Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Hi everyone!

First, let me start off by saying that I'm giving away an e-copy of my book, FIRE EYES, today to one commenter! All you have to do is leave a comment and please include your contact info in case you win!

I have kind of an odd research topic today. Because everything I write takes place in Oklahoma or Texas, and because I was born and raised in Oklahoma, most of my research tools are right at my fingertips. Talking to older people in the area, going to the actual places where my stories are set, and visiting museums and landmarks are all part of my research practices for just about all my novels. Louis L’Amour said that if he wrote about a creek or a particular landmark, it was authentic; that is was actually where he said it was and looked the way he described it. I don’t quite go that far, but I try to keep the setting and every other component of my writing as true to life as possible. In order to do that, sometimes you just have to “be there.”

Tamaha, Oklahoma, was an unlikely candidate to be included in my story, FIRE EYES, until I visited there. But how its inclusion came about is a story in itself—and proves that sometimes our research, as that other saying goes, “happens.”

Though there’s very little to say about the actual town of Tamaha as it exists today, I couldn’t help but use it in my story, Fire Eyes, which was first released in May 2009 then re-released through WESTERN TRAIL BLAZER. In those long ago days of more than a century past, Tamaha was a thriving community.

There’s an odd thing that happened that made me include Tamaha in my book. I’d been working on it, and had come to the part where the villain and his gang needed to reference a landmark. But which one? And what was the significance? As I said, I try to stay as historically accurate in my writing as possible, and this story takes place in the eastern part of the state, toward the Arkansas/Oklahoma border. I must admit, I’m not as familiar with that part of the state as I am with the central part, since that’s where I was born and raised. A lot of these smaller towns don’t even dot the map, and I had never heard of Tamaha, until one day in May, 2005.

I’d just spoken with a lifelong friend, DaNel Jennings, who now lives in a town in that eastern area of the state. In the course of the conversation, she mentioned that she and her husband, Jeff, were doing some genealogical research and she had learned she had some relatives buried in a small cemetery in Tamaha. Now, the intriguing part of this was that her relatives bore the same last name as my maiden name, “Moss.”

“Wouldn’t it be funny if we really WERE related?” she asked. We’d always secretly hoped we were, and pretended that we were, when we were kids, growing up across the street from one another.

“Yes,” I said with a laugh, “but where in the HECK is Tamaha?” She began trying to tell me where it was, and I said, “Never mind. It’s a good thing Jeff knows where he’s going. Let me know what you find.”

I hung up, wistfully wishing that I could go with her—but that was a three-hour drive and they were leaving the next day.

A couple of hours later, my sister Karen called. “Cheryl, I need you to come down this weekend,” she said. I was really intrigued, because she is my “much older” sister—10 years older—and usually, it was me "needing" her for one thing or another, not the other way around.

“What’s going on?”

“I promised Mr. Borin I would take him to visit his family's graves in Tamaha—”

I never heard the rest of her sentence. I was sure I had misunderstood. “Where?”

“Tamaha," she repeated.

“Wait," I said. "I have to tell you something.” I couldn’t believe it. I’d never heard of this place before, and now, within the space of 2 hours, two people who were very close to me had told me they were going to be going to the cemetery there!

Chills ran through me. This was no mere “coincidence.” I promised her I would be there—no matter what—Friday afternoon. We would be going on Saturday morning.

I would never have found the place on my own. I doubt that Mapquest even has it on their site. But Mr. Borin, an older gentleman my sister had befriended in years past at church, knew exactly where to go. Once we got there, I stepped out and found the headstones for the “Moss” family. It was amazing to think that my best friend, DaNel, whom I had not seen in over a year, had been standing where I was just a few days earlier—a place neither of us had been before. Again, I wondered what our research through family ancestry would yield. Were we related, as we’d always hoped? There was an incredible sense of connection, for me, not only for what we were doing that day for Mr. Borin and his long dead relatives, but for what DaNel and I might discover about our own.

As the three of us, Karen, Mr. Borin, and I stood in the quiet peacefulness of the old cemetery, a man made his way toward us. “Can I help you?” he asked. We explained why we were there. “Let me show you the historical side of Tamaha while you’re here,” he said cheerfully. He had lived there all his life, and there was no detail about the once-thriving community and surrounding area that he didn’t know. He was glad to share his knowledge, and believe me, I was writing in my little notebook as fast as I could while he talked.

The cemetery is on a bluff overlooking the Arkansas River. “Right down there is where the J.R. Williams was sunk. She was a Confederate ship, but when the Union seized her, they changed the name to the J.R. Williams. Then, Stand Watie and his men seized her back.”(June 15, 1864) Our guide chuckled at the thought.

NOTE: (Stand Watie was one of only two Native American brigadier generals in the War Between the States. He was the last Confederate officer to lay down his arms, and was also Chief of the Cherokee Nation at the time.)

“Come on, I’ll show you the largest black oak tree in Oklahoma—and the oldest.” Sure enough, it stood towering over one of the first buildings of the settlement of Tamaha, dating back to the 1800’s.

Next, we visited the town jail, the oldest jail in Oklahoma, built in 1886. We were able to walk right into it and take pictures. “We’re trying to get money up to preserve it,” he said. It stood in the middle of an overgrown field. “Watch out for snakes, hon,” he told me. Yep, he didn’t have to tell me twice. My eyes were peeled. This oldest jail in Oklahoma still stands near Kerr Lake at Tamaha. Tamaha was one of the earliest port towns and trading centers in the Choctaw Nation, I.T. Choctaws were brought from Mississippi up the Arkansas River to Tamaha on steamboats as early as 1831.

Tamaha developed as a port and ferry crossing around 1836. The post office was built in 1884, and the jail in 1886. The last steamboat landed in 1912, three miles east of Stigler, another nearby landmark.

When we left, I knew I had my landmarks that I needed for my book. I had seen it, and my imagination took over. It was the “jog” I needed to get on with the writing, but I will never believe for one minute that it was coincidence.

I use many research resources, but because of the nature of what I love to write, and because I have been so blessed to actually grow up in the area that I’m writing about, I feel like the most invaluable resource available to me are the people and places I meet and visit. It’s all around me.

But my day of research at Tamaha is one that I will never forget, and that I’m so glad to have been able to take part in. Have any of you ever experienced anything like this? Some kind of remarkable occurrence that has affected your writing in some way? Do you classify that as “research”? Share it, if you have—I know I can’t be the only one!

Below is an excerpt from FIRE EYES. I hope you enjoy it!
Remember to leave a comment for a chance to win an e-copy of FIRE EYES! I'll draw a name this evening, so be sure to check back tomorrow morning to see if YOU are the lucky winner!


THE SET UP: A stranger has shown up at Jessica’s door in the evening. She is reluctant to let him inside, even though good manners would dictate that she find him a meal and a place to bed down. There is something about him she doesn’t like—and with good reason, as we find out.

“Evenin’, ma’am.”

The stranger looked down the business end of Jessica’s Henry repeater. It was cocked and ready for action.

She drew a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves. She stood just inside the cabin door, the muzzle of the rifle gleaming in the lamplight that spilled around her from the interior.

He raised his hands and gave her a sheepish grin. “Don’t mean to startle you. Just hopin’ for a meal. Settlers are few and far between in these here parts.”

“Where’s your horse?” She didn’t lower the gun.

“Well, funny thing. I kinda hate to admit it.” He rubbed the back of his neck and looked away. “I, uh, lost him. Playin’ poker.”


“Over to Tamaha.”

“You’re quite a ways from Tamaha,” she said. “Even farther from where I expect you call home.”

He gave a slow, white grin. “More recently, I hail from the Republic of Texas.”

Jessica raised her chin a notch. It was almost as if this man invited dissension. She disliked the cool, unperturbed way he said it. The Republic of Texas. “Texas is a state, Mister. Has been for over twenty years.”

“Well, now,” he said, placing his booted foot on the bottom porch step. “I guess that all depends on who you’re talkin’ to.”

Her eyes narrowed, and she stepped back to shut the door. “I think you better—”

“Ma’am, I’m awful hungry. I’d be glad for any crumb you could spare.”

“What did you say your name was?” Her voice shook, and she cleared her throat to cover her nervousness. Most people had better manners than to show up right at dark.

“I didn’t. But, it’s Freeman. Andy Freeman.”

“Are you related to Dave Freeman?”

“He’s my brother.” He gave her a sincere look. “Look, ma’am, I’d sure feel a heap better talkin’ to you if I wasn’t lookin’ at you through that repeater. I been lookin’ for Dave.” There was an excited hopefulness in his tone. “You seen him? Ma, she sent me up here after him. She’s just a-hankerin’ for news of him. He ain’t real good about letter-writin’.”

Jessica sighed and lowered the rifle. “Come on in, Mr. Freeman. I’ll see what I can find for you to eat, and give you what news I have of your brother.”

“Thank you, Ma’am. I sure do appreciate your hospitality.”



  1. So ARE you related to DaNel?

  2. LOL FRANK! I realized I had never answered the question. We still don't know! We have managed to trace back 3-4 generations, but no further than that. Still, I keep thinking, how could it NOT be? That's an unusual name and we grew up across the street from one another--both our families have been out here for generations...I hope we can solve it someday!

  3. Growing up in Arkansas, I have seen many places like Tamaha on this side if the state line. I have felt that this was an area neglected by accurate representation in Westerns. Finding out you use the settings means I need to track down your writing now. (grin)

  4. Hi Loyd!
    I feel that same way, and I'm wondering why that is? Everything I write takes place in Oklahoma or Texas--mainly in Oklahoma, since that's where I was raised. I have never spent a lot of time in the eastern part of the state, but that trip was just amazing, and I thought of all the other small places that must be out there with a history all their own. Sallisaw, which is nearby Tamaha, was the hideout for Pretty Boy Floyd. Mr. Borin told my sister and me about a time when Pretty Boy Floyd and his entourage showed up in the middle of the night as Mr. Borin's house when Mr. Borin was just a little boy. His mom cooked a meal for them, and he made the family promise that they would never say he had been there. Great history and great stories. I'm glad you came by today, Loyd. Good to meet you, neighbor!

  5. Great family story, Cheryl. Don't you just love those old graveyards--even better when you have a knowledgeable guide.

  6. Hello again, Cheryl! My, what a super interesting research article you posted today! Love Love Love it. My brother went as far back as the mid-1800's in Georgia for our father's geneology--with still living relatives who had photos--but then went no further. I've been thinking I'd like to go further back on my own and surprise him someday! In any event, I hope you can get to the bottom of your DaNel puzzle. And I sure liked your excerpt from Fire Eyes too! :-)

  7. Hi Carol,
    I love graveyards. When I was growing up, we lived across the street diagonally from a park, and behind that park was the main cemetery for the town. I can't tell you how many times my friends and I would jump over that cemetery fence and go walk through it, looking at the tombstones (back then, people put pictures of their loved ones on the stones) and wondering what might have happened to them. Glad you stopped by today, Carol!

  8. Hey Janice! Good to see you again! You know, I have an aunt on my mom's side that has done a lot of genealogy research, but no one on my dad's side has done much. So we still don't know if DaNel and I are related! So much of it is a matter of having the time to research it and also to go to some of the places and see what clues you might find there--like the cemeteries. I'm so glad you liked the excerpt from Fire Eyes! I will enter you in the drawing, my friend! Thanks so much for coming by today!

  9. Some things are just meant to be, don't you think? What an amazing story! Some would say coincidence, but I think it's fate. :)
    I also like the photo of Stand Watie. One of the very first historical novels I ever read was Rifles for Watie, a Newbury Award winner. I was hooked for good!

  10. Hi Lorrie,
    Oh, yes, I do believe things happen for a reason. I believe that, for sure. I still have Rifles for Watie on my "keeper shelf", Lorrie. It is a good one!

  11. It's so wonderful that, as a western writer, you live in the west. You get to visit all those cool places because they're practucally in your backyard. You lucky thing. I was entrigued with the way you researched for Fire Eyes. Fun road trips and graveyards.
    The lucky person who wins this book is going to absolutely love it.

  12. All roads lead to Tamaha! A few years ago, after doing research about an elderly woman who had been born a slave in my hometown of Sparta TN (and owned by one Mark Lowery) but spent most of her life in Oklahoma (where I was doing dissertation research)... I came back home for a visit, and was wandering around the town's oldest cemetery, when I turned a corner and walked right upon the tombstone of Mark Lowery. The same one.

  13. Sarah, thank you so much for stopping by today! I know you are knee deep in edits yourself. I appreciate you! I LOVE being from Oklahoma and being able to be surrounded by what I am writing about. I do think I'm very very lucky, too!

  14. WOW Troy. Now that gave me chills, just reading that story. I've had a couple of things happen in my life like that that I can't even think about without chills. One was when I worked at the Cowboy Hall of Fame and a guy came in one day and wanted a "whirlwind" tour of the museum because he only had an hour or so to look. We were slow that day, so I said, OK, let's start out right over here. I love the way Charles Russell used to decorate the edges of his letters. (We had one on display that he'd illustrated.) The man looked at me like he'd seen a ghost. I asked him if something was wrong, and he said, "You didn't have any way of knowing this, but I've been hired to do genealogical research for the family of this man that the letter is written to!" We were both in awe. He asked me why, out of the entire museum, had I chosen to start with that particular item? I couldn't answer him. I just had a "feeling" it was the one I wanted to show him. Even though pictures weren't allowed in that gallery, I pointed out the cameras and told him I was going on break, and that he better snap off at least 4 -5 while he had the chance because someone would be there quickly to tell him he couldn't do that. There was no way I could NOT let him take pictures of that letter!

  15. I have been working on a biography of a man from a nearby town. Had hit a dead end and was talking to a friend who suggested I contact someone she knew who had worked with him. Make that connection and that lead to a person who had written her dissertation on his film accomplishments and she offered to make a copy of that document for me. I was in heaven and am heading up to interview them soon.

  16. PS Spend lots of time visiting cemeteries, especially old ones. Cripple Creek has an interesting one and hope to visit the Victor one this summer. They have such great mystery and hidden stories. Loved what Butcher said in one of his Dresden books, "Fences aren't meant to keep people out but the spirits in."

  17. Cheryl,

    Very interesting article about writing and research! It is always fascinating to go through old graveyards and read the names and inscriptions on the tombstones. One of my favorite cemeteries is at Virginia City, Nevada.

    Charlie S.

  18. Doris, that is awesome. We just never know how one thing will lead to another and another. It makes you think of all the "missed connections" that didn't happen for one reason or another, doesn't it? I always want to go to the old cemetery in the little town where my parents were raised, Albany, OK. When I was little, I'd go with Mom to visit the graves of some of her relatives, and while we were there, she'd tell me stories about some of the other people who were buried there--people who had died when she was a young girl, and how she remembered them, and even what their funerals were like. I love that saying you quoted!

  19. Charlie,
    I am the same way. I never get tired of it. One of my favorites is the base cemetery at Fort Sill here in Oklahoma. Quanah Parker is buried there, along with his mother Cynthia Ann and his sister. Also, several of the chiefs who signed the Medicine Lodge Treaty and the POW cemetery is Geronimo's grave. That place just calls to me.

  20. Thanks to everyone for stopping by today and leaving a comment. I've just drawn a name from my trusty Stetson....

    The winner of FIRE EYES is....


    Carol if you will e-mail me at I will see that you get your prize! Congratulations and thanks for coming by and commenting today.

  21. Hi Cheryl,

    I'm here a day late, but that's okay because I already have your FIRE EYES and I love it.

    I've done a little poking around in family genealogy and it is a fun research topic. Those names and places have meaning beyond the printed letters on the screen to me.

    I've often wondered about being a time-traveler to go back and see how things really were. Which would be great if I wasn't such a wuss. I'd have to have the time-traveling experience as if I were watching a movie instead of actually doing it. Somehow, I don't think that will cut it!

    Enjoyed your post.

  22. Maggie,
    Thank you for coming by! The great thing about the internet is, you're NEVER late! LOL Yes, I agree, putting names with faces and things they accomplished or things that happened to our ancestors really does bring them to life, doesn't it? I'm so glad I have so many of Mom's stories to think back on. I know I would never have made it "back then."