Ellis McElry Goodson Gentleman Rancher

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One of the driving forces, if not the main one in the early West, was the rancher. The cowman. The man who put his money where his mouth was. He fought Indians, rustlers, the weather, bad luck, fate itself in establishing his mark on the West. It took more than determination, more than desire, it took iron resolution and the strength and courage to persevere in the face of every kind of adversity imaginable. And he did. It was men like him that created the West.

Back in the mid 1860’s you managed your ranch with an iron hand and common sense, yet with a common core of ethics, a strong sense of morality and a vision. If he was your friend he was your friend for life. And he expected no less from you. This was big land and it took a big man and others like him to settle it.

This is Ellis McElry Goodson. He was an early settler and rancher near Bannack, Montana, a mining town in Southwestern Montana and he sought his fortune in the cattle business rather than mining like everyone else. There was more than one way to strike it rich.  After all miners had to eat too. A man could make a good living for himself and his family by proving the meat for a hungry mining camp. Miners paid dearly for a good steak and the currency was gold. He was essential to the existence of many a town and that made him very wealthy and an important figure in the community. He never called himself a gentleman rancher. That would be unseemly. But everyone else did. When he was mentioned in the ever present conversation that went on in every saloon, street corner, and general store he was called Mr. Goodson, gentleman rancher. He was thought of with respect and he earned it every day. That’s the way it was in the West.

Light In The Darkness

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Often I am struck by the simple beauty of light and darkness at play in this chaotic busy world we live in. We are constantly bombarded with sensory input giving us a continual flow of information from every direction at an accelerating pace until life becomes a blur.

Phones are ringing, screens are feeding us images at a nearly subliminal rate, traffic, crowds, demands from thousands of sources clamoring for our attention, we are in a constant state of call and response. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. We are fast losing our ability to be affected by the simple, the understated, even beauty for its own sake.

While walking through my version of heaven not long ago I came upon this single flower standing alone reaching for the light above, bathed in soft sunlight, stunning in its beauty and was moved by the arresting stillness of it. The play of light and darkness was soothing. The resemblance to an old master’s painting from a far simpler time when people had the ability to be moved by the natural beauty around them came rushing over me like a deluge of happiness. I thought I’d share it with you today, just in case your life has been hectic lately.

Grand Canyon Diorama

This is the proposed sketch for the new Grand Canyon diorama. Due to possible governmental budget cuts (by shortsighted bureaucrats and other government officials with comb overs), where our National parks’ funding for upkeep and improvements is considered a frivolous and unnecessary expense, we have been contacted by the state of Arizona to create a diorama that would be viewable from the various lookouts and other vantage points most used by visitors today. This would be undertaken to help offset some of the detrimental effects that would occur from this shortsighted but lucrative action.

The officials of Arizona, where some of you know the Grand Canyon is currently located, have indicated a growing concern for the likely loss of tourist dollars if large portions of the Grand Canyon are closed to view. The new Wingnut in charge of overseeing our Nation’s National Parks and wildlife’s well being and good health as well as other parts of our citizens lives and freedoms here in our good but not great enough yet country, is proposing that not only should funding be cut for the maintenance of our park system but actual use of the parks should be curtailed as it would be more beneficial to the overall public good if those individuals who insist on visiting our national parks and take nonprofit advantage of its beauty, would stay home and tend to their coal burning furnaces and visit places more suited to enhancing our economy, such as the various golf courses, gambling casinos, high-rise hotels and other privately owned profit centers.

To aid in encouraging this new type of activity large areas of the Grand Canyon will simply be blocked off and closed to viewing. Some of it may simply be filled in and leveled off for building new golf courses, gambling casinos and high-rise hotels and to make it simpler to mine the minerals that may lie beneath now useless land under the Colorado river drainage. This hither to now unused property has not yet been fully developed to extract profits that could be gained by strip mining, river diversion, etc.

Well this could be an unmitigated disaster as there are many people here in America who like to go to these areas, especially the Grand Canyon, just to look at it. They like it. It makes them feel good in a way that is different from losing their money at the craps table in high-rise hotels with gambling casinos. They, the visitors, spend money on bumper stickers, frybread, the occasional hotel room, binoculars to look into the Grand Canyon and other national wonders, t-shirts with pictures of the Grand Canyon on them and phrases like “I’m with Dumbass” and arrows pointing in different directions indicating where dumbass might be, margaritas, sunglasses to replace those that fall into the Grand Canyon, new $8000 digital cameras with even more expense lens’s and straps to keep them from falling into the Grand Canyon when they’re leaning closer to get better pictures, sunburn prevention systems, and tattoos of the Grand Canyon, as you can see the list goes on and on.

With all of the possible catastrophes that could and probably will befall our most scared traditions and places we like but don’t really make the kind of money that large commercial ventures make, the officials of Arizona called and said “Hey, looks like we’ll need some dioramas. Better get busy.” What you see above is the first draft of one of the new Grand Canyon dioramas we are preparing for installation as soon as word comes down to kill the parks. This will be slightly different than our usual 3-D dioramas such as the one in Yellowstone National Park as we cannot get the necessary permits to construct and install our normal fiberglass and concrete dioramas. Instead this will be a 6 mile wide by 47′ ¾” high canvas roller, much like the old window shades you used to get at Woolworths. Remember? The kind that if you let them go before they got to the bottom they’d snap up and roll around the wooden spring thing at the top of the window making this cool flapping sound, then the canvas is mounted on tasteful cast iron or aluminum 60′ uprights shaped like Saguaro cactus in front of each view that you can no longer see as it is gone.

We’ll only be installing these on the South rim as there won’t need to be any for the North rim. Access will not be available to the public as that is where the bulldozer ramps and conveyor belts down to the canyon floor will be set up. Plus the tailings from the ore extraction will be dumping back into the river and that would be dangerous for the public to go wandering through that stuff.

We’d prefer to do the old style diorama as we have to cut slits in the canvas of these new ones to let the wind through so they don’t shred themselves. But since we can’t, there it is, make the best of it. Since most people have short little spans of attention they most likely won’t even remember what the real deal looked like anyway.

It looks like we’ll be making dioramas for the full 137 miles of the canyons length as once these new directives go into effect they’ll be busting hump to get this place shut down and development underway. Let us know if you like the new look of the replacement or not. We’re  going with it regardless but it’s always fun to hear  what you think about it.

In the interest of full disclosure the image above is a photograph taken at the Grand Canyon then run through several versions of software that includes Photoshop (Yes Virginia there is a Photoshop and we use it) to produce an image that looks like a painting. But then you knew that just by looking at it.

Regalia – Buffalo Headdress

Buffalo headdress NCIPA powwow 2016

Regalia is the term most used to describe the clothing and accessories worn by Indians during their ceremonies, competitive dances, and other events. It can be made of exclusively natural materials such as were used by their forefathers including feathers taken from birds caught by the individuals, leather from animals they killed themselves, beads obtained from traders or others, or any kind of item gathered and used by the individuals. This is often referred to as traditional regalia.

Other regalia may be made from newer less traditionally sourced materials such as modern manufactured beads and buttons or any type of adornment that can add to the look of updated regalia worn by individuals.

There is no right or wrong type of regalia worn and used today. In the past, new items such as small mirrors or new pieces of cloth obtained through barter or trade with other tribes or individuals before the trading of newer items began, were soon incorporated into regalia and displayed proudly. Todays use of new fabrics for streamers and accents worn in the regalia of Fancy Dancers today is not only considered acceptable but necessary for the look of the outfits worn by these dancers today.

Above is a beautiful example of a Buffalo headdress seen from the back so you can appreciate the adornments and beadwork of a spectacular example of craftsmanship and traditional styling. This was seen at the 2016 NCIPA powwow in Ft Collins, Colorado.

This image is a photograph processed in various types of software to bring out the beauty of the various items used in its creation. We’ll be bringing you further examples of incredible regalia in future posts.

 

Sees Himself

Tests of bravery come in many forms. There is a lot of pressure for a young man wishing to be seen as a man, or at least seen as older than his brothers who must  watch the pony herd instead of going into battle. His older brothers look at him and watch to see if he is ready. Is he strong enough to go along on a raid yet or does he need more time. He has practiced with his bow until he can hit anything in sight, he has made his own shield and done a vision quest. He has fasted. In his mind he is ready.

There has been constant talk of the blue coats entering the area of the Little bighorn river. The older braves have been continually riding in to talk with the elders after spying on the enemy, there is a steady rise of anticipation of what will surely be a big battle with the one they call yellow hair and the rest of the pony soldiers which has made the camp a beehive of activity. There will be much blood on the greasy grass. Tensions are high as squaws are getting their men’s battle gear out of the beaded deer hide cases they are stored in. The younger girls gathering the youngest together to keep them safe. Men are getting their ponies ready, applying paint on the flanks and withers, braiding feathers into their manes, slapping their handprints onto their necks, talking to them of the brave deeds they will perform. The younger boys excitedly riding around the pony herd keeping them in a tight bunch for when they are needed. Anticipation could not be higher.

For several nights this young warrior has had the same dream. He sees himself on his pony waiting near the edge of village to go out with his brothers. His job is to be one of the decoys that lures the first soldiers away from the village. His part is dangerous, the rifle of the soldiers can reach out a long way. His older brother has told him to lay low on the back of his pony, but to yell loudly and appeared scared so that the soldiers looking for an easy kill will follow them. It’s an important job and he is nearly bursting with pride to have been chosen.

He does not want to fail in his task and that is his biggest fear. To some how let down his brothers which is why he has not slept for more than a few hours each night. His dream comes whenever he closes his eyes but as dreams often do, the answer of his bravery is just out of his reach. So it is with some trepidation when the call comes to leap into action. He is certain he will brave but he is slightly worried that for some terrible reason he won’t be. In a few moments he and everyone else will know for sure. He sees himself and now is the moment of truth.

 

Misses His Friends

Young men and war. How glorious it is. Sitting around the campfire, hearing the elders talk about battles they had when they were young warriors. Riding out across the prairie with a comrade and speaking of brave deeds you would do if given a chance. Scalps you would take, coup you would count, enemies dying on your lance or from your arrows. The excitement, the stories to bring back to the lodge of your prowess in battle, the admiring glances of the young maidens. All this and more if you can only get into the next fight. How agonizing not to have participated yet and be a respected warrior.

Then it happens. You get your opportunity to wage war with your sworn enemy. In this case it is the blue coats that have been relentlessly entering your land, running off the game, killing anyone they see. They’re coming and it will be a big battle, the biggest anyone has ever seen. The biggest in the memory of even the oldest old man in the village. Bigger even than the old mans grandfather could have remembered were you able to ask him. All the tribes are joining together to take part in this exciting, exhilarating, awful, incredible magnificent event. The medicine men have been singing of visions they have had where the Greasy grass is covered with the dead, the women going from body to body making sure no one is alive. Guns, rifles, and pistols laying about for the taking. Reputations made, brave acts to sing about for generations. And you and your friends will play a part. You will  be the relentless, merciless warrior and be victorious in this battle just as you have dreamed of since you  were a child.

And then after a time filled with smoke and war cries, violence and death it is over. The Greasy grass is indeed covered with the dead just as foreseen by the visionaries and the spoils of war have been collected and it’s time for feasts and celebrations, and dancing and story telling, and a time to come down from that glorious battle high and look around you for your friends. That’s when you find that several of them are not at the celebration and never will be again. They’re among the dead laying in the Greasy grass. Killed by the enemy you were victorious over.

Suddenly in the aftermath of what was your greatest adventure you see that those friends that you rode with and boasted with and fought alongside of are no more. They are the same as the enemy now, lifeless and scattered across the land waiting for loved ones to come gather them for preparation to spend eternity in that other world where the dead reside. Songs will be sung about them that will live in the hearts of some for a while but the truth is they are gone forever now and will not share anything with you ever again. This death today is permanent. There will be more conquests and defeats for you to come, very likely more  of the latter than the former but those boyhood friends will not be a part of them. Now you think and mourn, the shine has gone off the day and in reflection you find that there is a high price to pay for glory. Perhaps too high but that’s something to think about later. His name tonight is Misses His Friends.

 

Hostiles!

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In our ongoing work of researching events that have taken place here in the West we have discovered a little known fact relating to the Battle of the Little Bighorn and it is nothing short of amazing. Although thousands of hours of research and numerous books have been devoted to the climatic events of June 1876 where General George Armstrong Custer led the valiant men of the 7th Cavalry into one of the greatest defeats in American history at the hands of the largest assemblage of Indians ever gathered, they missed one amazing fact.

That fact was there was an unknown photographer attached to the regiment to record the anticipated victory of the General in the expected upcoming battles with the various tribes. His name is unrecorded in the rolls of the members of the expedition so it is surmised that he must have volunteered to accompany them after the orders were cut for the forth coming action by Custer and the 7th. It is more probable that Custer met him and hired him out of his own pocket to immortalize his place in history, which would account for him not being on the official records. We are diligently working to learn more about this photographer but have been stymied by the lack of information we can make up.

We were researching the early records of the battle in a dim musty room in the basement of the Bighorn county courthouse in Hardin Montana for a project of our own, when a decrepit old file folder fell out from behind a desk we were moving and split open. Inside was a treasure trove of faded pictures, handwritten notes, folded maps, a few letters from some of the enlisted men they had given the photographer to be mailed when they got back to civilization and other odds and ends.

As far as can be determined these items were placed in the courthouse around 1915 two years after the Courthouse was built, and were destined to be held there until a proper museum could be built where they were then to be put on display for all to see. Evidentially the folder containing all of the items had slipped down behind the desk and were forgotten until we happened across them.

As we sorted through the hundreds of pictures of the daily lives of the men of the 7th cavalry, including various depictions of actions that took place along the way of men on horseback, wagons filled with the supplies needed to support a mission of this size  pulled by mules, the Officers leading the troop, even the General himself, and remarkably even some of the hostiles, the image above came to our attention.

Images printed on paper from fragile pixels, as opposed to those images done on glass plates, or the even older method used by Daguerreotypes, were just coming into favor at this time and this one was beautifully hand-tinted with the utmost care taken to recreate the colors as they must have been when the picture was recorded. Each print had been carefully noted with the men’s names, the date of the image, the location, etc. in pencil on the back of each print. Unfortunately in this case of this image the names and some of the other information had been disfigured and faded due to the image getting wet at some point.

We were able to make out the name of the river, “Little Bighorn”, the date “something illegible – 1876”, and mysteriously the phrase “Hostile’s!”. Whether this pertained to Indians in pursuit of what appear to be two scouts returning, or some other event related to Indian activity we cannot ascertain at this point. Perhaps more information will turn up as we study this material further.

We are incredibly fortunate to have discovered this invaluable material and are busy sifting through it gleaning whatever new information might be hidden within its faded remains. We will be passing on anything we find that sheds new light on this important time in our history, and perhaps more about this unknown photographer.