Friday, October 2, 2009

Perpetuating the cattle barons' frontier myths

This week John Minkoff sent his former bandmates in Eleanor Roosevelt a link to a blog that posts up Cattle Kate: A True Western Crime Story.

He didn't have to explain the connection. Our band wrote and recorded a song, "Queen of Sweetwater," that deals with the same story.

I stumbled upon this story one summer in Cheyenne, Wyoming with Lij, who plays every folk instrument under the sun on this recording.

We stayed on the edge of Cheyenne with an old Mohawk Indian man named Al Robbins. Rather like a figment from folklore sprung to life, Al regaled us with his rather bitter take on some classic frontier tales. One touched upon Cattle Kate.

I wrote this lyric from Al's yarn, and we recorded it at Webster University with Meghan Gohil. He submitted it as his senior project, judged by Bill Porter, who recorded Elvis Presely. It won Meghan a Webbie for best student production.

We got the story all wrong, though. I later saw a book about Cattle Kate in a bookstore, copied down the author's address and sent him a copy of the recording. He sent back a notecard castigating us for writing the song without reading his book and perpetuating the folklore of Cattle Kate, rather than the facts of Ellen Watson's life.

Even though the cattle barons come off as the bad guys in our song, the song keeps alive the cattle barons' myths of her life and death, I gather - as does the comic book.


"Queen of Sweetwater"
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Lij, John Minkoff)
Eleanor Roosevelt

From the CD Walker with his head down
Available via digital download

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