Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A drifting cowboy wishes you happy Holidays

Happy Holidays everyone from Jerry and Kasidy May (east side of Stoney Point in Chatsworth, CA).

This will be my last post for 2011.  See you next year.

Adios, and happy trails

Cowboy Chic -- Whimsical cowboy paintings

All my life I've fooled around with art.  When I was in college, I took the sum total of three art classes.  Although I had lots of fun learning about the basics, I soon realized I was no Rembrandt.  

When my eldest grandson Ryan was born,  the  "whimsical painting" (above) I titled Ride 'm Cowboy Ryan, and gave it to his mother.  I know it hung in his room for many years, but now that he's almost grown I'm betting it's been replaced with something a little more adult.

Continuing with my whimsical painting approach to art, I painted a Pecos Bill wanna-be (above) riding a grizzly bear, and titled it Trouble Bruin.  I took it to the cowboy traditions show down in Tucson in 1995.  The girlfriend of an artist who did hitched horsehair work fell in love with it, so I traded it for a hitched belt.  I figured I got the better end of that trade, but the hitcher turned out to be a crook and never mailed the belt as promised.  The painting isn't worth much, but if you happen to see it hanging somewhere beware of its owner.

My next whimsical painting (above), part of a trilogy, I titled Sing to 'em Bill.  It's my interpretation of a comical Buffalo Bill singing to a herd of buffalo.  I gave it to my son, who hung it in his family room.  Maybe someday he'll refine his taste  and get rid of it.

Funny how time changes things.  These old paintings are startin' to look better in my mind's eye.  Maybe it's time to drag out the easel and paints.  I might be better at it now--15 years later--QuiĆ©n sabe?

Meanwhile back at the ranch -- Stoney Point (Chatsworth icon)

"Meanwhile back at the ranch" is a continuing series about "rock stars" (landscape features) on the old Iverson Movie Location Ranch is Chatsworth, California.  For more information see:

Stoney Point is an icon for Chatsworth, California.  It's a rock formation, climber's mecca, and city park located on Topanga Canyon Boulevard about a mile north of Devonshire Street.  The Chatsworth Chamber of Commerce uses a photo of the crag as its logo representing the Chatsworth community.  Stoney Point was not part of the Iverson Movie Ranch, but it was often seen in background scenes of movies and television shows filmed on the Iverson Ranch.

The promotional still above is from The Grapes Of Wrath (1940) starring Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell and John Carradine.  This scene does not actually appear in the movie, but scenes were filmed just a wee bit to the right (west), leaving Stoney Point out of the final cut.

The photo above with Stoney Point in the background, features actress Billie Seward promoting a new Tim McCoy film Riding Wild (1935).

The color screen capture above, with Stoney Point in the background, is from The Harvey Girls (1946) starring Judy Garland and John Hodiak.

This sepia-tone screenshot (above) is Claudia Dell and Tim McCoy in a scene from Ghost Patrol (1936).

In the screen capture above,  Stoney Point is seen from the south side of the Garden of the Gods formation in Buster Crabbe's Desert Gold (1936).

The screenshot above is from Tim McCoy's Phantom Ranger (1938).

Above Wild Bill Elliott as Red Ryder in Great Stagecoach Robbery (1945).  Yup! That's Stoney Point on the far right.

In this screenshot (above) we get a glimpse of Stoney Point from the south as seen in The Crimson Ghost (1946).  The automobile was on Santa Susana Pass Road near Andora Street.  Today that portion of Santa Susana Pass Road is Topanga Canyon Boulevard, a busy thoroughfare today.

In Atom Man vs. Superman (1950) starring Kirk Alyn, Noel Neill and Lyle Talbot, superman's flying stunts were animations as you can see here.  In the serial Lex Luthor, Superman's arch-nemesis, lives in a cave deep inside the Stoney Point outcropping.

King of the Bullwhip (1950) Lash LaRue with Stoney Point in the background.

Cowboy Chic -- Lure of the Dim Trails Odds 'n Ends

When I started selling my cowboy chic furniture line, I needed a showroom for customers to visit, so our home became an evolving showroom as my work changed.  The photo above was taken about 1994.

The photo above taken about 1998, gives you a pretty good idea of just how little room I had in my 16' x 20' workshop.  In the photograph I can count five pierced-back chairs, a round table, a sofa-back table, two dressers, a magazine rack, and one of my signature mirrors all being worked on at the same time.  The photo must have been at the end of the day 'cause things look pretty tidy. 

In 1998 we remodeled.  We removed the carpet from the living room, and refinished the old hardwood floors.

The two photos above are the same living room as the top photo -- just remodeled.  I really missed the red carpet, hooked rug, and red gingham wallpaper.

Here is our family room about 1997.  You've heard of starving artists--well I'm here to tell you it's true.  Most of the antiques got sold along the way to pay the bills.  Things are even worse now.  I just sold some real treasures to buy 5-months worth of hay for my horses.

The photo above is our guest bedroom.  My wife called it "the shrine" because it housed my collection of bits, spurs, and other cowboy antiques--all gone today.

Even our bathrooms were wall-to-wall cowboy chic as you can see in this 1994 photo above.

In this 1994 photo above our dining room was "spruced-up" for a Los Angeles Times photo shoot.

I also had to build props for trade shows like the cedar paneled walls above and below that were constructed for my 1993 Western Design Conference display.

Although these pieces fit nicely in a two-horse trailer, it sure was hard work loading and unloading all that furniture.

All in all (for more than a dozen years) I had a lot of fun and met some fabulous people while selling my art.  This little set above was for the child of a rock star.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

If you can't buy a museum's treasure -- make your own

Several years back my wife and I toured eastern Canada together.  My goal was for her to experience some of the delightful sights and sounds that had drawn me to the Canadian wilderness areas where I had canoed.  I also wanted to visit Quebec and Montreal--two cities rich in fur trade and canoeing history.  We rented a car in Montreal and spent two weeks stopping at every roadside tourist attraction and antique store imaginable. 

Our last stop was a rustic lodge on the shore of an alluring lake in Algonquin Park.  Here, I had hoped she would get to listen to the beautiful and haunting call of loons, and if she was really lucky, maybe hear a wolf howl off in the distance.  The canoeing gods were smiling on her and she experienced both.

Somewhere along the way during our travels on that trip, we happened to visit a small charming museum--I don't remember its name or location.  I took a photo (above) of a really nifty primitive folk art carving of a canoe full of Indians.

A few months after, armed with the photo of the primitive canoe carving, I set out to make my own version of it.  I had never done any carving before, so I bought a chunk of basswood and a dermal tool kit, and went to work.

A couple days later, I had my very own museum treasure (above).  That was many years ago, and since then I've become a much better whittler.  Yet, that first primitive folk art canoe carving still remains as one of my favorite creations.

Today my little folk art canoe has a place of honor on my fireplace mantel along with some carvings created by a master carver named Barry Lysaght (aka the Topanga wood carver).

Monday, December 19, 2011

New owner at the "Crossroads Saloon"

It was about 1960 that Hank and Joe was working for a big cow outfit a few miles east of Temecula, California.

As was their custom, when they got the week's assignment completed--usually late Saturday afternoon--they headed for The Crossroads, a little watering hole about half way to town.

Ol' Hawk had a cow-dog named Lucky that just naturally jumped in the back of the pickup truck 'cause he went every place with those boys.

One day while Hank and Joe was enjoying a cold longneck,  Lucky in his usual spot under their feet,  A new bar-keep comes over to the table, and advises the boys that he's the new owner of this "fine establishment" an' cow-dogs are strictly not allowed in the place.

Joe tries to argue, explaining they've been coming here for years, and Lucky has always been allowed 'cause he's got the manners of a gent.

But, it's no go--the new owner of the saloon isn't impressed.  He says he's trying to "upgrade the joint," so dogs are no longer welcome.

Given no other choice, Hank and Joe leave the saloon, and start back toward the ranch.  About a mile down the road they pass a sheep pen that gives Hank an idea.  He turns around, backs up to a chute, and explains his plan to Joe.

A few minutes later--with a pickup full of sheep--Hank backs the truck up to the door of the saloon, drops the tailgate, and runs the sheep into the place.

It was quite a picture--a dozen sheep scrambling under tables, knocking' over chairs, bleating, and crapping--all the time looking for a way out of the newly "upgraded establishment."

The bar-keep who is fit to be tied starts yelling,  "Get them d--- sheep outta here!"  Cooly,  Hank explains to him that he's not qualified, and the only one who can do the job is Lucky who isn't allowed in the joint.  

Given no choice the new owner of The Crossroads says, " Okay,  you win.   Get those sheep outta here, and the dog can stay."

I wasn't there, but Lucky swears it's a true story.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cowboy bars, saloons, and watering holes, but not honky-tonks

Little Cowboy Bar, Fromberg, Montana about 1994
I used to be a big fan of cowboy bars, saloons, and watering holes, but not honky-tonks.  

A cowboy bar is generally a friendly quiet place where you can sit and visit with friends and neighbors.  To my mind one of the best towns to find a good cowboy bar is Cody, Wyoming.  I've made lots of cowboy, rodeo rider, artist, local rancher, antique dealer, outfitter, and tourist friends there, and would while away the hours in a cozy corner of one of Cody's watering holes.

Buffalo Bill's Irma Hotel has a swell cowboy bar called Silver Saddle Saloon.  If you're hungry you can also sit at the fancy Buffalo Bill Bar in the main dining room and eat their famous prime rib washed down with a good whiskey.

The Proud Cut Saloon (above) is another fun place to eat and drink.  The taxidermied elk heads and rodeo photos on the walls are part of the genuine Western ambience.  Their rocky mountain oysters, jumbo prawns, and hamburgers are legendary.

I haven't been there in over 20 years, but back then there was a pretty nice watering hole called Cassie's  just outside downtown Cody.  On the weekends it had live music and was usually bustling.  In the 1920s, Cassie's was a sportin' house and rip-roaring saloon.  

Twenty years ago, my  all-time favorite was an unadorned dive known as the Golden Eagle Bar and Lounge.  This place wasn't fancy, and they didn't serve food, but it was just plain comfortable.  When I took my son there while we were on a fishing trip last fall,  I discovered the Golden Eagle no longer exists.  it was almost like losing an old friend.

Of course, there still are plenty of good cowboy bars in other areas of Wyoming as well...

Sheridan, Wyoming has a great old cowboy bar on the main drag called the Mint Bar.

Across from the main square in Jackson Hole is the world famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.  This one is worth the visit just to see the real silver dollars embedded in the bar, and to belly up to the bar and sit tall in the saddle.  It's also another place to get a super-sized, finger-likin' good hamburger.

Honky-tonks, on the other hand, are usually found in the South.  Lord knows I visited a few of 'em in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina when I was in the service.  The honky-tonks that I knew were generally too noisy, and sometimes had too much action for my taste.  In the 1980s when I visited Gilley's Club, a honky-tonk in Pasadena, Texas,  I had to step around three fights just to get in the front door.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cowboy Wisdom -- Never trust a ground-tied pack mule

It had been a glorious morning in the rocky mountains.  A bunch of us had ridden into the high country, coursing through aspen forests, skirting around tall timber, crossing wild flower adorned meadows, and fording a couple of frosty creeks.  

We had just finished a wonderful trail-side lunch of hamburgers and chili, and were preparing for the homeward journey, when…

We'll call him "Josh,"  just in case he or some of his kin are still among the living…

Anyhow we noticed ol' Josh careening off lodgepole pines while hanging on to one end of a lash rope that was securely fastened to the pack saddle of a balky mule.  With the intensity of a kamikaze pilot bent on a suicide mission, the mule was headed for the edge of a cliff less than 100 yards distant. 

Josh had miscalculated the mood of the mule and had dropped the lead rope, expecting the mule to stand ground tied.  He was working on the first squaw hitch with the lash rope when the action started.  The pack mule had started a game of "crack the whip," with Josh hanging onto the lash rope for dear life.  As the mule got to bucking, some of the pots and pans started rattlin'.  The game was getting real exciting until the mule's path turned directly toward a rocky cliff with a 500-foot drop.  Then it got serious.

Roger Miller was sittin' on his little mustang Star, watching.   Without any hesitation, Roger spurred Star to a lope to head off the mule before it was too late.

I was riding a pack string horse that wasn't used to riders with spurs on, so when I encouraged my steed to join the race, instead I got my own private rodeo.  It was only about five jumps till that lazy string horse quit, but I was of no assistance to Roger.

The whole matter was over in less than a New York minute.  Roger had a good hold of the mule's lead rope, even though the mule was trying to climb in the saddle with him, Josh was busy collecting the contents of his pack saddles' panniers, and I was busy making a mental note about ground-tied pack mules and about wearing spurs when riding somebody else's horse.

The rest of the ride was calm and pleasant, but that mule gave us plenty to palaver about in the cantina that evening.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Everyone must believe in something -- I believe I'll go canoeing

"Everyone must believe in something. I believe I'll go canoeing" is one of my favorite canoeing quotes by Henry David Thoreau.  If you've been following my blog, you know I've been paddling canoes in the United States and Canada for more than 50 years.

In an earlier post at I told you about Bill Mason's books about paddling and canoe camping, which became my guide for canoeing.  In one of Bill Mason's books he wrote, "There is nothing that is so aesthetically pleasing and yet so functional and versatile as the canoe," and I agree 100%.

I've owned a bunch of canoes in my lifetime.  Some, like the Old Town Trapper pictured at the top of the page, I regret selling.  However. when I think about it for awhile. I realize it would be too heavy for me to portage these days--the darned thing weighed more than 65 pounds.  It was a real joy to paddle, and just looking at it gave me pleasure

Another extraordinary canoe that I owned for many years was a birch bark crafted by Bill Hafeman, master canoe builder.  It hung from my living room ceiling.  I'm sad to say I never put it in the water.  if my current home had the same high beamed ceilings, I'd still own it.

Canoeing is a passion that runs deep in my soul--maybe because I have some French-voyageur blood flowing in my veins.  I can't seem to satisfy my thirst for knowledge about canoes.  I've even collected and studied works of art by Philip R, Goodwin, Frank Schoonover, Arnold Friberg, and others who have captured the canoe in history through the stories they tell in their paintings.

One of my favorite canoe prints (above) is  by Frances Anne Hopkins (1838 - 1919).  Its title is Canoe Manned by Voyageurs Passing a Waterfall. It's a scene showing a large Hudson's Bay Company freight canoe passing a waterfall. The passengers in the canoe may be the artist and her husband, Edward Hopkins, secretary to the Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company.  This Canadian work is in the public domain now in Canada.  its copyright has expired because it was first published more than 50 years ago, or the creator died more than 50 years ago.

I'll close this post with a poem from George Marsh that was published in Scribner's Magazine, October 1908.

The Old Canoe

My seams gape wide so I’m tossed aside
To rot on a lonely shore
While the leaves and mould like a shroud enfold,
For the last of my trails are o’er;
But I float in dreams on Northland streams
That never again I’ll see,
As I lie on the marge of the old portage
With grief for company.

When the sunset gilds the timbered hills
That guard Timagami,
And the moonbeams play on far James Bay
By the brink of the frozen sea,
In phantom guise my Spirit flies
As the dream blades dip and swing
Where the waters flow from the Long Ago
In the spell of the beck’ning spring.

Do the cow-moose call on the Montreal
When the first frost bites the air,
And the mists unfold from the red and gold
That the autumn ridges wear?
When the white falls roar as they did of yore
On the Lady Evelyn,
Do the square-tail leap from the black pools deep
Where the pictured rocks begin?

Oh! the fur-fleets sing on Timiskaming
As the ashen paddles bend,
And the crews carouse at Rupert House
At the sullen winter’s end;
But my days are done where the lean wolves run,
And I ripple no more the path
Where the gray geese race cross the red moon’s face
From the white wind’s Arctic wrath.

Tho’ the death fraught way from the Saguenay
To the storied Nipigon
Once knew me well, now a crumbling shell
I watch the years roll on,
While in memory’s haze I live the days
That forever are gone from me,
As I rot on the marge of the old portage
With grief for company.

Update: 22 August 2020

This page wasn't complete without my favorite Sigurd F. Olson quotes...


Sigurd F. Olson was an American author, environmentalist, and advocate for the protection of wilderness. For more than thirty years, he served as a wilderness guide in the lakes and forests of the Quetico-Superior country of northern Minnesota and northwestern Ontario. He was known honorifically as the ‘Bourgeois’ a term the voyageurs of old used of their trusted leaders.


“There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude, and peace. The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness and of a freedom almost forgotten. It is an antidote to insecurity, the open door to waterways of ages past and a way of life with profound and abiding satisfactions. When a man is part of his canoe, he is part of all that canoes have ever known.”
-- Sigurd F. Olson

“Ghosts of those days of the voyageur stalk the portages, and phantom brigades move down the waterways, and it is said that singing can be heard on quiet nights.  I wonder when the final impact of the era is weighed on the scales of time if the voyageur himself will be remembered longer than anything else.  He left a heritage of the spirit that will fire the imaginations of (paddlers) for centuries to come.”
— Sigurd Olson, The Lonely Land, an account of Olson's Churchill River voyageurs canoe expedition, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

If you liked this post be sure to check out my two other blogs about my Voyageur ancestry:

Ripples from La Prairie Voyageur Canoes -- My Voyageur Ancestry

Discovering my Voyageur Legacy

Happy Paddling

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cowboy Chic -- Blanket chests and toy boxes

My blanket chests are constructed with select tight-knot ponderosa pine.  Each chest features hand-cut dovetails, scratch carvings, and hand-painted artwork.  Some like the "Buffalo Medicine" chest above have little extras, like the silver concho and leather string handle.

The "Zebra Dun" chest above has a bronco-buster on top, a steer-roper on the front, and a rider ponying a horse on each end.  Some designs include red suns or yellow moons.

The chest above was a custom order.  "Ian's toy box" features Ian's own brand on the top corners.

My "Indian Village" chest above has a hand-painted Indian head on the top, buffalo hunters on the ends, and a village scene across the front panel.  Borders are created with star and arrow designs.

The chest above called "Arizona Cowboy," appropriately found a home in Tucson.  It features a bronco-buster on the top, two gazing cowboys sittin' under horses across the front, and a campfire scene on the ends.

One of my earliest chests (above), "Cowboy's Sweetheart" was sold at a silent auction for a Gene Autry Museum Gala about 1993.  The influence for this one came from Will James and Jo Mora.

It was very difficult to photograph the "Vaquero Box" above. These are the only photos I have.  I had lots of fun making this one, but it took way too many hours.  For this reason, it will remain one-of-a-kind.

The detail above is the top of a relief-carved chest I made for my future daughter-in-law when my son announced their engagement about 1992.  I had no idea how hard it is to carve pine, so this remains another one-of-a-kind.  Building a hope chest is a family tradition (my grandfather built a cedar chest for mom in 1936).

To learn more about Lure of the Dim Trails and my folk art see the earlier post:

Cowboy Heroes -- Charles Marion Russell

To me Charles Marion Russell was one of the West's most fascinating characters.  He had been a real working cowboy (in Montana during the 1880s).  He had lived with the Blackfeet Indians for a short time, and learned their manners and customs.  He experienced the real Old West before its end, and he--better than anyone else--recorded it on canvas and in words.

Back in the 1970s I started collecting and reading his books; titles like "Back Trailing on the Old Frontiers" (1922) a collection of fourteen stories illustrated by Russell, that had appeared in Sunday editions of daily newspapers in all parts of the United States.  The stories were about Discovery of Rocky Mountains -- The story of Fort Benton -- Adventures of Hugh Glass -- Three Musketeers of the Missouri -- Alexander Harvey, bad man -- Kit Carson -- Yellowstone Kelly -- The Pony Express -- The Fetterman Disaster -- The Wagon Box Fight -- Chief Joseph -- Tragedies of gold seekers -- The Texas Trail -- Battles of Crows.

Other Russell books I collected included "Rawhide Rawlins Stories" (1921), "More Rawhides" (1925), "Trails Plowed Under" (1929), and "Good Medicine: The Illustrated Letters of Charles M. Russell" (1929).  I discovered that Charlie had incredible wit and wisdom, and there was plenty to be learned from his writings. 

When my son Mike and I toured old Montana in 1987, Mike took the photo above (top of page) and gave it to me when we got home.  About that time I acquired a book titled: "Charles M. Russell: The Cowboy Artist" by Ramon Adams and Homer Britzman (1948).

I discovered that Charlie (like me) had lots of human frailties.  He was both a genius with words and a master artist.  His paintings had humor, intrigue, and suspense.  They were a visible record of the history of our American West.  They captured the beauty of Montana's landscape--some say, even better than the Old Man created it.

He is and always will be one of my cowboy heroes.

A few of my favorite Charlie Russell quotes include:

"I ain't no historian but I happen to savvy this incident."

"The West is dead... you may lose a sweetheart but you won't forget her."

"A woman can go farther on a tube of lipstick, than a man can with a winchester and a side of bacon."

"Between the pen and the brush there is little difference but I believe the man that makes word pictures is the greater."

and my all time favorite…

"The West is dead, my friend
But writers hold the seed
And what they saw
Will live and grow
Again to those who read."
Writing this post got me thinking about seeing Russell paintings for the first time… I'm guessing it was about 1950.  They surely were the inspiration for my own first bit of Western art scribbled on the back of a postcard and addressed to my mother.

I was 7 years old when I sketched the cowboy, Indian, and saddle horse on the postcard above.  My spelling isn't a whole lot better today.  Thank goodness I'm married to a retired English teacher who is willing to proof read my writings.