Last week I wrote about Lonesome Dove. This week we’ll take a look at the inspiration for the book.
In June 1866, former Texas Ranger Charles Goodnight and cattle rancher Oliver Loving went into partnership to drive cattle to western markets. Settlers, soldiers stationed on forts and Navajos recently placed on reservations were all demanding food supplies, and the two men took a chance that their venture would be profitable.
They planned to drive 2000 Longhorn cattle from Texas to Wyoming on a trail that later became known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail. That meant passing through dangerous Indian territory. But given Loving’s knowledge of cattle and Goodnight’s background as a Texas Ranger and Indian fighter, the two men were confident they could succeed.
Not only was their venture a success, but it also led to an amazing act of friendship that inspired the Pulitzer prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove.
Things went well for the two men until their third drive in 1867. Heavy rains slowed them down. To save time, Loving went ahead of the herd to secure contracts, taking a scout with him. Despite telling Goodnight that he would travel only at night through Indian country, he rode during the day.
That turned out to be a bad decision as he was trapped by Comanches along the Pecos River. Though he was shot in the arm and side, he managed to escape and reach Fort Sumner.
His injuries were not life-threatening, but he developed gangrene. The doctor at the fort was unwilling to do an amputation and Loving died. He was buried at the fort, but that was not his final resting place. Before Loving died, he turned to his good friend Goodnight and asked that his body be returned to Texas. He did not want to be buried in a “foreign land.”
Goodnight promised Loving that his wish would be carried out, and that was a promise he meant to keep. But honoring his friend’s request couldn’t have been easy.
Credited with inventing the chuckwagon, Goodnight arranged for a special wagon and metal casket to be built. With the help of Loving’s son, Joseph, he had his friend’s body exhumed and carried him 600 miles back to Texas—an act of friendship matched by few.
Loving is buried in Weatherford, Texas.
What is the truest form of friendship that you’ve experienced?
“Yesterday’s gone on down the river and you can’t get it back.” -Lonesome Dove
One of my favorite books is Lonesome Dove, which was made into a TV mini-series. Written by Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove isabout two retired Texas Rangers, “Gus” McCrae and “Woodrow” Call who drive a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning story is loosely based on the true story of Charles Goodnight’s and Oliver Loving’s cattle drive from Texas to Montana. Goodnight and Loving were close friends. Before Loving died, he asked that his body be returned to Texas. He did not want to be buried in a “foreign land.” Charles Goodnight and Loving’s son, Joseph, carried the metal casket 600 miles back to Texas.
In Lonesome Dove, Gus dies and Call (played by Tommy Lee Jones) hauls his friend back to Texas as promised. If this doesn’t make you cry, I don’t know what will.
McMurtry originally wrote the story as a short screenplay named the Streets of Laredo. It was supposed to star John Wayne as Call. But Wayne dropped out and the project was abandoned. 15 years later McMurtry saw an old bus with the phrase “Lonesome Dove Baptist Church” on it. He rushed home to revise the book into a novel and changed the name. (Ah, inspiration.)
The book went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. The mini-series also won many awards, including a Golden Globe. It was cheated out of the Emmy for best mini-series by War and Remembrance. Considered the “Gone With the Wind” and “Godfather” of Western movies, Lonesome Dove has sold more DVDs than any other western.
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Robert Duvall as Gus, but he was actually offered the role of Woodrow Call, and turned it down. His wife had read the book and told him, “Whatever you do, don’t let them talk you into playing Woodrow F. Call. Gus is the part you should play.”
James Garner was also considered for the role, but he had to turn it down because of health problems.
McMurtry said that he wrote Lonesome Dove to show the real hardships of living a cattleman’s life vs. the romantic life many think they lived. Some think he failed in this regard. Instead, many readers and critics see Lonesome Dove as a celebration of frontier life.
What is your favorite western book, movie or TV show?
Here we are on another wonderful Tuesday and today I thought I’d post an excerpt from WOLF SHADOW’S PROMISE today. If you go to Amazon, you’ll see that this is one of the books that I’m advertising at the moment. It is part of the Legendary Warrior Series, that I wish to bring more attention to. As an aside, I loved this series. Of course, I love all the series’, but there is/was something I always considered special about the Legendary Warrior Series.
The book, set in Montana, is about a man determined to save his people from the whiskey trade, which is killing his people (and the truth is, that the whiskey trade was doing just that at this time period in history). So come on in, scroll on down and I hope you will enjoy the excerpt. Oh, and before I forget, I will be giving away a free e-book of WOLF SHADOW’S PROMISE, so please do leave a comment. Over to the right here are our Giveaway Guidelines — these govern (so to speak) our give-aways. And don’t forget to check back Wednesday or Thursday night to see if you are a winner. I really do count on you to do so.
WOLF SHADOW’S PROMISE
“Come in, Little Brave Woman. The water is good, very, very good.”
Alys turned her head away from the man, her air dismissive. She heard his laugh and wondered what it might feel like to dunk him under that falling water. She felt certain it would bring her great relief.
She drew in a deep breath. She’d had no choice in accompanying him, of course.
She had watched him struggle toward the falls, had tried looking away, knowing he had exaggerated each and every falter in his step. Yet in the end, she had not been able to remain a simple observer.
She had come to his aid, had helped him through the tunnels and outside into the falls. She had even spied on him as he had undressed, much to her chagrin.
The flirt. He knew the effect he was having on her, seemed to relish in it.
“Hmmm. Feels good, this water,” he called to her again. “Are you certain you will not join me?”
“I am going to the house. I will come back here later and check on you.”
“What? And leave me here by myself?”
“Yes, and leave you here by yourself.”
“But what will you do if I fall? What if I need you to help me return to the cave?”
“You should have thought of that before you came here.”
“But I am thinking of it now. Can you really consider leaving me?”
A long silence befell them, and suddenly he was in front of her, dripping water all over her, with no more than a cloth covering his unmentionable parts. She stared up at him, shivers running up and down her spine. And it wasn’t from the cold: she didn’t need to be told twice how this man would look without that tiny bit of cloth covering him.
He said, “If you are not going to take advantage of the water, then I will dress and follow you back through the caves. But I think you are unwise to leave the bath, and me ready to attend your every—”
“Enough. Do you hear me? You have done nothing these past few days but bait me. And what do you mean, parading here in front of me with so little clothing on?”
“I am properly clothed.”
“I beg to differ. Do you think I don’t know what you look like without that…?” She felt a deep flush creeping up to her cheeks, saw a grin on his face. “How much of this do you think I can stand?”
“I do not know. A little too much in my opinion.”
“I am a friend. I am trying to help you recover from a gunshot wound. There is nothing more to it than that. This constant flirting with me must stop. Do you understand?”
“Me?” His look was comically innocent. “Flirting? What does this word mean?”
She frowned at him. He knew exactly what it meant. “You are impossible.”
“And yet I have only your good at heart.”
“Humph. I’m not so certain of that either.”
He smiled at her before, looking away, he suddenly frowned. “I think I am well enough to use some of my day in exercise.” He stole a glimpse toward the falls. “Have you heard any gossip about the whiskey schooners going north?”
“I…I haven’t asked.”
He sent her a hard look. “Would you…ask? I would know what is planned.”
“Why? You are not well enough to do anything about it. Not a thing.”
“I do not agree. Look you here to me. I am practically recovered.”
“So much so that you have needed my assistance to help you to your bath?”
He smirked. “That is different.”
“I hardly think so.”
He came down onto his knees before her, his dark eyes staring into hers, his look completely serious. “Would you please find out what you can? I cannot discover this on my own, for I cannot yet move about the fort with ease.”
“And you are in no shape to stage an attack on a whiskey schooner, even if there were any going north.”
“Still,” he persisted, “I must know.”
She hesitated, even while his dark eyes pleaded with her. She sighed, feeling as though she were putty in this man’s hands. Though she knew she might come to regret it, she found herself saying, “Very well, I will do it, this once, but only after you are fully recovered. Do you understand? Only then…”
He grinned. “And will you help me to recover?”
“Yes, I will try.”
“Aa, it is good.” He lifted one eyebrow. “And how will you help me, do you think? I have many ideas…”
I’m so happy, happy to FINALLY share TO MARRY A TEXAS OUTLAW with you! This release will make me twenty published books and short stories. Whew! I can’t believe it.
It seemed this third book of Men of Legend, the story you’ve all waited so patiently for, would never come. (A watched pot never boils.) I think you might find it well worth the wait. At least I’m hoping that’s the case.
At last, Luke Weston has the location for the man who pinned a federal judges’ murder on him. He’s searched for Ned Sweeney for two long years and finally has his location. He only has a one-hour window before Sweeney goes underground again. He’s riding to Dead Horse Creek when he sees a woman bound and gagged underneath a scrawny tree and covered in blood. He’s torn about what to do but his honor won’t let him ride on.
The woman doesn’t know her name, where she belongs, or how she got there. But she’s mad enough to whip someone.
Deliverance Canyon is close by. He decides to take her there to Tally Shannon and the other woman hiding out.
I often think of how scary it would be to wake up and not know who I was or where I lived. You would have no starting point or nothing to relate anything to. I can’t imagine. But Josie somehow keeps her sense of humor and stays optimistic for the most part. She trusts the outlaw Luke Legend and feels safe with him.
As pieces of her life slowly start to emerge, she falls deeper in love with Luke. It’s at that point she begins to pray she never finds out who she is because she senses it will change things between them. Something tells her that her past is riddled with bad people and she’s found contentment with Luke and hates the thought of that ending.
Despite the seriousness of her situation, she is so funny and sweet and I love that. I think you will too. But that doesn’t mean she’ll be a doormat for anyone. She’s quite a fighter.
I think that’s what Luke likes most about her. She takes whatever life throws at her and finds a silver lining.
This story is full of twists and turns and Luke will steal your heart—all over again. Will he clear his name and get to claim the Legend name? So many forces are working against him. And Josie too. You’ll just have to see. All I can say is you’d better hold on tight.
Many secrets are revealed, and love claimed. By the end of the book, Luke and the Legend family will forever remain etched in your memory.
In Texas some legends are born, some are made
…and some are created by destiny.
In this story, the legend is that whoever sleeps beneath the Texas star will find his true worth. Luke does that in this story and gets the affirmation he seeks.
Do you know of any legends? Maybe you’ve read about some in other books. Or maybe a book about amnesia. Leave some kind of comment to be entered in my giveaway for one of three copies of the book.
I blame Louis L’Amour for my cowboy addiction and fascination with the Old West. Decades after I picked up Westward the Tide I still have every title he wrote. The print size might make me squint, and the pages are dog-eared and yellowed, but his books are still my favourite companions.
I grew up chasing sheep on a family farm in Australia and haven’t strayed far from my country roots. I now live on a small farm with my husband, four children and far-too-many fence jumping cows. I’ve also lived in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and whenever its fall over there I still think of the golden beauty of the aspens.
When I first put pen to paper all my stories played themselves out against a frontier backdrop. And, thanks to Louis L’amour, they still do. Whether my historical or contemporary characters are riding the range in Montana or working cattle in the red dust of the Outback, my books all feature a hero, or heroine, who embodies the cowboy code.
Life on the land can be challenging and it takes a certain set of timeless values to survive. A cowboy needs to be resilient, courageous and honourable. He needs to finish what he starts and to do what needs to be done. His word needs to be his bond and his loyalty unquestionable. A cowboy also needs respect for himself as well as those around him.
A cowboy’s body is honed by hard work out in the sun, rain or snow. His work ethic and commitment ensures that when he rides for a brand he won’t deviate. His toughness is always tempered by tenderness. And last but not least, a cowboy looks good in dust, denim and boots.
My contemporary Wildflower Ranch series set in Montana is filled with rugged cowboys and self-reliant cowgirls. My next series (which can’t wait to start) will be a Wildflower Ranch historical series which will explain how each high-country ranch got its wildflower name.
The final book of my contemporary series, His Christmas Cowgirl, will be out October 25.
Headstrong cowgirl Peta Dixon has put her life on hold this Christmas to prove she can run her ranch as well as any man. There isn’t anything she can’t ride, fix, or stare down, and the only things to scare her are long hemlines and sky-high heels.
Self-made rancher Garrett Ross normally doesn’t take orders – he gives them. But when asked to step in to act as a temporary foreman on a Montana ranch over the holidays, he can’t refuse.
Yet when Garrett meets the beautiful and stubborn ranch owner, he realizes he’s signed on for a whole lot of trouble. Cynical and jaded, he has no time for feelings. And when Peta meets the man she’s to share her life with until Christmas, she discovers she no longer wants to be the person others expect her to be…
Will the rancher finally listen to his heart and admit he can’t live without a certain straight-talking cowgirl?
Thanks so much for having me over! I’d love to hear if anyone has a favourite Louis L’amour book, or even just an all-time favourite book by any author. You may even have more than one.
I will be giving away a kindle eBook copy of any of my Wildflower Ranch titles to two people who comment. Winners will be chosen at random.
And for anyone who would like a FREE copy of my first Wildflower Ranch book, Cherish Me, Cowboy, please click here: FREE COPY
I’ve always been interested in history and did a lot of research on the West while I was writing the Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes (Cengage, 2012). I also spent time in Arizona after my father moved to a ghost town near the Mexican border, and I was fascinated by the area around Tombstone, where much of the WANTED series is set.
In the first book in the series, Grace and the Guiltless,Grace is the lone survivor after outlaws massacre her family. She risks her reputation by entering the notorious Bird Cage Theater to report the crime to the sheriff:
Clouds of smoke enveloped Grace. Like the black, acrid smoke from the burning cabin that still clung to her pores and clothes, the sweetish cigar smoke and the sharper scent of burning tobacco from hand-rolled cigarettes suffocated her. Raucous laughter, the tinkle of a piano, and the clink of glasses pulsed through the room. The infamous alcoves, or bird cages, some with their red velvet curtains drawn, perched overhead like rows of fancy packages.
Her eyes stinging from the haze, Grace squinted to find the sheriff. So many black frock coats blurred into an indistinguishable mass…
Disentangling herself from pawing hands as she crosses the room, Grace irritates the sheriff by separating him from the painted lady keeping him company.
The heavyset man frowned at her. “So, what can I do for you, Miss —”
“Grace Milton, sir. Yesterday my parents . . . my whole family . . .” Grace’s tongue tripped over the words. If she said them aloud, it would make it real. But if she didn’t, those killers would get away with what they had done. “Elijah Hale and his gang . . . they shot my pa, and-and…”
The sheriff’s face paled at the mention of Hale’s name, but he leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers, though his hands shook slightly. “Mr. Hale is well known in these parts as a respectable man.”
Respectable man? A picture imprinted itself on Grace’s mind – Hale smiling, his gun pointed straight at her father’s heart.
The sheriff pulled a cigar from his vest pocket and rolled it between his fingers, avoiding her eyes.
“Did you hear me? Hale killed my pa. And my ma, and my—”
The sheriff chomped down on the cigar, twisted, and then spat the end into the nearby spittoon. The wad hit the brass with a wet ringing sound. “Any witnesses?”
“Me,” Grace choked out.
Sheriff Behan lit his cigar and blew a puff of smoke in Grace’s direction. “Not sure your word,” he said, his gaze raking her disheveled appearance, “would stand up against Hale’s.” He waved his cigar in a dismissive circle. “You bring me some proof, and I’ll consider looking into it.”
A white-hot volcano of rage erupted in Grace’s stomach. Did that badge glinting at her from across the table mean anything at all?
“My family’s dead in the ground.” She sucked in air to control the tremor in her voice. “I dug their graves myself.” She held out her blistered and bloodied hands. “Is that proof enough for you?”
Something flickered in the sheriff’s eyes. Pity maybe? But he quickly shuttered it. “That’s a sad story Miss Milton, but people die every day.” His voice loaded with fake sympathy, he continued, “Lots of Injuns ’round here. Renegade soldiers. Hermits. Even coyotes. Understandable you’d be a mite mixed up following such a tragedy. You being hysterical and all.”
“I. Am. Not. Hysterical.” Grace spat out each word. Furious, yes. Hysterical, no. Although he was rapidly pushing her in that direction. She’d get no help from this snake.
As Grace suspects, the sheriff is in cahoots with the gang, so she trains as a bounty hunter to singlehandedly track down the criminals. One reviewer calls her the “Katniss of the Wild West.” But when Grace falls for Joe, a?rugged range rider, can she give up her independence to take on a partner?
In book 2, Her Cold Revenge, Grace must prove her skills and stop a train robbery masterminded by the outlaws who slaughtered her family. And as she slowly opens her heart to both Joe and the Ndeh tribe, who take her in, her heartache begins to heal. Yet she’s still torn between revenge and love.
“Every second had me on the edge of my seat…”
“I’ve never been so moved by a book. You honesty made me cry…”
The books in the WANTED series came out in the UK first, and then in the U.S., with different covers.
Erin Johnson grew up watching classic western movies with her father, which fueled her lifelong love of horseback riding. She’s always dreamed of being a fierce-talking cowgirl, but writing about one seemed like the next best thing. She loves traveling, painting, and teaching, and she writes under several pseudonyms for both children and adults.
Giveaway! : Erin has a great giveaway with two separate winners! For a chance to win, leave a comment for Erin and you’ll be entered. One winner will receive a copy of Grace & the Guiltless and the second winner will receive a copy of the recipe book, Feast on Fiction!
Often, as I research a historical book, I run across some little factoid that sets my imagination going. It sometimes has nothing to do with the story I’m researching, and I must store it away from a future book. That’s what happened to me a couple of years ago with what ultimately ended up being the basis for my latest historical, THE RUINATION OF ESSIE SPARKS.
I happened upon a story about the Industrial Schools for Indian Children that popped up in the late 19th century just as the Native Americans were forced onto reservations. I was quite stunned to discover that the government had systematically taken the Native American children from their families and sent them to what amounted to military-like boarding schools where they were stripped of their language, their culture, their long hair and even their names. These schools were often church run, and operated on the necessity of saving the souls of heathen children, but that wasn’t their only goal.
The government cloaked the education of these children in the American culture, forcing them to lose their connection to the tribes they left behind, while offering them little in the way of a future. Many children in these schools never made it out. Sickness and abuse was rampant and, despite BIA involvement, there was little government oversight. Ostensibly, the government believed that this cultural genocide—yes, I said it!—was necessary to help the children integrate into the white world. But it would appear they had no such ambition for them. Once the children had achieved a modicum of ‘education’ and they were mostly turned loose or returned to a culture they no longer felt part of, a wave of helplessness and despair swept over them.
Many turned to alcohol once back on the poverty-stricken reservation, a major problem that is still rampant today. What had once made the Native Americans strong was stripped from them piece by piece. Shortly after these schools came into being, the famous Ghost Dance began among the Indian nations, the last gasp hope that Native Americans might, somehow, miraculously, regain their culture, heritage and freedom. Sadly, that was not to be.
I was even more shocked to learn that these boarding schools existed right up until the 1980’s-90’s, when they were finally closed, following protests and legislation reform. The backlash of the boarding school experience is still visible on reservations today; a fact conveniently omitted from our school history books, along with much else that was done to that amazing culture. In many tribes, their native language is all but forgotten. If you’re interested in hearing more about Indian Boarding Schools, there’s an amazing and heartbreaking documentary about it called “Our Spirits Don’t Speak English.”
In my book, THE RUINATION OF ESSIE SPARKS, Essie is a woman who has lost everything and finds work teaching at one of these schools in the rough world of Montana Territory. The job was not what she expected. My hero, a half-breed Cheyenne who’s come in the dead of night to steal away/rescue one of the children, ends up stealing Essie instead, when the boy is nowhere to be found. The book follows their journey together as they run into the mountains to escape the men pursuing them and to find the boy. But in the end, this is a story of forgiveness and the choices these two very different people make between them and how Essie discovers her own power and finds herself. Is she ruined in the end? You’ll have to read it to find out. I can only say that I fell madly in love with both of them as I wrote this book, not only for their courage, but for their hearts. And besides, can’t all of us stand a little ruination now and then?
I hope you enjoy this book. THE RUINATION OF ESSIE SPARKS will be available for pre-sale soon. This is Book Two in my new Wild Western Rogues series, and if you’ve already read THE LADY TAKES A GUNSLINGER, (and I hope you have!) you’ll be happy to know you’ll run into my H&H from that book, Reese and Grace, in this one, too.
I’m giving away a $10 AMAZON GIFT CARD to one lucky commenter.
Just tell me what it is about Historical Western romance in particular you love?
It’s always so exciting when a new book comes out, but I’ve been chomping at the bit to get this one into the hands of readers ever since A Worthy Pursuit came out last June. My latest project, a novella titled The Husband Maneuver(from the collection With This Ring?), is finally here! I’ve been dying to share Daniel Barrett (aka Dead-Eye Dan) and Marietta Hawkins’s story with you.
Dead-Eye Dan is a dime novel hero inspired by the exploits of Daniel Barrett during his bounty hunting days, but Dan gave up that life to be an ordinary mule trainer. Only, the dratted dime novels keep glorifying his past and making it impossible to escape. He’s been in love with his boss’s daughter for two years, but his promise not to make advances while in Jonah Hawkins’s employ has kept him silent about how he feels. That and the fact that he worries Etta couldn’t love an ordinary mule trainer if her head was full of dime novel nonsense.
Marietta loves the man, not the legend, but when Dan decides to leave her father’s ranch for good in order to start his own spread, she panics, fearing she’s about to lose him forever. She takes drastic measures to convince him of her wifely suitability, but when a deadly hailstorm hits the ranch, will her dreams shatter like broken window glass?
With all the dime novel aspects in this novella, I wanted to work in actual scenes from a Dead-Eye Dan novel. Those scenes ended up being my favorite sections to write. I start each chapter with a Dead-Eye Dan excerpt, so the reader gets to enjoy two stories in one!
I thought I would share one of the Dead-Eye Dan excerpts with you. Enjoy the over-the-top sensationalist dime novel style.
Dead-Eye Dan climbed the tall oak with the skill of a cougar. Jaw tight, he scaled the tree hand-over-hand, his gaze locked on the v-shaped branch above his head. He had one chance to slow his prey. One chance to gain the upper hand. He wouldn’t squander it.
When he reached the branch he sought, Dan positioned himself in the cradle, bracing his legs against the sturdy trunk. In a single, smooth motion, he slid his Remington long range rifle from the custom holster on his back and lifted the Vernier peep sight into position with a flick of his thumb. The walnut stock fit against his shoulder as if it were an extension of his body.
Dan leaned forward and rested the barrel against the branch in front of him, notching it against a broken twig’s stub to keep it steady. He located his target. Four horses, 750 yards ahead. Four thieves and a woman. His woman. Taken when the desperadoes left the bank. They thought to use her as a shield to keep him at bay. A fatal error. The moment they touched Mary Ellen Watkins, they’d signed their death warrants.
–from Dead-Eye Dan and the Outlaws of Devil’s Canyon
Who are your favorite over-the-top cowboy heroes? From TV, movies, books – there are plenty to choose from.
I’m giving away 2 copies of With This Ring? today. Leave a comment to enter.
Readers of traditional westerns and western romance tend to expect certain kinds of characters in stories. After strong men and feisty women, far and away the next most expected character is a horse. That’s how western movies came by the somewhat pejorative monikers “oater” and “horse opera.”
I can’t speak for other western romance authors, but when I put a horse in a story, it can’t be just any old horse. The horse must fit the story and the human character with whom it pals around. All sorts of traits (including breed, size, and temperament) play into the decision, but one of the most obvious is coat color.
The color of a fictional horse says quite a bit about its rider. If a human character doesn’t want to stand out in a crowd, he or she most likely will ride a chestnut or sorrel, the two most common colors. Bays are another good choice for “don’t look at me” characters. Conversely, “flashy” horses—those with lots of white, like Appaloosas, palominos, and paints—send the subconscious message the character wants to be seen.
Duns and buckskins lend an aura of toughness to their riders, male or female. Don’t ask me why, but I’m sure there’s some complicated psychological explanation somewhere. And then there are the uncommon colors that make human characters seem rebellious: grullas and roans.
Because it sometimes can be difficult to visualize horse colors—and because everyone who reads western romance likes to look at pictures of pretty horses, right?—I thought I’d provide some helpful visuals.
Without further ado…
Chestnuts are red horses. Period. The shade can vary along a continuum from light to dark. Although manes and tails may be a lighter shade, they usually are the same color as the horse’s body. Liver chestnuts are so dark they seem almost brown. White blazes and stockings are optional. In Prodigal Gun, hero Mason Caine rides only “plain” chestnuts—ones with small or no white markings—because he wants to fade into the scenery.
Sorrels are red, too, but the line between sorrel and chestnut can be vague. Sorrel is a light, bright red—sometimes described as “copper penny red.” Some folks call sorrels a subset of chestnut; others say sorrel is distinct from chestnut because true sorrels have flaxen manes and tails. I’m staying out of that argument. Brit Moonchaser, the main characters in my forthcoming novel Ghosts in the Shadows, rides a sorrel gelding with a flaxen mane and tail—mostly because I like the color.
Bay horses range from a light reddish-brown to a dark, almost black, red. All bay horses have black manes, tails, and lower legs (called “points”). The darkest are called mahogany bay. One of the most striking bays, I think, is blood bay—a deep, bright red. “Flashy” blood bays are particularly attractive. A dangerous, flashy blood bay stallion plays a significant role in Ghosts in the Shadows.
Buckskins are tan or golden horses with dark
manes, legs, and tails. The tips of their ears also sport dark hair. White stockings and blazes are not uncommon. Cole McCord, the Texas Ranger in Prodigal Gun, rides a buckskin gelding. Cole is a by-the-book, no-nonsense lawman.
Duns often are confused with buckskins. Their coats run the same color spectrum, and both have dark points. The difference is this: Duns bear “primitive markings”; buckskins don’t. Primitive markings include a dark line down the center of the back from withers to tail, a dark splash across the shoulders, zebra stripes on the legs, and rings on the forehead (called “cobwebbing”). Many of the markings may be virtually invisible, but the line down the back is a dead giveaway and it’s always present. Often, duns’ tails will bear a dark stripe, as well. Whit McCandless, the rancher with an inflexibility problem in the short novella Peaches, rides a lineback dun.
Grullas or grullos (grew-ya; grew-yo) are essentially blue duns, a color combination that occurs when the dun coat color gene crosses the black coat color gene. Grullas/grullos (either is correct), sometimes called “mouse duns,” also bear primitive markings. The color is striking, if uncommon. Quinn Barclay, the hero in the award-winning short novella The Second-Best Ranger in Texas, rides a grulla gelding with a drinking problem.
Roans come in red, bay, and blue. They look “mottled” because white hair mixes with the horse’s base color evenly across most of the body. Roans’ heads and lower legs are the solid base color. Blue roans have black heads, manes, and tails. Bay roans have black manes, tails, and legs. Red roans—sometimes called strawberry roans—have chestnut heads, manes, tails, and legs. Latimer, a gunman who wants everyone to know who he is, rides a strawberry roan gelding in Prodigal Gun.
Paint and pinto horses are marked with large splotches of white and any other color. (In the Old West, the terms paint and pinto were interchangeable. Nowadays there are technical differences between the two having to do with bloodlines.) Paints come in three varieties—Tobiano, Overo, and Tovero—but unless an author is writing a contemporary story set among the horsey set, nobody cares. Jessie, the heroine in Prodigal Gun, is rebellious from the word go. Her horse, Caliente, is a black-and-white paint mare.
Palominos can range in color from almost white to deep chocolate, but the vast majority have coats “within three shades of a newly minted gold coin.” All have white or flaxen manes and tails. Everyone remembers Roy Rogers’s Trigger, right?
Appaloosas are easy to spot. (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.) The breed is said to have originated among the Nez Perce Indians, who bred them for their spotted coats. Appies can be almost any base color and come in several patterns, but perhaps the best known are leopards (spots evenly distributed over a light-colored horse) and blankets (commonly a splash of white with spots across the rump of a darker base coat, although there are other blanket patterns). Many have striped hooves. Varnish roan is an exceptionally striking and uncommon version of the leopard pattern and is distinguished from other roans by the appearance of dark spots over prominent bones (hips, knees, facial bones, etc.). I haven’t found a character in need of an Appaloosa yet, but I’m sure I will.
What’s your favorite horse color? One of these? Something else? Let us know in the comments. I’ll draw the name of one commenter, and that person will receive a KINDLE version of his or her choice from my backlist. (All Petticoats and Pistols sweepstakes rules apply to this giveaway.)
I’ve been asked by a few people why I chose Lecompton, Kansas, to be the setting of my second book, and the simple answer is: my publisher, Rebecca Vickery at Western Trailblazer, asked for a follow-up effort. I was not planning on writing a second novel, figuring on being a one-and-done author after Borrowed Guns, so when asked for a new effort featuring the same two main characters, I balked by saying I didn’t have any ideas for a story. This was the truth as I am not a very imaginative person, and I also made it clear at the end of the first book there were no further adventures involving the two.
Rebecca then suggested taking an incident mentioned in Borrowed Guns, and making a short story out of it (does a hundred and fifty-five thousand words qualify as short?), featuring one of the characters. Lucky for me, I set that event twenty years earlier in the historically important city of Lecompton, just south of a rowdy little town called Rising Sun.
Rising Sun completely disappeared from the Kansas landscape within a few decades of its founding, unlike the more politically significant city of Lecompton across the Kansas River to its south, which has endured until this day. With the population hovering around six-hundred in 2014, Lecompton is still a proud little town, never having forgotten the major role it played in precipitating the election of Abraham Lincoln, in turn leading to the secession of the southern states, and ultimately, the Civil War.
Following the opening of Kansas Territory, scores of Northerners and Southerners flooded the area in attempt to promote their ideological vision for the future state. Lecompton was the first official capital of the Kansas Territory and was originally founded as a pro-slavery settlement, boasting two newspapers, both in favor of making Kansas a slave state. By 1855, enough Missourians had crossed the border to illegally vote in a pro-slavery legislature which took up residence in Lecompton. Abolitionists in Topeka answered this chicanery by drawing up their own free-state constitution for Kansas, but President Franklin B. Pierce threw his support behind Lecompton, declared the Topeka government in rebellion and rebuked the Topeka constitution, ending its debate in the Senate.
Basking in Pierce’s support, Lecompton legislators drafted their own pro-slavery constitution and submitted it to a vote by the populace in 1857. To make certain it passed, the ballot box was again stuffed with pro-slavery votes from residents of Missouri who crossed the border to vote. The trickery was discovered when an informant saw the candle box containing the fraudulent ballots being buried by two legislative clerks. Upon investigation by the sheriff, it was later found, and a legitimate election was scheduled to be held. Two other constitutions were proposed prior to the new vote, with the free-state constitution winning the election, and all three sent to Washington to be debated on by Congress.
It was during this debate that the fight mentioned in the South of Rising Sun broke out on the House of Representatives floor. President James Buchanan, a pro-slavery advocate, urged the legislators to adopt the original Lecompton Constitution, but it was eventually by-passed in favor of the free-state constitution, paving the way for Kansas to enter the Union as a non-slavery state in January of 1861.
The Lecompton Constitution was mentioned thirteen times in the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates of the 1858 Illinois senatorial campaign. Democrat Stephen Douglas, who ran for president against Abraham Lincoln in 1860, refused to support the Lecompton constitution when it was being debated in Congress, arguing that the citizens of each territory should be allowed to decide the slavery issue by their own vote. Douglas’s outright refusal to support the Lecompton Constitution so enraged Southern Democrats that they split from their Northern counterparts and ran their own candidate for president against Lincoln and Douglas. In addition, a fourth candidate entered the race, and with the vote split four ways, Lincoln won the election with only thirty-three percent of the vote, and the rest became history.
The story is somewhat more complex than the distilled version I have related, but it would require an entire book to elaborate all the intricacies of the politics involved, and I have no intention of going down that path. It does, however, lay to rest the argument that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights.
Today, not a single trace remains of Rising Sun, but visitors to Lecompton (originally called Bald Eagle) can tour the Territorial Capital Museum and Constitution Hall and learn about the fascinating story behind this small but historically important Kansas town. Since doing extensive research for South of Rising Sun, I’ve become engrossed by Lecompton’s past and its role as “the birthplace of the Civil War.” Did you know Lecompton was also home to one of the biggest gunfights in the West? But that’s another story.
I’ll give an e-book of my latest historical western, South of Rising Sun, to ten readers who leave a comment about the setting, Lecompton, Kansas. The winners will be announced Sunday evening (Aug. 30).
J.D. McCall grew up in Kansas during the time when Westerns were king on television and at the movies. Living in a state that was home to such places as Abilene, Dodge, Wichita, and many other of the wickedest cattle towns ever found in the West, he was never far from Kansas lore, which included the legendary figures of Earp, Hickok, Masterson, and Cody. Not surprisingly, he has retained a great affection for that part of American history which was once the Old West. Born too late to be a cowboy, J.D. makes his living in this modern day as an industrial hygienist in the field of occupational health and safety. He continues to reside in the city of his birth, Ottawa, with his wife and three children.