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Tagged with " Old West"
10 May
2017

Interview with “Sarah Martin”

“Sarah Martin” is the key protagonist of my novel. Some readers have posed questions wanting to learn more about Sarah. Curiosity is good, and I’m pleased that readers are engaged enough in the story to wonder a little more about my character’s background.

To answer the questions raised by readers, I’ve conducted a “virtual interview” with Sarah, whose story is based on my real grandmother’s life. I hope this interview will reveal some of the back story and satisfy readers’ curiosity. Sarah’s answers below are as close to the real-life situation as I know.

Since this is historical fiction, you can choose to think of other ways that the character Sarah could have answered the questions! When you read the interview, imagine someone like Sarah and see if you think my interview captures what such a person might say in reply to my questions. People were much more private back then, and it was easy to hide secrets. Of course, this was a key premise of the book!

——————————-

Grandma Scott, portrait

The real Grandma Scott served as inspiration for “Sarah Martin.”

Imagine Sarah Martin at seventy, petite, dressed in a cotton house dress, with a shawl over her shoulders. She takes each step with care and caution as she moves toward the rocking chair. Her gait is uneven as she favors one knee. She wears special shoes to accommodate her crippled feet. Before she looks up, she lowers herself into the chair and smooths her skirt over her knees.  She looks directly at me with a tentative smile and then she looks down.

I begin:

BAS: “Thank you, Mrs. Martin, for agreeing to be interviewed. The readers of “Sarah’s Secret” have asked questions about the background of the story and what happened in your life after the story in the book ends. Do you mind answering a few questions?”

Sarah Martin (SM): [She pulls out a lace trimmed hankie from her sleeve and fingers it in her gnarled hands.] “I’ve never been interviewed like this before. I’m nervous.” [She takes in a deep breath, lifts her head, and smiles.] “Please call me Sarah.  What would your readers like to know?”

BAS: “Let’s talk about Sam. What attracted you to a man who was so much older than you were?”

SM: [Leaning forward in her chair and rocking slowly, her hands quiet in her lap, she smiles.] “Well, he was a very handsome man and I was a spinster school teacher. He was very kind, interesting and a good conversationalist.” [Pausing as if she might be considering her next words] “Of course, now, I don’t know how much he was pulling my leg sometimes.”

BAS: “What do you mean, ‘pulling your leg’”?

SM: [With the firm confidence of a teacher] “That is an expression we use when someone exaggerates and tells stories.”

BAS: “So he didn’t tell you the truth about his life before you met? What did he tell you?”

SM: [Sarcastically] “Not much that was true”.

BAS: “And you accepted enough of what he did tell you to marry him?”

SM: [Slumping in her chair and lowering her eyes, toying with her hankie] “Yes, I trusted him. It turned out I was naïve. I thought he would be a good husband and father. I wanted children of my own. He did give me five wonderful children.” [She stops rocking and straightens her back. With wide eyes and defiance] “I have never told them the truth about Sam. And I don’t want you to either. I want them to feel positively about their father.”

BAS: “Don’t worry your children aren’t around anymore. They won’t find out. But, why didn’t you want them to know the truth?”

SM: [Sounding defensive] “I didn’t want my children to be as embarrassed and humiliated as I was.”

BAS: “Did you know he came from Indiana? And that his father died when he was four? His mother died in the poor house with no one to support her. I think Sam had essentially abandoned his mother to the poor house.”

SM: [With sarcasm] “Abandoning women in his life seems to have been a habit!” [Rocking again in an even voice) “He never mentioned his roots, only that his family was gone and he wanted to create his own family with me. I wanted children too. He was a good husband. My family approved of him although they wondered why he had never been married before.” [Her eyes wide and she lets out a short laugh.) “It turns out there was reason to wonder.” [Suddenly sharp and irritated] “I don’t want to spend time talking about him anymore.”

BAS: “You were left destitute when your husband died. How did you manage?”

SM: [Patiently explaining] “I had hoped to get the Widows Benefits from Sam’s service but that didn’t happen. I went back to teaching. I had been a teacher before we were married. Of course, the older boys helped to support us and we lived very simply.  I have few needs.”

Old-time Classroom Scene

BAS: “But I thought school boards frowned on hiring married women. How did you manage to get hired?”

SM: “Well initially, I was a replacement for my nephew who went into the army. Also, because Sam was gone they accepted me as a single woman. It helped that my family had homesteaded the area and my father was a respected judge. Of course, he died before I could get back to Nebraska. So, he wasn’t any help in dealing with some of the hostile town folk”.

BAS: “Why were they so hostile?”

SM: “There was one man in town who was angry with my family because of a disagreement over water rights.  He vowed to get even so he spread rumors about me and Sam.”

BAS: “Does that have anything to do with why you didn’t get Widows Benefits?”

SM: [Offended] “No, that was a government decision.”

BAS: “But why didn’t you get them? What reason did they tell you? And why didn’t you ever tell anyone”

SM: [Sharply] “That is something I have never discussed with anyone. It was too humiliating.”

BAS: “You were school superintendent of Thomas County. Are you proud to be possibly the first woman school superintendent in Nebraska?”

SM: [Frowns and looks confused] “Proud? I was proud that I did the best job I could. I made some mistakes. I learned how to deal with the problems…but I don’t have any thoughts about being proud to be the first woman. That would be unseemly to feel that way.” [Pausing before she continues] “I had to leave after a few years because my illness got worse. I took my two youngest children to live in Wyoming near my middle son who homesteaded there. They graduated from high school. I am very proud that they went on to college and ultimately graduated. They each supported themselves working to pay for school so it took a few years. All of my children were very good to me and helped support me into my old age. I am proud to have sixteen grandchildren.” [Wistful] “I haven’t even met all my great grandchildren.”

SM: [Quiet, seemingly lost in her memories. Then, abruptly] “That’s enough.  I don’t want to answer any more questions.”

END

Blackboard "History"

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8 Aug
2016

Thank You! Now, the Sub-Title

Help Me with My Book Sub-Title!

 

Thank you to those of you who made suggestions and contributed ideas for the title of my new book. You are great friends and supporters! It was so helpful for me to see what you liked and endorsed. I gave it much thought and as a result I have narrowed it to the following title:

SARAH’S SECRET OF BETRAYAL AND FORGIVENESS

BUT I would love your suggestions and thoughts about a sub-title. I am interested in getting either words or images of the West or Western themes. What are your suggestions???

Thanks so much for your help.

Here is a short summary of the book or you can read the longer synopsis of the book I included in my last post requesting your help in choosing the title.

SUMMARY

The story is told from the perspective of two protagonists. In the 1880’s, Sam, irresponsible, lonely and untrustworthy has abandoned those he loves until he seeks redemption and marries Sarah. In 1911, Sara, struggling to find the inner strength to overcome loneliness, poverty and illness to support her children after Sam’s death. After a perilous journey by wagon from New Mexico to Nebraska, she learns of Sam’s betrayal. Will Sarah find forgiveness in her heart and the resolve to accept her new life alone?

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21 Jul
2016

Help Me Choose the Title

I am excited to be finalizing my manuscript for publication. But I can’t decide on the final title. Would you be willing to help? I have listed four of the finalists below. I would be so grateful for your help.

Book Titles, Bev Scott

Which title do you like best?

Let me know which title is most likely to attract your attention if you were looking for a book to read. You might have other ideas or combinations, which is fine, too.  Let me know your choices and your thoughts in the Comments section of the blog.  Thank you!

Here is the synopsis to give you context for the title.

Synopsis

The story is told from the perspective of the two key protagonists, Will and Sarah.

In 1878, Will is on the run after killing a man in a bar room gunfight. He escapes the Texas Rangers by joining a cattle drive headed to Dodge City, as the cook. He struggles with the dilemma of saving his life or attempting to return to his pregnant wife and five children. Just when he thinks he might be able to return home, he is confronted by a bounty hunter who captures him and plans to return him to Forth Worth, Texas to be hanged. Will is freed by his trail boss and a buddy from the cattle drive. He finds himself “riding the owl hoot trail” in Kansas as a wanted man.

Will finds refuge on an isolated homestead with Peggy, a widow and her daughter, Margaret Ann. He helps her with the livestock, building a corral and a “real” house while he hides out from the law. He struggles with his responsibility to return to his wife and family and his increasing attraction to Peggy. When Will learns that his wife and children may have perished in a tornado, he gives in to his desire for Peggy, only to find that he is too afraid to take on the responsibility Peggy asks. He abruptly abandons Peggy and finds himself on the dodge from the law again when he meets an itinerant preacher named John who saves his life. John recognizes Will’s guilt and challenges him to grow up and be a man. When Will struggles with his culpability in abandoning the women in his life, he turns to John who guides him to find redemption. Will decides to homestead in Wyoming ready to settle down with a good woman.

In 1911, Sarah, a widow with five children struggles to find the inner strength to overcome betrayal, loneliness, fears, and self-doubt. Her husband, Sam, thirty years her senior, died with a curious and defiant declaration, “I won’t answer!” Despite poverty and a crippling illness, she is determined to keep her family together, leave New Mexico, and return to Nebraska to be near her parents and siblings.

Horses, great PlainsDuring the perilous journey home, Sarah must face her fears as a woman traveling without the protective company of a man, confront her son’s sometimes reckless attempts to be the man of the house, and cope with real dangers which threaten their lives. Still grieving from the loss of her husband, she ventures into unknown territory desperate to find help for her sick infant daughter and then learns of the death of her beloved father.

When Sarah returns to Nebraska, she receives staggering news which complicates her efforts to support her children. She is shocked, angry and emotionally devastated. Since she is attempting to establish herself in the community as a teacher, she believes she must keep her husband’s betrayal a secret even from her own family.

Title Choices for You!

Again, here are the titles I’m considering for the book. Let me know what you think in the Comments below. Which of the following seems to fit the story line best? Do you have any other thoughts, ideas or critiques of the title choices that could help me? Or do you have an completely different title you might want to suggest?

I’m all ears!

A. Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: A Western Tale

B. A Family Secret: Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness

C. “I Won’t Answer!” A Secret from the American West

D. Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: She Kept the Secret

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13 Jul
2016

“Killing My Darlings?!”

old cemetery headstoneAdvice, often passed along to novice writers, includes that we have to learn to “kill our darlings.” This advice has been attributed to many famous authors such as Falkner, Wilde and King. As writers, we can become very attached to what we consider a brilliant piece of writing, a scene or a character description in earlier drafts, that no longer fits or is not appropriate for the story as it has evolved. Recently, as I worked through needed manuscript revisions and feedback from “early readers” and my editor, I came to the realization that I needed to “kill one of my darlings”. Let me share with you an excerpt from the original story which takes place in Texas in 1878:

 

Susanna

Will stepped up to the door of the tiny house off the noisy main street in Fort Worth… The door opened, he saw the flash of welcome in Susanna’s deep green eyes as a smile spread over her face. He gathered her up to carry her inside, kicking the door shut behind him. With her arms around his neck, he buried his face in her copper hair breathing deeply the sweet fragrance that always seemed to float around her. She giggled as he carried her to the back room depositing her on the bed. He began fumbling to unbutton her dress with one hand while he dropped his overalls with the other. His withered finger didn’t help.
“Let me help you.” She laughed as she finished the buttons and dropped her dress revealing her smooth unblemished skin the shade of Colorado alabaster.
Afterward, he felt more relaxed as he teased her, “I bet you let all the cowboys who come along into your bed like this?” 
Susanna lowered her eyes guiltily and then burst into the laughter that sounded like bells ringing. “You shouldn’t care. You’ll go back to your wife in a few days anyway. You can visit again the next time you’re in town.” 

I resisted this act of murder for a long time, despite advice that I should “kill this darling.” I liked Susanna’s independence.

As a beautiful woman living on her own, Susanna was used to adoration from the cowboys who came into town. Most of them would never settle down to get married. Besides, she liked her own freedom and independence. Of course, the stuffy, nose-in-the-air women in town whispered about her. But, she didn’t care. Their opinions didn’t matter to her. Their lives were controlled by weak men who tried to act powerfully by ordering their wives around. She didn’t want to cater to the demands of such a man every day.  

“Killing” Susanna

This story continues when a former lover/patron of Susanna’s barges into her house, Will gets involved in a gunfight, Susanna is killed and the Texas Rangers are looking for Will. I thought the story helped explain Will’s later behavior as he runs from the law. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that instead of explaining Will’s later behavior, this story only made him more puzzling and really didn’t explain his character at all. I did need to “kill my darling”, dump Susanna and do a major re-write.

But what would be better? The other problem was that “killing” this story meant that something needed to replace it. It is easier to delete than to create. I finally had an idea and as it unfolded, I was excited. When I finished writing, I realized I had a much better story. I needed to overcome my resistance and “kill my darlings” to write a better story.

The Revision

Here is the opening of the revised story:

The hay was tickling his nose but Will didn’t dare sneeze or even move. The voices and footsteps were coming toward theGhost town, Old West scene stables. Will held his breath and wished his pounding heart wasn’t so loud. His throat was dry, his body tense.
“I thought I saw him run this way.” One voice sounded tentative.
The second voice responded chuckling, “Didn’t expect a hay-shoveler to be that fast with a gun.”
“Well, no-one’s going to miss Graham too much, not even his wife. He was a mean SOB,” the first voice spoke again.
A third voice spoke up, “Yea, that’s true but that sod buster did kill him. Maybe he’s not really a sodbuster. Bein’ a Texas Ranger, I…”
“Hey, looking for someone?” He had heard that voice before. Will tried to place it. 
Then the third voice answered, “Yeah, mister, we’re looking for a sod buster in overalls and a vest. Bushwacked a man in the saloon. Have you seen him?”
Will’s breath caught in his throat. Did this guy see him dive into the hay? Who was he anyway? Would he turn him in? He was worried and listened intently. 

As a writer, have you had to dump a favorite passage of your own? Have you had to “kill your darlings”? Or as a reader, do you wish that a writer had deleted a section that didn’t add to the plot or make any sense?

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My Grandfather, a Cowboy?

Harvey D Scott photoMy paternal grandfather was an absent figure when I was growing up.  He wasn’t just absent; he didn’t exist.  My father didn’t know anything about him; my grandmother just dismissed any questions by changing the subject.  So, I assumed he didn’t exist.

During a trip to Washington DC, I visited the National Archives and uncovered the family secret that had humiliated my grandmother and been hidden from the rest of our family. I have written in previous blogs about the resulting genealogical journey to document H. D. Scott’s life. Unable to find all the details of the story, especially what happened to him between the time he abandoned his first family and married my grandmother, I decided to fictionalize the story.

Creating Sam

I have created the fictional character, Sam, in my story based on two clues about H.D.’s life between 1878 and 1891.  He “worked cattle” with an “outfit from Dodge City, Kansas”.  Sam escapes the Texas Rangers by becoming a cowboy and joining a cattle drive going north to Dodge City.   The years 1878-1879 are the peak of the cattle drives in the midst of the cowboy era.

Developing Sam’s character in some ways was easier because I had no preconception of my grandfather.  I knew he was thirty years older than my grandmother, but I didn’t find out if he was tough, distant and cold or warm, affectionate and funny. But, as a child, I knew my grandmother. What man would she have married?  I wrestled with the contradictions of my image of the man she would marry and the facts I had uncovered. My image of a man who abandoned his pregnant wife and five children didn’t seem like the kind of person she would choose to marry.

Cowboys

Given the era, the location and the clues, I had uncovered, I began to explore and learn about cowboys as a possible Cowboy Silhouettemodel for my grandfather. Today, we identify the cowboy with the West and the time of the cattle drives. However, history tells us that men worked cattle in Massachusetts, Florida, Alabama, Georgia.  But it was the men, one-fourth of whom were black, driving the longhorn cattle from Texas north, who became the folklore heroes we think of as cowboys. They spent long dusty days driving thousands of cattle across empty plains for hundred’s of miles. It was a dangerous life. They faced animals who were easily startled into a stampede, drought, lightning and thunderstorms, rattlesnakes, Indians, and outlaws. They ate grub from the cook wagon, slept on the ground and lived a lonely, spare existence.

Cowboys as folk heroes can be handsome, mysterious, courageous and charismatic. In fact, we have hundreds of stories in novels, movies, radio, and television that have charmed and fascinated us.  Consider Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the Lone Ranger or Gunsmoke’s Matt Dillon among many other cowboy personalities. The lore and lure of the Western way of life draw many “dudes” today to wear Western wear, reserve weeks at guest ranches in Wyoming, Colorado, and Montana and attend rodeo’s, and Wild West shows displaying the skill and fearlessness of the cowboy.

As a person who I grew up in Montana with a family who live today’s Western way of life in Wyoming and Colorado, it was easy for me to imagine my character, Sam as a cowboy…Handsome, charming, independent, mysterious and attractive to my grandmother.

I have been engaged and challenged as I created Sam’s character. I am excited to be nearing the end with the hope of publishing the story this year.

Do you have cowboy heroes or favorite books or programs? What is your image of a cowboy?

Does Western lore bore you or lure you?

 

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3 May
2016

Dodge City: The Wickedest Little City in the West

A letter in the Washington D.C.’s Evening Star of January 1, 1878, stated,

Dodge City is a wicked little town. Indeed, its character is so clearly and egregiously bad that one might conclude, were the evidence in the later times positive of its possibility, that it was marked for special Providential punishment” (quoted in Legends in America).

As a young girl growing up in Montana, I remember listening to Gunsmoke on the radio with my family. Television arrived with one channel when I was in the eighth grade, but my parents didn’t see any use for it.  Since it was one of my favorite programs, I incorporated some phrases into my repertoire like, “…get out of Dodge!” Little did I expect that I would be researching the history of Dodge City and learning many ofGunsmoke Dodge City the true stories on which Gunsmoke was based decades later.

Dodge City was known as “The Wickedest Little City in the West” from its reputation of lawlessness and gunfights. It is associated with such famous gunslingers as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Bat Masterson. In my last blog, I talked about the missing information about my grandfather between 1879 and 1891, but I had two clues that he worked cattle, perhaps as a cook, with an outfit from Dodge City. I researched and even visited this historic town as background for my writing.

Early History of Dodge City

The early history of Dodge City begins in 1872, according to William Shillingberg who wrote Dodge City: The Early Years, 1872-1886, with a saloon and a general store established a five miles West of Fort Dodge.   Following the establishment of the first businesses, the railroad arrived in short order.  Soon Dodge City became a wide-open railroad town with stacks of buffalo Street Scene Dodge Cityhides lining the street.  Over one and a half million of them were shipped out.  According to legend, the train masters took their red caboose lanterns with them to visit the prostitutes in town launching the term “red light district.

Dodge City initially had no law enforcement. The dance halls and saloons, as well as the lawless atmosphere, attracted buffalo hunters, railroad men, and soldiers after long stints on the prairie.  Inevitably, fights occurred and many a gunfighter died and was buried with his boots on in Boot Hill.  By 1876, the buffalo had been killed off, and the buffalo hunters were out of business. Longhorn cattle drove business back to Dodge City. In a ten-year period, over 5 million cattle were shipped out of Dodge City. The cowboys who came with the cattle brought, even more, lawlessness, spreading Dodge City’s reputation as far as Washington, D.C.

Controlling the Lawlessness

The wild lawlessness prompted the mayor to request such a well-known gunman as Wyatt Earp for help.  Soon Earp was joined by Bat Masterson, Bill Tilghman, and Charlie Bassett as assistant deputies.  Marshal Matt Dillon in the Gunsmoke episodes was modeled aDodge City Kansas Lawmenfter these lawmen in Dodge City.

The first effort at controlling the lawlessness was an ordinance which established a “Deadline” where the railroad tracks ran through Dodge.  On the North side, in the commercial side of town, no gun toting was allowed.  However, so many were arrested for carrying their weapons, that the jails were filled.  South of the tracks, anything went.  Guns were allowed, and lawlessness and gunfights persisted in the taverns and brothels.  By 1876 the town had grown to 1200 with nineteen businesses licensed to sell liquor.

Doc Holliday, another famous gunslinger, associated with Dodge City, arrived in 1878 with a woman posing as his wife called Big Nose Kate Elder.  Although he occasionally provided professional services to town residents, he mostly drank and gambled at the Long Branch Saloon. Doc Holliday was considered one of the deadliest shooters of the West, but he followed the law while in Dodge City.

Experiencing Dodge City in My Story

The character in my story, Will, arrives in Dodge City with the cattle drive in 1878 excited to be in the famous town and wondering if he’ll meet Wyatt Earp or Bat Masterson.  After loading cattle at the railyard, Will, and his two companions, Jake and Tom head to the Long Branch Saloon where Will spots a gunslinger or bounty hunter.  Jake, the boss of the cattle drive, approaches him to find out why he is watching the crew.

Will heard Jake say, “Lookin’ for someone?  That’s my crew you’re watchin’.”  Jake jerked his thumb toward the wranglers at the billiard table.  But Will couldn’t hear the stranger’s reply.

His mouth went dry and his gut clenched worried that this gunslinger was after him.  When Jake rejoined Tom and Will at the other end of the bar, Will had moved into the shadows to be less conspicuous. He wanted to be near the back door so he could make a quick escape.

His heart raced as Jake relayed the conversation.  “He’s looking for a gambler dressed as a hayseed.  Had a gunfight and killed some upstanding citizen in Fort Worth.  Reported to have joined a cattle drive.  This tough cowboy is looking over our crew.  Looking for a ‘Will Martin’.  Wants to take him in for the money.”

As he spoke, Will held his breath but his heart was pounding.  He slowly slunk toward the back door.  Jake looked directly at Will and with a firm voice over the noise in the Tavern said, “I told him we had no Will Martin on our crew.”

Suddenly, Will felt a gun barrel in his ribs.  (From unpublished manuscript, Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness:  A Family Story)

Did you listen or watch “Gunsmoke” when you were growing up?  Do you have images of Dodge City as wicked, lawless town?  Did you like cowboy and Western movies?  Have you heard other stories of this famous time in our history?

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18 Apr
2016

How to Avoid Being Crushed in a Stampede

This post is the first in a series about the era of the cattle drive from Texas to Dodge City, Kansas. 

“Ride! Ride like the devil! Ride for your life, man!  Stick spur in your pony’s flank, and press hard and press long; lean low over your saddle bow—speak quick, sharp words of encouragement and command to your beast, and ride for your life! For behind you, like the waves of a mad sea, are ten thousand frightened steers, and you are scarce the length of your horse ahead of them!  If your pony stumbles….if anything happens by which his speed is checked…the hoofs that are thundering at your heels shall tramp every semblance of humanity out of your body before you can utter a prayer or curse!” (quoted in “The Western: The Greatest Cattle Trail 1874-1886 by Kraisinger and Kraisinger)

Grandfather disappeared

My grandfather not only disappeared from his family in Weatherford, Texas after he took a load of corn to town in 1879, he also disappeared from the official records.  I could find no information in the 1880 census nor any other official record until he shows up filing a homestead claim in Glendo. Wyoming in 1891.  What was he doing in those missing years?

I never imagined my grandfather, H.D. Scott, involved in the famous longhorn cattle drives from Texas to Dodge City, Kansas.  But, I found two clues in the National Archive documents:  H.D., himself, claimed he worked cattle during that time and one of the government agents reported that he served as “a cook on an overland expedition” for an outfit from Dodge City.

Texas Cattle Drives

albuminLOCcowboysathchuckwagon3a18543rAs a result of these clues I began to explore the Texas cattle drives that began in the late 1860’s on the famous Chisholm Trail.  At the time it was the only trail through Indian Territory to Kansas.  Later, between 1874 and 1886, cattle were driven up the much longer Western Trail not only to Kansas but also up to Ogallala, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana according to The Western: The Greatest Cattle Trail, 1874-1886 by Gary and Margaret Kraisinger.  The cattle shipped from the Western Trail on rail cars headed east are reported to be over five million cattle!

TV, movies and novels have glorified the Texas cattle drive and the Cowboys that served as drovers.  Life on the trail was not very glamorous. Cowboys slept on the ground and ate monotonous food.   They coped with blistering sun, thunderstorms, floods and Indians.  It was lonely, and at the time very dangerous.

Wild Longhorn Cattle

The Longhorn was a defensive and skittish animal descended through natural selection on the range from Spanish and Anglo-American cattle.  These animals were wild, with long powerful legs and hard hoofs, capable of surviving long drives with minimal grazing feed.  The Kraisingers report that they could do “a several-hundred-mile trek and …still gain weight.”  But any sudden noise such as thunder and lightning, or strange event, lighting a match or the sound of a tin cup, could cause a frantic stampede such as described above.  The consequences could be gruesome:

“We went back to look for him, and we found him among the prairie dog holes, beside his horse.  The horse’s ribs were scraped bare of hide and all the rest of horse and man was mashed into the ground as flat as a pancake.  The only thing you could recognize was the handle of his six-shooter.  We tried to think the lightning hit him, and that was what we wrote his folks…But we couldn’t really believe it ourselves…I’m afraid his horse stepped into one of them holes and they both went down before the stampede.”  (quoted in Kraisinger and Kraisinger)

The drover’s job was to get the terrified animals under control by riding his mount abreast of the lead steer to turn them to run in a circle.  The circle could be miles wide but gradually as the cattle were exhausted they would mill in a circle and quiet down.  Rivers had to be crossed even in at flood stage.  There was a right way to negotiate a river that took the time of day, and outside influences into account.  Cattle, horses, and men could lose their lives in a fast-moving river.

The wave of homesteaders moving into former Indian Territories and the advent of barbed wire brought the era of Longhorn cattle drives to a close by 1886.  But during a short period of time, savvy organizers and contractors could make a fortune.  Some report over $100,000 according to Harry Drago! However, there was always a risk of losing upwards of 1500 head of cattle in a herd of 3000.  The drovers didn’t get rich.  They might receive $30.00 a month with $100 for the trail boss.  Some of them, though, did parlay their opportunity into becoming land owners with a herd of cattle.

Creating the Story

Once I determined that I would write my family story as fiction, the clues in the Archive documents lead me to explore this history and the stories of the cattle drives.  I have found both challenge and enjoyment in creating the story of my character’s experience as a cook on a Texas cattle drive.  Here’s a short excerpt from his second day on the drive:

He enjoyed the camaraderie on this crew.  It reminded him of his time in the Union Army–sleeping on the ground, boring food, dirty, no women or home comforts.  A hard life. But it was eased by the easy-going company of men joking with each other, telling stories or singing around the campfire.  Being here was like putting on old boots that have molded to your feet. He didn’t need to worry about these men learning his secret. Cowboys minded their own business.  He was sure their pasts weren’t pure and no one asked any questions, including Jake  (From Trust, Betrayal, and Forgiveness:  A Family Story).

 

     

 

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10 Sep
2014
Posted in: Book Reviews
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Book Review: “Finding Billy Battles” by Ron Yates

Finding Billy BattlesReviewed by Bev Scott

Billy Battles tells such an engaging story that it is easy to forget it is fiction written by someone else.  The author includes real people such as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Doc Holliday and events like the gun battle at the OK Corral, which contribute to the “reality” of the story.

There are actually three story tellers.   The author Ron Yates introduces us to Ted Sayles, the great grandson of William Fitzroy Raghlan Battles.  Sayles’ grandmother takes Ted to meet his great grandfather at the old soldier’s home in Kansas when he is 12.  Ted Sayles describes his reluctant meeting of the ninety-eight year old veteran of the Spanish American War and how he came to receive a trunk of journals written in “vivid prose” describing his great grandfather’s life as an itinerant journalist.  Sayles, himself a journalist, did not open the trunk and read the journals for thirty eight years after his great grandfather died.  After reviewing the contents of the trunk, Sayles sees as his task blending the journals, letters, photos and recordings with an unfinished autobiography into a compelling narrative of Billy Battles told in his own voice, the third story teller.

This book is the first of a trilogy in which Billy Battles begins by telling us in first person of his young adult life and how it took an unexpected turn, leading him through a series of unforeseen life-threatening events.  Despite these challenges, Billy becomes an established journalist in Denver where he marries and starts a family.  Unfortunately, calamity strikes and the anguish and heartache lead Billy to abandon his responsibilities.

Author Yates acknowledges that he uses the colloquial language he remembers from his own Kansas childhood in an effort to remain true to the vernacular of the time.  This is an admirable effort but it is overwhelming for today’s reader who did not grow up in Kansas.  Words and phrases which add color to the story also detract by being overwhelming to the reader in trying to figure out what is meant by “shin out”, “hog leg”, “sticky rope”, “has the sand to jerk his dewey at the law”, “inside of a hoosegow” and many others.   In addition, some of the big “fifty cent” words Yates uses such as francoteradores or insalubrious seem out of place in this story.

Interspersed with the lively vernacular are brilliant descriptions that carry the reader to the scene or provide vivid images of characters in the story such as this description of Doc Holliday:  “Doc was a strange one.  He had eyes that would chill a side of beef.  They were piercing slate gray and set deep in an ashen face.  The skin was pulled so tight over his high cheekbones that you though a bone might poke through anytime.”

The author very cleverly sets up the reader to go deeper and deeper into the story with hints about what will happen in the future such as, “Had my life not taken a regrettable turn a few weeks later, we might have developed a more romantic liaison” Or, “that kind of legal problem was nothing compared to an incident that was a few weeks away and that would have a momentous impact on both our lives.”  Or simply, “But things were about to change.”

I was hooked as Yates the author and Billy Battles the story teller graphically depict life in the last half of the 19th Century as the West is tamed and Battles wrestles with the unexpected and startling events that change his life.  I didn’t want this book to end.  I am still hooked and ready to read the next book in the trilogy.  I want to know the next surprising turn in Billy Battles life.

Author website: www.ronaldyates.com

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