"SCRIPTURES BY CAMPFIRE" story
During my young teenage years, my family lived in Alaska. It was an interesting life in the early 1960’s before the discovery of oil north of the Yukon River, at Prudhoe Bay. Thereafter, people came North anyway they could to work on ‘the slope’. We had television, but everything was recorded and shipped over the Alcan (Alaska-Canada) Highway by truck. It usually took two weeks, summer or winter to get anything. We had radio for news. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, we got the news by radio and learned everything that way. Then, when the tapes arrived from the ‘lower 48’, it was just like living it all over again. I remember my mom thought JFK was the best president ever. She sat in front of the television, watching those recorded tapes for hours and crying for days.
My dad loved watching ‘Gunsmoke’ with James Arness as 'Matt Dillion' and Ken Curtis as 'Festus Haggen', then years later Dennis Weaver as 'Chester'. It became a family tradition to sit around the coffee table and watch ‘Gunsmoke’ at 7:00 every Saturday night. My parents were protective and always wanted us home or they knew where we were and why. The neighborhood kids flocked to our house. There was always something to do, be it shovel snow, sand the paint off an old car, tear down a car engine, it didn’t matter. Whatever my dad was doing, he always made it fun. So, on Saturday nights all the girls made homemade pizza from scratch, just in time for the show. Grab a Coca-Cola and get a good seat. That tradition made a great impression on me and influenced my love for Westerns.
‘Gunsmoke’ was the inspiration for “Scriptures by Campfire”, an 16" x 20" (40.64 x 50.80 cm) oil painting on canvas. This particular episode featured a lone cowboy dressed as you see in the painting, wearing leather chaps, heavy leather slicker with sheep's wool collar, cowboy boots and all the rest. When I finished the painting, the cowboy looked like a Mexican vaquero, which seems appropriate, since they were the first cowboys. I wanted the cowboy to be the center of attention, so I blended the colors of the trees to avoid distinction.
Food on the cattle drives were much more substantial than the single cowboy pictured in my painting. He would have coffee and beef jerky or an occasional rabbit, if his pistol shot was straight. The drive was equipped with a chuck wagon, a cook and everything needed to prepare meals. (There are still working ranches in Texas and other states where one can get ‘the feel’ of what it was like in the old west. They still use authentic chuck wagons.) The cook would go into towns along the trail and buy sugar, coffee, beans, and other food staples needed to continue the drive. "The beans were fit to eat", one cowboy said. "The cook would season 'em with bacon and molasses. We always had beef, of course, biscuits and gravy made with coffee. (There was no milk.) Sometimes ‘cookie’ came back from town with canned vegetables and dried fruit, which was a real treat.”