Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Story Behind the Story: Bird's Eye View

When I first started writing, I'd wait around for inspiration to strike.

Fortunately, I didn't watch a lot of TV, often played or worked outside by myself, and had plenty of time to hear myself think.

So inspiration came pretty readily. 

I was often able to work out stories in my head in a fun and relaxed manner. Later, I'd simply go write them down.

That doesn't really work when on a deadline or writing in a professional capacity.

I still need to have fun with writing. I still need to be relaxed. But there's no way I can wait for inspiration.

If you've followed these posts for a while, you know a lot of ideas come from events in my life that get turned around, stuck together and reimagined.

But I've got some additional tricks and prompts that help get things going.

First, I have lists of story types I enjoy reading. Here are just a few:

Quirky westerns.
Flash fiction (less than 1000 words)
Police procedurals
Series stories (with recurring characters)

Second, I have a very general list of things I like:

Magic tricks
Martial arts
Vinyl records

When it's time to write a story, I pick something from each list and start writing.

Yesterday morning--in anticipation of today's blog post--I picked:

Quirky western
Magic tricks

I wrote the first sentence (which turned out to be more like the 10th in the final draft) and before long it was clear I was writing a story about Sheriff Cheyenne Ned and his consulting detective, the gypsy magician Mrs. O'Connor.

I've only penned one other story set in Darbyville, Kansas, but I have two notebook pages full of characters and ideas.

Finally, since I wanted to be sure and have the story done today, I decided to keep it under 1000 words.

I finished Bird's Eye View in just under 90 minutes with a ten minute break to greet the UPS man.

I hope you enjoy this entry in the series, and I hope you'll share some of the tricks you keep the sleeve of your writing jackets.

After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. In 2016, Richard roped the Spur Award for short fiction given by Western Writers of America. Read more at www.RichardProsch.com

Sunday, September 24, 2017


While dying is not funny business, there’s no denying that some people utter some downright entertaining epigrams during their final moments on earth. Of course, there are plenty of unforgettably noble last words, but I submit that once Sam Houston summoned his remaining iron will to speak the words, “Texas––Texas! ––Margaret!” that nobody else could possibly top that. Why even try?

But those funny guys … especially the funny doomed guys, even if they didn’t mean to be amusing … they deserve special recognition, I believe, for using their last breaths to leave the crowd smiling, or at least wanting to smile. 

Some were famous, like Doc Holliday, who ended his life of gunfighting and wisecracking in a sick bed. With a glance down at his bootless feet, he declared, “This is funny.” You see, he always figured to die with his boots on, pistols blazing.

Some of the most interesting dying words were spoken by people who would have otherwise faded into Old West obscurity. Their memorable farewells are about all we know about them.

Sheriff Henry Plummer of Bannack, Montana, was hanged by vigilantes who suspected him of illegal activities. The sheriff held onto his bravado to the end and dryly remarked, “Give me a high drop, men.”

The Hanging Judge, Isaac C. Parker of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, dispensed of six murderers in a day. One of them, Sam Fooy, would have thumbed his nose at the judge and onlookers had his hands not been tied. He left them with, “I am as anxious to get out of this world as you are to see me go.”

John Owens murdered a man over five dollars in Buffalo, Wyoming, and couldn’t wait to get on with the show. “What time is it?” he said. “I wish you’d hurry up. I want to get to hell in time for dinner.”

A Nebraska farmer, Lee Shellenberger, was charged with killing his eleven-year-old daughter. Before the trial date, a lynch mob dragged him from the jail. Shellenberger was most indignant and delivered a threat just before the rope tightened. “If there is such a thing as haunts, I will do it, for I recognize several of you.”

We don’t know the name of the wise guy who was hanged at Yuma Penitentiary in 1887, but his punch line lives on. When asked why he was smiling, he replied, “Well, I was just thinking. You guys have got to walk back up there in the heat. I don’t.”

An outlaw named Bill Gallagher confronted tough rancher John Slaughter near Ft. Sumner, New Mexico, and decided to charge him on horseback. Slaughter coolly shot the man down. As Gallagher lay dying, he closed with a little self-analysis. “I needed killing twenty years ago, anyway.”


The Texas Panhandle produced plenty of tough characters. Sostenes L’Archeveque was one of them. Even his friends grew tired of his violent, troublemaking ways. They invited him over for a meal, then proceeded to ambush him. After being shot and stabbed, L’Archeveque still had plenty of fight left in him. He spat at his attackers, “You pull that knife out of my back and I’ll kill every one of you!”

➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼  ➼
Having been educated at a white man’s school, a Kickapoo woman named Oo-Lath-La-Hi-Na tried to avert an attack by soldiers who apparently didn’t realize her tribe as friendly.

“I will go out and talk with the white Captain. He thinks we are Comanches. The white men won’t shoot a woman.”

A caravan of wagons stopped for the night near Battle Mountain, Nevada, in August of 1857. One of the pioneers, Smith Holloway, declined to join the circle of wagons and camped away from the group, despite warnings of potential Indian attacks. After an uneventful night, Holloway arose and announced his last words, "Wake up, everyone. No redskins in sight!"

Four robbers were holed up in a cabin near Kokomo, Colorado when Deputy/Detective M. E. Conrad crashed through the door. Seeing no guns elsewhere in the cabin, Conrad grilled the men, forcing them to walk over to their beds, throw back the covers, and prove they weren’t bad guys. “Boys, we must see what you have got under those blankets,” he said, just before he learned the truth.

For more fascinating accounts of Western characters and their send-offs, I recommend Garry Radison’s book, LAST WORDS: DYING IN THE OLD WEST. And watch your words, my friends. They could well outlive you.

All the best,


“Writing the Range”
2015 WWA Spur Finalist (Short Fiction)
2015 Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Finalist (Short Fiction)

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Thursday, September 21, 2017


Hi everyone! The end of the year is in sight and with it comes such a time crunch for most of us. In the publishing world, things begin to gear up toward the end of August and don’t grind to a slow-down until Christmas. Holiday stories must be gotten out in a timely manner for readers, and there are many contests that deadline at Dec. 31, as well.

In the midst of all that, I managed to finally get one of my own short novels out, and what a joy! THE DEVIL AND MISS JULIA JACKSON started out as a short story for our Prairie Rose Publications anthology, Sweet Texas Christmas. BUT, sometimes stories take on a life of their own, and this one did just that. It soon became obvious that it was not going to be eligible to include in the anthology when the word count topped 20K and I was only about halfway finished. These characters needed a longer story! Here’s the “short” version:

A woman with no home…

Beautiful Southern belle Julia Jackson has just been informed she and her niece must find a new home immediately—or else. With no family to turn to in Georgia, Julia takes a mighty gamble and answers an advertisement for a nursemaid in wild Indian Territory—for the child of a man she knows nothing about. Together, she and five-year-old Lauralee waste no time as they flee to the safety of the new position Julia has accepted. She can only hope this move will be the start of a bright future for them away from Lauralee’s dangerous much older half-brother.

A rancher with no heart…

The death of Devlin Campbell’s young daughter has ripped the light from his life. Though the birth of his son, little Jamie, should have been a source of happiness, the subsequent loss of his wife forces Dev to ignore his emotions and trudge through life’s joyless responsibilities. But all that changes with the arrival of Miss Julia Jackson from Atlanta! Not at all what Dev is expecting in response to his ad, his resentment boils over at her failure to mention her tag-along niece—a painful reminder of the loss of his own little girl just two years earlier. Yet, how can he deny the sunshine Julie brings into his drab existence with her very presence?

Can love find a way?

In the depths of Dev’s boundless sorrow and his accompanying anger, is there room in his life for anyone else as Christmas approaches? Can Julie convince him that love is the cure for a broken heart, and hope is the only recipe for a new beginning between THE DEVIL AND MISS JULIA JACKSON…

THE DEVIL AND MISS JULIA JACKSON is available now for pre-order for KINDLE, and will release on October 26 in both digital and paperback. It’s full of action, suspense, and of course, Christmas magic!

Here's the link to order THE DEVIL AND MISS JULIA JACKSON for your very own! It will also be available in paperback on October 26.

Fall is definitely here, and it’s time to settle down with a good book in a comfy chair with a favorite beverage (and maybe some chocolate!) and read, read, read!

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Indian Civil War, Part Two

Troy D. Smith

In my blog post last month, I set the stage for the “Five Civilized Tribes” to get involved in the American Civil War (you might want to re-read that one first!) Now, it is time to see how the war started in Indian Territory.

Each of the Five Tribes were divided between “modernists” who adopted white ways and views and “traditionalists” who had not been as eager to do so. Many of those modernists (though not all) were also mixed blood (with white fathers or grandfathers), and quite a few ran successful businesses or plantations (and owned black slaves). It was common for them, therefore, to identify culturally more with the Southern states than with Northern ones, and to sympathize with the Confederacy. 

Traditionalists, on the other hand, tended to view their tribes’ treaties with the United States as sacrosanct –their word given was their word kept (whether the other side did so or not). In addition, many (though not all) traditionalists either opposed slavery outright or viewed it more from a traditional native approach.

This divide was not the same among all five nations, it fell along a spectrum. At one end of that spectrum you found the Choctaws and Chickasaws, among whom support for slavery and sympathy for the Confederacy was by far a majority opinion. In the middle you found the Cherokees and Creeks, who were both pretty well evenly divided in their support –those divisions falling along the same lines as the previous divisions between pro-Treaty and anti-Removal factions, with those who had opposed Removal most likely to support the Union (but the federal government removed them! one might say… however, it was done at the behest of the Southern states. Those tribesmen most inclined to “take the deal” offered by Southern states during the Removal period were then more likely to support the Confederacy and the South). At the other end of the spectrum we’d find the Seminoles. They had a higher proportion of traditionalists, had violently resisted removal, had more readily accepted runaway slaves into their tribe, and still tended to treat their “slaves” as semi-autonomous.

The U.S. had established several forts in Indian Territory around the time of Removal, and part of the removal treaties was a promise to protect the Indians in their new homeland. Most folks don’t stop and think about this, but when the government removed tens of thousands of Indians from the South to Oklahoma, there were already indigenous people living there who didn’t appreciate their neighborhood becoming so crowded all of a sudden. This included, in the western part of the territory, Comanches and Kiowas (designated “wild Indians” at the time) who were prone to raid their new “civilized Indian” neighbors.

When war began between the U.S.A and the C.S.A., those federal forts were in a tenuous position, located so close to the Confederate states of Arkansas and Texas (and therefore so difficult to reinforce and re-supply if the Confederates attacked.) Federal forces abandoned the forts, therefore, and fell back north to Kansas. Many tribal members viewed this as a violation of the U.S. treaty obligations. Confederate troops moved in and occupied the forts.

Union forces may have retreated from Indian Territory, but the Confederacy looked upon it as a prize –for several reasons. First, there were a lot of valuable resources there, controlled by the Indians –including enough saltpeter mines, it was estimated, to manufacture gunpowder sufficient to supply the entire Confederate Army. There was also the matter of strategic location. The Confederacy had designs on the American Southwest, and if they controlled what is now known as Oklahoma they could cut that region off from the rest of the Union.

The Confederacy definitely wanted to negotiate with the Five Tribes, and gain them as allies.

They sent a diplomatic mission to Indian Territory, led by someone uniquely suited for the task: Albert Pike. Pike was born and raised in Massachusetts, but had spent most of his adult life in Arkansas. He was a newspaperman, a poet, and a lawyer. In that latter capacity he specialized in representing removed tribes in their financial claims against Washington to get full value for the lands they had been forced to cede. He worked, at various times, for the Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw nations, and was respected and well-regarded by all of them. 

Pike’s military escort for this mission was led by legendary Texas Ranger Ben McCulloch, now a Confederate brigadier general.

(note: Pike was also a high-ranking Freemason, and is still honored as such. There is also evidence he was highly placed in the Ku Klux Klan after the war.)

Not limited to the Five Tribes, Pike negotiated with the “wild” Comanches and Kiowas. He got them to sign what was essentially a nonaggression pact; they would not be allies of the Confederacy, but would maintain a truce and not attack them. Pike had higher aspirations for the “civilized” tribes in the eastern half of the territory, though, and –meeting with the leadership of all five tribes –had some attractive offers for them.

First, he pointed out that the federals withdrawing from their forts in the region had been a treaty violation. Then, for those Indians who still had a sense of loyalty to the Union because of the treaties the tribes had signed, he argued that was well and good, but with secession the “Union” with which they had signed those treaties no longer technically existed (a point that a lawyer for the other side, had one been present, could have argued against). Then came the enticements. Ally with us, Pike said, and you will get the following:

                   We will take over the U.S. obligations to you, re: annuity payments for your lost lands.
                   We will recognize your sovereignty, and your own legal jurisdiction. That is, if for example someone from Texas comes to the Creek Nation and kills a tribal member, we will recognize your right to prosecute him under Creek law (this is something the U.S. NEVER did).
                                        If you agree to raise troops from your tribe for our cause, we will pay to arm and equip them.
                   We will guarantee that each of your tribes has a seat in the Confederate Congress.

These were, surprisingly, very good terms. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was equally surprised, as he had not authorized them and believed the Confederate Congress would never agree to them all. In the long run, it didn’t matter, since the Confederacy lost. In the short term –it worked. Pike was able to get the leaders of almost all the tribes to sign a treaty of alliance, even the Seminoles. There was only one holdout.

John Ross, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Ross, who had been in office 34 years, was a traditionalist. This was true even though he was, by blood, 7/8 Scottish, and was a slave-owner. He had been backed for chief in 1827 by the principal traditionalists of that time, and had resisted ceding his people’s homeland until the bitter end: his own wife perished on the Trail of Tears, dying of exposure after giving her blankets away to freezing children. While not a member of the traditionalist Keetowah Society (some of whom were abolitionists), he was strongly supported by them. His counterpart among the modernist Cherokees was his longtime opponent Stand Watie, who had been part of the pro-Treaty faction during the Removal period and had barely escaped an assassination attempt upon the nation’s arrival to Indian Territory.

Ross met with Pike and McCulloch, but stressed to them his determination to remain neutral in the coming conflict. There were many reasons for this: his people were divided on the subject; he was still making frequent trips to Washington to get the rest of the money owed to his people, and signing an alliance with the Confederacy would risk losing all claim; like many of his people, he preferred to honor his people’s treaties; and, most importantly, a point of geography. The Cherokee Nation was in the northeastern corner of Indian Territory, sharing a border with Kansas. If the Union Army decided to invade Indian Territory, his nation would be where it happened, and his people would take the heaviest brunt of the fighting. In contrast the Choctaws and Chickasaws, who were most eager to join the fight on the side of the Confederates, lay farther to the south.

The Confederate representatives were not pleased at all. Pike and McCulloch made a point of immediately having a meeting with Ross’s rival Stand Watie, whose pro-Confederate sympathies were well-known. The implication to Ross was clear: Just like in the lead-up to Removal, if you won’t sign our treaty we know Stand Watie will. This was probably primarily meant as a threat to Ross’s political standing among his own people, and he may have recognized it as such, but it also brought a new factor into the discussion for him.

After the Trail of Tears, the anti-Removal faction who supported John Ross and the pro-Treaty faction who had followed Stand Watie’s family fought bitterly for over a decade. It started with the assassinations of Watie’s brother Elias Boudinot, their cousin John Ridge, and their uncle (and leader) Major Ridge. After that, there was an ongoing bloody feud, tantamount to a civil war, in the newly located Cherokee Nation (other principal combatants included the Starr family, some of whom would be famous half-a-century later as Wild West outlaws). After much death on both sides, a peace had been negotiated, and all involved came together to form a unified Cherokee government, followed by a decade of relative peace and prosperity.

Pike’s threat of negotiating with Watie instead of Ross threatened to re-ignite the Cherokee civil war.

John Ross, therefore, agreed to a compromise. He would call for a national referendum of the Cherokee people, and allow them to vote on whether to ally with the Confederacy or not. The vote was held, and the pro-Confederates won. John Ross, reluctantly and against his own judgment yet with a desire to represent the will of his people and maintain tribal unity, signed the alliance treaty. While significant portions of each tribe opposed the alliance –including a minority even among the Choctaws and Chickasaws –the official tribal governments of all Five Tribes had joined themselves to the Confederate cause.

Ross’s longtime ally Opothleyahola, the traditionalist Creek chief, was deeply saddened that his old friend was casting his lot with the Confederacy, which Opothleyahola refused to do despite being in a similar situation (supported by traditionalists but outvoted). Opothleyahola and Ross had been on different sides in the Creek War of 1813-1814 (Ross fought among Andrew Jackson’s Cherokee allies against the Red Stick Creeks), but as fellow traditionalists had been on the same side since the Removal period. Opothleyahola had supported the death sentence carried out on William McIntosh, who was a Creek version of Major Ridge (having signed away the tribal lands).

Opothleyahola made it clear that he would not personally support the alliance his people had made with the Confederacy. Pro-Union people started streaming to his camp –at first the traditionalist Creeks, but then Seminoles, Chickasaws, and a few Choctaws… as well as free blacks and runaway slaves.

Meanwhile, the Native American Confederate army was being raised and quickly taking shape. Uniformed soldiers were equipped from all Five Nations. The two initial Cherokee regiments were commanded by Colonel John Drew (whose men were mostly full bloods loyal to John Ross) and Colonel Stand Watie (whose troops were mostly mixed-blood modernists loyal to Watie). The two initial Creek regiments were commanded by the sons of William McIntosh (Daniel and Chilly), whose father had died at Opothleyahola’s command. Albert Pike was commissioned brigadier general, a rank held later in the war by Stand Watie.

Opothleyahola and his motley collection of Unionists felt threatened by the Confederate forces coalescing around them. He sent a letter to President Lincoln, asking for sanctuary in Union Territory. Meanwhile, a Confederate brigade was being sent to give Opothleyahola’s group one last opportunity to change their minds, at gunpoint if necessary. It was commanded by Douglas Cooper, who had before the war been the U.S. Indian Agent to the Choctaws and Chickasaws. In addition to those two tribes, the brigade included three Texas regiments, John Drew’s Cherokee regiment… and the Creek regiment led by Daniel McIntosh.

The confrontation was about to begin.

Next time: the Flight of Opothleyahola

Troy D. Smith is a history professor at Tennessee Tech, where he teaches Native American History, Environmental History, and the U.S. West. As an author of western fiction, he is a past winner of the Peacemaker Award and two-time winner of the Spur Award. His award-winning novella Odell's Bones centers on the Civil War in Indian Territory; one Spur judge described it as "reading like a lost chapter of Lonesome Dove."