Gunslinging, Mary Connealy, and The Red Ribbon

Please give a warm welcome to Pepper Basham, our guest today!


I think it was Mary Connealy who once said, “If things in a story start getting slow, bring out a man with a gun.”

Well, I haven’t written a whole lot of ‘gunslinging’ stories. Sinking ocean liners, trench mustard gas, or the Spanish Flu, maybe, but not a whole lot of gunslinging. Until now.

And I’m kind of surprised it’s taken me so long, because, evidently, I come from a long line (and a community) where there was gun slinging aplenty. Appalachia. Known for its horse thievery, moonshinin’, and Revolutionary War snipers. Oh, and it’s awesome accent and Andy Griffith 😉

So, when I had the opportunity to write a book about a courthouse shootout in my hometown, I thought I’d give it a try…after all, I could just channel my inner Mary Connealy, right?

Not as easy as it may seem, though Mary is incredibly inspirational, because the “shootout” wasn’t fictional, and a century later people still had strong feelings about which side of the Hillsville Courthouse Massacre was right and which was wrong (and those sides didn’t always agree).

The opportunity to write about my own hometown’s shootout came in The Red Ribbon, a historical suspense novel based on the Virginia Hillsville Courthouse Massacre of 1912. This tragedy made national headlines—including a nationwide manhunt—from March 14th to April 12th, when it was overshadowed by the sinking of the Titanic.

Writing about a hot topic that still resonates with the community you grew up in is a tricky business. People still take sides, and many folks don’t want to talk about what happened (even a century later). What’s even more difficult is taking a story that has VERY little hope in it and turning it into a book that brings hope.

I don’t know about you, but maybe those stories with gunslingers and outlaws and suffering and tragedy…are the ones that need hope the most. This one sure felt like it.  And it was a great reminder of how God uses difficulties and situations that leave us asking “why”, to draw us closer to Him and create in us character (Romans 5).

Visiting the historic courthouse that still stands in my hometown and running my fingers over the bullet holes still carved in the walls brought this history to life and (I hope) infused this story with setting. (You can see some of the videos from the courthouse here

By the way, the coolest part of this REAL story was that the shootout all started over a KISS!!! (I really don’t know a better way to start a gunslinging, family feud-like story, do you?) So thanks, Mary. I brought in a few guys with guns, some dirty cops, a really smart granny, and an awesome dog. Some of the characters were real folks and some emerged from my imagination, but all contributed to making of The Red Ribbon.

Does your hometown have any significant, interesting,

odd, or exciting history?

Post your answer below for a chance to win a digital or paperback copy of

The Red Ribbon.


I wrote my first story when I was a nine-year-old, freckled-faced tomboy in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains (my earlier writings wouldn’t have been considered “books”, more like short stories). Coming from a long line of oral storytellers, weaving a good yarn seemed a typical part of my life.  It wasn’t until I finished college, had two children, and a full-time job before I began to study the ‘craft’ of writing (you know when I had plenty of time).

My music-director turned pastor husband took his first senior pastor position eight years ago, moved the 6 of us to Tennessee, where we added our fifth and final kid to the Basham crew. And now hubby is a music minister in Asheville, NC. Yep, we love the Blue Ridge Mountains.

So…now I’m an older, freckled-faced mommy enjoying life, learning to write, and laughing often.  My mom says that I must have a small bit of insanity because I don’t realize how stressed I ought to be.

I’m also a speech-language pathologist who spends her time hanging out with kids who have social communication and language difficulties! It’s a challenge and a blessing – and constantly teaches me about the importance of thinking outside the box!

You can get to know me on FacebookInstagramPinterest, or Twitter.

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62 thoughts on “Gunslinging, Mary Connealy, and The Red Ribbon”

  1. Larry Gardner, third baseman with the Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, and Cleveland Indians; born in Enosburg Falls (1886). This is the only thing that I know of.

  2. John Wilkes Booth was born and raised here. I’ve toured the house.

    There’s a mural of his brother, Frank, acting at the post office. They were a family of actors.

  3. Oakboro, NC, came into existence when the railroad came through in the early 1900s. It was one of the sites of the major military maneuvers just prior to WWII, and General George Patton visited. (I am one of your fans, Pepper. I especially loved your Mitchell’s Crossroads series.)

    • Another North Carolinian!! And thank you for your kind words, Janice! I LOVE visiting Mitchell’s Crossroads and hope to take readers back there in the future!

  4. I’ve never heard about this tragedy. I can imagine why people in your town still pick sides, the loss of lives over a feud is so terrible. It must ache to even discuss it for the locals who’s ancestors had to go through it. Hi Pepper, I was so excited for your blogpost! thank you for this information. I adore your writing, your series ‘Mitchell’s Crossroads’ are my all time favorite and I’m so excited about The Red Ribbon. Writing about a tragedy in depth like it happened in front of your eyes must have been such an experience. There was this shooting that happened in my town five years ago when I was in eight grade, a criminal escaped our local jail and he opened fire in an elementary school just next to my school. It was a traumatic experience. Our teachers made us do a presentation on it later that year to help us open up about the feelings we all experienced, and writing about it was so hard but so strengthening; knowing that we survived and got past that. And I love what you said about hope, it is very difficult to find in situations like this, but it is always there no matter what.

    • February, that would have been TERRIFYING to have happen in your town??!!! This one was distanced from me over time, but I can’t even imagine what these folks saw – even though shooting and things were unfortunately commonplace. (And I love visiting Mitchell’s Crossroads too!! I hope to bring readers back there in the future). I’m glad your teachers were proactive in helping people process what happened in your hometown.

  5. Hello Pepper! The Red Ribbon sounds so thrilling, I love stories that are based on real events. They make me feel like I was there, feeling all the fear and tension there was. I think it’s so brave that you chose to dwell into this incident for another of your marvellous stories. Bringing the tragic event back will ensure people don’t forget it, or the brave lives that were lost in it.? Also, can I just fangirl for a moment and tell you how much I love your Penned in Time series? It is so flawless and I will forever obsess over all the characters and their stories.

    • Daniyah!!! Oh wow!!! It isn’t very often that people mention my debut series! I’m SOOOO glad you enjoyed it. That one is very dear to my heart because of the issues I tried to carefully approach and unfold. THANK YOU!! (which is your fav. I’d have to say that David and Catherine have my heart 4ever!)

  6. Hello Pepper! The Red Ribbon sounds so thrilling, I love stories that are based on real events. They make me feel like I was there, feeling all the fear and tension there was. I think it’s so brave that you chose to dwell into this incident for another of your marvellous stories. Bringing the tragic event back will ensure people don’t forget it, or the brave lives that were lost in it.? Also, can I just fangirl for a moment and tell you how much I love your Penned in Time series? It is so flawless and I will forever obsess over all the characters and their stories.

    • Debra! I am JUST NOW writing about a kid who moved around all the time because her dad was an army chaplain. She’s trying to “Find home” 🙂 THanks for stopping by!!

  7. I grew up in a small community called High Bridge and it had the tallest railroad bridge in the world before the 1900’s and its still a historical site today. I can’t wait to read your book sound really good.

  8. I’ve loved these true crime series. Isn’t it crazy what tragedy can happen from a simple thing? I don’t know that my hometown has any significance in history. It’s just a quiet farming community.

  9. Welcome. Your book Red Ribbon sounds amazing.
    I live in Hugoton, KS and in the last 7 years we found out that Bonnie (on a side note Bonnie is a distant cousin of mine) & Clyde actually lived here for a while. Bonnie worked as a waitress in Jewels Cafe and Clyde worked for farmers. They went by an alias. About 7 years ago where the Jewels cafe used to be, a wall was torn out in a remodel and many artifacts was found in the wall.
    It was quite surprising. Now we have a newly opened nice restaurant and Bar called Bonnie and Clydes and the artifacts and memorabilia are displayed.
    Thank you for visiting snd your book sounds amazing.

  10. Peppy, nice to see you in another venue. This looks good. I’ve lived for years in small New England towns, and the secrets they harbor go back generations. The difference is we don’t use guns, we just purse our lips in disapproval.
    I’m from Concord, New Hampshire, which was also the home of astronaut/teacher Christa McAuliffe, President Franklin Pierce, Rumford Baking Powder and the Concord Coach, which opened up the west.
    Please enter me in the drawing!
    Kathy Bailey

  11. Hello Pepper I Haven’t got any stories to tell but Your book sounds amazing Thanks for the chance to win!

  12. This story sounds great!! I don’t know of anything about my actual hometown, but the town right next to us has the distinction of being a town where The Doors Jim Morrison was born.

  13. In our Old Town each weekend there were these re-enacted gunfights which were very realistic and well portrayed. A wild west city where lawlessness still is evident.

  14. I live in Santa Barbara and while we have had many recent stories, such as our mud and debris flow and the wild fire that lead to it our history has our coast being targeted during WWII which also lead to a dark period for our Japanese-Americans families.

    The Bombardment of Ellwood during World War II was a naval attack by a Japanese submarine against United States coastal targets near Santa Barbara, California. Though damage was minimal, the event was key in triggering the West Coast invasion scare and influenced the decision to intern Japanese-Americans.

  15. Where I was born and lived most of my life, food, especially the best bagels on the planet. Open 365 days a year and fresh from the oven.

  16. They city where I reside is old, historic, earthy and very authentic. Doesn’t put on airs and is known for the unique topography and setting which is outstanding and incomparable.

  17. My current series is very LOOSELY based on my own hometown’s history. So yeah, I’ve got some back ground. No shooting for our town’s founder but he was a SCOUNDRAL. And then I added my own shooting of course. 🙂 The book sounds great, Pepper

  18. I live in the US but you can see Canada just across the lake, so during Prohibition there was a TON of smuggling in the area. There’s a whole block of houses near my street where there’s underground tunnels, used by the mob. And there’s a secret room in the basement of my house where they likely hid alcohol during that time period too!

    I also live near the site of a Fox Indian massacre that happened in the 1700s (I used to ride my bike over those grounds nearly everyday on my way to swim practice when I was younger) and some people say the houses on that land are haunted. We’re a small-ish community of about 11,000, but we’ve got a lot of history!

  19. Oh, you are a girl after my own heart! I knew before you even told it was Hillsville! I have visited there at least once a year, for the last 20 years. That area, Blue Ridge Parkway, Mabry Mill, Arlene Puckett (the midwife who lost all of her own children in infancy), is SO full of stories! In my wildest dreams, I had wanted to buy the “Allen Mansion” and restore it to it’s natural beauty…then my husband, through one incredible look as though he was ready to take me to an insane ward, clipped my wings thoroughly. I was so afraid it was going to ruins, but I see that someone in the historical society got behind an effort and it is being restored! Yippee! I can’t wait to read your book!

    • Lynne! YES!! It’s being restored!! I am SOOOO excited about that. It was heartbreaking to see that beautiful house fall into disrepair!! That part of the world has my heart!

  20. Hey Pepper! My hometown is know for its bird sanctuary. I’m looking forward to reading The Red Ribbon!

  21. Hi, wow, your book sounds like a very good read! I love your book cover, it is beautiful and it looks very intriguing ! I live in a small town in west Texas that used to be a Fort, and yes , there are many things that happened here in this small town. Thank you for sharing about your book, it sounds like a must read for me. Have a Great weekend and stay safe.

  22. In my hometown, an original Paul Revere bell hangs in the Town Hall belfry, and it rings each hour in sync with the town clock. It has also tolled the death of every President of the United States with the exception of George Washington.

  23. We now live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the Tennessee side, not very far from Asheville. I grew up on the other end of the mountain chain in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. There is a lot of history in both places. In New York, we lived on Lake Champlain where some pivotal naval battles were fought during the War of 1812. Here in Tennessee, we live in Jonesborough which is the oldest town in the state and was the state capitol at one time. Davey Crockett’s birthplace is a few miles down the road. Andrew Jackson practiced law in our town early in his career. The first abolitionist press was located here. The Overmountain Men marched from a nearby town over the mountains to fight in a crucial battle in the Revolutionary War at King’s Mountain. The home and tailor shop of President Andrew Johnson is in a down just 15 miles down the road.
    There is much more of interest here. If it is held this year, the International Storytelling Festival is held in Jonesborough the first full weekend of Oct. The neighboring town of Erwin has their Apple Festival the same weekend. You are only about 65 miles away in Asheville (one of our favorite places). Erwin has its own claim to fame having hung an elephant.
    When we travel we always look for interesting information about the places we visit. The world is full of interesting history and folklore.
    (If you haven’t found it yet, Well Bread in Asheville and Weaverville, which is better, and Blue Moon Pizza in Weaverville are excellent.)

    • Patricia, I LOVE Jonesborough. Love the storytelling festival there!! and so much history. Our family lived in Johnson City for 8 years and I taught at ETSU. I would return to that part of the world in a heartbeat if I could.

  24. Maud Hart Lovelace based the town of Deep Valley in her Betsy-Tacy series on our hometown.

    It’s mentioned on the Little House on the Prairie TV series.

    The Jesse James and Younger Brothers gangs were going to rob its bank in 1876 but there were too many people outside so they went to another town and robbed the bank there. It didn’t go very well.

    It was the site of the largest mass execution in US history after the Dakota War of 1862.

  25. I am not aware of any special significance in my hometown. I know this area has Fort Meigs as well as other battles.

  26. Hi Pepper – Welcome to P & P. Your new book, The Red Ribbon, sound like a Awesome read. My hometown, Anderson, IN. is where the Anderson Indians lived on the White River and Mounds State Park is where some of them are buried.

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