|Welcome to the “My Place” page
My name is Scott
I run the Rope and Wire website.
My original idea for this page was to give those living in the country the opportunity to tell others about the things that made their farm or ranch so special.
Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that either no one likes to brag or no one lives on a farm or a ranch. Whatever the case, no one submitted an article so I felt it was high time to try something different.
So for now this will be literally “My Place.” I’ll use this page to post a western blog or short articles. They will either be mine, or possibly one from a contributing R&W community member.
The theme will remain Western but the content will change weekly, or there about.
If you click on any of the links to past blog's, you can return to this page by clicking on the My Place button across from my picture.
I hope you enjoy it but if not, might I suggest you “stroll the grounds.” Read a story or watch a movie.
Thanks for visiting.
It was my cousin Roger who took me to me to see my first film. He wasn’t pleased. He was thirteen; I was nearly eight. We both went to Sale High School, then the prep school for Manchester Grammar. Roger was a notorious member of the senior, remote end of it. The headmaster, Tommy Smith, made dark remarks about him. I was taken along that Saturday because our mothers, who were sisters, made him, but he didn’t talk to me much and I certainly had to stump up my own sixpence to get in. My mother must have given me the money for this introductory visit to the flicks.
The film was called Stagecoach.
Critics have argued for years over whether the film is a great John Ford classic or just another Western B-movie. It had everything: cowboys, gamblers, saloons, the romantic drama of the journey itself, attacking Indians, the cavalry and a final street shoot-out. It gave me a taste for Westerns that has lasted ever since. I was at an impressionable age. The second film cousin Roger reluctantly took me to was The Hound of the Baskervilles, with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. That gave me a lifelong addiction to crime fiction.
Roger was tall and narrow-faced, liked playing cards and games of chance, so the character he particularly identified with in Stagecoach was the gambler played by John Carradine. I think Roger really saw himself as capable of producing Carradine’s offhand demeanour and cool gambling traits but with a gallant attachment to protecting the pregnant officer’s wife on the journey. Carradine was in The Hound of the Baskervilles as well, playing a slightly sinister minor part as a manservant, so Roger was pleased. He liked, too, the Stagecoach Lordsburg saloon scene in which Luke Plummer, turning the cards over before going to the shoot-out with John Wayne, brings up aces and eights ‘Dead Man’s Hand, Luke’ traditionally the hand Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was shot in the back in Deadwood.
Analysts and enthusiasts for the film that gave John Wayne his big break have often proclaimed its literary pedigree. They say it is similar to Maupassant’s celebrated story Boule De Suif French for ball of suet or fat but in fact rhyming slang for Juif, a Jew in which a party of people travelling by stage during the Franco-Prussian War are rescued from detention by the young and generous Jewess travelling with them. After terrible deliberation and pressure, she sacrifices her virtue to the lecherous Prussian officer who detains them. He makes a night of satisfaction with her the condition imposed for the travellers to continue their journey. Once free and en route again, they humiliate and reject her, despite her sacrifice, in a simulation of biblical and social truth. There is a parallel in the Stagecoach story, but John Ford’s film, whilst dealing with social rejection and personal rehabilitation, has a happy ending.
B-movie theorists say this is all hokum and that the film is just about a group travelling in danger of an Apache Indian war party, with action and scenes in Monument Valley to add drama and viewability. They say that the notion is hokum, too, that Ford was underlining, in 1939, the country’s political pro-Rooseveldt New Deal by having the group travel from a repressed Puritan town, where the loose girl played by Claire Trevor and a whisky-soaked doctor are drummed out by bigots, to the tolerant wide-open Lordsburg, prescient of America’s revision of its social prejudices and political attitudes. It is just another Western, they say. Cousin Roger would have agreed, although he didn’t see Carradine as a courtly cliché of a character, not at all.
You can read what you like into a picture or a film. Orson Welles said that Stagecoach is a masterpiece and he watched it forty times to find out how John Ford made it. For years we used to start off a family car journey by calling out, in Andy Devine’s high-pitched tones, ‘All aboard for Dry Fork, Lee Ferry, Apache Wells and Lordsburg.’
The fact is that Stagecoach is based on a short story by Ernest Haycox called Stage to Lordsburg, brilliantly adapted into a film script by Dudley Nichols. In the original story the army lady is not pregnant, she is engaged to the officer she is going to meet, and there is no crooked absconding banker with prescient, pompous statement ‘what’s good for banking is good for America’. The Wayne part of The Ringo Kid is a blond gunslinger called Malpais Bill and he starts off with the stagecoach in the town called Tonto. He isn’t picked up on the way. There is no alcoholic doctor and no birth of a baby. The whisky drummer dies of heat while comforted by the loose girl, who is called Henriette. There is a cattleman in the stage who, knowing her profession, fancies her but is a useful shot. The gambler concerned for the ladies gets killed, as Carradine does in the film, and the shotgun guard, who isn’t the marshal called Curly, is killed, too. The stagecoach gets through alone, without Tim Holt’s cavalry turning up. Malpais Bill then has his shoot-out with the Plummers and returns for the girl.
There is one more important difference.
The film leaves out one character altogether, presumably because Ford and Nichols didn’t see a role for him that would appeal to American audiences. In Haycox’s original story there is an Englishman on the stage, all length and bony corners, silent, hugging an enormous sporting rifle. When the Apaches attack, the Englishman’s rifle blasts heavy echoes through the coach, hurting Henriette’s ears, and the smell of powder gets rank and bitter. There is no explanation of what he is doing there or why he is travelling. When the attack is over he just stares sullenly out of the window. He is an odd inclusion, unexplained, except that Haycox knew the history of the West very profoundly, and was acknowledging a presence that Ford and Americans might be reluctant to admit. He almost certainly knew about Moreton Frewen, who travelled to his ranch in Wyoming in 1878 carrying an enormous sporting rifle. He subsequently rushed his pregnant wife Clara Jerome to Cheyenne on the Deadwood Stage of grim reputation, lent to him by his pal Buffalo Bill Cody. He too was a chronic gambler, tall and narrow-faced, and there were quite a few like him about.
I first came across the name of Moreton Frewen in 1961, when reading the opening volume of Osbert Sitwell’s monumental autobiography, Left Hand, Right Hand. In his mannered, multi-claused text Sitwell relates that when John Sargent was commissioned to paint the family group portrait, his parents rented a house in London at 25 Chesham Place, belonging to ‘Mrs Moreton Frewen, a sister of Lady Randolph Churchill’. Sitwell says that the house was very a la mode, decorated from a foundation of the colour mauve, then the acme of fashion, and its owner’s boudoir was lined with photographs of Winston Churchill and, for some strange reason, large photographic groups of the Lesseps family. Winston dominated the room, whether clad in long clothes or short, frocks or knickerbockers, sailor suits or Harrovian dress, or as a young officer.
The Sitwell family portrait, when it was painted, is notable for the fact that the artist, reacting to Sir George Sitwell’s unkind observation that Edith’s nose was crooked, painted her nose straight and Sir George’s crooked instead. For the painting, Sir George wore riding clothes, which he never did in real life, and Lady Ida was unsuitably dressed for her depiction gathering flowers, which she never did, either. But apart from this one reference to Mrs Moreton Frewen there is, in five dense volumes of Sitwell’s meandering but magnetic autobiography, no further reference to her, nor any mention at all of Mr.Moreton Frewen. Being a sister of Lady Randolph, born Jennie Jerome, meant that Clara Frewen was a daughter of Leonard Jerome of New York, but I wondered who on earth Moreton might be.
In 1978 we moved to the Sussex village of Northiam, into a converted hop kiln, an oast house building once part of a farm called Carriers. The small thatched hall farmhouse next door, built in 1380, was the birthplace of Accepted Frewen, Archbishop of York under Charles II. The Frewens prospered in the fur trade and bought a big house, Brickwall, and its estates across the road. They retained Carriers Farm and held much of the village and that of neighbouring Brede in fee. The surname struck a bell. Moreton Frewen was born in Brickwall House, one of the nine children of Thomas Frewen, who after learning of Eton education from his first son John, had all the rest educated at home, where wild country pursuits prevailed. Thomas, who also owned the Cold Overton estate near Melton Mowbray and Innishannon on the Bandon near Cork, had bought Holbein’s portrait of Lady Guldeford at the great Stowe sale. Moreton had a habit of bouncing a ball against it. It hangs in Brickwall no longer because Edward Frewen sold it to the Vanderbilts and they gave it to the Metropolitan Museum of New York. Ransacking a Hastings second-hand bookshop I came across Anita Leslie’s Mr Frewen of England, the story of her uncle Moreton, and subsequently, in New York’s Strand Bookstore, I found Allen Andrews’ (no relation) book The Splendid Pauper, which is a more detailed biography of Moreton Frewen and his many disastrous financial ventures. I also acquired a copy of Melton Mowbray and Other Memories by Moreton himself. The first of his huge gambles was a Wyoming ranch in the Powder River country, near the Little Big Horn. Moreton had a personal tour of the battlefield with Sitting Bull himself, in 1884, eight years after Custer’s defeat.
My addiction to crime fiction having produced practical results, pretty soon Moreton became the subject of a crime novel in which his capacity to lose other people’s money whilst constantly playing for double or quits, was part of the plot. So lethal were his speculations that the City nicknamed him Mortal Ruin, which is as good a title for a novel as any. He moved on, after Wyoming, to India, Australia, Kenya, Canada and back to Salt Lake City, Denver and places like Cripple Creek in a tragic-comedy of failed mining speculation, family suffering, courage and sheer frontier energy. Being Winston Churchill’s uncle was no help, nor was his place as the unoccupied younger son of landed gentry. All the time, in debt, restless and peripatetic, he was trying to make up for that first, all-absorbing, grandiose failure, cattle ranching under The Little Big Horn.
In 1878, when tall, stringy Moreton set out for America, all ‘length and bony corners’, he was encumbered by a four-bore elephant gun given to him by a hunting friend, Captain Charles ‘Chicken’ Hartopp. Delayed by a prolonged departure visit to Lillie Langtry, Moreton missed his boat train and only caught up with the Royal Mail ship Bothnia in Queenstown after a dramatic chase by Night Mail to Liverpool, boat to Dublin and chartered train to Cork whilst clutching this huge gun. He never fired the weapon either at Indians or buffalo but one of the visitors to his Castle Frewen ranch, Sir Samuel Baker of Nile exploration fame, had an even heavier Express rifle brought along for hunting trips in the Yellowstone. So the idea of an Englishman clutching a huge rifle might easily have come to Haycox from the well-heeled visitors to Moreton’s cattle venture as well as the man himself and the Deadwood stage.
Another visitor to Castle Frewen was Hugh Lowther, pugilist, sportsman and the future Earl of Lonsdale, with his wife Grace. He had invested all he could raise in Moreton’s venture. Out hunting one day with a local trapper and a companion, he left Grace in camp alone to prepare the evening meal. Whilst on their way back to camp after a long day searching for grizzly bears, they came across the trail of a rider heading towards their base. The trapper examined the tracks and pronounced them to be those of a notorious horse thief and murderer called Little Henry, known to everyone on the Big Horn for his rapacity. Lowther’s camp had ponies, mules and valuable equipment guarded only by Grace. They raced back to camp, drawing their rifles, knowing that there was a five thousand dollar bounty on Little Henry’s head. They galloped up to find the murderous desperado sitting by the fire with Grace, his horse placidly grazing nearby. There was an ecstatic greeting and reunion. It turned out that Little Henry had been at Eton with Hugh. The school magazine never reported that he was subsequently shot dead by the renowned sheriff Bat Masterson in Dodge City.
Lawrence M. Woods, in his history, British Gentlemen in the Wild West, details many of the English and Scottish aristocratic adventurers and visitors who thought they could make a fortune out of free-ranging cattle and their associations with Cheyenne and Deadwood. It was natural for them to think of hunting as a relief from the landowning business. When the ventures failed and their departure was speeded by the disastrous Johnson County War, little trace of them remained. In many American minds their presence was felt to be uncomfortably colonial and socially jarring in a country determined to be egalitarian and republican. They were not popular, being considered arrogant and speculative. In Western films generally, a British accent alerts the viewer to a part showing imperious decadence or moral weakness. Moreton led the way to the Little Big Horn from the England of Brickwall, with its Holbein that he would never inherit. Hunting lured many English friends to his range, where there were English outlaws and desperadoes as well as gentlemen ranchers. Ernest Haycox’s long and bony Englishman in Stage to Lordsburg was no eccentric invention but based on genuine history. But for the movie, John Ford and Dudley Nichols rubbed Haycox’s Englishman out.
Apart from Ford, the greatest beneficiary of the half-million dollar film budget was Dudley Nichols, who got twenty thousand dollars for his script. Wayne took a nominal sum. Claire Trevor got fifteen thousand and Thomas Mitchell, who earned an Oscar for playing the drunken doctor, got twelve thousand. Ford, whose real name was Jack Feeney, was a hectoring, belligerent director and gave Wayne real name Marion Morrison - a bad time in developing him as a star. He altered Nichols’ script as he went along. It is not surprising that he made no space for an Englishman hugging a big rifle and using it in support of his American fellow travellers. As a metaphor for the relative roles of the two nations, and the view of history possessed by his fellow countrymen, Ford-Feeney may be thought of as prescient.
Most write-ups about Moreton on the Internet nowadays are curtly dismissive of him and his failures, but his niece Molly Parsons remembered him with affection, telling me that he was good with children. When she was six he took her aside at a Brickwall family reunion to find ice cream for her. But by the 1920s Moreton was angry at dying in poor health and neglected circumstances. His face showed a lifetime’s disappointments and lost fortunes as he sat under his mortgaged Sussex oaks, railing aloud, knowing that his speculations had ruined his friends, his relatives and his children. One man who owed him rich pickings went down on the Titanic. He lost his potential inheritance of Moreton Old Hall in Cheshire. The house at Innishannon he had inherited from his brother was burnt down in the Irish Troubles and his agent murdered. His adventures went far and wide life as a journey, not a destination - but his final estate was worthless and encumbered with debt. His funeral and his epitaphs attracted the cream, from royalty to Rudyard Kipling, but his effects were worth ‘less than £50’.
Brickwall House is now a school called Frewen College, just across the road from where I live and where I wrote Mortal Ruin. Its striking timbered frontage often makes me think of Moreton, carrying his enormous rifle out to spectacular failure in Wyoming. Maybe, in doing so, he unwittingly inspired just an ephemeral, eradicated part as the sporting Englishman on the dramatic stagecoach to Lordsburg. John Carradine, or my cousin Roger, would have played him perfectly.
Mortal Ruin, by John Malcolm, is available as an e-book from KIndle/Amazon