Wednesday, 13 December 2017


International prize-winning author Charles T. Whipple writing as CHUCK TYRELL (a Sundown Press author like me) can’t pick a clear favourite of his novels either!
One contender is PITCHFORK JUSTICE.
Here Ness Havelock finds himself at odds with a cattle outfit planning to take over a Utah town. He’s also pursued by a man seeking to avenge his brothers, who died by Havelock’s gun.
This reminded me of elements in the Randolph Scott western ‘Buchanan Rides Alone

or Richard Widmark’s plight in ‘Backlash.

The cattlemen are led by a tyrannical judge, a fictional echo, perhaps, of JUDGE ROY BEAN.
Bean was born PHANTLY ROY BEAN JNR. in Kentucky c. 1825.

Despite his reputation as a ‘hanging judge’, he appears to have hung only one man, but survived being hung himself. In 1854 in San Gabriel, California, he killed a man in a duel. Six of the dead man's friends put Bean on a horse and tied a noose around his neck, then left him to hang. The horse didn't bolt, and after the men left, someone – reputedly a lady friend – set Bean free. Bean was left with a life-long stiff neck and a permanent rope burn from the noose.
He only became a judge in 1882, whilst operating as a saloon keeper in a tent city catering for railroad workers in the Trans-Pecos. Bean named the place Vinegaroon and was appointed justice of the peace for the area, proclaiming himself ‘the law west of the Pecos.’

Later Bean moved to Eagle's Nest, Texas, soon renamed Langtry. Bean named his new saloon The Jersey Lilly in honour of English actress Lillie Langtry but – by a bizarre coincidence - the town was actually named after somebody else!

He served 14 years as a judge and died peacefully in his bed in 1903, after a bout of heavy drinking in San Antonio.
On screen Bean has been portrayed often, including Walter Brennan (a classic Oscar-winning performance) in ‘The Westerner

and Paul Newman in ‘The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.

The total authenticity of the world Charles creates in PITCHFORK JUSTICE is emphasised by the early appearance of black outlaw ISOM DART (the famed ‘Black Fox’ and ‘Calico Cowboy.’)

Dart was born NED HUDDLESTON, a slave in Arkansas in 1849. Moving west, he drifted in and out of criminal (mostly rustling) activity before joining the Tip Gault gang of outlaws and rustlers operating in southern Wyoming in the 1870s. Dart later left the criminal life and in the 1890s, under the name Isom Dart, was ostensibly a legitimate rancher in the Browns Hole area on the Colorado/Wyoming border. Some held he was still involved in rustling, however. In 1900 he was shot from ambush, allegedly by notorious ‘range detective’ TOM HORN.


‘Chuck Tyrell has expertly combined the traditional western shoot-`em-up with an interesting, and different, narrative form.’

‘Tyrell's characters… feel like flesh and blood; there are no cardboard cut-outs here.’

‘Mr. Tyrell’s… paragraphs are "fighting lean.”’

‘This is a fantastic read with dynamic characters.’

‘It's a skilled piece of writing that shows a western specialist at the top of his form.’

Wednesday, 6 December 2017


International prize-winning author CHARLES T. WHIPPLE, writing as CHUCK TYRELL (a Sundown Press author like me) is another writer who can’t pick a clear favourite of his novels!

One contender is RETURN TO SILVER CREEK about a young married couple pioneering in Arizona. Laura and Garet Havelock are building their dream horse ranch on Silver Creek. But while Garet is away, Laura is raped, abused, and disfigured by a demonic attacker. Garet returns to find her gone. He sets off after her, and her assailant. Along the way the Havelocks’ find themselves involved in the conflict between cattlemen and sheepmen, between old settlers and new, and between those who have water and those who want it.

In the real west, clashes between sheepmen and cattlemen between 1870 and 1909 resulted in approximately 120 engagements, most notably in Texas, Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona. At least 54 men were killed and some 50,000 to over 100,000 sheep slaughtered. The ostensible cause was disputes over grazing rights, but racism also played a part in that many sheep herders were Mexican, Basque or Native American. Amongst the most serious disputes was the Routt County Sheep War in Wyoming in the 1890s.

A Navajo shepherdess c. 1905

In central Arizona sheep herders and cattleman clashed in the Pleasant Valley War, the most costly range war in American history. It was fought between the families of John D. Tewksbury and Tom Graham. Though both families were cattle ranchers, the former supported sheepherders when they began entering Pleasant Valley. Between 1885 and 1892 about twenty-five people were killed, including all of the men in the Graham family and most of the Blevins and the Tewksbury families.

Artists impression of an attack on a sheep camp Colorado 1877
According to Robert Elman, author of ‘Badmen of the West’ the sheep wars ended because of the decline of open rangeland and changes in ranching practices, which removed the causes for hostilities.
 SILVER CREEK is marked by its authenticity (Chuck is an Arizona native) and its prominent women characters (which made me think of ‘HOMBRE’ a classic western movie set in Arizona with a strong female lead, played by Diane Cilento.)

Paul Newman and Diane Cilento in ‘Hombre’

The clash between cattlemen and sheepmen has often been touched upon in westerns, for example in the semi-comic movie THE SHEEPMAN (1958)

Glenn Ford in ‘The Sheepman’

and in THE VIRGINIAN: MEN FROM SHILOH episode ‘Last of the Comancheros.’

Ricardo Montalban in ‘Last of the Comancheros’

Arizona settlers and ranchers clashing over water rights was the subject of ‘THE MARAUDERS’ an unusually dark and (for its time) brutal movie of 1955.  

REVIEWS: ‘Heart stopping read… Tyrell is a master of painting emotions that ring true.’

Gripping western read… plenty of suspense and sweeping visuals of the harsh Arizona landscape.’

‘Chuck Tyrell is a great western writer. He knows the country, and he lets the reader see the vistas, smell the wood smoke, hear the creak of leather, and feel the grit of sand in the beans. … made me homesick for the high desert.’

‘If you like a good adventure. If you like westerns. If you like strong, flawed heroes. If you like writing where the setting is like another character, then you'll like Chuck Tyrell's Return to Silver Creek.’

A fine story-teller doing what he does best… Not just a "good" reading experience, it's a revelation. …Tyrell is particularly good with women in his western tales, and Laura is one of his finest creations.’

‘Picturesque landscape and characters come alive through the adept story telling. A must read for any western literature buff, and a great story for those who think they would like to try a western.’

Wednesday, 29 November 2017


Like many of the western writers I’ve corresponded with, I didn’t get into westerns from reading the kind of novels I’d eventually write. I was initially hooked by what I watched, on the cinema and on TV, during my boyhood in the 1960s. And entering the world of the screen western was like joining a family, peopled by familiar faces. Actors re-occurred in the same roles – the same leading men, leading ladies, ‘sidekicks’, character actors and bit players (usually stunt men given an odd line.)
But perhaps most enjoyable of all were the villains.
Westerns are of course morality plays and if the hero represented the best in people, they needed a foil, an opponent, to represent the very worst; worthy opponents against whom the hero has to be tested. They were often as enjoyable, and quite often more enjoyable, than the heroes.
In my blog BEST OF THE BAD MEN #1 I’ve already discussed many of the excellent actors who gave good villain in westerns – but there were too many ‘good’ bad men for one blog to do them justice. I felt the very best bad men deserved at least a blog of their own. So here’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT - the very worst of the west. Some were quite easy to pick, others I had to think about (and I’d probably change my mind about if I was to do this blog again next week.)
So here’s villains ranked 2-8, in no particular order:
RICHARD WIDMARK was an actor of wide range and ability. He could be a hero as often as a villain. He played the ‘good guy’ in films like ‘The Last Wagon,’ and ‘Backlash.’ His most heroic role was probably as Jim Bowie in ‘The Alamo’ (1960) a performance described by John Wayne – who directed it – as ‘magnificent.’ And he could play conflicted characters such as the outlaw who renounces his law-breaking ways in ‘Warlock,’ or the obsessive submarine commander in the powerful Cold War drama ‘The Bedford Incident.’
But much as I enjoyed these performances, I always had a special fondness for Widmark the villain. His bad guys always had a dangerous, seductive charm, whether he’s up against Gregory Peck (‘Yellow Sky’) or Gary Cooper (‘Garden of Evil.’)
One of his best bad guy performances is in ‘The Law and Jake Wade.’ There’s a great scene where Widmark talks to a U.S. cavalry officer. He’s pretending to be an upright citizen, and exudes charm and reasonableness. When the officer rides away, there’s a priceless moment when Widmark smiles after him; but once he’s out of sight Widmark’s smile turns into a leer of pure evil.

Richard Widmark in ‘The Law and Jake Wade.’
ROBERT RYAN was another actor of wide range who could sometimes portray characters of integrity and dignity – but he was also a tremendous villain. In the masterful modern western ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’ he’s ostensibly a pillar of the community. He’s an intelligent, charismatic figure and a natural born leader – but he’s also poisoned by racism, in this case a hatred of the Japanese, which turns him into a ruthless murderer.

Robert Ryan in ‘Bad Day at Black Rock.
In ‘Return of the Bad Men’ there’s no such redeeming features – he’s just irredeemably villainous and loving it! In an enjoyable but wildly unhistorical western, he more or less steals the movie as The Sundance Kid - a snarling psychopath who’s a long way from Robert Redford! The movie climaxes in a shoot out in a ghost town between Ryan and Randolph Scott.

As The Sundance Kid in ‘Return of the Bad Men.
In the superb ‘The Naked Spur’ Ryan plays a ‘laughing’ villain – he even laughs during a fight with Ralph Meeker, which indicates someone teetering on the edge of irrational violence. Like a number of western villains he has a girlfriend (in this case Janet Leigh) who believes him when he says he’ll reform from his wicked ways. “Remember what you said.” she urges, to which Ryan responds with a classic bad guy line: “I remember what suits me!” As I’ve said, bad guys often had the best lines!

In ‘The Naked Spur.
In the field of ‘laughing villains’ none were better than DAN DURYEA. He played the bad guy in innumerable western movies and TV shows, bracing the likes of James Stewart and Audie Murphy. His long face, whining voice and most particularly his wild grin and jangling laugh marked him out as dangerously unstable, a powder keg always ready to blow. Perhaps his best performance in this vein is in the 1950 classic ‘Winchester 73.’
Dan Duryea in ‘Winchester 73’ (1950), a ‘laughing villain’

And coming off worst against James Stewart.

LEE VAN CLEEF spent years as a snake-like side kick to other villains (‘High Noon’ ‘The Man who shot Liberty Valance’) before ascending to top-rank villainy in Spaghetti westerns like ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’ I’ve always had my reservations about that title – Eli Wallach isn’t that unhandsome in my view, and it’s a bit of a stretch to describe Clint Eastwood’s amoral bounty hunter as strictly ‘good,’ but Van Cleef’s gleeful killer is definitely bad. In ‘Ride Lonesome’ Van Cleef commits one of the worst crimes of any western bad guy – he hangs Randolph Scott’s wife. A crime for which he pays the usual price, in the shadow of the hanging tree.

Lee Van Cleef in ‘Ride Lonesome.
Some western villains will remain famous for one role above all others. ELI WALLACH made relatively few westerns, but will be long remembered as Calvera in ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960.) As the leader of a rapacious band of Mexican bandits, he’s more a tyrant with delusions of grandeur than mere self-serving villain. In his own warped view, he’s simply maintaining the natural order of things. And he gets to say one of the most memorable lines in western film. Regarding the Mexican peons he feels he almost has a divine right to oppress, he declares: “If God didn’t want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”

Eli Wallach in ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960.)
Another bad guy famous for one role in particular is JACK PALANCE. In ‘Shane’ he’s the gunman hired by a cattle baron to terrorise Wyoming homesteaders. The lank, gaunt Palance, with his cadaverous features and gloating smile, is the epitome of evil – even dogs slink away from him. This blackest of black hats – literally – lovingly pulls one glove – also black - onto his gun hand as he prepares to despatch one of these pesky ‘sod-busters’. His victim is the pathetic but still brave ‘little man’ Elisha Cook Jnr. who falls before his gun, jolting backwards and ploughing into the mud of the street in the first ‘realistic’ depiction of death in the history of the western. Even in an age of much more graphic violence this scene still has the power to shock. And viewing the victim of his murder, Palance’s tight, brittle-eyed grin stays fixed.

Jack Palance oozes evil in ‘Shane.’
Like Richard Widmark, RICHARD BOONE could also play the good guy – indeed they’re both heroic in the same movie. In ‘The Alamo’ (1960) Boone plays Sam Houston as a ‘father of Texas’, organising the defence of the new republic whilst Jim Bowie (Widmark) and others fight to the death, buying him the time to do so. Boone brought similar gravitas and authority – what one critic called ‘craggy nobility’ – to his role as the U.S. cavalry commander in the underrated ‘Thunder of Drums’ (1960.) And he was, of course, the hero of the long-running TV western series ‘Have Gun Will Travel’ as the enigmatic Paladin.
It’s a mark of Boone’s range and forcefulness as an actor that he could be equally effective as a villain. Over the years he gave a hard time to a variety of western heroes, from Kirk Douglas in ‘Man without a Star’ to John Wayne in ‘Big Jake’ and ‘The Shootist.’
Perhaps his two best villains are in films based on Elmore Leonard stories – where he shows two faces of villainy. In ‘The Tall T’ (1957) he’s an intelligent, conflicted stage robber, tortured by his own loneliness. The nearest thing to a friend he finds is ostensibly his enemy, Randolph Scott, who he holds prisoner. We catch hints of the instability that’s perhaps brought him to crime – he has a sadistic sense of humour and laughs delightedly when someone burns their fingers on a coffee pot. But he sometimes shows affection and tenderness for the woman he holds captive. At the end he’s given a choice between staying bad or reforming – I won’t spoil the ending of this outstanding film by telling you which he opts for!

Richard Boone with Randolph Scott in ‘The Tall T.
If his villain in ‘The Tall T’ shows vulnerability and evokes some sympathy, that’s not the case in ‘Hombre’ (1967) – another example of a bad guy being bad and loving it. Boone’s swaggering Cicero Grimes exudes lusty, brutal energy, with his harsh laugh and aggressive demeanour leaving others cowed.

In ‘Hombre.’
It was a tough call singling out western bad guys from among so many worthy contenders and winnowing them down to a final eight. There’s undoubtedly some I’ve overlooked – but I had little doubt who would be in poll position, the best of the bad guys. So here he is, the very worst of the west, in my opinion:
Emerging in the 1960s, BRUCE DERN might have been the ‘son’ or ‘nephew’ of DAN DURYEA in that he had similar characteristics: His long face, whining voice and wild eyes marked him out as inherently irrational and unstable, poised  for sudden, unpredictable violence. This has kept him in work through a long and distinguished career. As he said: ‘I’ve played more freaks, psychotics and dopers than anyone.’ But he eschewed Duryea’s treacherous charm, which made him a genuinely chilling screen villain.
Although he has played in a wide range of films, he took very naturally to the western and was a staple of movies and TV series, adding his menacing presence to episodes of every show from ‘Bonanza’ to ‘Lancer’ to ‘The High Chaparral.’ He was particularly memorable as one of the homicidal sons of crazed semi-preacher Donald Pleasance in ‘Will Penny.’

Bruce Dern with Charlton Heston (having a bad day) and Donald Pleasance in 'Will Penny.'
Like the others here, Bruce is a fine actor of wide range. In the moving sci-fi fable ‘Silent Running’ he was literally the last defender of the Earth’s ecology, a voice of sanity (despite how crazy he might look) in a world lost to crass consumerism.

In ‘Silent Running.’
But that very same year – 1972 – Dern became possibly the baddest bad guy in western film or TV.
As John Wayne’s enemy in ‘The Cowboys’ Bruce commits a deed so dastardly that it dwarfs almost any other misdeed in the history of the screen western. I won’t give away what it was, in the unlikely event that anyone reading this blog hasn’t seen this excellent movie. Suffice it to say, John Wayne told Dern something like: “Oh, how they're gonna hate you for this!” – and viewers of ‘The Cowboys’ across the world proved him right.

Bruce Dern about to do the unthinkable to John Wayne in ‘The Cowboys.’
But prior to committing this blackest of crimes Bruce had already demonstrated his utter villainy in the way he terrorises the ‘cowboys’ of the title – a collection of schoolboys Wayne is forced to use on a trail drive. In one scene Dern tells one boy in chilling detail just exactly how he’ll sneak up on him in the dark and slit his throat. In another he snatches off another boy’s spectacles and lovingly crushes them between his hands, leaving only a buckled, glassless frame – it doesn’t get any badder than that!

The Cowboys.’
And thus Bruce Dern earns my top position in the ranks of actors who gave outstanding villain in westerns, and wins my accolade as the very worst of the west.

Feel free to disagree!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017


International prize-winning author Charles T. Whipple, writing as CHUCK TYRELL, (a Sundown Press author like me) is another writer who can’t pick a clear favourite of his novels!
One contender is his prison-set western THE SNAKE DEN, a coming of age story. Chuck tells me this is: ‘Gritty in ways, but ultimately redemptive.’
Shawn Brodie is falsely accused of theft and sent to Yuma Territorial Prison at the age of only 14. Shawn struggles to survive, partly with the aid of another inmate, an Oriental proficient in martial arts. (My excuse to include a picture from ‘Kung Fu.’)

'Kung Fu'

Part of the means of surviving is to stay out of the notorious ‘Snake Den,’ a hole in the ground that snakes sometimes fall into.
Yuma was a serving prison from 1876-1909.

Notorious Arizona law-breakers like ‘Buckskin’ Frank Leslie, Burt Alvord and Pete Spence served time in Yuma.
Amongst the 20 women incarcerated there was stage-robber Pearl Hart, who carried out the last stagecoach hold up in U.S. history when she robbed a stage near Globe, Arizona in 1899.

Pearl Hart

Westerns with a prison setting include ‘There was a Crooked Man’ (1970) and ‘Devil’s Canyon’ (1953.)

Kirk Douglas in ‘There was a Crooked Man’ (1970.)

Rattlesnakes are native to the Americas, living in diverse habitats from southwestern Canada to Florida to central Argentina. The large majority of species lives in the American Southwest and Mexico. Most common in the American West are Western diamondbacks.

Other western ‘rattlers’ include the highly venomous Mojave rattlesnake, the Sidewinder (or horned rattlesnake) and the Prairie rattlesnake.

A Sidewinder in motion.
The rattlesnakes ‘warning system,’ the rattle, is composed of a series of hollow, interlocked segments made of keratin (as is the human fingernail.)
Rattlesnakes rarely bite unless they feel threatened or provoked. Despite that, an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States each year, resulting in about five deaths.
‘Chuck Tyrell has brought authenticity and poignancy to a western with a difference.’
‘Tyrell is a master of character development …This is a heck of a good novel. It does much more than shake a bunch of prison fiction tropes at you. It's a character-based coming of age, student/master, and odd couple/buddy Western that gets tenser and tenser with each scene.’

‘One crisis after another makes the tale fly by and kept my interest throughout. A five-star for sure.’

A Different Breed of Western… as tough and gritty as they get.’ 

Wednesday, 15 November 2017


Prolific and distinguished author Cameron Judd (whose books tend to focus on the early frontier and Tennessee history) couldn’t pick an absolute favourite of his books (I know it’s a tough question!) but does have a particular fondness for his American Civil War/ Mountain War trilogy. His favourite character is Ben Scarlett, the town drunk of Knoxville, Tennessee, who is central to the trilogy.
The final part, SEASON OF RECKONING, takes us to 1864. As the Civil War is ending, the mountains of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina see even more destructive violence and terror; a wounded nation has to start healing after the wreckage of war.
Together, Amy Deacon, Ben Scarlett, and Greely Brown have to face the bitter reality that the Mountain War will carry on after the Civil War has ended.

Nurse Ann Bell tends wounded soldiers in a Nashville Hospital 1864
In late 1864 the Confederacy suffered two major defeats in Tennessee. At the Battle of Franklin Confederate LT. GENERAL JOHN BELL HOOD's attacks on fortified Union positions, held by GENERAL JOHN SCHOFIELD, were repulsed with heavy loss. 6 Confederate generals were killed, 7 wounded and 1 captured, in what is sometimes called the 'Pickett's Charge of the West.' 

Artist’s impression of the Battle of Franklin

Troops at the scene of the Battle of Franklin 1864
A few weeks later MAJOR GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS routed Hood's army at the Battle of Nashville. The Confederate Army of Tennessee was effectively destroyed as a fighting force for the remainder of the war.

Soldiers’ camp at the site of the Battle of Nashville 1864
Although Tennessee was a Confederate state, a significant minority – particularly in the east of the state – supported the Union. These divisions are reflected in the fact that ANDREW JOHNSON, from Tennessee, was elected Vice President under Abraham Lincoln in 1864. He became President after Lincoln's assassination in 1865.

Andrew Johnson

The difficult aftermath of the war in the defeated Confederacy is touched on in movies like ‘The Undefeated’ and ‘Run of the Arrow’ – as well as ‘Gone with the Wind’ of course.

The Undefeated

Gone with the Wind - images of the ruined South:

‘I hated for it to end. Totally engrossing series.’
‘Great read.’
‘An outstanding trilogy.’
'Great book. Superb author.'
‘I can’t say enough about this trilogy. I couldn’t put it down – even though I read this book on my honeymoon!’

Wednesday, 8 November 2017


Prolific and distinguished author Cameron Judd (whose books tend to focus on the early frontier and Tennessee history) couldn’t pick an absolute favourite of his books (I know it’s a tough question!) but does have a particular fondness for his American Civil War/ Mountain War trilogy. His favourite character is Ben Scarlett, the town drunk of Knoxville, Tennessee, who is central to the trilogy.

The 2nd in the series, THE PHANTOM LEGION, deals with events of 1863, when the war in Tennessee and North Carolina goes underground and soldiers use signalling points like Clinch Mountain and Lookout Mountain.

Lookout Mountain

It continues the story of Amy Deacon, Ben Scarlett, Sam Colter and Greeley Brown as they wage an underground war on the side of the Union. This reflects how Tennessee, although part of the Confederacy, had a large minority of Union supporters, particularly in the east of the state.

Confederate soldiers

Battles fought in this area at this time included actions at Fort Sanders at Knoxville, the Battle of Bean’s Station, Chattanooga and Chickamauga.

Artists depiction of the Battle of Chattanooga 1863

Confederate leaders included 

General Braxton Bragg

and General James Longstreet.

Their Union opponents included

 Generals Ambrose Burnside,

Joseph Hooker

and U.S. Grant – who later became President, of course.

Publishers Weekly on CAMERON JUDD: ‘A keen observer of the human heart as well as a fine action writer.’

‘Draws attention to a part of the Civil War that little has been written about.’
‘Historically accurate, fast paced, easy reading.’

‘This is just as good as the first one.’