Saturday, December 06, 2008

Unbridled Cowboy

Today we welcome another author to WITS blog. Actually, Bob Fussell is the grandson of the author, Joe Fussell. Bob has a very interesting story to tell about the story. By that, I mean, the book is interesting, but so is the story of how it came to be accepted by a publisher after the author's death. Read on...

Unbridled Cowboy is a riveting firsthand account of a defiant hell-raiser in the wild and tumultuous American Southwest in the late 1800s. At the age of fourteen, Joe Fussell hopped trains to escape from school and the authority he scorned. Joe became a roving cowpuncher across the Texas territory, tilling the land, wrangling cattle, and working in livery stables, moving on whenever his feet began to itch.

In a time and place with no law, the young cowboy exacted revenge on those who trespassed against him or those who abused authority. Joe recounts tales of cowboy adventures, narrow escapes, and undercover work as a Texas Ranger. Even after marriage, a spark of his wild cowboy spirit remained during the rise of the railroads in the Southwest when he worked as a switchman and yardmaster.

Joe's unadorned prose is as exposed and simple as the wide open Texas plains. His unpretentious and unique voice embodies the spirit of the old West.

About Joseph Fussell

Joseph B. Fussell was born in Tyler, Texas in 1879, the son of a cowboy and buffalo hunter. At fourteen, Joe quit school and ran away from home after nearly killing the school bully.

Fussell trekked across the Southwest working as a cowboy and livery stable operator. As a ranch hand in northern Mexico, he barely escaped the fate of his American friend who died at the bottom of a well.

At 27, he married and began a family. Ten years later, when Mexico was in the throes of civil war, Fussell took a perilous journey to Vera Cruz to check on the suitability of some land for oil drilling. After a stint as an undercover Texas Ranger, Joe began a new career in Arizona as Yardmaster and Librarian for the Santa Fe Railroad. During this time, he became politically active writing compelling letters to politicians and newspapers. After retiring from the Santa Fe in 1945, Fussell moved to California to be near his daughter and family.

With little formal training, Fussell wrote this riveting memoir about real life in the West at the turn of the century. He died in 1957.

Remarks of Bob Fussell, author’s grandson and editor of Joe Fussell’s Unbridled Cowboy

I remember my grandfather, Joe Fussell, as a rather tall, skinny old man who rolled his own cigarettes, wore Stetsons, never sat with his back to a window, and told exciting stories about the Old West. A riveting speaker and very loving man, he gave me books about the West of his father’s time which I still own. While he and my grandmother lived in Alhambra California and I lived in Western New York State we visited each other from time to time. Joe died when I was fifteen.

Gramps wrote his autobiography in 1948 when he was 68 years old. My father never told me about the book, but I learned about it when Aunt Helen, my father’s sister, gave me a copy in 1966. At that time I was 23 and making a trip around the United States, stopping to visit she and my uncle Johnny at their home in Idaho. For decades I had hoped to edit and publish the book, but nothing happened with the manuscript until 2002 when my admin entered it onto computer. By this time, I had written a novel and taken classes in writing at Writers & Books in Rochester.

After editing was complete, I met Dr. Gary Ostrower through a mutual friend. The History Professor from New York’s Alfred University was very impressed with the book and urged me to attend the Western History Association’s annual meeting in Saint Louis in October 2006 to meet with publishers. I spent several days in Saint Louis while presenting the manuscript.

Soon after my return to New York, I was contacted by Truman State University Press who distributed copies to advance readers who reviewed the book.

A few months later, Truman State sent me the excellent reviews from their anonymous readers. I subsequently learned that two of the readers were Texas historian and author Mike Cox and US historian Alfred Runte. Based upon their reviews, Truman State offered to publish my grandfather’s memoir.

I believe the story is totally accurate, as do Truman State’s readers, and partly for the same reasons. Dr. Runte said, “There is no reason for this manuscript to be a hoax. The investment in this amount of material would be substantial, and in some cases hard to glean…The point is that all of the factual materials fall effortlessly into place. The nuances are not strained. Perhaps a Larry McMurtry could have ‘faked’ this manuscript, but it would have taken someone of his knowledge and skills to do so.”

Mr. Cox said, “There are plenty of clues in Fussell’s character as he reveals it (like the time he walked off from the locomotive fireman’s job) that demonstrate his having had the potential for doing what he claims.”

I provided a copy of Unbridled Cowboy to a woman I met in Lubbock last September when I attended the Cowboy Symposium. She wrote recently and told me that she, her father and her grandfather had all worked for the Santa Fe Railroad, and that my grandfather’s descriptions of that company were totally accurate. Based upon the veracity of his description of life at the Santa Fe, she assumed the rest of Gramps’ stories were also true.

Before publishing the book I tried to verify the murderous events in Mexico, but got nowhere. A Mexican priest told me that any records that may have existed were almost certainly destroyed during the Mexican revolution. Furthermore, my father and grandfather were both scrupulously honest, very intelligent men with excellent memories.

On the inside cover of his autobiography my grandfather, in a handwritten note to family members, expressed his hope that many of his, “experiences during childhood, adolescence and early manhood will be accepted with all the tolerance they are able to muster.” Those are not the words of a man who made up his stories.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looks good! I'll check it out. Thanks.