by Stephen Bly
Letters received from fans of all ages who enjoy a story set in the Old West provide one of the unexpected pleasures of writing westerns. Kids offer welcome compliments. Gals ask questions. Guys give advice, such as point out potential historical errors. Readers seem to delight in correcting authors’ gaffs or typos. I enjoy all the correspondence and answer each one.
One time a young man from Saskatchewan, Canada, reminded me that the western part of his country was still called the British Possessions in the 1870s. I appreciated the info. He also inquired about why my hero carried a Colt .44 revolver instead of a .45 caliber model: “Wouldn’t he have wanted a bigger bullet?”
Well, my heroes, such as Stuart Brannon (Stuart Brannon Series) or Tap Andrews (Code of the West Series) tend to be pragmatic fellas. In my opinion, the best rifle or carbine in the Old West was the Winchester ’73. I also believe that the best handgun was the Colt Peacemaker (with the 7 ½ inch barrel). The Winchester ’73 fired a .44-40 bullet. You could also buy a Colt .44 and use that same bullet. That left one cartridge to purchase, which could cost a cowboy about $20 per thousand rounds. Plus, you only had one type of cartridge to reload. It made sense not to carry two different types of bullets in your belt. That’s why my battle-ready heroes carry ‘73s and Colt .44s. Not that all of them use their guns a lot. Most don’t.
However, Stuart Brannon once said that he never accepted a public office because he had killed too many men. All of them justified, of course. Many foes threatened his life. But, he knew, first hand, that taking a man’s life changes you. Stuart Brannon dealt with that reality with many meditations on the meaning of life and death. That, and his longings for the wife who died in childbirth, has resonated with many women readers. Maybe that’s one way my traditional historical westerns may be different than others. The hero’s not that anxious to shoot anyone. But he (or she) also knows there are incidents when he who hesitates will be the one shot. Especially when fighting the bad guy over a vicious vendetta. . .or triangle love interest.
As a rule, my heroines carry .32 caliber pocket pistols. However, in my WIP, The Lady Who Lingered Too Long, first book in the Creede of Old Montana Series, the gal named Sonny (alias Mary Jane Cutler) has no problem handling either of the aforementioned weapons. She’s trained plenty on the trick shooting circuit.