[Interview] E. R. Fussell

Lawyer and author, E. R. Fussell was born in Peru to American citizens and moved back to the United States at the age of five.

He received his law degree from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and began practicing law in California. Since 1972, he has practiced law in his hometown of LeRoy, New York.

In this interview, E. R. Fussell talks about the life and work of his grandfather, Joe Fussell, author of Unbridled Cowboy (Truman State University Press, 2008).

Who is Joe Fussell?

Joseph B. Fussell was born in Tyler, Texas in 1879 and was the son of a cowboy and buffalo hunter. At fourteen, he quit school, ran away from home and trekked across the Southwest working as a cowboy and livery stable operator.

At 27, he married and began a family.

Ten years later, when Mexico was in the throes of civil war, he travelled to Vera Cruz to check on the suitability of some land for oil drilling.

After a stint as an undercover Texas Ranger, he began a new career in Arizona as Yardmaster and Librarian for the Santa Fe Railroad. During this time, he became politically active and started writing compelling letters to politicians and newspapers.

After retiring from the Santa Fe in 1945, he moved to California to be near his daughter and family and wrote Unbridled Cowboy, a riveting memoir about real life in the West at the turn of the century.

He died in 1957.

How would you describe Joe's writing?

His writing is autobiographical in the authentic spoken language of Texas and the American Southwest at the turn of the century.

He was writing for a broad audience -- anyone interested in Southwestern life during his era. He was motivated by the fact that he'd led an exciting life that he wanted to share, especially because his early years were spent in an era that had vanished by the time he began writing.

Do you know what Joe's main concerns as a writer were?

His main concern was to convey an accurate picture of life in the American Southwest during the years he lived there.

His personal experiences are his entire body of work.

His biggest challenge was to convey his story in the clearest, most understandable manner possible.

How would you describe Joe's writing process?

Joe wrote at home, but we don't know much else about his writing process.

The book was published by a small university press in 2008. I was offered a publishing contract for the book by Truman State University Press after I had met the publisher at a Western History Association meeting in the fall of 2006.

Unbridled Cowboy is a riveting firsthand account of a defiant hell-raiser in the wild and tumultuous American Southwest in the late 1800s. At the age of fourteen, Joe Fussell hopped trains to escape from school and the authority he scorned. Joe became a roving cowpuncher across the Texas territory, tilling the land, wrangling cattle, and working in livery stables, moving on whenever his feet began to itch.

In a time and place with no law, the young cowboy exacted revenge on those who trespassed against him or those who abused authority.

Joe recounts tales of cowboy adventures, narrow escapes, and undercover work as a Texas Ranger.

Even after marriage, a spark of his wild cowboy spirit remained during the rise of the railroads in the Southwest when he worked as a switchman and yardmaster.

Joe's unadorned prose is as exposed and simple as the wide open Texas plains. His unpretentious and unique voice embodies the spirit of the Wild American West.

Considering the limited resources that most small presses have, Truman State University Press has been outstanding to work with and extremely cooperative with the book's independent publicist.

Which are the most difficult parts of the book?

The stories about his revenge trip to Mexico and his descriptions of his work as an undercover Texas Ranger have to be the most difficult because he committed serious crimes in both instances.

He was neither proud nor ashamed of his behavior.

What would you say is Joe's most significant achievement as a writer?

If Joe were alive today, he'd say that being able to tell his story in his own words was a significant achievement.

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