To tell you more about this series and its back story, here is Richard himself:
That Ain’t the Way I Hear’d It
Guest Blog Post by Richard Prosch
When I uploaded my new short story, “Branham’s Due,” Amazon threw a curveball at me in the form of a question: Is this part of a series?
It’s the introduction of a character I spent a lot of time with this summer, a man I want to spend more time learning about. He’s the Irish deputy sheriff, Whit Branham. But my left ring finger hesitated over the W key. I didn’t type Whit…
I typed Holt County, instead.
It’s the setting of the book and the first stop west of my boyhood home in Knox County, Nebraska, a place noteworthy for its outlaw trails, its vigilante justice and for being the home of Moses Kinkaid who, in 1904, initiated the Kinkaid Act. I played my single most memorable game of high-school football there (twice!) against the fighting Irish of O’Neill St. Mary’s. And it was the first place we stopped for gas when, newly married, Gina and I left home for Laramie, Wyoming.
So Holt County is a special place, but that brings up problems of its own.
How do you incorporate real life into genre western fiction? How do you stay faithful to history in a made up story? Writers have been offering up their own answers to that for more than a century. Some guys, like Johnny D. Boggs (Northfield) or Richard S. Wheeler (Snowbound) make it look deceptively simple. Lesser talents make it easy to see where a history text was plugged in.
That write and paste trap can be hard to avoid. We all want to show off what we know. In reading a book about the early Nebraska frontier, I fell in love with a popular saying from the time, that “eating green apples with buffalo jerky makes for dreams of Indians.” I couldn’t find a good place for it in the context of “Branham’s Law,” so I dropped it into the novella I was writing. Eventually, I pulled it from Holt County Law too. It just didn’t fit.
Another trap is to forget that real records exist of those times. Careless disregard for the facts can lead to contradictions your readers won’t stand for. In thinking about Holt County stories, I don’t want anyone to think Whit Branham actually existed. I don’t want people to think things happened the way I say they did.
I just want to convey the sense that they could have happened that way.
Here’s a spoiler (so if you don’t want to know, stop reading now!) :
Holt County Law opens with the killing of Sheriff Bernard “Barney” Kearns. It’s a fact that Kearns was killed by a gunman (or gunmen) in or around O’Neill’s Arcada Hotel in March, 1881. His is the first entry in a list of respected Nebraska lawmen who have lost their lives in the line of duty at the Officer Down Memorial Page web site.
There are several different stories as to exactly what happened between William Reed and Barney Kearns. As I wrote above, some postulate more than one killer. Some hint at an accomplice. Others suggest a woman might have been involved.
Tell your favorite version to any grizzled fellar who was there, and like Mr. Old Timer on radio’s Fibber McGee and Molly, he’d reply “That ain’t the way I hear’d it.”
In dramatizing the events at the hotel, I didn’t write what happened. I wrote what might have happened. It’s the way I hear’d it in my head while doing my best to juggle the facts and not cast aspersions on real life good guys like Kearns or his deputies (another trap!).
But enough long winded introspection!
The novella is available for Kindle now, and I hope you’ll check it out. At Amazon, it will be part of the “Holt County” series, a universe of characters and events that might have existed in old Nebraska.