Saturday, April 13, 2013


Well, I finally read this story a week or so ago in the large print edition I found at my local public library. [I remember a time when I would be disappointed that a book was only available to me in large print-- now... I utter a prayer of thanks when I find some sought-after book in the giant font! Ah, growing older is interesting, my friends!]

Really more of a novella than a short story [In large print it was 88 pages long] TAPPAN'S BURRO was a tale crafted by Zane Grey at what was arguably the height of his narrative power-- the late 1920s.  Originally published in THE LADIES' HOME JOURNAL, it is the sentimental but highly affecting story of a gigantic prospector Tappan and his donkey Jenet, whom he rescues as a weak runt of a foal at the beginning of the story.  Jenet grows to become Tappan's closest companion, and the story is divided between 3 separate tales that are interconnected but span many years. 

Even Grey's harshest detractors always seem to admit one thing about him as a writer:  that he was an absolute master of painting landscapes with words.  Indeed, even in this short novel old Zane describes in vivid detail both a blistering summer trek through Death Valley and a fiercely bitter blizzard winter in the Mogollon Rim. There is plenty of action as well [ZG's other best ability was in describing scenes of pure action] and Tappan and Jenet are just a great couple of characters. 

Also, the best short fiction is the kind that that introduces a conflict and pulls the reader straight into it, and this story did that quite well.  Tappan, in the second section of the story, puts faithful Jenet in the backseat for a compromising and ultimately ill-fated romance, the complications of which are pretty realistically drawn.  I must say, Tappan's unexpected infatuation changes the mood of the story and eventaully ushers in a climax that is about as unforgettable as that of any animal story I can remember.

Bring some Kleenix for this one, pardner!

As a story of the bonding between man and animal I found this tale to be top-notch. Truly, it is nothing short of a love story; one about a man and the beast he has grown to depend on in almost every way.  I found it an engaging and surprisingly textured example of western story-telling.  Highly recommended.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

COOL STUFF FROM LIBRARY BOOKS #24: Texas Ranger BILL MCDONALD, "Fast Draw Sunday School Teacher"

Albie's Note: A great old book, still available for loan from the Tombstone Public Library-- about 17 scenic miles down the highway from my house-- is Ross Phares' Bible In Pocket, Gun In Hand; The Story Of Frontier Religion (Doubleday, 1964.)  

More anecdotal than a real "history" volume, but still incredibly entertaining, Phares' 182 page collection details stories about fiery frontier preachers and their encounters with Indians, bootleggers, outlaws, their congregations, and even-- on some occasions--  each-other! I recommend it highly for anyone interesting in Christian History, Frontier History, or both. There are even stories about determined "laymen" in the book, like the one I have copied out for you here.

I like to read anything about the old Texas Rangers and was really impressed by this anecdote about hard-bitten lawman-- and devout Baptist-- Captain Bill McDonald:

Conversion of strong tough men on the frontier did not make milquetoasts of them. The laity followed much in the individualistic, picturesque footsteps of the preachers in combining rugged frontier work with worship. Many of the most notable gun-packing characters of the Old West were also devout Christian workers.

The famous Texas Ranger Captain Bill McDonald will suffice to illustrate. 

One of the fastest-draw "dead-eyes" on the borderlands, he possessed a singular reputation for tracking down criminals single-handed.  But he also had a singular reputation for regular and punctual attendance at religious services. He was superintendent of his Sunday School, and taught a class of adult men. Only in direst emergencies did he permit his law-enforcement duties to prevent him from conducting his voluntary teaching duties.  And he usually managed to overcome such emergencies.

One Sunday morning he was called upon to investigate the stealing of some horses. Since this could well mean missing Sunday School, he he hurried off in the hope of getting back on time. 

McDonald arrived at the Baptist Church a little behind schedule, but the assembly was still awaiting his arrival. 

He proceeded to open  his class, with only a brief preliminary remark about his tardiness-- a simple apology for having ridden his horse so hard to be back on time.

When Bill McDonald went after a man it usually meant news-- of one kind or another.   The men all wanted to inquire about his trip, but the exercises were already late, and the solemnity of the occasion did not encourage the asking of irrelevant questions.

But... when the class of men had assembled, one fellow could simply not resist asking if the Ranger had caught the horse rustlers.

The Sunday School Teacher nodded casually, as he thumbed his Bible in search of the text for the day.

"Anybody get killed??" the class member asked again, his curiosity out of control.

"Four," the teacher answered, and started reading his text.

Then, as an afterthought, he paused, devoutly, and remarked, as if  someone might not know:

"I was fired upon."

And the class went on, as if nothing extraordinary had occured and this was all in a Sabbath Day's work, as it truly was for Captain Bill McDonald.

From Bible In Pocket, Gun In Hand; The Story Of Frontier Religion by Ross Phares (Doubleday, 1964.)  Pp. 55-56.