Path Home Shows 2010 Show Archive December 2010 Show 1051 Interview with Michael Wallis - Part 2

Interview with Michael Wallis - Part 2

We continue our visit with one of the organizers of the Literary Landmark Program, author Michael Wallis.
Interview with Michael Wallis - Part 2

Michael Wallis

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Michael Wallis

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Show 1051: Interview with Michael Wallis - Part 2

Air date: December 19, 2010



Rob:  Now you’re latest book is, DAVID CROCKETT, LION OF THE WEST, now I can think of few characters in history that are more of a characateur than Davy Crockett.

Wallis:  Yeah, that’s true, and of course there have been a plethora of books written about Mr Crockett.  But there have been a lot of books written about Billy the Kid, another young man who I wrote a biography about.  And much like The Kid, Crockett is just totally tangled in myth and legend and half truths and downright lies.  But he’s an interesting character, profoundly interesting, and there’s always new ground to plow and new material to reveal.  And I’m very happy with what I’ve done with Crockett.

Rob:  Now you spoke of Native Americans.  How important is our Native American heritage here in Oklahoma?

Wallis:  Well it’s incredibly important.  It’s one of the cornerstones of this relatively new and still precocious-in-many-ways state.  You know, we are a new state, and you can see that; sometimes we act like a teenager; but there’s a lot of growing pains still going on.  But yet, the irony is, we have a long standing people history, along with our natural history.  There were Native American people here long, long ago, before the five tribes were sent here, before the federal government moved the great Osage Nation down here, before this became a dumping ground.  Yet, I don’t think we in Oklahoma have taken full advantage of our Native American heritage.

Rob:  Speaking of maybe underserved or unrecognized peoples, you wrote about cowboy, Bill Pickett, a black, African American cowboy.

Wallis:  A great cowboy!

Rob:  What was it like being black in the Old West?

Wallis:  First of all, many people don’t realize there were a lot of black cowboys.  There were a lot of Indian cowboys.  There were a lot of Mexican cowboys.  You know, they didn’t all look like Clint Eastwood.  They were, and they were young.  They were, a lot of them were boys; a lot of them were Irish immigrant boys.   Some of them didn’t know how to swim and they drowned in the Canadian River and the Pecos.  It was rough being a cowboy; just being any kind of cowboy was rough.  It didn’t pay well.  It was a miserable job; you know, doctoring mother cows, and tending to fences, and putting up with blizzards.  But, it was especially difficult if you were a person, a cowboy, of color, you know, because there was always this racial stigma.  And you can imagine what it was like down in Texas, because in Texas, my maternal roots, my family was part of that, they came out of Kentucky after the civil war.  All those unreconstructed confederate soldiers, those rebels, came down to Texas to take part in that big longhorn boom and the cattle drives.  And a lot of them ended up gunmen.  And they ended up in Lincoln County, New Mexico, and over in Arizona Territory in some of those big wars.  So there was, it was difficult.  It was difficult to a black soldier, to be a buffalo soldier.  I mean, racism has been around as long as we have, and it certainly wasn’t a period of enlightenment then.  Bill Pickett, they broke the mold with Pickett.  Bill Pickett was without question the best, just regular, dirt cowboy that the 101 Ranch ever had.  You know, not only did he invent the rodeo sport of bulldogging, and perform in arenas all over South America and Europe and United States, but he worked his tail off on that ranch as a working cowboy.  In fact, he was in his 60s in the early 30s when he was kicked to death by a mustang he was trying to break.  He put in a lot of time for the 101, and the Millers knew that and they recognized it.

Rob:  Now you’ve written of many historical figures.  Have certain ones, or any of them, been a disappointment?

Wallis:  A disappointment, no.  I’ll tell you why; because I wouldn’t have written the book in the first place.  When I write these books, the biographies for example, and then written the biography of some oil men, Frank Phillips; his brother Waite; a good friend of mine who alas we lost not long ago Wilma Mankiller, a woman just a month younger than me and another child of the 60s; when I wrote about Pretty Boy Floyd or Billy the Kid, or Crockett or any of these other characters, I pretty much knew what I was in for.  But I will tell you this, I tend, and I think this is true, a lot of the biographers, in the course of writing the book, you kind of fall in love with these people.  And even remaining objective; and I always remain incredibly objective; it’s the reporter in me, you know.  But I’m always delighted when I discover something that I really like about these people.  And I end up liking them all for one reason or another.  No, I’ve never been disappointed; not in any of them.

Rob:  When we return, more from the author, Michael Wallis.