Adventures of the Ramrod Rider was published by Endeavor Books of Casper, Wyoming, in the fall of 1999. It followed two contemporary western novels of mine that Endeavor Books published, and it was a great joy for me to see this book published.
Sometimes, as when I am inscribing a signed copy for someone, I refer to this as “a crazy little book, dear to my heart.” That it is. A mixture of parody, satire, (pristine) romance, and traditional cowboy poetry, this is a one-of-a-kind book that people get a kick out of.
I first started with the Ramrod Rider when I was doing research for my doctoral dissertation in the late 1970’s. After reading numerous early nineteenth-century historical romances, late nineteenth-century dime novels, and twentieth-century hack westerns, many of which seemed preposterous, I felt myself brimming with material that needed to be dealt with—or, to put it in another way, material that I had to write about in order to keep a sane perspective. I sometimes describe this need as writing in self-defense, sort of defending myself against impulses I don’t want to keep trapped inside, as well as defending myself against the absurdities of the world.
So I created the Ramrod Rider and put him through some encounters in a story called “Adventures of the Ramrod Rider, Price Ten Cents,” the title of which I think is self-explanatory. I gave some of the characters alliterative names, as in the dime novels, and I also dropped in allusions and references to twentieth-century western writers and their works. Here the Ramrod Rider delivers part of his autobiography in spontaneous poetry. It was all a great deal of fun, and I was pleased to get a rejection slip from an editor who was appalled. I don’t think a person is supposed to explain his work or his jokes in a submission letter, so I took my chances. Then I wrote “Further Adventures, Price the Same,” and after a few submissions of that, I found an editor who saw things a little off-center as I did and who was willing to publish the first little chapter of this story. That was a delight, and I am afraid to admit that it encouraged me to do some more.
My idea of the Ramrod Rider was that he was a timeless character, sort of like the Lone Ranger and the Cisco Kid and the Phantom, but also like some character I saw in the matinee, who took on the garments and the identity of his predecessor. The Ramrod Rider himself has a mind that is like a clean slate, upon which is imprinted this archetypal identity. He merges with the character and goes out into the world to deal with injustices in a Quixotic sort of way. Again, this is a lot of fun, as the Ramrod Rider travels through time, one generation after another, always the same tabula rasa, puritanical, not-quite-getting-it kind of guy who nevertheless helps bring scoundrels to justice.
With this idea, I put him into a modern-day setting, in which his original antagonist, Durango Dan, becomes Daniel Durant. That was a lark, and I also brought in such characters as Puss and Puncher and the buxom twins Wyoma and Wynema. In the tradition of cliff-hanging chapter endings, I left Daniel Durant more or less in mid-air as his horse plummets into Sybille Canyon.
Here I took a breath for a year or so (having written the first three stories over a period of ten years or so), and one day on a lark, I thought I would see what self-publishing was like, so I drew up a small book with these stories and had it printed. I never sold a copy but rather gave away all of them. My idea was that I didn’t want to make a dime on the Ramrod Rider but preferred to make it my gift to the world.
A few years went by, and after I had a few western novels published, I thought it might be fun to do some more with the Ramrod Rider. So in and around other things I was doing, I took him out of his suspension in time and wrote three more stories. Two of them fill in the Ramrod Rider of the second generation, where the man bedecked in black meets Daniel DuRonde, who declaims a long narrative poem of his own composition before going on to the skullduggery for which he will be pursued. In the next story, the Ramrod Rider meets a couple of cowboy singers who deliver their material, for a little more wholesome verse content. This story, “Trouble at Happy Valley Ranch,” continues as a genial satire of things that happen in the workplace. Then the last story continues with the latter-day reincarnation of the Ramrod Rider, who meets up again with Wyoma and Wynema as he resumes his pursuit of Daniel Durant. He also meets a character named the Old Scout (who will appear in a jaunty story in a collection of serious fiction, Shadows on the Plain). As in other stories in theAdventures, these two characters break into song as they communicate.
Once I had these six stories, I had enough for a book. In order to market it, I appealed to my brother David, who is an artist and has provided me with artwork for some of my other projects. With two mighty fine cover illustrations plus a few for the chapters, I was prepared to pitch this book to Dan and Bruce at Endeavor Books.
It was one of the better moments of my life, pitching this book in person. I was lucid and, I think, inspired, and there seemed to be some real energy in the air. Dan and Bruce decided to go ahead with it, and in a matter of a few months the book was a reality.
Of course, since it was someone else’s commercial enterprise, I could no longer insist on giving the thing away. Dan put a price on it, and we sent it out into the world. I got a couple of reviews that showed appreciation for some of the zaniness, and copies have sold both in bookstores and through online outlets. It is gratifying to have this kind of endorsement for a project that is so idiosyncratic.
Sometimes it seems as if this kind of writing is self-indulgence, except that once the story is out there, it does have a life of its own, and people have found amusement in it. Of the many things I have written, this one (for some readers, at least) comes closest to having a touch of magic in it. It is nice to think that this crazy little book might continue to bring a smile now and then to a venturesome reader.
Adventures of the Ramrod Rider is available at Amazon.
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