Friday, March 4, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Adventures of Jim Bowie by Lewis B. Patten

Being that the 175th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo is now in progress, and that was where such folk as Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie went to glory, it seemed a good time to review this book.

Most Big Little Books, and most Whitman book in general, were penned by folks specializing in children's books, but this one was written by a real Western writer - Mr. Lewis B. Patten. The illustrations (all 135 of them) are by a guy with the peculiar name of Tony Sgroi.

The book is a tie-in with the Desilu TV series than ran in 1958 and '59, starring Scott Forbes as Big Jim. If you'll mosey on back on Tuesday (Overlooked Films Day), I'll do a little yapping about the show.

For now, as you peruse the notes below, I invite you to listen to the stirring TV theme song as performed by the Priarie Chiefs (whom I believe were comprised mostly or entirely of members of the Sons of the Pioneers).

"Jim Bowie - Adventurin' Man" by The Prairie Chiefs

Patten's story is a nicely built novelette. It's a good adventure saga, and a step above that found in most BLBs. But what I found most interesting was the way it toys with the truth. The result is a tale true to Bowie's spirit, but far more fiction than fact. Here's the lowdown:

BLB: In July of 1833, Sam Houston gives Bowie to the lost San Paulo silver mine. He wants Bowie to raise a party and bring the silver back to purchase supplies for the Texas Revolution.

FACT: Bowie was attracted by stories of the lost San Saba (not San Paulo) mine. He wanted to find the silver for himself. In November, 1831 (not July, 1833) he organized a party and rode out in search of the mine. At that time, Houston was drowning his sorrows with the Cherokees (who called him Big Drunk), Bowie was a semi-respectable Mexican citizen and the revolution was a dream in the hearts of radical "War Dogs" like William B. Travis.

BLB: Bowie goes to chief of the friendly Yaqui Indians in search of guides. The chief is glad to oblige.

FACT: The Yaquis had been bringing silver into San Antonio for trade. Bowie wanted to know where they got it, so he cultivated a relationship with the chief, even going on hunting trips with the tribe. Whether they ever told him anything about the San Saba mine is a matter of conjecture.

BLB: Bowie and his party (which includes his brother Rezin) are attacked by a force of over a hundred Apaches and take cover in in a grove of oaks. They hold the hostiles off for two days, when the Indians decide to cut their losses and depart. Only one of Bowie’s is killed.

FACT: Pretty much true, except the Indians were a mixed band of Tawakonis, Waco and Caddo Indians.

BLB: Bowie and the gang proceed to the mine, load up with silver and head back for San Antonio.

FACT: After the Indian attack, Bowie’s party gave up on the mine and headed home.

BLB: All through the story, Bowie has been plagued by a Mexican bandit who wants the silver. This guy sicced the Apaches on him, and now reveals Bowie’s location to a large force of Mexican cavalry. Bowie and Rezin hang back, holding off the cavalry to give the rest of the party time to reach San Antonio.

FACT: Never happened. As far as we know, Bowie never found the San Saba mine.

BLB: When using his knife as a weapon, the worst Bowie does is scratch an opponent’s arm or knock him out with the hilt. He does, however, use it to kill a deer and a rattlesnake.

FACT: The Bowie knife was designed specifically as a man-killer, and took many lives in grisly fashion until replaced by the revolver as the favorite sidearm of the West. Bowie himself used a knife to kill at least one man in a duel. There are tales of many other fights, but no hard evidence for any of them.

Forgotten Books is the brainchild of Patti Abbott. Links to more await you at pattinase.


Cullen Gallagher said...

An obscure Patten book -- great find! And I appreciate the historical facts in the review. A well-researched review.

Todd Mason said...

Fact-checking a Big Little Book is a rare thing, indeed! I was surprised to learn (or relearn) that such writers as Steve Frazee, of all relatively unlikely people, also wrote some juveniles for Whitman and similar publishers.

As you cross those foreboding playgrounds, you have to be ready for anything...

Jerry House said...

Thar's gold in those hidden hills of Big Little Books!

BV Lawson said...

One of my favorite voices, Thurl Ravenscroft ("Tony the Tiger") sang with the Sons of the Pioneers, I believe. Wonder if he also was part of the Prairie Chiefs? I didn't think I heard any traces of his basso profundo in the Jim Bowie theme music clip, though.

Cap'n Bob said...

Where were the Kim Darby Singers through all of this?

Evan Lewis said...

I reckon those singers were cast as extras for the Apache and cavalry attacks.