Gerry B's Book Reviews

We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a cowpuncher by E.C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith

A rollicking tale of true adventure, and perhaps the first admission (ever) of male love in a cowboy’s own story

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we pointed them north - coverE.C. Abbott was a cowboy in the great days of the 1870s and 1880s. He came up the trail to Montana from Texas with the long-horned herds that were to stock the northern ranges; he punched cows in Montana when there wasn’t a fence in the territory; and he married a daughter of Granville Stuart, the famous early-day stockman and Montana pioneer. For more than fifty years he was known to cowmen from Texas to Alberta as “Teddy Blue.”

This is history, as told by Helena Huntington Smith, who says, “My part was to keep out of the way and not mess it up by being literary.

_____________________________________

Review by Gerry Burnie

When I come across personal reminiscences of this nature (“We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a cowpuncher” by E.C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith, drawings by Nick Eggenhofer, University of Oklahoma Press, 1955) I am immediately envious of my cousins south of the border because they have yet another window into their past.

Unfortunately, apart from Norman Lee’s journal [see: Norman Lee Klondike Cattle Drive,” Touchwood Editions, 2005] I am unaware of any other first-hand account(s) of Canadian history that is/are currently: a) published, and b) still in print. I would be happy if someone were to correct me on that statement, but alas I doubt it will happen. Therefore, with each generation that passes our Canadian pioneer experience becomes more and more obscure. Therefore, I have the greatest admiration for Abbott and his patriotic notion to leave a legacy behind for our appreciation.

The early years 

We Pointed Them North is without a doubt the most candid, and thereby the most ‘credible’ of any similar accounts I have read thus far. However, this is a personal observation to be taken for what it is worth. Nevertheless, by his own admission young Eddie Abbott was a bit of a free spirit—even a ‘renegade’ in his formative and teenage years. He attributes this, in part, to having an overbearing father:

“I never got on with my father and never pretended to. He was overbearing and tyrannical—and worse with me than with the others … And I resented it. But I got back at him. I remember one time the butcher wanted to buy some beef, and my father was going to cut them out of the herd for him, and he asked me to give him a horse. So I caught up little Pete, my cutting horse, for him … Father had rode all his life on one of these flat English saddles, and he thought he was a rider … And when he rode into the herd and started to cut out a steer, and the steer dodged … of course Pete turned right out from under him and left him on the ground.” 

The other part was from growing up around the rugged Texans who came north with the very first cattle drives. As Abbott points out in clarifying the record, the cattle drives as we know them only lasted from about 1870-1886, and were almost completely gone by the 1890s. He also points out that the cowboy packin’ a gun on each hip was mostly a Hollywood embellishment.

“I punched cows from ’71 on, and I never yet saw a cowboy with two guns. I mean two six-shooters. Wild Bill carried two guns and so did some of the other city marshals, like Bat Masterson, but they were professional gunmen themselves, not cowpunchers.” 

Nevertheless, Abbott carried a gun from the time he was fourteen, and even shot a man in a mêlée of drunken cowboys shooting out gas lamps. However, it was his contention that a gun was a necessary tool in frontier country. It enabled a man to protect himself against all manner of threats; to shoot food and signal if lost; and to avoid a robbery, etc.

The adventurous years 

If Teddy Blue’s ‘hellion’ years had any benefit at all, apart from sewing his wild oats and gaining a reputation as a ‘wild one’—which he was immenselyproud of—it enabled him (at age nineteen) to take his place among some of the toughest crews on the trail. Among these were the Olive Brothers:

“The Olives were noted as a tough outfit—a gun outfit—which was one reason I wanted in with them. It would show I was tough as they were … They were violent and overbearing men, and it taken a hard man to work for them, and believe me they had several of those all the time. 

Men had to be tough considering the life they led. Abbott describes one situation where they were camped near a large prairie dog ‘town’ when a big storm came up that resulted in a stampede. In the morning it was discovered that one of the men was missing, and a search was made.

“We found him among the prairie dog holes, beside his horse. The horse’s ribs was scraped bare of hide, and all the rest of horse and man was smashed into the ground as flat as a pancake … [T]he awful part of it was that we had milled [the cattle] over him all night … And after that, orders were given to sing when you were running with a stampede … After a while this grew to be a custom on the range, but you know this was still a new business in the seventies [1870s] and they was learning all the time.” 

That was not an untypical circumstance for a teenager in the 1870s. Imagine, if you will, asking today’s counterpart to give up the BMW for a horse, or his TV remote for an evening of chasing a stampede! Yet, for the most part—and almost entirely in Canada—the rugged contributions of these pioneers are all but forgotten.

Life was not all hardship, however, for the average cowpoke played almost as hard as he worked. One episode that Teddy Blue relates took place at a ‘parlor house’ owned by a Mag Burns:

“Three of us was in the parlor of Maggie Burns’ house giving a song number called “The Texas Ranger.” John Bowen was playing the piano and he couldn’t play the piano, and Johnny Stringfellow was there sawing on a fiddle, and I was singing, and between the three of us we was raising the roof. And Maggie—the redheaded, fighting son of a gun—got hopping mad says: ‘If you leather-legged sons of bitches want to give a concert, why don’t you hire a hall? You’re ruinin’ my piano.’ 

“So I got mad, too, and I says: ‘If I had little Billy [his horse] here’—well, I told her what I’d do to her piano. And John Bowen said: ‘Go and get him, Teddy, go get him.’ … I went across the street and got Billy … and rode him through the hall and into the parlor … And as soon as I got in the parlor, Maggie slammed the door … and called the police. 

“But there was a big window in the room, that was low enough to the ground , and Billy and me got through it and got away. We headed for the ferry on the dead run, and that is the origin of the story that Charlie Russell [noted artist and writer] tells in ‘Rawhide Rawlins,’ about me telling that jack rabbit to ‘get out of the way, brother, and let a fellow run that can run.’ I got to the ferry just as it was pulling out, and jumped Billy a little piece onto the apron. The sheriff got there right after me and he was hollering at the ferryman to stop. And the ferryman hollered back at him: ‘This fellow has got a gun the size of a stovepipe stuck to my ribs, and I ain’t agoing to stop.’” 

In his time Teddy Blue also socialized with some legendary characters synonymous with the Old West. These included Charles Russell—already mentioned—who ranks with Frederick Remington as one of the West’s most outstanding artists; “Wild Bill” Hickock, for whom Teddy Blue worked for a while; also Teddy Roosevelt, later President of the United States; and Martha “Calamity Jane” Canary-Burke. Perhaps not as well known was Granville Stuart whose DHS spread was one of the largest such operations in Montana. He was also known for leading a pack of vigilantes that brought swift justice to a number of cattle rustlers and horse thieves in that frontier country.

Teddy Blue was a great admirer of Granville Stuart’s, and even more so of his pretty, young daughter Mary, whom Abbott married in 1889.

Another side of Teddy Blue … A male lover, perhaps?

One of the characteristics I particularly admire about Teddy Abbott is his candour. Not once does he back off, or back down from ‘telling it like it was.’ For example, he describes himself in his younger days as “A damn fool kid.” And with regard to his first girl, “I was a fool on a list of fools.” Therefore, I believe he truly meant to convey the fact that he had a male lover at one point in his career, i.e.:

“And there I claimed this young Indian, Pine … He was one of the best looking Indians I ever saw, six feet, one or two inches tall and as straight as a string. And he was brave—he fought for his knife—and I was sure stuck on him. 

“We all ate there [Rose station on the Northern Pacific], while we was waiting for the train I handed Pine the grub and water first, but he always handed them to the chief. And after they had eaten they all wrapped up in blankets and laid down on their stomachs and went to sleep. And so did I—right beside Pine. [166] 

“While they [the Indians] were all in jail, I went to see Pine ever day, and took him presents of tailor-made cigarettes and candy and stuff. And I told him I’d get him out of it, and luckily he did get out of it, and he was my friend for life. The last day he took a silver ring from his finger and gave it to me.” [167] 

Moreover, he casually relates that he and some of his girlfriends exchanged clothes and paraded around Miles City for a lark. Such an example can be seen in the above photo of him–wearing a woman’s bonnet–with Calamity Jane in the background.

In conclusion

Considering that Teddy Blue was relating all this to Helena Huntington Smith in 1938-39, including the ‘Pine episode,’ it speaks volumes about this truly delightful character; one of the last of a kind, and for that reason I highly recommend it as a rollicking read and a slice of endangered history.

Visit: Gerry B’s Books – News on current & future publications.

 

February 26, 2010 - Posted by | Contemporary biography, Non-fiction

5 Comments »

  1. I wouldn’t take the male lover part too seriously. The language has changed a lot since then and the meanings are different now. Take the word gay, and it was common to share a bed in those days just for the warmth.

    Comment by stan schneider | July 2, 2012 | Reply

    • It is circumstantial, I realize that, but at the very least they were special friends. It wouldn’t have detracted from Abbot’s remarkable character if he had a male lover, and given his “devil-may-care” nature I expect he probably felt the same.

      He remains one of my most admired characters in history.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, and please do so again.

      Gerry B.

      Comment by Gerry B. | July 2, 2012 | Reply

  2. On a recent trip to Arizona I purchased Teddy Blue Abbott’s story in Guidon Books in Scottsdale. Both my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed his reminiscences as related by Ms Smith (and her introduction was so descriptive – I could just picture her madly writting as Abbott recollected). We also have The Longhorns by J.Frank Dobie (U of Texas Press 1982) which could be called a companion to We Pointed Them North.

    Comment by Arlene | March 24, 2011 | Reply

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. The value of books like Teddy Blue Abbott’s biography is that it reminds us of how this country was developed, and the values our pioneers held dear. If you like the cowboy genre I would recommend “Log of a Cowboy” by Andy Adams.
      Regards,
      Gerry Burnie

      Comment by Gerry B. | March 24, 2011 | Reply

  3. Gerry, I am such a sucker for biographies and other stories based on history, and this book sounds like one I will absolutely have to get as soon as I can. Thank you for reviewing it.

    Comment by Ruth Sims | March 10, 2010 | Reply


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