Monday, October 24, 2016

Travels in the Panhandle

In company with Old NFO and Lawdog, I headed for the Texas Panhandle this weekend, to do some research into an area that will be prominent in at least two more Walt Ames novels.  We met up with Alma Boykin on arrival, and she acted as our tour guide for the weekend.

We began at the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum in Canyon.  It's one of the nicest small-to-medium-sized museums I've ever seen (and I've visited many of them, on three different continents).  It's very well laid out, with an excellent collection of exhibits.  It covers the prehistoric geology, biology and zoology of the area, its importance to several Native American tribes, the arrival of white settlers and the cattle industry, the development of the oil industry, and all sorts of ancillary topics.  There's a very nice collection of regional art (several examples of which I was sorely tempted to 'borrow' for the walls of my home), and a clothing and textile section that we didn't visit, but mentally noted as a place to bring the lovely Phlegm in future (she's very into that sort of thing).

Not surprisingly to readers who know our proclivities, the firearms collection occupied much of our time.  Of course, being who and what we are, we identified two mislabeled exhibits;  Lawdog spotted a Colt M1877 revolver that was labeled as the Lightning model, but was in reality the larger Thunderer, while I spotted a Winchester 1873 carbine model that was mislabeled as a full-length rifle.  Alma, who's researched at least two of her books in the museum's archives and knows everyone there, noted the details and handed them to a member of the staff before we left.  Apparently they have a lot more guns in storage than those on exhibition, so we're hoping that one of these days, we may be able to arrange a behind-the-scenes visit to look at the rest of their firearms collection.  I'm betting we'll be able to find several more errors in cataloging!

After a late lunch, I put my head down for a nap while Lawdog and NFO visited a few other local museums;  then Alma took us to Trail Boss, a local barbecue restaurant, for supper.  The food was delicious, and made the visit worthwhile on its own merits.  We'll be visiting there again.  (I tried to look innocent while suggesting to Lawdog that he try their 'Ghost Riders In The Sky Cheeseburger';  but unfortunately he noticed, just in time, that it included two slices of ghost pepper cheese.  He gave me one of those looks, and very rapidly chose a different dish!)

After supper, Alma took us back to her family's home to meet her father.  Inevitably, he and Old NFO had both been based on the same Pacific island at various times during their respective periods of military service, so the conversation rapidly degenerated into "Do you remember?" and "Was that like this when you were there?" and "What about old so-and-so?"  I get the feeling NFO's been everywhere, done everything and met everyone.  It's a lot of fun to eavesdrop on his conversations.

Sunday morning was spent at the Palo Duro Canyon State Park.  It really tugged at my heartstrings - the terrain and vegetation there are so like parts of Africa, where I grew up, that I literally couldn't tell them apart visually.  I felt right at home.  I reckon I could take any of my local friends, drop them into parts of Africa, and defy them to realize that they'd left the US at all.  Also, the place is almost oozing with memories . . . if I were the superstitious type, I'd say it was haunted.  There's so much history in that canyon that you can almost hear the spirits calling to each other.  It's a remarkable place.  (Click the image below for a larger view.)

Among other things, we visited the general area where the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon took place in 1874.  Again, one can almost hear the ghosts whispering there.  The deliberate slaughter of so many of their horses broke the spirit (and the resistance) of the Comanche tribe, which retreated on foot to its reservation in the Indian Territories (today part of Oklahoma).  According to Alma, the Comanche have from time to time held memorial services in the canyon to commemorate what was, for them, a national tragedy, with permanent spiritual as well as practical implications.

After lunch at a tourist stop in the Canyon, it was time to head for home.  We said our goodbyes to Alma, with promises to visit again soon.  We were greatly amused by Lawdog's comment that we were 'heading back east' - which for NFO and I usually means the far side of the Mississippi river!  Lawdog's stamping grounds are in west Texas, which is very different from east Texas, so I can see what he was getting at.  On our way through one of the towns where he'd served as a deputy sheriff, he entertained us by pointing out the locations of some of his adventures.  ("That's where I shot Santa... and that's the joint where Pearl stole the steaks.")  We wheedled some more details out of him here and there.  He'll be describing those incidents and more in his forthcoming book.

I learned a lot, and I'll be using the information in future Westerns.  We'll be heading back to the Panhandle soon for more research (and more good food and company!).



Unknown said...

I have lived over a lot of the Panhandle for most of my life. As as long time reader, I'd love it if I could help in any way!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to recommend a book that you would enjoy. It's called Empire of the Summer Moon by a Texas journalist turned writer, S. C. Gwynne documenting the history of 19th century depredations of the finest light cavalry on the continent, the Comanche. It's pretty much unbiased in either direction and very well researched. Let's put it this way, Gwynne is also a Cormac McCarthy reader judging from the quote on the dedication page, so you know that no punches are pulled.

Peter said...

@Amy: Drop me a line (my e-mail address is in my blog profile, in the 'About Me' section of the sidebar). We'll see what can be arranged. Thanks!

@Anonymous: Yes, I have that book. It's excellent.

Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed your trip through God's country. I grew up in Floyd County. I have climbed up and down and through the canyons in Floyd, Briscoe, Motley, Crosby and Dickens counties. I have a friend in Crosbyton you might want to contact if you want information on the Paleontology of the area. Joe Taylor of Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum. He knows the Canyons and history of the area in Crosby and Dickens county.

Couple of side notes. I had a classmate that found an indian burial site in one of our canyon caves one year. The remains were removed and placed in the museum in Floydada displayed as how found in the cave.

Also had a friend who used to scour the Canyons for artifacts every free moment he had. On one occasion he found some chain mail dated back to Coronado time.

Can't wait for your follow up western.


TheOtherSean said...

It sure sounds like a fun trip. Palo Duro Canyon looks really neat - it's on my to-do list for a future southwest trip. It looks like I may have to add a stop at that museum in Canyon to my itinerary; this is either the third or fourth positive reference I've heard to that place in the past few months, and from different sources every time.

Uncle Lar said...

As to gun museums, here are a few for your bucket list.
Chickamauga battleground museum south of Chattanooga. Great display of Civil War armaments.
Rock Island Arsenal, Rock Island Illinois. Best collection of Browning military weapons I'm aware of along with most everything ever developed or manufactured there at the arsenal.
Ogden Utah city museum in the former railroad station. As Ogden is the home of the Browning company the museum has a huge collection of all their commercial product. And an excellent model railroad exhibit on the development of the first transcontinental railroad.
Bit of a stretch of the legs for you, but you never know when a trip might occur.

Sherm said...

It's interesting how perspective changes by locale. Forty years later I still laugh recalling when I lived in Pennsylvania and someone told me they were going "out west." Having previously lived in Montana, Nevada, and California, I was curious where they were heading. "Kentucky."

Now, living in Montana again, I understand there's a fair to middlin' gun museum down the road a mite in Cody, WY. (My opinion is in no way influenced by relatives having served on the museum board of trustees.) I believe there's a bit of Indian stuff too.

You'll note they also have a research library. You can peruse their digital collection from home.

Anonymous said...

I was just looking again at my copy of "Empire of the Summer Moon". Just by looking at Quanah Parker's eyes I can tell you I would not wanted to have met him on the battle field. Those are the eyes of a hard man.


Bibliotheca Servare said...

And of *course* I learn about the Rock Island Arsenal *after* I've moved from MO to NC! Dangnabbit. *sheepish expression* John Moses Browning was just fricking awesome. I'll have to visit that place the next time I go back to visit.

TheOtherSean said...

That museum complex in Cody, WY is very nice, a true gem. If you're ever passing through (for example, en route to or from Yellowstone), it is definitely worth a stop. There's enough about natural history, history, firearms, and western art that you could spend a full day there.

Merlin said...

Ghost Riders In The Sky Cheeseburger! Sounds wonderful. I bookmarked the restaurant, Thank You.

Minecraft Chuck said...

Naughty man. Ghost pepper cheese, indeed!

Lovely descriptions of an area I haven't been to yet.

Jaybird said...

Born in Amarillo and many hours were spent in Palo Duro Canyon. Another book you might want to check out is "Panhandle Pilgrimage - Illustrated Tales Tracing History In The Texas Panhandle" by Pauline Durrett Robertson and R. L. Robertson - lots of old photos along with a ton of history. It's time for another trip home!

TRX said...

> both been based on the same Pacific island

Any time two vets get together they compare notes. "Six degrees of separation" in the civilian world is seldom more than two in the military.

That's one of the things that make the fake soldiers and "stolen valor" losers so pathetic. Screw the paperwork, not even the NKVD could match the Old Soldiers' Network.

Military connections tend to be shallow, but they're *very* wide.