In a western mode today. My latest western historical romance, Rowena’s Hellion: The Victorians – Book Two was released last week. Check it out on Amazon or The Wild Rose Press site where the Ebook version is discounted to half price. In order to find names of people in the book, for they came over from England and Scotland, I had to research the names of that time and place. There was a list on one of the sites I went to that named all the people who came in the first emigration to Victoria, Kansas. I stole first and last names, but mixed them all up so they wouldn’t be the real people. The one real name I used was the founder of Victoria, George Grant.
Mason Holcomb was scheduled to hang on the gallows at Fort Smith on April 17, 1885. A native of Kentucky, he had migrated to Missouri after being mustered out of the Union Army. He married a woman known only as Miss Bridgeman, and took her to Arkansas where they lived for a while near Jasper in Newton County. From there he moved to Franklin County near Ozark, then migrated into Indian Territory. For seven months prior to the killing that would hand him a hanging sentence, he lived on the Canadian River near McAlester.
Later, folks claimed it was the devil in whiskey that brought about the killing, and it would seem so. For Mason and his friend Siegel Fisher were working in the hay fields and on July 23, the two became intoxicated. Late one evening they started home and on the way Mason killed Fisher. Who knows why? He claimed it was a fight Fisher started that escalated into the killing.There was no witness to the deed, and leaving the body out in the open, Mason fled to his native state of Kentucky. In 1884 he was arrested by a brother of the man he had murdered and taken to Fort Smith for trial.
He pled not guilty, saying that Fisher had a pistol and he pulled it, so the killing was in self-defense. The trial lasted over a week. Because Fisher was shot in the back and there was no evidence of a struggle in the grassy area where the body was found, the jury returned with a guilty verdict.
The gallows at Ft. Smith, Arkansas where many a man hung from a rope during the reign of Judge Isaac Parker
I found a list in the same article which told of several outlaws who received “guilty” verdicts, over a period of those few days prior to April 17, 1885 when Holcomb was sentenced to be hanged, and they were commuted to life. Among them was a white man who lived under the name of Blue Duck.
I can see McMurtry, paging through those old records and running across that fascinating name, filing it away somewhere in his writer’s mind and pulling it out when he began to create his characters for Lonesome Dove. Or perhaps he found the name somewhere else, or maybe he simply made it up. Yet I prefer to think he read the same article I did and remembered the name.
In one of my earlier western historical romances, Angels’ Gold, available on Kindle, I used an old telephone directory from the small town of Circleville, Kansas, where the book takes place. Mixing first and last names I came up with some good names that fit the time and the place. Western historical writers have to be careful not to use names like Lance and Dylan, Madison and Shelby. Way too modern and misplaced for the early American West.