NOT Happy Trails

Patti Sherry-Crews

Patti Sherry-Crews

I met Patti Sherry-Crews when we each had a story in the Come Love a Cowboy anthology, and we are continuing to work together on a second anthology for Hallowe’en as well as a third one for Christmas. We’ve bonded over the fact we have both spent time in the U.K.—Patti studied anthropology and archaeology at Grinnell College and the University of North Wales.

While she now lives with her husband, two children, a bad dog, and a good cat in Evanston, IL., her four steamy romances, written under the pen name Cherie Grinnell, take place in Dublin and Wales.

However, whether it is because she watched too many western TV shows with her grandmother or because her bag of cowboys and Indians was her favorite toy, Patti also writes historical western romances. Her book, Margarita and the Hired Gun published by Prairie Rose Publishing, came out April 2016, and she has two novellas out now in anthologies by the same publisher.


When I set out to write my first historical western, I knew there were a couple of things I wanted to include in my western romance: most of the story would take place on the trail, and there would be a scene in an outlaw hideout. I’ve been interested in Hole-in-the-Wall

At Hole-in-the-Wall, WY

At Hole-in-the-Wall, WY

since seeing ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ decades ago. There’s something about self-contained worlds within worlds that captures my imagination, whether it be an arctic research station or an outlaw hideout. I knew I wanted to incorporate the hideout into my story.

My decision to set most of the action on the trail evolved because I’m a fan of the quest or journey tale. I like a set goal the characters are reaching for and to see how the journey changes them. I had my storyline: Hired Gun, “Rafferty”, is given the job of escorting untested, rich girl, Margarita, from Flagstaff, Arizona, to her relatives in Durango, Colorado, a journey which will take weeks on horseback–and she must arrive “safe and intact.” To break up the action, the couple has to make an unexpected stop at an outlaw hideout.

I had my story in mind, but first I had to answer a lot of questions, starting with how does a girl from the suburbs of Chicago think she can write an historical western? I had to hit the books before I could begin. In researching, I discovered

Hole-in-the-Wall seen from above

Hole-in-the-Wall seen from above

Hole-in-the-Wall in Wyoming wasn’t the only outlaw hideout. There were a number of hideouts strung out along the Outlaw Trail stretching from Mexico to Canada.

With improvements in transportation and communication in the late 19thC, a gang on the run needed safe places to hole up, get fresh horses, and stock up on ammunition. So the hideouts were born. And shared! Different gangs used these hideouts for decades. As it turned out, finding information on the hideouts was easy. The challenge was finding information about life on the trail. There is plenty written about folks navigating the west in wagon trains or on cattle drives: what they ate, the equipment they packed, how they dressed, and even recipes they used. But how would two people traveling for weeks on horseback take care of their basic needs? I could not find the details I was looking for.

I read other “on the trail” books, including True Grit. I rewatched all the movies I could think of that took place on the trail, but still I didn’t know how my characters were going to take care of business in the wild. It’s not like they had a chuck wagon following them around.

I obsessed about this aspect of my story because I hate camping. When I was a kid, camping was the family vacation. I saw a lot of the country through tent flaps. Then one fateful day that all changed. We had already pitched the tent and set up camp when the storm blew in, and we needed to get out of there fast. My parents checked us into my first motel. I looked at the nice motel room, and thought, “Why have we not been doing this all along?”

So, I was well aware of possible discomforts. I could have skipped around those details and focused on a story of love and adventure, but in my heart I knew I’d have to deal with those details. Especially as my heroine, Margarita McIntosh, had led a sheltered life living much of her life in boarding schools. I knew she’d be just miserable at the start of her journey. Or let me put it this way, I made sure she was miserable.

Not finding the kinds of information I wanted in books, movies, or the Internet, I turned to the outlaws next and read many tales of their exploits and escapes. As detailed as these accounts were, they still didn’t tell me how the outlaws managed to exist from day to day on the trail.

Then I found a book, Riding the Outlaw Trail, by Simon Casson and Richard Adamson, two Englishmen who set out to ride the Outlaw Trail.

Bryce Canyon on the Outlaw Trail

Bryce Canyon on the Outlaw Trail

I gathered useful information. Like, how long you could ride before you had to stop to rest up the horses? How do you take care of the animals? What was the terrain like?

A horse in Margarita and the Hired Gun even meets its demise in much the same way as one of the Casson and Adamson horses. I was sorry to kill that animal, but I needed a traumatic event to change the dynamics of my characters’ relationship–I also wanted to put them on horseback with their bodies pressed together.

Food on the trail: To my surprise I learned through my research that canned peaches were a favorite in that time period. That stuck me as a luxurious thing to have in the saddlebag. I also learned how cowboys made coffee on the trail. And, of course, we all know, beans were on the menu (Thank you, Blazing Saddles).

Other than that, I had to fall back on information gleaned from watching survival shows. Surviving in the wilderness hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Even though Margarita and Rafferty had a pack mule, I didn’t know how many tins of canned peaches they could carry. I reasoned they’d have to live off the land some of the time. Because of these survival shows, I knew there would be dangers aside from the bad men chasing them that my characters might face. They would have to battle the elements, travel over harsh terrain, find water, and try not to die of hypothermia.

So, in the end, I was happy with my end product. I hope my readers enjoy reading Margarita and the Hired Gun as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks to Andrea for allowing me to visit today.


Margarita coverBeautiful Margarita McIntosh escapes Flagstaff with a hired gun, Rafferty, as her only protection from her father’s powerful enemies who are hot on their trail. Giving up her life of leisure is nothing compared to the passion she finds in Rafferty’s arms. Together, they face a perilous journey that becomes a fight for their very lives—and a dream of the future neither of them could have imagined.

Excerpt:

He saw her long lashes flutter and then her lovely eyes lifted. She watched him intently as he shaved, her brows knitted together in concentration. It was hard to work with her watching like that.

“Remember how we had that conversation about staring and polite behavior?” he asked.

“I’m fascinated. I’ve never seen a man shave before.”

He rasped the blade under his chin.

“I was wondering what it must be like to start each day with a straight razor held to your throat. I suppose starting the day that way might make men the way they are.”

He met her gaze, looking to see if she was threatening to slit his throat, but she was only looking at him quizzically. “I never thought about it that way before. But as long as I’m the one holding the razor to my own throat, it’s pretty much routine.”

“You have a very steady hand.”

“I do. That’s one of those qualities a person likes to have in my profession. I do prefer to have someone else do this for me—and no, that isn’t an invitation. I go to a barber when I’m in town. I’ve seen your blade handling skills today. I’m not letting you anywhere near me with a razor.”

“I thought I did a pretty good job with that rabbit,” she said, a little smile on her lips.

“You did all right with the knife. It’s your skills with a gun, which worry me.”

While they’d been talking, the temperature dropped noticeably. He watched her start to shiver.

She caught him watching her. “It’s cold!”

“I told you it was going to get cold. You thought it was cold at night in the desert, you wait until you spend a night sleeping on the ground in the mountains.”

“I know you warned me about the cold repeatedly, but honestly, Michael, you’re such an alarmist.”

“Alarmist, am I? Coming from the lady who’s seen the inside of one room and then the inside of another room. Listen to me when I talk. I know what I’m doing out here!”

She waved her free hand dismissively at him. He stood up, impatient with her now, and tossed the soapy water into the woods.

“Well, we’ll see how you do. You haven’t slept through the night yet, and I expect even I’ll have trouble sleeping tonight in the cold, so let’s just see how you fare. I can tell you I’m looking forward to listening to you thrash and moan all bloody night long.”

He wiped his face and snapped the razor shut.

“Is it time to check the traps yet?”

“No, it is not time to check the traps. Animals don’t conveniently wander into traps just because you have a free moment to check them. Ground squirrels are not all that considerate. We leave the traps out overnight to catch them on their schedules.”

He could tell by the look that came into her eyes, she was about to retort with some sharp remark, but she seemed to think better of it and checked herself.

“Alarmist, am I? Coming from the lady who’s seen the inside of one room and then the inside of another room. Listen to me when I talk. I know what I’m doing out here!”

She waved her free hand dismissively at him. He stood up, impatient with her now, and tossed the soapy water into the woods.

“Well, we’ll see how you do. You haven’t slept through the night yet, and I expect even I’ll have trouble sleeping tonight in the cold, so let’s just see how you fare. I can tell you I’m looking forward to listening to you thrash and moan all bloody night long.”

He wiped his face and snapped the razor shut.

“Is it time to check the traps yet?”

“No, it is not time to check the traps. Animals don’t conveniently wander into traps just because you have a free moment to check them. Ground squirrels are not all that considerate. We leave the traps out overnight to catch them on their schedules.”

He could tell by the look that came into her eyes, she was about to re-tort with some sharp remark, but she seemed to think better of it and checked herself.

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11 responses to “NOT Happy Trails

  1. Thank you for hosting me. As always, Andrea, it is a pleasure to work with you.

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  2. Patti,
    It’s the research I get bogged down in. Just can’t get enough. What a gold mine you found in the Trail book. You put it to good use. Doris/Angela

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I know Doris! The constant fact-checking. It helps me to keep Pinterst boards related to 19thc America. I do enjoy the research though and can now look at a lady’s dress and tell you what decade it’s from. The trail book I referred to is a good read if you get a chance. Very entertaining, enlightening, and funny. Happy writing!

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  4. Hi Patti and Andrea, I just love Patti, such an interesting woman! And I so enjoyed working with her on Come Love A Cowboy and now again on The Good, The Bad and The Ghostly (coming to a Kindle near you soon!). Andi, Patti and I are also planning a Christmas anthology, western, of course. And…don’t ya just love Patti’s blog posts? She always has interesting information to pass along to us avid readers and writers. Well done, Patti (and Andi).

    ~ Keta ~
    http://ketaskeep.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It was my lucky day when I was asked to be part of Come Love a Cowboy. I’m loving working on my novella for The Good, The Bad, and The Ghostly, which is a genius idea you had there, Keta! All stories connected by a paranormal agency. Thanks for the compliment. I bowed to those of you who maintain blogs. It’s a lot of work!

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  6. It’s interesting the discussion about a world within a world, and using of travel/voyages, as the very first book I wrote when I was trying to get into publishing was a western and it took place on a trail drive, so I definitely relate. Nice blog, Andie!

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  7. Hi, Hebby! Did you publish that trail drive book? I’d be interested in reading it. I read a book after Margarita was published that was a good on the trail romance with lots of adventure. It takes place in Texas. The hero is a cowboy moving out in search of a job. On is journey he acquires a companion: a mute Mexican girl whose family has been killed. The Hardest Ride by Gordon Rottman. Very sweet romance. This guy knows his stuff. You might like that book too if you like this sort of story–and it takes place in Texas!

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  8. I smiled when I read your camping episode when your family ended up in the motel. We were routed out of a campground in North Dakota by a flash flood and sought shelter in a motel. Our eldest daughter hated camping. She always said, her idea of roughing it was a Motel 6.

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  9. Eunce, I agree with your daughter–Motel 6 is as rough as I go. The last time I camped as an adult, I couldn’t sleep at all, The cold from the ground seeped into my bones. I was miserable, as is Margarita at the start of the trail: cold and scared and unable to sleep. And if she can’t sleep, Rafferty can’t sleep–and you don’t want to get that man cranky! At last he convinces her to bed down spoon-style like he did during the civil war (before he deserted, that is). And so begins their nightly routine where Margarita snuggles against Rafferty while he tells her stories of his adventures since coming to America. Thank you for stopping by!

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