Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Big Names Eulogize Moody

The Funeral of Tanner Moody
Special to the New York Morning Telegraph

FORT WORTH, TEXAS – Tanner Moody is dead. Long live Tanner Moody.

Some of the brightest stars in the western firmament gathered here to eulogize Moody, a one-time “pistoleer” and noted Wild West reprobate. Although not nearly as well known as his famous mourners – Elmer Kelton, John Jakes, Peter Brandvold, James Reasoner, Robert Randisi, and others (inveterate liars all) – Moody’s exploits reverberate even today, many years after his death.

Framed and put into perspective by contemporary Bat Masteron (the text of which was edited by Randisi), Moody’s wake occasioned the telling of many stories of his life, some of which conflicted. Was he a hated gunman and a murderer of women? Did his father chase him from his home just ahead of the law or did his father help him escape? Each biographer offers a different point of view of this complex, uncompromising man of the late 19th Century.

These stories about Moody were plentiful during the multi-day wake at Fort Worth, Texas’ White Elephant Tavern. Marthayn Pelegrimas relates the story of “Poor Ole Moody,” which reveals a rare glimpse of the honoree’s tragic youth. Pelegrimas insightfully offers evidence as to why Moody, on occasion, turned to what is affectionately remembered as the “owlhoot trail.” Blamed for the murder of his abusive stepmother, Moody was forced to leave his family and home, one step ahead of the law.

Fellow mourner, and Moody contemporary, Elmer Kelton retells the tale of a youthful Moody on the Texas-Mexico border during the early cattle days before the War of Northern Aggression. Headstrong and audacious, Moody’s personal feud with Mexican land baron Don Carlos helped spread Moody’s growing celebrity and was widely reported in the newspapers of the day. The wild, irresponsible print accounts, however, are quickly dispelled in Kelton’s short, poignant history.

Comfortable in his well-worn seat – a chair that is part of the charm original owner Luke Short invested in the White Elephant in the late 1800s – Peter Brandvold recounts the circumstances surrounding Moody’s first, foolish love affair. With a bloody ending that got remarkably little attention in the newspapers at the time, a still young Moody was crushed as his lover and her father battled to a Faustian death.

James Reasoner reveals a somewhat older Tanner Moody who is suffering the consequences of his youth. A sheriff in a town called Flat Rock during the war, he is respected and reviled in turn. With a rich reputation, Moody is suspected of stealing gold from area miners even as he searches for the culprits.

Hundreds filed in and out of the White Elephant over the course of several days. Whether mourners or celebrants, it is sometimes difficult to tell. Other names that signed the funereal guest book included L.J. Washburn, Jory Sherman, and Kerry Newcomb. Many of their remembrances are collected in The Funeral of Tanner Moody (Leisure Books, July 2004).

Enjoyment Factor (out of 10) - 6