18 Aug

Journey to Fiction – Part 3

This is the third in a serial documentation of the journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents.

On the Trail of John Howard Scott…

Harvey D Scott

Grandfather as a young man before he abandoned Harriet.

I knew from the depositions I found in the National Archives, that John’s first wife Harriet reported he had abandoned her in 1879 leaving her “destitute” with five children and a sixth on the way.  She believed he was dead.  But I knew he lived until 1911 under the name of Harvey Depew Scott.  Looking for clues, I combed the depositions he gave to government agents when he was trying to prove his identity as a Civil War Veteran.

There he acknowledged that he was in Kansas and in 1880 went to work as a cook for an “overland”  expedition from Fort Dodge to Laramie, Wyoming.  Another time he reported that he worked cattle.  It was the time of cattle drives from Texas up to Dodge City.  Thousands of longhorn cattle were driven by drovers up the Chisholm Trail and the Western Cattle trail.  It is estimated that over five to six million cattle driven up the Western were packed into wooden railcars and shipped to Kansas City, Omaha, St. Louis and Chicago.  1880 was one of the peak years for cattle drives. Some cattle were to be delivered farther north and were driven across western Kansas to Ogallala, Nebraska, Dakota Territory, Wyoming, Montana and as far north as Canada.

Far west town



Going from Texas to Dodge City at ten to fourteen miles a day easily took two to three months.  Life on the cattle drive was dusty, lonely and frequently dangerous.  Any strange noise or unexpected event especially at night could precipitate a stampede of the thousand to fifteen hundred skittish animals.  Heavy rains meant flooded rivers and the trail drivers had to get reluctant cattle into rushing  water, make sure none of them were carried downstream with a fast-moving current or got stuck in the quick sand at the river’s edge.

Cattle towns provided distractions and entertainment for the drovers.  Dodge City was infamous as a wild and lawless town.  A typical frontier town, it acquired a reputation of glamour, excitement and opportunity.  Buffalo hunters, cowboys, gamblers, gun slingers and railroad men were drawn to Dodge City for thrill of adventure and easy come, easy go money.

Although killings didn’t happen every day, they were not a rare occurrence either.  In the saloons where drinking, gambling and female entertainment occurred, and arguments among the rough characters who frequented these establishments were usually background in the style of the American West. Handcuffs in jeanssettled by  gun fights.  The men shot dead were often buried in unmarked graves on famous Boot Hill.  Wyatt Earp, his brother, Dave Mathers and other famous gun slingers and killers hung out in Dodge City.

Did John Howard join a cattle drive from Texas to Dodge City and then go on to Wyoming?  Did the lure of Dodge City entice him north from Texas?

I believe there is a strong possibility he was in Dodge City or passing through during its rough and tumble days in the 1880’s.



  • Keep on searching, keep on searching.

  • I am fascinated by what motivated him to abandon Harriet. Was the 6th child unplanned? a rude shock? was he always this way? were there signs in his marriage or childhood?

    • Good questions Patricia. I wonder the same ones. Bev

  • The search is as fascinating as the story………….. don’t stop now.

    • Yes, the search has been fascinating…and I am not planning to stop yet.

  • Well you certainly have some interesting research and info about him.

  • Hi Bev –

    I liked ending with the questions. It reminded me of “Guiding Light” – Will Della discover who the father to her child is? Will Brandon return home in spite of his disfigurement? Will Della still love him?!? Tune in next week…

    Fun, interesting readin’, Bev. I’m glad YOU are doing the research.

    XO – Mark

    • Thanks, Mark. Glad you like the questions. I am just sharing the questions that I have raised as I have tried to figure out my grandfather.

  • Looking forward to the next part, Part 4 of the voyage.

    • Thanks for the encouragement Alex. Soon. I will write and post the next part.

  • Am loving reading about your writing journey, Bev, with all the many twists and turns that take you hither and yon. And with each new discovery, each question answered, other questions arise. Do keep sending installments. What an amazing 3rd Act you are having!

    note the website is not mine but rather that of the Casa Materna

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