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,
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