Thursday, November 29, 2012


Author Stephen Bly
Stephen Bly
Stephen Bly
Copyright ©2008

Writers are gold miners at heart. Any story worth its gems has the sweat of pickax research behind it.

In the historical novel, Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon, I discovered these jewels of info that played out in the plot ...

1.) Personal experience
Set in 1955, with the narrator as a 10-year-old boy, same as I would have been, I was able to draw on some past knowledge.
Gary Cooper in High Noon
In the story Tex Ritter sang, "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'" on a juke box, and I had known all the words since my youth when I saw High Noon multiple times at the theater. But I didn't realize that Gary Cooper, who played Will Cane, was a Montana boy, from Helena.

2.) History of a brand
Part of the story happens in a Woolworth's store, which was a Five & Dime, sort of like a "Dollar Store," only it included a soda fountain/lunch bar, better merchandise, and a friendly clerk behind every counter.

The first Woolworth's store was founded with a loan of $300 in 1878 by Frank Winfield Woolworth. Despite growing to be one of the largest retail chains in the world through most of the 20th Century, increased competition led to its decline, beginning in the 1980s. 


1950s F.W. Woolworth store
In 1997, F. W. Woolworth Company converted into a sporting goods retailer, closing its remaining retail stores that operated under the Woolworth's brand name. They renamed it Venator Group. By 2001, the company focused on sporting goods and changed its name to the present Foot Locker Inc.

A classic example of a company that adapted to the market needs.

3.) Americana
1950s Route 66
The adventures in Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon happen on U.S. Route 66. Known as "The Main Street of America" or the "Mother Road," it was one of the original U.S. highways. Route 66 was established on November 11, 1926 and ran from Chicago, Illinois through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California where it ended at Los Angeles. A total of 2,448 miles. The primary route for those leaving the "dust bowl" and moving to California during the Great Depression.

4.) Place names
"Coosie, did you ever' cowboy up in the Dakotas?" Granddaddy asked.
"I drove some agency beef to Pine Ridge a couple times. The second time I did it, I was cookin' for the XIT," he admitted.

This conversation got me curious about the XIT Ranch. In the 1880s it was the largest ranch in the world under fence and it all laid in the Texas Panhandle. Three million acres sprawled from the old Yellow House headquarters, near what is now Lubbock, Texas, northward to the Oklahoma Panhandle, in an irregular strip roughly 30 miles wide.

It covered portions of ten counties, which helped perpetuate the misbelief that the brand XIT stands for "Ten In Texas." Actually, the brand served only as a means to thwart rustlers.

Later, Coosie says, "I didn't go much beyond Fort Rob, Nebrasky. Some locals came out and took the herd from there. It wasn't too many years after that ruckus at Wounded Knee and we was a little shy of rilin' up the Sioux."

Fort Robinson, in the extreme northwest corner of Nebraska, was an important military installation that played crucial roles in the Plains Indian Wars. It's a favorite site of mine. I love to visit there.

Cowboy drinking coffee
5.) Quirky details.
Shorty cleared his throat. "We must have got served some bad Mescal, because when me and Half-a-Bill left a little after midnight we couldn't find our horses."

You got to love the old cowboy names. Who today would tolerate being called Half-a-Bill?

I'm a tea-totaller myself. Well, I drink that muddy, boiled coffee. But about the  mescal Shorty mentioned ... it's a Mexican alcoholic drink made from agave (maguey) plants.

There are many different types of agave plants and each produces a different flavor of mezcal. The term mezcal generally refers to all agave-based distilled liquors that are not tequila (a mezcal variant allowed to be made only from the blue agave plant, usually in the town of Tequila and the surrounding region of Jalisco).

The mezcal of Sonora is called bacanora in reference to the municipality where it is made. Chihuahuan mezcal is called sotol after the plant that is used there. Now I know more about Mexican liquors than I ever needed to know.
What did you appreciate most about the research done in a novel you read recently?
Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon

This book and many others by Stephen Bly available on Amazon or the bookstore at

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