Growing up, my sisters and I watched lots of westerns. It wasn’t so strange really, because westerns were the in thing back then. Everyone loved watching them. One show I remember watching was The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It all seemed like it took place so long ago, and to many people I guess it was. Still, when you think of the fact that Wyatt Earp, a frontiersman, marshal and gambler, who got into a feud in Tombstone, Arizona, that led to the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral passed away quietly in Los Angeles on January 13, 1929, it doesn’t seem so long ago anymore. I guess that in Wyatt Earp’s case, old gunfighters never die, they just lose their fight. Wyatt Earp was born on March 19, 1848, and that seems long ago. The gunfight took place on October 26, 1881…and Wyatt Earp survived. He had led such a wild life, that the thought of him ending up dying quietly in Los Angeles seemed…well, just too tame, and just too much a part of modern times to be right. Nevertheless, it was right. He did live in modern times, and in fact was a friend of John Wayne’s.
I’m not sure why that whole scenario struck me as odd. Wyatt Earp was 80 years old at the time of his passing…not an overly excessive amount of years…average, in fact. Since he was born in 1848, his passing in 1929 would be right. I guess that the thing that seemed strange to me was the fact that when Wyatt Earp passed away, my own dad was five years old. Yes, he was an old man, and my dad a young boy, but for those five years, their life spans occupied the same space in history. And yet, my dad’s life had no connection to the time of Wyatt Earp, or to the man that he was.
Wyatt Earp was a boy in search of adventure, and ran away from home twice after the Civil War broke out when he was 13. He went to join up with his two older brothers, Virgil and James. Each time he ran away, he was caught before he could reach the battlefield, and he was sent back home. Finally, at the age of 17, he left for good. His family had moved from the Illinois farm to California, but Wyatt wanted adventure, so he headed out to seek his own idea of life. He worked many different jobs, most notably as a lawman, and of course, a gambler. Life was not kind to Wyatt Earp. At a point when he was finally ready to settle down with the woman he loved, he married Urilla Sutherland, the daughter of the local hotel owner. The couple married about 1870, built a house in town, and were excitedly awaiting the birth of their first child. Then, life hit him with it’s most cruel blow. Within a year of their marriage Urilla contracted Typhus and died, along with their unborn child. Wyatt went off the deep end and became wild again. Eventually, he would be suspected of killing one of the suspects in his brother, Morgan’s death.
Unfortunately…or maybe fortunately, the west began to settle down. Wyatt was getting older. He settled in Los Angeles and hoped to have the Old West and his own legacy portrayed in film, but Hollywood wasn’t interested until after his death. I suppose it was then that Westerns moved into the forefront of television and movies. Westerns would then have a long run of popularity in the homes of many people…ours included.
My dad was always a cowboy at heart. In his younger days, he rode horses, worked on the family farm, and did all the other cowboy type things. He listened to country music, and liked old westerns on television, or attend the rodeo. But, the one thing that that, in my opinion showed his cowboy style the best, was the cowboy hat that he so often wore. You almost never saw him in any other hat on vacation, and he wore it if they went someplace that it would fit in for. I’m quite sure he hated not being able to wear it to the places that it just wasn’t appropriate.
Dad always took such good care of his hat, and you could always tell that he was one of the good guys, because his hat was always white, and of course, the good guys in any old western, wore a white hat. I suppose that was like the football teams of today. If all the helmets looked alike, how would you know which team was yours. So we always knew that Dad was a good guy, because he wore a white hat.
Oh, Dad had other hats too, and in fact I can vividly see him is one of the many baseball type hats he had, and of course, there was the hat that was a tool of his trade…the hard hat. I clearly remember him in those, but I never felt like they fit his personality like the cowboy hat did. Dad was always the guy I thought of when someone said cowboy. He wore the Bolo ties, and the western belt and vest, and what cowboy would be complete without the cowboy boots, but none of that said cowboy as much as the cowboy hat.
When I think of my dad, I have to say that one of my favorite pictures is of Dad on a horse with his white cowboy hat. He was doing one of his favorite things…taking his family on a vacation. They had taken a horseback ride on a trail, and Dad looked so happy. He was in his element, in the mountains on vacation, and riding a horse. Just what a cowboy would want to be doing.
One of the fun things to do at the fair, and many of the tourist towns, like Keystone or Deadwood, South Dakota is the old time photo. Even if you are not a fan of western movies, somehow when you get to a tourist town, those old time photos look like a lot of fun. And they are a lot of fun. When you look at the goofy poses and the funny faces, as people try to create a possible scenario that might have been common to the Old West, you find yourself laughing instinctively.
I guess it’s a way to move outside yourself, and step into someone else’s shoes for a few minutes. Maybe see what life was like in a different time, and being someone that we would never have been. A little bit of make believe can be a lot of fun, and of course, you need the picture for the memories that go along with all the fun.
These pictures have been around a while…probably as long as cameras have been around. In fact, I have come across some old pictures of staged hold ups that were taken, not by a photographer, but by an individual. The people in the pictures are having such a good time that they are having a hard time not laughing about the picture as it is being taken. I found those to be especially funny.
I used to think that these pictures were more of a modern day phenomena, but after finding these new pictures, I realized that the old time photos has been going on for a long time, and even in the early 1900’s people enjoyed making their own western pictures…creating their own memories of the past as they pictured it…passing on a little humor. We all like a few moments where we can escape reality and pretend we are in a different time and place. Kind of fun, when you think about it.
Even my grandmother and her sisters and brother had an old time photo done. It was one of the more different ones I had ever seen, but it was really cool to see all of them dressed up and putting on an act. I guess it was something I never expected them to do…oddly. I loved the picture. It was like seeing them in a new light, and one I found very interesting…and pretty enlightening. A lot can be learned from the fun of have an old time photo taken, I guess.
When my sister, Cheryl and I were in…oh, probably junior high, she had been up late watching television, when she came in and woke me up, telling me that we were going to watch scary movies. I’m sure it must have been a Friday night, as our parents wouldn’t have allowed us to be up so late on a school night. Of course, gullible me…I got up to watch scary movies with my sister…even though I had to be the biggest chicken on earth at that time in my life.
Little did I know that Cheryl had been up for a while, and apparently something had scared her a little bit too, so she wanted company. Or maybe she just figured she could scare me. I’ve never really decided which it was. That said, we got up and started watching some show…the name of which I don’t recall. After getting to the point of knowing very well, that I would not be able to go back to bed…no matter what, we began to hear some strange sounds.
Cheryl said that she thought Linda Little Trees was outside, because she could hear a voice that sounded like hers, only scary. Now for those of you who don’t know, Linda Little Trees was an Indian squaw on an old Western movie. I’m not sure which one, but I believe it was “Three Guns For Texas” with Shelley Morrison. The parts she played, were in no way scary, but for some reason the lateness of the hour and the show we were watching made whatever it was that we heard seem like some horror version of Linda Little Trees.
In reality, it was a Siamese cat outside that was the real problem. He was making the weird meowing sounds that Siamese cats do, and it sounded like he was saying “Linda Little Trees.” Or at least that was what Cheryl told me, and I was too scared to argue. The next thing we knew someone was walking up on the porch and we heard a thump. Of course, both of us started screaming, and I’m quite sure the paper boy freaked out.
My dad, on the other hand, had had enough. He jumped out of bed, and said, “What is going on out here?” After frantically telling Dad about the whole terrible ordeal, he promptly opened the front door and we all trooped outside to see the cat making the very sound we heard, and the newspaper on the porch. Then he told us to shut the TV off and go to bed.
I still don’t know if Cheryl was as scared as I was that night, or if she was making the whole thing up because her little sister was pretty gullible and it was fun to scare her. All I know is that since Dad said we had to go to bed…I was real glad that it was pretty light at 4:00 in the morning. Otherwise, I know I wouldn’t have been able to sleep a wink.