, it’s hard to envision the dashing figure [pictured above] choking on dust and enduring all sorts of brutal weather, let alone driving herds of smelly cattle north to Kansas. It seems more feasible he took the job as a means to get out of Texas and—at trail’s end—used cattle drive earnings to seek his fortune at the gaming tables. What we do know is he spent the next six years as a gambler.

In 1876, Luke Short was living in Nebraska and working as a whiskey peddler. Perhaps his finances had bottomed out after a string of bad luck at the tables. Whatever the reason, Luke had been trading (or selling) whiskey to the Sioux--a federal offense at the time. But rather than be arrested, Luke ended up working with the US Calvary as a Scout under General Crook in the Black Hills. His bravery and skill with firearms was soon put to the test. Alone, carrying dispatches from a distant outpost, Luke was attacked by ten Sioux warriors who raced after him armed with rifles. Riding like a cyclone across the prairie, he killed five Sioux by shooting over his shoulder. Seeing half their war party killed by the lone rider, the remaining five Sioux pulled back.

Luke remained with General Crook until the capture of Sitting Bull. Eventually, Luke ended up in Dodge City where he spent time with Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson [Pictured left], both of whom were deputies there.

Like most gamblers, Luke followed the big money and since Tombstone had saloons and gambling galore, he moved there. Smart, handsome, and always impeccably dressed, he soon achieved a level of notoriety and success as a high stakes gambler. He followed the circuit from town to town, and it seemed wherever he went Luke’s reputation with cards and guns preceded his arrival.

In January 1881, Wyatt Earp became manager of the Oriental Saloon, entitling him to receive one-quarter interest in its faro concession. [Pictured below is Wyatt Earp dealing at one of the Oriental's faro table. To his right, Doc Holliday watches.] Needing men he could trust, Earp wired his good friends Bat Masterson and Luke Short, and asked them to help him with the faro games in Tombstone. Living in Leadville, Colorado at the time, Luke accepted Earp's offer and traveled back to Tombstone.

Reputation is one thing; fact is another. While working at the Oriental in February 1881, Luke was forced to prove his reputation with a gun had not been exaggerated. A known gunfighter and professional gambler named Charlie Storms started arguing with Luke inside the Oriental. Bat Masterson tried to diffuse the situation, and Storms left the saloon. Later, when Luke left with some friends, Storms was waiting. The gunfighter grabbed Luke by the arm, yanked him off the boardwalk into the street then went for his gun.

Despite the fact Storms .45 cleared his holster, Luke’s speed and skill took center stage. Luke fired first and killed Storms with a bullet to the chest. Both men were standing so close to one another that Storms shirt caught fire from the muzzle flash on Luke’s gun.

Among the witnesses were Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and Virgil Earp. Before being arrested pending an investigation, the ‘dressed to the nines’ Luke turned to Masterson (who had tried to be friendly toward the angry Storms earlier) and said, “You sure pick some of the damnedest friends, Bat.” [Pictured left: Bat Masterson]

The ruling was self-defense and no charges were filed against Luke. However, in April 1881, just two months after the Storms shooting, Luke Short decided to return to Leadville, Colorado. At the same time, Masterson returned to Dodge City to help his brother, Jim. Consequently, both men were not in Tombstone on 26 October 1881 at the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Then again, as we know, Wyatt Earp had his brothers in town, as well as another friend named Doc Holliday.

It has often been said that a man can best be judged by the friends he keeps. Men in this era did not trust easily. They were brave yet cautious; that’s how they stayed alive. One has to remember they lived in a time when arguments were settled more often with bullets than words. Friendships were forged with bonds of trust and loyalty. The expression, “I’ve got your back”, might very well have originated in the American West. Most certainly, I think it describes the relationship between Luke Short, Bat Masterson, and Wyatt Earp. They looked out for each other, almost like brothers.

A perfect example of this happened in 1883 during The Dodge City War. Often called the “Wickedest City in America”, a corrupt association known as the Dodge City Gang had a stronghold on politics and law enforcement. Not only did they also control the liquor business, the mayor, Alonzo B. Webster, owned two saloons. To say this gang was out of control is an understatement, and they also had a long-standing animosity toward Bat Masterson and his brother, Jim (the city’s former marshal), whom Webster had fired shortly after taking office.

So, how exactly did the Dodge City War start? Lest you think Miss Kitty of television’s Gunsmoke owned the Long Branch Saloon, think again.

In 1883, Luke Short and a friend named W.H. Harris became 50-50 partners of the Long Branch Saloon. Webster and his gang didn’t like this; after all, Luke Short was very good friends with the Masterson brothers. Determined to get rid of Luke, the Mayor ordered several of the prostitutes working at the Long Branch Saloon arrested. When Luke protested, he was threatened by a policeman named Louis Hartman. Gunfire was exchanged and although no one was injured, Luke was told to "get out of Dodge" right after being labeled an "undesirable".

Let’s say the edict didn’t sit well with Luke. He contacted Earp and Masterson, both of whom not only conveyed their full support but felt a show of force was necessary in order that justice for Luke might prevail. They immediately recruited men to join their ‘Dodge City Peace Commission’.

[Pictured Left: (Seated L-R) Charles E. Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain, Neil Brown (Standing L-R) W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, and W.F. Petillon.]

In addition to Luke Short, Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, the Commission included Luke’s Long Branch partner, W. H. Harris, famous gunman Charlie Bassett, and some very skilled gunfighters. Understandably intimidated, Mayor Webster and his cronies backed down. Luke was allowed to peacefully return to the Long Branch and Webster promised no further action would be taken. Luke remained in Dodge City for a few more months then went home to Texas.

Settling in Fort Worth, Luke Short was impressed by a prestigious saloon called The White Elephant. Operated by Bill Ward, The White Elephant already had a reputation as a “gentlemen only” establishment and catered to only the best clientele. The biggest saloon in Texas at that time, patrons could enjoy fine dining, drinking, billiards, and even purchase a “Billy Ward Choice Cheroot” for five cents—made exclusively by the saloon’s cigar factory on the first floor. To get an idea of the size, the combined restaurant and bar area (also on the first floor) measured 4,458 square feet.

Luke’s investment in The White Elephant made him owner of the saloon’s gambling concession. As such, he had full rein of the entire second floor. A plush, private faro room was created for so-called Big Games that regularly attracted famous gamblers like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Charlie Coe. Under Luke’s leadership, The White Elephant became known as the place to go for honest games, first-rate players, excellent food and drink, and an elegant, refined atmosphere.

Rosewood and mahogany fixtures were installed. Thick carpets and heavy curtains were imported. An elegant two-bedroom apartment was custom built for Luke and his wife, Hettie, and included a private entrance. A dumbwaiter even allowed them to order from the restaurant downstairs and dine in the privacy of their residence.

Luke’s flair for style was also responsible for The White Elephant’s famous bar on the first floor. It was enormous—taking up the length of an entire wall. Also custom-made, it had a front counter where customers stood, a liquor case for merchandise, and an elegant mirrored back-bar that stretched the length of the bar’s counter. Hand carved out of rich, dark mahogany, it was also decorated with onyx and crystal lighting fixtures.

But just like Dodge, corrupt politicians and lawmen can be found everywhere, including Fort Worth. Although once a respected former Marshal of Fort Worth, Timothy 'Longhaired Jim' Courtright, had a new occupation that many found corrupt. He ran a protection racket for owners of saloons and gambling establishments in Fort Worth. And he wanted the popular White Elephant Saloon to be his newest, biggest client. But if there was one thing Luke Smart knew how to do, it was protect the White Elephant himself. He rejected the offer, a fact that aggravated and annoyed the former Marshal. What would happen if other clients thought they could do the same for their business?

Things came to a head on 08 February 1887. Luke Short was at the White Elephant with visiting friend, Bat Masterson. While having his shoes blackened, an employee informed Luke that Courtright wanted to speak with him outside the saloon. “Tell him to come inside,” Luke said. After being told Luke's reply, Courtright yelled from the doorway for Luke Short to come out.

A few moments later, Luke calmly walked out into the cold February night air. He listened as Courtright, who’d obviously been drinking, voiced his anger that Luke had refused his service of protection. Courtright also told Luke that as a former lawman everyone would believe him if he killed Luke and claimed it was self defense. After all, everyone knew Luke always had a gun on him.

Was Courtright bluffing? Or, did he intend to kill Luke in cold blood? Not sure of his intent, a deceptively calm Luke Short said he was unarmed and that if Courtright wanted to check for himself, he could. Luke took a step toward Courtright while opening his vest.

“Don’t you pull your gun on me!” Courtright shouted as he drew his pistol. Although faster on the draw, Short didn’t shoot to kill. Instead, he shot off Courtright’s right thumb, making it impossible for the man to fire his revolver. Clearly, had Luke Short wanted to kill Courtright he was skilled enough to do so with one bullet. Unfortunately, Courtright wasn’t bluffing. He did wanted Luke dead. He tried to switch his single-action revolver to his left hand. Before he could do so, Luke shot and killed him. [Pictured right: Timothy 'Longhaired Jim' Courtright]

Luke was taken into custody. Bat Masterson—concerned for his friend’s safety—convinced the sheriff to allow him to remain with Luke in the jailhouse, armed and ready if anyone thought to take justice into their own hands. Masterson’s argument must have been very convincing since the sheriff also allowed Luke to be armed in his cell. Once again, the ruling for Luke Short was self-defense.

Over the next five years, Luke Short invested in other saloons and continued his life as a professional gambler. His friendship with Earp and Masterson remained constant. In August 1893, Luke traveled with his wife, Hettie Beatrice Buck Short [pictured right], to Geuda Springs in Kansas. Luke had Dropsy (now known as Congestive Heart Disease) and the waters in Geuda Springs were said to have health-restoring minerals. Sadly, he died in his sleep on 08 September 1893. He was only 39 years old. His body was returned to Fort Worth, and he is buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Ironically, so is Courtright.

One can only wonder what else we might have learned about Luke Short had he lived longer. What other adventures might he have had with Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson?
We do know the lives of Luke's surviving friends ended at opposite ends of the country. Bat Masterson died in 1921 while living in New York City. A columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph, he suffered a fatal heart attack at his desk. Masterson was 67 years old. Wyatt Earp, the eldest of the three friends, outlived them both. Earp died at his Los Angeles home in 1929; he was 80 years old. [Pictured left, one of the last photographs of Wyatt Earp taken a year before his death]

I've said that historical research for me is always fascinating and fun. And I love it when I can find someone from history who lived in the right place and at the right time of my books. Luke Short, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson were all together in Fort Worth in August 1885. So, what fun to give them supporting roles in WHISPER IN THE WIND, a best-selling, sensuous time travel romance set in 1885 Texas.

Here is an excerpt from WHISPER IN THE WIND, featuring an amusing scene with Luke and his friends. The gamblers are having breakfast in the same restaurant as the 21st century time-traveling heroine, MOLLY MAGEE, and the hero, JORDAN BLAKE, a Pinkerton detective. This is the first encounter Molly has with Earp, Masterson, and Short. She just realized that morning she has traveled back in time to 1885 Fort Worth, and is faking amnesia to avoid persistent questions from Jordan Blake. We also get a hint of backstory. The Pinkerton knows the famous gamblers very well, especially Wyatt Earp. NOTE: The scene opens in Jordan Blake's point of view, and Molly is wearing a historical costume she'd made for a Pioneer Days celebration in present day Fort Worth, complete with a Scarlett O'Hara hoop skirt. As her fate would have it, the dress is 20 years out of date in 1885. Enjoy!


Setting her fork down on the edge of her plate, Molly leaned forward and pinned him with a direct, somewhat perplexed gaze. "You're not eating, Mr. Blake."

"I'm not hungry."

"Oh, I see."

"You know," he said with a grin. "I can't help but think we've met before."

"I doubt it." Raising a cup of coffee to her lips, she studied him over the steaming rim.

"Never can be too sure," he said with a shrug. "I've a good memory for people. Have you ever been to New Orleans?"

She cautiously sipped her coffee, not once but twice. Just when it seemed she would not answer, she did. "No."



He folded his arms across his chest. When she looked over her shoulder and studied the table behind him, another thought came to mind. "What about Tombstone?"

Leaning forward, she whispered. "Maybe we met in a previous life?"

"Beg pardon?"

"Mr. Blake, I can honestly say I have never been to Tombstone."

He crooked a brow. "Ah, but you also said you don't remember much of anything."

"Trust me," she said with a coy smile. "If I'd met you some other place, some other time, I would definitely remember."

His gaze dropped to her lips, remembering how they tasted and how passionately she'd responded to his ardent kisses. "Well, I expect it's safe to say that after this morning, we won't forget each other anytime soon."

A telling blush stained her cheeks and she quickly looked down at her plate When she looked up again, she started to speak but her eyes narrowed at something behind him. "I'd sure like to slap those grins off their faces," she whispered heatedly.

"Beg pardon?"

"The three walruses in fancy suits sitting at the table behind you. They keep staring at me."

Jordan grinned. "There's no law that says a man can't look at a woman, Miss Magee. But don't fret. This is a respectable establishment. You're quite safe."

"Maybe so, but it's very rude." She picked at the grits on her plate with a fork, her gaze once more drawn over his shoulder. "They're grinning like a pack of wolves."

Jordan frowned as another thought came to mind. He'd seen the men seated at that table. What if they knew her? Were they staring because she hadn't acknowledged them? "Do you recognize them?"


"Then just pay them no never mind."

Molly intended to do just that, but the men had become increasingly annoying. Even worse, they knew they flustered her and found it altogether too amusing. Well, if her tall, brave Pinkerton wasn't going to do something about it, she would. She came to her feet and walked over to their table, gratified to see the three men taken aback by her bold behavior. They all but fell over themselves to stand up.

"Pardon me, but didn't you mothers ever tell you it's impolite to stare?" With a sardonic smile, she added. "Or, are you deliberately trying to offend me?"

They looked surprised by her remarks, but far from repentant. The one in the middle had enormous bloodshot blue eyes and twirled a bowler hat about on his index finger. With a slow grin, he said, "Well, now, I do recall my dear mother tellin' me not to stare once or twice, but I'm afraid it left no impression upon my character. And offendin' you was not what I had in mind. In fact, I was just about to--"

"Leave," interrupted Jordan, placing the flat of his hand upon the small of her back.

"Mornin' Jordan," said one of the men. About six feet tall with a large, bushy mustache and slender physique, the man extended his hand and Jordan shook it. At that point, her hunky breakfast companion looked to the other two men with an unspoken nod of greeting.

Doesn't that beat all? They know each other. Maybe they're detectives, too. If so, they were certainly more successful at it. Their dark suits looked expensive and tailored to perfection. And what's with all the supersized mustaches?

"You haven't introduced us to the lady, Jordan." An amused glint sparkled in the taller man's eyes. "We're mighty curious. I can't rightly remember seein' a woman like her since I was knee-high to a grasshopper."

Jordan cleared his throat. "Miss Magee, allow me to introduce Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Luke Short."

Molly inhaled sharply. Earp and Masterson were two of the most famous men from the Old West. Seeing them standing before her was surreal. But having grown up immersed in the history of Fort Worth and its legendary characters, she could not help but be more fascinated with Luke Short.

This is the man I've heard so much about since childhood? King of the Gamblers? The Undertaker's Best Friend?

"Are you really Luke Short?" she asked.

Obviously pleased she'd recognized him, especially in the presence of more renowned friends, Short grinned. "I am indeed, Miss Magee."

"You're Luke Short?" she continued. "The Luke Short who's part owner of the White Elephant Saloon?"

As Short placed a silver dollar on the table, she had a brief glimpse of a shrewd, calculating mind behind gentlemanly good looks. Cocking his head slightly, he grinned. "You part gypsy, Miss Magee?"

Oh, dear God, does that mean he isn't co-owner of the saloon--at least not yet? Frantic, she again tried to remember important dates in Fort Worth's history. I could have sworn he took over the White Elephant in 1884.

"Miss Magee?" he prompted, looking her up and down with almost x-ray vision. "What's your interest in the White Elephant? Are you looking for work there?"

She gasped. "Do I look like a saloon girl, Mr. Short?"

Short had the grace to look embarrassed, but spoiled it all by cutting his eyes to Bat Masterson with a telling look. Masterson chuckled, still twirling his hat by its brim. For some idiotic reason, she felt like crying.

This was too much. Not only had she traveled back in time to 1885, but she'd behaved like a wanton earlier that morning with Jordan Blake--and now these men made her feel as if she looked like some kind of cheap floozy. She turned to her handsome protector. Did he think the same about her? As if he saw her pain, Jordan narrowed his eyes on Luke Short.

Thank God! He'll set the arrogant little gambler straight.

No sooner had Molly told herself this than she caught the amused gleam in Wyatt Earp's eyes, belatedly realizing he'd been studying her the entire time. Well, as a former faro dealer, professional gambler, and lawman, no doubt he'd long ago perfected the art of reading people's faces.

"Luke meant no disrespect, Miss Magee," Earp said in a quiet voice.

"Sure enough," contributed Masterson. "Why, anyone can see you're a fair and lovely picture of womanhood. We were just sayin' you remind us of the kind of woman a man don't see any more. Seems only natural we'd be curious about you, 'specially since you're here with this fella. I can't recall the last time I saw Blake with a lady companion."

Molly narrowed her eyes on Masterson. "I'm not with Mr Blake nor am I--as you so delicately put it--his lady companion. I only met him last night, and that was purely by accident. But for your information, if it wasn't for Mr. Blake, I would have been wandering around alone in the dark."

Realizing she hadn't helped their perception of her with that outlandish remark, she quickly tried to set things right. "That is to say, Mr. Blake was kind enough to rent a room for me last night. And this morning, he's taking me to the jail."

Masterson struggled against a laugh and fixed his attention on the brim of his black bowler hat, while Earp's mustache twitched suspiciously. Short just stared at her, a fact she found not the least bit comforting. His Johnny Depp-type intensity was disturbing and a little frightening.

She returned her attention to the still amused Earp and Masterson. "If you must know, I had an accident. I didn't know what day it was or where I was, and Mr. Blake took care of me--just like any good Christian."

Earp raised an eyebrow. "A good Christian eh?"

"You hear that Luke?" Masterson elbowed Short in the side. "Blake here is a good Christian."

Short did grin at that point "I suspect Blake had other things on his mind last night, things that didn't involve Christian duty. Leastways I would have."

Molly folded her arms beneath her breasts and tried to look at Short with a haughtiness she did not feel. "Perhaps some people know a lady when they see one."

"Now, now," said Earp with a low chuckle. "There's no need for anyone to get riled up. I've known Jordan Blake a long time, Miss Magee. As a rule, he keeps his distance from people, 'specially women. Seein' you here with him is mighty curious--that's all."

Somewhat appeased, Molly nodded. "Well, just so you know Mr. Blake went out of his way to help me. He even showed me all the bad parts of town this morning so I wouldn't go there by mistake."

When Earp, Masterson and Short all started to laugh, Molly wanted to slap at least one of them. Remembering who they were, she reconsidered. "For heaven's sake, would y'all be quiet," she said in a near whisper. "Judge not lest ye be judged, gentlemen."

"That's enough preaching, Miss Magee," Jordan said. "I'm sure these men are anxious to get back to their game."

Jordan clenched his jaw. Much as he wanted to spank Miss Magee's lovely bottom, he guided her back to their table. Was she trying to make a scandal of herself and possibly draw him into a gunfight to protect her honor? He had no doubt Wyatt knew something had happened between him and Molly that didn't involve Christian charity. And he'd bet a month's wages, Masterson and Short felt the same way.

Pulling out the chair for Molly, he leaned down and whispered. "Don't ever do that again."

"Do what?"

Exasperated, Jordan stared at her for a moment before taking his seat.

Now then, if you have read all of this post about Luke Short and the Excerpt, and would like to read WHISPER IN THE WIND in its entirety, here is your chance. I will be giving away a signed print copy to a lucky winner. All you have to do is leave a comment. I will announce the winner at 11 PM on July 1st. And thank you for stopping by today at Sweethearts of the West. ~ AKB

WHISPER IN THE WIND is available in print and on Kindle at It is also available on Nook, Kobo, and iBook formats. For more information about Ashley Kath-Bilsky and her writing, visit her website at:

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Favorite western movies? I’ve got a few. But if I had to choose, I think it would have to be The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

This Hollywood classic, starring John Wayne as Tom Doniphon, Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance, Vera Miles as Hallie Ericson, and Jimmy Stewart as Ransom “Ranse” Stoddard has just about everything a western cinema fan could hope for: action, romance, right-over-might…and an unforgettable theme song.

Dorothy M. Johnson’s short story was made into a movie in 1962. It’s one of my oldest “movie” memories, as I was five years old when it made the rounds to the movie theaters and drive-ins.

Here’s the description of the movie according to Wickipedia:b>

Elderly U.S. Senator Ransom "Ranse" Stoddard and his wife Hallie arrive by train in the small western town of Shinbone, to attend the funeral of an apparent nobody, a local rancher named Tom Doniphon. Prior to the funeral, Hallie goes off with a friend to visit a burned-down house with obvious significance to her. As they pay their respects to the dead man at the undertaker's establishment, the senator is interrupted with a request for a newspaper interview. Stoddard grants the request.

As the interview with the local reporter begins, the film flashes back several decades as Stoddard reflects on his first arrival at Shinbone by stagecoach to establish a law practice.

A gang of outlaws, led by gunfighter Liberty Valance, hold up the stagecoach. Stoddard is brutally beaten, left for dead and later rescued by Doniphon. Stoddard is nursed back to health by restaurant owner Peter Ericson (John Qualen), his wife Nora (Jeanette Nolan) and daughter Hallie. It later emerges that Hallie is Doniphon's love interest.

Shinbone's townsfolk are regularly menaced by Valance and his gang. Cowardly local marshal Link Appleyard (Andy Devine) is ill prepared and unwilling to enforce the law. Doniphon is the only local courageous enough to challenge Valance's lawless behavior.

"You, Liberty...I said YOU pick it up..."

On one occasion, Doniphon even intervenes on Stoddard's behalf, when Valance publicly humiliates the inept Easterner. Valance trips Stoddard who is waiting tables at Peter's restaurant. Stoddard spills Doniphon's order causing Doniphon to intervene. Valance stands down and leaves. Doniphon tells Stoddard he needs to either leave the territory or buy a gun. Stoddard says he will do neither.

Stoddard is an advocate for justice under the law, not man. He earns the respect and affection of Hallie when he offers to teach her to read after he discovers, to her embarrassment, she's had no formal education. Stoddard's influence on Hallie and the town is further evidenced when he begins a school for the townspeople with Hallie's help. But, secretly, Stoddard borrows a gun and practices shooting.

Doniphon shows Stoddard his plans for expanding his house in anticipation of marrying Hallie, and reminds him that Hallie is his girl. Doniphon gives Stoddard a shooting lesson but humiliates him by shooting a can of paint which spills on Stoddard's suit. Doniphon warns that Valance will be just as devious, but Stoddard hits him in the jaw and leaves.

In Shinbone, the local newspaper editor-publisher Dutton Peabody (Edmond O'Brien) writes a story about local ranch owners' opposition to the territory's potential statehood. Valance convinces the ranchers that if they will hire him, he can get elected as a delegate to represent the cattlemen's interest. Shinbone's residents meet to elect two delegates to send to the statehood convention at the territorial capital. Valance attempts to bully the townspeople into electing him as a delegate. Eventually, Stoddard and Peabody are chosen. Valance assaults and badly beats Peabody after Peabody publishes two unflattering articles about Valance and his gang. The villains destroy Peabody's office. Valance also calls Stoddard out for a duel later in the evening after Valance loses his bid for delegate. Valance leaves saying "Don't make us come and get you!" Doniphon tells Stoddard he should leave town and even offers to have his farmhand, Pompey, escort him. But when Stoddard sees that Peabody has been nearly beaten to death, he calls out Valance. Stoddard then retrieves a carefully wrapped gun from under his bed and heads toward the saloon where Valance is. Valance hears he has been called out and justifies going out in self-defense. His wins his last poker hand before the duel with Aces and Eights.


In the showdown, Valance toys with Stoddard by firing a bullet near his head and then wounding him in the arm, which causes Stoddard to drop his gun. Valance allows Stoddard to bend down and retrieve the gun. Valance then aims to kill Stoddard promising to put the next bullet "right between the eyes," when Stoddard fires and miraculously kills Valance with one shot to the surprise of everyone, including himself. Hallie responds with tearful affection. Doniphon congratulates Stoddard on his success, and notices how Hallie lovingly cares for Stoddard's wounds.

Sensing that he has lost Hallie's affections, Doniphon gets drunk in the saloon and drives out Valance's gang, who have been calling for Stoddard to be lynched for Valance's "murder." The barman tries to tell Doniphon's farmhand Pompey (Woody Strode) that he cannot be served (due to his race), to which Doniphon angrily shouts: "Who says he can't? Pour yourself a drink, Pompey." Pompey instead drags Doniphon home, where the latter sets fire to an uncompleted bedroom he was adding to his house in anticipation of marrying Hallie. The resulting fire destroys the entire house.

Stoddard is hailed as "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" and based on this achievement, is nominated as the local representative to the statehood convention. Stoddard is reluctant to serve based upon his notoriety for killing a man in a gunfight. At this point, in a flashback within the original flashback, Doniphon tells Stoddard that it was he (Doniphon), hidden across the street, who shot and killed Valance in cold blood, and not Stoddard in self-defense. Stoddard finds Doniphon and asks him why he shot Valance. He did it for Hallie, he says, because he understood that "she's your girl now". Doniphon encourages Stoddard to accept the nomination: "You taught her to read and write, now give her something to read and write about!"

Stoddard returns to the convention and is chosen as representative. He marries Hallie and eventually becomes the governor of the new state. He then becomes a two term U.S. senator, then the American ambassador to Great Britain, a U.S. senator again, and at the time of Doniphon's funeral is the favorite for his party's nomination as vice president.

The film returns to the present day and the interview ends. The newspaper man, understanding now the truth about the killing of Valance, burns his notes stating: "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

"Hallie, who put the cactus rose on Tom's coffin?"

Stoddard and Hallie board the train for Washington, melancholy about the lie that led to their prosperous life. With the area becoming more and more civilized, Stoddard decides, to Hallie's delight, to retire from politics and return to the territory to set up a law practice. When Stoddard thanks the train conductor for the train ride and the many courtesies extended to him by the railroad, the conductor says, "Nothing's too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance!" Upon hearing the comment, Stoddard and his wife stare off thoughtfully into the distance.

As a side note, one of the many reasons this film holds a special place in my heart is because I remember it as being the first time I made the connection between a scene onscreen representing a flashback. Remember the “flashback within a flashback” that the Wikipedia article mentions? The smoke from John Wayne’s cigarette moves and flows to take over the screen as he tells Jimmy Stewart, “You didn’t kill Liberty Valance. Think back…” That smoke took us back to the truth of what had happened, and my five-year-old brain was shocked—and enamored, even then, with the idea that time passage, or remembrances could be shown through the haze of cigarette smoke. It was the moment of truth for Ransom Stoddard.

For me, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance embodies the core of the west—good and evil, and how sometimes “the point of a gun was the only law”—and it all depended on the man who held the weapon.

Liberty represented the purest evil. Ranse was determined to fight him with the law he treasured—the desire to do things the legal way blinding him to the fact that Liberty didn’t respect that. In the beginning, his naivete is almost painful to watch, providing Liberty some rich entertainment. Though Tom finds it amusing, his growing respect for Ranse’s perseverance is portrayed to perfection by that familiar downward glance of John Wayne’s. Accompanied by the half-smile and his slow advice-giving drawl, the character of Tom Doniphon is drawn so that by the point at which he sees the handwriting on the wall and burns down the house he built for Hallie, the viewer’s sympathy shifts, briefly, to the circumstances Tom finds himself in.

But Ranse is determined to vanquish Valance one way or the other—with a lawbook or a gun—whatever it takes. In the final showdown, the lines of resignation are etched in Tom Doniphon’s face, and we know he is honor-bound to do the thing he’ll regret forever: save Ranse Stoddard’s life and lose Hallie to him.

I love the twist. Ranse truly believes he’s killed Valance. Again, to do the honorable thing, Tom tells him the truth about what really happened.

What do you think? If you were Ranse, would you want to know you really were not the man who shot Liberty Valance? Or would you want to be kept in the dark? If you were Tom, would you have ever told him? It’s a great movie!

Now you can sing along!


When Liberty Valance rode to town the womenfolk would hide, they'd hide
When Liberty Valance walked around the men would step aside
'cause the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty understood
When it came to shootin' straight and fast---he was mighty good.

>From out of the East a stranger came, a law book in his hand, a man
The kind of a man the West would need to tame a troubled land
'cause the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty understood
When it came to shootin' straight and fast---he was mighty good.

Many a man would face his gun and many a man would fall
The man who shot Liberty Valance, he shot Liberty Valance
He was the bravest of them all.

The love of a girl can make a man stay on when he should go, stay on
Just tryin' to build a peaceful life where love is free to grow
But the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty understood
When the final showdown came at last, a law book was no good.

Alone and afraid she prayed that he'd return that fateful night, aww that night
When nothin' she said could keep her man from goin' out to fight
>From the moment a girl gets to be full-grown the very first thing she learns
When two men go out to face each other only one retur-r-r-ns

Everyone heard two shots ring out, a shot made Liberty fall
The man who shot Liberty Valance, he shot Liberty Valance
He was the bravest of them all.

The man who shot Liberty Valance, he shot Liberty Valance
He was the bravest of them all.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Please bear with me while I recycle a post I featured last year. We're getting new floors in our family room and kitchen and I forgot what day it was. Heck, I forgot what week it was.
Like most historical romance authors, I love family history as well as that associated with my stories. In researching my dad's family, I learned that one of his ancestors was the first to bring Guernsey cows to the newly opened part of Oklahoma in 1899. Others in his family were also drawn to the chance to own land and build new lives. One of those in his stepmother's family had an excellent memory. Dessie Garton was born in 1890 near Hillsboro, Texas. 
Young Dessie did not want to leave her home and her friends, but traveled with her family and neighbors to Oklahoma. These people did not have cash. The promise of free land was a great opportunity to people who has been renting farms. When you read it, imagine you and your family were alone on the Oklahoma prairie, isolated from everything familiar.
Fortunately, Dessie had an excellent memory. Her granddaughter recorded her reminiscences when Dessie was almost eighty. It's a long tale I am so pleased to have, but here is a portion of it. Can you imagine loading seven kids into a wagon and heading for an unknown land? And they left after harvest, which meant they were traveling in winter with only the wagon and a tent for shelter.
How frightening some of those new experiences would be, as you can read from this portion of Dessie's story:

We camped at Mr. Brim’s because he had water. There was an empty dugout nearby. We moved into it because it was so cold in the tent. We had a sheet-iron stove, but there wasn’t any wood. Willy had pneumonia. The gyp dust of the dugout turned out to be worse on him than the cold, and so we had to move back into the tent.

A prairie dugout 

            It didn’t take long for us to get initiated to the hazards of living on the prairie. Rain was our chief concern. Everyday we searched the skies for rain clouds. When we saw a rain cloud approaching, we always remembered what a settler’s wife had told Papa when we camped out on Turkey Creek. He had gone to try to buy food for the animals. He asked if it ever rained in Greer County. In a long drawn out tone she replied, “It don’t never rain in Greer County, but when it does, it don’t never stop.”
About two or three weeks after we arrived in Martin, we experienced our first sandstorm. Murray and Papa were digging the dugout, and the rest of us were working around the tent. We had spread all the bedclothes outside on the grass so they could air the damp out. We saw the black cloud coming from the north. We thought it was a bad rain cloud. It hit with all the fury of a spring rainstorm, but it was only wind and dust. Mama struggled to get the bedclothes off the grass while we kids fought to keep the tent from falling. Even Willy, who still had pneumonia, was trying to help. But the tent collapsed in spite of all our efforts. After it was over, Papa and Murray came running to us. Papa said that he had never been so frightened—he had thought the world was coming to an end! Later we found our pillows a half-mile away hanging on a barbed wire fence.

Duststorm on the prairie. If you haven't
been in one of these choking storms,
consider yourself fortunate!

            After that experience, we watched the skies for rain, those ominous black clouds, and another cloud of a different color. This was a gray cloud that meant an approaching prairie fire. All of the settlers feared these fires. Everyone plowed his fields to make a fire guard; but if the wind was strong, nothing could stop the fires. We were never burned out, but we lived in fear that we might be.

Modern grassfire in North Central Texas
Every farmer's and rancher's nightmare

            Murray and Papa finally finished the dugout. There we were—seven kids and Mama and Papa—and we didn’t own one dollar in cash. Mr. Brim helped Papa get groceries “on account” in Quanah. He had a fenced garden spot that he said we could use. Mr. Payne let us milk two of his cows. Then we started breaking land with our horses and that old mule. We didn’t make any crop that first year, but we did get all of the land broken. The second year we planted maize and cotton. Papa would dig the holes and I would place the seeds in the holes. The maize was the old goose-necked variety that grew as high as a man’s head and then curved back toward the ground. We had to cut each head separately with a knife. It was difficult for us to reach. Our hands would get cut by the sharp blades of the leaves and, once in a while, by the knife.

            We had to go to Quanah, Texas for everything. It had the closest railroad. Four or five families would sometimes get together and go over there because we had to ford the Red River. If the river was up, all of the horses would be hitched together in order to pull the wagons across one by one. We had to tie everything down in the wagons or we might see our supplies floating down the river. We would never know whether or not the river would be high. There might have been thunderstorms further west we knew nothing about.

            It seemed like we were always in debt to that man at Quanah. I remember one of the first years when we made a good crop. Papa went to Quanah to pay off our bills. When he came home, he said, “Well, Susan, I didn’t tell you, but now I’ve paid it off I guess it can’t hurt to tell you. I mortgaged the mule last spring.” Mama was shocked. She fretted the remainder of the day. She said over and over, “Just think, if we hadn’t made this crop, we’d lost that mule, and then how would we have broken the land for next year’s crop?”

Plowing with a mule

            We made pretty good crops when we first came to Martin. The land was fresh and would grow anything if we could just get enough rain. Our biggest problem was getting water. We had to haul it from Quanah or catch it in rain barrels. When it rained, we filled every available container with water.

            The year after Papa mortgaged the mule, he traded it for the price of digging a well. The man had to dig 115 feet before he hit water. We had to draw all our water—even for the stock. Whose job do you think that was? Talk about “the good old days!” If I didn’t think Mama or Papa were watching, I would drive the cattle away—they would drink too much.

            Our next biggest worry was the damage caused by the open range policy. Before the Herd Law was passed, the cattle would eat our maize crop and trample our cotton. There weren’t any trees around for fence posts. All the lumber had to be freighted in from Quanah. Besides that, barbed wire cost money, and we were always short of money. Willy got a job in Texas. That $10 a month he made sure helped us. One of most vivid memories relating to that open range policy was the day two bulls got into a fight on the top of our flat topped dugout. We were afraid to go outside because they might attack us, and we were afraid to stay inside because it sounded as if any second they could come crashing through the roof. Finally, they gave up and went away.

            I was just nine years old when we moved from Texas. Oh, how homesick I would get for all those beautiful trees I used to climb (I was the tomboy of the family) and the creeks I used to wade in. I missed our big house too. Everything got so dirty in the dugout. My brother-in-law Ed, who had said this country wouldn’t sprout black-eyed peas, brought my sister Attie to see us. They decided to homestead north of us. We were all together then, and I knew there wasn’t much hope of going back.  

            All of us children had to work in the fields planting and harvesting. In the winter we went to school. I loved school and secretly dreamed of going back to Texas to high school. My aunt offered to take my older sister Lucinda and send her to high school so that she could become a teacher. When my sister refused, I asked Mama if I could take her place, but she shrugged it off by saying that I was too young and should stay at home.

            Sunday was a big day for us. Everyone in the community gathered at church. After the services, all of the relatives would go to one relative’s home for dinner and visiting. Sometimes we would have a church picnic and singing after church. All of us looked forward to those particular Sundays.


Do you admire the pioneer life? I respect those who were stalwart enough to live then, but I'mm glad I have my nice air-conditioned brick home! How about you?

I used a sandstorm like the one Dessie described in my western historical romance, THE MOST UNSUITABLE COURTSHIP. 

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Robbery Snitch and a Pocket Knife

It’s always amazing to me the little, unique things found in museums and historical societies. Today I’m going to share two such items we found while in Wyoming last year. 

1). This letter was hanging on the wall in one of the many buildings at the Old Town Museum. 

The letter states:
Do not mention my name in this matter.
Meeteetse, WY June 17
Mr. Dean Hays, Esq
Dear Sir,
It is rumored that Meeteetse is going to be held up and robbed by the Hole in the Wall Gang of thieves. I wish you would notify Red Lodge that they are billed for the (23) of June. I do not know this for a fact, but I have reason to believe it.  You can use your own judgment about it and act accordingly. Hoping this may be of benefit to you in area. Yours very--
Truly H.R.

A statement beside the letter claimed neither bank was robbed due to this warning.

2). This knife was featured in the basement at the Museum of the West in the ‘inventions that didn’t quite make it’ display case.

It’s a folding knife created by Holler Firm in Germany for display in a New York City store window around 1880. It hosts a cigar cutter, button hook, tuning fork, pencils, plus 96 other blades, including a .22 revolver. The only thing it doesn’t have is the bottle cap opener that appeared on the Swiss Army Knife created twelve years later in 1892. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Yellowstone Through a Teenager's Eyes

 By the time this post goes live, I will be in Yellowstone! I wanted to post some historical tidbits about the park this month, but I came across something even better. I hope you allow me to indulge. 
The following is an essay that my son wrote for school. I happen to get a glimpse of it when he left it laying on the dining room table and, being the nosy mom that I am, had to look at it. I don't generally police my son's homework - he's an honor student and rarely asks for my help, so when I read this, my heart melted. Both my sons have gone to Yellowstone nearly every summer since they were five and six years old, and as they've gotten older, they grumble a lot about going "to Yellowstone again" this year. Last summer, Collin didn't even want to go with us. Understandable for a teenager. But, he went, and he's going again this year, and I got the impression that he actually is looking forward to the trip. All these years, I wasn't sure if all the Junior Ranger badges the boys have earned, all the hikes they've been on, and all the campfire programs they've sat through had made any impact on them. After reading the essay, I know differently now.

 Yellowstone National Park is my happy place.
By Collin Henderson

Relaxing along Yellowstone Lake at Storm Point
The forests of Yellowstone are impregnable to the noises of the outside world. Only the soft chirping of the birds can be heard mixed with the wind. The lake beats the shore ever so gently. Swish. Swish. Swish. Then plop. A fish can be heard jumping in and out of the water. But where? Oh, there it is, to the left. 

Hellroaring Creek Trail
Yellowstone’s tranquility puts me at ease. My muscles loosen and I can just close my eyes and relax. The gray monotony of daily life elsewhere is outshined by Yellowstone’s variety. Every day a new trail awaits. The dirt under my feet is rocky and rough and soft and comforting. Maybe today I will see another white heron on the Madison River. Or perchance a garter snake will cross my path. The trail shall be my guide and lead to wonderful discoveries. Yellowstone’s never ending variety always has me on my toes, wondering what will come next. I can explore to my heart’s content.

Hiking to Shoshone Lake

Yellowstone’s natural forests far outshine any concrete forest. The forests are full of crisp, clean, pine scented air. Every so often one might come across a clearing along a trail, covered in emerald green grass and a wide assortment of flowers. Time feels frozen in Yellowstone, every second lasting an eternity. The landscape takes my breath away.

Black Bear
The animals of Yellowstone are unlike any that can be found in a zoo. I am a guest in their territory. The animals here are wild and will attack if I am not cautious. My personal favorites are the ground squirrels and chipmunks that scurry around looking for food. All sorts of birds live in Yellowstone. Every now and then I’m lucky enough to see a bald eagle in all its grace. The animals of Yellowstone are wild and untamed but cute as well. Rather than watching my dog sleep all day, not that I dislike my dog, I can enjoy watching large beasts majestically roam their habitat.

Yellowstone National Park is my happy place.

The resident Uinta Ground Squirrel in camp. We named him Phil