OK, this isn’t exactly a John le CarrĂ© story – it is, however an interesting glimpse into someone’s life…

I recently bought a collection of cowboy / western gear – it’s always intriguing to wonder how it ended up here in the south west of England. This time I have at least part of an answer….

Early 20th century cowboy gear

Buermann spurs, stirrups and Romal reins

Packed in with the Buermann spurs, stirrups and romal reins there was a note to the purchaser :

“To the purchaser of these cowboy reins, stirrups and spurs.

They belonged to my Great Uncle Percy Brown who lived in Southend-on-Sea.
In the early twentieth century my uncle went to the USA to gain some experience of a different life before settling down to be a master tailor like his father.

He was in San Fransisco during the 1906 earthquake and later became a cowboy.
He crossed Death Valley in a stagecoach and shot a rattlesnake. The skin was displayed in a frame on his wall when he returned home.

When he returned home he married Miss Constance Fenton. They lived in Leigh-on-Sea where he had a tailor’s shop. Connie and Percy never had children of their own but adored their nephews and nieces especially my mother. He made the suit that she wore for her 1944 wedding”

Gosh… I’m exhausted just reading about Percy’s life, he must have been quite a man. And one couldn’t possibly separate his spurs, stirrups and reins

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Any film that starts with the hero pawning his rather smart California spurs for a drink has got to be worth watching.

Saloon scene from Borzage's film

The film in question is “The Pilgrim” a 1916 short film starring and directed by Frank Borzage. Borzage (1894 – 1962) later became famous as a director of films such as “Moonrise”

I was lucky enough to see “The Pilgrim” at Bath Film Festival, it played along with two other short Borzage films “The Pitch o’ Chance” and “Nugget Jim’s Pardner”. There was live musical accompaniment from the excellent Kate Lissauer (fiddle, banjo & voice) and Jason Titley (guitar) There’s more about the event including images here and here

The film starts with Pilgrim leading a lame donkey into town, treating its injured leg and then pawning the aforementioned spurs in the saloon. The cowherds from a local ranch pile into the bar, and their leader sees the spurs, and asks the barman about them. The barman points out Pilgrim & the rancher asks if he’s a cowman and promptly hires him. (They must have been good spurs)

Once back at the ranch the other cowherds will not make space for our hero in the bunkhouse, so he sleeps with his donkey. Its leg is miraculously better by now. There’s a lovely photo of the donkey being an obliging pillow on the Mubi website here.

Enter the love interest. The ranch owner’s daughter has decided that she wants to see “the real west” and visits the ranch from the city. This leads to much excitement & dressing in Sunday best amongst the ranch hands, but not for Pilgrim. He does however help her when she gets lost out riding, and together they nurse a man who he stabbed in a fight (but it wasn’t his fault), and they go riding around the ranch together, and he falls for her, but she’s engaged to someone else, so he goes off, alone with his donkey again. The End.

OK, so not that much of a plot, but beautifully filmed and a wonderful chance to see authentic cowboy saddlery from the beginning of the 20th Century. The ranch daughter’s riding outfit isn’t bad either.

The film might still be doing the rounds of film festivals, in which case it is well worth catching. It is also available as an “extra” on a Borzage DVD of “The River” read about it here

Still from Borzage western film

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