Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 10, No. 8 July 2002
It has been a bad year so far for the
Ravenfolk. The slings and arrows have been more outrageous
than usual, and our head is, figuratively, both bloodied and bowed.
First we sustained the loss of the gallant and irreplaceable Ollie
Coltman of Africa in a helicopter crash, as reported. Then our
Italian family member Alesandro Cirla fell to his death in
the Alps; and now we must report the death of George Olmsted,
distinguished family member and outstanding aviator. I owe
to George one of my memorable high points when he allowed me to
execute a split S in his Cap Ten. George died untimely at 46
of heart failure, rather than at the controls of an acrobatic
airplane, as he might have wished.
And on top of these personal mishaps, we face the unsolvable
problem of the Holy War, plus a really fearful fire-laden drought
in the American Southwest. (On a further pathetic note, our
household treasure, Charles the Cat, was scarfed up by a
But ours is not to complain. Life is essentially tragic, and while
we suffer at God's dispensation, we are appropriately grateful for
His continued blessings. And just remember that the Left almost won
the last election - but didn't. For this we may praise the
Applications for our pistol classes show
an increasing lack of combat spirit in our prospective students. We
need more tigers and fewer sheep - of all ages and both sexes.
Man does not do battle with his gun alone; he fights basically with
his soul. Marksmanship and gun handing are in themselves not
enough - mind-set is what wins. And while we can help with
that, the client must in essence supply his own pizzaz.
Our friend and colleague Wiley Clapp
recently did a number on the Beretta pistol, now general issue in
our armed services. His piece was both accurate and honest, and he
told it like he saw it. The truth, however, is only coincidentally
prized in the marketplace, where sales figures are equated with
virtue. The Beretta people were much annoyed by Wiley's piece and
threatened commercial malice to the publication which was releasing
the article. This is unfortunate, but unavoidable. Manufacturers
regard periodicals as advertising vehicles, pure and simple. Most
of them do not realize that the public sometimes catches on, and
that there are a few journalists to whom the truth is still
important. I understand that truth is "relative" in academia, and
it is clear that truth is irrelevant at the marketplace - and
it matters hardly at all to a politician. "To ride, shoot straight
and speak the truth" were the classical personal attributes of a
man. To ride is no longer a measure. To shoot straight ought to be,
but seldom is. However, those who care can still make a maximum
effort both to speak, and seek, the truth. Hardly anything else
We notice an increasing number of
revolvers with our students. This is no bad thing, for while a
self-loader is easier to hit with, the wheel gun can do all that is
necessary, in the right hands. We honor the great Jack Weaver for
his invention of the modern technique, and he was a revolver man
first and last.
We notice that the extrusion at the bottom
of the grip safety on the 1911 (the "tang tumor"?) is practically
standard with today's custom pistolsmiths. It may work for some
people, but it never has worked for me. Apparently my hand is not
constructed correctly, so I simply pin the device shut. It is not a
safety consideration, as John Browning made clear in his design of
the excellent P35 pistol. Safety does not ride between the hands,
but rather between the ears.
"The main weapon that terrorists use against the West
is not bombs or guns, but moral obfuscation."
Remember when Vince Foster killed himself,
wrapped himself up in a blanket and then stashed himself
comfortably out of sight in Rock Creek Park? Maybe the people who
carried that out are still alive and still know the whole story,
but it is also possible that the Arkansas hatchetmen have turned
them off permanently. And according to O.J. Simpson, the guy who
cut Nicole Simpson's throat is still wandering around loose in the
Brentwood area. And we know what Lon Horiuchi did because he said
so. Our system of jurisprudence is strange indeed.
We certainly hand out a lot of argument
and confusion on the subject of "education," but nobody seems to
know just what it is. Is education the answer to 2+2=? Is it
knowing the difference between a mammal and a reptile? Is it
knowing how to run for office? Or is it owning some kind of
certificate or diploma to tack your name onto? Certainly it seems
that today a college degree is no more than a job ticket, and not a
too reliable one at that. Looking back over all those years it does
seem to me that a high school diploma in 1935 signified a good deal
more in the way of "education" than a Ph.D. does today. Time
passes, of course, and times change, but if we are called upon to
spend money on education it would be nice to know what it is we
mean to spend money on. Personally I do not think that education
can be quantified. Some people are just brighter than others, all
the way through the game. Taxpayers' money may be of some help, but
it does not seem to improve dumb kids much. According to recent
widely publicized tests, American kids are conspicuously dumber
than those in other First World countries. (What is called the
Third World does not seem to count.)
It used to be said that one was "educated" at a given institution.
My father was sent a letter from Mrs. Stanford explaining that he
was the young man Mrs. Stanford desired to be "educated at the
Stanford University." Apparently what happened before or after his
attendance at Stanford was not pertinent.
Well, we now have a United States Department of Education. I
imagine those people know what they mean by the word, but if so
they are not making themselves clear about it.
The Mannlicher operation seems to be in
decline. Dynamit Nobel, with a branch in New Jersey, is the current
importer, but we talked with a rep on the phone and she did not
seem to understand what the company is selling. Neither, for that
matter, does anyone at the factory, as far as I can tell. This
means that everybody now should have not one but two Steyr Scouts.
The SS is demonstrably much the best general-purpose rifle. It will
become increasingly hard to get. Carry on!
I think it should be established as a
principle that you should never try to sell what you prize, whether
that be books, wines or people. Our colleague and family
member Curt Rich leads an unhappy life selling cars - by
his own account. He loves cars and is a rally driver of some
consequence, but he should not try to sell cars, as his customers
just do not get the picture. As to that, I have long held it an
unhappy practice to sell one's firearms. I want my treasured
weapons to find good homes, but that is not a matter of a price
tag. Clearly no humanitarian can ever be a slave trader. The slave
trade was established in both the Eastern and the Western worlds
long before philosophy, religion or architecture. It is still with
us, I understand, in parts of Africa, but it is hardly a job for
anyone who loves people. This last virtue has to be reserved for
Cougars are proliferating in the rural
Southwest, along with bears. The cougar is an attractive animal,
but some sort of accommodation is necessary here. I do not consider
this beast to be fearsome, but some do. A full-grown male will be
as big as a man, but evidently he only runs after things which run
away from him - like joggers. Even a small but noisy pet dog
can run a full-grown cougar up a tree. At least one has moved in on
us here at Gunsite, and this certainly adds to our rural ambience,
even if it scares the city slickers. I did a certain amount of
boondocking in the Southwest as a youth, but I saw only two
unmolested cougars in all that time, and I just cannot consider
them to be scary. Thell Reed's father kept one as a pet for some
years, and he used to romp with it, which I do not consider to be a
sound idea, but nobody ever got cut up. Bobcats are another
matter - much smaller, but much scratchier. The frontier
expression used to suggest that a particularly tough human being
could "lick his weight in wildcats," but "panthers" were never
mentioned. It is now fashionable out West to call the cougar a
"mountain lion," which I think overly dramatizes the beast. A
lion is something else entirely and must not ever be
confused with painter, panther, puma, catamount - or cougar.
We have a good photograph of one taken within the city limits of
Prescott, and we put it on our 2002 calendar.
"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose
shade they know they shall never sit in."
The Swiss contingent of the
Ravenfolk reports that the Swiss political tradition
continues in decline, edging away from confederation and toward
true federation. The Swiss refer to themselves officially as "the
Swiss Confederation" (Confederatio helvetii), but the
encroachments of the European Union, with its emphasis on
administrative efficiency, tends to play down the traditional
autonomy of the Swiss cantons in favor of a centralized government.
From what we hear, the Swiss people at large do not fancy this, but
their elected politicians do. One of the great weaknesses of either
the democratic or the republican form of government is the
probability that the legislature truly speaks not for the people,
but rather for itself. This trend is obvious in Britain where,
despite the fact that the great majority of the British favor the
death penalty, their masters in Parliament refuse to consider it.
The Swiss government still runs a pretty good show, but our Swiss
friends individually report doubts concerning the future. This is
doubly troublesome to us shooters in view of the long-established
Swiss tradition of private marksmanship. The people like that, but
apparently the politicos do not.
Have you run across the new term for
literary affliction know as PPP? That stands for Pernicious
Pronoun Perversion, and it is confused by the inability of an
author to decide about either the number or the gender of a subject
when referring to it with a pronoun. We used to think it was a
great joke to quote Polonius with "Each to their own selves be
true," which sounds ridiculous - or used to, but not so much
anymore. When calling upon "everyone to take their seat," we are
assuming that "one" is more than a singular. Apparently it is just
too agonizing to call upon everyone to take his seat, that being
sexist, elitist and racist, and also illegal, immoral and
fattening. But I see PPP growing all the time as one
indication which lets us differentiate good English from bad. Of
course, good English is frowned upon in egalitarian circles, but
only egalitarians need worry about that.
I am happy to say that I got the story of
Ollie Coltman's adventure with the buffalo down pretty much as
desired. Both Ollie and his wife Susan told me that my account of
the exploit was the only one they had read that got it right. When
we consider that history is not what actually happened, but rather
what people said happened, it is a great pleasure to know
that what I said happened was as close to the fact as first-hand
memory can make it.
Among other depressing signs of the
times, we note the decline of reading for pleasure. Not many people
today read at all, since they would rather look at the tube and
allow some hired hand to edit their thoughts. And those who do
read, do so mostly for self-improvement or general information.
They read works on how to manage their money, or plant their
garden, or raise their pets. Only a minority it seems read for the
mental pleasure to be derived from the appreciation of words. It is
characteristic of these latter folk to re-read - that is to
read a book again after having put it aside in a previous year.
When you ask a friend if he has read, say, Mark Twain, he may
respond that yes he had read such many years before, usually when
he was in school, but only once. I have discovered in my very long
life that a really good book does different things for you at
different stages in your life. What I got out of Walter Scott in
high school was expanded enormously when I read the same work again
twenty years later. One's ability to appreciate literature changes
and expands with maturity, and possibly with age.
That being the case, I recently ran across a short reading list
requested of me by a client, and discovered that a measure of my
enjoyment could be found in those books which I had read not once,
but several times. Thus I have come up with a "re-reading" list
dedicated to both my pleasure and yours. Tastes are not the same,
thank God, but many pleasures may be enjoyed similarly, if not
equally, by people of different backgrounds and different tastes.
So what follows now is a brief list of those works which I think
are worth reading a second time, and possibly a third or fourth
time, depending, of course, on where you start. If you pay
attention to this list it will interfere with your television time,
and this may be very much to your advantage. I suggest you put your
televisor in the garage or in the guest bedroom and plug it in only
on those special occasions, such as moon landings, military
victories and inaugurations, which may merit your special
"She," "King Solomon's Mines," and
"Allan Quatermain" by Sir Henry Rider Haggard. The first is
the greatest and stands as an all-time classic.
"The White Company" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This, by the
author of the Sherlock Holmes canon, defines the essence of
"For Whom the Bell Tolls" by Ernest Hemingway. This is not
highly regarded by the admirers of the master, but I think it is
the best war story of modern times. It includes the best accounting
of gun fighting that I know of.
"The Dance of the Dwarfs" by Geoffrey Household. This is a
fantasy involving the possibility of a curious evolutionary
development of natural chemical warfare.
"Beat to Quarters," "Ship of the Line," and
"Flying Colors" by C.S. Forrester. These three adventures
relate the career of Captain Horatio Hornblower in his time as
shipmaster. If you want to know what life at sea was like during
the Napoleonic Wars, you will discover it better from Forrester's
work than from any historical account.
"The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers" and
"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien. These constitute
the ultimate in epic fantasy and are generally lumped together as
"The Lord of the Rings." Tolkien is so great that he
constitutes a world by himself, and a world well worth exploring.
The despairing struggle of good versus evil is better portrayed
here than anywhere else in literature, and Tolkien's lapidary prose
is worth reading by itself as a lesson in the use of the English
"The Brave Bulls" by Tom Lea. The fiesta brava is not
for everyone, but I find it entrancing, explaining as it does the
elegance of grace under pressure and man's triumph over fear.
"Aphrodite" by Pierre Louÿs. This may be called elegant
Victorian pornography, though that may seem a contradiction in
terms. Eroticism entertains most people, and French translates
surprisingly well into English.
"The Long Rifle" by Stewart Edward White. This is the
definitive adventure novel of the westward movement, following one
man's saga through adolescence to maturity, as father of the "Boone
Gun" which opened the frontier.
"The Big Sky" by A.B. Guthrie. This is something of a
companion to Stewart White, done with a bit more narrative artistry
but covering the same subject with main concentration upon the
mountain men between Lewis and Clark and the Mexican War.
"And A Few Marines" by John W. Thomason. This may be
considered something of a specialty for those who understand and
appreciate the tradition of the US Marine Corps. It is marvelously
well written and, as an added treat, it is personally illustrated
by an author who knew whereof he spoke.
"Fancies and Goodnights" by John Collier. This is a
collection of fanciful anecdotes. I have often thought that if I
had ambitions as an author I would like to be as good a storyteller
as Ernest Hemingway, but use English as well as John Collier.
Collier's stories are great fun, as well as being jewels of
The King James version of the Old Testament. This is pretty much
necessary if one is to understand how we got to where we are and
what we should do about it.
The complete verse collection of Rudyard Kipling. In my opinion,
Kipling's verse is better than his prose, but it is all good, and
all very enlightening.
"Reminiscences of a Ranger" by Horace Bell. This is Bell's
account of life in Southern California in the period between the
Gold Rush and statehood. It is especially enjoyable to people who
were raised in Southern California and know what the place was like
before it was ruined following World War II.
"Meditations on Hunting" by José Ortega y Gasset. This is
the Old Testament of the hunter, and it explains completely just
where hunting exists as a core of western civilization. Ortega
wrote this in Spanish, but it translates very well into English,
and I find that it deserves more interlineation than almost any
volume in my library.
Family member T.J. Johnston
suggests that the airlines, not the government, should establish
that their aircraft are safer because their air crews are
armed. The customers could then decide which lines to fly.
"In the beginning you ride in the back seat and
somebody else takes care of everything. But one day, all of a
sudden wham, you are grownup, you can't ride in the back
seat anymore. Duty means giving up the back seat and taking the
Daniel Young, Graduate Speaker at Hillsdale College, Class of
Doing one's duty should be a practice acquired in adolescence. One
should understand about it before he is authorized to drive, drink
or vote. It is certainly what should be imparted in high school,
but such thinking is unfashionable. It is even - perish the
thought - politically incorrect, but we had better get it
across to our young people if we have any hope of winning the Holy
Please Note. These "Commentaries" are for personal
use only. Not for publication.