Tuesday, July 31, 2007

15. Images of Wild Bill

It’s obvious who won the image war between the cowboy and the miner here in Deadwood. Because he was shot to death here the image of Wild Bill Hickok completely dominates this town. They have wrapped the town’s image in his shroud and made a cottage industry out of his killing. There are Hotels, Motels, Restaurants, Casinos, and Museums, using his name and likeness. There are posters and pictures of him everywhere. You can also find bronze and granite statues of him scattered around town. At the rodeo and in the parades a reenactment of that fateful day is repeated over and over again.

There must have been hundreds of miners who were shot, stabbed to death, or had their throats cut here too, but you won’t find any monuments or reenactments glorifying their untimely deaths; Fama blew no trumpet for them. They are lost to western history, trampled into oblivion by the high heeled boot of the cowboy.

Monday, July 30, 2007

14. The No. 10 Saloon

Wild Bill had only been in Deadwood about three weeks when on August 2, 1876, at about four in the afternoon, Jack McCall walked up behind him while he was playing poker and shot him in the head. That was the end of Wild Bill’s earthly life. However that one shot awakened Fama and she arose, put trumpet to lips, and with a loud blast announced Wild Bill's arrival into the world of the famous.
It all happened here at the No. 10 Saloon.
Well, this isn’t exactly the No. 10 anymore; it’s the Wild West Eagle Bar – serving Bud Lite on tap. The original No. 10 burned down in the big 1879 fire in which 300 buildings burned to the ground. The No. 10 saloon subsequently moved up the street to some new digs. However, these signs make it clear that this was the actual spot where it all happened. There is also a sign up the street to show where Jack McCall, his killer, was captured.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

13. Deadwood

Here I am in Deadwood, July, 2007. In 1964 Deadwood became the first community designated as a National Historic Landmark. It’s come a long way, image wise, since its lawless, rough and tumble days as depicted in the HBO series, Deadwood. But even with its National Historic Landmark status its population is still just over one thousand souls, about ten percent of what it was during its gold rush heyday. I guess when the earth has nothing more to offer, some people don’t hang around, they just move on.

But Deadwood is far from a ghost town; over three million tourists come through here every year. Tourism increased around 12 percent because of the popularity of the Deadwood series. Deadwood Wild Bill Hockok days, Kool Deadwood nights, Deadwood motorcycle rallies, and the Days of 76 Rodeo, which is going on just now, are big tourist draws. And of course in 1989 limited gambling was allowed in Deadwood so that too brings in the people. Right now the town is full of cowboys, …and not a miner in sight,… chalk up one for the cowboys.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

12. Crazy Horse Memorial

About seventy miles south of Deadwood, deep in the Black Hills, is the Crazy Horse Memorial. This is the largest mountain carving project still in process in the world. It was started by one man, Korczak Ziolkowski in 1948. He worked on this project until he died in 1982. The one thing that impressed me about him is that he never took any money from the Federal Government for this monumental mountain sculpture, even though millions were offered. He said he didn’t want any of the corrupting influences that always come with Federal money.

After Korczak’s death his family stepped in and has continued to work on his project. The completed sculpture will have Crazy Horse on horseback with his left hand pointing to the east. Korczak explained what it all means, something about Indians and their attachment to the land, etc., etc. But to me it looks like Crazy Horse is telling the white men, “Go back to where you came from…”

Friday, July 27, 2007

11. The Black Hills (Paha Sapa)

In the free-for-all American west nothing was considered sacred, particularly when it came to the land….anything above or below the earth that was exploitable was exploited. When rumors of rich gold finds in the Black Hills of the Dakota territories reached the ears of the 49ers, they dropped everything and set out in droves to exploit the new gold fields,….never mind that the U.S. Government had given the Black Hills to the Sioux.

The Sioux vehemently protested this invasion of white men into their sacred hills, but their protest fell on deaf ears. If anyone cared to justify this occupation they did so by saying that the Sioux didn’t “use” the hills anyway,…so what was the problem? True enough, the Sioux, and the Cheyenne, who were excellent horsemen, preferred to live, ride and hunt on the plains where the buffalo were. They seldom ventured into the Black Hills because the trees made it too hard to maneuver and hunt on horseback. But they did consider the hills sacred so they wanted the white men out. But it was too late. What Americans wanted, Americans took.

In all fairness to the government they did use the army to try to keep the miners out, but in no time the troops were overrun, so the government just gave up. They made another “take it or leave it” pretend treaty with the Sioux, annexed the area into the Dakota territories, and that was that.

The Americans got the gold, the Sioux got the shaft. Again.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

10. Fort Laramie

It probably took Wild Bill and the Utters 10 days to get to Fort Laramie as oxen pulled wagon trains were painfully slow. They were lucky if they went 9 miles in a day. Small forts like these were established in the west to protect settlers from hostile Indians. When the gold fields opened up in the Black Hills soldiers from this fort patrolled the main trail between Cheyenne and Deadwood.

It was here where Wild Bill first met an unknown rough and ready foul mouthed drunken ex-mule skinner named Jane “Calamity Jane” Carnery. She happened to be working on a ranch nearby and when she found out that Wild Bill was on his way to Deadwood she quit her job and hitched a ride. She didn’t know it at the time but she was entering America’s history books as she entered the Black Hills.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

9. Cheyenne, Wyoming

In July of each year Cheyenne celebrates its western heritage by putting on a ten day Cheyenne Frontier Day celebration. A total western holiday with parades through town on at least four different days, a free pancake breakfast that feeds over six thousand souls, and one huge rodeo and western fair with cowboys and cowboy art of all kinds, carnival rides,…well you name it. During the rodeo everyone is out at the rodeo grounds and the town is almost empty. I had the local Starbucks all to myself.

When Wild Bill got here he didn’t stay very long, just long enough to get some supplies and hook up with Charlie and Steve Utter. They joined an oxen pulled wagon train that was heading out on the grueling month long trip to Deadwood. Today you can get all your supplies at the Cheyenne Wal-Mart. Tomorrow I head out for Fort Laramie, about an hour north of here. It was one of Wild Bill’s stops on his way to Deadwood.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

8. Two Images Converge

What image comes to mind when you think of the American west? The miner, a wondering half crazed individualist with his never ending mantra that the next stream or outcropping would be his “bonanza,” or the cowboy whose flamboyant lifestyle and distinctive dress gave flare, mystique, and a spirit of adventure to an otherwise obscure life on the range.

In July, 1876, in a small railroad town in Wyoming, these two competing western images converged; the ragged, dishevel, knee booted miner, represented by hundreds of 49ers, and the mythical cowboy, represented by the gun slinging gambler, Wild Bill Hickok.

The town was Cheyenne; their destination was Deadwood, a small wild and lawless mining camp in the gold filled Black Hills of Dakota territory which had sprung up just a few months before and already had a population of over ten thousand souls, mostly miners, gamblers, hustlers and thieves, who flocked there seeking to make their fortune, either by taking gold from the ground or taking gold from those who did.

What transpired in Deadwood between these two competing western images, the miner and the cowboy, set forever how America would define its western heritage. Ask anyone in America, or the world for that matter what image comes to mind when they think of the American west, the answer will be; it’s the American cowboy.

Tomorrow, like Wild Bill Hickok did one hundred and thirty-one years ago, almost to the day, I, a true son of the west and product of the cowboy mythical image he fostered, will arrive in Cheyenne, preparing, as he did, to leave for Deadwood.

Monday, July 23, 2007

7. Wild Bill Hickok

Wild Bill was a prodigy of sorts, even as a boy of ten he showed a remarkable ability with a gun. As years passed his reputation as a marksman grew, - the fact that human beings were at the other end of that marksmanship made his reputation grow even faster. Most people stayed clear of Wild Bill when he came to their town, - least they provoke him to demonstrate his ability on them.

Wild Bill was custom made for the dime novel crowd; it was absolutely top of the line stuff. He became wildly popular as a real live western gun slinger. He joined Buffalo Bill on stage in New York where they played to packed houses of naive easterners. Although amateurish and awkward Wild Bill did his best to be “pretend real” but the charade soon got the better of him. One night he drew his gun, took a few shots at the stage floor and walked off, - never to appear on stage again.

His killer reputation made life difficult for him, even if he did say that he never killed a man who didn’t need killing. It’s not easy to make an honest living when people think all you can do is shoot people. The future looked dim. The only way left for Wild Bill to make a living was to be a town marshal. But as the trail drives diminished and towns began to look for less violent ways to uphold the law, that option began to fade. Depressed, he turned to drinking and gambling.

In 1876, at the age of 48, and going blind, Wild Bill shows up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, - he was on his way to his kind of town, Deadwood, a lawless mining camp nestled in Deadwood gulch about 250 miles north east, in the Black Hills.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

6. The Cowboy Comes Down To Earth

The glory days for the American cowboy were from 1866 to about 1873. Those were the days of the long trail drives from Texas to the rail heads in Kansas.

By 1876 the cowboy, as he defined himself, was almost finished, brought down off his high horse by one man; Joseph F. Glidden, the inventor of barbed wire. When farmers and ranchers started fencing off their land, herds of Texas cattle were blocked from the Kansas markets. The trail driving, hard riding, fancy dressing, six-shooting, king of the saddle was forced to dismount and look for a day job, - on foot.

But from the ashes of this western Phoenix rose a cowboy more dashing, more daring, more handsome and hard riding, more,…well, more of everything that the real cowboy was, or was not. Out of the west came the mythical cowboy! The dime novel cowboy! The movie cowboy! The singing cowboy! and, The urban cowboy!

The myth of the cowboy and what he looked like and what he did and how he did it took hold in American and the image of this hard riding king of the plains soon made the real working cowboy irrelevant. Americans, indeed the whole world, wanted the mythical over the real, - and there were plenty of people ready to give it to them, chief among them was Buffalo Bill Cody. His Wild West shows were wildly popular here in America as well as over seas.

There was one man however who was a little bit too real to play the "mythical"roll long. That man was James Butler, “Wild Bill” Hickok.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

5. Miners - 49ers

In 1848 gold was discovered in California. Word soon spread eastward and by 1849 America’s first gold stampede was on. The 49ers, as they were called, were not seasoned miners but poor immigrants and farmers who were looking to find a quick way out of poverty. By 1860 over $595 million in gold had been taken out of the California hills, almost all of which went directly into the hands of the hard-rock miners. The gold that the placer miners worked so hard to pry out of river beds and outcroppings only told the hard-rock miners where to dig their tunnels. The placer miners, having left their hard earned gold in the hands of saloon owners, prostitutes and gamblers, either had to work for wages or look for other gold fields to try their luck.

Consequently there was slow eastern migration of experienced miners looking for gold in the hills and streams of Nevada, Montana, Colorado, and eventually, the Dakota Territories. - places they had passed in their haste to reach the gold fields in California.

Friday, July 20, 2007

4. Elko, Nevada

In 1869 the railroad tried to promote this small town site for Nevada’s White Pine mines, but it soon became known as a cowboy town because of the many cattle ranches in the area.

World famous saddle and spur maker G.S. Garcia, who moved his saddle shop to Elko from my home town of San Luis Obispo, California, in 1893, did so because of all the cowboys living near here. He became very successful. Garcia saddles and spurs are highly collectible and are sought after by western gear collectors all over the world. Will Rogers and Teddy Roosevelt are just two of the famous people who have settled their posteriors into the hand tooled, silver trimmed cantle of a Garcia saddle. You can see many of his early saddles and handmade gear here in J.M. Capriola’s upstairs museum.

Thousands of cowboys and cowgirls descend on this little town each year for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

3. Placer Miners

There are two basic types of miners; the placer miner and the deep hole or hard-rock miner. The placer miner is the miner most depicted in American folklore. When Americans think miner they are usually thinking of a placer miner or “Prospector,”- he is the seeker, the true prospector for gold. He usually works alone looking for nuggets or flakes in the sand and gravel of river beds or small outcroppings of exposed bedrock on the sides of valleys.

The hard-rock miner extracts gold from solid rock. This requires digging tunnels or shafts deep into the earth to remove the gold bearing ore. This also requires a large workforce and large amounts of capital to finance the smelting or crushing operations needed to extract the gold from the ore.

The placer miner is the adventurous individual looking for the one big strike to make it rich, whereas the hard-rock miner is in it of the long term profit of a good business venture.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

2. The Miner

The majority of miners in America were Irish immigrants. They were adventurous, hardworking, and able to live in solitude and bear unbelievable physical hardship. Their one obsession was finding the gold that hid in the rivers, streams, gorges, and mountains of this land. What the rowdy, bovine babysitting cowboy thought of them and their work was of little consequence.

As for western fashion, the cowboy and the miner were exact opposites. Where the cowboy liked his custom handmade high heeled boots, his bright silk bandanna, large hat, and fancy six-shooter strapped to his hip, the miner needed only a good pair of knee boots, a shovel and a gold pan,….. and of course, a burro to carry them. Because of the miner’s desire for good practical clothing one piece of western fashion was invented just for him, Levi Strauss’ cotton canvas jeans with copper riveted pockets. The irony of this is that Levi's became the main fashion statement for cowboys.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

1.The "Western"

The series Deadwood is called a "western," and when we hear the word western we automatically think, "Cowboy." But in fact Deadwood is not about cowboys, it is about miners. In the west cowboys and miners seldom mingled. Cowboys worked the flat plains areas of Texas, Kansas, and Wyoming while miners plied their trade in the foothills of the Sierra in California, the slopes of the Rockies in Colorado and the rivers and streams of the Black Hills in Dakota Territory.

As a rule cowboys felt superior to these "working men" of their epoch. Cowboys felt themselves more noble, handsome and daring than most men, particularly the lowly river-slogging, dirt picking, burro riding miner. Astride his trusty steed the cowboy spent his working day atop a horse and felt it below him to be on foot, whereas the miner spent his working day slogging through the muck and mud scavenging for bits of metal flake.

Even Wild Bill Hickok was not a cowboy in the true sense of the word; he was a professional gambler, which was a legitimate profession in the eighteen hundreds. As a matter of fact, Wild Bill had little use for cowboys. In 1871 he was hired to be the town Marshal by the good people of Abilene, Kansas to control the 5,000 cowboys that descended on their town during the great trail drives. He grew to dislike cowboys and what he considered their huffy, arrogant ways. And there was little respect for Wild Bill from the cowboys point of view either; as a gambler and Marshal, Wild Bill spent most of his working day butt down in a chair.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Maestro Gaxiola - Deadwood Project

Art-mining in Deadwood and the Black Hills.
Now that mans lower desires have been satisfied and all the gold has been extracted from the Black Hills, it is time for the Black hills to be lifted up by art. If my vision be true and I prove to be a worthy guide for the spirit that lies within my brushes, then the Black Hills may conjure up treasures more uplifting for the spirit than all the "color" (gold) ripped from the streams and outcroppings by miners past.
I have been preparing for this Art-mining trip for three months. My inspiration came from the HBO series, Deadwood, which I own and have viewed four times.
I custom built all my Deadwood painting gear, which includes;
1. HD Video camera with custom hand tooled leather case
2. Dell laptop computer with hand tooled leather with hand engraved sterling sliver trim
3. Custom ceramic "Wild Bill' pistol brushes with custom redwood case
4. Hand built redwood easel with leather pistol brush holster
5. Handmade custom Deadwood Boots
6. Handmade buckskin jacket
Alice and I leave for Deadwood, South Dakota, tomorrow, July 17, 2007