The first piece of sage advice my mentor gave me when I took my first writing class … write what you know. That has proven to be so true; however, you don’t have to be a down and out, dirty gunslinger or cussed outlaw to write a scene about robbing a bank and high-tailing it off to parts unknown with your gang.
I’m not a horseman to say the least. As a matter of fact, I’ve ridden exactly twice. The first, a nag in Palo Duro Canyon who undoubtedly was celebrating his one millionth trip into the bowels of the canyon. He didn’t seem to mind that I was a novice because he had his own agenda. Apparently it made him no never mind whether we moseyed down the side of a rock wall or a trail. He had his principles. I think he only wanted to get back to the stables and get fed. Not a good experience, but now that I look back, it gave me an idea for my Texas Ranger’s gelding, Stewball, in our July anthology GIVE ME A TEXAS RANGER. . . . “Stewball, about the ugliest horse in the world, but his name fit. Patches of white over red, reminding Hayden of a bowl of chili topped with cornbread. He hoped the sorry lookin’ critter was still tied up outside the saloon. The sucker had a tendency to become impatient, work his reins loose, and make a beeline for the first place he found food.”
My second riding experience was on an ol’ work pony named “Blackie.” I have no idea how wide he was, but I had to stand on the tail of a pickup to get on him and my feet never touched either stirrup. I looked like a cheerleader doing the splits on the back of a horse. I slipped right off, more like a boulder crashing down a gully, and never tried riding again. Of course, everything I write has to have horses. Duh, how could those good looking hunks of horseflesh, excuse the pun, get around? But, I had to research and talk to experts, in order to make my readers believe that I really can recognize the south end of a north bound gelding.
Long way of saying, if a writer doesn’t know how things work, we research and learn enough, so the reader doesn’t realize how little some of us actually know. I want my readers to believe that I was roped, hog-tied and thrown in the nearest hoosegow and write western romances for entertainment.
I love to walk-the-walk when it comes to settings, in particular. Oh, you can certainly read a lot about a town and do a fantastic job on showing it to the reader, but experiencing, feeling, hearing and smelling of the actual setting gives you insight that can really make a difference between writing a wonderful scene and an “Aha” moment. I truly want every reader to love the settings that I’ve selected for my stories, enjoy its beauty and want to come back for a visit.
The Texas Panhandle is my love, as is Texas in general, so naturally, that is where my writing migrated… to the wide open, wild and forbidding country where buffalo roamed freely and the Kiowa and Comanche lived and hunted. To the naked eye the Llano Estacado (Staked Plains) where the Panhandle is situated appears to be level, but in reality its western edge is almost 2,000 feet higher than its eastern edge. Unlike other parts of Texas, we are still in our infancy. The Panhandle is so small that you only have to look down the street to see what’s going on, but big enough that you have to read the newspaper to learn the facts.
My story in the new anthology is called “One Woman, One Ranger” and is set in Old Tascosa, the second town settled in the Panhandle, although I had to change the name somewhat to fit my story. Several kernels of history from actual accounts of Old Tascosa, germinated into a story about how the highfalutin’ folks of Upper Tascosa wanted to make sure the rowdy, detestable citizens kept their distance in Hogtown, or Lower Tascosa. They would have never associated with people named Rockin’ Chair Emma, Boxcar Jane, Slippery Sue, and Gizzard Lips. Thus, for my story, Old Tascosa became Buffalo Springs along with its seedy residents restricted to a part of the town across the creek known as Buffalo Wallow.
But, I could have never told my story without forcing my characters to relocate from the oldest town settled in the Panhandle, Mobeetie, in order to stay one step ahead of the law. Both towns were founded only a year apart, some one hundred and thirty-five years ago. If it hadn’t been for Mobeetie, and one determined Texas Ranger Captain hell bent for leather on cleaning up the town, Tascosa would not have existed. Separated by only 135 miles, they soon became mirror images of one another.
Mobeetie, originally named Hidetown and still referred to today as “Mother City of the Panhandle”, evolved from buffalo hunters’ camps and from the nearby Army post, Fort Elliott. In the beginning (1875), it was the legal, business, and social center for this part of Texas. The town faded when the railroad bypassed it two years later; and in 1890 when the Army abandoned nearby Fort Elliott (the only military post ever established in the Panhandle), the town withered further. What remained was totally destroyed by a cyclone…today I think it’d just be called a regular ol’ tornado.
But before its demise, Old Mobeetie was a favorite “recreational town” for itinerant adventurers, cowboys, buffalo hunters, and freight haulers. There were gambling houses and dance halls, each with lots of female employees who arrived by freight wagons from Dodge City, Kansas City, and St. Louis. At one time, the tiny town sported over a dozen saloons. One old-timer said that some of the inhabitants “thought about seeing how tough a place could be and still be called a town.” Soldiers from Fort Elliott lookin’ for a good time contributed to its rowdiness, as did hundreds of cowboys hitting town on payday.
The legendary lawman, buffalo hunter, and a survivor of the Battle of Adobe Walls, Bat Masterson, surveyed the town of Mobeetie, but spent much of his time in the gambling halls. In a well-known fight over a poker game in Henry Fleming’s saloon, Masterson killed a soldier. Masterson shot him in self-defense, but not before taking a bullet to his stomach (which led to him having to use his famous cane.) A hail of shots followed, and a dance hall girl Masterson was living with at the time, Molly Brennen, was killed. She is buried in the cemetery at Mobeetie not far from Louise Houston, the granddaughter of General Sam Houston. Of interest, more than two-thirds of the cases docketed in the first year of Wheeler County where the lawless town was situated involved fighting or some form of revelry, many connected with dance hall girls.
By 1882, the second town in this area, Tascosa, was founded when Texas Ranger Captain G. W. Arrington conducted a general clean up of Mobeetie, sending large numbers of fancy women, gamblers, con artists, and outlaws, as well as cattle and horse thieves westward towards the toughest and most lawless town of all the wild frontier … a shoot-’em up western booze town … Old Tascosa. And, Lower Tascosa or Hogtown didn’t get its name because they raised hogs, but because the inhabitants acted like swine and visitors always came away hog-drunk. Below is a picture of the old Mobeetie jail.
Growing up, I visited Old Tascosa many times and spent hours walking-the-walk, particularly enjoying the serenity of Boot Hill where renegades and law-abiding, God fearing men and women are buried, many without the benefit of clergy. The cemetery borrowed its name from the Dodge City, Kansas, cemetery … a place for men who died with their boots on.
I only became passionate about Mobeetie when I was researching the rodeo for my story for our second anthology called Give Me a Cowboy. A special writer friend arranged an interview with a man she grew up with … a real-life ol’ time rodeo star who lives in the area. That began my love affair with the Mother City of the Texas Panhandle’s historic cemetery and stone jail which still stands today.
Have you visited a place that totally took you back into time?