Of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday

Were Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp really friends? I wondered and did some research. Original sources show that in the Wild West the line between outlaw and town marshal were sometimes blurry. Such was the case with John Henry “Doc” Holliday and Wyatt Earp. Holliday was born 1851 in Georgia. His mother died of tuberculosis shortly after his 15th birthday. The disease would take other family members and finally Holliday as well. He was educated at the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery and practiced for a short time as a dentist. When Holliday was diagnosed with tuberculosis he headed west. He found he had a talent for cards. Perhaps his tuberculosis made him a fatalist, but whatever the reason Doc Holliday wasn’t afraid to fight with guns or knives. He drifted about the West earning a bloody reputation until, in Shanssey’s saloon in Fort Griffin, Texas, he met the only woman who mattered to him: Big Nose Kate, a doctor’s daughter who had become a frontier dance hall woman and prostitute. In the same saloon he soon met Earp.

Earp rode in from Dodge City, Kansas, on the trail of a train robber. They hit it off. Doc even helped Wyatt hunt for the bandit. Doc later rode to Dodge City to play cards with Earp; however, he discovered that Wyatt had gone to a new silver strike in a place called Tombstone, Arizona. Doc followed Earp there. All of the Earp brothers were bound for Tombstone, too. Morgan was coming in from Montana, Wyatt and James from Dodge City, and Virgil from Prescott, Arizona.

When they arrived they found that a gang in Tombstone had things their way. This gang resented the arrival of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. Old Man Clanton, his sons, Ike, Phin, and Billy, the McLaury brothers (Frank and Tom), Curly Bill Brocius, John Ringo, and more were soon to famously butt heads with the Earp family and Doc Holliday.

Events exploded in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The gunfight took place at about 3 p.m. on Wednesday October 26, 1881, in Tombstone. On one side was the law—Virgil, Morgan, and Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holliday. On the other side was gang the Cowboys—Ike Clanton, Billy Claiborne, Billy Clanton, and Tom and Frank McLaury. The shooting lasted about 30 seconds. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne ran from the fight unharmed. Billy Clanton and both McLaury brothers were killed.

Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday would later ride together against the Cowboys in what is known as the “Earp Vendetta Ride.” The best movie that follows the complex series of gun battles and personalities is Tombstone (1993) with Kurt Russell as Wyatt and Val Kilmer as Doc; however, no movie has been completely honest about the historical events. But then, a lot of the history is in dispute. What we do know is that for better or worse, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday had such a profound friendship it passed into legend.

Mr. President, Don’t Pardon Another Turkey

Mr. President, withhold your pardon. It’s time you dined on your Thanksgiving turkey. After all, would the starving pilgrims have pardoned a tom on the first Thanksgiving? Don’t millions of Americans settle around tables each autumn, thank the Lord for providing, and feast on turkey in celebration of the nation’s sacrifices to earn its bounty? Don’t millions of American hunters still kill their own gobblers each year, and thereby celebrate our connection with nature and our heritage? Why are you shirking all this?

It’s time, Mr. President, you broke the precedent, sharpened your axe, took that tom out to the figurative woodshed behind the White House and secured a fresh turkey dinner. Maybe even have a few foreign dignitaries over for the feast. In fact, invite anyone who needs to learn America still means business, such as Mr. Putin perhaps. Have them come along as you sharpen your axe, kill and pluck the night’s main course, and they’ll certainly learn America is still a country of men.

Besides, the precedent of padoning a turkey on Thanksgiving hardly goes back to George Washington—no old George would have carved a new set of teeth for the feast. Though live Thanksgiving turkeys have been presented intermittently to presidents since Abraham Lincoln’s administration, some say the current ceremony dates back to President Harry Truman in 1947; however, according to the Harry S. Truman Library, no records are known to exist that indicate he ever “pardoned” a turkey. President John F. Kennedy, however, is said to have spontaneously spared a turkey on Nov. 19, 1963. The tom was wearing a sign that read, “Good Eatin’ Mr. President.” And Kennedy, the old softy, reportedly said, “Let’s just keep him.”

President Dwight Eisenhower wasn’t so effeminate. Documents in the Eisenhower Presidential Library say he ate the birds presented to him. So there’s your precedent Mr. President. After all, the tom is a commercial turkey and so can’t live on its own. And, come on, do we really need another turkey on the public dole? Instead, let’s put this one to good use.

Eating the turkey would even be an act of mercy. The pardoned birds used to be sent to Virginia’s Frying Pan Park—talk about a hint. However, they’re now thrust, unbeknowest to them, into showbiz. Starting in 2005, the pardoned turkeys have been drafted to serve as public officials at either Disneyland or Disney World where they’ve been honory Grand Marshals of Disney’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Don’t we already have enough turkeys employed as politicians? And don’t we already have enough people living under Disney-inspired fantasies?

Just think what a statement chowing down on the tom would be. With every bite Mr. President, you’d be making all your adversaries swallow their tongues.

New England Grouse Dreaming

For a few weeks in October New England forests are awash with an impressionist’s pastels. Soon the color drips in fallen leaves to the forest floor where grouse drum and the Robert Frost poem “October” (O hushed October morning mild; Thy leaves have ripened to the fall … .) seems to be whispered by the wind.

Now, though we’re seduced by the natural splendor, we’re careful how much we say so. Articulating such things just isn’t manly. It isn’t what hunters do. But, as I crumble under a maple on a colorful mountain, I know it isn’t just the cagey ruffed grouse that drew me north to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom in late October.

I kick yellow leaves in frustration. I know too well why the word “grousing” was coined. I’d crunched down an overgrown logging road under trees shedding a rainbow of hardwood leaves and when the flush finally came the bird blasted off behind me. I turned, shot off balance and missed badly. The miss reminded me that New England grouse hunting is for masochists.

I grew up breaking brush and shouldering a gun all-of-a-sudden when this brown-and-gray game bird booms its wings and rockets up and twists away, giving glimpses when you’re fortunate. Now I’m reminded that the past can be mischievous, even a shape shifter. Time slips by but doesn’t just peel away as memories fade; no, they can also grow more golden—recollections thereby become masters of spin.

Maybe that’s what drew me north to hunt grouse. Surely I was influenced by memories whispering things like: Don’t you want to drive the meandering byways over red covered bridges? Don’t you want to see the autumn sun making color-splashed trees shine like fallen rainbows as you hunt for the explosive ruffed grouse? Come on, this is when the words from Corey Ford’s “The Road to Tinkhamtown” are tossed over a mountainous landscape; this is when grouse drum and woodcock wing through; this is when a bird dog becomes part of living art … . And so go the one-sided and awfully wistful deceptions.

Of course, I concede there must be sparks of truth in the remembrances because Corey Ford himself wrote in that elegant story: “The past never changes. You leave it and go on to the present, but it is still there, waiting for you to come back to it.”

See the rest of my article at AmericanHunter.org.

A Hemingway Kind of Year

“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated. ” –Ernest Hemingway, from The Old Man and the Sea


It’s been a Hemingway sort of year for me. I followed his footsteps through Paris and drank martinis in the places he did and looked on the very paintings from Paul Cezanne and more he said shaped his writing. I then went to Pamplona and ran with the bulls and saw all he wrote about in The Sun Also Rises. I went with two friends—one new and one old—to the places in the Pyrenees where Hemingway fished for trout in Spain and wrote about deceivingly in The Sun Also Rises.

Finally, I went to sea and caught tarpon and tried and tried for a marlin like Hemingway loved to do. No marlin took the bait but that’s fishing too and is a lesson from The Old Man and the Sea, a story that lets us know we can try but can’t always succeed. Like much of Hemingway’s storytelling it tells us that whether we fail or succeed it’s how we handle winning and losing that really matters. And anyway, I caught jacks, snook and more and even helped save a sea turtle from a commercial fishermen’s net.

Also, an 80-pound tarpon I fought for 20 minutes and landed along Costa Rica’s east coast made me think of another Hemingway quote from The Old Man and the Sea: “Let him think that I am more man than I am and I will be so.”

Of Mice and Men

Sunday night I found myself cheering as Alex Rodriguez stomped on home plate after he smashed a homer off Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster. Now Rodriguez is hardly an example of what a man should be. Incredible athlete yes, but his ethics end when they get in his way and that’s not how a real man acts. That said, Sunday night’s game said something about manliness that must be noted.

In the second inning Dempster threw behind Rodriguez. Dempster then went inside on two pitches before drilling Rodriguez with a 92 mph fastball.

Home-plate umpire Brian O’Nora didn’t warn Dempster during the first three attempts to hit Rodriguez. Then when Dempster did hit Rodriguez, O’Nora didn’t toss Dempster. He just warned both benches—as if the Yankees deserved a warning.

Yankee Manager Joe Girardi got right in O’Nora’s face and was thrown from the game. Love, hate or tolerate Rodriguez, Girardi was standing up for his player and for what is right—that’s manly stuff. Girardi later said, “You can’t start throwing at people. Lives are changed by getting hit by pitches. Whether I agree with everything that’s going on, you do not throw at people and you don’t take the law into your own hands. You don’t do that. We’re going to skip the judicial system? It’s ‘My Cousin Vinny.'”

Even worse, when an umpire tolerates a player who intentionally hits another player the game falls apart. The umpire is the cop on the scene, the rule enforcer. When he decides to overlook such an obvious infraction he becomes complicit and the game becomes a farce.

Rodriguez’s home run exacted revenge and sparked a four-run sixth inning that lead the Yankees to a 9-6 victory. Rodriguez later said, “Whether you like me or hate me, that was wrong. It was unprofessional and silly.” Rodriguez is right about that much.

Dempster lied and said he’d been trying to throw inside to Rodriguez, a falsity that was supported by Red Sox manager John Farrell. By obviously lying both showed themselves to poor examples of men. They’d of been better off keeping their mouths shut—stoicism is often manly.

The only one who came out as a man was Girardi. Rodriguez became a sympathetic character for a moment—not an easy thing to accomplish—and Dempster lost the game and his machismo, saying, “I’m more disappointed in the fact that I couldn’t hold a 6-3 lead. That’s the bigger story.” No Dempster, that you behaved like a child and weren’t tossed for it is the story. That Rodriguez made you pay simply evened the score.

Why Some Run with Bulls

When I stepped on the crowded street in Pamplona, Spain, to run with bulls I thought of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” about being a man and remembered its first words: “If you can keep your head when all about you
are losing theirs….” I knew I needed to find the zone, to be calm in myself while observing and moving properly with what was coming. So I stood still in my white pants and shirt, clothes that symbolize what Spanish peasants once wore, and red sash and bandana, which symbolize the blood of the martyred saint San Fermin that this festival celebrates, and waited within the nervous crowd. Most were young men. A few were young women. A young Brit asked me from which direction the bulls would be coming. I pointed back toward the bullpen and told him “if you’re knocked down near the bulls stay down.” He smiled. A young woman stomped by me in rubber boots. When someone said she shouldn’t run in those she shouted at him, “I don’t have anything else. I didn’t know I was going to do this.” Then she stomped off. Many of these people were there for the rush, to say they ran with the bulls. They didn’t know what it was about. This to me seemed like a good metaphor for life within a heedless populace. Then the crowd began to shudder. Ripples would roll through like shivvers of fear. A few began to run early. It was nearing 8 a.m. and soon we’d hear the rocket telling us the bulls were coming.

A man named Juan Macho, my guide to this ancient festival, taught me the rules to running. He showed me there is more depth to running with the bulls than an adrenaline rush. He introduced me to his circle of veteran runners. One gray-haired, little American who has been running for decades said, “If you’re not living on the edge you’re taking up too much room.” Another gentleman was wearing a pin that said, “Down these mean streets a man must go.” After each run I’d ask both veterans and first-time runners why they did it and what it did for them. The common theme was that life must be lived, that playing it too safe all the time leads one to forget what life is all about, that no one lives forever. Some said when they get in the zone and find themselves running with bulls they experience something that’s almost out of body. They are in the street with the bulls of moving crowd in white and red and see themselves from afar. In the end they’ve learned to control their fear and that is something to help them live. All of them said they cherish the friends they’ve made in Pamplona—friendships made more intense by the shared experience of being close to fighting bulls.

I didn’t run every morning—the bulls run eight days in a row—but I got in the street again and again trying to understand, trying to get the perfect run. When the bulls come it’s over very fast. Sometimes they came uncomfortably close in the tight streets. One morning I was inches from the horns. People were hurt, some badly. Most walked away to the bars, jumpy from adrenaline and with the knowledge they’re alive.

Of course it is all much more complicated than this, but I’ll save the inside story about the tight group of veteran runners I spent the festival with, the religious foundation, the telling myths, the wild characters I met and the profound things they said for the book I’m working on.

Though as I write this and think about my runs and all those crazy people the last lines from Kipling’s “If” keep running through my head:

 

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Hunters Have Always Loved Wildlife

While hunting for gemsbuck in South Africa in early June I heard rock carvings etched by Bushmen who knows how long ago were hidden in the rocks near an ancient waterhole. I’ve seen paintings and etchings from ancient hunters in New York, Utah and New Mexico. Later this summer I’m going to see ancient Spanish cave paintings. As a hunter I feel drawn to this prehistoric art. They say something about the connection hunters have with the wildlife that sustain us. Some think hunters today are trying to prove their manhood by killing. I think they’re right, but that the manhood they’re affirming is much deeper and more honest than killing to establish dominance or control. Hunting honestly is to connect yourself to nature and understand and love its process as you experience it. The ancient rock art and modern photos and more show that those who hunt tend to revere what they hunt. They’re connected to it in a very literal way. The Spanish writer Jose Ortega y Gasset said this well when he wrote, “One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.” I know this from experience and I know this can be very difficult to articulate to someone who only buys their meat and has become very disconnected from where their sustenance comes from. So I asked to see the Bushmen art and found that the etchings are just far enough away from the waterhole to allow the ancient hunters to hide and wait for game to come. The art is how a few Bushmen passed their time as they waited for game they revered to come.

The Gunny Likes My First Book!

A college chum who edits Tactical Knives magazine sent me this photo of R. Lee Ermey “The Gunny” with my first book. In his column “Gunny Back Talk” in the July issue of Tactical Knives Gunny answers the question, “Do you have a new book for us?” Gunny writes, “I sure do, and it’s one our readers are going to love. It’s called The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting, by Frank Miniter. There’s nothing flaky left-wingers and liberals hate more than hunting, and here’s a book that blows the antis’ viewpoints all to hell. This book shreds every anti-hunting argument to pieces…. If you’re a hunter, you’ve got to have this book to help you tell the next anti-hunter you meet to ‘Shove it!’” Nothing like an ultimate man giving you a nod of approval.

The Misunderstood Life of a Beretta Man

More Americans need to be acquainted with the Beretta man. He shows how millions of Americans see guns. The Beretta man has a shotgun that’s a work of art. It might be an over/under with a grainy walnut stock, blued metal and engravings of a bird dog and maybe a pheasant on its receiver. Or it might be a semi-automatic Benelli (a Beretta-owned company) with a carbon-fiber stock and inertia-driven action. In either case, the Beretta man stands with his back straight and the shotgun in the crook of his arm. He is wearing a shooting vest and shooting glasses. He has class. He is how James Bond would look if he went skeet shooting. He’s sophisticated, but hardly a snob. He has what the Spanish call duende, a characteristic James Michener said is almost indefinable, as it means something with taste, refinement, beauty, perfection and elegance all in just the right proportion and with no showiness at all. He is what the Japanese mean when they use the word shibui, which is something a Samurai tried to embody, but only could manage in fleeting moments when life and art meet before again separating with a bad gesture or misstep.

Of course, he isn’t any more real than James Bond. But what archetype is? He’s an American icon men want to be. He’s an ideal never reached but, if you do everything right, might be you for just a manly moment when you shoot a perfect round and thereby master yourself. In that moment a Spaniard might proclaim, “Gracia.” This is another word that deals not with things but with the essence of things and so is fleeting in an empirical age that trusts science to answer everything for us while disdaining the effervescent quality of philosophy. Though now misunderstood by op-ed writers at The New York Times, even the fashion set is aware of the Beretta man. Beretta, after all, has stores in Milan, Paris, London and New York. Oh, there’s one in Dallas, too.

This image is what President Barack Obama tried to represent when the White House leaked a photo of him “shooting skeet” with a shotgun held too horizontal for skeet shooting and with a choke missing from the bottom barrel (it takes two for skeet)—clear signs the shot was a stunt. Instead of being the Beretta man, Obama became a laughable parody of something he doesn’t understand, but at least on some level he knows such an archetype exists.

What he doesn’t seem to grasp is that, to people who want to be a Beretta man, or a Winchester man, or a Colt man … guns aren’t a negative thing; they’re a manly a thing a real man knows how to use safely and well. And therein lies the political miscalculation of anti-gun-freedom politicians.

For more, see my column at Forbes.com.

How “Facebook Friends” Can Be Pals

In his book Rhetoric, Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) used the term philía to define friendship as Platonic, virtuous love. Aristotle said philía is “wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one’s own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him.” In ancient texts, philos denoted a general type of love, used for love between family, friends and combined with a desire or enjoyment of an activity. Aristotle defined this characteristic to show the importance of true friendship between pals. Could we say this today about most of our Facebook friends? A more honest parlance would be “Facebook acquaintances” or in some cases simply “Facebook fans.” Not that Facebook is necessarily bad. Facebook friendships, rather, simply need to be seen for what they are.

In comparison, consider what C.S. Lewis had to say in his 1960 book The Four Loves C.S. Lewis argued that without a shared experience, a passion for a hobby or really anything that interests us that we share with another, friendship doesn’t grow or last. This is why friendships that aren’t about something are shallow and easily ended. This is why some high school or college pals fade away after graduation, as the shared experience of school is over. This is also why Facebook friends are only acquaintances until you find a shared experience with them.