READERS, Bob Boze Bell is the owner and executive editor of True West magazine, which is about all things Old West, plus he’s a funny guy, writer and artist.
Bob (Boze is a nickname) lives in Cave Creek, Arizona, where the magazine offices are located.
Here’s some of the things he’s written about his early life.
October, 1957: While watching the TV show “Wyatt Earp,” Bell’s grandmother, Louise Guess Swafford, remarks that the real Wyatt Earp was the biggest jerk who ever walked the West. Struck by the credibility gap between the TV show and his ranching family grandmother (who actually lived on a ranch near Tombstone at the turn of the century), little Robert makes a vow to someday find out the “truth.”
April, 1964: The high school baseball coach calls him “Bozo” for running backwards to first and second base in a game with Needles, California. Cruel team mates pick up on this, and shorten the moniker to Boze. It sticks.
May, 1964: Loses virginity near White Cliffs, Arizona. Recalling the important details of this emotional event, Boze remembers “it was in a ’62 Rambler.”
October, 1992: After no legitimate publishers take the bait, Bell self-publishes his first Old West opus, The Illustrated Life & Times of Billy the Kid. The printing bill is $17,000. Bell borrows $5,000 from his Dad (repaying his patient father $200 a month until the millennium).
October, 1993: Bell publishes his second book, The Illustrated Life & Times of Wyatt Earp. The printing bill is $27,000. Bell borrows $3,000 from his mother-in-law…It sells out in 10 months and a second edition has also sold out, and a third (And a fourth).
November 1, 1999: Three Mayflower trucks pull up to the new True West offices behind Frontier Town in Cave Creek and demand a cashier’s check for $12,920.40 before they’ll unload. Bob McCubbin dubs the premises “Clantonville” and a new era in the history of the West begins.
(Readers, Bob painted all the art in this blog).
Welcome Bob, you’ve been fascinated with the American West most of your life, according to your website. You paint the Old West and its historical figures, you write about them and you own a magazine devoted to these subjects. Why are you fascinated?
A. I have always been fascinated about the myth and legends of the West vs. what REALLY happened. There are so many layers of myth it’s hard to see through the fog, but when you occasionally see a glimpse of what it was really like in those distant days, it’s a wonderful thing.
The myth says that Billy the Kid killed 21 men, one for every year of his life. How’d you like to be with the Kid on New Year’s Eve and he hadn’t met his quota? In reality Billy killed maybe four or five. We don’t know the exact number because he was in fights where there were multiple shooters and we don’t know who actually shot who.
Q. I’ve noticed a significant number of people seem drawn to the American Indian, to cowboy paintings and the West and its landscapes in general. Do you think it’s because they’re unhappy with our stressful culture and its pressures, and the disappearance of the natural world?
A. Well, I think some people are disappointed with the modern world and want to escape to a simpler time, but I’m not one of them. I really like air conditioning and Led Zeppelin, to name but two things I would not like to be without.
Q. You are a gifted artist; original and convincing. I love your “Billy the Kid’s Winter” series; such as “Almost Home,” and all the winter scenes. (You paint great snow). Why did you paint them? Did you start the series out with Billy in mind?
A. I have been experimenting with something I call “graphic cinema” which is an attempt to do a movie on paper. We ran the Billy in snow series as a doubletruck several years ago and I loved doing snow scenes. In fact, I love weather in movies. My favorite Western is McCabe & Mrs. Miller and one of the main reasons is that the weather is a character in the film. I also love the rain in Two Lane Blacktop. Oh, and the snow in It’s A Wonderful Life.
Q. What does Billy the Kid mean to you? How do you think he saw himself?
A. Billy the Kid will always be the fantasy of who I wanted to be as a nine-year-old and as a 69-year-old (okay, I fudged, I’m only 68, but I couldn’t resist). I doubt that the real Billy knew he would become such an icon, but I have a hunch he’d have a good laugh about it.
Billy is the All-American Boy and a cold blooded killer. Those two personality traits do not match, but they create sparks, sort of like a car battery. It is very powerful and endures to this day.
Q. In the paintings, I see a Billy who is at home in the natural world, alone but not isolated, a man at peace with his environment. Is that how you see it?
A. Someone once said when we say we love winter we really mean we love the proof against it. That is where I stand. I love to snuggle in my adobe, next to the fireplace, drinking brandy laced coffee and telling tall tales, but I don’t really want to ride across the San Pedro with ice flows crunching by.
Q. You and Thom Ross both seem fascinated with the Earps and Doc Holliday. What accounts for your fascination?
A. For me, when my grandmother said, “Wyatt Earp was the biggest jerk who ever walked the West,” I was hooked. How could someone so cool—he had that Colt with the barrel that reached clear to the ground—be a jerk? That is the moment I knew I had to find out WHO WERE these guys?!
On many levels I have discovered Wyatt Earp’s true life and I must say he was a flawed man, to say the least, but I still like him. Hell, I probably like him even more. He’s human and he had sand.
A. Yes, I agree with Jeff. Why would an armed man be reaching over his bucking horse, trying to retrieve his Winchester, when he was shot by Doc Holliday? On the other hand, Wyatt Earp claimed it was Tommy (his family called him Tommy) who fired first to open the fight. Not sure why Wyatt blames him, but I have a hunch it was to cover for Holliday’s drunken aggression.
Q. What is Mickey Free to you?
A. Mickey Free is the future of America. I am dying to do a sequence of the tattered scout at the White House with the staff mocking him as a mongrel and smirking, “If that’s the future of America, help us all.” Of course, the little captivo was exactly who America is today.
His real name was Felix Ward and he was kidnapped by Apaches and it was his capture that led to the Bascom Affair at Apache Pass that led to the longest war in U.S. history between the Apaches and the U.S. Army. Thousands died and for over 25 years the entire Southwest was in turmoil, all because of this boy who grew up to be Mickey Free.
In the end, he chose the Apaches and he is the face of America in our time. Someone who is multi-ethnic and a bit of a mutt, but a lovable one.
Al Sieber said of Mickey, “He’s half Apache, half Mexican and all son of a bitch.”
A. True West magazine continues to evolve and now we are in the process of expanding our reach digitally, online. Thanks to Darren Jensen, our Facebook page is breaking new ground every day with images snagging hundreds of thousands of views.
We have never had a bigger audience with more reach than today. And all of this data helps the print magazine because we see very clearly what our readers want. When a photo of Olive Oatman’s tattooed visage snags a half-million views, we know that her striking face will work in the magazine and so, that is why we ran her on the cover last December (2014).
The issue sold very well.
Now we peruse and study our online numbers every day. It’s a gold mine really. People say print is dead, but it’s not dead, it’s just evolving into a much bigger arena. I’ve never been more excited about our prospects.
Q. What are you working on?
A. I’m up to my eyebrows on a cover story, “Wyatt Earp In Hollywood: The Untold Story.” It’s about how Wyatt Earp got ripped off by outlaws in the last outlaw town. If I have my way, expect a book and a documentary next year.