Here Lies Lester Moore – By Duncan Harley

Writing competitions are just that … competitions. You either win, or you lose and, in the big scheme of things losing seems likely. After all, there can only be one winner and the rest of the pack are destined to some dark hole in the vast behind of some ugliness best described as the deep pond of despair.
I should know. In a fit of participation, I penned a piece for a competition recently. Themed on the note ‘Noon’, the tale centred on a cowboy village in the Garioch – or more correctly near Huntly, the piece failed to even make the long-list and said literary judges have, to date, quite forgotten to get back to say why. Makes a mockery really. But then, I would say that …

Here, for what it’s worth, is my High Noon, Hadleyville piece:

“Hidden in full view alongside some minor road linking Tranquillity with Huntly, the wild-western village hosts a graveyard appropriately named Boot Hill.
There are no genuine graves here, only empty headstones made of wood, but visitors to Tranquillity kind-of-generally get the drift. Boot Hill is of course full of those folks ‘hung by mistake’ and ‘shot at noon ‘cause he stole a horse’. The carved markers speak of bank-robbers and cattle rustlers who, in some far off dreamland took that step too far and suffered the indignity of a good bit of neck-stretching after shooting the Sheriff.

Not that Huntly is a stranger to the wild west. In far off days The Bruce ravished the land in what became known as The Hership Of Buchan. Burning and slaying as he went the somewhat nasty man ensured loyalty via the sword. The early American settlers must have read about the Bruce and taken a spider out of his book.

When Bill Cody came to Huntly in some forgotten year or other, he brought with him something of a spectacle. Buffalo to his friends, Bill was on a tour of Europe and, not shy of publicity, had been over at Fraserburgh harbour the previous day soaking up the local photographers alongside a posse of cowboys and compliant native-Americans. The images survive to this day.
He had arrived in town shortly after 5am on Wednesday August 31 1904 to be exact. And, several hundred curious onlookers watched in some awe as an army of foreign looking folk began to unload the contents of Cody’s two specially hired steam-trains before proceeding up the hill from the station to the showground.

Several dozen horse-drawn waggons, piled high with circus-tents and props, led the way and were closely followed by around 80 Lakota Indians dressed to the hilt in traditional dress. A contingent of blue-liveried US Cavalry followed behind and bands of Cuban Patriots, South American Gauchos and Mexican Vaqueros took up the rear.
 On arrival at the showground, the cortège set about assembling a vast tented village complete with side shows, stables, carpenter’s shop and even a smithy. Billed as “POSITIVELY THE FINAL VISIT TO GREAT BRITAIN” and “AN INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS OF THE WORLD’S ROUGH RIDERS”, the 800 performers and 500 horses of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show had arrived in town.

The first performance of the day began at 12pm on the dot, when a single bugle note signalled the start of the big show. The Cowboy Band then marched into the arena playing The Star-Spangled Banner to an audience of 10,000 or more. Then the event of the century began with a series of stirring pageants which, although perhaps lacking in historical authenticity, must have represented something of a culture shock to the assembled audience of townsfolk and farm workers.

With Colonel William F. Cody atop his white charger directing proceedings, a century or so of sanitised US history was re-enacted for the benefit of the folk of Huntly. The Deadwood Stagecoach was ambushed, Custer’s Last Stand was re-staged and the Battle of the Little Big Horn was re-enacted. No spectators were reported shot, but Native Americans were slaughtered by the hundred.

Somewhat oddly, one of the biggest draws of the show was billed as “The Intrepid Cowboy Cyclist in his Wonderful Bicycle Leap through Space” – a precursor to modern-day stunt motorcycling perhaps?

Following the evening performance, the show village was quickly dismantled and loaded carefully onto the waiting trains for the short journey south to Perth where, the next day, the entire performance was repeated in front of yet another paying audience.

Following the Huntly performance, a Native American Indian performer by the name of Little Bear had to be left behind for treatment at the local cottage hospital due to a foot infection. He was to re-join the Greatest Show on Earth at Perth a week later; but not before he had taken Huntly by storm when he attended Sunday Service at St Margaret's Roman Catholic Church on Chapel Street dressed in full costume and war paint.
As for Hadleyville? It’s a small New Mexico town where Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly took a brave stand in far off 1951.

John Wayne was originally offered the lead role in the film, but turned it down because he felt that the ‘High Noon’ story was an obvious allegory against blacklisting, which he actively supported. But that is another story.”

Previous entry’s to similar competitions, have been similarly unsuccessful. I am guessing that winners are few and far between. At least, this time, I was spared an entry fee although I did at least expect a kindly acknowledgement. Fellow writers can be so boldly rude.

Duncan Harley is author of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire plus the forthcoming title: The Little History of Aberdeenshire- due out in March 2019


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