Saturday, November 22, 2014

Maynard Lehman, Cowboy-Author-Musician

Maynard Lehman missed the job he held in Montana in 1923. He didn’t mind the pay—$40-$60 a month—if he could hunt coyotes to supplement his income. He didn’t decide to write about his experiences as a cowboy until he was 75, but wrote more than twenty books well into his 90s.

Lehman grew up on his parent’s ranch in North Dakota, twenty miles south of the Canadian border. There his family raised and broke horses for the American Express Company in Milwaukee. His father was not “what you would call a regular cowboy,” he said, “but I guess I grew up with horses in my blood. I went to work as a cowboy away from home when I was thirteen.” Not exactly a tenderfoot, he had worked for a neighboring ranch the previous summer.

His first riding job was to help swim 300 horses across the Missouri River to Culberton, Montana. “I was a good-sized kid and could rope and ride with the best of ‘em.” Adding three years to his age, he told everyone he was sixteen. “I worked there until the horses more or less got used to the territory. Otherwise, they would have kept right on going. I then went to work for the Cantanio Ranch, downriver a ways, and I stayed there the rest of the summer.”

Cattle herds of 12,000 to 15,000 were not uncommon during the later years of the nineteenth century, but the Cantanio Ranch only ran 2,000 head, which grazed between the Red Water and Missouri River. The young cowpoke worked until the end of summer, then returned home to attend school. His classes were scheduled after his assigned chores, which included helping his father with thrashing and harvesting.

Young Maynard managed to complete eight grades in five years, but by the time he reached high school, the horseback ride was twelve miles through North Dakota snow. The weather, however, was not the reason he quit his studies. Unable to start school until after thrashing season, he couldn't catch up with the other students. “And nobody offered to help.” Frustrated and discouraged, he decided his education was over. The following January he left school in 40 degrees below zero weather to find a job.

That spring he arrived in Miles City, Montana, where he went to work for Van Venerable, a horse buyer for the Hansen Packing Plant at Butte. There he worked on horseback in the area between the Mespaw and Pumpkin Creek, which later became the first BLM Project.

“Van bought three thousand horses from the roundup and turned them out on Laney Creek on the Powder River with the rest of his herd. I worked for him until there were no more horses to bring in to ship,” Lehman said. The cowboy then worked several ranches in the Powder and Tongue River areas for the next 18 years.

He soon learned that he couldn’t keep a steady cowman’s job if he returned home each fall to help with the family harvest. “That’s when I went to work for the Quarter Circle JK Ranch and only went home for a visit.”

His fiddle was his most prized possession. He also owned “a saddle, bridle, chaps, 35-foot lariat, spurs, bedroll, extra pair of socks, and enough Bull Durham to last two weeks.” The fiddle often accompanied him, “but if it wasn’t standard equipment, it stayed behind in the bunkhouse.” From the age of 12, he played the violin and accordion for dances and later performed on the organ.

“The winter I was fourteen, I hung up my saddle and traveled with a road troupe that showed movies along the Canadian border in North Dakota and Montana. Joe Alberts traveled with us and wrestled the big bear. But when spring came, I was back in the saddle.”

(Continued next week . . . )

Monday, November 17, 2014

Now on Sale Through November 21st

The true story of a young couple hanged by greedy cattlemen to take over their land, as seen through the eyes of fictional character Susan Cameron, a single woman homesteader who leaves Missouri to find independence in Wyoming, where women have had the vote, served on juries and in public office since 1865. The following is an excerpt from the novel's first chapter:

Wyoming Territory: June 1, 1889

Susan Cameron awoke from her nap to the sound of gunfire. Bolting upright in her seat, she was surprised when two men rushed past as the train came to a jarring halt. Handguns were drawn and at the ready. Across the aisle, a small boy screamed in his mother’s arms. The woman glanced at Susan with frightened eyes as her young daughter crawled beneath the seat. 

The connecting door burst open and an aging conductor signaled for silence. “Train robbers blocked the tracks. When they come aboard, give ‘em whatever they want or somebody's liable to get killed. You men keep your guns holstered. There's women and children on board."

Heart pounding, Susan removed most of the money from her reticule. Loosening the laces of her high topped shoes, she slipped the bills into the sides of each one. Her dress was then arranged to hide her ankles.

Gunfire ceased as three men entered the coach. Their sweat-stained hats hung low over their brows, bandannas hiding all but their squinting eyes. They were dressed like photographs Susan had seen of working cowhands. 

"Hands up if you wanna live," the first man yelled in graveled voice.. 

The children screamed as their mother attempted to comfort them on the floor between the seats. She pulled their faces to her chest when one of the bandits yelled, "Shut them kids up."

Demanding that everyone stand, two of the disheveled men moved down the aisle, flipping open canvas sacks and ordering them filled. Susan got to her feet and glanced at the other passengers, whose trembling hands were held aloft. She and the young mother across the aisle were the only women occupying the coach. The other seats were filled with men of every description, including a number dressed as cowhands . She wondered if they were members of the gang. 

"Empty your pockets," the first bandit yelled.. "And you ladies open your bags." He offered his canvas sack in one hand while waving his gun with the other. Susan sighed with relief when he walked past to the middle of the coach.

"Guns, money and jewelry," the second man said as he approached Susan's seat. His body odor made her recoil as he stood opposite her. Holding her breath, she emptied the contents of her reticule onto the seat.

"No jewelry?" 

"Single women can't afford jewelry." He wasn’t much taller than Susan and she curbed the urge to grab his gun. 

"Where's the rest of your money? Maybe I oughta search ya."

"While you're doing that, I assure you the men in this coach will disarm you." Susan hoped her voice didn’t belie her bravado.

Grunting, he turned to demand cash from the young woman across the aisle. When she released her children, their screaming increased in volume until passengers' upraised hands were covering their ears. Placing the sack beneath his arm, the burly bandit stooped to reprimand the boy, who promptly bit his hand. 

"What kind of monster are you, slapping that child?" Susan cried.

"Didn't do nuthin' to the brat." Shaking his injured hand, he moved on to passengers in the next row. Amanda Turner dipped her head and smiled her gratitude.

Susan drew a sharp breath. While the bandits were collecting their bounty, she wondered what had happened to the passengers who had rushed from the train. Imaging them lying on their backs, bleeding from multiple wounds, she shook her head to dislodge the disturbing image. 

The third bandit stood guard at the front of the coach, waving his pistol while watching as passengers were relieved of their possessions. When his companions left the train, he fired a shot through the roof and ordered everyone down on the floor. Moments later they were back in their seats, watching the trio ride south through the sagebrush toward the mountains. As she took her seat, Susan heard a chorus of men’s low-voiced cursing.

The conductor mopped his perspiring brow. "Stay in your seats. We're lucky no one was hurt.." Susan yelled above the din. "Where are the missing passengers?" 

The conductor turned back at the connecting door. "Gang members, ma’am. I just watched 'em ride off with the rest of the bunch."

"Why didn't they stay and rob us?"

"I reckon they didn't want anybody to recognize ‘em. They boarded the train down the tracks in Douglas, and probably robbed the adjoining coach. They were wearing masks when they left but I recognized their clothes." He turned and grumbled his way through the connecting door between the coaches.

Susan pulled the money from her shoes and returned the bills to her reticule. No one had warned her about train robbers. What had she gotten herself into? She thought of homesteading as a peaceful venture, and knew that other single women had proved up on land of their own. Could she carve out a living on her homestead, without being robbed? Wyoming Territory had seemed a panacea for a single woman seeking independence. The territorial government had granted women suffrage more than twenty years earlier, allowing them to not only vote, but serve on juries and hold public office. Those privileges alone had brought her to the territory.

Less than an hour later, the train whistle shrieked, signaling the conductor to announce their arrival in Casper. Tired of traveling, Susan rose from her seat, lifted her reticule and made her way down the steps. Standing on a makeshift platform were more than a dozen men, most of them in dusty, wrinkled clothing that must have slept in for quite some time. Several had missing teeth and stringy, shoulder-length hair. Horrified, she drew back when one of them offered his hand. 

"Welcome to Casper, ma’am .”

No Escape: The Sweetwater Tragedy is an historical mystery-suspense novel available at: