Thursday, December 7, 2017


Yonderings: Trails and Memories of the Big Bend
Genre: Memoir / Travel / Texas
Publisher: TCU Press
Date of Publication: November 17, 2017
Pages: 221

It was a time before Terlingua Ranch, chili cook-offs, and when you could drive a hundred miles without seeing another vehicle or another person.  The year was 1961, and the tides of humanity that ebbed and flowed into the lower reaches of the Big Bend were at their historical nadir. It was a vast, empty land spotted by isolated ranch headquarters, a national park with few visitors, and the many ruins of a past shrouded in legend, lore, and improbable truths. Six generations of Ben H. English’s family have called this enigmatic region home.  With his family headquartered at the old Lajitas Trading Post, he worked and lived on ranches and in places now little more than forgotten dots on yellowing maps.  He attended the one-room schoolhouse at Terlingua, prowled the banks of the Rio Grande, and crisscrossed the surrounding areas time and again on horseback and on foot.

Some fifty years later he writes about those years, revealing along the way the history and legends of the singular land he knows so well, separating fact from fiction, and bringing the reader into a world that few have experienced.  He also explores the lower Big Bend as it is found now, and the extraordinary vistas one can still discover just over the next rise.  

(Because there was no way I could keep it at ten…)
By Ben H. English

1. The Rounders: (1965) This is one of two ‘modern’ westerns on my list; starring Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda, along with a superb cast of supporting actors and one old blaze-faced outlaw roan, who steals the show. Adapted from the novel written by West Texas born and bred Max Evans, this movie is a hoot for both young and old.

2. The Good Old Boys: (1995) The great Elmer Kelton from Crane, Texas wrote this novel; adapted to the screen by none other than Texas-born Tommy Lee Jones who also heads up the cast. Filmed mostly in the Big Bend area, it portrays true-to-life characters that only a real West Texan could ever fully understand. A poignant turn-of-the-century tale of changing times and those having to cope with those changes. 

3. Lonely Are The Brave: (1962) A little known and less appreciated black and white film starring Kirk Douglas, this is the other ‘modern western’ on my list. The theme of the one individual from another era trying to fit into modern society has seldom ever been better done. This is a story for the ages and perhaps even more timely now than when made over fifty years ago.

4. Ride the High Country: (1962) Director Sam Peckinpah’s first movie and partly penned by him and to me, his very finest. Everyone in this movie was or ended up being an easily-recognizable Hollywood commodity, and none of them were ever in better form than in this film. Headlined by an aging Joel McCrae and Randolph Scott, it is a memorable story of true integrity, courage, and friendship. In my opinion, it is an absolute masterpiece. 

5. The Professionals: (1966) Starring Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Woody Strode, Robert Ryan, Jack Palance, and Ralph Bellamy; this is a wide-open Mexican Revolution era film that has more than one surprise along the way and a host of one liners that are part of movie history. The weapons are authentic, the stunts and special effects first rate, the mountains and desert in the background well selected, and the story is explosively on-edge from beginning to end. Two thumbs up!

6. The Unforgiven: (1960) Not the overblown, overhyped, and overrated Eastwood movie of some years ago, but rather a hidden classic telling the tale of love, prejudice and the clash of warrior -like civilizations. Headlined by such notables as Burt Lancaster, Audie Murphy, John Saxon, a very young Doug McClure as well as a stunningly beautiful Audrey Hepburn, this was one of the earlier films that strived hard at authenticity in dress, weapons, structures, and the hard, sometimes brutal life found on the Texas frontier of the 1870s.

7. The Outlaw Josey Wales: (1976) In general, I am not a huge fan of Clint Eastwood westerns and consider some of his best work in the genre was in the old TV series, Rawhide. But this was by far his ‘Magnum’ (couldn’t resist myself there) Opus in a very big way, no matter what he did before or afterwards. From the novel Gone To Texas by Forrest Carter and set against the bloody viciousness enshrouding the Kansas-Missouri border immediately prior and during The War Between The States, it trails from that locale to its final scenes supposedly placed in the Davis Mountains. A great story, great acting, and a great finale.

8. Monte Walsh: (2003) There were two versions of this film made; one in 1970 with Lee Marvin in the lead role and later a remake in 2003 starring Tom Selleck. This is actually a rare case where I give the nod to the remake. Another story of the rugged individual who is trying to find his way through a world changing before his very eyes, Monte Walsh is certainly a story worth the retelling time and again. A final word; if you possibly can watch both versions. The bronc ride in the Lee Marvin film is pure poetry in the saddle. 

9. The Shootist: (1976) John Wayne in his final role as a dying gunfighter who has lived life the way he saw fit and now plans to meet Death on his own terms also. With a superbly written story line, an absolutely fantastic cast, and a bittersweet insight that perhaps had more to do with the man rather than the actor, this is a memorable Western in so many different ways. I do believe that everyone, including the Duke, knew this was the final time around. They took extra care in making it one for the books. 

10. Barbarosa: (1982) Though hardly known these days and heavily panned by some when released, Willie Nelson turns in his best acting performance ever as a bandit/gunfighter incessantly pursued by a large Mexican family due to a long ago occurrence. Almost entirely filmed in the lower Big Bend Country, the scenery backdrop is well worth the admission itself. Gary Busey backs up Nelson as a young farm boy trying to escape his own past. A rollicking yet poignant story, this is one of the biggest ‘sleeper’ westerns ever.

About the Author: 
An eighth-generation Texan, Ben H. English was raised mostly in the Lajitas-Terlingua area. An honors graduate of Angelo State University, he served in the United States Marine Corps for seven years, was a high school teacher, and retired after twenty-two years in the Texas Highway Patrol. 

More Blogs on this Tour: 
05-DecPlaylist Reading by Moonlight
06-Dec Review  Texan Girl Reads
08-Dec Author Video 1 Books and Broomsticks 
09-Dec ReviewForgotten Winds
10-Dec Excerpt Texas Book Lover
11-Dec Author Video 2 Storeybook Reviews
12-Dec Review Syd Savvy
13-Dec Scrapbook Page Chapter Break Book Blog
14-Dec Review Hall Ways Blog


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