Feb 022016

Hornswogglers, Fourflushers and Snake-Oil SalesmenA fine review by Erin H. Turner in the Winter 2015 issue of Big Sky Journal of my recent non-fiction book, HORNSWOGGLERS, FOURFLUSHERS & SNAKE-OIL SALESMEN: True Tales of the Old West’s Sleaziest Swindlers….


HORNSWOGGLERS, FOURFLUSHERS & SNAKE-OIL SALESMEN: True Tales of the Old West’s Sleaziest Swindlers by Matthew P. Mayo (TwoDot, $18.95) spins 22 yarns about the bandits, conmen, conwomen and bunko artists who populated the West, drawn by the chance to make their fortunes by taking advantage of those who responded to the siren calls of gold and free land.

Mayo proves the adage that everyone loves a heel, making sympathetic characters out of the most disreputable reprobates, putting them in a historical framework with an accessible, lively story-telling style. More than that, however, he puts them in context with each other and poses questions about what makes a villain a villain.

How much does Ned Buntline’s sketchy personal history and questionable veracity affect the fact that his dime novels shaped much of the mythology of the West? Why do we feel twinges of sympathy for con artists like Doc Baggs, who preyed on the greed of his wealthy marks?

Mayo’s novelistic approach reaches for truth about these characters and their victims. He’s succeeded in producing an entertaining and enjoyable read that also adds to our understanding and appreciation of the Wild West.

Jan 042016

Cowboys, Mountain Men, and Grizzly Bears cover

I’m looking forward to seeing the new flick, THE REVENANT, about explorer and mountain man Hugh Glass, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. From all indications it sounds like a winner. Heck, any movie with a whiff of mountain man action in it gets a thumbs-up in my book.

This one has special meaning for me as I’ve researched and written about Hugh Glass extensively. My 2009 non-fiction book, COWBOYS, MOUNTAIN MEN & GRIZZLY BEARS, contains a detailed chapter about Glass’s incredible saga.

Even my book’s cover illustration is a depiction of Hugh’s brutal struggle with the grizzly that nearly did him in! In fact, it’s the same illustration used on the cover of the 2015 novel, THE REVENANT, a fictionalized version of Glass’s saga on which the film is based. (Must be a way to make hay with that particular bit of coincidence, eh? Hmm, maybe I should give Leo a call.)

Hugh Glass Monument, Perkins County, South Dakota

Hugh Glass Monument, Perkins County, South Dakota. Photograph by Jennifer Smith-Mayo.

My wife, Jennifer, and I visited the site of Glass’s 1823 attack by grizzly, overlooking the Grand River in present-day Lemmon, Perkins County, South Dakota. The pretty spot is well off paved roads and offers long views of the surrounding rolling countryside. A marker to Hugh Glass tells of his mauling, subsequent incredible journey back from the brink of death, and his quest for revenge. It’s worth visiting, should you find yourself out that way. And keep an eye peeled for grizzlies….

Oct 142015
Autumn Leaves

Photograph by Jennifer Smith-Mayo

Here I am in the midst of a cool but sunny day in fall, my favorite time of year. In our rural pocket of Maine, everyone is busy with the tasks of the season, gathering and storing and tightening and tidying and buttoning up.

Our garden is all but put to bed. The garlic is planted, as are dozens of tulip bulbs. Tomatoes and basil are but fragrant summer memories, and only a few persistent beans, peppers, and squash hang on. The kale, chard, and spinach seem quite pleased with the cooler temperatures (I’m with them).

Many of our neighbors work at night. Barred and horned owls call across the valley, then wing low, snatching up scurrying field mice. Coyotes yap and yip along the ridges all around us, giddy in the cool night air. The whitetails snort and stomp, and scavenge our windfalls. We don’t mind, there are plenty for us all. We’ve been picking apples for weeks and the pantry shelves are filling with jars of tangy applesauce that will taste great come February.

One of my favorite fall pastimes is reading outside, a cup of hot coffee at hand. If you enjoy stories on the spookier side, the sort late autumn brings, I can shamelessly recommend a couple I’ve written–Myths and Mysteries of New Hampshire, which offers more than its share of strange and startling moments. The second is Haunted Old West, a collection of all-too-true stories of chilling locales across the Old West.

Or perhaps you have a favorite book you like to return to this time of year. One of mine, Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls, is a powerful story about a boy and his dogs and the love they have for one another.

Another of my fall reading indulgences is poetry (a year-round enjoyment, if I’m honest). Autumn, in particular, is the perfect time to read Robert Frost, Donald Hall, and Edward Hyland, three New England poets whose work feels as fresh as the first bite of a crisp, fall apple.

Ah, but what a day we have today. The gray squirrels dip and sway on the sunflower heads as if they were amusement-park rides, and the maples and birches do their level best to astound me with each look I sneak out the window. I’m not getting much work done–and I don’t mind one bit.

Okay, back to it. Happy autumn to all!

Matthew P. Mayo