Cowboy actor inspires local Western writer

From the Idaho State Journal - December 2003

POCATELLO - Clint Walker. Cheyenne Bodie. Anyone 4 years old in 1958 who had a television in his/her house might not have known him by name, but probably saw him plenty.

Cowboy actor Clint Walker stood 6-6 and weighed 245 pounds, and he was the owner of what many claim was the broadest pair of shoulders in Hollywood. His chest measured 48 inches, his waist 32. This physique, coupled with black hair and eyes of azure blue, and a voice that could stop a wolf in its tracks, made Walker the quintessential tough, lone-riding cowboy, the man every kid wanted to grow up to be. And Clint Walker took the world of television by storm.

Walker was the star of Warner Brothers' television series, "Cheyenne," about a lone gunman who wandered the west righting wrongs. No, it wasn't a takeoff of Lone Ranger. Cheyenne Bodie, played by Walker, was a much deeper, more mature character, and partially because of Walker's careful restructuring of the scripts to make them as perfect as could be, the show was a raging success not just with the young crowd, but with the older one as well.

"Cheyenne" was off the air before Pocatello Western author Kirby Jonas of Pocatello was even born. In fact, Jonas never saw the show until recent years. But he grew up watching Walker on many of his Western movies such as "Fort Dobbs" and "Night of the Grizzly," and Jonas, too, caught Clint Walker fever. There was, and still is, an undeniable star quality about the man that touched everyone who worked with him or knew him. Under the Clint Walker spell, Jonas wrote his first published novel, "Season of the Vigilante," with Walker in mind portraying the part of the hero, Tappan Kittery. That was in 1994, and back then Jonas would not have dared dream of the events that were to follow.

When Jonas had the chance to meet one of his other childhood heroes, cowboy actor James Drury, who played television's "The Virginian," the two became fast and close friends, and Drury was so impressed by Jonas' work that he spent thousands of dollars and several weeks narrating four of Jonas' unabridged novels onto audiotape. The audio books are now available through Jonas and through the audio producer, Books in Motion.

Drury, a longtime friend of Clint Walker, sent him the audios as a gift, and Walker's impression was very favorable as well. After two phone conversations, Walker told Jonas of a plot he dreamed up, a story involving gold and the Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico. He asked if Jonas would be interested in such a project. In truth, as it was Clint Walker he would be working with, Jonas would have taken on any project, bad or good. But in this case there was a bonus; Walker's plot idea was fresh and original and outstanding. 

Two years later, the product of the union between Clint Walker and Kirby Jonas is a reality in their newly released novel, "Yaqui Gold." In short, it is a powerful novel celebrating the human spirit and will to survive. It is a story about how even sworn enemies can grow to respect each other, and how easy it can be to turn from foe to friend, given the right circumstances.

Jonas did huge amounts of research in preparation for putting this book on the printed page. He delved into desert survival, of which he has been a student for years; into the natural science of Mexico; and into the fiercely independent Indian people of Mexico known as the Yaquis. The Yaquis are famous for being the last tribe to surrender to the government of their country. Arizona's Chiricahua Apaches, led last by Geronimo, surrendered in 1886. But it was not until 1910, that Yaqui rebellion in Sonora, Mexico, officially ended. Jonas, enthralled by these facts and by the real characters who led the rebellion, used two of the most well-known Yaqui leaders as characters in the book.

For anyone who has ever been a fan of novels set in the west or of any well-written fiction about the struggles for survival, pick up "Yaqui Gold." It is far from the typical tales of the old west, which were built in good part on the myth rather than the reality of the west. Jonas and Walker managed to create in "Yaqui Gold" a real, vivid world full of the kind of tough people who really existed in that troubled time and part of the world.

Sam Coffey and Tom Vanse, the protagonists of the book, are full of human foibles, yet their strength and courage is what prevails and that, in the final analysis, is what spawned the myth of the west. It was not the fearful who came to live in the harsh environs of the west of the Mississippi. It was real men and women with strong backbones and the will to survive against all odds. As in the book, the intruders often clashed with indigenous people, but as the astute reader will find throughout history, tough men often gained vast respect for one another, even while involved in war.

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