November 29, 2009


The Crucial Importance of Research

by Stephen Bly

In a historical novel, even though the story’s fiction, the context of world events and famous persons who touch the lives of characters…should be based on fact. For instance, mention is made in my latest release, Creede of Old Montana, of William Frederick Cody. Mary Jane “Sunny” Cutler tells Avery John Creede about her contacts with Buffalo Bill, how she almost got Annie Oakley’s part, and why she can shoot so good. Had to do research to get the context right.

Meanwhile, I made sure I knew what else was going on in Avery John Creede’s world.

Around 1886. . . .

Folks read Mark Twain’s latest book, Huckleberry Finn.

Leland Stanford, railroad baron, founds and incorporates Leland Stanford Junior University, soon after the death of his son. . .built on the family farm, south of San Francisco.

Violent riots erupt against ethnic Chinese. In Seattle, for instance, 400 Chinese are driven from their homes.

California orange growers send their first trainload of fruit to eastern markets.

The Knights of Labor try to organize railroad workers. After several savage confrontations, they fail.

In the southwest, feared Apache chief, Geronomo, surrenders to Gen. Nelson Miles in Arizona Territory. He and his tribesmen are sent to Ft. Marion, FL.

What Avery John Creede didn’t know, as well as no one else in the West. . .the upcoming winter of 1886-87 would be the worst in history. Early November snows would not let up, until the grasslands got buried. Fatal for cattle who grazed all year and not winter fed. In late January, temps dropped to 50 below for several days. A high percentage of famine-weakened livestock died. Most ranchers went broke. Artist Charles Russell captured the effects of the unbearable winter in some of his paintings.

Back to William Cody. . .he was more than a showman and promoter. He was considered an authentic westerner. He began his career at age 11 as an extra for a freight carrier. He scouted with Johnston’s army to confront the “Mormon problem” in Salt Lake City. A buffalo hunter, a chief of army scouts, he rode the Pony Express at age 14.

In 1872 Cody received the Medal of Honor for “gallantry in action” while serving as a civilian scout for the 3rd Calvary. After that, he toured with his own company, the Buffalo Bill Combination, putting on western plays. In 1883 he started Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. The word “show” wasn’t used.

The world might consider him a showman, but the old timers out West knew he was the real deal.

On the trail,

Stephen Bly

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Add to "Comments" button: ANOTHER EVENT THAT HAPPENED AROUND 1886 THAT MIGHT IMPACT CHARACTERS IN CREEDE OF OLD MONTANA...we're looking for the most interesting historical fact.

Winner chosen Tuesday, December 1st.


Heidiwriter said...

This sounds like a fascinating book! Writers certainly has to do a lot of research to set the background, don't we?!

Stephen Bly said...

Greetings, Heidi: Nice to get your post. Research is part of the challenge and fun of writing a story.
On the trail,

Connie Sue said...

Hi Steve, In 1886, The Montana Central (Later the Great Northern) started building its tracks from great Falls on the west side of the river. (Like I know what the west side is! Ha!) Starting as a railroad-crew town, a new Settlement named Dodge appeared, complete with a Post Office run by Thomas Gorham as postmaster. When the railroad completed in 1887, the name was changed to Cascade. Just 2 months before, the Territorial Legislature established Cascade County from parts of Meagher, Choteau, Lewis and Clark, and Fergus. Before this action, the Missouri divided Lewis and Clark County from Meagher county. You no doubt know all this, but I reckon Avery John Creede saw some of this fine country. In 1885 a well-known African American woman named Mary Fields came as a free woman to St. Peter's Mission to help Mother Amadeus. She moved to Cascade in 1895 where she ran a restaurant, drove the mail stage to the missions, served as baseball team mascot, and baby-sat for several families. Maybe she and Avery John would have had an opportunity to cross paths! Keep on writing about these fascinating characters Steve. Can't get too much of them! Connie Sue

soccerkidsmom said...

In 1886 a young Theodore Roosevelt was on a hunting trip in Montana ; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were working within a day's ride of Hunter's Hot Springs. Avery John Creede may have run across the future president or Butch & Sundance in his travels and maybe hunted with them.

Vickie McDonough said...


Have you ever been to Medora, ND? I did some research for a three-book series there. Medora is a small town started by the Marquis DeMores, who was a French visionary married to a New Yorker. The marquis had a dream to ship butchered cattle back east in refrigerated rail cars instead of live cattle. He built a meat processing plant along the Little Missouri River(the smoke stack is still standing), but since that place was called Little Misery by the locals, he crossed the river and built his chateau on that side. His 26 room home still stands, and has many items that belonged to the DeMores family. You can tour it. I was fascinated with it all. The marquis also started a town, which he named after his wife, Medora.

As you've mentioned already, the cold winters a few years later, bankrupted the marquis and he left town. But his legacy still stands as a memorial to this brave, industious man.

FYI - the entrance to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is just outside of Medora.

Kris (Dudley) Zabala said...

Hi Steve and Janet,

This sounds "westerny": I found a few references to the nationwide strike for an 8 hour workday that began on May 1, 1886. The information I found said that the strike included a riot and bombing at a haymarket in Chicago on May 4 in which 7 police officers were killed and the accused were later hung. I would suppose that there were a few interesting things that happened as a result of the labor strike.

Kris (Dudley) Zabala said...

Hi Steve and Janet,

This sounds "westerny": I found a few references to a nationwide labor strike for an 8 hour workday which began May 1, 1886. The strike included a bombing at a Chicago haymarket on May 4. I would imagine that there are other interesting side stories that happened at that time which had to do with the strike. (This may be posted twice. I didn't see it when I looked).

Virginia C said...

September 4, 1886

The last American Indian warrior surrenders
For almost 30 years he had fought the whites who invaded his homeland, but Geronimo, the wiliest and most dangerous Apache warrior of his time, finally surrenders in Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, on this day in 1886.

Known to the Apache as Goyalkla, or "One Who Yawns," most non-Indians knew him by his Spanish nickname, Geronimo. When he was a young man, Mexican soldiers had murdered his wife and children during a brutal attack on his village in Chihuahua, Mexico. Though Geronimo later remarried and fathered other children, the scars of that early tragedy left him with an abiding hatred for Mexicans.

Operating in the border region around Mexico's Sierra Madre and southern Arizona and New Mexico, Geronimo and his band of 50 Apache warriors succeeded in keeping white settlers off Apache lands for decades. Geronimo never learned to use a gun, yet he armed his men with the best modern rifles he could obtain and even used field glasses to aid reconnaissance during his campaigns. He was a brilliant strategist who used the Apache knowledge of the arid desert environment to his advantage, and for years Geronimo and his men successfully evaded two of the U.S. Army's most talented Indian fighters, General George Crook and General Nelson A. Miles. But by 1886, the great Apache warrior had grown tired of fighting and further resistance seemed increasingly pointless: there were just too many whites and too few Apaches. On September 4, 1886, Geronimo turned himself over to Miles, becoming the last American Indian warrior in history to formally surrender to the United States.

After several years of imprisonment, Geronimo was given his freedom, and he moved to Oklahoma where he converted to Christianity and became a successful farmer. He even occasionally worked as a scout and adviser for the U.S. army. Transformed into a safe and romantic symbol of the already vanishing era of the Wild West, he became a popular celebrity at world's fairs and expositions and even rode in President Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade in 1905. He died at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1909, still on the federal payroll as an army scout. (

gcwhiskas at aol dot com

Anonymous said...

Hi Pastor Steve,
On June 2, 1886 Grover Cleveland became the first President to be wed while being President. He married Frances Folsom. Later that year, on October 28th, President Cleveland helped dedicate the Statue of Liberty. These two items did not happen in the west, but when the news of the President being married hit the hard working men and women of the west it would have caused a grand stir. Especially among the women, wondering what the bride wore during this special ceremony.
From LlamaMama Shelley in Winchester

Anonymous said...

Hello Steve,
Thanks for always taking time to write and research for your books. You are a great writer. Here are some very interesting facts I found:
Karl Benz patents the first successful gasoline-driven automobile.

Anglo-Chinese School,Singapore was founded by Bishop William Oldham.

Carrollton Massacre: 20 African Americans are killed in Mississippi.

The start of the general strike which eventually wins the eight-hour workday in the United States. These events are today commemorated as May Day or Labour Day in most industrialized countries.

Haymarket Square Riot: A bomb is thrown at policemen trying to break up a labor rally in Chicago, Illinois, United States, killing eight and wounding 60. The police fire into the crowd.

Pharmacist Dr. John Styth Pemberton invents a carbonated beverage that would later be named "Coca-Cola".

The New York Tribune becomes the first newspaper to use a linotype machine, eliminating typesetting by hand.

Earthquake kills 100 in Charleston, South Carolina

Indian Wars: After almost 30 years of fighting, Apache leader Geronimo surrenders with his last band of warriors to General Nelson Miles at Skeleton Canyon in Arizona.

The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works is finalized.

Typewriter ribbon patented.

In New York Harbor, US President Grover Cleveland dedicates the Statue of Liberty.

The ticker-tape parade is invented in New York City when office workers spontaneously throw ticker tape into the streets as the Statue of Liberty is dedicated.

Have a blessed day.

Stephen Bly said...

Greetings, everyone! Thanks for all the posts and entries...still time for more! Will pick out the winner sometime tomorrow....
On the trail,

Stephen Bly said...

Attention: Vickie McDonough...
Yep, I've been to Medora! I found it fascinating to visit. I sat a long time on the tailgate of my truck, trying to visualize what it looked like. I mention an old deserted Wyoming mansion in my Horse Dreams Series. Part of that scene was inspired by the one in Medora.
On the trail,

Charity said...

One thing I found was a hurricane and sea surge which killed 250 in Texas. I had never heard of this before so you helped me learn some things while doing research:) Another neat fact I found was that Coca-Coke was first sold in 1886, which later became known as... Coca Cola!! And my last thing is Apache Chief Geronimo surrendered which ended the last major US-Indian war. I would love to win this giveaway as my Brother loves reading your books:) Thanks for the chance to win this for him.

Emma said...

Creede of Old Montana sounds wonderful.Please enter me in the giveaway.augustlily06(at)aim(dot)com.Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I finished my first Stephen Bly book late last night (Hard Winter at Broken Arrow Crossing) and found the website today while searching for more information on Mr. Bly and his writings, so this entry may be late...

In 1886 Winchester produced the first model 1886 rifles. Most were chambered in .45-70 Government, which was the standard U.S. Army service cartridge at that time, and was by far the most popular caliber for buffalo hunters. The model 1886 was an extremely well-built, solid rifle that a character in Bly's book would undoubtedly have been proud to own.


Gabe Stayton
Donnelly, Idaho

Stephen Bly said...

Thanks for all your posts...great historical event entries! Will announce the winner real soon...but will be a real tough one to judge.
On the trail,

Stephen Bly said...

And now, TA DA...we would like to announce the winner of an autographed copy of Creede of Old Montana...soccerkidsmom!
Congratulations! One of the reasons you were picked, even though yours was among the shortest entries, is because these folks and events could have actually been used in the Creede story. Butch & Sundance didn't have much of a reputation yet in 1886, but they could have passed by or through. In addition, some of the characters in this western...Carla Loganaire's family...were friends of the Roosevelts, and Theodore Roosevelt in particular. Could have made more of this.

So, if soccerkidsmom would please e-mail us her snail mail address, we'll get this to you ASAP ... send to: janet(at)blybooks(dot)com

On the trail,
P.S. Really appreciate all of you and your hard work in making this a very interesting contest!

soccerkidsmom said...

Thanks so much, Steve. My dad was a huge western fan who loved Randolph Scott, John Wayne and Bonanza. I think he owned just about every movie they made. He didn't care for Clint Eastwood's 'westerns' though because he said they were too violent for him. :) I look forward to reading your book!

Molly Noble Bull said...

I agree with what you said. Character can be fiction, but history as well as local settings must be real.