Saturday, December 17, 2011

Belle of the Yukon

The voice-over that reads the text on-screen as Belle of the Yukon begins says not to expect a movie filled with violence or one that is like the works of Robert Service.  He is the poet who wrote The Cremation of Sam McGee—see the link below—and it seems to me that the text at the start of this film is trying to imitate the style of that poem.  If that text had also said to expect a movie filled with musical numbers and improbable plot twists acted in overly broad comic fashion, I probably would not have watched it.  Fortunately, this 1944 movie was only 84 minutes long.

In Belle of the Yukon, Randolph Scott stars as Honest John Calhoun, proprietor of a saloon and dance hall in Malamute, Alaska, during the gold rush days.  With a name like Honest John, of course the man is not on the up and up.  The daughter of his manager, named Lettie, is played by Dinah Shore; she is in love with the piano player who has a seemingly shady past.  Gypsy Rose Lee plays Belle, who was John’s love interest in Seattle; she and her troupe of dancers have just arrived to work at the Emporium, as Honest John's place of entertainment is called.  The main plot points revolve around these four characters but there are several secondary plots as well.

The name Honest John reminds me of the name of the character Pete Duel played in The Young Country, Honest John Smith.  The con games played by John Calhoun in this film remind me of those pulled by Oscar Harlingen (played by Severn Darden) in Never Trust an Honest Man and by Heyes himself in Don’t Get Mad, Get Even

Like those ASJ episodes, there are double crosses in this movie as well and the only reason I watched Belle of the Yukon to the end was to see how they were resolved.  At one point, John Calhoun remarked, “You can carry this honesty thing too far”, and I can definitely envision Heyes saying something like that!

What I enjoyed most about Belle of the Yukon were the outrageous hats worn by Belle and her dancers.

Website about Robert Service:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Good Day for a Hanging

Although Fred MacMurray is the lead in Good Day for a Hanging, playing a reluctant marshal, Ben Cutler, I was much more interested in watching James Drury (Lom Trevors in the Pilot and Sheriff Tankersley in The Long Chase), who plays a doctor, and Robert Vaughn, who plays a bank robber.

Set in Nebraska in June 1878, Good Day for a Hanging starts off with three men watching a stagecoach travel on a road far below the ridge atop which they are sitting on their horses.  But in a twist, they are not out to rob the stage; instead, they are coordinating their movements with the two men inside it.  Within minutes of each other, they all arrive in the town of Springdale, where the audience is introduced to several other characters in the movie. 

The bank is robbed, the robbers gallop out of town pursued by a posse, men are shot and killed or wounded, and one of the robbers (Vaughn) is caught and jailed.  The remainder of Good Day for a Hanging is about the relationships between the marshal; his daughter (played by Joann Blackman), who is sweet on the robber, her childhood friend; the marshal’s fiancĂ©; the townsfolk; and a couple of lawyers –they all have differing ideas about what they think should happen to Eddie, the young bank robber charged with murder.  There is a trial, a gallows is built, clemency is sought, a jailbreak is planned, a gunfight occurs, justice prevails in the end.

Good Day for a Hanging is a conventional Western that reminded me of many others I have seen.  MacMurray and Blackman acted woodenly; Drury as a self-absorbed doctor was interesting; and it was fun to see Vaughn as a bad guy.  This 1958 movie was a pleasant diversion, an enjoyable way to spend 85 minutes of time, but nothing more.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My Darling Clementine

Perhaps if I didn’t know what Tombstone really looks like, having visited the town in the summer of 2010, and if I hadn’t already watched other movies about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Tombstone, My Darling Clementine would have held my interest.  As it was, though, this black and white 1946 film, despite being directed by John Ford and having Henry Fonda in the lead as Wyatt Earp, did not hold my interest.  Sacrilege, I know!

It was hard to differentiate the characters from each other and the plot of My Darling Clementine seemed more like a bunch of scenes strung together than a cohesive film.  Cathy Downs plays Clementine Carter, a lady from the East in love with Dr. John Holliday; this female character is completely fictional, which substantially decreased my interest in the film.  Nor does she resemble Clementine Hale as played by Sally Field in ASJ; this Clem would never be friends with men such as Heyes and Curry. 

Henry Fonda, whose voice is so distinctive in later movies, was not persuasive as Wyatt Earp.  Victor Mature, as Doc Holliday, exhibits the traits the gunman was so well-known for—the coughing, the quick temper, the card-playing—but throughout the movie I kept comparing his performance to that of Val Kilmer’s in Tombstone.  Instead of Big-Nose Kate, a woman named Chihuahua is Doc’s love interest here. 

Walter Brennan (Silky in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry and Don't Get Mad, Get Even, Gantry in Twenty-one Days to Tenstrike) plays the patriarch of the Clanton Gang but his part was small and with a beard and hat covering much of his face, I wouldn’t have known it was him without looking at the movie’s credits.

In My Darling Clementine, the famous gunfight was set in the middle of the desert around two horse corrals.  The Clantons were based at the O.K. Corral, and the Earps and Holliday used the Wells Fargo Corral as their base.  As for what happened during the actual gunfight, all I will say is that it does not conform to historical events.  I suppose I prefer Westerns, if they are based on historical incidents, to hew more closely to fact than this movie does.

One bonus feature on the DVD is a commentary by Scott Eyman, a biographer of John Ford, and Wyatt Earp III, a descendant of the main character in the film.  The commentary was quite interesting and helped me better appreciate the movie.  The other bonus feature is the theatrical trailer for My Darling Clementine.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Shoot Out

A cute orphaned kid plus an ex-convict gunfighter do not equal a wonderful movie.  Shoot Out has its moments, mostly because Gregory Peck plays the gunfighter, Clay Lomax (and what was he thinking when he accepted this role?).  This 1971 film, produced by Universal Studios, could have been much better if the villains hadn’t been played as caricatures.

Paul Fix (Clarence the undertaker in Night of the Red Dog) has a small role as a train brakeman who delivers the orphan girl to Lomax.  Jeff Corey (Governor Baxter in The Day the Amnesty Came Through) plays Trooper, a wheelchair-confined ex-soldier saloon keeper who knows where Lomax’s nemesis, Sam Foley, now lives. 

It was Foley, played by James Gregory, who was Lomax’s partner in a bank robbery; Foley shot him in the back and as a result, Lomax spent seven years in prison and is now out for revenge.  Bud Westmore  and Larry Germain were the make-up artist and hairstylist for Shoot Out and did the same for the Pilot.

Foley hires a cowpoke to follow Lomax and most of Shoot Out is about what happens on the trail.  Lomax finds himself caring for the little girl after his attempts to foist her off on the owners of the mercantile, the schoolteacher, and the preacher in a town are unsuccessful.  Perhaps it was the same with Heyes and Curry after they lost their folks and that’s how they ended up at the Valparaiso Home for Waywards. 

There are several encounters—including shoot outs--between Lomax and the bad guys as they all slowly make their way to Gun Hill, where Sam Foley lives.  The final shoot out of the movie is moderately interesting but other than Gregory Peck’s performance, this movie is not worth the 94 minutes it takes to view it.

As I was watching this film, it seemed almost like a mirror image of True Grit: Instead of a young girl hiring an aging marshal to get revenge, Shoot Out has an aging ex-criminal saddled with a little girl who wants revenge.  But then the credits reveal that the producer, director, and screenwriter responsible for True Grit had the same roles in this movie, and it was no longer such a coincidence.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die

What a great premise for a movie: An outlaw, tired of the life, decides to get an amnesty offered by the governor of the territory, and along the way, he has to avoid other outlaws, lawmen, and bounty hunters.  Unfortunately, the plot of A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die reads better than its execution on film.

This 1967 movie stars Alex Cord as Clay McCord, an outlaw who is lightning fast with his gun and has a $10,000 reward dead or alive on his head, but otherwise bears no resemblance to Kid Curry.  He does, however, suffer from periodic seizures, most noticeable in the uncontrollable shaking of his gunhand.  He thinks it is caused by epilepsy because his father had the condition and, because his father was laughed at and scorned, McCord tries, rather unsuccessfully, to hide his seizures when they occur.  Naturally, I was reminded of Pete Duel when seeing this in A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die.

McCord ends up in the outlaw-run village of Escondido, New Mexico, and various nasty things happen there.  He is eventually able to leave and makes his way to Tuscosa in the same territory, where Marshal Colby, played by Arthur Kennedy, offers amnesty and $50 to outlaws who give up their evil ways.  He is acting on behalf of the Governor, Lew Carter, ably acted by Robert Ryan.  This politician in A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die is quite a contrast from the Wyoming governors seen in ASJ.

The climax of A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die is set at an isolated cabin that was similar to the one in The Day the Amnesty Came Through.  Here, McCord waits for the Governor, just like Kid and Heyes waited for Lom in that episode.  But what actually happens is more similar to the events in Stagecoach 7 than the events in the third season episode.

A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die is a spaghetti Western--the credits show lots of Italians worked on this film—and it has the requisite long close-ups of unemotional actors’ faces and the overwrought music that swells at important plot points yet is absent for long periods of time in other parts of the movie.  But A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die never reaches the level of quality of the great spaghetti Westerns and at 98 minutes, just manages to avoid being too long.  However, the Italian version of this movie is twenty minutes longer and has a different ending, so the additional scenes might make it much more coherent and memorable.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

No Name on the Bullet

Audie Murphy stars as John Gant, whom we first encounter riding alone on the prairie, stopping to ask directions to Lordsburg at an isolated farmhouse. The scene then shifts to a town which, as this is a Universal production, was obviously filmed on their Western set.

The hotel with gingerbread decoration on the porch and balcony railings, often seen in ASJ episodes, is clearly recognizable. There is a saloon on the corner but the surrounding architecture differs from that seen in the TV show so I am not sure if it is the same one depicted in many episodes. The interior of the hotel resembles that of the hotel in Dreadful Sorry, Clementine but again, since it’s not identical, I cannot be sure that it is the same set. The director of No Name on the Bullet, Jack Arnold, also directed several ASJ episodes: Something to Get Hung About, Which Way to the O.K. Corral?, The Clementine Ingredient, Bushwhack!, and What Happened at the XST?.

Gant, whose name conjures up Walter Brennan’s Gant in Twenty-one Days to Tenstrike even though that’s just a nickname, approaches a blacksmith’s forge to have his horse seen to. There, he meets Luke Canfield, played by Charles Drake, and his father, Asa, played by R.G. Armstrong (Max in The Bounty Hunter). Luke is a doctor and veterinarian and Asa is the blacksmith. They are the good guys of No Name on the Bullet.

Although baby-faced like Kid Curry, the similarity between Curry and Gant is only superficial. As Gant explains later in No Name on the Bullet, “I use my gun for money and I don’t like to use it for nothing.” It turns out that Gant is a hired gun, an assassin according to the sheriff. He has more in common with Danny Bilson since he is known for prodding men into trying to kill him, whereupon he then manages to kill his intended victim legally, claiming self-defense.

No Name on the Bullet is a psychological drama that maintains its suspense throughout. Everyone in town wonders who Gant has come to kill and slowly, like the chess game he and Luke play--an apt metaphor for the film--the pieces fall into place. As Gant says, “Everyone has enemies,” and he seems to delight in seeing townsfolk, such as the banker, Thad Pierce (interesting name, that!) fall apart. Luke, his fiancĂ© and her ill father, a judge, along with the sheriff, all try to stop Gant in various ways. The climax and finale of this 1959 movie will surprise most viewers.

A few other notes about this 77-minute long film: It was written by Gene L. Coon of future Star Trek fame, the music at times seemed overwrought, and Bud Westmore did the make-up for No Name on the Bullet as he did for the Pilot.

Thanks to this film, I have finally figured out what those cone-shaped objects seen so frequently on tables in saloons in ASJ are. They are ashtrays! Early in No Name on the Bullet, there is a very clear close-up of one of them; the top is open and filled with matches, and the tray on the bottom had lit cigars resting in it. It is very nice to have at long last solved that mystery!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rio Lobo

Howard Hawkes directed many great films; unfortunately, Rio Lobo is not one of them. This 1970 movie, starring John Wayne and Jorge Rivera, also includes Robert Donner (Preacher in Never Trust an Honest Man, Nate in The Bounty Hunter, and Charlie Taylor in The Day the Amnesty Came Through), who can be recognized by his voice, though not the white hair of his character, and Jack Elam (Boot Coby in Bad Night in Big Butte) in small roles, as well as Boyd “Red” Morgan (Augie Helms in The Fifth Victim) in an uncredited role as a train engineer. There are three female co-stars and since they all look alike, it is hard to tell them apart.

Rio Lobo opens with scenes of gold being loaded onto a train by Union soldiers during the Civil War. It is intercepted by Confederate soldiers in a daring and well-planned train robbery, which is the best part of the movie. Wayne, playing a Union colonel, vows to recover the gold and leads a troop of soldiers in search of it. However, he is captured by the rebels though ultimately he escapes and the rebels are the ones who are subsequently captured and spend the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp.

When the war ends, the colonel seeks out the Confederate captain, played by Rivera, and his sidekick because he wants to know who gave the rebels information about the gold. The rest of Rio Lobo deals with how the three of them find the man who betrayed the Union and what they do with him and his supporters, as they have taken over a town and run it like their personal fiefdom.

The women’s dialog is very 1970s and it is jarring to hear them speak that way. In my opinion, Jennifer O’Neill, who plays one of the roles, overacts most of her scenes. But in one of them, she faints and when she revives, she finds that she’s been undressed and is in a hotel bed. When she asks who took her clothes off, Rivera’s character says they—meaning him and Wayne’s character--flipped a coin and he won, which reminded me of the scene in The Clementine Ingredient where Heyes and Kid flip a coin over who is going to pretend to marry Clementine.

The music soundtrack in Rio Lobo sounds very 1970s--very modern—and out of place. In many scenes where there is fighting, that also looks fake—the punches that are thrown are obviously not real. In the second half of the movie, the action takes place in a sheriff’s office and is very reminiscent of Rio Bravo, which in my opinion was a far better movie. During the climax, a couple rifles and pistols are submerged in water but, miraculously, can still shoot with no difficulty.

Perhaps one reason I had a hard time sitting through this one hour and fifty-four minute film was because it ostensibly took place in Texas yet was filmed at Old Tucson Studios (and in Mexico) and I recognized the scenery and some of the sets from having twice visited there, adding to the sense of unreality of Rio Lobo.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


There are many positive reviews of McLintock! but looking through the lens of 2011, I have a different view of the movie, which stars John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Since I had visited Old Tucson Studios while on vacation in August, where this 1963 Western was filmed and where one building used in the movie remains, I was eager to see McLintock!.

However, I was sorely disappointed. Theoretically, the plot sounds good: A prim and proper wife—she prefers Katharine but he likes to call her Katie--wants a divorce from her ranch-owning husband—George Washington McLintock, or GW. Their daughter (played by Stephanie Powers), returning from school in the East, finds herself in a tug-of-war between her parents, who both want her to live with them.

The girl, called Rebecca by her mother and Becky by her father, finds herself the romantic object of very different types of men and McLintock!s subplot involves what she does about them. Unfortunately, many of the actors overact their roles, especially Maureen O’Hara, who actually makes Mrs. Fielding in Six Strangers in Apache Springs look good. In addition, several scenes go on much too long, especially the fight scenes and the chase scene at the end of the movie.

There are scenes with Indians and a Chinese cook, which seem to me to be stereotyping those ethnic groups. On the other hand, it is surprising to hear John Wayne’s character, the eponymous McLintock, refer to the Indians in a positive manner and to take their side in a dispute with the Army. One amusing point: McLintock! at one point refers to the Indians as Comanches but I heard them speaking Navajo!

Chill Wills (a rancher in The Biggest Game in the West) also appears in McLintock!. As a sidekick to John Wayne’s character. He does a decent job with his role but is given some silly things to say and do, just like all the other characters. Leo Gordon (Ebenezer in Smiler with a Gun) also has a supporting role in this movie. The word “insane” is frequently used, which reminded me of Louise Carson saying it in Everything Else You Can Steal.

An introduction by Leonard Maltin situates McLintock! in the context of Wayne’s other work and states that it is a take-off of The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare which, since I have not read that particular play, I had not known. I suspect the source material is much better than this remake! There are a few bonus features: one describes the work Michael Wayne, John’s son, did as a producer of McLintock! and many other films; the second bonus feature interviews Maureen O’Hara and Stephanie Powers about their recollections of the movie and working with John Wayne; and the third describes the stunt work done on the movie. There is also an audio commentary that accompanies the movie but I could not bring myself to listen to it even though many people associated with the making of the McLintock! contributed to it.

As a comedy, the slapstick did not work for me at all. At 127 minutes, McLintock! dragged and I was very glad when it finally and predictably came to an end.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona. Land of the metaphysical vortex and alternative healing regimens. Location where over 70 movies have been filmed. Luring visitors from all over the world, Sedona is a mix of the modern and the historical, glamour and kitsch, Native and New Age. Ringing the high desert city--the elevation is 4,500 feet--of approximately 10,000 people are the red rock sandstone hills, mountains and monoliths that make Sedona famous (see photos at right and above). Did Roy Huggins ever visit Sedona, Arizona? If he did, maybe that is why the name Red Rock (see photo at right) is frequently mentioned in ASJ (The McCreedy Bust, The Day They Hanged Kid Curry, The McCreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone, and The McCreedy Feud).

Long before the Europeans arrived, the Sinagua culture flourished. Honanki is a ruin about an hour away from Sedona. Driving over a very bumpy dirt road in a jeep, one gets a very good idea of the remoteness of the area, once the town is left behind. A short trek through a forest of pinyon pine, live oak, creosote bushes and jimson weed—beware of rattlers!--brings visitors to the cliff dwelling, which was built as an extension out from the face of a cliff. Guides with the Pink Jeep tour company explain the history of the place and point out the petroglyphs on the walls, along with their meanings (see photo above; click on the photo to enlarge it and see the petroglyphs at the top right). Another Sinagua ruin, Palanki, is nearby. Both sites are administered by the U.S. Forest Service as they are located within the Coconino National Forest.

First settled by Anglos in the 1870s when the Homestead Act opened up the land to farmers, and later named for the wife of the town’s first postmaster, Sedona Schnebley, a statue of whom stands in front of the town library (see photo at right), the economy is now based on tourism rather than agricultural pursuits. But back in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ranchers raised Texas short-horn cattle in the area. Fruit orchards were also established. No gold, silver, or copper strikes were ever discovered in Sedona, however, unlike in nearby Jerome.

Starting in 1923 with Call of the Canyon, Sedona was a unique and memorable location for making movies, TV shows, and commercials. Numerous Westerns were filmed in and around the city; an Old West town was built on the outskirts of Sedona but unfortunately no longer exists. Movie stars such as Randolph Scott (see photo at right), Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and Clint Walker all made films in Sedona. Tributes to these and other actors and actresses who appeared in movies filmed around Sedona are located along the main street, Highway 89A, in one part of the town. Perhaps filming an entire season of a TV show in Sedona would have been too expensive and that is why the third season of ASJ went on location to Moab instead, another place where red rock landscape is prominent.

Whatever the source, the vibrations must have been in my favor when I visited Sedona! Shopping, of course, is big business in the town and it was there that I finally found a concho belt very similar to the one on Kid Curry’s second season hat. After years of searching, I was thrilled to find it. I may need to get another hat made since the cowboy hat I had custom-designed last year already has a concho hatband, albeit in a different style. I can certainly understand why Kid had two hats, though!


Related Links:

Article about Anglo homesteaders in Sedona 


U.S. Forest Service webpage about Honanki

Article about Honanki in Sedona Monthly 

List of movies filmed in Sedona

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tuzigoot, Arizona

Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry drifted all over the West trying to find work and avoid the law. As they wandered through the Southwest, riding through the desert on horseback and sleeping under the stars when short of money, they very probably came upon ruins such as those now called Tuzigoot. Administered by the National Park Service as a national monument (see photo above), Tuzigoot was a pueblo inhabited by Native Americans of the Sinagua culture. It is located about 20 minutes from Jerome, on the outskirts of Cottonwood, Arizona.

The settlement began around 1000 A.D. and lasted until around 1400 A.D. Built at the top of a hill (see photo at right), there is a commanding view of the valley below from all sides. The people who lived at Tuzigoot, who probably numbered no more than 225 at its most populous, lived in structures built of adobe bricks, some of which were two stories high. All that is left of Tuzigoot now are the remains of the walls that show how the rooms were connected to each other (see photo at right) and one restored room with a roof on it. The people who lived at Tuzigoot were farmers and hunters who made excellent use of the fertile land surrounding them. To see the ruins, visitors walk on a trail that circles the hill. There are numerous markers all along the trail (see photo at right), which is only about one-third of a mile long, that describe how the Sinagua people at Tuzigoot lived and prospered.

The Visitor Center contains well-rounded exhibits about Tuzigoot (see photo below) and its relationship with other cultures that it interacted with--trade was very important. There is also a small gift shop. Outside, there are more markers that explain how the people of Tuzigoot made use of abundant plant life around them. There are more than fifty Sinaguan ruins in the area and if Heyes and Curry passed by them during their travels, they may have wondered what they were but by the nineteenth century, the settlements had been long abandoned. There are several theories about why the Sinaguans left this area and where they went but nothing definitive has been proved to date. 


Related Link:

National Park Service website for Tuzigoot

Friday, August 12, 2011

Jerome, Arizona

Jerome is a former ghost town supposedly now inhabited by numerous ghosts, along with about 350 corporeal humans who live there full-time. Situated in northern Arizona, about half an hour by car from Sedona, Jerome is a former mining town built just shy of a mile high at 5,246 feet on Cleopatra Hill (see photo above). Established in 1876, the town was named after Eugene Murray Jerome, a New Yorker who never visited but owned rights to mines in the area.

Nowadays, Jerome (see photo below) is known as an artists’ colony and a tourist destination, with lots of shops and galleries catering to tourists, but in the nineteenth century it was an important copper mining town. At the height of its economic success, more than 15,000 people lived there and it was the fourth largest town in the Arizona Territory. Businesses catering to the mines and miners sprang up and people of European, Hispanic, and Asian heritage lived there, in addition to the Native Americans who were the original inhabitants of the region. The Mine Museum showcases Jerome’s history from its beginnings to the present day and includes exhibits on the mines and the men who worked in them, the medical care available to the miners, the hierarchy of prostitutes in Jerome, and law and order in the town. One of the many interesting artifacts is a washing machine used by a Chinese laundry in Jerome (see photo above). The Mine Museum also contains a restored bar from a local saloon.

Travelers to Jerome might have stayed in the Connor Hotel (see photo below), which was built in 1898. Intended for such guests as businessmen or teachers, rather than miners, it cost one dollar to spend the night there and was considered expensive at the time. However, the hotel had indoor plumbing, with a bathroom on every floor. There was also a bell in each of the rooms that allowed guests to ring for service. If Heyes and Kid had enough money, they would undoubtedly have stayed at the Connor Hotel.

To support the miners and the mining companies a “mixed” train, that is, one that carried both ore from the mines and the miners themselves, ran between Jerome, Clarkdale--a nearby town at the bottom of Cleopatra Hill--and other towns in the Verde Valley. The train ran daily and in the nineteenth century cost a miner $2.06 for a roundtrip ticket from Clarkdale to Drake, 38 miles away, where the train connected to the Sante Fe Railroad. In the twenty-first century, what is now called the Verde Valley Railroad (see photo above at right) carries tourists on a four-hour narrated ride through the region, from the depot in Clarkdale to Perkinsville and back. Riding along the Verde River, which had water in it even at the height of an Arizona summer in late July; seeing prehistoric Indian cave dwellings high up on the sides of cliffs; passing by the remains of miners’ shacks and mine tailings, and old telegraph poles (see middle photo above at right); travelling over trestle bridges and through a tunnel in total darkness that was cut through a mountainside (see photo above at right), the trip makes the nineteenth century come alive.

Heyes and Kid made some unsuccessful attempts at mining (Smiler with a Gun, Six Strangers at Apache Springs, Night of the Red Dog) and conned people into believing they were miners or mine owners (A Fistful of Diamonds, The Great Shell Game). They would have felt right at home in Jerome! 


Related Links:

Website about Jerome  

Website for the Verde Canyon Railroad


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Wyoming Territorial Prison

“Maybe they’ll give us adjoining cells.” -- Kid Curry to Hannibal Heyes as they try to escape the thirteen men chasing them in The Posse That Wouldn’t Quit. Even if they did have adjacent cells at the Wyoming Territorial Prison (NOT the Wyoming State Prison as Kid called it in Night of the Red Dog, since it didn't become a state until 1890, which presumably is after the time period of the series), he and Heyes might not have seen much of each other because the cells had solid metal walls between them. Only the doors to the cells were made of slatted, metal bars (see photo above).

Beginning in 1873 and continuing for the next thirty years, the Wyoming Territorial Prison housed both male and female inmates. The Warden’s House (see photo at right and below), located a short distance from the prison building, nicely illustrates the contrast between the convicts and the men who were guarding them. At first, the guards lived in the house as well but when the prison was expanded in 1889, they moved to a room on the second floor inside the prison itself.

Appearing much smaller in reality, the brick prison, surrounded by a wooden stockade with watchtowers (see photo at right), had three tiers of cells in two cell blocks; there were twelve cells on each floor (see photo below). The cells in the North cell block were larger than those in the South cell block. The prison also contained an office for the warden, an intake room where prisoners were processed when they first arrived, an infirmary for a doctor who was on call whenever necessary, a general-purpose room that served as a library/chapel/dining room for special occasions/cigar-making room/lecture hall where people from town came to give talks to the prisoners, a laundry room, a kitchen, and a section on the second floor that housed female inmates. Based on records kept by the Wyoming Territorial Prison, twelve women and 1,000 men served sentences there.

When a man arrived at the Wyoming Territorial Prison to serve his sentence, perhaps in a prison wagon such as the one on the grounds of the park (see photo below), he was taken to the processing room (see second photo below, right) where his photograph was taken and he was issued a prison uniform, shoes, bedding, soap and a candle (see third photo below, right). If a prisoner was literate, he would get two candles per week so he could read books that were borrowed from the prison library. Tobacco and matches, and sometimes hard candy, were also distributed to the prisoners. Inmates were expected to keep their cells as well as themselves clean; they had to bathe once a week, except in winter when it was every other week. Each floor had its own bathing area and when the prison was expanded in 1889, running water was installed which, according to my tour guide, was more than many of the homes in the local community had. Prisoners had to change their underclothes every Sunday and do their own laundry (see fourth photo at right). Chamber pots from the cells were emptied every day. Female convicts were allowed to wear their own clothes but there were no female guards and their bathing area had no curtains or doors for privacy (see fifth photo at right). At any one time, there were no more than three female convicts in the Wyoming Territorial Prison.

The Wyoming Territorial Prison adhered to the Auburn System, a penal philosophy whereby inmates were expected to work hard and reflect upon their crimes by keeping silent for most of the time, although they were allowed to whisper when at work or at night, and could speak if granted permission by a guard. The inmates’ day began at 5:45am and ended at 6:00pm, when they were locked in their cells for the night. On Sunday, they were allowed to sleep until 6:30am and did not go to work. Religious services on Sunday were probably an hour long and were conducted by Dr. May Preston Slossen, the first woman to serve as a chaplain in a prison in America. Prisoners were allowed to exercise in front of their cells every day—they could move out into the corridor as far as the distance their door swung open, about four feet. Female prisoners spent most of their time in their cells. Guards, who did not receive any special training to perform their duties, kept watch from four cages built into the prison walls at both ends of the building (see photo above).

Inmates who were well-behaved and presented no problems could become trustees. They were the ones who worked in the kitchen (see photo below) preparing meals for the prisoners, who normally ate in their cells unless it was a special occasion and then they ate in the dining room on the second floor. Well-behaved inmates could also choose their own cell and apparently cells on the top floor were preferred. On the other hand, prisoners who disobeyed or broke the rules were punished. They could lose their privileges or be sent to Cell #7, the dark cell, for solitary confinement (see photo at right). This cell had a solid metal door and when closed, it was completely dark inside, hence the name. Prisoners often were chained inside or they could be chained to a metal protrusion at the top of the door outside the cell. Prisoners in the dark cell got bread and water two times a day for their meals. As there were no specific, clearly defined rules for the prisoners to follow, discipline was arbitrary and depended on the whim of the guards.

The Prison Industries Building was where male inmates spent their days working (see photo at right). Most of the space inside was taken up by the production of brooms but candles were made there, too, and woodworking was also done by some inmates. Prisoners used several different machines to attach wooden handles to the broomcorn, trim the ends of the broom to a uniform length, put cord around the brooms, and then affix labels to them (see photo of one of the machines at right). The finished brooms, in several different sizes, were sold throughout the United States. Nowadays, brooms that are made in the same way by volunteers can be purchased in the well-stocked gift shop.

An excellent self-guided tour, aided by a detailed brochure, is available and there are also park employees, dressed as prisoners in striped uniforms (see photo below), who readily guide visitors through the facility. The second floor has a section devoted to Butch Cassidy, the prison's most famous inmate. On weekends, Frontier Village, a restored Old West town, is open to visitors. Allow several hours to completely explore the prison and the other buildings on the grounds. Heyes and Kid did all they could to avoid ending up at the Wyoming Territorial Prison but everyone who is a fan of ASJ will thoroughly enjoy the time they spend there!

Website for the Wyoming Territorial Prison:

Brief history of the Wyoming Territorial Prison (top half of webpage):

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Virginia Dale Stage Station

Heyes and Kid didn’t have much luck traveling by stagecoach (Stagecoach Seven, The Root of it All, Shootout at Diablo Station). And they probably didn’t pass through the Virginia Dale Stage Station in northern Colorado (see photo at right) but if they had, they might have enjoyed a good meal and at least been able to sleep indoors instead of out on the trail. Or, they might have been attacked by Cheyenne Indians. Whatever the circumstances, it is quite likely Heyes and Kid would have known who Jack Slade was, since he was almost as notorious as they were. But Mark Twain, who met Slade, described him favorably so I wonder what Twain would have said about Kid and Heyes.

The Virginia Dale Stage Station was a way station for travelers on the Overland Trail. It was built in 1862 by Jack Slade, who was in charge of several stagecoach stations for the Overland Stage Company (see photo below; click on the image to enlarge and read the text). As a full-service station, passengers on the stagecoaches were able to disembark at Virginia Dale and stretch their legs while fresh horses were hitched to the vehicle. There used to be a barn on the grounds, with stalls for six animals, but that no longer exists; the horses probably ate hay, which could be cut from the plentiful grassland surrounding the station. Passengers could also buy a meal—probably made of whatever could be shot nearby—and spend the night if necessary. The building was constructed of yellow pine logs and still stands in its original location, just a few miles from the Wyoming border.

The furnishings inside the Virginia Dale station (see photo below) are not from the nineteenth century but, with imagination, it is possible to envision the joy that tired, hungry, and dirty passengers would have felt upon entering the building. With a low ceiling, the long, one-room structure would have been warm in the winter and with the windows and doors open in the summer, a cool breeze would circulate, as it did when I visited in late July. Standing in the doorway, gazing out at the hills in the distance, listening to the wind in the silence of the landscape and the sky a deep blue with only a wisp of cloud in it, I could almost picture a stagecoach driving up the road to the only building for miles around, carrying weary passengers who were more than ready to enjoy the comforts of the Virginia Dale Stage Station.

Owned by the Virginia Dale Community Club since 1964, it is possible to arrange a tour through this volunteer organization of the premises, which includes the Emil Hurzeler house next door. A small gift shop is located inside the stage stop; purchasing one of the books about Jack Slade or stagecoach travel in Colorado, or a T-shirt or other souvenir, is a very nice way to support this historical treasure.

Comprehensive meta website with lots of links about the Virginia Dale Stage Station and the Overland Trail:

Website about Jack Slade:

Website for the Virginia Dale Community Club:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cripple Creek, Colorado

Cripple Creek—a name no ASJ fanfic writer could make up—was Kid and Heyes’ kind of town! At an elevation of almost 9,500 feet, this central Colorado mining town near Pikes Peak was in its heyday at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth (see photo at right). Gold miners working claims in the surrounding hills enjoyed the pleasures of Cripple Creek’s saloons, brothels, and gaming establishments such as Big Jim's (see photo at right -- could this be where he and Clara ended up?). More genteel, respectable, people also lived in Cripple Creek and laws were enforced to keep the peace. Nowadays, tourism and casino gambling drive the local economy instead of mining but the town is filled with history and very picturesque--well worth a day's visit.

Kid and Heyes were very fortunate they didn’t spend any time in the local jail! However, Robert Curry, a member of the Wild Bunch whose alias was Bob Lee, was captured in Cripple Creek and was jailed here for a spell. Standing in its original location, with its original cells, what is now called the Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum of Cripple Creek was definitely not a pleasure palace. There are two floors; each floor had a row of four cells on either side of a central aisle (see photo above). Each cell was six feet by six feet—quite small, and with metal walls and ceilings, and cement floors, probably quite uncomfortable, especially in summer. As many as six prisoners were sometimes incarcerated in one cell. To fit that many inside, hammocks were strung from the walls (see photo above); those prisoners did not sleep on beds but when there were fewer inmates in a cell, they did have beds (see photo below). There was no furniture in the cells except a metal protrusion in one corner; perhaps this was a bench to sit on. At one end of the first floor, one cell did not have a metal slatted door but rather was solid metal. This was the dark cell for solitary confinement. There was a separate area for women and juveniles who broke the law. By county law, prisoners had outdoor exercise every day.

Now restored as a museum, The Old Homestead, built in 1892, is the euphemistic name for what was the most exclusive brothel in Cripple Creek; guided tours are available but no photos are allowed indoors. Just inside the entrance and to the right is the parlor, where men were entertained with conversation; behind that is the music room, where a pianist was paid to play popular tunes of the day. The furnishings were imported from various European countries as well as Japan.

Walking up a narrow, twisting stairway are two girls’ rooms, side by side, and down the equally narrow hallway was another girl’s room and the room of the madam, Pearl DeVere. According to the tour guide, four girls worked at The Old Homestead at any one time (see photo above). Men had to supply references, which were checked, if they wanted to avail themselves of the pleasures of the house. They paid between $50 - $100 for one trick and if they wanted to spend the night with one girl, it cost them $250. At the top of the stairs on the second floor was a small room where men could observe the girls, who were dressed provocatively, and then make their selection.

The tour guide also said that each month, the girls had to pay a head tax in the form of a fine, usually around $40 - $45; The Old Homestead has receipts on display. The girls were allowed to go to the main downtown area of Cripple Creek only from 8:00 – 11:00am on Monday mornings. Prostitution was illegal but tolerated, and there were all sorts of houses of ill repute catering to the men who lived and worked in and around Cripple Creek.

Trains were essential to the growth of the region and three lines operated between the various towns during the time of the gold rush. Nowadays, the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad (see photo at right) takes visitors on a 45-minute journey through the Echo and Anaconda Valleys to see where the miners worked. The trip is narrated and stops a few times at scenic spots. Big holes where individual miners dug for gold can be seen, along with dilapidated shacks and cabins, mine tailings, and way off in the distance, mechanical mining equipment (see photo at right). Hearing the train whistle blow; sitting in the open observation cars, passing through groves of aspen almost close enough to touch, I could almost imagine myself transported back to the days of the Old West.

Related Links:

Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum

The Old Homestead 

Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad