It Happened in the West

james-crutchfieldA Tennessean by birth, James A. Crutchfield (Jim to his friends) says he became a Westerner by choice, and when he has the choice, his preferred Western locale is New Mexico. “From the time I first experienced New Mexico years ago, my heart has been in the West,” he says in his Tennessee drawl.

“I am totally enthralled with the culture of the Southwest, particularly that of New Mexico. The combined Spanish/Indian/Anglo experience is so fascinating and rich in history that it is difficult sometimes for me to remember that I don’t actually live there,” Jim says. This author of more than 40 books has recounted the history of the region in The Santa Fe Trail, Tragedy at Taos: The Revolt of 1847 and It Happened in New Mexico and the Spur Award winning article “Marching with the Army of the West” that ran in Blackpowder Annual.

He’s also authored a shelf of books capturing the grassroots history of Tennessee and surrounding areas including The Natchez Trace, Celebrate Virginia, A Treasury of Tennessee Tales and Miss Daisy Celebrates Tennessee. He conceived the popular It Happened In series of books published by Globe Pequot, which covers Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Georgia.

For other work, he has turned to America’s heroes, including the book he is now writing on George Washington for the American Heroes series being published by Forge, due out in fall 2005.

“I, like so many Americans, have always been fascinated by Washington,” Jim says. “That a self-educated man, with little military experience, could wager—and win—an eight-year-long war with Great Britain, the most powerful country in the world, is simply mind-boggling. From the day he accepted command of the Continental Army in 1775, until he retired to Mount Vernon at the end of the Revolution, he was the most important and influential man in America, more so even than the leaders of Congress under whose authority he operated.”

Washington’s accomplishments and dedication to a fledgling nation are even more evident in the realization that he came out of retirement to run the country as first president for eight years, Jim says. It was “a time when everything was new and no precedent had been set for any of our cherished institutions [and that] puts him on a pedestal that had been unreachable by any other person, before or since,” he says.

Other Americans on the heroic level that Jim likes to write about are the trappers and traders of the 1800s. “Mountain men were a unique breed, and I honestly believe that, had I lived during the times, I could have become one.  I like the idea of the wilderness—its solitude and absence of ‘civilization.’”

“Some of these guys were my heroes,” he adds.  “It is fascinating to read about them, spending a few days at Fort Laramie, for example, only to show up two months later in Taos or at Bent’s Fort, or in St. Louis, hundreds of miles away.”

In chronicling the lives of the fur trappers and traders and early settlement, he has written Mountain Men of the American West and Eyewitness to American History.

When not writing or cutting the ever-growing grass around his century and a half-year-old home in Franklin, Tennessee (a job he detests), Crutchfield also spends time editing. He is the executive editor of the Tennessee Heritage Library for Hillsboro Press, managing editor for Roundup Magazine, the official publication of Western Writers of America, for which he also serves as secretary-treasurer, and he is presently editing a WWA nonfiction anthology, The Way West: True Stories of the American Frontier, due in 2005 from Forge.

With wife Regena, he enjoys traveling the West, leaving management of his office at home to Felix, the cat who rules the roost anyway.

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