Sunday, January 26, 2020

Annie Oakley: From History to the Small Screen

By Christopher Robinson

Annie Oakley, born Phoebe Ann Mosey, is forever immortalized as a symbol of the frontier spirit despite never roaming the frontier or living out west. Her fascinating legend was cemented, thanks not only to her unique skills and fame but to a smaller degree, her frequent portrayals in literature and on stage, film and television. Though many details of her incredible life are unknown, she remains an unrivaled and celebrated historical figure whose curious image in her own time might have proved polarizing or even controversial in ours.

Born to Quaker parents Jacob and Susan Mosey in Darke County, Ohio, in 1860, as the sixth child in a growing family, Annie learned responsibility and self-reliance early in life. After her father, Jacob, died from succumbing to illnesses after getting caught in a blizzard in 1867, Annie was placed in the care of local infirmaries or ‘poor houses’ that enabled her overburdened mother to better handle her crowded household. There Annie sewed, cleaned and looked after other children.

Annie soon was offered a temporary home with another family who offered her food, shelter and comfort. With the permission of her mother, Susan, she remained with them for about two years. However, the couple soon became abusive to Annie, subjecting her to endless tasks and cruel punishment. Apparently their treatment was so traumatic that Annie never spoke their names again, identifying them only as ‘the wolves’ in her subsequent writings.

Eventually she escaped, making her way back home where she began to hone her shooting, trapping and hunting skills. She learned earlier from Jacob to put turkey, quail, duck, possum, pheasant, rabbit, and squirrel on the family supper table. At about 10 years old, Annie was hunting and selling game to local businesses to help pay off her family’s home mortgage.

Annie’s natural proficiency for shooting her shotgun was further enhanced in these formative years with constant practice and daily hunting. This enabled her to begin competing in local turkey shoots and sharpshooting competitions.

In 1875, as a teenager, Annie entered a Thanksgiving shoot in Cincinnati where she competed against Irish-born showman and marksman, Frank Butler, who narrowly lost to the petite young woman. This was when he began to take an interest in Annie.

Frank had met his match in every sense of the word. The two developed a friendship which led to a romance and were eventually married in 1876. The couple then toured together with Annie quickly advancing from assistant to partner. In due time, Annie emerged as the show’s star with Frank in the role of manager. Throughout this inevitable transition, he reportedly showed no signs of jealousy, taking great pride in his wife’s accomplishments.

Annie, now using the stage name ‘Annie Oakley’ toured with Frank in the Sells Brothers Circus for a season leading to their joining Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, then a cultural sensation that toured cities across the country, thus bringing the sights, sounds and action of the Old West to the masses. Buffalo Bill Cody, the famed showman and producer of the Wild West Show, initially declined to hire Annie as he didn’t have a need for more sharpshooters, but with persistence, she soon won over Cody.

Some of her storied tricks during these performances included:
  • Shooting targets while riding upright on a horse.
  • Shooting from behind her back with the aid of a mirror.
  • Putting a bullet through the edge of a playing card, splitting it into separate layers.
Another lady sharpshooter in the show, Lillian Smith, allegedly felt threatened by Annie’s stardom and created antagonism and tension between the two. This led Annie to falsify her age in an effort to more appropriately compete with her much younger rival.

In 1887 the Butlers traveled with the company to England for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee where Annie, now the star of the show, made an apparently remarkable impression on the royal family. The couple left after the tour, rejoined in Paris with more shows in Italy and Spain, and then retired for a spell in New Jersey.

In 1901, while Annie and Frank were back with the Wild West Show, the train that carried them was involved in a crash which left Annie with a serious back injury, which led to several spine operations. During her years of recuperation, she entered a period of litigation, battling newspaper publications after false reports that charged her with stealing a man’s pants to pay for cocaine! She sued press giant William Randolph Hearst and a parade of other publishers for libel. This led Randolph to scramble in vain to find dirt on Annie that might absolve them from blame.

In her later years, Annie portrayed herself in a stage play as a lady sharpshooter and shot an early kinetoscope film for Thomas Edison titled The Little Sure Shot of the Wild West, the nickname having been given to her by Chief Sitting Bull on the Buffalo Bill tours.

She also supported charity causes, promoted women’s education, self-defense, women’s familiarity with guns, and women in the military, having been declined an offer to provide a battalion of skilled gun-women for President McKinley’s (later a gun victim) Spanish-American War effort. In 1917, Frank and Annie also raised money and performed for troops in World War 1. Free Jewelry Maker's Catalog of Hot Sellers

Annie Oakley died of natural causes in 1925 at the age of 66. Eighteen days later, Frank, her long-time husband, also passed away, allegedly ceasing to eat in his despondency.

Annie’s legend has grown in the years since, undoubtedly owing to the many details of her life that she preferred to keep secret. Even the origin of the surname--‘Oakley’--is a continuing subject of debate. Despite the missing pieces of the puzzle, we know a few things for certain:

  1. First, Annie Oakley was two sides of a buffalo nickel: she was an inspiration to young girls and women on one hand, and she firmly embodied the Second Amendment.
  2. Secondly, we know that she was, by all accounts, genuine, modest, generous and trustworthy (notwithstanding the lie told during the Lillian Smith rivalry).
  3. Thirdly, despite the rip-snortin’ sharpshooting that was always the bedrock of her image, she was pervasively a lady in every sense of the word.

Annie was played on the stage, movie screen and television by many actresses including Betty Hutton, Barbara Stanwyck, Geraldine Chaplin and Reba McEntire. She even lived to see some of the portrayals and scarcely might have recognized herself on the 1950’s TV series Annie Oakley. Singing cowboy legend Gene Autry wanted a cowgirl heroine on television that girls could look up to. In actress Gail Davis, he found what he was looking for. The popular series ran from 1954-1957 under Autry’s ‘Flying A Productions’ banner.

Davis solved crimes and busted baddies for her sheriff uncle who was perpetually absent from duty. Dolled up in fringe skirt and pigtails with bows, she defeated heavies by shooting their six shooters out of their grip. Assisted by her younger brother, Tag and her uncle’s deputy, Lofty, she came to represent the quintessential values of the western hero, but for younger audiences.

In keeping with that premise, her relationship with Lofty took on an ambiguously ‘Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty’ angle. Fittingly, the charismatic Davis became as groundbreaking in the role of lady action heroine as Annie Oakley was herself. An appropriate, if derivative and corny, tribute to an unlikely and unparalleled legend of history: “Little Miss Sure Shot,” Annie Oakley.

About the Author

Christopher Robinson is a writer, filmmaker and musician in New Jersey who has contributed to several magazines and websites.

Robinson also worked as a cameraman, videographer, cable access TV host, teacher and producer. He scripted and produced commercial videos as well as cable television programs for local consumption.

For more info about Christopher, click here.

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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Tim McCoy, Early Western Actor of Renown

By Timothy England, Author

Timothy John Fitzgerald McCoy (1891 - 1978) was an American Indians Liaison, Technical Advisor, Buffalo Wrangler, Actor, Producer, and a Writer. He was truly one of the great stars of early American Westerns.

McCoy was the son of an Irish soldier who later became police chief of Saginaw, Michigan, which was where McCoy was born. He attended St. Ignatius College in Chicago and, after seeing a Wild West show there, he left school, finding work on a ranch in Wyoming. He became an expert horseman, roper, and he developed a keen knowledge of the ways and languages of the Indian tribes in the area where he lived.

McCoy competed in numerous rodeos. He eventually enlisted in the U.S. Army when America entered the First World War. He was commissioned and he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. At the end of the war, he returned to his ranch in Wyoming. It wasn't long after that be was called upon by Wyoming Governor Bob Carry who assigned him to the post of Adjutant General. McCoy held this post until 1921.

The position of Adjutant General carried with it the rank of Brigadier General (a brevet promotion). It's been reported that this action made McCoy the youngest general officer in the U.S. Army. His reputation as a friend to the Wind River Reservation Indians--both Arapahoe and Shoshone--preceded him. Thus, in 1922, he was asked by the head of Famous Players-Lasky, [Jesse L. Lasky], to provide Indian extras for the Western extravaganza, [The Covered Wagon] (1923).

McCoy eventually resigned from the state position. This is when he recruited several hundred Indians to the Utah movie location. When the film wrapped, he was asked to choose several Indians to accompany him to Hollywood. There, the production company developed a live 'prologue' to be presented just prior to the movie showing. The idea was a success and McCoy and his Indian group toured the U.S. as well as Europe.

After completing the U.S. and European tours, McCoy returned to Hollywood where he used his connections to obtain further work in the movies, both as a technical advisor and eventually as an actor. MGM signed him to a contract where he starred in a series of Westerns. McCoy rapidly rose to stardom, making scores of Westerns and occasional non-Westerns.

In 1935, he left Hollywood, first to tour with the Ringling Brothers Circus and then with his own Wild West show. His 1938 Wild West Show cost over $300,000 to mount and closed in bankruptcy in just 28 days. He returned to films in 1940, in a series teaming him with [Buck Jones] and [Raymond Hatton], but World War II and Jones's death in 1942 ended the project. McCoy returned to the Army for the war and served with the Army Air Corps in Europe where he won several decorations and a promotion to that of full Colonel.

He retired from the army and from films after the war, but emerged in the late 1940s for a few more films and some television work. In 1942 he ran for the Republican Nomination for the U.S. Senate in Wyoming. He was defeated and returned to Hollywood and an uncertain future.

In 1946, he sold his Wyoming ranch and moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania where he led the life of the gentleman farmer. While there, he met and married Danish writer Inga Arvad. The couple had two boys and Tim spent more time on the outdoor show stage. In the meantime, he built a home in Nogales, Arizona. It was here that Inga died, in 1973. Upon her death, McCoy retired, spending his later years as a retired gentleman rancher. He toured for 13 years with the Tommy Scott Show. He died of Congestive heart failure at the U.A. Army hospital at Ft. Hauchuca, Arizona on January 29 1978 at the age of 86.

About the Author
On the family farm just outside Nashville, Timothy England grew up surrounded by the beautiful Tennessee hillside where his imagination loved to roam.

His lifelong love of westerns has culminated in his debut novel, Track Down, the first installment in his series centering around US Marshall Jake Boone. To date, Timothy, under the pseudonym Jess Bryan, has written four books, all of them available from Amazon.

Timothy is the author of Track Down, a Western thriller. As United States Marshall, Jake Boone, is hot on the trail of the dangerous Stanton, circumstance pushes his skills and his wits to the limits. Will he be able to live up to his own legend and keep things safe? Or has 'Killer Jake' met his match finally? For more information on this and three other books written by Timothy English, go to:

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

View Ulysses S. Grant Video Documentaries on Western Magazine Digest


View Ulysses S. Grant Video Documentaries on Western Magazine Digest | #WMD #Ulysses #History #CivilWar | View one to five documentaries on the life and military command of Ulysses S. Grant, president of these United States during the American Civil War. If you’re going to learn about Grant, this is the way to do it.

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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Grant’s Indian Wars & the Little Bighorn

“We Could See They were Good People!”
A private’s orders leads to understanding Grant’s
role in the Little Bighorn Battle

By Monette Bebow-Reinhard

President Grant was in a peculiar place; he had been the hero of the Civil War, and felt the presidency was his reward. Having been given a lion’s share of credit for re-uniting North and South, he and the army were faced with the task of uniting East and West with the railroad, making the country truly united. Grant liked Lee, by the way, and refused to let his men cheer when Lee rode off after surrendering at Appomattox.

In today’s anti-racism climate Confederate statues have been torn down, and maybe rightly so, depending on the attitude that created them. Perhaps we shouldn't disparage southern men who fought for their state’s rights. Yes, they were racist (and many who live in the South still are). Today we know racism is wrong. But why hold the rebels of the past responsible for the prevalent attitude of their time? When he became president, Grant had to deal with attitudes toward the Indians as the country acquired land to build the railroad, much of which he helped accomplish under President Johnson.

A lot of historians use Grant’s own words to create their opinion of him, and most give him a pass for what happened in the Indian wars. Thomas S.W. Lewis noted back in 1985 in a Mosely Faculty Research Lecture that “By ending his narrative with the account of Appomattox, [Grant] avoids the grim task of telling about his many failures as President: the Whisky Ring and Secretary Babcock’s fraud, the Union Pacific Railroad’s Credit Mobilier scheme to bilk the government of twelve million acres of land in the West, among others.”

Those were likely the failures for which Grant apologized in 1876. However, he didn’t say much of anything about those eight years, at all. Grant wrote his memoirs while dying of throat cancer and did not have time to delve into his Presidential years. One might think he avoided the idea because he didn’t want to make himself, or his country, look bad.

Henry Bertrand, the private whose orders this author followed in this research, was a German who was pro-Indian. Grant, as a hero, was pro-US and used to butting his head against brick until he broke through for a win. Bertrand’s orders provide evidence that Grant was more involved in Custer’s death than has been revealed in past historiography. Could “the bloody butcher” have turned into a pansy president, letting everyone walk all over him? Or did he appoint relatives and allow or create scandals to get the results he needed?

The newer books on Grant get a little closer to the truth—or they avoid the topic altogether. Ronald White published a life of Grant in 2016, with one mention of Custer, nothing on the Black Hills or the Little Bighorn. Peter Cozzens had an article on Grant in the Smithsonian (2016’s “The Earth is Weeping”) where he argued that most historians had him wrong.

It’s time to update his presidency to find out the truth about what happened at the Little Bighorn.

Robert Wooster said Grant was less interested in Indian affairs because of scandals that plagued him beginning in 1872. A close look at Bertrand’s orders indicates that Grant created scandals to get people who would say yes to his plans to take the Black Hills. Francis Paul Prucha noted that the peace policy was an effort to conquer Indians with kindness, as long as they accepted civilization. However, Prucha made a huge leap from Custer’s expedition into the Black Hills in 1874 to Grant’s December 6th ultimatum, without recognizing all that happened in-between. Like many, he seemed to believe that Custer was the only one who seriously underestimated the size of the Indian camps. Let’s look at that supposed fact a little closer.

One of the events to happen between 1874 and 1876 was the offer to buy the Black Hills from the Indians. You see, the panic of 1873, caused by the railroad stock crash, meant that more and more people were clamoring to find gold in the Black Hills that still belonged to the natives because of the Fort Laramie Treaty.

As a whole, agency Indians rejected all offers and asked far more than the government could spend. Hostile Indians at the Allison Commission in 1875 threatened to attack any Indian who signed any treaty. General Alfred Terry was at this council in Nebraska, where one report noted there were 20,000 Indians attending, with no one willing to sell for less than what had been a few months earlier relayed to Grant. General Terry was later in charge of Custer’s orders at the Little Bighorn.

Terry should have known better. But Grant and Sheridan forced a report to demonstrate that not more than 500 hostile Indians would be willing to fight and the rest would run away. Those they expected to run were agency Sioux and Cheyenne, like Red Cloud's people. They told all generals that any one of the three columns could handle the Indians. No historian gave the Allison Commission of September 1875 the attention it deserves, where they observed how both agency and hostile Indians were opposed to selling the Black Hills.

Shortly after the Allison Commission failure, Grant held a secret meeting, with generals and other officials. Most all historians write about this. None have an additional fact that can be found in primary records on Henry’s orders. Robert Utley in Frontier Regulars wrote that the November 3rd secret meeting seemed to be about the withdrawal of troops from Black Hills duty. Bertrand received his orders to leave Fort Laramie before November 3rd, so at most, Grant simply informed his generals the reason for those orders—that they would no longer protect the miners, and if some were killed, they’d have their reason for war. You see, when Bertrand’s companies moved out, Fort Laramie was undermanned until the following spring.

Utley also noted a second reason, and that was to force the Indians back to their agencies. That demand was issued in the December 6th ultimatum in 1875, after the withdrawal of troops didn’t have the desired result. Utley also noted that Indian Commissioner E.P. Smith resigned, but it’s more likely that Grant forced the resignation because of a reluctance on Smith’s part to follow orders. The December 6th ultimatum was directed at the agency Indians, saying they must return to their agencies by the end of January or be considered hostile.

They all knew they had the right to hunt on their territory and politely declined to comply.

About the Little Bighorn loss Utley noted a second reason for the meeting: “Later the army, professing ignorance of the increase in [Indian] strength, blamed the failure of the campaign on Indian Bureau negligence.” This could be another reason for Smith’s resignation. Utley then related that this was not true because “on May 30, Sheridan telegraphed Sherman that information from Crook indicates that all the agency Indians capable of taking the field are now or soon will be on the warpath.” So they knew long before the Little Bighorn that there were large numbers of Indians in the field. But they still referred to their report, written after the secret meeting, saying only 500 of them would fight.

Grant and Sheridan both continued to lie about Indian strength. And of course, Custer believed them. And they believed he would be arrogant enough to think he could whip any number of Indians. They also knew he’d follow his normal procedure of dividing his forces.

So the three-column campaign to the Little Bighorn was not coordinated. Crook was stopped in his tracks on June 17th, sent word to Sheridan, and instead of sending word to Terry, Sheridan just told Crook to hit them again, and left for Philadelphia to take in the Centennial Fair with Grant.

Roger L. Di Silvestro wrote: “Bishop William Hare, who founded missions among Indians throughout the West, protested to President Grant that the expedition (in 1874) would infuriate the Lakota and drive them to war as well as stand out as a “violation of national honor.” Grant ignored him. Then Di Silvestro noted, regarding the demand to return to reservations by January 31st: “if ever a government policy was created purposefully to fail, this order was it.”

When Grant heard of the nearly 300 men killed at the Little Bighorn, he blamed Custer. McFeely in his book on Grant wrote: “Sheridan knew that Custer had badly misjudged his enemy.”

Historians seemed to understand what was going on, recognizing but unwilling to follow the whole trail of Grant’s culpability as president and military leader; no one wants to openly demonstrate that the Black Hills were, indeed, stolen.

Additionally, read Custer's Last Battle.
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About the Author
Monette Bebow-Reinhard is an established book author, specializing in historical accounts, issues, and events. She began writing movie scripts in 1975 and from 1992 to 1995, she co-wrote scripts for the Bonanza series. She has won several minor awards and Monette has several novels on the market. Her latest is entitled "Civil War & Bloody Peace: Following Orders, a historical works involving the American Civil War, now available through Amazon (click here). To connect with Monette Bebow-Reinhard, send an email.

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Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Eternal Buck Jones

Editor's Note: This is Timothy England's debut story with Western Magazine Digest. Tim is an up-and-coming, quasi-fiction author with four full-length books in print, all written under his pseudonym Jess Bryan. We're glad to have him and I believe you will enjoy his work as much as I do. --Al Colombo, PublisherCharles Frederick Gebhart, also known as Buck Jones (born 1891, died 1942) was an American actor, writer. A producer, a co-director, and a director. As Buck Jones, he was one of the greatest of the "B" western stars of all time. Although born in Indiana, Jones reportedly (but disputably) grew up on a ranch near Red Rock in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). There he learned the riding and shooting skills that would stand him in good stead as a Western hero.

Jones joined the army as a teenager and served on the US-Mexican border before seeing action in the Moro uprising in the Philippines. Though wounded, he recuperated and re-enlisted, hoping to become a pilot. However, he was not accepted for pilot training and so he left the army in 1913.

Jones took a menial job with the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show and soon became a champion bronco buster. He moved on to the Julia Allen Show, but with the beginning of the First World War, he took work as a horse trainer for the Allied armies.

After the war, Buck Jones and his wife, Odelle Osborne--whom he had met in the Miller Brothers show--toured with Ringling Brothers circus--then settling in Hollywood. Here he was able to get work in a number of Westerns starring Tom Mix and Franklyn Farnum. Producer William Fox put Jones under contract and promoted him as a new Western star.

In this role, Jones first used the name Charles Jones, then Charles "Buck" Jones, before he settled on his permanent stage name. He quickly climbed to the upper ranks of Western stardom, playing a more dignified, less gaudy hero than Mix, if not as austere as William S. Hart.

Jones was one of the most successful and popular actors in the Western genre. At one point he received more fan mail than any actor in the world. For example, months after America's entry into World War II, Jones participated in a war-bond-selling tour.

On November 28, 1942, he was a guest of some local citizens in Boston at the famed Coconut Grove nightclub. Unfortunately, fire broke out at the club and nearly 500 people died in one of the worst fire disasters on record. Jones was horribly burned and died two days later before his wife Dell could arrive to comfort him.
Buck Jones was one of the 492 victims of the Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, Massachusetts on November 28, 1942. He died two days later on November 30, at age 50.

Some news reports said that he had successfully escaped but had gone back into the burning building to save others and was trapped there.
--Wikipedia (
Although legend has it that he died returning to the blaze to rescue others (a story probably originated by producer Trem Carr for whatever reason), the historical evidence indicates that he was trapped right along with all the others, succumbing to the smoke and flames, as they tried to escape.

Buck Jones remains forever a hero to the thousands of movie watchers that followed his film adventures. For example, Jones played a major part in Rough Riders, a western film series where Jones starred as U. S. Marshal Buck Roberts. Also, between 1941 and 1942, he played significant roles in eight different films:

1. Arizona Bound (1941)
2. The Gunman From Bodie (1941)
3. Forbidden Trails (1941)
4. Below The Border (1942)
5. Ghost Town Law (1942)
6. Down Texas Way (1942)
7. Riders of the West (1942)
8. West of Law (1942)

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Editor's Note: Incidentally, like The Lone Ranger, Buck Jones rode a horse named "Silver." I'll be surprised if some folks out there don't claim that Buck Jones was the inspiration for the famous television character, The Lone Ranger, like they did with the real life Black lawman and former slave, Bass Reeves!

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