Newspaper column: Give books about Nevada and by Nevadans

With Christmas rapidly approaching some of you may still be confounded by the question of just what to give that Nevada friend or family member. May we be so bold as to suggest a gift that endures — books about Nevada or by Nevadans. The choices are as varied as Nevada’s people and its landscapes. 

These can be found in your local bookstore and online from several book retailers in hardback, paperback and electronic versions.

A book that will open the reader to the wonders of Nevada and the Southwest is Deborah Wall’s expanded 2nd edition of “Base Camp Las Vegas,” a guide to 101 hikes in the region. Packed with photos, the book tells one how to get there, when to go, how to prepare, what to expect and what to avoid. It is a must for the explorer.

Just in time for holiday giving, Range magazine has published another of its gorgeous coffee table books — “The Magnificent American West,” which features colorful, award-winning photographs along with the wit and witticisms of Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain.

At rangemagazine.com one can also find several other books about Nevada and the Western lifestyle, including collections of cowboy poetry and art such as “Brushstrokes & Balladeers” and “Reflections of the West,” which include poems by Nevadan Waddie Mitchell.

Of course, no Nevadan’s library is complete without a copy of Twain’s “Roughing It,” which recounts his sojourn in Nevada during the Civil War and his misadventures in newspapering as a reporter and briefly as an editor. He claimed his editorials prompted no less than six invitations to duel. 

To learn more about the truth-stretching Twain, one could pick up a copy of Andrew Hoffman’s biography, “Inventing Mark Twain,” which relates how Sam Clemens really came by his nom de plume.

“People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger,” writes Hoffman.

From the same era comes Twain’s editor’s reminiscences about “The Big Bonanza” — Dan de Quille’s foray into the goings-on during the days of the Comstock Lode.

In a similar vein comes Robert Laxalt’s “Sweet Promised Land,” which reflects on Nevada’s formative years and his father’s visit to his native Basque homeland. 

 Sally Denton’s “Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World” recounts the engineering feat that produced the landscape altering Hoover Dam.

The newest addition to the list of books by Nevadans, if not necessarily about Nevada, is so new it will not be available in print until March, but one may order it now and put a printout of the book cover under the tree. Longtime Nevada writer, editor, investigative journalist, essayist and shirt-tail historian A.D. Hopkins has penned a fictional account from his boyhood home in western Virginia during the Eisenhower era called, “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” It looks at the seamy side of life through the eyes of high school boys.

Longtime Nevada editorialist and columnist Vin Suprynowicz also has added fiction to his list of books. The latest is a science fiction, libertarian-leaning tale called “The Miskatonic Manuscript,” a follow-up to his “The Testament of James.” His non-fiction collections of essays include “Send in the Waco Killers” and “The Ballad of Carl Drega.”

For a look at how Nevada corporations edged out the mob to take over the gaming racket, there is longtime newspaper columnist John L. Smith’s “Sharks in the Desert.” One might also peruse his books about gambling execs Steve Wynn and Bob Stupak and mob attorney-turned Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman.

We also recommend Colorado-based writer David Philipps attempt to answer the question about what to do about the West’s burgeoning wild horse population in his book “Wild Horse Country.” The book sweeps across a span of time and landscape as vast as the range of the wild horse, delving into views and suggestions from horse-huggers and horse-disparagers alike, turning more than a few colorful similes and metaphors along the journey.

To span the human history of Nevada, there is prolific Nevada chronicler Stanley Paher’s retrospect on the state’s first 150 years with “Nevadans: Spirit of the Silver State,” which takes the reader from the earliest explorers and emigrants through the mining and ranching eras to modern times.

May your friends and family appreciate you and your gifts.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Cowboy poetry: Another take on a sesquicentennial paean to Nevada

A friend and I were chatting the other day about how we’d’ve liked to have gone to the 30th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko this week, despite the cold and goodly chance of getting snowed in.

I mentioned that “cousin” Waddie Mitchell was debuting his Nevada sesquicentennial celebration poem, but I couldn’t recall the title — “Madame Nevada,” “Dame Nevada” or something, I guessed.

My friend cracked, “Madame Nevada? Hell, she ain’t no madame, she’s just one of the girls.”

Of course, Waddie’s piece sings the praises of the 150-year-old state with lines about “Bristlecone stand sentinel from high atop her peaks” and “She’s the rugged scent of essence and immense in scope and feel …”

Perhaps a less whitewashed, Chamber of Commerce version is in order.

Madame Nevada

She sits astride the swaths of sagebrush and bristlecone
And beckons weary travels with her breasts of silicone.

She gives a whole new meaning to the words Great Basin
As she swallows up those who dare walk where she is pacin’.

Dropped like a calf in the Civil War, she suckled on dreams
And chased the teats of gold and silver and nefarious schemes.

Rich in minerals and irony, Governor Nye passed a resolution
That banned all gambling, till she made it a budget solution.

Weaned on hard liquor and cards in a house of ill repute
She grew up hard and rode fast out of the chute.

They may call her easy, but it takes a lot of work, girl
To be always on the take and take all those suckers for a whirl.

So, let’s drink to her future and let’s drink to her vices
She’ll never deny you, if you can just afford her prices.

What’s the difference between cowboy poets and all those poseurs?

“A poet who reads his verse in public may have other nasty
habits.”
      — Lazarus Long

Since the 30th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko is less than a week off, I thought I’d recount a certain tale I heard recently about events at one of those gatherings that helps illustrate the difference between cowboy poetry and all those lesser kinds.

It seems that one year the organizers of the Gathering — it’s not a festival, mind you, and don’t let Harry try to tell you otherwise — decided to have a contest to find the best cowboy poet. A panel of judges rated every reading, sort of like an Olympic event, with points for humor, originality, authentic dialect and language, pathos and overall Western colorfulness.

When they got to the last day there was a tie, or so I’m told.

One of the finalists was a professorial type in a tweed jacket with patches on the sleeves. He was well versed in poetry, so to speak, and could quote Mark Twain, Will James and Badger Clark, as well as Chaucer, Shakespeare and
Homer.

The other was a rather rough-hewn ranch hand with less than a high school education who wore scuffed boots, a wide belt with an even wider buckle, an oilskin duster and a felt hat that was a bit down in the mouth, if you know what I mean.

The tie-breaker, it was decided, or so I’m told, would have each of them write a poem on the spot, but it had to contain a word they’d be given at the last moment. To keep it fair, as each contestant recited his
off-the-cuff doggerel, the other would be in an isolation booth, like they used on those old black and white TV game shows.

The professor called heads on the coin toss and went first. The word he had to use was: Timbuktu.

After a few minutes he spoke with confidence:

Across the burning desert the camels ran, 
A wealthy prince leading his caravan,
His trusty compass kept the way true
As he headed for the grand bazaar in Timbuktu.

The scruffy fellow came out of the booth and was told his poem had to use the word Timbuktu.

He thought for a couple of minutes and then began to drawl:

Tim and me headed toward town
To see what ruckus could be found,
Down by the river three mustangs we spied.
“Let’s lassoo ‘em and break ‘em,” ol’ Tim cried,
Figuring we could buck ’em to a crawl
And still be to town befo’ last call.
Since they be three and we be two,
I bucked one and Tim buck two.

I never was told who won the contest. To be honest, it might’ve been drowned out by the laughter, because the version I heard was a rather bawdy one. I just cleaned it up a might. (A keyword search on the Internet will turn up several iterations of the bawdy version.)

On a more serious note, “cousin” Waddie Mitchell, Nevada’s undisputed poet lariat, has been named the Honorary Poet of the Silver State’s Sesquicentennial, which is Oct. 31. To mark the year-long celebration, Waddie will debut a poem he has written to mark the state’s 150th anniversary during “Home Means Nevada,” the first show of the Gathering on Jan. 27.

The title of the poem is “The Dame Nevada.” Can’t wait to hear it.

Waddie Mitchell is a major source of mustache envy. (Photo submitted to the Elko Daily Free Press.)