Louis Kraft talks about what drives his writing and life

Website & blogs © Louis Kraft 2013-2020

Contact Kraft at writerkraft@gmail.com or comment at the end of the blogs


Terrible times beyond belief

First and foremost I need to say a few things that have impacted, and are impacting, my life (and one of them has become a curse on all of us the world over).

  • The COVID-19 pandemic (by now way too many of us know someone who has fallen prey to this heinous virus).
  • We still have two more months of fire season in California, and already 2020 has been the worst season on record, and this includes the worst air quality in LA County in 40 years (at these times wear a mask to protect your lungs).
  • A great friend and one of the most talented people I’ve ever known has suffered a terrible tragedy in his family (it is not for me to share).
  • Olivia de Havilland died (I had thought that she would outlive me; certainly that was my hope but it was not to be).
  • My great bro throughout time, Glen Williams, has died.
  • Not to brag, but this has been a dreadful year for me. Although it has nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic, it has cost me 24 months of no exercise, no lifting, no yardwork, no walking, … no—you name it.
  • My brain functions at all times, and believe it or not, at this sad time of woe that all of us will remember for the rest of our lives, … I have more freelance writing, related work, and deadlines than ever before (to the point that I’ve had to turn away work).

I’m the luckiest guy you know.

A request to review a Ned Wynkoop document by the National Park Service

LK playing Ned Wynkoop in a five-week run of Cheyenne Blood in SoCal in 2009. Folks, this was a highlight in my life. Yep, LK knows a hell of a lot about this extraordinary human being. (photo © Louis Kraft 2009)

Whoa cowboy!!!!! Yeah, the NPS was doing a flyer on ol’ Ned for a few of their National Historic Sites (NHS), such as Fort Larned NHS, Sand Creek Massacre NHS, and the Washita Battlefield NHS. To say that I was honored is an understatement of major proportions.

I treated this as a major project, and it took weeks to complete. The response from the NPS? Zero!!! Not a peep. Ha-ha, you know exactly where my view of the National Park Service went. Yep, right into the trashcan. I need to say, that regardless of what I wrote—and it had to have been hard for NPS management to swallow a review that was less than a thrilling kiss-ass of love for every piece of bullshit that they came up with—but what pissed me off was that the NPS never replied, never said we disagree with everything you wrote. Hell, that would have been acceptable.

Nada! Not anything from the National Park Service. Of course, your pal Kraft couldn’t keep his mouth shut. See my review of the travesty of BS that the NPS would eventually print: National Park Service, Ned Wynkoop, & a bad taste.

LK with Shawn Gillette at the Sand Creek Massacre NHS headquarters in Eads, Co., on 3oct2014. I think that Shawn is an upstanding person, and I’m lucky to know him. Our relationship has nothing to do with the National Park Service and I hope that this remains true as our lives move forward. (photo © Shawn Gillette, Louis Kraft, & Pailin Subanna-Kraft 2014)

In 2014 great Cheyenne wars historian John Monnett and his wonderful wife Linda invited us to visit them in Lafayette, Colorado, and this included them taking Pailin and myself to the Sand Creek Massacre NHS. After walking the grounds (as much as we could, but this wasn’t much), we went to Eads, where the headquarters for the Sand Creek Massacre NHS was located. Here I met Shawn Gillette, chief of interpretation, in person for the first time. He told me that the chiefs of interpretation agreed with my review but upper management ruled the day.

I could agree with this. … But my bad taste for the USA government grows by the day (I need to say that the National Park Service isn’t at the top of my list—the Federal government is, and from all indications this isn’t going to change for the rest of my life).

An LK interview that was to accompany a review of Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway

This was a book that I didn’t want to write, but my good friend and former editor-in-chief at the University of Oklahoma Press refused to accept my “No, I don’t write books about war” refusal. To this date in time—egotism aside—this is not only the best,  but also the most important book that I’ve ever written.

The interview was to accompany a review of Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a LIfeway. I’m wordy, so it appeared in two editions of the paper (August and September 2020), but everything personal, everything that led up to why I write about the American Indian wars, everything that directs what I write and why, along with my next major writing project (which was a major question) was totally cut from the two issues of the newspaper.

Oh, the review of the Sand Creek book was five sentences. Five sentences! It was okay, but why bother? A silent parting of ways. Been here before.

I spent a fair amount of time writing what follows but the paper wasn’t interested in the Sand Creek book. It wanted information on Lt. Charles Gatewood and Geronimo, while totally uninterested in why I spent 10 years to write two books about Gatewood, Geronimo, and the Apaches, and follow them through to publication. Additional questions wanted to know what drove me to write about the Indian wars and racism.

As I stated in my submitted draft of the interview, I retained the copyright to my words and that I intended to use them in a memoir and in my blogs. As two procedures and two operations have knocked my health for a loop this year, not to mention the coronavirus pandemic, a major delivery to the Louis Kraft Collection, an upcoming talk on the Sand Creek Massacre, among other deadlines—and I haven’t even mentioned Errol & Olivia.

What follows are words that will give you an inside peek at who I am and what drives me.

In late spring 2020
I received two requests to do an interview

I stupidly agreed to the requests. The first one is still floating on the wind somewhere on the lone prairie. But this is no longer true, for that person is a human being by the name of Bob Reese, who, if I get lucky, will someday meet in person and spend good time with him. Recently he confirmed that changes in personal and that this slowed the production process; this also included his health. Bob Reese is one of the good guys in this world (hopefully he is again healthy). … As said above the other person purged every word that I shared that was personal and would have given his readers an understanding of who I am and why I write what I write. My opinion of what was printed in the two editions of that publication is unprintable. Will I ever read another word published by that publication? probably not. Will I ever write another piece for that publication? No.

LK with great friend Lt. Col. Paul Fardink, USA, Ret., in the Beverly Hills Hilton dining room on 16Jan2015. He and his wife Cheryl had flown to Los Angeles for a huge military awards ceremony at the hotel. The three of us had a terrific time enjoying each other’s company and discussing Lt. Charles Gatewood’s chances of being awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor. Paul had brought several of my articles and books for me to sign. I brought his terrific article on Gatewood and myself in On Point, which would play a key role in his upcoming presentation (which also included an amazing amount of primary source material). (photo © Paul Fardink & Louis Kraft 2015)

This person used me to comment on his hot topic/a major writing topic from my past that is dead and will never happen—that is, present the Medal of Honor to Lt. Charles Gatewood for the part he played in ending the last Apache war in 1886. Years back I had worked closely with Lt. Colonel Paul Fardink, USA-Ret., to create a major submission to obtain Gatewood this honor. Paul had a major general, and a handful of other generals, supporting the project. They had forewarned us that the answer would be “no,” and it would forever be “no.” Will this person—who wants to be a crusader but is always too busy; hell, he couldn’t even provide the publication dates for the two issues of the paper—ever contact me again? Honestly I don’t think so (his silence has been golden).

Was this wasted time lost by me when I’m in a zone wherein I have no free time?
Yes! and No!

My brother Lee Kraft in fall 1988. I can’t begin to tell you how close we were (whether at war or as buddies). We partied together, we worked together, we played ball together. Like our father, who was always there for both of us, he was for me and me for him. His premature death in March 1990 is still the most devastating day in my life. (photo Louis Kraft 1988)

This paragraph initially shared my views on the above—and certainly of the second interview. Unfortunately it got a little too personal, a little too gunslinger-like with LK walking the Southwest looking to put yet another notch on his Colt.

Hell, I’m a Kraft, and like my brother Lee, we were spittin’ images of our father—that is we always walked our own trail, come hell or high water. … Always.

ALWAYS.

I deleted what was to be the following text also.* Too bad, for it was lively and zinged off the page. …

* I should state that when I delete text that is on point or too personal I usually drop it into a potential blog that serves as a holding tank, as it will never be posted. Sometimes I go digging and discover gems that I had buried.

Maybe I should return to some of my favorite Arizona and New Mexico haunts and strut about and play-act doing what I don’t dare saying in print. Oh yeah, Kraft can still do this. That said, I have allowed my life experiences determine the trail that I would follow through life.

The following isn’t bragging; it’s simply fact. I’ve been knocked cold by my father (who was, and still is, the most important person in my life). I’ve taken my motorcycle over a cliff. I’ve had a knife at my throat (in Austin, Texas). I’ve had guns pointed me (and I’ve never been to war). I’ve survived high-speed crashes in fast cars that defy description and yet I walked away from them unharmed. I’ve had 24 surgeries; that’s right 24, and let me tell that wild cats, rats, and possums that cross my path in the wee hours of morning run for the hills when they see me. Am I the devil?

(I’m smiling) I don’t think so.

At my age, macho is good, for it means that I’m still breathing.

My bro Glen Williams would love the above—hopefully he sees it in heaven.

The Tombstone Epitaph
Interview, Louis Kraft
June 2020

Interview © Louis Kraft 2020. This said The Tombstone Epitaph has full right to publish
all or part of this interview in print and online. Also know that I intend to use portions of the following interview in a memoir and in my blogs and I retain the right to do so.

I signed no contract for my FREE interview,
and the words are mine. I am reprinting them here.

TE: Talk about your new book Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway. What inspired you to tackle the history of the Sand Creek Massacre?

LK: This answer can be short and sweet. I met Chuck Rankin, former editor-in-chief of the University of Oklahoma Press (OU Press) at the beginning of this century. No Chuck, no Sand Creek book. Next question. …

Just joking but not about Chuck. More’s a comin’.

This image is from the 2012 Western Heritage Awards ceremony in Oklahoma City in April 2012.

At that time when we met I was in the process of trying to work out a contract with the University of New Mexico Press for my second book dealing with Lieutenant Charles Gatewood; actually piecing together his incomplete and failed attempt to write a memoir about his experiences with the Apache Indians in the 1880s. I had a terrific contract for the first Gatewood book but this contract was peanuts in comparison. I countered, but the publisher refused, I said goodbye and never looked back. In retrospect this was a very good day for LK. Chuck was interested, but the two OU Press peer reviews were negative and he sent me a short letter saying that Oklahoma would pass. I took what I agreed with from the reviews, incorporated it into my manuscript, and sent a proposal to the University of Nebraska Press. They quickly requested the manuscript, liked it (as did their peer reviewers), and added an advance to my first Gatewood contract.

During this time Chuck and I continued to discuss a book about Ned Wynkoop, a soldier turned U.S. Indian agent due to events that surrounded the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado Territory in 1864 (he wasn’t present at the massacre). He had migrated to what would become Colorado Territory in 1858 at the beginning of the gold rush, and as many who migrated westward harbored the typical racial hatred of American Indians. Although he didn’t realize it at that time, he was different than most of his comrades. … By fall 1864 he was a major in the First Colorado Volunteer Cavalry and commanded Fort Lyon (southeast Colorado Territory). That spring events led to the Cheyenne war of 1864, and the hatred and violence escalated as the summer moved toward fall. He had already stated that he intended to kill every Indian he came across, but to date (and this included a command he led against the Utes in 1863, and during which he never saw the enemy) he had not fired his revolver at a Cheyenne or Arapaho Indian.

This LK art of Black Kettle dates to 2015. It has appeared on these blogs but has never been published (the reason is simple: I never liked it enough to submit it to a publisher). Maybe I’ll think about repainting and improving it. Time will tell (or not tell). (art © Louis Kraft 2015)

That September 3, he received two letters (to the commanding officer of Fort Lyon and the Cheyenne-Arapaho Indian agent) dictated by Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle that stated that there was a large village (about 2,000 people) of mostly Cheyennes and Arapahos on a tributary of the Smoky Hill River in Kansas. Black Kettle and other chiefs wanted to discuss ending the war while juggling a carrot that they had white prisoners that they would give up if he met with them. His officers viewed it as a suicide mission, but Wynkoop refused to listen to them. A village that large couldn’t remain in one location for any length of time due to their huge horse and mule herds as well as supplying fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables that grew in the area. To send a courier to headquarters in Kansas would take at least a week (most likely longer) and the same amount of time for a return answer. Wynkoop couldn’t wait, and without orders set out for the village with 127 men. …

Much would happen, including facing a large warrior battle line; speaking with angry chiefs; eventually talking seven chiefs into traveling to Denver to meet with John Evans, the territorial governor; and receiving four children. During the council, which took place south of the city at Camp Weld, Evans made it clear that the war would continue. However, when Colonel John Chivington, who commanded the District of Colorado, verbally passed the Indians to Wynkoop to oversee them at Fort Lyon, the major, Indian chiefs, and Rocky Mountain News editor and publisher William Byers thought a tentative peace had been reached until the military command in Kansas decided what action it would take.

By early November Wynkoop was removed from command at Fort Lyon, and replaced by Major Scott Anthony. Before setting out for Kansas, where he anticipated being cashiered out of the military, Wynkoop was present when Anthony told Black Kettle and Arapaho Chief Left Hand, among others to move to Sand Creek, about forty miles northeast of the fort. Anthony also told them that he would inform them of the military’s decision in regards to the war ending or not.

This was my first attempt at creating a portrait of Ned Wynkoop. The pin and ink portrait is framed and is displayed at Tujunga House. It was based upon a woodcut of him in 1867, and has been printed at least once (I need to check, for it may more than once). (art © Louis Kraft 1990)

During Wynkoop’s brief time with the Cheyennes and Arapahos he had realized that they were human beings. When he learned that Chivington and Colorado Volunteers attacked the Sand Creek village and brutally butchered men, women, and children who thought that they had been removed from the war, he was outraged. He considered the massacre heinous, and it changed his life forever. By 1866 he was well on his way to becoming an U.S. Indian agent for the Cheyennes and Arapahos, … and perhaps the most hated white man in Colorado Territory.

I had discovered Wynkoop when looking for an Indian agent on the take for a novel I intended to write; that is defrauding the U.S. government and the Indians he represented to become rich. I never wrote the story, but by 1987 my first article on him had been published (this was my first Indian wars article). Two years later I delivered my first talk on him. By the mid-1990s I was moving forward with a planned biography on him.

Chuck Rankin was definitely interested in my Wynkoop manuscript. There was one problem. Chuck didn’t want was a duel biography like Gatewood & Geronimo; in other words, no Wynkoop & Black Kettle. Actually this was not a problem, for I never considered a joint biography—this book would focus on Wynkoop.

This is a portrait of interpreter/trader John Simpson Smith. It is one of numerous portraits that I’ve done of him (to date none have been printed). This man spoke many languages; this man had numerous wives and none of them were white. Was he a racist? I don’t think so. If you ever read Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway you’ll get to know Mr. Smith. Trust me: he was a combination of good and evil, and more important he was a human being. (art © Louis Kraft 2016)

Over the coming years we often talked about how to handle the massacre in the book. As Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek went into production (OU Press published it in 2011), Chuck returned to that tragic November when men, women, and children were murdered and savagely hacked to pieces. This led to us discussing me writing a book about the massacre. At first my reply was “no” for the simple reason that I consider myself a biographer as opposed to a historian (even though history has a large presence in all my nonfiction and fiction). At that time I still wrote for software companies—meaning that travel and research were never a concern—and we talked in person, on the phone, and with email. We both listened and between us we discussed a book that would be acceptable to both of us. The massacre was a key piece in the proposal, and we both agreed that I would deal with it similar to how I did in the Wynkoop book. But people, their words, and actions would drive the story to conclusion. I wanted to write the book through the eyes of the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos, whites who married into the tribes, their offspring, whites who coveted Indian land to the east of the Rocky Mountains, and whites who dared to speak out against the Sand Creek Massacre. Once we were in agreement on how I would approach the storyline everything else fell into place. …

That is until I began to write the book. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed more research, a lot more research. As always, I allowed my research to drive the flow of the manuscript, and the more I learned and understood, the deeper I had to dig. There were surprises—big surprises. People that I thought would have leading parts became supporting players and people I thought would have smaller roles became the focus. Two huge examples here are Arapaho Chief Little Raven (who I really didn’t know that much about) became the Indian lead, along with Black Kettle, whom I always knew would have a large role. But digging into Black Kettle also presented a lot of information about him that I never knew existed.

Arapaho Chief Little Raven examines journalist Albert Deane Richardson’s revolver in this 1859 woodcut. New York Tribune publisher Horace Greeley relaxes in the background (woodcut in the Louis Kraft Collection)

For me it is the process of research, writing, more research, more writing, rewriting, research, writing, editing, and more research, until the manuscript begins to take shape. Then comes the hard part, and that is trying to make all the facts, events, and people flow together in hopefully a readable manner. It doesn’t stop there, for I play a large role in the production process.

For the record if I ever become homeless and can have only one of my books, it would be Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway. Yeah, and this was a book that I initially didn’t want to write.

TE: What challenges did you face while researching American Indian history?

LK: This is a wide open question, but my answer is simple: how to locate information that gives life to (in my case) the Cheyennes, Arapahos, Apaches, and, if I live long enough, the Navajos’ side of their history and culture. A good portion of the life and times of these people has been told by the white man, and much of it has been biased, but not all of it. Often raiding warrior numbers have been inflated, as has been white casualties. And this goes the other way also, and the Sand Creek Massacre is a good example of this. I’m going to stick with my current book for this question.

Colonel John Chivington wrote two official reports of his November 29, 1864, attack on the Cheyenne village circles and the Arapaho village, which may have had two camp circles on Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado Territory. On the day of the massacre Chivington reported that he killed between 500 and 600 Indians, including Black Kettle. Sand Creek Massacre NHS ranger, and the most knowledgeable person on what happened on those two days, Jeff Campbell’s calculations places the death count at 230 with 75 percent of the dead being non-combatants. This means that approximately 67 of the dead were chiefs and warriors. By the way, Black Kettle wasn’t even wounded.

Not all the soldiers present took part in the carnage, and some refused to fire their weapons. Two of them were Wynkoop’s subordinates, Captain Silas Soule and Lieutenant Joseph Cramer. Both dared to speak out against the massacre during the investigations, and Soule was later murdered on the streets of Denver. Wynkoop, who was exonerated in late December 1864 might have shared the same fate, but was again in command of Fort Lyon. Even so he was called “Black Kettle’s puppet.”

Honestly, the hardest part was trying to remain in the point-of-view (POV, a film term) of the person I was currently writing about. We already know all the negative prose directed at Black Kettle regardless of his efforts to maintain peace. There were many leading and supporting players in the Sand Creek story, including Black Kettle, Cheyenne chief and Keeper of the Sacred Arrows Stone Forehead; Dog Men (“Dog Soldiers” is a white-man term) Tall Bull and Bull Bear; Arapaho chiefs Little Raven, Left Hand, Neva; trader William Bent, and his mixed-blood Cheyenne sons George Bent, Charley Bent; mixed-blood Cheyennes Edmund Guerrier and Jack Smith, and his father, trader John S. Smith; and Byers, Evans, Chivington, Soule, and Wynkoop to name a few. The goal has always been to present them with their words, their actions, and views of them by their contemporaries.

Regardless of my views—and those of you who read my writing know what they are for I mostly focus on people who try to end war or keep the peace. These are people who reach across racial boundaries to do this. Some of them understand this and become friends, while others do what they think is right regardless of their racial feelings. Bottom line: these are the people I write about. That said, I view the Los Angeles mass murderer Charles Manson as a heinous villain; ditto Adolph Hitler. … None of the people that I write about in the Indian wars do I consider a heinous villain. I believe that what they did when they did it they thought that they were doing what was right. If I do my job correctly, you will be able to make your own decision about them. That is my goal.

TE: What is the legacy of the Sand Creek Massacre today?

LK: To begin with there is still a large divide between white-Indian relations. And certainly a lot of what I’ve watched move forward with racial equality since the 1960s, although slow I thought that it was steady. Over the last three and a half years we have a national government that fosters racial hatred, and it’s almost as if the last 60 years of progress never happened.

LK speaking about Ned Wynkoop’s efforts to save the joint Cheyenne-Dog Man-Lakota Pawnee Fork village in Kansas from destruction in April 1867 on the preserved land where Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock refused to listen, destroyed the village, and began the 1867 Cheyenne war (September 2012).

A truthful reporting of what happened on that bloody ground on November 29 and 30, 1864, is shocking. It affects my psyche and brings tears to my eyes every time I think about the details. Most of us are lucky to have loved ones, children, parents, friends. The words that describe what happened on that bloody ground are horrifying. Do you get the gist of what I’m talking about?

I have a talk coming up with the University of New Mexico on the afternoon of October 21 titled “An attempt to kill every Cheyenne man, woman, and child: The Sand Creek Massacre, Colorado (November 29, 1864).”* I thought that the novel coronavirus had killed this talk, but luckily Tomas Jaehn (Director, Special Collections/CSWR University of New Mexico Libraries) who hosts monthly talks at UNM saved the day when he decided to have them continue live via Zoom. I don’t want to share much about the talk other than to say that I intend to focus on the scramble from within the various Cheyenne village circles as people attempt to survive sexual butchery. A number of Cheyenne mixed-bloods were in the village. Over the years many of them have gotten a bad rap, as traitors to the white race, and worse, little more than renegades and pure evil. All I’ll say here is that they saw what happened. Some of them grew up walking between the two races and indeed attended school in Missouri. This dark time would remain with them for the remainder of their lives. To this point in time, they had moved back and forth between the races. Not any longer (although Edmund Guerrier did well working with the white man, and he was present) for young men like George and Charley Bent were horribly affected by what they saw and from that time forward they considered themselves Cheyennes.

* LK: This wasn’t in the interview: If you would like to see the talk, which will be live on October 21, you need to send Tomas an email with your name and email address (tjaehn@unm.edu). He will add you to the attendee list, and the Zoom information will be emailed to you two days before the talk. Signing in will be between 4:00 and 4:30 pm Pacific time/5:00 and 5:30 pm Mountain time, with the talk beginning at 4:30/5:30, and so on depending upon your time zone.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (art Louis Kraft 2016)

Racism has been different during my lifetime than how it was in the 1860s. The twentieth century saw lots of theft, incarceration, brutality, rape, and murder—so much so that I’m not going to even attempt to talk about it here. I don’t want to go into the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the 1960s, 1970s, and beyond, other than to say that I do not consider their continued fight to protect what was theirs while fighting racism as criminal activity. What was in place when I was young has never ended. Hopefully what is happening on the streets of America today can somehow lead the USA to become one country where every man, woman, and child are treated the same, and that is as human beings. When I was young, I thought that I’d live to see that day. As the days grow shorter, I’m doubtful. But hope burns eternally.

The legacy of the Sand Creek Massacre is present today, and it will most likely never end, never fade away. What happened on those two days of horror will live forever in infamy. Certainly for every Cheyenne, Arapaho, as well as many other American Indians living today. It is burned in their souls. It is also front-and-center in the lives of a lot of people I know, people I call friends (and some of them are Cheyennes), and they damn it.

This is how it should be, for November 29-30, 1864, were two days that can never be forgotten. This said, we cannot and should never censor history. If we do, this plague on humanity will continue to tear us apart until we figure out how to destroy life on earth as we know it. History must be told from all sides—from all sides. We’re all people with our views. Just because you disagree with me, or I with you, doesn’t make either of us evil. This is our world, and regardless of what we look like we’re all human beings.

What is the legacy of the Sand Creek Massacre? Don’t hate me, for I believe that the racial hatred of the 1860s is alive and thriving in the year 2020. It is on us to end it.

TE: Your career as a historian and writer has been hallmarked by books dealing with the intersection of the U.S. military and the American Indian. What prompted this interest in you early on?

Olympian and champion duelist, actor, stunt man, sword choreographer, and fencing instructor Ralph Faulkner in the late 1950s, and just a few years before he coached me at Falcon Studios on Hollywood Blvd.

LK: I like this question, but it is a question that you shouldn’t ask me for you are going to get a mouthful (please delete this sentence, for it was only for you).

I think that I discovered Errol Flynn and his films while in the fourth grade. Two Warner Bros. films stood out: The Sea Hawk (1940) and They Died with Their Boots On (1941). Many people think that The Sea Hawk was based on Rafael Sabatini’s classic novel. No. Warners Bros. had the rights to his book, but it wasn’t about an Elizabethan pirate during the time leading up to the Spanish Armada and the invasion of England in 1588. Instead it was about an English nobleman sold into slavery in North Africa, who later became an infamous Tunisian pirate who raided British ships. I highly recommend Flynn’s The Sea Hawk.

This film led to me studying fencing with the U.S. Olympian Ralph Faulkner, who turned actor, stunt double with swords on film, and eventually taught fencing in Hollywood, California. While in junior high school I studied under him, and in the only competition at his studio that I took part in I placed third in foil (my competition were all male adults). In college I took fencing in my first semester, was good enough with the foil that the coach asked me to join the team. I consented, providing I could learn and fight with a sabre, and only a sabre. Reason: almost all the great duels on film are shot with a combination of thrusting and slicing. She agreed. … This Flynn performance is important for it led to me studying acting in junior high school, high school, and college. Eventually I learned “swashbuckling” or stage combat, and would choreograph duels and swordfight on stage. Great times.

CD cover of the film score.

Now to They Died with Their Boots On, and on looking back, it, although not at first, has had a much greater impact on my life. Errol Flynn played George Armstrong Custer and Olivia de Havilland played his wife Elizabeth Bacon Custer (“Libbie” is the correct spelling of her nickname). I have written at least four articles about this film (including a cover story for American History (February 2008), and have spoken about it five times in four states (Missouri, Montana, Texas, and California). Mr. Custer and the American Indian wars (as depicted in this film) grabbed my interest and refused to let go. Back in those days long gone there were many bookstores in Hollywood, California, and one featured nonfiction western history books. I bought a lot of Custer books, read them, enjoyed them, but then the anti-hero worship again struck (at least in Southern California) in the 1960s. Custer was one of the people hardest hit, and he became a caricature that stood for racism and butchery of American Indians. By the end of the decade I boxed up all my Custer books. Luckily I exiled them to a closet and didn’t throw them away. In the late 1970s I visited Arizona (over the years I would spend between six and eight months of my life in Scottsdale, Tucson, and elsewhere hanging out, doing research in archives and on the road). On this trip I discovered Aaron and Ruth Cohen’s Guidon Books in Old Scottsdale, and immediately fell in love with their store. It was the beginning of a wonderful relationship with them. During that trip I visited their shop at least three times. They had a bookshelf that was perhaps seven or eight feet high that featured Custer books. I bought some, and before heading home I bought more. I read them all, and then rescued my exiled books and reread them. I was hooked and knew where my future headed.

Be patient, for everything that I do (or now more important to my writing) is interlinked. Everything.

In summer 1976 I played the lead in two plays in Lubbock, Texas.

Before moving forward here, let me say that I grew up with parents who had an open door to anyone, regardless of race, color, or religion. I had marched for Martin Luther King Jr., and in 1970 I joined VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). This was like the Peace Corps but in the continental United States. I had hoped to work with American Indians (the other two choices were with Blacks and Chicanos, as they were called during my tenure). The training was in Austin, Texas (we housed in the dormitory where a sniper way back shot and killed people on the University of Texas; women on one floor, men on another). At that time they rolled up the sidewalks at 10:00 pm. Before that time we loaded up with beer and wine before returning to the dorm. One night in one of the dorm rooms I said something to a married couple that I liked. It didn’t bother them, but it did a Chicano leader who would soon pick volunteers to work with his people.

LK rehearsing Eat Your Heart Out, a play about an actor who is forced to wait on tables while trying to survive in Hollywood. The week before it opened we rehearsed every day until about two hours before the current play, What Did We Do Wrong (a generation gap comedy that led to a father and son (me) swapping places), was performed (we had seven performances each week). This was during summer 1976 in Lubbock. (photo Louis Kraft 1976)

Suddenly I had an arm around me, and a knife at my throat. It was about 2:00 am and there were between 15 and 20 people in the room. I told my attacker (and I knew his name, but not now) that if he killed me he would destroy his cause. He laughed and called me a number of choice names. I continued, and asked him if he intended to kill everyone else in the room, that is to eliminate all the witnesses. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but the words worked and he released me. Breakfast began at six, and to my shock I was a hero. Bleep no! I was one scared person who was thrilled to see the sun come up. When the time came I was quickly chosen to work and live with Blacks in Oklahoma City.

Back to Lubbock … During our first week we stayed in a motel (the director and three leading actors were from LA). My roommate was a Black actor named Jim Reynolds. We hit it off immediately. However, our first visit to the motel’s restaurant let me know what was coming. The waitress gave me a menu and a cup of coffee. When she returned, I said: “Where’s his coffee and menu?” She gave me a dirty look but did as requested. During my three months there I saw a lot that turned my stomach upside down (some good too). When I returned to Los Angeles I wrote a screenplay about my experience. The agent I submitted it to, said, “This is terrible, but let’s talk.” We did, and he became my agent for the next seven years. We came close to selling and optioning screenplays, but never did. Often I dealt with race relations. My favorite was called Wonderboat, which dealt with a U-Boat commander during WWII, the downfall of Nazi Germany, and his Jewish girlfriend. A producer wanted to produce it, but only if I moved the story to WWI and removed the Jewish connection. I refused.

This image is of Boston Red Sox 1st baseman Bill Buckner just before he hit his first home run of 1985 on April 4 at Fenway Park. If my memory is good, this was an image that I used in one of my articles about him. (photo © Louis Kraft 1985)

In 1984 I decided that I needed to make money with my writing. I quit writing screenplays and began selling magazine articles. Since I played competition softball year round, knew baseball, and spent time with Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers great Duke Snider (and even pitched him on writing his biography with him; unfortunately he had already signed a contract to coauthor what would be published as The Duke of Flatbush, 1988). I had a number of articles on the Duke, as well as my favorite baseball player of all time—Bill Buckner. Most of what he accomplished during his career he did on one leg, and my articles about him were all published while he was still playing.

The baseball writing was just to get my foot in the published writing door. I did an about-face and began writing about the American Indian wars. A feature on George Armstrong Custer would be my second published article in this category.

This opened a floodgate that would soon blossom to talks, a novel, and finally to nonfiction: Custer and the Cheyenne: George Armstrong Custer’s Winter Campaign on the Southern Plains (Upton and Sons, Publishers, 1995; and God bless Dick and Frankie Upton, for without them my nonfiction book future would have never been). The focus of this book dealt with Custer’s efforts to roundup the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos without further bloodshed after his November 27, 1868, surprise attack on Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle’s Washita village in Indian Territory (almost four years to the day had passed since Sand Creek, but this time the chief and his wife didn’t survive the attack). Custer had two armies behind him and they craved blood. Custer pulled off his task with no additional deaths.

The above is all key to who I am as a writer today. I’m lucky for I’ve been in control of my writing path every step of the way.

TE: What about Geronimo? What kind of a man was he?
LK: I think that this question should move above the Gatewood question, and have moved it upward. The reason is a film, Geronimo: An American Legend, for without this film there would have never been two Gatewood/Apache books. Hope that you agree.

LK: I know film intimately, and study it all the time. The reason is simple: I can’t begin to tell you how much it helps me as a writer—plot development, character, dialogue, and transitions from one plot point to the next. Yes! This is totally valid for a nonfiction writer.

Left: A German lobby card of Geronimo: An American Legend with Wes Studi portraying the Bedonkohe Chiricahua Apache mystic and war leader. If I never saw this film I never would have written a word about Geronimo, Lt. Charles Gatewood, or the Apache Indians. (entire lobby card set in the Louis Kraft personal collection)

In regards to Geronimo, I think that we have to start with a film about him: Geronimo: An American Legend (Columbia, 1993), with Wes Studi playing him. I saw the film twice when it opened in Los Angeles in December 1993. I loved the grandeur, scope, and some of the character development, but hated the lack of focus. That title states that it is about Geronimo but there are too many other characters that have major focus, and shouldn’t. If there was to be a second lead it would be Lieutenant Charles Gatewood, and he had plenty of focus in this film. I was good with that, but not the large focus on scout Al Sieber and General George Crook. Also, there were too many other players that shouldn’t have been in the film. Read that much of this film was total fiction (perhaps even more than Flynn’s They Died with Their Boots On). Oh yeah, fiction dominates this film, although I didn’t know this in 1993. Actually I knew nothing about Geronimo or Gatewood at that time. Zero! Two years later in April 1995 I visited Aaron and Ruth Cohen at Guidon Books to sign Custer and the Cheyenne. Our talk turned to film and how it impacts book sales. Tombstone (1993) with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer had been a major hit at the box office and increased Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday sales while Geronimo: An American Legend failed at the box office and had no impact on Geronimo sales. During the course of our conversation Ruth told me about the Charles Gatewood Collection at the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson. The following month I took a week off (nine days), visited the collection, and was blown away. In June I took two weeks off (16 days). At that time Gatewood put Wynkoop on hold and became my next nonfiction project. Two years later it became a joint biography about two men on collision course—Gatewood & Geronimo. I can never begin to tell you what this book has meant to my life and career.

Before moving forward, I want to say that Wes Studi’s portrayal of Geronimo was magnificent, as have been some of his other filmed performances. He is great actor, and his honorary Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement award this year was long overdue. I luckily met him shortly after Dances with Wolves (1990) was released in an American Indian gift shop in Tarzana (a suburb in Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley) in 1990. He was excited and I enjoyed our half hour or so of time together. Alas, I’ve never seen him since.

LK talking about Gatewood finding Geronimo in Mexico and talking him, Naiche, and the remnants of their people into returning to the United States and surrendering at the Festival of the West in Scottsdale, Ariz., on 18mar2004. (art © Louis Kraft 2013)

Every time I have written or spoken about Geronimo I have tried to be in his viewpoint. Trust me, for this hasn’t been hard to do. Beginning in 1851 when he lost his first wife and family in a raid in Río de Janos in Mexico until his final surrender in fall 1886 he would lose more wives, children, family members, friends, and tribal members to death or abduction. His outrage was instantaneous and totally justified. There were major cultural and political ideologies at stake during the Chiricahua Apaches’ long fight with Mexico and the United States to keep their land, their culture, their lifeway, their language, their religion, their children, and their freedom. Geronimo was a mystic and war leader, and more—for he was a survivor.

LK portrait of Geronimo. (art © Louis Kraft 2015)

What happened to him and his loved ones over the course of his lifetime was unbelievable. Often he, the Bedonkohe (his band of the Chiricahua Apaches) as well as all the other bands of Chiricahuas have been branded as aggressive outlaws who raided, raped, stole, and killed at random on both sides of the American-Mexican border. There are some good historians who made it clear that the Chiricahuas considered the land that they claimed was theirs. They had nothing to do with the Americans’ land grab from Mexico, but suddenly their land wasn’t their land in the north (and ditto in the south). They didn’t sign any treaties giving away their land. It was still their land, and Geronimo, Naiche, and those who dared to fight for their freedom and lifeway became murderers, robbers, and worse. What about all the murder, rape, abduction, and constant fear of attack that they had to deal with, live with, during their lives? They were in the way of American progress, and what the hell! They had no rights! I’ve often seen Geronimo listed as a chief. He was never a chief. I’ve also seen him listed as little more than a hellion who never came close to becoming a leader, for all he cared about was himself and his immediate situation. Read the facts about his life, and you’ll quickly see what he had to deal with. He reacted with hate, anger, and vengeance. How would I react in the same situation? How would you react? How are many people in the United States today reacting?

This question is about Geronimo, but I’m sorry, for it is also about me, you, and everyone else in our homeland today. If this generates hate and anger at me, that’s life. I’ve been there before, and I deal with it more often than I want in my life. Way too many times I’ve been called a racist and traitor to my own kind and my homeland. What a bleeping joke!

Geronimo was a patriot, and he had the guts to fight back against what he considered wrong. He lived during a time of violence when his lifeway was coming to an end for all time. We’ve all suffered tragedy during our lifetimes, some of us more than others, but when looking at Geronimo’s life it was an ongoing hell without end. Regardless of what you think about him, he was a very intelligent man. He knew how to fight, when to fight, and when to run. Moreover, he had no intention of giving up the fight for his freedom until that fatal day in September 1886 when he, Naiche, and the remnants of their followers discussed surrendering with Lieutenant Charles Gatewood and returning to the United States to become prisoners of war. As Gatewood had told Naiche and him, surrender, for if not all of you will die.

Geronimo, Naiche, and their followers (less than 40 men, women, and children) surrendered. They would be lied to, but not by Gatewood. For the rest of Geronimo’s life he was a prisoner of war. Still he learned how to survive in the white man’s world of incarceration. Actually he became a celebrity, and realized that if he could sign his name he could earn money. He extended his marketability and began signing photographs of himself (as well as maps). He had not only learned how to play the white man’s game, he excelled at it. Unfortunately General Nelson Miles’s promise that he and those who surrendered with him 1886 would only be exiled to Florida for two years was a lie. When he died in 1909 he was still a prisoner of war.

I have often been asked if I could pick one American Indian who would you select? I don’t have one, I have two: Geronimo and Black Kettle.

TE: Let’s talk about Lt. Charles Gatewood who was the subject of two of your earlier books. Who was he and why do people today not remember his contributions to the taming of the west?

Gatewood (Jason Patric) reaches the top of the mountain at the bend of Río Bapispe in Sonora, Mexico, to meet Geronimo in Geronimo: An American Legend (another German lobby card). A bunch of problems here, including everyone that accompanied Gatewood into Mexico weren’t in the film, Naiche wasn’t in it, and the meeting took place near a bend in the river where there was trees, shade, and water. (Louis Kraft personal collection)

LK: First Lieutenant Charles Gatewood (Sixth U.S. Cavalry) convinced Naiche (the last hereditary Chiricahua chief), Geronimo, and the remnants of their people still with them in Mexico to return to the United States and surrender in fall 1886. He was known as a (General George) “Crook man” as he had served under him, but they had a huge falling out in 1884. At that time Gatewood, who had been a commander of Apache scouts, was in charge of the White Mountain Indian Reservation, headquartered at Fort Apache, Arizona Territory. That year Arizona Territorial Judge Francis M. Zuck defrauded Gatewood’s wards (the White Mountain Apaches), and the lieutenant arrested him. The judge was outraged. Crook agreed with Zuck, and ordered Gatewood to drop the charges. Gatewood refused. When the trial began, the presiding judge dismissed the case on a technicality: Zuck was a judge and should be in his own district presiding over his court. Zuck immediately arrested Gatewood for felonious false arrest. Gatewood appealed to Crook, who turned his back on him. When Gatewood’s trial began, the presiding judge tossed out the case, as the arrest of Zuck had taken place on an Indian reservation and U.S. courts had no jurisdiction on Indian land. For all intensive purposes this destroyed what had been a good working relationship between Gatewood and Crook.

In March 1886 Geronimo and those with him appeared at Cañon de los Embudos, Sonora, to speak with Crook (Gatewood wasn’t present). On the 25th Geronimo told the general why he left the reservation in 1885 (he thought that he would be murdered), of wanting peace, while unhappy with newspapers stating that he should be hanged. He wanted his actions deleted. While he spoke Crook refused to look at him; this angered Geronimo. When Crook did speak, he called Geronimo a liar.

LK tracking Gatewood and Geronimo in Arizona and New Mexico (23jul1996). My daughter Marissa took this image. I can’t begin to count all the trips that we have made together over the years. Good times. (photo Louis & Marissa Kraft 1996)

The following morning Geronimo told Crook that he, Naiche, and the others wanted to return to the White Mountains as they had in 1883. Crook refused; they had to spend two years in Florida. After agreeing to surrender and return to the States, and at a camp while traveling northward, Geronimo, Naiche, and some of their followers feared being killed. In the wee hours they vanished into the night.

Crook had failed and was soon gone and Miles now commanded the mop-up operation of the Chiricahua Apaches that had refused to surrender. Many troops patrolled the U.S.-Mexico border, while others from the Fourth U.S. Cavalry were in Mexico hunting the warring Indians (less than 40 men, women, and children) with one goal—to kill them. Many of these officers would win Medals of Honor for their actions. Not Gatewood, who was ill when Miles summoned him to his headquarters in July 1886 and ordered him to find Geronimo in Mexico and get him to surrender.

Gatewood wasn’t part of Miles’s campaign of capturing and destroying the warring Apaches, but the first lieutenant would pull off an impossible task while the Fourth Cavalry continued to hunt the Apaches. After talking Geronimo and Naiche into returning to the USA and ending the current Apache war, he did everything possible to get them back to the United States. This was not an easy task as both the Mexican authorities and the U.S. troops wanted them dead. This included convincing Geronimo to meet with Jesus Aguirre, the prefect who commanded the Sonoran district of Arispe (headquartered at Fronteras, Mexico), and defusing an attempt by two officers in the Fourth U.S. Cavalry (Surgeon Leonard Wood and First Lieutenant Abiel Smith) that plotted to kill Geronimo. For more on this see Gatewood & Geronimo (University of New Mexico Press, 2000) and Lt. Charles Gatewood & His Apache Wars Memoir (University of Nebraska Press, 2005). Gatewood was a first lieutenant in 1886; he was still a first lieutenant when he died in 1896, while many of Miles’s officers (captains and lieutenants) in Mexico that summer and fall of 1886 were colonels and generals when they retired or died. Miles totally wrote Gatewood out of the last Apache war. To quickly get an idea of Gatewood’s contribution to what happened in Mexico in late summer-early fall 1886 see a talk that I gave at an Order of the Indian Wars Geronimo symposium in Tucson on September 26, 2013: “Gatewood’s Assignment: Geronimo” (on YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3AaI2l8J6I).

TE: What is next for Louis Kraft?

(magazine in Louis Kraft personal collection)

LK: My next nonfiction book is Errol & Olivia, which deals with the life and times of actors Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland during their time at Warner Bros. in the 1930s and 1940s. Between 1935 and 1941 they made eight films together, and their onscreen chemistry was real and vibrant. Three of their films were westerns: Dodge City (1939), Santa Fe Trail (1940), and They Died with Their Boots On. (By the way, I talked about Flynn, de Havilland, and the Santa Fe Trail in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2005. Afterward I realized how important this talk was to my upcoming manuscript, and have never again shared this information. Luckily the talk wasn’t filmed.) Surprisingly Errol and Olivia seldom had any personal contact except on their film sets. There were many reasons for this, and much of what has been printed about their relationship is false. Shockingly some of the untruths have been reprinted so often that they are no longer cited and worse, accepted as fact.

As stated above I discovered Errol Flynn while in elementary school, and he has remained with me all these years. Luckily in Los Angeles Flynn’s films still play in movie theaters (although not in 2020 due to the theaters being shut down). Without realizing what I was doing I began researching Flynn at an early age. At first just for myself, but in the early 1990s I began thinking about writing a book about him. This led to the articles and talks.

Art based upon a photo of Olivia de Havilland and LK at her Paris, France, home in July 2009. It is in the Louis Kraft Collection. (art © Louis Kraft 2013)

In 1995 professor, historian, and friend Eric Niderost knew of my Flynn project and shared Olivia’s address in Paris, France. I wrote her once, twice, and perhaps three times with no response to questions about Flynn. This obviously wasn’t working, so I turned on my charm and began sending her Christmas and birthday cards, gifts (mostly my books and articles), and another letter dealing with an article that would soon be printed that dealt with They Died with Their Boots On, which as it turned out would be the last film they made together although neither knew this at that time. She did reply to this letter, but too late for that article. … Everything changed for the better when I sent her a hardbound copy of Gatewood & Geronimo in 2000. She liked the book and my approach to the Flynn manuscript, and answered quite a number of questions I had sent her in 1999. This opened a floodgate that led to her inviting me to visit her at her Paris home to interview her (first in 2004 and again in 2009), and to her big 2006 shindig at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in Beverly Hills, California, when the Academy honored her and her film career. It has included roughly twenty-plus years of correspondence, and this influenced me on how I would move forward.

I believe that it was sometime in 2002 that my Flynn book became a story of two people over the course of roughly 15 years—that is Errol & Olivia. Over the last 25 years I have accumulated a massive amount of primary source material. Los Angeles is a goldmine for those who write about the Golden Age of the Cinema, and for me the center-point is the USC Warner Bros. Archives. For the record, I’m approaching this book just as I have with all my nonfiction Indian wars books.

Another heart surgery

What follows could be a book, and I have been struggling to cut it to pieces. I think it is best to lead with a sentence or two, maybe a short paragraph of 2016-2017, and then focus on the most recent.

As soon as Carlos Castillo, who is a key part of Pailin’s and my small family  in the USA, got me home from Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Ca., Pailin helped me get out of my clothes so that she could take this photo (which has been cropped). Although you can’t see it in this image there were three locations on my left arm and one on my right that were set up to handle multiple needles and drains. Also there were also a number of patches that the hospital didn’t bother to remove. … In 2017 Pailin had taken a similar photo. It, also, was cropped, but only as I didn’t want to shock you, for in that photo I was au naturel. For the record there will never be a nude photo on these blogs. I’m not a prude, but they simply don’t belong here. (photo © Pailin Kraft & Louis Kraft 2020)

I have had some health problems (an understatement), but I’m alive. I should have died in 2003, 2006, 2017, and this year. … I really don’t want to talk about the past now, but I also don’t want to leave you hanging. Long story very short. I’ve had two procedures and two operations this year. When I awoke from the first operation in March, my heart surgeon and a technician from Boston Scientific, the company that manufactured the pacemaker that saved my life in 2017, were monitoring my heart and pacemaker. My surgeon confirmed information that I already knew, mainly that a lead had separated from the lower right ventricle of my heart. Originally the pacemaker was supposed to last 13½ years. By fall of 2019 the pacemaker was down to 4½ years of life. My heart surgeon told me that this was no longer so, for the pacemaker now moved toward the end of life. There was a good chance that it wouldn’t make it until the end of the year. He also told me that the loose lead had punctured my heart, and that the pacemaker no longer functioned properly. He told me that I needed to replace the pacemaker when I had healed from the March surgery (that is, in mid-June). One problem, the coronavirus made elective surgeries no longer possible in Los Angeles. All my heart appointments in March, April, May, and June were canceled. This changed in mid-June. My pacemaker is monitored whenever I’m home 24/7 by a Boston Scientific Latitude device that sits next to my computer. What was happening during the March surgery was now constant and my heart rate was rarely above 40. When I met my heart surgeon on June 23 he told me I needed the surgery ASAP, but that he couldn’t perform this operation. He recommended the best surgeon for the task in LA. I met with him a little over a week later, and we discussed my X-rays on two computers, he informed me of all that could happen (negative and positive), and that he wouldn’t know how to proceed until he cut me open on the day of the surgery. He then asked if I wanted to proceed. “Yes, I want your next available time.” The surgery was on July 10, and there were problems but I didn’t learn about them until August 4 when we met for a post-OP examination and he gave me the official surgical report. This said, the surgery was successful. I again have a new life.

To repeat part of the interview: When wild cats, possums, or rats see me at night, it is as I am the Devil staring at them and they run like hell. We have mountain lions (my favorite animal) and coyotes pass by at times. If I show my face I hope that they don’t run but allow me to talk to them.

They say a photo is worth a thousand words

The year of 2020 has been one of the COVID-19 pandemic; massive unemployment and the drastic loss of savings; outrage over systemic racial prejudice that is fueled by white supremacists; debunked and yet widespread conspiracy theories; and the continuation of horrific climate change. The United States as I and perhaps you once thought we knew it is coming to an end. Granted much of what is happening today is simply a continuation of what has been ongoing for a long time. A good part of what is now is on us, and I’m talking about human beings; that is I’m talking about me, you, and everyone else on earth. We’re all people regardless of our race, color, religion, or if we are rich or poor. We need to work together and not for our specific agendas. Our leaders must work to bring all of the countries together and not work at destroying relationships and creating enemies. Our local leaders must work to eliminate the huge and growing gap between the haves and the have-nots; they must work at eliminating homelessness and not just talking about it and raising taxes; they must stamp out the ongoing violence that is most often directed African Americans and people of Hispanic decent. Supposedly our country is the land of the free. Well I’ve got to tell you that today this is little more than a bad joke, for it is the land of the rich, and more specifically it is the land of the white rich and to hell with everyone else.

This photo of No. Hollywood, Calif., was taken from Burbank, the city that borders it from the east-southeast by Kent Nishimura of the Los Angeles Times on 4jul2020 (and printed in the California Section of The Times on the 26th, pB5). For those of you who aren’t aware of it, fireworks are totally illegal in Los Angeles County, and can only shot off at events in parks, country clubs, or at large locations such as Universal Studios Hollywood or Dodger Stadium, and then only with permits. On this July 4th there were no fireworks at parks, clubs, Dodger Stadium, and so on because of the ongoing fire season that had been raising havoc since May. Every explosion you see in this image was totally illegal. The Times reported on July 6 that “L.A. firefighters responded to thousands of emergency calls.” I live in No. Hollywood and the joke here has always been that the LAPD takes the evening off (The Times also reported that supposedly over 300 police officers called in sick that day/night). I live about a mile and a quarter from the closest fire station in No. Hollywood and about a mile and a half from the closest police station. Every year Pailin and I are surrounded by illegal fireworks that last deep into the wee hours, and the following morning I clean up all the burnt-up debris in our yard. Now here’s the kicker (and this is not news in No. Hollywood), on this year’s July 4 evening I did not see or hear one fire or law enforcement vehicle. (photo © Los Angeles Times 2020)

Regarding my thoughts on the illegal fireworks as California burns or all of my concern (whining to conspiracy aficionados) in the previous paragraph, it’s on us. Our country is a mess. It’s none of my business how you vote. This said, how are you doing; are you unemployed; can you pay all of your bills or are you living on credit or out of the bank; are you fearful of becoming homeless; how do you feel about your neighbors who are people just like you and me but are being murdered and under attack because their language, religion, or color is different; how many people do you know that have died from COVID-19; have you been affected by climate change? Dig into your soul, your humanity, and make a choice: is today’s world the one you want … or not? Follow your conscience and vote for what you know in your heart is right.

Oh, for the record, Pailin and I earn about 40 percent of what we earned last February.

The song remembers when …

The song remembers when …
Posted on February 9, 2016

Website & blogs © Louis Kraft 2013-2020
Contact Kraft at writerkraft@gmail.com or comment at the end of the blogs

My apologies for the long delay.
Much has happened since the last blog (on Errol Flynn),
including my work load, running out of physical
space on my website, deadlines and more
deadlines, and health issues.

Warning: This blog will wander in and out of my mind.

Songs and memories

I think the best place to start is with Tricia Yearwood’s song.

songRemembersWhen_wsYep, you guessed it: Her hit song, The Song Remembers When. It was released on an album that used it as its title in 1993. When I first heard the song on the radio, I said, “Yes! Yes, songs do remember when.”

I’m not a big fan of Trisha’s music, but her song (written by Hugh Prestwood) was dead-center with its focus and meaning. At least for me. Songs have always connected with me and my life. They have made me cry and laugh, they have made me contemplate who I am, they have been a call to action, and they have been melancholy. More important, they drive my life, and this isn’t a vacant comment for each day music and other impetus drives me toward my goals, which might range from spending time with my daughter to writing prose that at least I think is important to holding my lady.

That was then, … the following is now

My life has always been a juggle. … What is the next book or article or talk or play? I hate lists, but this type of list has always been with me. Always.

For the record, although I assume most of you realize that the blogs have been twofold: Publicity for Kraft projects and research for the LK memoir. Without pounding my chest, I’ve exceeded my hopes for both reasons of creating a blog. Instead of my world shrinking, which it has in real life, it has grown in the world of my writing. The people that have found me have blown me away. They, and you, have given me reason for living and pursuing what I do.

Male influences in my life …

This I can almost count the influential people in my life on my fingers. The pirate Francis Drake, actor Errol Flynn, soldier George Armstrong Custer, actor and singer Michael Parks, singer and songwriter John Lennon, along with my father Louis J. Kraft and my brother Lee Kraft. I think that these fellows sum it up, for they are responsible for who I have become (along with living life, which meanders all over the place). Oh, there are some late comers, such as Charles Gatewood, Geronimo, and the Apache Indians; Ned Wynkoop, Black Kettle, and the Cheyenne Indians. When I add my walk through life with people of all colors, races, religions, and politics … I guess that all I’m talking about here is that we are all people, and that if we cannot coexist perhaps someday there won’t be any people.

lk_9sept15_3814TIGHT_ws

I won’t live to see this (and I’m glad that I won’t).

LK as Wild Bill Hickok (left); someone I really want to play on the stage. Time will tell. But first I must deal with taxes, see the publication of The Discovery, prepare for Pailin’s and my second (and final) Green Card interview, and deliver a 135,000 word Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway manuscript to my publisher on October 1, 2016. My days are long now, and they are getting longer. (photo © Louis Kraft 2015)

I’m drifting from music, but not far. At the end of the 1960s the pilot for Then Came Bronson aired on U.S. television. In it, loner Michael Parks and runaway bride Bonnie Bedelia sang Wayfarin’ Stranger while various film angles watched them ride a Harley Davidson over the open expanse of the American West. It instantly became my favorite song, eclipsing everything by Tex Ritter, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Frankie Laine, or Elvis Presley. And it still is today. There are only two singers that I listen to more than Parks, and they are John Lennon and Alan Jackson.

Enter Ry Cooder’s magnificent film score for Geronimo: An American Legend (1993), and I had an instrumental version of Wayfarin’ Stranger. These two versions of one song will be with me until the end (and beyond).

LK’s music scope swells and shrinks as time passes

The singers that I like ranges from those mentioned above to Waylon Jennings to Janis Ian to Dido to Laura Branigan to Kris Kristofferson to Bob Dylan to Norah Jones to Johnny Cash to George Harrison to Rihanna and Rhiannon Giddens.

sukay_summit_wsThere are other types of music that I also like and often listen to while working. Sukay was a group that performed what they call Andean music using instruments native to the Andes Mountains (I have a fair selection of Andean music by them and others). I love Sukay as their sound—instrumental or instrumental and vocal—is the most alive music that I’ve ever heard. Alas, I never got to see them perform in the USA.

Ry Cooder also sings (many of his vocals don’t impress me, but I cherish his Cuban music). I’ve mentioned Cooder’s Geronimo: An American Legend above, but I certainly need to name other film composers such as Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and the recently deceased James Horner (who tragically died in 2015). I believe that the composers of film scores are the classical composers of our time (at least to me). Of the classical composers, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov is by far my favorite.

nakai_island_ofBows_borderIt goes without saying that I cherish Native American flute music; my favorite is N. Carlos Nakai, and I have seen him perform in concert. When he performs traditional or original music or mixes traditional Native music with another culture, such as Japanese, I’m in heaven (but I’m not fond of his Jazz).

Chinese flute has always been a favorite of mine, as has been traditional Thai (recently discovered due to a very special person named Pailin), and mid-Eastern and African music. I can’t tell you how often someone has visited Tujunga House and demanded that I stop playing ethnic music. The soundtrack for the offbeat 1998 Kate Winslet film Hideous Kinky was one such instance. The story took place mostly in Morocco and had a mix of rock (such as Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit and Richie Havens’ version of George Harrison’s great Here Comes the Sun) to Moroccan and indigenous music from North Africa. I turned off the album, but struggled to keep my mouth shut. (You don’t need to hear my comment about this; perhaps in a future blog.)

There isn’t enough space in this blog to talk about all of the mentioned creative artists below. The plan is to focus on songs and scores that have had an impact on my life and memories.

The baritone from Texas

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I grew up on music, loud music on 78 RPM records. Patty Paige, Doris Day, Frankie Laine, and country singers Eddie Arnold and Jack Guthrie, some Gene Autry, but no Roy Rogers. Years later my mother told me that she and all her girlfriends swooned over Frank Sinatra during WWII. I don’t remember any of Frank’s 78s but Bing Crosby was big time in our house while I was young.

I’ll tell you who was king … Tex Ritter.

His music, which dated back to when my parents were young, includes some of my favorites: Rye WhiskyBoll Weevil. and Rounded Up In Glory. Years would go by before I realized how great his Blood on the Saddle was. During those early days we had a small TV set that played its programming on a green screen. I was glued to it, and loved Tex’s singing cowboy films. When I was about five my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. “I want to be like Tex and ride a white horse and shoot bad guys.” She quickly spoiled my ambition, telling me that he was an actor and didn’t shoot anyone, that it was just make believe.

This revelation didn’t spoil Tex for me. Actually his impact on me had just begun.

A short diversion …

This is necessary to give you an idea of where I’m headed.

I grew up on Tex Ritter music. Many of his songs hit home with me when I was a boy and they still do decades after his death in 1972. There are only a handful of singers who grab my inner soul with their music. Tex was, and still is, one, as are Parks, Lennon, Jackson, Cline, Jennings, Kristofferson, Cash, Branigan, Ian, and Nelson, among others.

Michael will be with me until I die; so will be John and Alan but for different reasons that are close.

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While in junior high school a good friend my family, Lucille Ricks, obtained two signed photos of Tex dedicated to me. I’ve already posted one of the images on a blog. Here’s the other.

Back to Tex

I’ve talked about Tex Ritter in other blogs, but I didn’t really deal with his music. There is one song, The Cookson Hills, that was only released on a 45 rpm record. Hopefully I’ll fix this, as the time since I last heard the song is so long in the past that I don’t know why this song still grips me. Honestly, I don’t remember the tune or the lyrics (other than they were haunting). Yes, I have a quest to again hear this song.

Almost all of the cuts from Ritter’s great album, “Songs from the Western Screen,” including Remember the Alamo, The Searchers, The Bandit (of Brazil), and Wichita are treasures. One of my all time favorites is Cielito Lindo, which Tex included on an album that he sang completely in Spanish called “Border Affair.” Believe it or not, he also did a country-Jazz album with Stan Kenton.

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LK as a gunslinger in 1973 (a year after Ritter’s death). Certainly Tex influenced me, but so did Errol Flynn and some of the other westerners from the golden age of cinema. Looking at this image, Clint Eastwood and his spaghetti westerns (and what came later) also did. Heck, what goes around comes around; my hair today looks like it did in this image. (photo © Louis Kraft 1973)

Tex’s music added love and loneliness, heroism and tragic defeat, life and death to my early life.

I was lucky to see him perform at the famed Palomino Club (North Hollywood, Calif.) around 1969 (and then about two years later at Disneyland). My father, mother, future wife, and I had a table on the dance floor at the Palomino. It was perhaps fifteen feet from the tiny stage where Tex and his band performed.* The entire environment  was intimate (past tense, for this great club is long gone as the cost of bringing in top-notch performers became cost-prohibitive when salaries skyrocketed). I danced a few feet from where Tex sang. When he took breaks I was able to shake his hand and chat with him.

* I also saw Waylon Jennings and Charlie Pride perform at the Palomino.

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This modeling image was shot in 1974, not too long after Ritter’s death. The knit cap and leather jacket were mine, showing that I’ve been equal opportunity with hats and clothing that I’ve worn through the years. Yeah, the photographer and I were selling sex. It was in vogue back then, and it is rampant today. I guess that our culture has evolved. (photo © Louis Kraft 1974)

Tex’s deep baritone moved me from my childhood to the reality of my acting life in college (and beyond). They were boyhood dreams that never faded. His songs are with me today as they were in a long forgotten past, and best, they affect me as they did when I was young. … I hate to say it, but at times in college some of my pals in the theater department called me “Tex.” Why? I have no clue for none of them knew that I listened to Ritter’s music. My guess is that the wide-brimmed hats that I wore at the time (actually throughout my life) were the culprit.

Tex Ritter’s songs have given me a childhood life, a youthful life, and they still hang out with me as I walk into the sunset. (I’ll always have Michael and Alan; but although their music pulled from the past as it moved into the future while retaining traditional country tones, they can never recapture Tex Ritter and what he gave my world).

Songs can be favorites or ones that I’m not crazy about. More important is that
they can generate a multitude of images in my memory.

Note that the timeline in this blog is not linear.

Two songs plus one

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Doris and Louis Kraft Sr. during happy times at their Reseda, California, home in 1972 (photo © Louis Kraft 1972)

At the end of 1979 I was filming on location in the Pacific Ocean. At four each morning we boarded small craft at Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, California, for a two-plus hour ride to naval vessels before cruising another two to three hours (that is until the California coast was no longer visible). All of this was on the clock, and when you considered the return trip to Hotel del Coronado I had 10 hours on the clock without working a minute (Ca-ching, ca-ching, ca-ching … money, money, money). And better, plenty of time to hang out and explore the nuclear helicopter carrier.

During the first week of location work my mother entered a hospital, and as we were filming six days a week I asked for that first Saturday off to fly home and see her. Granted, but she had returned home before I reached her. I returned to San Diego Sunday evening and six days later we completed the location work. The week before Christmas we shot pickup shots at the studio and that marked the end of principal shooting. Two days later I celebrated Christmas with my mother, father, and brother. My sister was present (but not there, if that makes any sense). The next day (26dec1979) my mother entered the hospital for the last time. Her death (on 4jan1980) gave my father and I a relationship for we spent every minute of our waking hours during this time together until the end (and every day went deep into the night). In our loss we found a friendship that would grow to love.

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Lee Kraft at LK’s house in Encino, Calif., on Christmas 1988. This image will hang in my house for as long as I am alive. (photo © Louis Kraft 1988)

My brother Lee had been injecting the experimental medications that would hopefully save our mother; they didn’t and this affected the rest of his life. My father had turned into the perfect husband during his wife’s last years (and she told me just before the end that these were the best years of her life). … When I asked my sister why she wasn’t around, she told me that she didn’t know that her mother was dying.

Ten years later I had a knee operation which marked the end of my baseball career. At the time I managed the Kool Aid Kids (see below). Two months later, on March 6, 1990, my brother Lee died in an auto crash (he was a passenger). My mother’s death had destroyed me as we were very close (I was a mama’s boy), but Lee’s death hit me like a sledge hammer to my head. I was a wreck, and still haven’t recovered from his passing. We worked together, fought together, played together, hung out together, partied together, loved each other, and were close.

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This is a two-CD album that was released long after Kris, Waylon, Johnny, and Willie stopped performing and recording together (Waylon died in 2002 and Johnny in 2003). I like the cover a lot better than their 1985 “Highwayman” album cover.

My sister (who didn’t know her brother) and brother-in-law wanted to use the Jimmy Webb composition that Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson recorded in 1985, Highwayman, at Lee’s service. That year they released an album that used the song for the cover title. I liked the song and didn’t object. Actually I have a lot of music by all four of them (I saw Willie perform at the Hollywood Bowl a few years back; Kris was present, but he didn’t sing). Lee’s service was so large that over half of the people that attended it couldn’t fit into the hall. The song, Highwayman, is about a bandit who died only to be reborn as a sailor who would die and yet again be reborn “around and around and around” within me (and I’m certain in others who also loved him deeply).

sarahMcLachlan_surfacing_wsNine years later my father died on Valentine’s Day (14feb1999). I had been taking care of him for years. I was a wreck, but insisted upon talking at his service. My sister didn’t think that I was capable, but I told her that I was (that is, I had been delivering talks for years and it was work). She and my brother-in-law wanted to play Tex Ritter’s religious song, The Deck of Cards (although my sister had already retired as an investigator from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office while in her forties, she had previously stolen an album of mine with this recording; she eventually returned it to me). I said: “Absolutely not!” This shocked her. “Why?” “He hated the song, and so do I.” “So what do you want?” she asked sarcastically. “I want Sarah McLachlan’s Angel.” I played the song for her and she was good with the choice.

reba_greatestHits2_wsAt this time Linda had been studying the ministry, which she hoped to go into, long distance. She lived in Lake Arrowhead, California, but only had to attend classes in person in the Santa Clarita Valley, north of the San Fernando Valley, for one or two weeks each year. During these times she stayed at Tujunga House. A year plus had passed since our father’s death. On one of the nights during the every-other weeks that my daughter spent with me the three of us made ourselves comfortable on the living room floor. I played another song for her, a song that also could have worked for our father’s service—Reba McEntire’s The Greatest Man I Never Knew (written by Richard Leigh and Laying Martine, Jr.) with lyrics, “I never really knew him. … The man I thought could never die has been dead almost a year. … He never said he loved me; I guess he thought I knew.” I’m not sure how my sister reacted as her face was passive and she didn’t say anything. Hell, she wasn’t close to our mother, brother, father … or me. This is something that I deal with daily for I loved her and must find a peace between us.

My father and I were at each other’s throats until his wife/my mother died. Her death gave us a relationship that became close until his death. He said “I love you” to me for the first time the night before he died. Reba’s song tears me apart every time I hear it, and it gives me everything bad and good in my relationship with him.

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Linda Kraft-Morgon was gorgeous, but unfortunately this image doesn’t confirm this. The reason is simple: For over 10 years I took pictures with throw-away cameras that I bought at drug stores, as a real camera wasn’t in the budget. The little one in my family shot this candid while my sis and I enjoyed a moment (15may1993). At this time she was five years away from retiring as an investigator for the LA County District Attorney’s Office. I have a huge photo archive, and not too long back decided that I wanted to use this image even though the print was small and out of focus and full spots and scratches (none of this was my daughter’s fault; it was the camera and the cheap development/printing). We are on the patio at our father’s Reseda home, and it was party time. I can’t begin to remember all the dinners and parties at Dad’s. His home was always open to everyone, no matter what your race, color, religion was (and that included Lee and I). (photo © Louis Kraft 1993)

My sister was gorgeous, and she lived her life. I’m good with that. Unfortunately she died young in 2006 from the same cancer that killed our mother. I was there for her during the last two months of her life  (thanks to Sudeshna Ghosh, who was then my manager at Sun Microsystems and is now my good friend). Days after Linda’s death Lake Arrowhead was clobbered with a snowstorm. Deserted autos littered the roads almost totally hidden by snow. Visibility was probably no more than five feet as the snow continued to fall. It was ghostly, almost unreal, and yet it couldn’t have been a better setting to say goodbye. I delivered a positive telling of my time with Linda with words that were from my heart. They were full of happiness and life, and they affected people. … I need to bring resolution to the talk, to her life, and to mine. This has not been simple and there are no easy answers. Linda is with me every day, and not one hour passes that I don’t think of her. Hurt and anger are present, but I know that she loved me in her way. Someday we will meet again and that meeting will be for all time.

A beautiful lady w/No future in LK’s life

I can tell a story, a short story of a beautiful blonde woman.

lynnAnderson_b&w_wsI was fortunate and won a Western Heritage Wrangler award in 2012 (for “When Wynkoop was Sheriff,” an April 2011 Wild West article). It was a big shindig in Oklahoma City, a gathering of award recipients, presenters, rich donors, and adoring public. LK enjoyed his time in cowboy heaven.

This image of the blonde lady (left) was taken only a handful of years back, and although this is a publicity shot you can see the fun and life in her. I was lucky and got to spend time with her, if only for a little while. Looking back it was way too short.

A special lady that the Western Heritage Wrangler shindig allowed me to visit

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Dr. Henrietta Mann, speaking on the last night of the 2008 Washita Battlefield NHS symposium. (photo © Leroy Livesay 2008)

Every minute was gold during that April 2012 visit to Oklahoma City, and I added to mine by driving to Weatherford to visit Dr. Henrietta Mann, whom I met in 2008 when I played Ned Wynkoop on stage a number of times and then both of us spoke on the last day of a Washita Battlefield NHS symposium. Henri’s resume would knock you for a loop. What she has accomplished during her life is extraordinary, but I’m certain that she’d say that the highlight of her life is being one of the founders of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal College in Weatherford, Oklahoma. Yes, she is Cheyenne. … The round-trip drive was long, but it was worth it as I got to hang out with her and talk about this and that. We shared gifts, and although the future was in front of both of us we didn’t talk too much about our projects. We talked of good and bad and hope.

Back to the Western Heritage Wrangler happenings

I arrived on Thursday as I had a lot to do, including seeing Henri.

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Ernest Borgnine and Nick Vallelonga, who produced Yellow Rock, the Wrangler winner for best western film of 2011. Ernie was full of life at the event, but unfortunately died three months later (he was 95 years old). (photo © Ownbey Photography 2012)

Upon my arrival in OK City I met Dean Smith, a retired stunt man, Debbie, his beautiful wife, and their young son (unfortunately I can’t remember his name). They took the time to make me feel welcome (and this was just about every time I saw them).

Ernest Borgnine MC’d and presented (along with others that I knew and didn’t know, including Dean and the blonde lady). On that first night, Thursday, two of Borgnine’s great friends who had flown in from Florida to hang out with him ate at the same time that I did in the hotel’s restaurant. We almost had the place to ourselves. They introduced themselves, and on Friday when Ernie arrived they introduced me to him. I’ve seen a lot of Borgnine’s films, and he can be sympathetic and he can be menacing. In person he was kind, open, and a giving fellow. I enjoyed every minute I spent with him. You know what, Ernie wasn’t as large as he looked on film.

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Art of Paul and Connie Hedren based upon a photo I took of them on April 20, 2012. (art © Louis Kraft 2016)

There were a lot of events on that Friday (20apr2012), a book signing with finger food that was open to the public. There was energy all over the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Museum, which the Autry Museum of the American West (recently the Autry National Center; the name changes so often that my head spins) could learn a lot from if it only it swallowed its pride and took a gander. At the signing I had luckily been placed next to Paul Hedren, an Indian wars writer friend.

After the signing time ended I wandered the halls of the classy museum and saw the pretty blonde lady for the first time. She was petite, wore a great cowboy hat, and was exquisitely dressed in fancy cowgirl attire.

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Minoma Littlehawk and her husband Ivan.

As we passed I tipped my hat to her. She smiled, and I smiled back.

The day’s events on Friday ended before night arrived. We were bussed back to the hotel to get ready for a big party at a mansion. That is the award winners, the presenters, and the key donors of the Western Heritage Museum, and their guests.

Another special Cheyenne in my life is Minoma Littlehawk; I cannot ever thank her enough for the help she provided me on the pronunciation and spelling of the Tsistsistas’ (Cheyenne’s) language for Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek. She is married to a special man, Ivan Sills, but he decided not to attend a party at a rich donor’s mansion on Friday, but was good with Minoma being my guest (she would dress in traditional Cheyenne attire). But it wasn’t to be for something attacked Minoma’s health and she was rushed to the hospital. Luckily she would fully recover. Ivan, who had been so gracious to allow her to accompany me, was right there for her every minute of the way. Bless him.

lAnderstonART7oval3_wsThe award winners, presenters, and their guests were transported the mansion in mini vans for the private party somewhere in Oklahoma City. Debbie and Dean arrived, and she was knock-out gorgeous. The petite blonde lady that I had seen earlier in the day was with them, and she was beautiful. After Debbie and I hugged, she introduced me to the person who I didn’t know but said hello to every time I passed her in the hallway. She had a wonderful smile, and I wanted to know her. That night at the mansion party my fantasy became reality.

When we met, I asked her name. “Lynn Anderson,” she said.

“Are you the singer?” I stupidly asked.

“Yes.”

This petite blonde lady standing before me was famous and had huge country-western hit songs. My brain went dead. All I could think of was, You Never Promised Me a Rose Garden, which was a mega country hit in the late 1960s. I didn’t like the song, but I certainly knew it. Kraft may be brain dead, but he is not totally stupid. “Can I hug and kiss you?” I asked.

She smiled.  “Yes.”

I did. But, as way too often in Kraft’s life, what could have been, what should have been, could never be. I enjoyed my short time with Lynn, but life is short and we never know when it will end. Her days were limited, and what I would have liked to have happened never had a chance.

Later that night I sat at a table eating veggies, salad, salmon, and shrimp (delicious). Western hall of fame acting inductee Bruce Boxleitner sat down across from me with a plate of food, and said: “I know you.”

He did, for we had met I think in 2007 before a private screening of a live-action British documentary about the battle of the Little Bighorn in Sherman Oaks, California. The BBC documentary was quite good. After everyone ate and socialized Bruce and I sat together while we watched the film which featured Maggie Smith’s second son, Toby Stephens (of current Black Sails TV fame), who played George Armstrong Custer (the documentary was shot in 2006).

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LK with Bruce Boxleitner (21apr2012), after he was interviewed at the Western Heritage Museum. At this time we talked about his youngest son, who was at the awards, the museum, his win (his second) and Ned Wynkoop. (photo © Ownbey Photography 2012)

At the Friday evening mansion party Bruce and I talked about the Indian wars. A woman sat down next to me with her food and immediately joined the conversation. The first thing out of her mouth was that Custer was a butcher and racist. No matter what Bruce or I said, she refused to listen. Bruce got fed up with her before I did and let her have it on the Indian wars and her stupidity. I thought that steam would erupt from her nose, but before it did she grabbed her plate and stormed away. “Well, we got rid of her,” Bruce said as he grinned.

Hedren’s After Custer won the Wrangler award for best nonfiction book; Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek was the runner-up (and I have this from insider and good friend Chuck Rankin). The Wynkoop book would also be the finalist for the WWA Spur Award. … That’s life and I’m good with it.

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From left: Retired stunt man Dean Smith, Lynn Anderson, and actor Bruce Boxleitner at the April 2012 Wrangler Awards in Oklahoma City. On the evening of the twenty-first Bruce was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum acting hall of fame. (photo © Ownbey Photography 2012)

Back to Lynn: Over the course of the next day and a half we saw each other briefly time and again and always they were good minutes. Nothing happened, and regardless of what some people think of me, I’m a gentleman.

I’ve always been a gentleman, so please disregard all the stories that in times long gone used to float on the wind that I have screwed hundreds of women, men, horses, mules, dogs, elephants, and even a cockroach or two. I’ve been guilty of a lot of things, but nearly everything that I’ve been accused of is fiction—and bad fiction at that, and with no redeeming words for the slimy creatures that have spread these stories. All I can say about these “stories” is that they hurt. After a while I stopped denying the stories. Why waste time and words on “people” (and I use this word sarcastically) who refuse to listen to truth or reason.

Cockroaches? Give me a break! I know what a pretty woman looks like, and it isn’t close to a cockroach.

Initially I had hoped to again see Lynn Anderson. When a man walks a lonely road he has lots of hopes and dreams. And I always take my time, but this time I took too long. … Lynn Anderson died on 30jul2015, something that I didn’t know until the Los Angeles Times published her obituary. I learned about the lady, her ups and her downs—yes, she was a human being and had all the frailties that most of us have. I’m certain that this petite lady that I briefly met was someone worth knowing. The Western Heritage Museum knew this, for in 2012 they featured all of her music in their gift shop (and some of my work too, which was nice). … A hug and a kiss, a handful of minutes, and perhaps a friendship or more that could never be—the song remembers when, … You Never Promised Me a Rose Garden.

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The following is my acceptance talk on April 21, 2012, at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Wrangler Awards ceremony—a cool-cool tuxedoed event that was filmed in a massive banquet hall that sits 1500 people. After being introduced by actor Brad Johnson and shaking his hand I walked past the podium and picked up my bronze Wrangler from a pedestal and carried it to the podium—I was the only person to hold the award—guess the others were nervous over the weight, somewhere around 18 pounds.                                                                                                                                                                                                   “National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, thank you for inviting Steve* and myself to your shindig. We’re having a great time. (* Steve is Steve Mauro, who was an associate editor at Wild West magazine; he has since moved to Japan. He was introduced with me.) Some of my best friends are editors, and one of my good-good-good friends has been working with me since the late 1980s. His name is Greg Lalire, and he’s my editor at Wild West magazine. Wild West is one of a slew of great history magazines published by the Weider History Group (LK: Weider was bought by the World History Group in 2015). Over the years we’ve gone back and forth with a give and take relationship as we try to make the stories error free while also trying to make them page turners. I need to tell you something: If it wasn’t for Greg, I wouldn’t be standing here tonight. … I hope that by now some of you have heard of a fellow named Ned Wynkoop. He was just like you and me. He had a family he loved with all his heart. He had successes and he he had failures, and like some of us he struggled to survive. But there’s one thing that Ned Wynkoop had more than most of us—certainly more than me … guts. Guts to take a look at his world, a world of war and hatred and Cheyennes and Arapahos. He looked at his world and challenged it. He dared to reach out to people that were different from him and accept them as human beings. (Big applause, which I enjoyed.) Thank you. (I lifted the Wrangler award and kissed the cowboy.) Never thought I’d kiss a cowboy. (Silence, and I stopped breathing—I guess that the audience couldn’t believe what I had just done and said. Luckily, they eventually laughed; a big laugh.) National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum … Wild West magazine, Greg Lalire, Steve, and the magazine’s staff, along with myself—We’re honored. Thank you.”

All of the above said, LK had a great time at the Western Heritage Awards event. Good people, open people, … I met and enjoyed my time with co-winners (certainly Wild West’s Steven Mauro, who I hit it off with when I met him), Oklahomans including Chuck Rankin, my editor at the University of Oklahoma Press, and much of the press’s staff that I had never met in person before, including their great art director (Tony Roberts) and their marvelous production manager (Steven Baker*).

* Steven Baker is an absolute delight to work with; he is friendly, open to all suggestions (and demands), and he makes things happen during the production process (and long after). OU Press is lucky to have him.

I have written a lot of material for publication over the years and at times I have become public enemy No. 1 with my publishers. They claim that I overstep my position, that is, as a writer, and meaning that I am responsible for the words and nothing else. NO! No-no-no! I don’t care who the artist is—a painter, a singer, a composer, an actor, a writer … they, we, I, must push for the best product possible. If they, we, or I don’t, and the product is inferior they, we, or I cannot complain for we didn’t participate in the process—and the creative process is everything. As artists it is our job to do everything possible to make our work shine.

Yes, I am a demanding person who often oversteps the bounds of what is expected or desired from me as a writer. That said, everything I write has a vision and it is my job to ensure that my article, book, or blog (plays and talks are similar and yet different) is as true to my visualization as possible (this includes photos, maps, artwork, book covers and the text on those covers).

A lot of working relationships (and that includes writers, actors, and directors) in my past ended as I refused to deal with BS, lies, or verbal or written attacks upon me. … Yikes!!!!! I never would have guessed that the passing of a petite lady who had a good singing career led to the above tirade. I’m sorry, and yet I’m glad that my short amount of time in her presence initiated these strong feelings in me.

Enter my personal world and music that dominates it

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Pailin Subanna-Kraft and Louis Kraft at a Grover Cleveland High School reunion in October 2015.

Some 14 months after the Wrangler Awards I met a lady named Pailin Subanna. She was frail and hurt beyond belief, and she was beautiful. It was an instant attraction, something that I don’t think I have ever experienced before. On one of our first times together, we sat in a darkened screening room at the (then named) Autry National Center as a silent film played. Tears dripped down her cheeks. “I need time,” she whispered, “lots of time.” I knew then that I could wait for her as long as she needed.

Film scores, and selected compositions from them, are my favorite music. I know: What? ‘Tis true. Perhaps my favorite is Max Steiner’s The Final Goodbye from the 1941 Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland They Died with Their Boots On film score. Here Steiner mixes military trumpet calls with George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry’s theme song, Garryowen, and with the film’s love theme for Custer and his wife Libbie. For me it is terribly sad, and certainly doesn’t represent Pailin’s and my life. But then again, perhaps it does as it is very meaningful for me and represents love until the end of time.

tdwtbo_filmScore_wsErich Wolfgang Korngold’s score for Flynn’s The Sea Hawk (1940) contains the most romantic music that I’ve ever heard. It is included in a symphony that merges the film’s score but isn’t in the full score of the film that I have (why?). This is the music in garden after Flynn’s Captain Geoffrey Thorpe has been publicly chastised in court by Queen Elizabeth I of England (Flora Robson) for sinking a Spanish ship in the 1580s. After Flynn, in private, interests Robson in a piratical raid on the Spanish-held Panama peninsula he encounters Doña Maria (Brenda Marshall), in a rose garden. He had captured her when he sunk the Spanish ship, but here he calls her “My lady of the flowers.” This short scene is marvelous in how it deals with forgiveness and unsaid feelings. The music is intimate and caring and full of hope. There is one other Korngold film score that has a romantic love theme that I like a lot: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). After Maid Marian (de Havilland) is instrumental in planning Robin Hood’s (Flynn) escape just before being hung for treason, Flynn climbs the wall to Olivia’s private chamber. Again, Korngold’s score (for the Love Scene) hits the mark dead center, as if arrows shot from Robin Hood’s bow. Not violent, but instead sensual and tender.

geronimo_anAmericanLegend_wsThe Steiner and Korngold compositions represent my feelings for Pailin. But they are not alone, for Ry Cooder’s great score for the film Geronimo: An American Legend is loaded with a combination of music from the time period (American Indian wars; roughly 1860-1890) as well as his magnificent compositions that are totally in tune with the storyline and Geronimo’s life. One piece, La Visita, which features the guitar, is used in a cantina when Lt. Charles Gatewood, who is searching for Geronimo in Mexico, confronts scalp hunters. The scene turns bloody while the music remains melodic and peaceful. It is ethnic (something that Cooder excels at when he moves south of the U.S. border for his compositions). Pailin and I have totally different backgrounds, and even though the sound of La Visita isn’t American or Thai, it represents both of us (certainly me; more below).

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Stay

I’m a button pusher on the car radio, and have always been one. If I don’t like the song—adios. I hate to say it, but easily 70 percent of the songs I that hear I don’t like. Also, I’m not loyal to radio stations (two exceptions being two sports stations in Los Angeles). Colin Cowherd, who left ESPN to produce his own show on Fox and move himself and his family to LA, is an extraordinary interviewer and is as sharp as they come at getting to the core of a subject.

Shortly before I met Pailin on the afternoon and evening of June 15, 2013, at a dinner party at Tujunga House (looking back, perhaps one of the most important days of my life), I had scrolled between FM radio stations and came upon 97.1 AMP Radio in Los Angeles. It featured mostly new music (pop, hip-hop, and so on) and the sounds were alive. One was Stay by Rihanna (from her 2012 “Unapologetic” album). At that time Stay was dominating the airwaves. The first time I heard the song I was hooked. I still am, and as far as I’m concerned AMP Radio is the number one FM music radio station in LA. … I like a lot of the new sounds, for they have life and a heartbeat. … The word “stay” was certainly on my mind at the beginning of Pailin’s my time together, and it will be so for all time. Rihanna’s Stay is a song that I never tire hearing.

Sad SongsI Feel so Bad, and alley ways

My father used to tell me of his days of growing up in New York and walking miles through snow to get to school. The good old days? Hell, I have my own good old days when I walked 30 miles to school in torrential downpours with water up to my knees. ‘Tis true, except for the distance. … After some eight to twelve elementary schools I was able to settle into two steady years in one school for the 5th and 6th grades. But after graduation a handful of us were separated and yet again I found myself in a new world with few familiar faces. Sutter Junior High School in Canoga Park, California, was a three and a half mile walk or bike ride (a car ride if rain pounded mother earth before it was time for me set out for school). Mostly I walked, and I learned the alley ways that were empty and yet full of music that blasted from open windows in the early morning.

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It was at the beginning of my junior high years in 1961 that I heard Sue Thompson’s song Sad Movies (Make Me Cry) for the first time. She sang of a lost boyfriend, and although I was years away from having a girlfriend or any understanding of what love might offer, it touched something inside me.

Walking down the long alley brought me pleasure for many houses blasted their radios. Sue’s Sad Movies introduced me to Rock n’ Roll. It still gets air time at Tujunga House, and it certainly brings back memories of a car chase that had disaster written all over it.

Sad movies still affect me to this day, and there is no set reason why they tear my heart up, but they do. Some of Errol Flynn’s films and more recently Quigley Down Under (1990), Titanic (1997), The Bridges of Madison County (2000), and Blood Diamond (2006).

Soon after I heard my first Elvis Presley song, I Feel so Bad (also 1961). The song’s blues grabbed my soul and it has never let go. There’s something that drives me, and this has often made me a recluse. This is strange for I’m social and I like being around people, but for most of my life I’ve been a loner. … These two songs pushed me to ask for a radio in my bedroom so that I could hear rock ‘n roll and country music at my beck and call. I didn’t get a new radio, but instead the one that had been in my parents’ bedroom. … I was in heaven.

The walks continued to be long, as was the alley.

I was just a boy with visions of Duke Snider (the great Brooklyn Dodgers and Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder making glorious catches in the outfield and drilling home runs to right field), and of course toy pirates, cowboys, and Indians.

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A photo of LK taking practice swings before the seventh game of the first season of the Kool Aid Kids at Winnetka Park in the San Fernando Valley (8dec1980). The first three or four years we played in a city league and always played different teams. During our fourth or fifth year we joined the Chatsworth Park League. They had two leagues with playoffs and then a championship game with the winner of the other league. This was cool because of the playoff system, but also because we played the same teams in our league two or three times each season (there were three seasons each year). Good times for LK, my brother Lee, Tony Graham, and a great group of guys (and their ladies). We practiced together, played together, and partied together. (photo © Louis Kraft 1980)

The “Duke” ruled my world and influenced my immediate future like no other sports star of my early years with but one exception, “Mr. Quarterback,” Johnny U (Johnny Unitas) of the Baltimore Colts, who almost singlehandedly set the National Football League on pace to become “the” American sport of today. I met and spoke with the Duke numerous times but unfortunately I never met Johnny U. I’ve had articles published about the Duke (but have never written about Johnny), and even though I pitched the Duke on a biography, he was already under contract for what would be published as The Duke of Flatbush (1988; written with Bill Gilbert), and he had to turn me down.

There’s one thing about me; if I want something I go for it. Regardless of my success rate, I have never shied away. You can’t strike out in baseball unless you come to the plate and swing the bat, … you cannot hit a home run in baseball unless you come to the plate and swing the bat. I have never shied away from coming to the plate. Success has good stories, but often failure has better stories. … Just look at the people that I write about. … They stood for equality and human rights, and they had the shit kicked out of them by the U.S. government, the military, the press, and the American population on the frontier, but this didn’t prevent them from doing what they thought was right.

What I’m really talking about here …

Although I didn’t know it, there would be a lot of Sad Movies in my life. Here I’m talking landing acting contracts, publishing contracts, and my relationships with people. My life has been a long and winding road, and because of this my relationships have surged and fizzled (some friends are forever while others are for a piece of time). I cherish my real friends (and it is just like yesterday when we see each other, talk on the phone, or connect on social media). The others? Glad I knew you. Vaya con Dios.

Early on in my professional life I did everything I could to land an acting or writing contract. I quickly learned not to whip myself if I didn’t land the gig or the assignment while realizing that constructive criticism was one of my best friends and that I should never allow my ego to block or ignore it.

My personal life has been a different story. My success with women is probably no better than my success rate with acting and writing. However, with the ladies, the failures always hurt. What could have been, what I wanted, and what could never be has always remained with me. There have been ladies in my life that have never been part of it, for they have been in it for only for a flash of time. … Good, bad, or indifferent my memories—be them acting, writing, or personal—are always with me. They are in black ink and painted in blues and browns and lighter shades of color. They are in my writing—fiction and nonfiction (yesterday, today, and tomorrow). They are my past and my future. They, along with my lady and my daughter, are my life.

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This image was taken with my Brownie Kodak camera in summer 1965, shortly after Dennis Riley (right) and I graduated from high school. The little fellow in the background is my brother Lee. Dennis and I became friends in high school, but our relationship began when we attended different junior high schools but often found ourselves rivals in sandlot sports. (photo © Louis Kraft 1965)

Back to that alley that I walked through come rain or shine

One night in the late 1960s I drove to Dave Pittaway’s parents’ home in Reseda, California, and we went to pick up Dennis Riley at his parents’ house (also in Reseda) in Dave’s car to have a night on the town (they attended Pierce Junior College and I went to San Fernando Valley State College, which would soon become California State University, Northridge).

This was shortly before Dennis enlisted in the Navy. Dave ran a stop sign and cut a car off. Dennis was in the back seat, and when the other driver honked he leaned out an open window and flipped the bird. Suddenly the driver trail-gated us. “Is he crazy?” Dave or Dennis asked. “There’s three of us and one of him.” The race through the streets heated up, and it didn’t take us long to realize that there was another car behind the first and it was well occupied. As we sped west on Sherman Way Dave ran a red light and yanked the car north onto Corbin Avenue (one lane each way). The other two cars were right behind us as we entered the town of Winnetka. The speed had to have been close to 60 mph. I knew where we were, for this was just south of where I walked into the alley and heard Sue Thompson’s Sad Movies and Elvis’s I Feel So Bad. The first car sped by us and now had us sandwiched between our pursuers. We rushed toward the next intersection with a light (Corbin and Saticoy Street). “Dave,” I yelled, “just before we reach Saticoy there is an alley to our left. When we reach it turn into it and almost immediately turn left into another alley!”

The light at the intersection turned green and the first car flew across Saticoy as Dave yanked the wheel to the left and swerved into the alley. The second car, that now tailgated us, had no chance to stop and flew past us and through the intersection.

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LK’s office in Woodland Hills, Calif., in 1970. Not the best location (the property is worth a fortune today), but I didn’t have to pay rent. … I chose this image as it shows how I looked at the time of this infamous memory. Unfortunately I don’t have any images of Dave Pittaway or another that I can find of Dennis Riley (I should have few of him somewhere). And, alas, there are no images of the chase or of us hiding in the bushes. (photo © Louis Kraft 1970)

“Turn off your lights!” I ordered as Dave braked and fishtailed into the second alley. He turned off the lights as he sped down the pitch-dark and narrow asphalt. If an animal or person stepped in front of us, … it, he, or she would have been roadkill. Dennis and I watched our tail as Dave pressed the gas pedal; our pursuers probably got caught by a red light once they were able to turn around.

“When we reach the end of the alley,” I yelled, “turn right!”

Dave missed this order and the car blindly shot across a residential street and into the rear entry of an apartment building (luckily we weren’t broadsided). Before crashing into a staircase David yanked the steering wheel to the left and then to the right and swung into a vacant parking spot. He was slow with the brakes and the car crashed into the apartment building. Not much damage, but the impact sounded like a bomb. All three of us were out of the car in a flash and out of the complex and into nearby bushes.

Hours passed, and we saw and heard nothing. We ventured back into the apartment’s parking lot. All was quiet; it didn’t even look as if anyone had noticed a strange auto. Luckily our evening had ended on the bright side. That is, we didn’t have to engage in a brawl.

One of the greatest albums ever …

I liked Johnny Cash a lot at the time of his primetime TV variety show that aired between June 1969 and March 1971 (Michael Parks was a guest at the time of my favorite TV show of all time, Then Came Bronson (1969-1970)—more on Parks below). At that time Big John released a slew of impressive albums, but best I loved his duets with his wife June Carter Cash on TV (I could see the fun in their love, for it transcended whatever problems they struggled with throughout their lives together).

bitterTears_cash_wsEarlier Johnny had cut an album that was obscure, and yet he sang the songs with power and passion. It dealt with American Indians from their point-of-view (POV). Not a popular POV in the 1960s or unfortunately still in the 21st century. There are eight cuts on the album and seven of them are extraordinary. The album was called “Bitter Tears.”* This album grabbed my soul, and it has never let go of it. … Especially As Long As The Grass Shall Grow, Apache Tears, Drums, White Girl, and The Vanishing Race. Johnny had written Apache Tears and The Talking Leaves while folksinger and song writer Peter La Farge wrote five songs, and Johnny Horton wrote The Vanishing Race.

* In 2014 an album was released called “Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited,” with various artists including Kris Kristofferson, who sang The Ballad of Ira Hays, recreated Cash’s original recordings. Perhaps I’m too-closely attached to Johnny’s album, for even though I play this album fairly often I find it lacking passion and weak in comparison. Rhiannon Giddens wrote additional lyrics for The Vanishing Race, arranged and sang the song, and her performance is by far the best on the album. There is one additional song, Look Again To The Wind (written by Peter La Farge).

In the 1960s I had no idea that I’d become a writer, much less a writer about the American Indian wars. I had no idea that I would come to realize that the Indians (Cheyennes, Apaches, Navajos, and many-many-many other tribes) fought for their loved ones, their homeland, their religion, their culture, their freedom, their lifeway, and their lives). John’s voice was (and still is) alive, vibrant and, his POV on the album is clear.

Rhiannon brings back memories of Patsy

I first heard Rhiannon Giddens on the “Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited” album, and liked what I heard. I searched for her on Amazon and found that she was the lead singer for the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I listened to a lot of the short cuts from the group’s music (it goes back in time, and is alive with rhythms and emotions), but before making a decision to purchase one of the Carolina Chocolate Drops albums, Rhiannon’s first solo album was released in 2015 and I purchased it after listening to partial cuts.

patsyCline&rhiannonGiddensCollage1_wsRhiannon’s music has range and diversity. She also sang one of my all-time favorite pop songs from the early 1960s—She’s Got You—on her solo album. I loved this song the first time that I heard Patsy Cline (who tragically died in a plane crash on 5mar1963) sing it.

Patsy has always been my favorite female singer of all time, and Rhiannon has already become one of my favorites. If you don’t know these ladies’ music, you should.

Linda Ronstadt, cars, and Lee

Linda Ronstadt was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, and justifiably so. In 1974 my brother Lee (18 at the time) worked at a car dealership in the San Fernando Valley (if I ever want to talk about bullshit, I can certainly do it here). I was an actor looking for employment (read attempting to bring in money when not acting).

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This photo was taken at California State University, Northridge, and it is what I looked like when I drove American Motors autos, and later worked in the dealership’s auto body (where I was almost executed; the manager’s quick action saved me when he killed all the power in the shop and I dropped to the ground). (photo © Louis Kraft 1973)

Linda’s You’re No Good sizzled on the radio. Regardless of what you think about me I do like to eat, and I’ve always provided for people in my life. Lee landed me a job at the dealership. At the time American Motors was limping down a dead-end road but the company hadn’t realized it yet (or maybe they did). The only car they produced worth anything was the Javelin, a fast pony car. The job was simple. Drive new cars to LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) rental lots or newly painted police cars to their destinations (these were Matadors), and yes, I pushed those beasts to the limit w/o cracking up a one—hell, I had to ensure that the LAPD were getting cars that could fly. Good times with Lee, and within six years we would start a softball team with friends. Lee and I would play ball year round for the next 10 years. Ten great years until his untimely end.

We’ve all seen a lot of death, and I know that it is hard on all of us. The death of my sister in 2006 marked the end of my entire immediate family except for my daughter. Luckily I still have her, and my lady.

I’ve always been good with people. All races, all religions, all colors. I thank my parents for this, but until 1970 I never had an inking of the trail that my life would follow.

Enter two men whose music blows me away to this day

As said above singer/songwriters are front and center in my life, but there is one singer that stands before them—Michael Parks. That means that he, along with Alan Jackson and John Lennon are the major players in my musical vocal life.

Alan Jackson

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An early signed concert photo of Alan Jackson. (LK collection)

I was aware of Alan’s work early in his career; at that time Los Angeles radio stations still played decent country music. His sound is traditional, honky tonk, with a touch of blues. Unlike many performers he has again and again branched into other genres from blue grass to religious while remaining true to his roots.

In 1992 a divorce was final and my daughter and I moved into an apartment in Woodland Hills, California (I had her every other week, the result of a costly negotiation but worth every penny). At this time Alan had a major hit on the radio, Midnight in Montgomery (w/Don Sampson). Some of the lyrics are: “It’s midnight in Montgomery … Just hear that whippoorwill … See the stars light up the purple sky … Feel that lonesome chill … When the wind is right you’ll hear a song … Smell whiskey in the air … Midnight in Montgomery … He’s always singing there.” He is the legendary Hank Williams. This song grabbed me and has never let go.

alanJackson_angels&alcohol_wsMy daughter and I had a used mattress on the floor, a love seat, and folding chairs. I had my computer, two large book cases, and my books and research. Here I wrote a contracted novel about Kit Carson that would never see print. The publisher dropped their western line and when I threatened to sue, my agent talked me out of it. Tragedy? No! For I had my daughter and soon a contract with friend Dick Upton (Upton and Sons, Publishers) to write and design a nonfiction book on Custer’s peaceful roundup of the warring Cheyennes and Arapahos on the southern plains in 1869. … This time, this short time, in Woodland Hills (April 1992-January 1993), was, and still is, a major piece of my life. … Every time I hear Alan’s Midnight in Montgomery, it brings me right back to nine plus glorious months in my life.

Alan Jackson’s songs from I’ll Go On Loving You (by Kieran Kane) to Gone Country to Don’t Rock the Jukebox (w/Roger Murrah and Keith Stegall) to She’s Got the Rhythm (I Got the Blues) w/Randy Travis to (his song that deals with 9/11) Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) to Remember When (my favorite of all time) to Angels and Alcohol).

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Alan Jackson announces his “Keepin’ It Country” tour in 2016.

Alan returns to SoCal for a concert this year. I had seen him several years back in Orange County (a great concert). He’ll be at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, on April 16. I prefer close seats, and prices have gone up since last I saw Alan (high $200s to low $300s per ticket for good seats). Doable? Doubtful. But Pailin likes his music. November, December, and January have been disasters money wise. February will be also. Still? …

Although I hate lists, I could easily come up with a top 10 songs of all time list. Ladies and gents, this list is totally personal. Kris Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning Coming Down would make the list, as would Michael Park’s rendition of Wayfarin’ Stranger. Definitely Tex Ritter’s The Cookson Hills and most likely Patsy Cline’s & Rhiannon Giddens’ renditions of She’s Not You (two for one here). I can’t forget Rihanna’s Stay. That leaves John Lennon and Alan Jackson. Certainly Lennon’s Imagine and Jackson’s Remember When are on the list. (John and Alan will claim the final three spots, and this won’t be easy). … Ladies and gents, I always remember when.

John Lennon

That’s right, John Lennon! He is major in my life, but surprisingly he was a late entry for me mainly because I didn’t much care for the Beetles. Oh, they had some great songs, such as George Harrison’s My Guitar Gently Weeps and the Sun’s Going to Shine. But for me the greatest Beetles song was Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s A Day in the Life. This song was an eye-opener—then and now. It grabs me every time I hear it. The shock of the tragedy is stunning, and it refuses to let go of me. After our brother Lee died, my sister and her husband wanted to use Highwayman at his service and I agreed, but it may not have been the correct choice. Looking back, I believe that the song should have been A Day in the Life.

jLennon9_border_wsIt was a cold night in December 1980 when the Kool Aid Kids had a softball practice at Winnetka Park in the San Fernando Valley. Lennon’s joint album with his wife Yoko Ono had recently been released and some of the songs had play time on the radio. I had heard one or two of the songs, which were different in that they focused on a relationship between a man and a woman (something that Alan Jackson has excelled at) and I liked them. Moreover, Lennon’s single Imagine, which he created after the Beetles’ demise, had never been a button pusher on the car radio, for I always listened to it. I was roughly 10 years older than most of the fellows on the ball team that Lee, his great friend Tony Graham, I, and others had created. It was just a night of practice late in the team’s first year of existence. One of the fellows mentioned that John Lennon had been shot and killed at the entry to his apartment in Manhattan, New York City. Most of the team didn’t react, didn’t care. I did. I was shocked. Death and murder always shocks me, and I suppose that is why most on my writing has focused on people who put their lives at risk to prevent or end war (and all the heinous crimes that accompany it).

Believe it or not more than a few people actually turn their backs to me when I am present at events as a writer or speaker. This always gives me lift, and sometimes a thrill, as I mind-play going for a walk with them down a dark and lonely road so that we can discuss their problems. … Alas, those days of mine are long gone and have faded into my past. My rebel rousing days are simply memories now. If in the presence of a racist in LA today I will verbally confront them. … I think that the last time this happened was at a late-night dinner after I was a guest interviewee on an hour-long local Los Angeles radio station in 2010. When the radio show’s host and I decided to go for dinner another radio show host wormed his way into joining us. During the evening his words (the other radio host) became more and more racial, so much so that they weren’t worth a comment. I started to grin, and this unnerved him. “What’s your problem?” he snarled across the table. “You,” I replied, “you’re a racist.” I don’t say words like this unless I am prepared to back them up. On this evening I felt combative, for the—the I don’t know what to call this person—the “something” had leaped to his feet as he verbally defended himself and attacked what I had said. I smiled, my best Clint Eastwood smile. This unnerved him and he sat down. The rest of the evening rushed toward conclusion without nary another comment from my new acquaintance. After we paid, he leaped to his feet and while keeping his distance from me he ran for the exit. As the radio host and I left the restaurant I apologized for what had happened. He accepted my words, adding that I had been correct.

Maybe, but although he told me that night that I’d again be a guest on his show I’ve never been invited back.

doubleFantasy_wsJohn’s murder pushed me to explore his music, beginning with his newly released album with Yoko Ono, Double Fantasy. At first I wasn’t certain how I felt about this album other than it was different and was from the heart (two hearts; John’s and Yoko’s). This album changed my view of music, and certainly of Lennon (and Yoko). Country ballads and straight rock ‘n’ roll suddenly needed a reason to exist. This immediately gave value to Kris Kristofferson’s songs and opened the door for me to listen to Alan Jackson’s great songwriting (see above). John’s music had range and power and focus, and when you add in his values such as antiwar and peace, women equality, love, and his work grabbed me like no others before or after. Alan’s songwriting is close, for he has certainly focused on the human condition and has touched upon our world of yesterday and today—his Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) is extraordinary—and he is often dead-on with his subject matter, but John took his views to the next level (and this was before Alan’s time).

US_vsJohnLennon_wsA former girlfriend (Diane Moon) latched onto Lennon and Jackson’s music and liked it. Later she would say that both had “tinny” voices. Correct, but it is the words and the performance and not the magnificence of the voice. Her voice was extraordinary. At the Methodist Church in Burbank, California, the members couldn’t believe the sounds coming from her when she sang at Sunday services. She had studied music in her native country, was a great piano player (and taught piano), but her voice was God-given. It had the power and intimacy of Adele’s in the current hit Hello.

Lennon, more than most people I have known or have respected, put his life at risk and pushed the envelope. President Richard Nixon had him on his hit list for Lennon dared to speak out and sing about peace and the end of the Vietnam war. God bless Mr. Lennon for daring to stand firm for what he believed. In a small way I have attempted to change attitudes towards the human experience in history, but John touched a nation (the USA), a good portion of the world, and perhaps even his homeland (Great Britain). His music affected me in 1980 and still does today. He, along with Alan, will be with me forever.

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The Final Showdown was published in 1992. This image was taken in the entry to my former home in Thousand Oaks. Afterward the photographer and I finished the photo session on a hill just south of the 101 freeway in Ventura County. (photo © Ventura News Chronicle 1992; used by permission)

A book sale and Quittin’ Time

The acting had been gone since 1985, but the years drifted forward at an alarming pace. The best thing I had going for me was the freelance writing. I had morphed into a publications manager and freelance writer for pay. Years passed and the year 1990 started poorly. It began with a knee operation (I used to run 3 ½ or 7 miles per day; I have one recommendation—don’t do it). Next I received a great review from the editor-in-chief where I was publication manager only to be told that I would receive an $8,000 pay cut (yeah, times were tough back then too—so much for the good ol’ days). I quit and within a couple of weeks I landed a technical writing job based upon my freelance writing and publishing background. But before I started my brother died in an auto wreck. A handful of days over two months into 1990 and I had begun to wonder if I would survive the year.

“The times, they are a changin’,” to quote Bob Dylan.

That summer my former wife and I bought a house in Thousand Oaks, California, without selling our home in Encino. The house was a half block walk into the Santa Monica Mountains. It had a pool (I had grown up a fish and swimming has always been a part of my life) but I didn’t live in Wonderland and this new round of swimming wouldn’t last.

anderson_quitinTime_wsBut this went right by me.

It was still 1990 when a verbal pitch landed a contract for The Final Showdown. Life couldn’t be better.

I’ve always enjoyed entertaining, and the summer of 1990 was terrific.

At least on the surface, … I lived in a great new home, swam, had a book contract, and friends and family visited on the weekends. That summer  of 1990 was one I’ll never forget as my daughter learned to swim, and Dejah Thoris (a Doberman named after the princess of Mars, and the kindest and most loving animal I’ve ever known) also learned that she could swim.

… But the seeds were in place.

By the summer of 1991 things had changed. Pool parties and barbecues had become mostly a one-man show. When people came over to hang out, eat, and enjoy the pool, my then wife was mostly a no-show. When asked where she was I didn’t tell the truth, but simply said that she didn’t feel well.

At this time John Anderson’s Quittin’ Time, off his great 1987 “Blue Skies Again” album, got a lot of playing time in Thousand Oaks.

The 1982 Jerry Reed song She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft) summed up what would soon happen.

The divorce became final in April 1992. I remember feeling a release while driving my 1982 Ford F-150 pickup that day.

For the record, my former wife and I have done everything
possible to befriend each other and to make our daughter’s
life as good as possible. I don’t know of a song that
deals with this. If there aren’t any, there should be,
for salvaged relationships are important.

Michael Parks and his music

I had seen some of Michael Parks’ early films and I had been impressed.parks_HarleyPoster In 1969 a TV show premiered. It was called Then Came Bronson, and it affected my life more than any film or TV series has before or after it. Parks was the lone recurring character as every episode had different players. In the pilot, with Bonnie Bedelia, Parks, accompanied by Bedelia, sang Wayfarin’ Stranger. It is a religious song, and it became my favorite song of all time the first time I heard it in the pilot (unfortunately the duet version with Bedelia has never been placed on a record or CD).

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Ad in LK collection.

The producers followed up with what they presented in the pilot, and that is Parks sang songs—mostly country leaning toward country blues with some that were almost pop. This of course led to an album, Closing the Gap. Every cut on this album is classic, but my all time favorite (other than Wayfarin’ Stranger) is Oklahoma Hills, which certainly dates back to at least Jack Guthrie and 78 rpm records).

In 1995 Custer and the Cheyenne was published by Upton and Sons, and I had a major talk on George Armstrong Custer’s peaceful roundup of the Cheyennes and Arapahos in 1869 after the  battle of the Washita which resulted in Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle’s death in November 1868. My daughter accompanied me on the trip; first to Taos, New Mexico, where we hung out while I tried to figure out what I’d say, and then to Amarillo, Texas, for the talk. In Amarillo, a city I’m not thrilled about, there is a cool steak house, which is also a tourist trap as it is right off I-40. She and I had eaten there about three years earlier, when we tracked Custer, the battle of the Washita, and then his pursuit of the Arapahos and Cheyennes onto the Staked Plains of Texas. My memory of Amarillo is of wind and more wind. If you are going to wear a broad-brimmed hat you had better hold onto it or it will end up in the next county. On our first visit two strolling cowboy singers with guitars stopped at our table and asked if we’d like to request a song. I said,”Oklahoma Hills.” The two singers sang it without missing a beat (a nice job)  and my daughter was impressed (so was I). Every time I hear Parks’s version of this song, he brings me right to my daughter and all of our road trips over the years (so many that I can’t count them all). Every one of these trips has been a highlight in my life.

If I’m sounding a little melancholy here, my apologies. Sometimes things don’t go as you want and hope. I’m in one of those zones right now.

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LK art of Michael Parks in concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on May 22, 1970. I had purchased expensive tickets but we were seated about midway in the auditorium. B.S.!!! I talked it over with my then wife, who was a photographer, and we decided to move to the front of the stage and kneel down in front of the first row of seats. She had her camera and clicked away, and best, no one bothered us. This image, blasted from both high and low stage lights, and was unusable. I turned it into artwork. … Michael Parks is by far the best singer I have ever listened to perform (on records/CDs or in person), and this includes Tex Ritter, Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and the great Alan Jackson. (art © Louis Kraft 2015)

Years later I worked on a pilot called Turnover Smith, a proposed TV series with William Conrad playing the leading character, a detective, and Belinda J. Montgomery, a young actress that I personally knew at that time due to her family being my father-in-law’s patients (he was one of the leading general practitioners in Los Angeles at that time) played Conrad’s assistant. Parks was a detective in the pilot. I lucked out and got to work on the pilot. I hung out with Belinda, spent good time with Conrad, and best for me I hit it off with Parks. We spent a lot of time together over the course of three weeks; maybe four.

He was working on an album that he called “My Horse Came Back,” and asked if I had a tape recorder as he’d lend me a tape of the cuts in their current status. I didn’t have a tape recorder at that time and never heard the songs. Michael had four albums (plus a “best of” album) that dated from Then Came Bronson years and the aftermath. All were country and country blues and they are my favorite albums of all time.

Decades passed, before he released an album that I only heard for the first time in 2015. It was jazz (not my kind of music, but Michael’s), and in 1998 he released his final album (to date), “Coolin’ Soup.” It is mostly jazz, but there are two country blues cuts that I really like.

Back to Wayfarin’ Stranger …

I’m evil, and I will live a long time. I’m front and center in what I need to do to make this happen, and I work at it every day. There are two reasons, and  both are of major importance to me.

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“Nuch” is Pailin. (photos © Louis Kraft 2012 & 2013)

1) I need to ensure that my lady and daughter survive in a harsh world. They are both innocents and need someone to watch over their shoulders, to protect them, and to keep them safe. To do this I need another 40 or more years.

2) I have a stack of books I want to complete and see published.

Ladies and gents, the above is my life.

Of course the end will come. When it does, I want Michael Parks’ rendition of Wayfain’ Stranger to play at my service (if there is one). I also want Ry Cooder’s instrumental version of Wayfarin’ Stranger from his Geronimo: An American Legend film score, as well as his La Visita. These three pieces and no others. … Not to worry. This is a long way off in my future.

Six staples are about to be removed from my head.
Life is good, and I’m enjoying every minute.

A Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway update

Website & blogs © Louis Kraft 2013-2020

Contact Kraft at writerkraft@gmail.com or comment at the end of the blogs


 You should know that when I write blogs I’m not writing plays,
articles, talks, or books. When drafting a blog I function as a journalist.
I have points to make. Sometimes I deal with the past but often I deal with
the present. The goal is to present an opinion on events (past and present) while getting my facts straight. When I deal with the past I’m researching an LK memoir or I’m trying to understand historical people from Black Kettle to George Bent to
John Chivington to Olivia de Havilland to Errol Flynn and on and on. When I
deal with the present I’m focused on events that affect my life, and I talk
about them as they are important to me. Regardless if I write about
the past or the present the goal is to inform and entertain you.


The times are boiling …

One of my best friends of all time went under the knife on September 23. A wonderful friend of mine in Thailand has just lost her brother. …

An anticipated call did come on September 23 from a
wonderful lady who is my best friend’s sister.

A language translator totally messed up reality
as to my Thai friend’s brother’s situation
and tragically he died.

Life is precious and I make an effort every day to cherish the time I still have.

As promised in a previous blog I’m keeping my Sand Creek project up front with status updates. Ideally these will be shorter blogs (and not books, as my friend Vee has often reminded me about many of my posts). What follows will mostly deal with the trials and tribulations of LK attempting to make progress on an Indian wars book that dominates his life. All I have to do is complete the manuscript and then work closely with my publisher to ensure that the printed book is as good as we can make it.

You should know that when I draft a document I
have an idea of what I hope to present. When I write fiction
the characters take over and move the plot, but in the blogs
it is the subject matter that controls the flow of the text.

A return to Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway

During 12 days in June 2014 I performed intensive primary Cheyenne research at the Braun Research Library at the former Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, California. I had been promised my extensive photocopy request in September 2014. And don’t ignore the word “extensive,” for it was. Read a massive amount of work for Research Services Assistant Manola Madrid, who had worked with me closely on previous visits to the Braun. There would be a delay, but this was not Manola’s fault, and I truly believe that the delay was not caused by the Braun. …

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The Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, Calif. (art © Louis Kraft 2014)

Changes at the Autry National Center, to which the Southwest Museum merged with in 2003, were about to become reality. In July 2014 people that had landed research grants (if that is the correct term) would dominate the Braun staff’s time, and then the reality of the closure of the Braun and ultimately the final closure of the Southwest Museum (which still hasn’t happened as it is still open on Saturdays for people to visit).WestResearchTripMontage_sept-oct2014_wsSeptember 2014 came and went. Actually the rest of 2014 came and went; great times for LK as I was able to take Pailin on her first research trip to the West in the Vette. Almost 4,000 miles in 19 days. She researched Sand Creek in Colorado with my good friend and great Cheyenne wars historian John Monnett and his wife Linda (they kindly welcomed us into their home). In Santa Fe, New Mexico, she got to hang out with my wonderful friend Tomas Jaehn, who is responsible for creating the Louis Kraft Collection at the Chávez History Library, which is part of the New Mexico History Museum (if you saw the historic artifacts that the history museum has hidden away you’d faint). Pailin was again put to work at the Chávez and then locating the last place that Ned Wynkoop lived at in Santa Fe (this last thanks to Tomas’s right-on tips on how to find the building), and again came through with flying colors. We next headed for Texas to see my great friends Glen and Ellen Williams (and Glen’s pretty sister LInda), and like Mr. and Mrs. Monnett, the Williams opened their home to us.

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This is a detail of a painting that is one of many placards at the Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner in southeast New Mexico (unfortunately I don’t know the name of the person that created the art). Here Col. Christopher “Kit” Carson (right) is agreeing to command Gen. James Carleton’s (left) Mescalero Apache campaign in 1863. The Mescaleros would be removed to the Bosque Redondo before Carson’s burnt earth campaign against the Navajos began later that year. BTW, the Bosque Redondo Memorial is magnificent. If you have any interest in the Apaches or the Navajos’ forced confinement in a deadly environment a visit to the memorial is well worth your time. If you are a Mescalero Apache or Navajo cultural or Indian wars historian-writer it is mandatory that you visit. … BTW, Kit Carson was not the racist-butcher that so many uninformed people stuff down our throats. For starters he had an Arapaho wife, a Cheyenne wife, and a Spanish wife. He also spoke six or seven languages: English, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Spanish, Ute, Mescalero Apache dialect, and I believe Navajo. Not bad for a person who is now often slandered and libeled as a butcher and racist by people with their thumbs stuck where the sun doesn’t shine.

On the way to Texas we visited the Bosque Redondo in southeast New Mexico where the Navajos were incarcerated after the “Long Walk” in 1864 when they surrendered to Kit Carson’s burnt earth campaign that had few fatal casualties (I believe under 30 deaths). This area now thrives but in the 1860s it was a land of pestilence and death. This was must see for my next nonfiction Indian wars book will feature Carson’s relationship with Indians (but most likely not the Navajo campaign or its aftermath).

Yeah, I’m up to my usual evasion tricks. Sorry.

Back to my line of thought. January 2015 arrived and I still didn’t have any of my Cheyenne research that I had been promised in September 2014. If you know me well you know that in the past (actually my dark past) I had a short fuse. Time has mellowed me, but at the beginning of this year I needed to calm the rest of me down (not a small task).

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Liza Posas, who is archivist and head librarian of the Braun Research Library, played a major role in my 2014 research time within the George Bird Grinnell Papers held by the Southwest Museum. She is professional, open, helpful, and kind. I have enjoyed every moment working with her, and look forward to when we again work together. In this image of her on 20jun2014 she is showing me the scope of the George Bird Grinnell Collection. (photo © Louis Kraft & Liza Posas 2014)

On August 6, 2015 (13½ months after I made the request), I picked up photocopies for what amounted to a little over a third of my order at the Autry National Center (a short surface-street drive as opposed to a three-freeway potential nightmare). Email communication at that time stated that the rest of my research had been digitized. I was quoted a page cost for the digital pages and told that I would hear more in a week. The week passed. Actually over a month passed. Believe it or not I have deadlines, but worse it takes me at least five times as long to write a page of nonfiction than it does a page of fiction (to be honest, I believe that this is an understatement for I’m thrilled when I get a full page of Sand Creek text written in a day (granted that day may only be five or eight hours, but heck sometimes I can crank out two or three pages of fiction in an hour). Remember that none of this writing is polished for I’m only talking about rough drafts. That said, nonfiction polishing easily takes a lot longer than fiction polishing as I’m again concentrating on facts and dates and making sure that a polish doesn’t turn the nonfiction into fiction.

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This image of Pailin and LK is now from a time long gone (although the art is based upon a photo taken a handful of days ago). I’m playing with it and trying to use it to figure out how I’ll create a piece of art that is required. It is an ongoing search for me to figure out what I need to do to create artwork in the very near future (and believe me it has nothing to do with gunfighters or frontiersmen). I’m a firm believer in doing plenty of research before a word is written, or in this case playing with color, line, and technique before doing anything (other than researching the subject) before attempting to create art for a book cover. (art © Louis Kraft 2015)

The Sand Creek manuscript deals with five types of people: Whites that saw an opportunity in a new land (Colorado Territory) and did what they could to secure the land and their fortunes at the cost of the American Indians that claimed the land as theirs; the Cheyennes and Arapahos who called this land theirs; the whites that married into the tribes; the mixed-bloods that walked between two races; and the whites that dared to speak out against the butchery of Cheyennes and Arapahos who thought that they were under the protection of the U.S. military. … Add females whenever I have enough information to bring them to life. … Oh, I should add that racism was rampant in the 1860s.

Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway is not an easy manuscript to write. The research is massive, and worse I have to bring the leading and major supporting players to life with a minimal amount of primary information. And just as important I need to make the text flow seamlessly between the various people groups and their actions, while at the same time attempting to keep all the players’ points of view (POV) in focus. The goal is to have the reader make their decision on all the players’ actions.

Doable? You bet! Can I do it? I don’t know, but I hope that I can.

For the story to work the people must be real. They must live and breathe and have objectives as they react to their life and times.

Back to the immediate present

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Manola Madrid working on the first floor of the Braun Research Library for LK in June 2014. She’s a hard worker, very knowledgeable on the subject matter, and most important an absolute delight to know and call friend. For what it is worth, Manola and I can talk about anything. That’s a real nice feeling, and worth keeping. With all the massive changes that the Southwest and the Autry are undergoing she has chosen to walk away and retire in mid-October 2015. I’m thrilled for her, … my lone hope is that our relationship can continue and that someday I’ll meet her husband and that she’ll meet Pailin. (photo © Louis Kraft & Manola Madrid 2014)

In mid-September my fear threshold began to reach its eruption peak. The Sand Creek manuscript is due at OU Press on October 1, 2016. Hell, I’m light years away from completing a rough first draft, a first draft that I’m still collecting primary source material to complete (again, I did my research at the Braun in June 2014).

LK is thrilled (and angry) but thrilled is the bottom word. I’m writing a book about the end of the Southern Cheyenne lifeway. This primary research; useable or not is mandatory by me. There was so much to see in just one archive that there was no way I could get through all of it in 12 days. Thus my costly research request, which—and to repeat myself—was due in September 2014. September 17, 2015, arrived and I again complained. I was told that my complaint was confusing. Confusing? Well maybe, but I wasn’t obscure. More important my complaint garnered results for on September 21 I picked up a CD with the remainder of my research request of June 2014.

This was a joyous occasion for I got to spend two hours with Manola Madrid, a long-time research service assistant at the Braun Research Library at the former Southwest Museum in Los Angeles.

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Marva Felchin, director of libraries and archives at the Autry National Center. (art © Louis Kraft 2015)

I also spent prime time with Marva Felchin, director of libraries and archives at the Autry National Center. I met Marva while researching obscure and yet mandatory primary source material for Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek. She would attend an Errol Flynn talk locally in Burbank, Calif., soon after (I think in 2008). On September 21 I delivered a promised Geronimo magazine article, as well as two Ned Wynkoop articles that I knew that the Autry didn’t have to Marva for the Autry Resources Center (ARC). I believe that the ARC, a 105,000 square-foot research center that will house the former Southwest Museum archive and research material (over 500,000 artworks and artifacts + archival material) and the Autry’s library and archive (not sure how large this is). Although the private opening might be in late 2016 most likely the public opening won’t happen until 2017. On this day Marva told me that if needed I could perform research before the ARC opens.

That was very kind of Marva. I don’t think I’ll need to do any research before the opening, but it is good to know that the door will be open to me if I need to do additional research. This is a good feeling. Thank you, Marva (unfortunately I have no images of Marva to share).

Autry National Center is magnificent … almost

The Autry National Center is magnificent, but it doesn’t compare to similar facilities, such as National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Not too many years back when the Autry decided to merge with the Southwest Museum, this action opened the door to major respectability. Do not under estimate this, for the Southwest’s holdings are a major coup for the Autry.

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Over the years the Autry National Center has had many names (Why? I have no clue why, but can guess that the rich and famous continued to spout their view and progressively have worked to remove not only the westering experience from the museum’s name but also—God forbid—have tried to push the legendary Gene Autry, who is responsible for the museum, into the dark shadows of a long-gone time). I’m not a fan of Gene’s one-hour B-westerns, his 1950s TV show, or his singing. That said, he was a major influence on his world and if it wasn’t for him there would be no Autry National Center. The “Inventing Custer: Legends of the Little Bighorn” exhibit was brilliant and was by far the best exhibit that I have ever seen at the Autry (or elsewhere). It ranged from Custer and his times (artifacts, including his hair, which his wife Libbie had clipped prior to an expedition on the Plains and BTW he was a strawberry blond and nowhere close to being “Yellow Hair,” to photos, to Custer in afterlife, which included film, toys, and memorabilia). As already stated I have never been a fan of Mr. Autry, but more recently (22Jun2007 through 13Jan2008) the Autry presented a marvelous exhibit that focused exclusively on “the Singing Cowboy’s” life and times (“Gene Autry and the Twentieth-Century West: The Centennial Exhibition, 1907-2007”). Unfortunately I have inside information that confirms that many of the elite members of the Autry were unhappy with the exhibit and refused to support it. SHAME ON THEM! This was by far the second best exhibit I have ever seen at the Autry, and in the future it should be repeated! Unfortunately “Inventing Custer” was pieced together with artifacts, photos, toys, books, and film memorabilia from multiple archives and private collections (and would be almost impossible to bring back for an encore). (photo of “Inventing Custer” banner © Louis Kraft 1996)

Still you need to realize that people who light their cigarettes with $1,000 dollar bills, shall I call them the “major” Autry donors, bitched. As far as they were concerned money counts, such as their designer clothes, their $10,000 necklaces, the glitter of the Autry … I used to attend 2nd (or was it 3rd) tier openings at the Autry. Those days are history. You want to attend an opening, fork up $1,700 or perhaps $1,800. I wouldn’t call these openings ones that the general public can attend. What can I say? You get the picture, other than these elite people don’t give a bleep that the Southwest goldmine is now part of the Autry. … American Indian culture and artifacts mean little to them. “Why are we wasting our money on an institution that was dying?” (this is a quote based upon words that I recently heard but wasn’t able to jot down exactly for prosperity). Lucky them! Bottom line, they don’t give a bleep about the wondrous treasure that the Southwest (and its now dead and gone Braun Research Library) once was.

You want to know the truth? The Southwest Museum (which includes the Braun) was special. The Autry has always reeked of money, and the facility has always been gorgeous. Unfortunately when compared to other institutions of a similar type it can’t compare. Now it can, for regardless of rich bitching it now controls the massive collection of American Indian artifacts and research that the Southwest once owned. Ladies and gentlemen I have been off and on (at the moment off) a proud member of the Autry. To quote one of only three TV series that I have liked (The X-Files), “The truth is out there.” And it is for the Autry National Center.

The Autry National Center is poised to claim its position as one of the great western history and cultural museums in the United States. I certainly believe that the person leading the way, President and CEO W. Richard (Rick) West, Jr., will ensure that this happens.

Some views; wanted or not …

Los Angeles is currently divided between the extremely rich and everyone else, who struggle to pay bills.* The middle class? What’s that? Actually it is a name that represents a dead and departed race of people that has ceased to exist and that is the middle class. Worse, and I’m not talking about racism; rather I’m talking about the future that has, alas, arrived. Specifically to the Autry’s major donors, the extraordinary and exceptional artifacts housed at the Southwest don’t count. What is at risk here is the American western experience, which includes the Plains Indians, Southwest Indians, Pacific Coast Indians, Alaskan Indians, and the massive conquest of their homelands and destruction of their cultures.

* This statement is simplistic at best. What isn’t simplistic or overstated is that the city of Los Angeles (North Hollywood is a town in LA)  is quickly becoming a modern-day Tombstone, Arizona. Los Angeles had a confirmed murder count of 39 in August (LA Times, “Deadliest August in Los Angeles in 8 years,” 4Sept2015). This past weekend (September 26-27) 19 people were shot and five died (LA Times, “19 Shootings, A Call for Help: LAPD appeals to community after new bloodshed,” 30sept2015). Although I have had guns pointed at me I have yet to witness shootings in North Hollywood. That said, I no longer walk at night for violence often stalks the streets of NoHo.

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I don’t have an image of Kevin Tighe as Miles (damn!!!). Tighe, along with Wes Studi (who was at least 30 years too young to play Geronimo) were the two outstanding performances in Geronimo: An American Legend. I don’t know either man but shortly after the release of Dances with Wolves (1990) I spent good time with Studi in an American Indian shop in Tarzana, Calif. Unfortunately the shop is long gone and I never met Studi again. My guess, both men did their homework, … something Bob Duvall (who I worked closely with for about four months in the 1980s) didn’t do. This image of Miles is in the LK personal collection and was published first in 1886. It has since been published in Lt. Charles Gatewood & His Apache Wars Memoir (2005) and in “Geronimo’s Gunfighter Attitude” (Wild West, October 2015).

This is America and it must not be forgotten! American Indian lifeways count, and so do the racial interactions between invading whites and the people that initially welcomed their presence. During this time very few whites accepted American Indians as human beings, and those that dared to are American heroes; not those that stole, incarcerated, and if need be butchered people that they felt were below them on the evolution scale. … If I am even close in my opinion I am predicting a “Pandora’s Box” that when it is opened will initiate the end of America’s heritage. As Kevin Tighe, who played General Nelson Miles, says to Matt Damon’s Lieutenant Britton Davis (who BTW had resigned his military commission in 1885 and lived in Mexico at the time of Geronimo’s and Naiche’s surrender in September 1886) near the end of Geronimo: An American Legend (Columbia Pictures, 1993): “Lieutenant, you’re more worried about keeping your word to a savage than to fulfilling your duties to the citizens of this country. We won and that’s what counts. It’s over with Geronimo, the Apache, and the whole history of the West, except for being a farmer.”

You want my opinion? Honestly, you don’t want to hear my opinion for much of it isn’t printable.

I’ve been cramming on the digital files from the September 2015 Braun delivery since I’ve received the CD from Manola. I’m looking at the files to ensure that they are readable. I’m also spot reading and searching for primary information that might be included in the Sand Creek manuscript. Let me tell you that this is slow going.

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This is Black Kettle, and for the record I constantly attempt to create portraits of him; this image will not appear in Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway (and you can take this to the bank). … It looks like Black Kettle, Little Raven, John Chivington, John Evans, William Byers, Ned Wynkoop, William Bent, William Bent, and George Bent are my leading players. Left Hand is also but no images of him exist (my loss). There are other Cheyenne and Arapaho players who could become leading players such as Bull Bear and Tall Bull (and I hope that they can; alas, no images exist of Tall Bull). … Back to Black Kettle. Folks, he was not an elderly fellow that dropped out of the most important time of his life or his people’s lives. He was up front and center, and he had more guts and courage than any of the Cheyenne warriors that fought the overwhelming might of the United States. His life was always at risk, by both his own people and the invading whites. (art © Louis Kraft 2015)

However, when I do find a jewel I’m right into the manuscript and adding the information. The other day I found pure gold on Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle that I had no idea existed. Honestly, this is what I’m looking for as Black Kettle is one of the leading players in the Sand Creek manuscript and I’m desperately trying to find events that happened in his life to fill in the gaps. This is directly related to my view that actions define who people are and not what someone says about them.

Again, I’m thrilled. … But the purpose of this post is threefold: Bitch, which I’ve done; praise, which I’ve done; and alert Indian wars writers to wake up to a massive archive in SoCal that will reopen in a blink of an eye (hopefully 2017, but this is questionable) that there is material available that can be added to your manuscripts in ways you wouldn’t believe. If you are a historian doing Plains or Southwest Indian research wake up and add validity to your writing. … The former Braun Research Library (at the former Southwest Museum) along with the former Autry National Center library and archives will provide you with a research center that will blow you away (American Indian research and including the Indian wars).

I’ve again been harsh, and believe me I have been pounded in the past by companies that I write for that I’m an ingrate that bites the hand that feeds him. True? Probably. … Know that I care about everything that I do. This means that I can’t take prisoners, that I must fight for the best product possible at all times and that includes receiving requested documentation when promised and not being forced to complain again and again until I receive a comment that I’m unclear in what is owed me. I have deadlines and I can’t afford to miss too many of them or I won’t be hirable.

For the record

“There’s gold in them ‘thar’ hills!” I have no clue if this is a real quote of not. And, by God, I have struck it! Mining the Cheyennes at the Braun Research Library in June 2014 has already proved worth every hour I put in, every complaint I had to make to receive requested documentation, and every dollar that it has cost me (and it wasn’t cheap).

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This image is from 1997’s Titanic. Here Leonardo DiCaprio (as Jack Lawson) proclaims at the beam of the mighty vessel on its maiden voyage: “I’m king of the world!” Danny Nucci (as Fabrizio, Dawson’s friend), joins him. When this film was released it was storied to become the largest financial disaster in film history. Instead it became the largest grossing film worldwide ever (to that point in time). Almost everyone I knew loved the film, which went on to win a ton of awards including the Oscar for best film. Many of these people have since dismissed the film. … For the record I have two film lists: a top 13 Errol Flynn films (and The Adventures of Robin Hood isn’t on the list) and a top 60 films which does not include Flynn films. For what it’s worth, my top 60 films list (which isn’t close to being completed) is not based upon the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ Oscar for best picture, director, actor, actress, script, and so on. Perhaps Kevin Costner’s magnificent Dances with Wolves (1990) should be on my list but it isn’t, and never will be. I believe that Costner’s Open Range (2003) with Bob Duvall and Annette Bening is a much better film, and it has a chance of making my top 60 films list. … Even though I work on “The Song Remembers When” blog whenever I have free time there is a chance that a short blog, like this one, can sneak in. And I’m going to announce it here: “Errol Flynn & Louis Kraft, the connection and a view” will be my next blog. Be warned that it will include prose that might anger you, hopefully enlighten you, but certainly will be based upon a long-time film knowledge combined with a deep-seated gut-feeling that is present whenever I view film. For what it is worth I study film four to five times a week as it a great way to understand how dialogue; plot; script; editing; direction; cinematography; film scores, which is my favorite type of music; and good production values influence every word that I write for print (and that includes these blogs).

At the moment my every waking hour is dominated by one thought: Kraft, when are you working on the Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway manuscript? The short answer is daily. Research takes time; comprehension takes more time. Once both connect, my fingers pound the keyboard. At those times, and to again quote Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, “I’m king of the world!”