Tuesday, June 25, 2013

American Western Mythology by SS Hampton


The Roses of Prose would like to welcome today's guest blogger, SS Hampton, Sr.


            “Mythology: 2: a body of myths: as a: the myths dealing with the gods, demigods, and legendary heroes of a particular people”and “4: a popular belief or assumption that has grown up around someone or something” (www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mythology).
            Mythology, particularly Greek and Roman mythology, has been a rich source mined by generations of painters, writers, and moviemakers. For example, Proserpine, the Roman goddess who lived “in the underworld during Winter” as painted in 1874 by English artist Dante Gabriel Rosetti of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proserpine_(Rossetti_painting). William Shakespeare wrote Troilus and Cressida, set against the backdrop of the Trojan War: “Troilus, a brother of Paris, falls in love with Cressida. She loves him, too, but plays hard to get…” (www.william-shakespeare.info/shakespeare-play-troilus-and-cressida.htm). And of course, who can forget the story of the search for the Golden Fleece by Jason and the Argonauts (1963), produced by Charles H. Schneer and special effects maestro, associate producer Ray Harryhausen (www.imdb.com/title/tt0057197/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast).
            Today, mythology is a thing of the past, relegated to cultures long gone. Even when one considers the various myths of a country’s indigenous population, they are not accorded the same status as those of Egypt, Greece, Rome, or even India.
            Thus, mythology is a thing of the distant past, right?
            Maybe, maybe not.
            The Alamo (February 23-March 6, 1836) probably comes close. With all due respect to those doomed defenders, there is another battle that may approach the category of an American Western Myth.
            The Battle of the Little Bighorn. June 25, 1876. George Armstrong Custer. The 7th Cavalry Regiment. Companies C, E, F, I, and L. Calhoun Hill. Last Stand Hill. Sitting Bull. Crazy Horse. Rain-in-the-Face. Until recently General Custer’s movements after dividing his command was an enduring mystery that can largely be traced to ignoring the eyewitness statements of victorious Native warriors who fought the cavalrymen.
            “Nearly 134 years after his last stand, a military debacle that cost the lives of all 210 men under his immediate command, George Armstrong Custer remains such an iconic figure in the American pageant that mere mention of his name evokes an entirely overromanticized era in the American West” (“The Last Stand by Nathaniel Pilbrick”, Bruce Barcott, www.nytimes.com/2010/06/13/books/review/Barcott-t.html?pagewanted=all).
            To catalogue the various paintings, films, television programs, radio programs, fiction, and even music spawned by the Last Stand would be a near impossible task—a Herculean task.
            When I was a little kid I sometimes sat up at night and stared at a lithograph of a painting placed on the wall above my bed. In the moonlight that streamed through the window I counted the blue-clothed forms of cavalrymen and studied their faces; a few were fighting, most were dead or dying, and all were being overwhelmed by numberless warriors charging through dust clouds. Custer stood in the center in buckskins, reversed pistol in one hand, a saber in another. Fading into the distance behind him and a wall of mounted warriors riding toward him was a rolling plain with portions of a river visible.
            “Custer’s Last Fight” originally painted by Cassilly Adams in 1884, and “revised,” so to speak, by Otto Becker in 1896 and distributed by the Anheuser Busch Brewing Association (www.westernartandarchitecture.com/articles/western-art-and-architecture/april-may-2012/188/custer-s-last-fight.html) was my first introduction to the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
            Many years later I visited the battlefield. And I returned…again, and again. Perhaps half a dozen times in all. Before the battlefield was closed, I walked down to Deep Ravine where the bodies of Company E troopers had been seen (for whatever reason, I always had a strong interest in Company E). Sometimes I walked along the road on Battle Ridge that looped around Calhoun Hill. Sometimes I stood by the fence and studied the cluster of gravestones that marked the Last Stand.
            As a photographer, I have photographed at the battlefield while working on a photographic autobiography (due to a family dispute, a number of years ago the entire mounted and framed exhibit ended up in the city dump except for one photograph—the person who found that photograph in a storage unit e-mailed me to verify that I was the photographer, and then she disappeared). As I writer I have touched on the Little Bighorn though none of the stories have been published yet.
            One thing stands out regarding my visits to the Little Bighorn.
            Whenever I visit the battlefield I always have a strong sense of inner peace. I don’t know why.

“The Ferryman.” Ed. Mel Jacob. Melange Books, Forthcoming July 2012.
ISBN: 978-1-61235-414-9


BLURB: Sometimes even a servant of the gods may become curious and intrigued by other possibilities beyond their assigned role, which threatens to upset everything. Charon the Ferryman witnessed an act of love when a little girl offered him a song bird to pay for her grandfather’s shade to be ferried across the Styx. And the shade of a barbarian woman taught him that there was more than the underworld…

EXCERPT: Strong sunlight faded to a pale shadow of itself as if drained of life to create deep shadows along the sloping floor and the uneven walls of the long cavern entrance. Long, narrow stalactites hung from the cavern roof and stalagmites of various heights and thicknesses angled upward from the floor, resembling the scattered, uneven teeth of a monstrous dragon’s mouth. Flowstone along the widening cavern walls had once oozed onto the cavern floor to form rolling stone waves that became a wide, sandy beach to disappear into the shadows.
            The cavern roof arched upward, lost to sight save for the pale tips of hanging stalactites. The scattered stalagmites marched into the rippling surface of dark waters. A thick gray mist coated the water that splashed onto the beach. The mist swirled into strange formations caused by a moaning, chilly wind that swept out of the darkness and up the long tunnel.
            From deep within the darkness of the gigantic cavern came the ghostly notes of pipes and the echoing steady rhythmic beat of a drum. Torches along the beach burst into flickering life as their flames danced to the ghostly rhythm of the pipes.
            The torchlight revealed pale shades, the spirits, of weeping men, women, and children, who shuffled through the sand along the edge of the waters of the River Styx. The river was one of the dark rivers of Hades, the underworld of the dead. The sunlight filtering into the cavern rippled with the shadows of weeping shades descending the length of the cavern entrance. A gilded figure with torch held high lit the way before them.
            The music grew louder. A dark shape, lighter than the darkness, appeared in the distance. The gathering shades milled at the water’s edge and waited as the bow of a boat fitted with a bronze beak sliced through the misty waters. A large red eye rimmed in black decorated each side of the polished wood bow. On both sides of the bow square wooden boxes dangled bronze anchors. Behind that lay a narrow platform from a tall, narrow, wooden walkway rose into the chill air. An angled black bow sail and a large black square sail behind it strained with the moaning wind…



SS Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, a published photographer and photojournalist, and a member of the Military Writers Society of America. He is a serving member of the Army National Guard with the rank of staff sergeant, with prior service in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007); he has recently been told that he must retire from the Army National Guard on 1 July 2013. His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others. Second-career goals include becoming a painter and studying for a degree in photography and anthropology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology. After 12 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters. As of December 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Hampton officially became a homeless Iraq War veteran.

Melange Books

Musa Publishing

MuseItUp Publishing

Amazon.com Author Page

Amazon.com. UK Author Page

Goodreads Author Page


4 comments:

Jannine Gallant said...

I love the history of the American West and studied it in college. Thanks for sharing with us today!

sshamptonsenior said...

Jannine,

Some aspects of the history of the American West I enjoy. No matter how many books and magazines I read about the Little Bighorn, I remain fascinated about the battle, and probably always will. Thanks for visiting!

Leah St. James said...

Interesting post! I've never studied much about Custer, or that battle, but you intrigued me enough that I did some reading. Thanks!

sshamptonsenior said...

Leah,

Well, thank you! I'm glad you liked the post. Thanks for visiting, and have a great week!