Friday, December 8, 2017

Let's Go To The Rodeo

Modern rodeo had its start with the Spanish ranchos in California. It's very difficult to trace the first rodeo in America. Many towns make this claim, including Santa Fe, New Mexico (1847), Deer Trail, Colorado (1869) and Pecos, Texas (1883). Much of what we know today as the sport of rodeo came from the Prescott, Arizona rodeo on July 4, 1888. Their committee established the following that still hold true today: prizes awarded, rules for competition, admission charged, cowboys invited to compete, and a committee to organize.

The events included bronco riding, steer roping and cow pony races. In 1889, the first steer riding competition was held, and by 1917, calf roping was added to the list of events.

Here are some of the events you will see at the rodeo:

Saddle bronc riding: Each rider must begin the ride with his feet over the horse's shoulders to give the animal an advantage. Scoring depends on the cowboy's control throughout the ride, the length of his spur sweeps, the synchronization of those sweeps with the bucking of the horse, and how hard the horse actually bucks. Riders are disqualified if they touch the animal, the equipment or themselves with their free hand; if either foot slips out of the stirrup; if they drop the bronc rein, or if they are bucked off.

Bareback bronc riding: Scoring is similar to saddle bronc riding, but the rider has only a leather and rawhide "rigging" to hold onto with one hand. The horse's performance counts fifty percent of the score in this event.

Bull riding: Bull riders usually don't spur the animals -- it's enough to remain atop an animal weighing several tons who is as quick as he is hefty! The rider usually tries to lean forward "over his head" at all times to avoid being whipped backwards when the animal bucks. Scoring is similar to bronc riding, with the bull's performance counting for fifty percent of the score.

Tie-down roping: Success in this event depends on teamwork between the cowboy and his horse. Once the calf is given a head start, horse and rider give chase and attempt to rope and tie the calf. A ten-second penalty is given if the cowboy "breaks the barrier" and fails to give the calf its full head start. The run is considered invalid if the calf kicks free of the rope within six seconds. Tie-down roping is a timed event, with scoring based on how long it takes to rope and tie the calf.

Steer wrestling (Bull-dogging): The steer wrestler starts on horseback, assisted by a mounted hazer who keeps the steer running in a straight line. The wrestler must leap down beside the steer and wrestle it to the ground by twisting its horns. The clock stops when the steer is on its side with all four legs pointing in the same direction. This is another timed event, with scoring depending on how quickly the cowboy can down his steer.

Team roping: The first cowboy (the header) ropes the steer's horns or neck (or "half head," which is one horn and the neck). He then dallies his rope around the saddle horn and turns the steer in an arc to the left. The second cowboy (the heeler) then attempts to lasso both hind legs. A ten-second penalty is given if only one leg is roped. Time is stopped when both horses are facing one another.

Barrel racing: Horse and race into the arena, with time starting as soon as they enter. They ride a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels in the arena and race back out, with time stopping at their exit. The riders can touch or move the barrels, but a five-second penalty is given for any barrel knocked over.

Now you and your characters can enjoy a good rip-snorting rodeo in the Old West.

J.E.S. Hays

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.              Horace Mann

The One-Room Classroom Guidelines
By Julie Hanks, Ph.D. aka  Jesse J Elliot

Classroom Guidelines

1.     Boys and Girls shall file into classroom in separate lines and be seated quietly on opposite sides of the room. Five minutes tardy in the morning equals one hour after school.
2.     Boys shall remove their caps when entering.
3.     Children must sit up straight at all times.
4.    Children must not squirm, fidget, or whine.
5.    Children must be clean and tidy in clothing.
6.    There will be a daily inspection of neck, ears and fingernails prior to class to ensure cleanliness of person.
7.     Nothing shall be dipped into inkwells except pens.
8.     Homework will be handed into the teacher every morning. Double assignments if homework is not done.
9.    Children must write with their right hand only. Children who are caught writing with their left hand=one ruler rap on the knuckles.
10. Children must be quiet and respectful.
11. Children will only speak when spoken to.  Talking in class=one whack with a rod.
12. Nothing shall be thrown in class. Such behavior=5 wracks with a rod.
13. Chewing of tobacco or spitting is prohibited. Chewing of tobacco or spitting=seven wracks of the rod.
14. Speaking immoral language will result in suspensions.
15. Carving on desks or defacing school property will result in expulsion.
16. Fighting, lying, or cheating will result in Expulsion.

         The one-room classroom remains an icon of the pioneer spirit of America. Its purpose was to prepare and assimilate the new citizens of America and later, the new citizens of the American West. Students were well versed in patriotism, practical math, reading, writing, and memorization. Manners and common etiquette were also a part of the lesson plan, and generally for the most part, students learned to be viable citizens, capable of working a farm, a ranch, a household, or small business. Horace Mann’s dream of universal education was realized in the phenomenon of the one-room schoolhouse.
         However, what about those kids who were special learners, outliers, or just overly active kids? In the one-size fits all classroom, students had to conform or spend their entire time in the corner, holding up a book, or wearing a dunce hat. Many students probably dropped out.
         #4 on list below:  Children must not squirm, fidget, or whine? My first student teacher coordinator made us sit and observe our assigned class before we taught. For an hour, we were to choose a few boys and compare them to a few girls, counting the times they moved while sitting at the desk, either with their legs, fingers, pencils, etc.  We were to mark down every movement. Some of the boys (and a few girls) moved at least twice as much as the majority of girls (natural muscle development), some moved three to five times as much, and one boy moved sixty times more than the little girl who sat like a statue! These boys were typical. They wiggled, pulled girls’ hair, touched themselves, threw spit wads, etc.  And, this is not even counting the children with ADD. How in the world were they able to observe the apparently stringent rules of the one-room classroom?
         Most modern teachers recognize these natural and healthy movements of muscle development. To accommodate movement and intellectual interests, there are classroom learning centers, trips to the library, PE as well as recess, class stretches, etc. Children who must move a little more than the other children might sit a bit away from the other kids or in an aisle seat.
         #9 Children must write with their right hand only. Children who are caught writing with their left hand=one ruler rap on the knuckles. My grandson is left-handed. How many of you out there are left-handed? Why did your parents and your teachers try to discourage you from using your left hand?  Well, superficially it’s definitely tricky when it comes to scissors, desks, or baseball gloves, etc.  However, there is much more: “Throughout much of history, massive stigmas attached to left-handedness meant they were singled out as everything from unclean to witches. In Medieval times, writing with your left-hand was a surefire way to be accused of being possessed by the devil; after all, the devil himself was thought to be a lefty.”
         Fortunately, today we know not to try and switch a left-handed child to a right-handed one, and thankfully a lot of physical and mental stress for that child is avoided. Handedness is directly related to the brain, and forcing a child to use a side of his/her body may lead to learning problems, frustration, and misconduct—even traumatization.
However, fortunately, the one-room schoolhouses did educate America and still do in isolated areas. Their efficiency and success is attributed to dedicated teachers, peer tutoring, a sense of community, and creative instruction when a paucity of materials exists.
Certainly there were children who did not succeed because of numerable issues--physical and mental problems as well as outlying learning problems that we did not recognize then. We are doing much better dealing with heterogeneous student populations; however, in many cases we still haven’t mastered the understanding and the skills to deal with those differences today.
 Some teachers followed every rule while some followed some of the rules. Children without access to water (no well or running stream) were probably unable to fulfill the cleanliness guidelines (#5 and #6), and I am sure the kinder teachers did not adhere to these guidelines as adamantly as less sensitive teachers. However, #7 was probably enforced regularly, especially when it involved dipping pigtails into the inkwell and not the child’s pen.
Desks were expensive and hard to come by. In 1956, I sat in the old-fashioned desks in Fresno, CA, and I often imagined using a pen and inkwell and not my mandatory pencil. Number 15 had to be enforced, because though old and worn, the surfaces of most of those desks in the classroom were free of defacement and carving.
Whether the one-room schoolrooms had excellent teachers or not, the majority of Americans who attended them often had fond memories of their studies and classmates. Unfortunately, those who didn’t fit the mold dropped or were forced out, and their opinions and experiences are not recorded.
Hopefully you enjoyed reminiscing into the past. As a former educator, I would give anything to be a fly on the wall in the One-Room Schoolhouse.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Story Behind the Unfinished Story

Writers have their own kind of jargon.

People who write without a formal outline on hand sometimes refer to themselves as “pantsers” as in “writing by the seat of the pants.” Or we say that we “write into the dark.”

This month you might hear your normally lucid and rational writer friend start babbling about “NaNoWriMo” —which stands for National Novel Writing Month, a time when some hunker down during the holidays to finally finish that WIP.

And there’s another one! (WIP is—of course—an acronym for Work in Progress.)

The piece of jargon I’ve been thinking about today is “Trunk Story.” How many of you reading this have a trunk story you could dredge up, probably within a few minutes? How many of you have more than one?

Here’s another question. Should a Trunk Story be complete?

Is it a finished work, but put away in the trunk—nowadays usually an electronic trunk—because it didn’t find a home or was deemed unworthy?

Or, like old scraps stashed away in a quilter’s horde, is a lot of the material in your trunk in pieces?

Three years ago, I started on one such scrap, a story called “If Stars Hate Wire.”

It started off well enough. It ended without an ending. Or and ending that left me thinking...what next?

Tuck O’Brian and Ron Bruce are two cowboys in 1903 Nebraska, working on the Graham-Jessom spread. Like a lot of ranch hands at the time, they’re forced to deal with a changing landscape. The Kinkaiders are coming, and these new settlers (often called “nesters”) seem to be getting all the breaks.

And all the sympathy.

I had two reasons I wanted to explore Tuck and Ron’s story. One was to take a look at the traditional rancher vs. farmer conflict from the POV of a typical cowboy of the times. I also wanted to write about the general development of the Nebraska Sandhills.

I got a few pages in, enjoyed what I had written.

And just stopped.

Sometimes we stop because we can’t see light at the end of the tunnel.

Sometimes we’re just not happy with what we’ve done. We don’t like the characters. Or maybe the setting seems wrong.

In this case, I stopped because I realized early on that this was going to be longer than a few thousand words. The scope of the story was more than I was comfortable committing to in the few days I had to write.

Now that it's back out in the open...I'm not so sure.  Please give it a read and tell me what you would do. Would you wrap it up, or continue? Or put it back in the trunk?

Please share some comments, and your own Trunk Story stories below.

You can read the unfinished story “If the Stars Hate Wire,” here.

After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. In 2016, Richard roped the Spur Award for short fiction given by Western Writers of America. Read more at