Is the bane of an author’s existence, especially if you ‘want’ to get the details right. And trying to do westerns ‘right’ means research…

An 1880s cowboy on the range. Probably in the Dakotas.

Noted western photographer O’Sullivan actually had a wagon he drove around with his darkroom in it.

Yes, there really were 20 mule team BORAX wagons crossing Death Valley… Cannot imagine driving one of those in temps well over 100 degrees for 20 days round trip… Link HERE.

And another picture of cowboys… Turns out the one on the left is ‘semi-famous’…

Charlie Nebo has been called the Forest Gump of the old west…

Charley Nebo had a knack for showing up where the action was—driving Longhorns for Charles Goodnight, tending cattle for John Chisum, hobnobbing with Billy the Kid and riding amid the Sioux at the time of Wounded Knee.

Full article, HERE, a rather interesting read! Especially his relationship with Billy the Kid!


Research… — 7 Comments

  1. I have some great old man friends, in their 80’s who love to read Westerns, they call them Oaters and I can handle a few of them until they mess up on the factual stuff. It is the right of every author to build the world his characters live in and make the stuff they do interesting an entertaining however in the early 1960’s in an excellent writing class I took in college our prof was adamant about facts, he said unless you are writing science fiction make sure of your facts.

    Things that make me throw up a bit in my mouth reading books: Number one is having a firearms that was not invented yet, number two is traveling to a town ten years before it was founded, number three is traveling great distances on horse back without a remount, number four is not understanding that $1, one dollar, in 1885 would be the equivalent of $27 today. I read a book where a great young good guy killed some nefarious bad guys and the bounties totaled up to $10,000 which equaled $273K and at the same time the average annual wage was $581.

    Of course wonderful good guy has to rescue fair young maiden and then go into the next county seat town and purchase her some nice new clothes in her size off the rack along with a new suit for himself at a time when almost all clothes were hand made to fit by seamstresses and tailors and some shops sold used clothing that was discarded by the original owner. And remember, while women wore petticoats and corsets they kept their netherlands in the open air except for certain times of the month. Your great grandma did not wear underpants in the 1800’s and that might be part of the reason why they rode sidesaddle for the most part. One author likes to have his hero splurge ordering a steak with extras and in 1885 the price of a steak on some menus was 15 cents and at the same time two eggs with boiled potatoes were 15 cents. If a person were to spend 40 or 50 cents in the early 1890’s then from Colorado to New York City up to a ten course meal with caviar and fine wines was available and I have read stories where the good guy tips an extra few dollars to the sweet young thing waiting tables.

    Coming back to firearms, breech loading shotguns did not come along until the mid 1870’s and loaded shells, not empty brass shells were not readily available until the mid 1890’s. Lots of muzzle loading shotguns were in use in the early part of the 1900’s and I still have the W Moore & Co 12 ga. my grandfather purchased in the late 1800’s and my dad born in 1903 used it to hunt rabbits when he was a kid, black powder and percussion caps were available in small country stores in the early 1900’s. Not every person on the old prairie was carrying and shooting the latest big bore, black powder, long distance rifle and bringing smelly bad men down at 600 yards but that’s what some authors want us to believe. And then there are the good guys with the latest double action pistol in the late 1800’s who can draw and shoot a gun faster than the mean-eyed black bart bastard who mistreats horses, dogs and womenfolk.

    I come from a long line of folks who started moving West out of Virginia in the 1700’s and kept on moving until both my mom and dad’s families moved from Arkansas to Oklahoma and Texas in the early 1900’s. My dad’s family using wagons took 30 days to cross Oklahoma in 1908, my grandmother talked about fording the Canadian river South of Norm Oklahoma and having some Indians on horse back come up and help them get across.

    My great grandmother was the final and third wife of an old guy in Missouri who was born in 1820 and fathered 24 kids before he passed away in his 70’s before my great aunt was born. Great grandmother helped get a community in the Texas panhandle going, was named the postmistress and got to the name the little crossroads place after her deceased husband, it dried up years ago. I grew up with grandparents around listening to stories of their young days being born in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s when working land and learning a trade was a success when you had enough to keep your family fed, clothed and warm in the winter.

    Some how or another the work ethic was strong enough for my dad to put himself through college and then go on to get a master’s degree and my mom was raised in a family where her blacksmith/machinist father had six children and got five of them through four years of college by having them pay back the family fund with their first few years out of college, it was not as expensive to get an education in the 1920’s.

    What a bunch of silly stuff and a side track about what I want to read when people write about the olden days of yesteryear. Authors who I have enjoyed writing about post civil war are Mark Twain, Jack London and O. Henry, not exactly westerns but then again lots in the west of the US.

  2. Getting details correct must be tricky. In the first photograph, I doubt the rider is working cows. Instead, he probably got ready to pose for the photographer.

    As an example, his rifle scabbard placement will hinder the horses movements. Most riders, if they carry a rifle, will have the butt facing toward the rear. Unless the rider is left handed, his rope would be on the right side as reins are usually held in the off (left) hand. He probably is right handed as his pistol is set up for a cross body draw (again, because of the reins being held in his left hand).

    Sorry, just indulging myself.

  3. OldTex- My maternal grandfather was born in 1880, my grandmother in 1881, they lived in Texas most of their lives. My paternal grandmother was born in 1873, and grew up on the Louisiana/Texas border. I grew up on those stories!

    John- Thanks! I cannot imagine trying to drive that hitch!!!

    WSF- Good points all. I know my great-grandfather carried his 73 Winchester butt forward, because we found one picture of him on a horse back in the late 1880s. And the lasso had rubbed the hell out of the stock over the years! Granted that rifle’s position is a bit ‘odd’ though. It would hinder the horse’s movement to the left.

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