History and Horses

cropped-plaque3.jpgDavit Bek was an 18th century Armenian leader.

In 1722, he led Armenian forces in a successful fight against Muslims who controlled the region at the time. I picked up this plaque, which is based on a monument to Bek, when I was in Armenia in 1983. Later, I learned more about Bek and his exploits.

I chose this as the image for my business cards, and now for this web site because I really like the combination of history and horses it displays. Also, I love jumping on horses, and this image represents that. Plus it is so filled with energy, it seems like Bek and his horse will just gallop on.


Horses as aristocrats

“One does not incarcerate aristocrats. It is enough to remind them of their word of honour.”

German author Ulrich Raulff explaining why “No farmer would consider surrounding his horses’ meadow with the barbed wire which was often used to enclose sheep and cattle.” A bit of wood or electric fence is sufficient to keep horses at home, he said.

Farewell horse

Raulff spent part of his youth growing up on his grandfather’s farm, where horses were still employed for much of the field work, and his appreciation of equines is evident from the beginning of his new book.

He has written an engrossing account of the final years of the horse as mankind’s primary source of power for transportation, war and industry, and our most important animal companion for more than 6,000 years.

I have just begun reading it. Raulff  has done tremendous research on the history of the horse, particularly in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. His narrative moves quickly and is easy to read, despite the many statistics included.

The book is to be released in the United States next month. Thanks to Ann and Richie at The Daily Sentinel for getting me an advance copy.

Book Shopping

I’m trying to purchase some books for a 14-year-old granddaughter, but it’s no easy task.

She is an avid reader, and has already read the entire Sherlock Holmes series written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, something I didn’t accomplish until I was a few years older.

I want to get her something she will enjoy, not some “young adult” book that’s really meant for someone much younger.Hammett2

But many adult detective books contain material that’s inappropriate for a 14-year-old, or inappropriate for a granddad to give to a 14-year-old — explicit sex, excessive violence, detailed drug use, that sort of thing.

But I don’t want to just get her a gift card for books. Reading is one of the great joys of my life, and I want to share a bit of that with her.

My solution, I think, will be to go with something old and something new.

I have long been a Dashiell Hammett fan, and because his mystery books were written in the 1920s and 1930s, they aren’t as explicit as modern suspense books. There is some troubling language that’s not politically correct today, and excessive cigarette smoking. Still, he was a great writer, and basically created the genre with the tough-guy detective.

The second is a book called “This is our Story,” which a 17-year-old avid reader friend recommended to me. It is “young adult,” but in the upper end of that range. And it has gotten great reviews.

We’ll see how it all turns out.

Spanish Flu

My siblings and I just finished reading “The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History.”

It’s a fascinating story of what was in 1918 and 1919 called the Spanish Flu, even though it didn’t start in Spain. It may have killed more than 100 million people worldwide, and the medical efforts to understand and contain it were truly historic.influenza cover

My new book

I guess this falls in the shameless self-promotion category.

I just today received the mockup of the cover for my book, to be published by The History Press next spring (February or March). I’m pretty pleased with it.

Also, on Saturday I will be at the Museum of Western Colorado in Grand Junction, along with a dozen other authors, signing copies of my existing books, Troubled Trails and Dinosaur Stalkers.

History book cover 2

Into the Alaskan wild (with a daughter)

A friend loaned me this book, “Braving It,” about a father-daughter trek into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

brave1It’s well-written, engaging, and it makes this father wonder how he would have fared with his daughter when she was 15. (My daughter, Kara, is now 33 and a much more competent back-country traveler than I am. But when she was 15, not so much).

In addition, James Campbell and his daughter Aidan are from Lodi, Wisconsin, near where Judy and I grew up. So it provides a sense of connection.

Book reduction

Judy and I (mostly Judy) went through our bookshelves and cleaned out some of our old books that we have read, and have no need of keeping.

They will go to the Palisade Altrusa Club’s annual book fair. We hope others will pick up and read some of these books that we have enjoyed. It’s always hard for me to part with books, even if I know I will never read them again or use them for research. I know some author put a lot of time and effort into producing each book, and I don’t want them to end up in the trash.


Where the buffalo roam(ed)

Several Silbernagel siblings (say that fast five times) are reading this book right now because of a shared interest in what has been North America’s largest mammal for the past 10,000 years or so.

I’m particularly interested in the American buffalo, or bison, because I’ve read several historic journals and reports that indicate they were once prominent in the mountains of Colorado, although never in the numbers that crowded the Great Plains.

The author, Steven Rinella, is an outdoorsman and writer who obtained a permit to hunt a buffalo in southeastern Alaska in 2005. He intersperses his stories of his successful hunt with a history of bison in North America, from pre-human times until they were nearly obliterated by white hunters, to more recent conservation efforts.


Rinella is an engaging writer, self-effacing and often funny.  I was pleasantly surprised that this isn’t a polemic about hunting, conservation, federal wildlife policies or anything else. It simply tells a good story, while adding some of the author’s views, not too stridently stated.

One minor critique: Some of the theories — which Rinella states as fact — about early human migration to this Continent and their immediate impact on megafauna of the day, are now being challenged by other scientists, according to articles I’ve read. But the book was published in 2008, and it may just be the fact that after nine years, research is challenging what was viewed as settled science a decade ago.

Fort Robinson

Last week, Judy and I visited Fort Robinson, in northwestern Nebraska.

The fort played a crucial role in some of the most important battles and confrontations of the Plains Indian Wars. Additionally, it was one of the longest-serving posts in the region, operating from 1874 until the end of World War II. But Fort Robinson also had some important connections with western Colorado and eastern Utah.

rob5First, the Ninth Cavalry — an African American unit also known as Buffalo  Soldiers — which played a role in the Milk Creek Battle and Meeker tragedy of 1879, and helped keep the peace at Fort Duschesne, Utah after most of Colorado’s Ute Indians were moved to Utah, was stationed at Fort Robinson for much of the 1880s and 1890s.

And in 1906, the 10th Cavalry — also Buffalo Soldiers — was instrumental in rounding up Utes who left the reservation in Utah in hopes of joining with Sioux Indians in South Dakota.

Also, Fort Robinson became a major station for the U.S. Army’s Cavalry Remount Service after 1919, and many horses raised in Colorado were sold to the Army there.

The Nebraska State Historical Society does a great job of maintaining the old Fort as a museum, and a place where you can camp or stay in old Army quarters. Naturally, while we were there, I picked up a book — or two. They were written by Thomas R. Buecker, the former curator of the museum at Fort Robinson. One gives the history of the Fort in the 20th century. I’ll discuss it in another post.

This first book looks at Fort Robinson’s history from its establishment until the end of the 19th century.  I’m reading it because I hope to write more in one of my Daily Sentinel history columns about the Buffalo Soldiers and their time in Colorado.

Buecker has done an excellent job of collecting data and placing it in the appropriate timeframe. Unfortunately, from my point of view, he hasn’t provided much detail about the Ninth Cavalry, and what it did before arriving at Fort Robinson. (I know, other books give greater detail about the African American units during the Indian Wars. Guess I’ll have to pick up one of them, as well.) And he doesn’t even mention one of the Ninth’s long-time members, Caleb Benson, who has his own place on a wall in the Fort Robinson museum.

Buecker writes well when he is simply telling the story of the fort and incidents in which its soldiers were involved, such as the killing of Crazy Horse at the Fort in 1877. But he gets lost in thickets of minutiae at times with too much detail of how the fort was funded, timber details and costs for the buildings.

Still, there is abundant information here, for anyone interested in one of the pre-eminent forts of the American West.


Back in the saddle, again

It’s been nine months since I rode my horse, due to foot surgery and complications related to the surgery. But Sunday was my 65th birthday, and it seemed like an opportune time to get back to work with Moose.ride

So, with the help of my good friend, Cricket Donoho, Moose was lunged and I was able to mount up. It went great, except for one brief stumble by Moose when I thought I might go off.

However, my foot is not entirely healed yet, and it’s important that pressure be distributed across my whole foot, and not just right under the arch, where the surgery was done. So I drew a rough design of a protective stirrup, and my friend and farrier, Brian Crandall, constructed it. There are still a few tweaks we need to do, but basically, it worked just fine. There are no vertical bars on the inside of the stirrup, so I can get my foot out quickly if I need to. But it stays in the stirrup well for basic riding.stirrup 1