The Last Camel Charge: The Untold Story of America’s Desert Military Experiment by Forrest Bryant Johnson

Book cover of The Last Camel Charge
The Last Camel Charge: The Untold Story of America’s Desert Military Experiment by Forrest Bryant Johnson is a splendid recounting of the Army’s attempt to adapt dromedaries to the American desert. Johnson also features the events of the times, the Civil War, the Mormon War, the Indian Wars and the political upheaval as the young country moved resolutely westward in search of land and gold.

The author of Phantom Warrior follows the trail of the men who went to Europe in search of camels to test their suitability for the Southwest desert region. This forgotten piece of history is brought to life by Johnson’s attention to detail and his adept skill at bringing these historical characters to life.

In this narrative, readers see just how much disdain the older countries felt for the young upstart U.S.A. From the first shipment of “old diseased” creatures to the final receipt of camels which were hale, hardy and ready for the long journey to the American Southwest, Johnson reveals the personalities and men behind this little known experiment. Following the journey, The Last Camel Charge does not rely upon the “Journal of May Humphreys Stacey” as one would expect. It does deviate from existing reports and follows Lt. Beale’s trail blazing and his attachment to these foreign creatures.

Picture of camels being transported in Turkey
Camels being moved in Turkey. Photo from Fort Tejon Historical website.

Beale was not alone in his love affair with the two types of camels brought over for the Army’s use. Seemingly just about everyone who had any dealings with these creatures became lifelong fans. Even, Beale’s friend and “business” partner Samuel Bishop who lodged camels at his ranch and later, when the Army wanted the creatures back, was very reluctant to release their treasured charges. Bishop was a fan of the animals and it is he who rode the beasts, along with a few others, to attack the Mojave that were induced to misbehave in a horrific fashion against the non-Mormon settlers who were entering the area.

The book details the beginnings of the Civil War, which would ultimately cause the camel experiment to lose support, as well as the “Mormon” war. The Native American tribes of the area are also looked at as well as their affiliation with other tribes, the Mormons, new settlers, Beale, and the Army.

This is a fascinating look at all the players in the experiment, including a pretty in depth look at “Hi Jolly” whose immigration to America as a Camel Drover led to his working in many different trades and becoming a “local” legend in Arizona. The Last Camel Charge is a well researched and well written recounting of a time when the US was facing problems on all sides.

On top of the battles of “brother against brother” there were the “savages” who stood in the way of gold prospecting, settlers and expansion of young America’s “manifest destiny.” Mormon’s were another issue and the horrific massacre of innocents by this “new” religion caused an outcry to equal the Native American concern.

Published this year, the book is a fascinating read and one that any western history buff will find interesting and entertaining. A real 5 star effort from Forrest Bryant Johnson.

What’s in your MEDIA KIT?

Read and weep…and all this time you thought writing the book was the important part…

Nina Soden

So, as an author, one of your greatest tools is your media kit.

media-kit-checklist

At least that is what I have been told. A media kit is a marketing tool used to sell not only your book(s) but yourself – as an author. Remember – You are not gearing your media kit to readers, your media kit is designed to attract potential agents, publishers, book retailers and interviewers (bloggers, radio, magazine, newspaper, etc.). I have read many – MANY – articles about what an author should include in a media kit. Everything from author head-shots with bios to full-length copies of your printed books. I have weeded through all the information I have found and have settled on the following list of items I plan to include in my media kit.

….Drum Roll Please….

Nope… wait a second. I’d like an opinion first. I had thought about doing two media kids…

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Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz: Different is Good

Cover of Made by Raffi Artwork by Margaret Chamberlin
In a world where bullying takes the top spot in the news it is refreshing to see a children’s book which addresses the issue of being different. Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz, and illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain, is a story that celebrates just how good it is to march to a different beat.

Published by FRANCES LINCOLN CHILDREN’S BOOKS, an award winning company that specializes in releasing books that celebrate diversity, the story of Raffi has been getting a lot of positive attention across the globe.

The youngster is a lad quite different from his schoolmates. Raffi cherishes quiet and rather than boisterously play with the other children, he learns about knitting and sewing from one of his teachers at playtime.

Raffi’s teacher reveals a creative world of color to the boy and he discovers that not only does he love this new pastime but that he is very good at it. The child talks to his mother and father about his knitting and they assure him that his interest is nothing to be ashamed of.

His classmates make fun of Raffi at first but that all changes with the advent of a school play and soon everyone wants something “made by Raffi.”

Pomranz points out that the tale of a boy who likes to sew and knit is based upon a true story. The book has, thus far, been printed in at least six different languages and published in as many countries. Reaction to the story has been positive and the Archdiocese of New York Catholic schools received 75 copies of the book from a donor to be included in their libraries.

The book, Made by Raffi is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble in the U.S. and it was just recently announced that the book was shortlisted for the Little Rebels Award. Children’s books published in 2014 which promote diversity are nominated for the award and the winner will be announced on 9 May this year.

Craig himself revealed that the story was written to support children who are perceived as being “different because of their appearance or hobbies.” As positive reviews continue to pour in for the book aimed at the 4 to 7 year-old age group, Pomranz has passed on the information that composers Amanda McBroom (Bette Midler’s The Rose) and Michele Brourman (The Land Before Time) have written a song titled “Different” to be included as part of the book.

The author told MikesFilmTalk that he was in Los Angeles recently speaking with the two composers and May is the month they hope to have the song out. Reviews for the Made by Raffi have been positive and The Bookseller and Rhino Reads have both written about the picture book with the diverse message.

These types of books should be part of every school library in the world and Mr. Pomranz is to be congratulated on writing splendid tale that celebrates uniqueness and shows that children are the answer. Made by Raffi is a real 5 star book that has an important message for everyone.

You can follow Craig, and Raffi, on Twitter @MadebyRaffi

ABC Kills ‘Revenge’ and No Spinoff in Sight

With rumors of a spinoff circulating the web, which was actually addressed and shot down at E!, ABC has confirmed that Revenge has been killed off after four seasons. Fans of both Emily VanCamp and Madeline Stowe will no doubt be crushed at this news. There are few actresses on television that can provide so much in terms of eye candy combined with real talent in the acting department.

Read the rest of the article at Viral Global News…

Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison by James W. Clarke – Death on the Road

Cover of book by James W. ClarkeQuartzsite is not just the burial place of a historical figure, Hi Jolly lays at rest there with a favorite camel to keep him company in the “Hereafter,” it is also a spot where Snowbirds flock every winter to keep warm while the rest of the country shivers in the blustery cold. This small quiet burg also has a horrific dark side. In 1978 Gary Tison, escaped from an Arizona prison and his route of meandering escape, that ran over three states, took him right through Hi Jolly territory.

Living up to his reputation as being a cold-blooded killer, Tison’s trip through the quiet Arizona town was marked with murder. In James W. Clarke’s book “Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison (Houghton Mifflin Company 1988) the second chapter of the book is devoted to the Lyon’s family murders. This wholesale slaughter took place just outside Quartzsite off I 95 on the Yuma side of town.

After Tison Sr. and Randy Greenawalt shotgunned the 24 year-old Marine Sergeant John Lyons, his wife Donnelda and their son Christopher to death, along with John’s niece Teresa Tyson, who died after the attack from her injuries, they took the family’s car and continued their wandering path to Mexico.

James W. Clark writes about the escape and his novel follows the journey and interactions of this small group of men. The author reveals that he and his young family were very near the fugitives as they fled authorities. In Colorado where Tison and his group murdered a honeymooning couple for their van, the writer and his wife spent a sleepless night. They were convinced that some unspeakable evil was watching their temporary campsite and only later did they learn that Gary Tison, Randy Greenawalt and Tison’s three sons were literally yards away.

Clarke does a good job documenting the flight of Tison and co. He lists all the various players and does a good job with backstory on each. He also remembers to pay attention to the victims of Tison and Greenawalt. At no time does the author forget to show the cost to surviving family members of the blood-soaked journey of the fugitives.

The book also looks at the power Tison had over his family and others who came into contact with him. A picture is drawn of a charismatic and manipulative man who appears to be pure evil. Tison’s end, dying of dehydration and exposure in the Arizona desert yards away from water, is one of poetic justice and not for the faint hearted. The man suffered an incredibly painful death and one that many would feel is still inadequate for the crimes he committed.

While telling Tison’s story, Clarke also reveals the corruption that was prevalent in 1970s Arizona penal system. He touches briefly the Don Bolles murder and the connection with Tison.  While the newsman’s death was the direct result of his investigating the mafia, the corruption pointed out by Clarke had to do with the correction system and its apparent policy of hiring inept individuals to run their prisons.

Consider this: The governor of the prison where Tison escaped was given multiple warnings that Tison was planning to illegally leave the institution and did nothing.  It is amazing that the Lyons’ and Judge’s families did not take the man to court as being an accessory to the murders committed by the fleeing criminals.

This is a chilling and disturbing account of one of the most horrific murders committed in the Southwestern desert. Prepare to be upset and frightened. In a short “review” of the book, I mentioned that reading this would reveal monsters scarier than anything made-up. Gary Tison, and his accomplice Randy Greenawalt, are terrifying.

James W. Clarke has written a book that should be read in the daylight while surrounded by others. Avoid reading at night, in the desert, alone. This true tale, despite the criminals being gone now, proves that truth is stranger than fiction and much more disturbing. Just as disturbing  perhaps as the made for TV film in 1983 starring Robert Mitchum and James Spader which purports to tell the story of Tison and his sons, Killer in the Family. A movie that one can be forgiven for missing considering the real facts of Tison and his bid for freedom.

Drive (2011) Gosling and Refn in First Partnership (Review/Trailer)

Poster from Drive The 2011 Ryan Gosling film Drive, which was his first partnership with Nicholas Winding Refn, is a compelling film that grips the viewer and plunges them into the monosyllabic world of Gosling’s nameless character. With star turns from the lead, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and Christina Hendricks, the movie hits all the right notes and entertains despite the odd plot hole.

The story follows “the Kid” aka the driver in his everyday existence which is, to say the least, pretty quiet. The man himself does not say a lot. Even his spiel to prospective customers consist of about three or four lines of dialogue. When Gosling’s character is not stunt driving for the movies, he offers his services as a getaway driver.

The Kid’s talents lay not in speedy escapades with the police chasing him and his cargo up and down roads in reckless pursuit, but in his pre-planning his route and cleverly losing whatever tail he may have picked up. A robbery at the start of the film has Gosling’s driver listening to a basketball game as he takes his two passengers away from the crime scene.

It only becomes apparent later that he is monitoring the game to use the event as part of the escape plan. When not working as a getaway driver or in the movies, he is a mechanic at Shannon’s (Cranston) garage and his employer/friend has big plans for the driver. Included in the plans are Albert Brooks, as Mr. Bernie Rose, and Ron Perlman’s Nino, aka Izzy. Both men are ruthless and dangerous.

Entering this mix are Carey Mulligan’s married Irene, and her son, along with her recently released from prison husband, Standard. Before Irene’s other half got out of jail, she and Gosling got pretty friendly and when the ex con is threatened into doing a job to repay protection dues from prison, driver steps in to help.

The film is dark and in the “romance” between Irene and the driver, there are not many moments where either one declares their feelings for the other. Silence may mark their mutual attraction, but the signs are there and both actors convey them adequately.

Refn uses silence again in scenes which are trauma heavy or where Gosling’s character erupts into violence. Muffling the sound, only later to fill it with music, intensifies the action. The director works well with Ryan Gosling and went on to make Only God Forgives. While not as well received as Drive the film shows just what a successful team these two artists make.

Looking at Refn recent cat lists, it appears that he favors Christina Hendricks as collaborator and it comes as no surprise. Her small role as the “helper” in Standard’s robbery, the Mad Men actress really stands out. Like the other actors in Drive with “smaller” roles, she knocks her performance out of the park.

It certainly took me a long time to watch the 2011 film. After seeing Only God Forgives I’d intended to see Drive immediately afterward. Still, the wait was worth it and this is a real 4 out of 5 star film. The loss of a star has more to do with the glaring continuity goofs than anything else and the movie is entertaining. A must see for Gosling or Refn fans.

Life in the Real Desert: And Death

Death of a deer
Riding home last night after having spent hours in the Burger King making use of their wonderful Wi-Fi, I noticed a lot of buzzards in the darkening sky. Oddly, on my way to town much earlier in the day, a lone bird stood in the road just outside the estate. Standing motionless, it was seemed to be staring off into the desert at God knows what. The buzzard only moved when I stopped my bike to take a picture. Very camera shy these carrion eaters.

The first thing that sprang to mind was the scene from Wild Hogs where Woody, Doug, Bobby and Dudley (played with hilarious precision by William H. Macy) are walking their motorcycles along the desert road and a buzzard is patiently following the small group of men. I was not too perturbed as the featured creature was not paying any attention to me at all.

As I rounded a corner of the road, just before a deep wash that reeks of either dog or coyote, off to the right about 25 feet from the pavement lay a deer. Face pointed to the road, long eyelashes still as death and not a mark on him or her, at least not that I could see. It was quickly getting dark and despite the light being strong enough for my old eyes to see everything in stark detail, the iPhone 5 could not compensate for the dwindling sunlight.

I took a few pictures and then had to “tweak” them at home in order to make out the details. After remounting my bike, I started again for home. The buzzards who had been circling the deer flew down to the fresh carcass to join the one bold chappy who did not mind me taking his photo. There were roughly 10 of the birds scattered around the deer.

After a couple of strong pumps on the pedal, I was on my way. I looked the the left and broke out into gooseflesh. On two trees, mesquite I believe, there were another 30 buzzards all waiting for their turn. I know it was 30 as I stopped and counted. I was so shaken by this sight that I quite forgot to attempt a photo. It was, by now, a lot darker and most likely would not have come out.

Today on my way into town I watched for the body. I could not remember how far away the poor deceased creature lay from my house. Much further than I thought as it turned out. The huge amount of buzzards had disappeared and only around 5 to 10 were feasting on the creature’s body.

As I approached, using the video on my iPhone, the birds all took off. This enabled me to get a bit closer to inspect the “damage” done.

WARNING: This next bit is not for the squeamish.

Last evening, the deer was pretty much whole. It could have been sleeping as, from what I could see, there was no apparent cause of death. I remember wondering if it had been bitten by a rattlesnake as no wounds were visible. Today, the animal’s remains were dramatically reduced from their full state the day before. Apparently after I left the area a feeding frenzy ensued with not only buzzards eating their fill but coyotes as well?

Here is the uncut video:

I wondered, ever so briefly, whether or not this was the same deer who almost crossed in front of me back in February as I walked back to the estate after dark. It certainly had the same “lack of horn” as that one did, but it is highly unlikely. Just another reminder that the desert is not just full of life but death as well and that both rely upon the other to exist.

27 April 2015

Michael Knox-Smith