Friday, May 25, 2012

The Trail to El Paso

  The working title for Under A Texas Star was El Paso Trail. My son still prefers the old name, but you can’t argue that the new name isn’t sexier.

Marly Landers and Ranger Jase Strachan are both headed for El Paso when they meet. Marly is after the man who cheated the people of her home town of Cherryville, Kansas. Jase is after a con man who cheated the wrong people in his home state of Texas. Of course, their quarries are one and the same man. The destination isn’t nearly important as how they get there, but they do get to El Paso eventually and I had to get a mental picture of the town before I wrote about it.

In 1581 Spanish conquistadores found their way across the Rio Bravo del Norte (aka the Rio Grande) from what would become Estados Únidos Mexicanos into what is now the United States of America. They named the passage El Paso del Rio del Norte (the pass through the river of the north). Of course, the Europeans were “discovering” an area that had already been home to native cultures. Archeological evidence supports thousands of years of human settlement within the El Paso region.

The first European settlement that would be called El Paso was south of the river – present day Ciudad Juárez. Apaches discouraged European invasion north of the river for as long as they could, but eventually farms and missions migrated north. In 1682, the Tigua Indians, fleeing the Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico, together with their Spanish masters, built the mission Nuestra Señora del Carmen, in what is now a suburb of El Paso. In Under A Texas Star, Marly skips town and goes to a village surrounded by farms and vineyards that had, up to the year before, been Tigua land. In 1874, the State of Texas passed a law that turned over 500 parcels of Tigua-owned land to American settlers.

One of the key aspects for my book is that El Paso served as a major stop for the famous Butterfield Overland Mail Coach. That, and its easy access to Mexico via the Camino Real, made it an ideal destination for Charlie Meese, the fugitive Marly and Jase are tracking. At the time the story takes place, El Paso has only just been incorporated as a city. Jase notes that it has grown a lot since he was last there. To get a sense of that for myself, I looked up old maps of El Paso so I'd know where my fictional landmarks would fit among the historical ones - or at least which way was what.

  After breakfast, Jase arranged for them to have baths at one of the more reasonably priced hotels. Jase took the privilege of having the first bath, giving her the chore of taking their trail clothes to the Chinese laundry. Since he trusted her to go out on her own, Marly deduced that El Paso wasn't as dangerous as she thought―at least not by daylight.
  It might as well have been a foreign country. El Paso was nothing like anywhere Marly had been before. There were at least as many people speaking Spanish as English, and a fair number speaking other languages like German, French and Chinese. The railway was coming and the city was already showing signs of things to come.
  The El Hombre was just off the Camino Real that had linked Santa Fe and Mexico City since the first Spanish colonists settled in the area. Just down the street and across the river lay Mexico. Marly put a visit to the border on her to-do list, along with finding the post office, dealing with Meese and settling her account with Jase. However, first she had to find the laundry.

Some day I’ll have to take Marly and Jase back there when the railway comes through. That’s when El Paso really exploded - in population and lawlessness. In fact, that’s the El Paso I was originally headed to until research set me right. Ah well, it gives me something to play with later.,_Texas

Alison Bruce is the author of Under A Texas Star (western romance) and Deadly Legacy (mystery). Find her at:


Maggie said...

OOOH the anticipation of a sequel!!! Under a Texas Star is a great read with wonderful character and it's obviously well researched. Great post, Alison!

Meg said...

Figures Jase would send her to the laundry, LOL! At least he didn't give her a washboard. ;-D I love researching the history of old towns too.

Paty Jager said...

Researching towns for westerns is one of my favorite parts of writing a story. Like you I get maps and even the town plot maps so I can visualize things. Boy El Paso is huge and scary now. We stopped there to visit a niece in February on our drive home from Texas and I don't think I'd go anywhere there without my husband. Too many scowling people.

Alison E. Bruce said...

Thank you Maggie.

Alison E. Bruce said...

I've done laundry with a washboard and I wouldn't inflict that on one of my characters unless the scene ended with a bucket of water over someone's head. ;-)

Alison E. Bruce said...

I love maps! They were my favourite part of my father's National Geographic subscription.

I drew a map for my fictional town of Fortuna. I decided where on the Pecos River it would lie then built the town accordingly using pioneer villages I've visited as reference. I even came up with a history for the town which gets an oblique reference in Under A Texas Star. I decided to write a Fortuna story next just so I could use more of my copious notes.

Ellen O’Connell said...

It's always fun to find out how things really were, as opposed to how you assumed they were, isn't it? When I researched some Texas towns that are now great cities and found out how small they were in the time frame I was using for one book, I was pretty darned surprised.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Alison, this is great information. I need it for the third book down my list. I've been to El Paso many times in the past, but am a bit nervous contemplating writing about it. I suppose I'll have to make another trip there to refresh my memory, but you have helped me. Wishing you continued success in your career.

Jacquie Rogers said...

And Marty Robbins sang a great song about it! :) I've never been there but would love to visit. One of these days I'm going to go museum-hopping in Texas. Would be great fun.

Thanks for the article, Alison. I love how you incorporated the setting into the story, rather than the other way around.