Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Barnes & Noble Day

Perusing some of my favorite magazines at Barnes & Noble. I have sifted through them, Dear Reader, and have some recommendations for you:

Wild West -- The February issue contains a delightful interview with Buck Taylor by Johnny D. Boogs. Johnny, who can always be counted on to deliver, focuses on Buck's artwork though he touches on Buck's upbringing as the son of the legendary Dub Taylor. Buck's eperiences on Gunsmoke figures in the interview and Buck's art. This article will make you smile. Another great article by Johnny details the history of New Mexico and Arizona.

Civil War Monitor -- Issue 2 of this magazine delivers more quality research and writing. The photo of Bruce Catton with his hometown's GAR marker makes the cover price of six bucks a bargain! The story on old soldiers was compelling. Terry Johnston has really undertaken a labor of love with this publication, and we wish him the very best. His readers are already getting it.

Another great treat was a peak at James Robertson's new work for National Geographic. This is a great gift for the person with an awakening interest in the Civil War, or the perfect gift for the historian who can't get enough. Bud's vast knowledge and very readable style make this accessible and satisfying for anyone at any level of knowledge or interest.

Okay, folks, I am so frustrated with this blogger program and trying to format that I am giving up. So here it is, imperfect but well-intentioned. Enjoy!

Monday, December 26, 2011

War Horse

This is how you make a movie. This is why you make a movie. You care from the beginning, you're riveted throughout, and you're satisfied at the end.
Gary and I went with his brother and sister-in-law yesterday but it was already sold out. We bought tickets for today's show and the theater was nearly packed once more. I think it is only one of two or three movie I've ever seen that had people applauding at the end.
On our way out, we met Nancy and Randy Durbin on their way inside. I passed off the package of tissues that had been necessary and bade them enjoy the show.
Now, I can't wait to get the lowdown from my WWI buds on what they thought!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dixie, Mayberry, and Fun Girls!

We just returned from the hills of Virginia and North Carolina, as well as the streets of Philly and New Jersey.
Dixie Lee went along, of course, as did her sweetheart Woodrow.
As a result, Dixie Lee Jackson's Guide to Cookin' and Kissin' is available at Mayberry on Main, the Andy-Griffith-Show-Gone-Wild-Store on Main Street, Mount Airy, North Carolina. Debbie and Darryl Miles, transplants from Indiana, are as passionate about their adopted hometown as I am about my adopted Kansas.
Visit them online at, or if you're fortunate enough to be in the area, just drop in and tell them "Hey!"
If you walk in the door, you will find something to take home -- I promise.
Dixie Lee's Guide to Cookin' and Kissin' is available by using Paypal, as well, just click on Dixie's blogsite

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beauty of Bones

I have long loved the inherent beauty of bare tree limbs, of stones, of bones -- those objects that are basic and the base upon which life is built, the framework for life.

Rene Gibson sees that beauty and enhances it so the rest of us can see as well. The process, said Rene, is a path to finding her true, essential self as well. As with many journeys of self discovery, hers began with something ordinary and very understandable -- a woman decorating her house.

I decided I "needed" something to hang above my TV and, to make a long story short, I came up with the idea of trying to make a mosaic cow skull. I'm not really sure why, since I had been a vegetarian a few times in my life and I was never a fan of taxidermy. Yet, two weeks later the skull shown above was hanging right above my television. It was my first attempt and I loved it!

There are people, I am not among them, that think there might be something creepy about taking animal bones and using them as decor. I have always believed that our homes should be filled with beauty and meaning, not just "decorative" items, but art that speaks to us. like what Rene's work says.

Bringing out the inherent beauty of each animal as a way to honor the spirit who has made the greatest sacrifice of all is my daily spiritual practice.What? may ask......I often ask myself the same question. How did that happen? More importantly, do I really want people to know this about me? Well, about eight years ago I promised myself I would no longer limit my life because I was afraid. I would no longer pretend to be something that I was not because I was too afraid of revealing my true self. Here's to fearlessness.

I am blessed to know many very talented artists, and through their art, they find truths about themselves, and reveal to us, truths about ourselves. It is an amazing gift and process, and one I admire so much. Rene connected with the spirit of the animals that had once owned these bones -- a sacred trust.

I truly enjoyed working with the skulls, but it was simply another medium at that point. While working on a commission piece, things began to change,said Rene. I call him Big Head (not too creative in the name department; he had a very large head). I feel bad about that now that I know our connection, but the name has stuck. While working on Big Head, I would be overcome with deep feelings of joy and sometimes I would even laugh out loud. Other times, I felt overwhelming love. . . I kept Big Head and I'll keep the rest of that story private for now.From that point on my work became more meaningful. When I work with a skull, I approach each piece with love and attention. Billions of animals are killed each year for consumption alone, not including hunting practices. My work with skulls, while some may think it is morbid, is purposeful in that I honor the sacrifice each animal made and honor the inherent beauty of each animal. I sit with each skull and let it "talk" to me and out of that conversation a design is born. The spirit of the animal works through me as I carefully and lovingly set each bead or tile onto the skull. If one of these skulls "talks" to you, buy it because it is meant to be with you.

Take a look at Rene's work. I'm sure something will speak to you. And in this season of gifting, there is no better gift than art. Click here to view Rene's incredible art:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lois Lane In Person, Kinda

Metropolis. Home of Superman. Home of Lois Lane. Conveniently located just off I-24 west of Paducah, tucked inside the Illinois state line.

When I was four years old I watched Lois Lane on Superman and determined to be a reporter. In the days of Donna Reed and June Cleaver, there weren't many working women. Not only was Lois working, she was doing a job as well as, and sometimes better than, a man. She was doing important work, exciting work and, she was doing it with a pen. She was petite, pretty, gutsy, and
successful. She was my role model.

It was nearly 11 pm when we rolled into the picturesque town. My husband was asleep in the back seat, his 6-foot-frame curled between comfort and contortion. My daughter glimpsed the sign first, “Giant Statue of Superman. Straight Ahead.”
Cool, I thought. I almost drove straight for it, thinking that would be a pretty interesting site at
night, but my husband roused and I knew he would need to get out and stretch. So I drove to the Baymont Inn. It was smack-dab on the river bank next to the Harrah's Casino, but in our bleary-eyed state, we didn't notice the river until the next day. But even in my exhausted condition I
couldn't help but notice the new construction in the hotel. New stonework, new ceramic tiles the smell of paint, new wallpaper – and everything spotlessly clean.
“Our entire first floor is being renovated because of the flood we had last year,” said the gal at
the front desk. We recalled having seen Paducah in the news, but you forget how long it takes people to clean up and repair.

The mighty Ohio River was the same gray as the overcast sky, and just as close when we went down to breakfast the next morning. Barges with their rough cargoes drifted nearer to
us than the the casino sign. I took in the uniqueness and timelessness of the scene. While glancing through the brochures in the lobby, a familiar name jumped out at me – Noel Neill Statue – just two blocks from Superman.

Get in the car!
We drove a couple of short blocks and there, as promised, was the man of steel (in fiberglass, I think). I was verily impressed to see the words “Truth, Justice and the American Way” engraved on the pedestal. We posed for the obligatory photos there and with the Superman/Superwoman plywood-where-you-insert-your-head. Then we were off to find Lois Lane.

There she was. Even in monumental proportions, she is diminutive. Dressed in a belted suit with pumps, purse, and earrings, she holds a pad and pencil in her hands. Otherthan any statue of Buffalo Bill, I have never been so thrilled to see someone immortalized in bronze.

It was the icing on this cake of a trip.

We stopped at Walgreen's for a couple of necessities before hitting the interstate. The sales clerk was so friendly and helpful, about my age, and we chatted about the town's landmarks.
“You should come back for our Superman Festival,” she said.

I feel some in-depth, investigative reporting in Metropolis!!!

(Top photo: Me, Noel Neill, Noel Coalson. Photo by Gary Bisel)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

If we make it through

. . . December!
So much to do!
We have so much to do because our lives are full. We are blessed.
Do not forget it.
Be grateful.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Custer's Last Fight--For Sale

. . . .just in time for Christmas. . . .
Yes, friends, nothing says love and "Merry Christmas" like this classic Anheuser-Busch depiction of Custer's Last Fight. Hanging in a saloon for decades only adds to the aura of this piece.
Since combining households, there is simply no room. I really hate to part with it, especially now that my grandson has become so intrigued by it. But part with it I must.
For a mere $1,200, it can be under your tree by December 25th.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Civil War Through the Camera

I couldn't sleep last night so at 2 a.m. I made a cup of hot chocolate and snuggled into my reading corner. It's one end of our music room, just a cozy nook with bookshelves, a wing-back chair, an ottoman, and a lamp. (There is also a considerable amount of art on the walls the focal point of which is a signed print of Don Griffiths' They Stood Their Ground.)
After moving the cat from the chair, I randomly picked a book I hadn't looked at in a while: The Civil War Through the Camera: Hundreds of Vivid Photographs Actually Taken in Civil War Times. This book was published in 1912 and contains so many compelling images that is almost sensory overload. From generals to common privates it presents the war in black and white detail.
Each image draws you inside their world. It has been said that the Civil War is so fascinating because it was the first to be photographed. (I'm not sure if that's true or not, but it was certainly widely photographed and images distributed throughout the North and South.)
This is an incredible book, a "black hole" of faces and figures from which you will never emerge. For the student of the Civil War, each page tells a multi-layered story from "Hancock the Superb" to "Confederate Soldiers in Virginia, 1864" the photos in this volume tell a story more eloquent than any historian ever wrote.
This one is a must-have.
From the book, the caption for the photo above:
Every man in this picture was wounded at Gettysburg. Seated, is Winfield Scott Hancock; the boy-general Francis C. Barlow (who was struck almost mortally), leans against the tree. The other two are General John Gibbon and General David B. Birney. About four o'clock on the afternoon of July 1st a foam-flecked charger dashed up Cemetery Hill bearing General Hancock. He had galloped thirteen miles to take command. Apprised of the loss of Reynolds, his main dependence, Meade knew that only a man of vigor and judgment could save the situation. He chose wisely, for Hancock was one of the best all-round soldiers that the Army of the Potomac had developed. It was he who re-formed the shattered corps and chose the position to be held for the decisive struggle.
Now don't you want to see/read more?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Perfect Storm may not be the appropriate title for Dan Crary and Thunderation's new CD. Perfect, yes. A storm, no.

A storm implies something chaotic, wild, and this CD has none of that. There is not a misplaced note anywhere. Everything is in perfect order, exactly where and when it should be.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Dan at the Walnut Valley Festival, Winfield, KS, a couple of weeks ago. Dan performed with Thunderation which is Steve Spurgin (another legend in his own right and longtime musical partner of Crary's) and Martin Stevens (a new and impressive talent). He also did a guitar workshop with Pat Flynn and Kenny Smith. The audiences' response bears out the fact that quite simply, Dan Crary is a guitar hero. A legend.

He wears it well. In fact, he is like a well -- deep, resonating, full, crystal clear. This CD is like that. It quenches the thirst like a dipper of water from a deep, deep well.

Sail Away Ladies, the first cut on the CD, has a special place in my heart. In a Mayberry far, far away, Uncle Tommy Jarrell and I sat in his living room and he took out his fiddle and played this tune for me--just for me. There was no one else in the room. It still brings tears to my eyes to think of his long arms holding the fiddle and bow and his crackly voice singing those simple verses. When Gary and I were married a couple of years ago, we chose Sail Away Ladies as our exit song because it is a happy, hope-filled song. Dan Crary's interpretation of this standard has given it a new life.

Dan said that he and Steve came to making this CD with songs they had each wanted to do for years, in the case of Deep River Blues, nearly 50 years. Dan and Steve began as folk singers and when he heard Odetta's version of this traditional tune, he knew he wanted to do it. It just took a while.

Steve Spurgin, an acclaimed songwriter in addition to being a fine musician, has a couple of originals -- Muley Was A Railroad Man and Tumbleweed Town. As Dan commented, Steve has a feel for Americana and these songs are strong examples. They have the feel of timeless tunes; if you didn't know better, you'd think you heard them as a child or saw them included in your reading book along with the Erie Canal and Ole Susannah. Listen closely to the words of Tumbleweed Town. The almost haunting lyrics are nearly disguised by the upbeat tune.

Covers of Gordon Lightfoot's I'd Do It Again and Bob Dylan's Girl From the North Country are really well done, with Dan and Steve trading lead vocals on these two.

The instrumentals, of course, are what you would expect from these guys -- perfect. Dan's Thunderation is sure to be a standard for generations to come and the interpretations of Shenandoah, Gold Rush, and Soldier's Joy will satisfy the most critical of listeners.

Dan commented that this group of musicians was perhaps the most satisfying of his career. In additon to Thunderation, performers are: Luke Dewhirst, Don Sternberg, John Reischman, and Keith Little.

This CD is going to be one that doesn't get put away. It's an added bonus that the CD cover features a stunning image of a prairie storm because it will be laying beside your CD player from now on. It's perfect, but it ain't no storm.

Check out, hosted by Kenneth Berrier and Linda Wright to listen to my full interview with Dan Crary, and watch for an interview with the grammy-nominated Steve Spurgin as well.

Dan Crary and Thunderation, Perfect Storm, Blue Night Records;

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Civil War Quote of the Day

posted by Tim Kent on Facebook:

"Fill your canteens, boys! Some of you will be in Hell before night and you'll need the water!"

Col. Isaac Pugh, 41st Ill. Inf. at Shiloh

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Moonshine and Fiddles

Once again, the making of moonshine in the mountains has alerted the attention of the authorities.

When I get the chance, I peruse the papers back home -- The Mount Airy News, The Enterprise, The Galax Gazette, the Carroll News, the Roanoke Times, the Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel. As dependable as my relatives are, they are not always diligent in keeping me up-to-date. So this is what I learned tonight:

One Larry Shaw of Baywood (near Galax) was arrested, liquid was confiscated and sent to state labs for testing, and a still was rendered dysfunctional. Pretty much breaks my heart. Hmmm. . . . looks like there might be some brandy there.

Also saw that Spencer Strickland placed in the bluegrass fiddle competition at the Fries (pronounced freeze) Fiddlers' Convention. My Grandma Coalson grew up in Fries (Irontown, really), so I have a real affection for that place. I had the opportunity to listen to Spencer on mandolin with Kenny and Amanda Smith just last week at Winfield. What an amazing musician that boy from Lambsburg is!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cowboys and Such

Listening to Michael Martin Murphy's new CD, Tall Grass and Cool Water puts me in mind of the lives of a couple of my friends.

Jim Gray lives the cowboy life in addition to being a writer and historian. I'm sharing some of his photos from his recent cattle drive to Ellsworth. A fourth-generation rancher and inductee into the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame, Jim is one of those rare people you meet not so rarely in Kansas. He is the real deal, probably born in the wrong century but I'm glad to share in his time on earth. His gracious wife is the iconic pioneer woman. Just quietly doing whatever needs to be done. I admire her very much.

To help raise awareness of the Cowboy legacy and to keep folks informed of events, Jim founded the Kansas Cowboy, official publication of the Cockeyed Old West Band of Yahoos Society. It's one of those have-to subscriptions. Get that and a copy of Jim's book, Bad Seed, then rare back in your leather chair and listen to Murhpy and the boys singing and playing Blue Prairie. You're liable to be transported to a better, simpler time.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Generosity--Tastes Good, Sounds Good

Basking in the morning sunshine and a week filled with great music and exceptional people. The 40th annual Walnut Valley Festival was a memorable reunion for musicians and fans.

Since my husband has spent decades at this Winfield event he and his mates have entrenched traditions and established camp spots. The Fugarwes and the Bucket Camp set up side-by-side each year with folks from different parts of Kansas and Nebraska. Since we were only there for three nights and Gary is just not able to set up that elaborate tent complex he used to do, we were guests of Jim Musick and Preston and Brenda Miller. I can't tell you how grateful I was to wake up to the sounds of driving rain and thunder Saturday morning and revel in the comfort of a dry, warm bed.

The Walnut Valley Festival, like all successful events, occurs in many places, on many levels, in many ways. The good folks from Nebraska treat the Bucket Camp to Cafe Luigi (right) each year and prepares a meal of spaghetti and wine, serving fellow campers and treating them like honored guests. The tables and campsite are decorated like a quaint bistro, the food is wonderful, and, of course, music. In this case, the High Falutin' String Band. Afterward, all gathered round the fire (above) and joined together in singing, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." Those friends since gone were remembered; those friends still here were cherished. There was much laughter and a few tears.

Behind Stage

Stepping backstage at Winfield reminded me of why I wanted to be a reporter. You just get to meet the most interesting and incredible people. Because of my buds Kenneth Berrier and Linda Wright and their Local Grass Radio Show, I visited with some bluegrass superstars and did some great interviews. You'll hear more of them later. Here's a preview.

Pat Flynn (left, sharing his oatmeal cookies), bluegrass rock star, was such a gentleman and so generous with his insights. I think his picking is better than ever, and along with Kenny Smith and the legendary Dan Crary (above), Pat was outstanding during the guitar workshop as well as his appearances with Michael Martin Murphy.

Okay, I have to admit that Bryan Bowers (below) is someone I had always taken for granted. He was there, an ordinary, wonderful fixture in your life. To have the chance to sit with him and understand the man, and to listen to his music anew, was a very special gift. When I got home, I soaked in the tub and played Bryan's new CD, Crabby Old Man. As Gary said, the autoharp is a soothing instrument. It's good for the weary soul.

Like countless thousands, I've been a fan of Dan Crary's for years. This was the first chance I had had to visit with him. He's not only an impressive musician; he's an impressive man. You are going to LOVE listening to this interview!

When I was a young dj at WSYD Radio, I kept "The Bountyhunter" near the top of the record stack. (Remember records?) I played that song nearly every day and the listeners loved it! Mike Cross has been a hero of mine for a long time, and I have met him before, but the sit-down visit we had was a real treat. It's going to be a treat for you, too, when I get the chance to share the interview on LGR.

On the way to Winfield, my ailing husband napped and I played Michael Martin Murphy (below) on the MP3. I kept waking Gary with shouts and he had to tell me to stop keeping time on the gas pedal. This new CD, Tallgrass and Cool Water, is going to be your favorite. The outlaw trilogy -- songs about the James Boys and Cole Younger -- will be new standards among my many buds! The best pickers in the business perform here (including Pat Flynn) and the results are just incredible. Michael's son, Ryan, plays a mean mandolin and the Winfield audience response demonstrates how beloved Murhpy is!

Stay tuned to this blog and to for more on these very talented and generous performers. (All photos by Gary Bisel)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Philadelphia and the Civil War--Get it!

I can't think of anyone more qualified to write the history of Philadelphia in the Civil War than my dear friend, Andy Waskie. In fact, I am fairly certain that no one who lived through those tumultuous times could have covered it more thoroughly or with greater enthusiasm.

A passion for history brought Andy and his wife Carol together years ago, and it brought all of us together in a lasting friendship. I've had the opportunity to visit Philadelphia many times and to host Andy and Carol in Topeka as well. This past spring, Andy spoke on Gen. Edwin Sumner to an exuberant Topeka crowd, then Carol gave a riveting presentation on the paranormal side of Philadelphia history at a conference in Missouri. Gary and I enjoyed showing them the sites, including Harry Truman's home and library in Independence.

So, knowing Andy as I do, I would honestly endorse this book even if I had not read a word of it. I am that confident in his ability as a researcher and his passion for the subject, and that doesn't happen very often. Having read the book, however, I can say that I would highly recommend it even if I did not know the author.

We Southerners often think of the North, of northern cities, as untouched by the war. Richmonder Constance Cary visited Philadelphia not long after the surrender and was shocked by the normalcy and abundance, most of all, by how unmarked it was by the war. Only later did she realize that Philadelphians had their own scars, their own empty chairs, their own losses. (She would eventually become the wife of Burton Harrison, personal secretary to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.) As a Southerner with ties to the City of Brotherly Love, Constance Cary was not alone.

Andy refers to it as a "border city," lying almost on the Mason-Dixon Line. "The city lay closest to Southern cities such as Baltimore, Washington and Richmond, which would ensure a pivotal yet grim importance as a center of any Northern war effort and destination for troop transportation," Andy wrote.

One of its sons, John Pemberton, became a general in the Confederate army and returned to Philadelphia after the war. There were many divided loyalties, but the majority supported the Union. In fact, Philadelphia contributed 100,000 soldiers including Generals George Meade and George McClellan to the Union Army. (Though Southerners may be more apt to appreciate McClellan's contributions than Yankess.)

As the second-most populous city in the North, Philadelphia bore a great financial burden in the war effort. It rose to the occasion and manufacturing reached new levels of productivity in the cause. Despite Constance Cary's observations, every corner of Philadelphia was involved in and touched by the war -- from the railroad and navy yards, to the arsenals, to the forts, prisons and training yards, and sadly, to the cemeteries.

For avid Civil War readers, Philadelphia and the Civil War is yet another vital piece of the puzzle, well-researched and well-told. Buy it. Then read it. After that, let Andy know how much you learned and how much you enjoyed learning it.

My indulgent husband Gary took this photo of Andy and me in Oak Hill Cemetery, Lawrence, Kansas, nearly two years ago. It was 0 and there was 18 inches of snow on the ground. It did not deter us from reveling in one of our greatest common passions -- dead people. My husband married me anyway.

* * * * * * * *
Philadelphia and the Civil War: Arsenal of the Union
Anthony Waskie, PhD
Foreword by Edwin C. Bearrs
The History Press, softcover, $24.99

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sammy Shelor for President

"God is great and so is Steve Martin!"

Amen to that one, Sammy!

Thanks to social media, word spread like a Texas wildfire that Patrick County's (Virginia) own Sammy Shelor is the second winner of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. The honor carries a cash award of $50,000, a bronze sculpture, and a guest appearance with Martin on the David Letterman Show November 3.

Martin told the New York Times that five or six "worthy names" were narrowed to a final two or three who were scrutinized on "anecdotal factors, and emotional factors, that are very hard to define and probably wouldn't bear up in a trial." Sammy won by unanimous vote.

The first time I recall hearing Sammy play we were in high school. I was a couple of years, or three or four, ahead of Sammy. I wrote and directed a play called "Our Heritage, Our Hero." It was to be performed in April or May of 1976, my senior year and the nation's bicentennial. Produced by my friend Karen Duncan Erickson, there was a cast of thousands, or dozens. Claudette Thompson Franklin said, "I know this banjo player from Meadows of Dan. . . . "

Leslie Shelor, Sammy's equally-talented-in-different-areas sister was already in the play and heavily involved with its production. So Sammy and his Grandpa came down off the mountain and provided the musical interludes between acts. It was perfect. I recall thinking, "this kid is really good!"

What an understatement.

Through the years, Sammy has racked up awards including Banjo Player of the Year from the IBMA more times than I can count. His Lonesome River Band is nominated for five awards later this month. Bandmates -- Brandon Rickman, guitar; Mike Hartgrove, fiddle; Barry Reed, upright bass; and Randy Jones, mandolin -- are equally talented and if you have never heard them, visit the website and order a CD.

I wasn't blowing smoke and neither was Sammy in saying that Steve Martin is great. He has used his celebrity and resources to bring the banjo and bluegrass to a larger audience. His passion has connected him to the best and he called upon the best in choosing the recipient for this award. The board members include Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, Neil Rosenberg, Pete Wernick, Anne Stringfield, and Tony Trischka, in addition to Martin.

Martin, along with his band the Steep Canyon Rangers, are also nominated for several awards this year including entertainer of the year. ALSO nominated for that prestigious award is the incredibly talented group, The Boxcars -featuring another Patrick Countian -- John Bowman. (John, I bet your Mama is just beside herself! And your Granny, too!)

Yep, it's a proud day for Patrick Countians everywhere. Our own Leon Pollard, retired teacher and musician extraordinaire, said about Sammy:

"Sammy is not only a great banjo picker, he is a great guy, both on and off stage, and he has never forgotten his roots here in the county. I was proud to pick with him when he was 10 years old and I am still proud to call him friend and pick with him whenever I get the chance. Congratulations to Sammy!"

This is such a great day I think everybody in Patrick County should get a free punkin. Can you hook us up, Sammy? This could be a great way to launch a campaign, Instead of the electoral college, how about a fiddling contest? Best banjo player is president, best fiddler is secretary of state, and so on. But that's a column for another day.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sunday Readings

The neighbors weren't home so it was the perfect time to go over and pry their small, screened outbuilding off its foundation.

Gary had these five-foot-long, 2,000 pound pry bars (maybe they weighed a little less) and while he lifted the building I quickly stuffed a brick under the bottom. What had been an aviary for the neighbor (until the raccoons got his birds) will be a garden shed for the Bisels.

We had permission to lift the building, but would anyone have asked? Years ago, in a Mayberry far, far, away, Dewey and Verlie Hill were sitting on their front porch enjoying the summer breeze when a crew showed up at the log tobacco barn across the road and began to dismantle it. This is Mayberry, so everyone waved and the Hills watched as these hardworking boys loaded century-old logs onto their flatbed truck and drive away.

A couple of days later, the neighbors came knocking.
"Our barn is gone! Did you see where it went?"

"It went thataway," said Dewey, pointing away from town.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

One of my favorite ways to spend Sunday is in the cafe at Barnes and Noble with a cappuccino and a stack of magazines. Occasionally, I buy one.

Noel and I filled a basket with reading material and settled in by the window to watch the world go by and read particularly interesting excerpts to each other.

If a psychologist were examining my selections, I'm sure I'd be in a treatment program somewhere because they are always eclectic. I don't subscribe so much any more, because I can't afford to subscribe to all the magazines I love, but I also love going in and being surprised by the new issues and choosing which one deserves to come home with me. So between Veranda, Country Living, Military History Quarterly, Wild West, True West, Better Homes and Gardens, Mother Earth News, Grit, Country French, Armchair General, The Cowboy Way, American Cowboy, Cowboys and Indians, Cottage Living, Midwest Living, Southern Living, Country French, Southwest Art, a couple of books and poetry reviews--it sometimes takes two or three coffee refills.

To help narrow your own choices, here are a couple of gems I found yesterday:

The Cowboy Way--great article by Guy De Galard on the Artist Ride in which my friend Robert "Cowboy" Culbertson participated. Cowboy (above) posted on Facebook that it was good to do some hard riding, but he did some hard posing along the way. The photograph and subsequent painting of his iconic self are worth at least a thousand words. Maybe a thousand and one.

Also in The Cowboy Way, friend Dan Gagliasso (left) has a tremendous article, "Cowboy Cavalry Under Fire: Roosevelt's Rough Riders." Dan always delivers on solid writing with a compelling subject. My history buds are going to love this one.

Military History Quarterly--an exceptional issue. The United States has deployed the whole of its military might on eleven occasions, according to this article, to capture or kill ONE man. Among that elite and notorious group: Geronimo, Pancho Villa, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein. This is a fascinating article with some compelling images.

Cowboys and Indians -- Mark Harmon on the cover. Enough said.

Flea Market Style -- One of the most fun and imaginative issues ever. The cover image says it all with a theme combining things I love -- old stuff and travel.

Now that I am sufficiently inspired, down to creating something -- though I can't decide whether to rearrange the guest room or take over a third world country. . . .

Friday, September 2, 2011

Festivities at Lone Jack

The battle of Lone Jack, Missouri, was immortalized by Rooster Cogburn in the
movie True Grit. It's where he lost his eye. This little detail, legend has it, was added by John Wayne, not the author, Charles Portis. The Duke apparently visited this quaint battle site and changed the location of the marshal's wound from Gettysburg to Lone Jack and then dubbed his cat "Sterling Price" after the Confederate general.

When the Lone Jack Historical Society marked the 149th anniversary of the battle, they unveiled a wall of honor for all veterans from the area. It was a day of ceremony and celebration, and Gary and I, along with fellow Topekan Beth Meyer, had a great time visiting with Jim Beckner, Greg Higginbotham, John Mackie, Jay & Barbara Jackson, Dave Bears, Kathleen Quigley, Dave Bears, and of course, Dan Hadley. Dan (above, far left) is one of the most talented and gracious people I know and I was tickled to be a part of the event he had worked so hard on!

PS--The soldier below (Greg Higginbotham) "volunteered" to help Dixie Lee Jackson whip up breakfast for the crowd. See her blog for more images from Lone Jack.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

More Old Friends and Good Times!

Recorded an interview with Linda Wright and Kenneth Berrier this afternoon for their Local Grass Radio ( Broadcast on WEHC Radio with podcasts on their website, this show is a great idea well executed. Thanks to the internet, local is not defined geographically now and like-minded fans can enjoy fine bluegrass from around the world. We chatted about the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival coming up in Winfield, KS, from September 14 through the 18th. My handsome husband has been for 28 years. I'm looking forward to being Kenneth and Linda's roving reporter at this great festival so keep listening to Local Grass!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Old Friends, New Times!

Great visiting with my dear friend, Sherry Boyd (above), today. Sherry recorded an interview for broadcast later tonight. Listen between 8 and 9, EDT, to WBRF Radio, in Galax, Virginia: The Galax Fiddlers Convention marks its 76 year next week and nothing makes me more homesick, so I took it upon myself to invite friends and relatives back home to the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS, in September. ( The next best thing to going home would be having all the homefolks here! I wish we had room for everyone to stay with us!

Sherry and I have been co-workers and roommates and she wrote the foreword for Dixie Lee Jackson's Guide to Cookin' and Kissin'. Folks around the globe are sure glad she's back on the air. Sherry was honored at the Society for the Preservation of Blue Grass Music in America awards this past year with a lifetime achievement award. She emcees bluegrass music festivals around the nation and is beloved wherever she goes!

I'm so proud to include her among my talented and beautiful friends!

Monday, July 25, 2011


The inaugural Kansas Hall of Fame event was "superior" in the words of one attendee. I'll second that.

A highlight for Gary and me, of course, was hosting General Richard Myers, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As one of my friends commented afterward, "Your friend the general is the real deal!"

I'll second that one, too.

I'd met the general on a couple of occasions previous to this one; in fact, I think I attended the first talk he gave as a civilian at a Conference of Military Historians in Manhattan. He joked that it was the first time in a long time he had not had staff to prepare his notes and it was a little unsettling. He was wonderful, of course, candid and compelling in describing his view of world affairs.

There was little doubt at the Hall of Fame event at the Great Overland Station that everyone wanted to meet the man the world had looked to on 9-11 when he was acting chair of the Joint Chiefs. He took the top post a month later and was front and center while history was being made. It was a privilege to host him and his brother-in-law and sister-in-law for the evening and we look forward to seeing them again.

My handsome and talented husband (below), along with friends John Neal and Jimmy Wilson, provided the pre-dinner entertainment. I'll post more pictures and keep you posted on next year's nominees.

Photos by Doug Ruth,

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kansas Hall of Fame

We had a committee meeting of the Kansas Hall of Fame at the Great Overland Station today. I am so proud to be part of this group. Such creative, caring people and we're inducting some wonderfully deserving folks into the Hall of Fame. Visit the website, for more information. The gala and induction is June 17. The honorees are: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Vice President Charles Curtis, Sen. Bob Dole, Gen. Richard Myers, The Carney Brothers (founders of Pizza Hut), Amelia Earhart, Marshal Matt Dillon as portrayed by James Arness. We are so looking forward to this event and invite you to join us.

On June 18, Dixie Lee Jackson is emceeing Wheatstock, the 7th annual, at Old Prairie Town at Ward Meade. Borderline is playing ( so look for Gary/Woodrow). Visit for more details.

On June 15, Dixie Lee Jackson will be on the WIBW morning news with Dave and Amanda, and her granddaughter, Lulu, will be joining her. Tune in!

Happy start to summer!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lazy Bones

More like tired bones. Gary & I have been so busy lately, there has simply been no time to catch up on photos and share the great events that have filled our lives. We'll take care of some of that this morning.

Carol Visits the Winery

The biggest event was the arrival of our dear friends, Andy & Carol Waskie from Philadelphia. Carol was among the featured speakers at Paracon 2011, held at the Belvoir Winery in Liberty, Missouri. Andy, left, handled the powerpoint, while Carol, below, discussed haunts and history in Philly. Even though her profession is nursing, her avocation is history and she has been instrumental in Civil War Roundtables in Pennsylvania, organizing events and establishing businesses with history at the core.

Paracon 2011 was a very successful event held at one of the most haunted, and picturesque, sites in Missouri. Paranormal investigations and other events are a common occurence at the winery so look up for more information. Thanks to Beth Cooper Meyer and Nick Spantgos and their crews for working so hard to bring folks to our area and provide quality information and an interesting time.

General Meade Visits Topeka

Andy was here to portray Gen. George Meade, victor at Gettysburg, for an evening of tribute to Gen. E. V. Sumner. The event was held at the Celtic Fox in downtown Topeka. Watch this blog for more on Gen. Sumner, who was a colonel when he commanded Fort Leavenworth during Bleeding Kansas.
One of the evening's sponsors, Clay Mead (no e), and Carol Waskie. At left, General Meade (with an e), addressing the crowd.

Andy's book, Philadelphia in the Civil War is about to be released and we can hardly wait to read it. We'll have him back out for a booksigning.
Beth Cooper Meyer, tour guide, hostess, author and all around fun gal who made the ParaCon 2011 happen. She makes things happen all the time and we're so glad she's here in Topeka!
It's great when you can "volunteer" to get your friends involved -- me with Betty Lou Pardue, our celebrity auctioneer for the evening, and Janet Sage Bruce.
Event sponsors Duane and Beth Fager who do so much to support our community along with our special guests Andy and Carol Waskie. Below, Barney Heeney, me, Marge Heeney and Doug Wallace.Our dear, dear friend Lt. Col. (ret) Ed Kennedy spoke about the Command and General Staff College Hall of Fame at Fort Leavenworth. Ed was preparing for special events at the Liberty Memorial in honor of Mr. Buckles, the last remaining WWI soldier, and we're so grateful he took the time to visit us.

We were also thrilled that Michelle Martin was able to join us. Now that Michelle is a resident of Oklahoma, we don't get to see her as often as we'd like. She is a part of our Gen. E. V. Sumner National Monument Project and an advocate for history wherever she goes. Her guest for the evening was Mary Kristen Kurtis. Mary is the daughter of Bill Kurtis and is involved in much of her dad's business and an advocate for history herself.

So many more things happening. Let me hear from you and we'll all try to keep up with one another online and visit in person when possible.

All photos taken by my handsome husband, Gary Bisel. He also did the sound for our event at the Celtic Fox.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chiaventone Wins Wrangler Award

Fred Chiaventone has won another Wrangler Award.

Well, we are NOT surprised!!
Fred (pictured above with long-time friend, Gen. David Petraeus) is among my top 5 favorite writers of all time. Two of his books, Moon Of Bitter Cold and A Road We Do Not Know are two of my top five favorite books. I've turned so many people on to Fred's work, I should get commissions. I'll settle for the satisfaction of knowing that other people have been touched by Fred's work. He's a fine historian and a fine writer.

This latest Wrangler, bestowed by the Western Heritage Museum and Cowboy Hall of Fame, is given to Fred for an April 2010 article in Wild West Magazine on the Pony Express. Fred's first Wrangler award in 2003 recognized Moon Of Bitter Cold and was presented to him by actor, Ernest Borgnine.

Wrangler award winners are a prestigious lot: Robert Duvall, Clint Eastwood, and Robert Utley among them. I'm thrilled to see Fred recognized yet again as he continues to make valuable contributions to literature and history. During his Army career, Fred specialized in counter-terrorism and national security issues. Since retiring, he has written and lectured widely and appeared in numerous documentaries and consulted on feature films, including Ang Lee's "Ride With The Devil". His articles have appeared in American Heritage, The New York Post, Armed Forces Journal, and Cowboys & Indians. He was a contributing editor to the Historical Dictionary of the U. S. Army and to the Oxford Companion to American Military History.

Yaay, Fred!

More News From Talented Friends

Louis Kraft is doing the final edits on his Ned Wynkoop manuscript and I can hardly wait to see it. Just picked up the April issue of Wild West Magazine and Louis has a really excellent article on Wynkoop, who was serving as sheriff of Arapahoe County, Kansas Territory. What a life! Louis may be the best biographer going and he brings Wynkoop back from the past with color and clarity and compassion, just as he did with Geronimo and Charles Gatewood.

Be sure to grab this issue of Wild West and watch for the upcoming biography from the University of Oklahoma, Ned Wynkoop: Walking Between the Races.

We hope to get up to Hardin this summer to hear Louis (above with me at the Kansas City Civil War Roundtable) and good friend, D. K. Clark, on the 135th anniversary of Custer's Last Fight.

The History World spins on.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cowboy Adventures

"Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction."

I wish I had heard that advice before my first two marriages.

Kansan Robert "Cowboy" Culbertson (above, and below right) is a purveyor of cowboy wisdom. He is a wrangler/actor who has appeared in more than 20 documentary and feature films. Titles include Ride With the Devil, The Only Good Indian, Rough Riders, Bloody Dawn, and American Experience "Jesse James."

Of all the adventures Cowboy has been on, however, the one coming up may the best. Cowboy and his bud, filmmaker/screenwriter D. R. Pedraza, are going to ride from the Canadian/North Dakota border to San Antonio in order to raise money and awareness for drug abuse. Visit for details. The is an incredible event for a unusual cause --helping the kids of parents with substance abuse issues. So often, these children are uprepared for college and get overlooked by society. This ride is designed to change that.

Check out the site, and if you feel it in your heart, support what these guys and this organization are doing. There's real wisdom in that.

Oh yeah, and "when in doubt let your horse do the thinkin.'"

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Farewell to Texas

A hundred and fifty years ago today, Texas left the Union.

It had barely joined the Union.

There is not enough room here to tell the story of Texas. Heck, there's not even enough room in Texas to tell the story of Texas. Texas is big, Texans are big, and the story of Texas is bigger than them all. In all that bigness, we sometimes lose sight of the sadness.

It was a sad day when Texas voted to secede, just as it was a sad day when her sister states cast those votes. Even though some celebrated, others mourned the dissolution of the hard-won United States. The American Revolution was not that distant; the sons and daughters of patriots held the fate of the young nation in their hands. They did not not always decide wisely.

Fired up by . . . who knows? Who knows what fuels the thirst for war? Power, glory, conquest. . . whatever. It is rarely worth the cost. Sam Houston (right) warned his colleagues there would be "rivers of blood." They did not listen. They did not listen all over our nation and rivers of blood did, in fact, flow.

When Mississippi seceded in January, 1861, U. S. Senator Jefferson Davis concluded that his services were terminated. When he bade farewell to Washington, there was great excitement in the capitol. Crowds arrived by 7 a.m. and by 9, even the hallways and meeting rooms were standing room only.

According to his Jefferson's wife, Varina:

I . . . looked on this festive crowd and wondered if they saw beyond the cold exterior of the orator -- his deep depression, his desire for reconciliation, and his overwhelming love for the Union in whose cause he had bled, and to maintain which he was ready to sacrifice all but liberty and equality. We felt blood in the air, and mourned in secret over the severance of tender ties both of relationship and friendship. . . our hearts were "exceeding sorrowful even unto death."

That night, Varina heard her husband pray:

May God have us in His holy keeping, and grant that before it is too late peaceful councils may prevail.

Of course, peace did not prevail Jefferson Davis was soon elected the head of a rebel nation. Probably not until death did Davis or Houston know true peace after that war had taken place.

Wise men still pray that "peaceful councils may prevail."

Email correspondence with T. J. Stiles:

The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T. J. Stiles won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. I came to know T. J. through his work on Jesse James. The result, Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, is well-researched and well-written -- both of which are woefully lacking in scholarship it seems. I have to admit I was tickled to read T. J.'s note. We were discussing the ridiculousness of some Jesse James lore:

By contrast with Jesse James, no one claims to have a family story about Cornelius Vanderbilt , or a picture of him that they want me to authenticate, even though Vanderbilt lived far longer, interacted with far more people, and was photographed many more times. If all the purported photos of Jesse James really were him, he would have spent every hour of his short life in front of a camera.

T. J., I've been meaning to ask you about this photo I found in an estate sale. I think it's Jesse James and Billy the Kid robbing a train with Cornelius Vanderbilt on board and John Wilkes Booth is a passenger . . . . Maybe I'll just take it to Rick at the Pawn Shop in Vegas. . . .

Check out and follow T. J.'s appearances and blog.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Happy 150th

The state of Kansas is officially 150 years old as of Saturday. It was a grand day with unseasonably nice weather, and events across the state marked the anniversary.
What now?
I say the celebration should last four more years. When Bryce Benedict and I appeared on WIBW news with Ralph Hipp the other day, I referred to January 29, 1861, as a line of demarcation in that "second birth of freedom" that was our Civil War. Bryce disagreed, pointing out that freedom was still a ways off for a lot of people when Kansas became a state and that many of our founding fathers were not gung-ho for equality of the races or anyone else.
He's right, but so am I.
Just as the Declaration of Indpendence was a step, the Constitution was a step, the Emancipation Proclamation was a step, Kansas statehood was a step. The United States is not a done deal. It is a process. We are still making it happen. Our founding fathers gave us ideals and a process by which to bring them to realization.
It is up to us--each of us, all of us, every generation -- to carry the work forward. That is exactly what was happening 150 years ago in Kansas. There was a celebration and then Kansans set about securing the freedom and Union they had just proclaimed.
January 29 was just the beginning.
(Photo courtesy of Kendall Gott who is pictured in civilian clothing at the celebration at Fort Scott, KS. In his arms, his loyal hound, Stevie.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

WIBW Today at 4

Bryce Benedict and I will join Ralph Hipp on WIBW TV at 4 p.m. today to talk about the 150th of Kansas. Bryce is the author of Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigrade of James H. Lane. We'll be visiting about events marking the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and encouraging folks to check out the Civil War Roundtable of Eastern Kansas. The CWRT meets this evening at the Koch Education Center at the Kansas State Historical Society, 6:30 p.m., and is open to the public. Our speaker tonight is the eminent Dr. Herschel Stroud, nationally recognized as an expert on Civil War medicine. He will be discussing Abraham Lincoln. The membership of our CWRT is so diverse, so committed to understanding and learning. It is a great way to introduce students to the study of the Civil War so we invite you to bring your class or your kids and join us!