When I started my travel blog a couple of years ago, it seemed only natural to call it “Trail Talk”. After all, Shebby Lee Tours specializes in “journeys of exploration and discovery” in the western United States. Yet I’ve wrestled with the title ever since, and although it’s unlikely you’d ever find out, it’s probably time I ‘fessed up about the true meaning of this title.
First, a little background. My great, grand uncle was the first Poet Laureate of the State of South Dakota. He was a cowboy poet, and as such his title was sometimes mangled to “Poet Lariat”, but he didn’t mind. I always felt that his stories about the Old West which, in his words he had “the great good fortune to experience first hand”, were every bit as good as his poetry, and I loved to hear him describe his experiences trailing cattle on the range.
Shortly before his death he was persuaded to record some of his most popular poems along with the introductions he had perfected over years of campfire talks, commencement addresses, on the Chautauqua Circuit, and what he described as his “hot air” tours. It is one of these recordings that now haunts me: in it he describes how the primary entertainment on the range was talking, and after a couple of cowboys on the trail had run out of facts while sharing their entire life stories, they would often branch out into fiction – fiction that he called – wait for it: “road talk”. OK, it’s not exactly “Trail Talk” but it’s close enough to make me uncomfortable.
As a historian, the information I disseminate, whether in my blog, on my history websites, or to my travelers on the trail had better be the truth, and not just “road talk”. And while maybe not great literature, I do go to considerable trouble to make my little essays accurate, and even – whenever possible – have a point.
The fact of the matter is, I have to be accurate because I’m not clever enough to make it up, especially on the fly! I probably wouldn’t have done too well on the range.
I have actually lived on a ranch, with no running water or electricity, and I consider the experience to have been character-building. Still, I’m not exactly the cowgirl type. I’m just a city girl who happens to love the West and enjoys sharing its beauty and history with visitors. But I am very proud of my uncle, and perhaps my selection of this particular title was – at least in part – a tribute to him and the way of life he represented. I guess I’ll just have to learn to live with the connotation that what I write every month is “just road talk”!
Shebby Lee is a historian, writer and tour operator specializing in the historic and cultural heritage of the Great American West. Her early training was in the theatre and she served a tour of duty as an entertainer with the USO. She is also an Admiral in the Nebraska Navy.