My Work

Saturday, May 19, 2018

When Was the American Frontier Era?

I got into an interesting discussion with a gentleman the other day about what exactly is the American Frontier and how people have very strong opinions about dates reflecting times of the frontier. We were sitting at the Bucket of Blood saloon in Virginia City, which is what led to our little talk. For many in the great plains and east, talk of the frontier is about 1870s, ‘80s, and ‘90s while in the far west, frontier times were well before that.

While California was still a Spanish territory, many Americans moved into the territory. That was in the 1830s and ‘40s. It was the fur trade that opened Oregon and Washington lands to development by way of families moving in. While wars with Indians in the plains were raging, San Francisco was a cosmopolitan city of wealth and style. Virginia City was filled with banks, large stately hotels, a railroad, and a stock exchange with direct connection to San Francisco in the early 1860s.

Magnificent land and vital business opportunity initially led people into the far west and then the discovery of vast amounts of gold and silver brought the multitudes. The frontier of the far west was considerably different from the frontier of the Great Plains and separated by decades. There is of course another frontier era that must be included in a discussion like this and that is the Texas era, which would probably begin with the founding of New Orleans and the Mexican government welcoming American immigrants.

Agricultural opportunity brought them in and they flourished, which of course led to the trailing of cattle north and the building of towns and cities on the railroads that were building. Thus that frontier era. I think it would be safe to say there is no one great American frontier nor is there one specific time of that frontier. The great southwest, the far west, and the Great Plains expansions all took place at different times, separated by decades. The causes of expansion are considerably different as well.

It would be safe to say that economics was the leading cause, but those economic factors would be different. Mining, agriculture, cattle ranching, and railroads were the major economic drivers of the American frontier. All of that can probably relate back to the fur trade, which had its origins at the very beginning of the settlement of the New World. Fur was the economic driver along with opportunity to own land that moved men and women into the west originally.

Some made the big jump, in sailing ships around the horn and into California, while others came across the vast continent in prairie schooners on the Donner Trail or the Oregon Trail. Along the way, some settled in various areas that answered their questions of where and how to live.

The American Frontier started when the first colonizer, way back sometime in the 1600s moved his family a little farther inland and it didn’t stop until there were American cities and towns spread from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

 Johnny Gunn
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Monday, January 22, 2018

Is It Fake or What?

Being the older guy I am, I was considered passed middle age when computers arrived, I have always felt more comfortable getting my news from the professional media, newspapers, radio, and television. Having worked in broadcast and print newsrooms, I feel that I’m getting as close to the truth as it is possible to get. But there is a “but” to that statement. I know the difference between a news article and an opinion or analysis article. According to what I’m seeing today, there are many people who don’t understand those words.

Most news outlets try to make it clear when something is straight news and when it is opinion. Television outlets aren’t always that clear on the matter but an astute observer should be able to tell the difference. An opinion piece is just that, someone’s personal opinion or observation of a subject. It is not a news story, so it should never be considered fake news. It’s an opinion.

In a poli-sci course I took years ago, it was demonstrated how propaganda works. Fake news is propaganda. An article about a world cup event, may have been skiing or something, Russia’s Pravda news outlet said, “Russia placed third behind France.” Certainly doesn’t look fake or anything like that does it? What isn’t said is as important sometimes as what is said. The New York Times that day reported, “U.S athletes took top honors with France a distant second, and Russia tied with seven other countries for third.”

What Pravda reported was the partial truth that it intended for Russian citizens to read. That’s government control of the press. If one gets information from sources other than professional journalists, one must be astute enough to read through where and how the articles came to be. If one is satisfied with getting information from just one source, how would one know?

If you hear something over and over from a single source, eventually you will probably begin to believe it. However, if that source is the only one saying this something, and you also read from many other sources, you are probably not going to believe whatever that something might be. This, I’m afraid is what’s happening with too many people, particularly those with a lesser education or intellect. Getting most of your knowledge from a single non-professional source is going to limit what you really know.

This idea of a “social media” sounds good but it’s nonsense because no one is responsible. A social media outlet sells advertising space to a foreign country that wants to intrude on our election process and no one is responsible for vetting the advertising. Joe Blowhard says something like, “I heard, and it has to be the truth, that …” No one has any idea if what he heard is the truth or if he even actually heard it.

Unfortunately we elect our less than leaders based on “someone said …” instead of taking the time to gather information from many sources. Sure I read the New York Times. I also read Fox News on the Internet, along with the Washington Post, BBC news, Reason Magazine, and the National Review online. I read the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times. Do I believe everything that’s printed in all those publications? Of course not because a lot of it is opinion, and listed as opinion. The editorial page of the New York Times is not a news page, it’s opinion. All that reading gives me a fairly broad picture of the day’s news from the left, right, up, and down, and I read opinion pieces from those outlets as well.

To scream daily that all the news outlets except the one you like the most are dealing in face news is not only foolish, but you’re playing into the hands of those who want you to believe in fake news. No matter the subject there is always more than one way to view the subject and if you really want to be informed you must look for the various views available.

That pretty much explains the concept of a free press also. Yes, your “social media” expert has every right to his or her opinion, but never let yourself believe that only that outlet can be right. Particularly if few if any of the professional outlets agree in some form. We are free to read whatever it is we choose and we are free to believe whatever it is we choose, but that doesn’t me we are always right. Get as many views of a subject as you can before making your decision on whether it is fake news or simply someone’s opinion.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Reflection or Anticipation

In the ancient days, maybe during the time of Mesopotamia, spring was a time of anticipation with the greening, growing earth responding to all the warmth and water. Winter, the new-year if you will, was more often a time of reflection. How did we do as a species, as a people, as a family, or more often, as the one?

On reflection (bad me), possibly that’s where the idea of resolutions came into play. This particular part of our life might possibly be a bit nicer if we did this or behaved that way, or eliminated the part entirely. For myself? I talk too much. Imagine that. Patty, too often has to say, “Will you just listen for once!!!”

I also have a strong tendency toward arrogance. Read the directions? Yes, I do. Follow the direction? Why? I know what I’m doing. Oops. My mother was one of those people who rarely saw imperfections in her children. Praise heaped on praise leads one to eventually believe what’s being said. A fair IQ coupled with easily attained good grades if I wanted them added to my current level of believed supremacy. See what I mean?

I have a good sense of humor and coupled with a smart ass attitude has managed to get me in deep doo-doo more than once. There was that night at the Bucket of Blood Saloon … no, no. There were those nights at the Stage Stop Saloon … no, no. Well, there was the time I made Dickie Smothers laugh. And Dick Martin used one of my jokes in his show once.

I’m not sure I really want to change any of that. Patty calls me ‘interesting’. That’s cool. If Mom were still alive she’d have autographed copies of all my books and drive the neighbors nuts talking about her famous son, the author. That’s cool. My brother, who lives in Colorado still has me on his Christmas card list. That’s cool.

Yup, no big bad resolutions for this year. My moment of reflection is taken care of, now, dammit, let there be the anticipation of spring, warm sun, good water, and trout in the streams.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Winter. Pagan Party Time?

The concept of a winter festival dates back before the Romans and usually had more to do with the winter solstice than anything resembling today’s religions, and evolved into a Christian holiday.

Today, if you look around, this holiday and festival period has devolved back to a pagan party. Drive through the neighborhoods, walk through shopping centers, and watch television, you will not see very much religion. For that matter, most of the music you’ll hear will be winter related, not Christ related despite the name, Christmas Holiday.

When the earliest people recognized the winter solstice as being the day with the least amount of daylight, and that the following days’ light increased slightly one to the next, it was obviously party time. The next solar year was under way, and they needed to celebrate that. It was a gradual moving ahead, advancing toward the awakening with the arrival of the spring equinox.

Our most ancient ancestors lived by the solar year. They planted, hunted, married, and bred their animals based on where the sun was in the sky. Grand monuments exist even today to attest to that. Think Stonehenge, and many traditional farmers around the world depend on the ancient solar year knowledge.

But, let’s get back to the party thing. Norse, that is Viking, invaders wee probably the last of the Europeans to continue the winter solstice pagan rituals and brought many of those into their invaded lands. Yuletide became Christmastide, for instance. The original Yule log and its burning was pagan as was the hanging of evergreen wreaths.

The Roman church found that it was far easier to incorporate pagan holidays into their religious program than to deny converts their pagan holidays and festivals. Think Saturnalia for example. Whew.

Regardless of what it is you’re celebrating, on or about December 21st, the world will welcome the winter solstice and six weeks later the ground hog will tell us there will be another six weeks of winter, and then six weeks later we will celebrate the spring equinox. Funny how that works.

The idea of the days getting longer brought joy to the so-called pagan world, and today, the period around the winter solstice brings warm fuzzy feelings to businesses across this vast nation of ours.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
Will you join me on facebook from time to time?
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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Lodge Night Frolics

A bunch of us were sitting at the bar at our lodge the other night after I mouthed off about something during the meeting. “You talk almost as much as you write,” one of the guys said. I had to chuckle at that. I spent so many years in radio talking up a storm that it seems to flow with little outside help. As a newsman, writing was something one did if one wanted a paycheck on Friday.

“You don’t have much trouble grabbing a wrench, old son,” I replied, signaling our barman brother for another round. He nodded and the light came on. He was always first to help a brother if his truck broke down or the fridge quit.

“Yup,” he said. “It’s what I do.” We sipped a bit and he continued. “So, what do you like writing the most? For me, I’d rather work on an older car than these new-fangled jobby-dos.”

“News is good to write but sometimes it’s difficult to keep your own opinion to yourself. Novels are very gratifying, particularly when you write ‘the end’ on that last page, but short stories, there you’ve got lots of problems.”

“Why?” A couple of the old boys asked at the same time, and I kind of understood the question. “Seems like a little old short story would be easier to write than a big old long novel,” Pinky said.

“Seems like it,” I said. “But, just ain’t so. With brevity in every part of your mind you tell just the essence of a particular instance in someone’s life or situation when writing a short story, while writing a novel, you tell the entire life and all the situations.”

“You got a favorite short story?” I think it was old man Peebles that asked. I’d autographed three of my novels for him and remembered him saying that he’d never really read many short stories. He said something about they end too soon.

“Actually, I have several that I really enjoyed writing. Two that you can get right now are available on Amazon. Others were published in magazines and would be difficult to find. I really enjoyed writing Miss Minerva’s Sheriff. It was part of an anthology but it is available as a stand alone short story.” I wrote down the Amazon URL for the guys.

“The other one that tickles me came out last year at about this same time in a holiday anthology. You might remember when we took that ride into the mountains to cut Christmas trees for those families that couldn’t afford one for themselves and I read it out loud. Slick’s Special Christmas.”

“You’re always reading something out loud,” Peebles laughed. “I remember that, though. It’s still available?’

“Yup,” I said and wrote down the URL for them.

“You see, guys, telling the story is the most fun I get from all this. That sheriff never knew what hit him when Minerva came to town, but the entire episode had to be told quickly, and long involved details weren’t important to the crux of the matter.

“Same with Slick. He was tore up bad, bleeding, infected, and what happened to him two weeks later wasn’t important. What was important was what was happening at that moment in time. That’s the pleasure and the pain of the short story.”

“Well, just quit talking, now,” old man Peebles said, laughing right out loud. “Drink your beer and we’ll just sit here quietly and think about all this.”

I didn’t say a word, just motioned to our barman brother for another round of cold ones.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Mele Kalikimaka

The holiday season is fast approaching and I thought maybe we could have a quick discussion about some of the aspects of this particular season. Our ancestors thousands of generations past whooped it up some from the winter solstice to the spring equinox and it seems as though we’ve forgotten the concept of having fun. If it doesn’t have something to do with either spending money or making money, it doesn’t exist.

As an example: Black Friday. The initial attack on Thanksgiving was the major box stores putting up Christmas decorations a week or so before Halloween, thus taking a lot of the fun out of celebrating All Hallow’s Eve. But by slamming every square space in retail outlets with Christmas all through the month of November, they diminished the celebration of Thanksgiving.

Traditionally, Thanksgiving was a time for family, for celebrating the harvest, for giving thanks for what we have and for that which we strive. There was some fight by many who wanted the Thanksgiving pleasures, but those that make money and those that spend money fought harder. Thus: Black Friday.

And they weren’t through. If they started the Black Friday sales early, such as maybe on Thursday, Thanksgiving would be but a memory, for in our society today, making it to a sale is far more important than having the family sitting together spinning tales of yesteryear.

As I write this little missive, we are a full two weeks from Thanksgiving and I saw an advertisement this morning for a pre-Black Friday sale to begin tomorrow. All of the blame for this cannot be laid at the feet of the retailer for it is not the retailer that responds to the sales.

With Thanksgiving wiped off the calendar, there is now no less than nine weeks in which to entice us to buy, and buy we will. Whether we buy Christmas gifts or Holiday gifts, or Seasonal gifts, we’ll buy, and in droves.

Obviously Christmas began as a Christian celebration but was absorbed into general society easily since non-Christians were already celebrating the winter solstice with their parties and hooplas. Simple gift-giving has changed slightly more than exponentially over the last two thousand years or so. The gift, it seems, is meaningless. It’s the sale that counts.

If you took the words Christmas, Holiday, and Seasonal out of the picture, took any nine-week period in the calendar, and spent the effort and money that is spent on what we call the holiday period, you would have the same affect. No one seems to give two hoots and a holler about Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the winter solstice. No, it’s the sales that are far more important.

Madison Avenue has not won yet. Advantage: MA. But there are still beat up old zealots like myself fighting them off. I’m not the biggest Halloween nut you’ve ever seen, but I do enjoy the fun of it. I am a Thanksgiving nut and really get into the idea of having lots of family around and spending many hours in the kitchen and at the table.

The winter solstice parties evolving in the Christmas celebrations are big-time around our household, with lights blazing, Yule logs burning, and of course, the Wassail cup must be full at all times. The gifting? That’s fun, but not the driving force. It’s the music, seasonal or religious, and the gay colors and lights, long nights with roaring fires, and family and friends.

Mele Kalikimaka.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Nevada Day ... Why?

Abraham Lincoln signed the papers making Nevada a state on October 31, 1864 and we celebrate that wonderful moment on the fourth Friday of October as a holiday, and then on Saturday, a grand array of special events in the Capitol city, Carson City. A parade, championship hard rock drilling contests, magnificent beard contests, and an opportunity to just have fun.

Only a few states celebrate their admission to this fine Union and I hope Nevada never lets it simply fade away. Every state feels itself unique in some way, and those of us in the Silver State have lots to talk about in that respect. It was the discovery of silver in the Virginia Range that old Henry Comstock declared was his, thus the Comstock Lode, that is basically the reason Nevada became a state.

The area belonged to Spain, then Mexico, and finally, the good old USofA. It was part of Utah Territory, then became Western Utah Territory, then Nevada Territory, and as now, the State of Nevada. Silver was king, cattle and sheep were economic drivers, and the along came Las Touristas and legalized gaming.

Those three today are still the economic drivers of the state. Nevada is the largest producer of gold in the Americas, North, South, and Central. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that there were news releases each year proudly proclaiming that there were more cattle in the state than people, and today, those same newspapers declare the number of tourists that visited set new records.

Only one river in Nevada can say its waters make it to the Pacific Ocean, all the others drain to a lake in the state, go underground to an aquifer, or settle in a sink. The Owyhee is a tributary of the Snake River, which flows into the Columbia River, which mixes with the saline of the Pacific.

Three major rivers, the Walker, Carson, and Truckee have their beginnings in California. Some say the Virgin begins in Utah. The Colorado of course flows through several states and two countries. It’s the Humboldt River that’s homegrown, beginning at what is called the Humboldt Wells. A town grew up near those wells, called itself Wells, then moved when the railroad came through to take advantage of that economic driver. It’s still called Wells.

The Great Basin National Park is home to Lehman Caves, and parts of the Death Valley National Park are inside the state. Hoover Dam is pretty impressive as is Lake Mead, and the largest Lahontan Cutthroat Trout ever was caught at Pyramid Lade.

Sarah Winnemucca was the first Native American to have a book published, the Black Rock Desert has been home to mastadons and burners, and the city of Las Vegas glorifies in its massive over-use of water.

Well, there you are. This is why we celebrate Nevada Day. If you run into me in Carson City Saturday, be sure to say howdy-doo.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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