The music of the cowboy

When the American folk vocal group, The Sons of the Pioneers, went into a recording studio in 1937 and belted out “Blue Juniata” they added fresh voice to what is generally credited as being the first ‘Western’ song. As they sang, fiddled, and strummed their guitars, this American folk vocal group also revitalized a specific… Read More

Samuel Morse and the electric telegraph

“Greetings and thanks to the Telegraph fraternity throughout the world. Glory to God in the highest, on Earth Peace, Goodwill to Men.” And with these words Samuel Morse, the man whose name is inextricably linked with the invention of the electric telegraph, signed off his final message to the American people. A battery of carefully… Read More

The Missouri Mormon war of 1838

On October 29 1838, a militia of 250 men under Colonel Thomas Jennings rode into Caldwell County, Missouri, from the east. Their destination was the Mormon settlement at Haun’s Mill, where the riders knew at least 40 families were encamped. The leaders of the community, quickly realising that their visitors were in no mood for… Read More

Blacksmiths in 19th Century America

“Under a spreading chestnut-tree the village smithy stands; the smith, a mighty man is he, with large and sinewy hands……”. These are the opening words of the poem ‘The Village Blacksmith,’ penned by the American poet William Henry Longfellow in 1840. It is both a tribute to his ancestor Stephen Longfellow, blacksmith, schoolteacher and town… Read More

Beans and the cowboy in Nineteenth Century America

In 1974 Hollywood released the movie Blazing Saddles, directed by flamboyant maverick Mel Brooks, in which the cowboy took centre stage. It became notorious for its repetitive scenes of cowboys breaking wind. While the viewing public loved this movie and remember it fondly, the professional critics were less impressed and preferred to forget it. The… Read More

William Henry Jackson, photographic pioneer of the Old West

In August 1870 a small detachment of US cavalry left Camp Carlin, an army supply depot just outside Cheyenne, Wyoming. Following close behind was Ferdinand Hayden, explorer and formerly professor of geology at the University of Pennsylvania. Accompanying him were a motley group of scientists, including a mineralogist, a botanist and a topographical artist. This… Read More


“This is what I feed my dogs in the afternoon,” Kathy Lee Gifford declared scornfully on America’s ‘The Today Show,’ as she sniffed some beef jerky. It was January 2015 and the show’s skeptical anchor was discussing with author Esther Blum the premise of her new book titled, Cavewomen Don’t Get Fat: Ancient Secrets to… Read More

Black veils and broken hearts: mourning in the Civil War

About 620,000 soldiers died in the American Civil War. Of these, about 360,000 were Union soldiers and 260,000 were Confederates. Not all of them were killed in combat; in fact considerably more than half in both armies perished from disease. But that did not make any difference to the lot of the loved ones they… Read More

Chewing tobacco

When Clint Eastwood, as the on-screen fictional outlaw Josey Wales, chews unsmilingly on some tobacco before coolly spitting out the juices, the moviegoer is watching one of the most iconic gestures associated with the cowboy. It is a gesture young white males in parts of the American South East still emulate. Called variously chewing tobacco,… Read More