Recently, one of my editors asked for a short discussion on the backstory of my newest Leisure Western, 'Days of Vengeance.'
I figured some of you might be interested in the tenuous chain of ideas that somehow coalesce into the plot lines of a novel.
Here's copy of my reply to them which should be out on their website in August.
Days of Vengeance
My first lucky break in this life was being born in the Texas Panhandle within spitting distance of Adobe Walls and Custer’s 1867 attack on Black Kettle’s Cheyennes at the Washita River; second was coming from families who helped settle the Manifest Destiny of our great country; and the third was having garrulous old grandfathers and their sidekicks who loved to reminisce about the old days.
On my maternal grandfather’s side, an old cowboy with the ubiquitous name of Slim was as much a part of the Holley family as I, a grandson. Slim had come to work for them and having no family of his own, never left. I was twelve before I realized Slim wasn’t blood kin.
From Papa Conwell, Papa Holley, and Slim—you know, I never did learn his last name-, I heard stories not only of their own experiences late in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, but also those of their fathers and grandfathers that included most of the Nineteenth Century.
As a youth, I’d stand on the crest of one of those rolling sandhills in the Panhandle and peer across the prairie, their stories tumbling through my head. Somewhere on that vast, rolling prairie, I’d see single files of Cheyenne and Comanche warriors and columns of blue coated soldiers on prancing horses.
Many nights I listened from the shadows as Papa Holley and Slim sat around the wood burning stove reliving the past.
Just as often, I sat on the porch with Papa Conwell watching the horse drawn wagons hauling cotton to the gin, soaking up his own stories of his adventures from Tennessee to Texas as a runaway youth on a ox train.
I was too young to understand it at the time, but those three had lived through sixty-seventy years of history and had heard first hand of the previous sixty or seventy years of the westward movement. Little did I realize how fortunate I was to be privy to one hundred and forty years of oral history.
Many of their stories come to my mind, and one of the most enduring is the never ending struggle the early settlers faced not only with survival, but also the greed of those coming for quick wealth.
The average emigrant from the early 1840s on simply wanted a better life, not necessarily wealth. The ones who survived, who didn’t drop out along the way, were tough, determined, and persevering.
When land barons charged in to sweep up vast sections of land, they ran into fierce opposition from the settlers. Many of the emigrants, having cleared the land, planted crops, raised stock, refused to give in to money and political pressure.
In a country where the law was the hogleg on your hip, many, like Ben Elliott in ‘Days of Vengeance’, fought back with ferocious rage, going to extreme lengths to save the land over which he had shed blood and sweat.
Ben Elliott was not alone. There were thousands of Ben Elliotts who fought the battle. Some emerged victorious. Unfortunately, the majority was crushed by the power and politics of the greedy carpetbaggers and land barons.
To me, Ben Elliott is the epitome of America, a man of honor, character, and the bull-headed determination that no man will take away his God=given rights, rights so succinctly enumerated in the Constitution of the United States.