Friday, November 3, 2017

Putting it all together

The Badlands

The plane begins its descent. The dun-colored ground below is dotted with little, black holes. As we get closer, little animals can be seen scurrying around the holes. "Ground hogs," says the passenger behind me to his wife. For the first time since leaving Chicago the handsome man wearing cowboy boots and a Stetson who is sitting next to me speaks. "No, those are prairie dogs. " (I knew that).

After we land and collect our luggage my husband and I make our way to the rental car lot. Posted on the automatic doors is a sign warning us about rattlesnakes. I start to get excited. West, here we come. When we step outside we are bowled over by the big, blue sky above and the endless fields of golden grassland stretching out before us. The sight sparks a debate between us about which great plains state boasts it's Big Sky Country. Is it South Dakota, where we landed or Montana? We waste some time running around the parking lot looking at car license plates to find said motto (all the while being mindful of rattlesnakes) trying to settle this dispute to no avail. It's Montana, by the way.

Big Sky over Little Bighorn Battlefield, Montana

I'm just a girl with long Midwestern roots, but I've always had a fascination for all things western. I've written both historical and contemporary westerns, relying on images from my computer to create my settings. I have made a number of trips to the southwest, which I love, but never to the other parts west. Writing this blog has sent me on further online excursions. I don't think I knew how much I've really learned until plopping down in South Dakota, jumping up to Montana, and finally ending up in Wyoming.

All during the trip I had the odd sensation of having islands of information in my head, but I couldn't piece them all together. It was overwhelming! As we traveled on, I likened the feeling to quilting in that I not only had pieces to stitch together but layers of time to go through as well. I pictured stitching the top of the quilt to the bottom and connecting it to the layers in between: the history, the personalities, the pivotal moments, not to mention current events such as the Dakota pipeline protests.

This may be a sneaky way of showing you my vacation pictures, but here we go!

Sometime ago I wrote a blog post about sod houses. so when I heard the oldest, intact sod house in existence was on route, I had to see it. We were told it had already closed for the season, but when we got there it was open! The Prairie Homestead sits outside the Badlands of South Dakota. It was a beautiful, sunny day and walking around the homestead, surrounded by fields of grass with the Badlands in the distance, I got some sense of what it would have been like to be one of the early families trying to carve out an existence. When I stepped inside the low, dark house I think what surprised me was how solid it felt. The sod dried like blocks of cement so it wasn't as crumbly or dirty as I imagined, though I shudder to think about spending a cold, rainy day in there.

Inside a sod house, Prairie Homestead, South Dakota

While visiting the Badlands, we stayed in Wall, S.D., home of the famous Wall Drug, which to me previously was just a place where bumper stickers are born. You drive into town and there is billboard after billboard advertising Wall Drug promising free ice water, 5 cent coffee, and if you're on your honeymoon, free donuts. There's not much in Wall besides Wall Drug, which covers almost an entire block, and we were thinking we were not going to be lured into the tourist trap. Well, we actually made two trips there before we left, because it was fun! The stores within one big store were  a blast. We did get free ice water.
Delighted to find free ice water in South Dakota
But somehow along the way to get the free ice water, our baskets got filled with shot glasses, salt and pepper shakers, and playing cards--basically anything with a jackalope printed on it (kids, it's going to be a jackalope themed Xmas this year). My husband even left with a lariat coiled around his shoulder. Typically, we don't have to rustle cattle in the suburbs of Chicago, but the longer the time spent in Wall Drug, the more he needed a lariat. I was excited to find so many items of western wear I'd written about. There were western wear shirts with snaps and yokes and even the shield fronted shirt. And walls and walls of cowboy boots and hats.

shield or bib front western shirt at Wall Drug
Next we headed up to Deadwood. The image of Wild Bill Hickok is plastered everywhere.

Wall O'Bill

 You'd think he founded the town. In reality, he was shot and killed on his one and only visit to Deadwood--where he'd only been about two weeks. To add insult to injury, the man has to spend eternity in boot hill next to Calamity Jane, who had a crush on the recently married Bill and requested she be buried next to him. Some reports say he barely knew her and found the whole thing embarrassing.
Mount Moriah Cemetery, Deadwood, S.D. Buffalo Bill wasn't in Deadwood a hot minute before he was shot in the back. Now he is forever associated with the town and doomed to spend eternity next to Calamity Jane.

But one person Wild Bill did know was Buffalo Bill Cody. He even performed in the latter Bill's Wild West Show.

Next, on to a place that has acted as a siren call for me for as long as I can remember: Little Bighorn Battlefield. Let me just say it did not disappoint. We spent all day there and it warrants a post all to itself, so I won't go into it too much here. I did a piece for this blog on the evolution of the place over time from a battlefield to a monument and the changes along the way.

Where they fell 

We left Montana and headed down to Wyoming. First stop Cody! There we meandered the boardwalks of Old Trail Town where buildings of historic note have been moved like the cabin of Jeremiah Johnson and the saloon the Hole in the Wall Gang hung out complete with bullet holes in the swinging doors. When I wrote Margarita and the Hired Gun, I set part of the story in an outlaw hideout, so I was especially excited to see the actual cabin Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lived while hiding out in Hole in the Wall. A number of impenetrable hideouts were spaced along the Outlaw Trail, Hole in the Wall being one of them. (note the book giveaway mentioned in the blog is no longer running).

Old Trail Town, Cody, WY

For me, on this trip the main course was Little Bighorn Battlefield. All stops leading up to that day were appetizers. Now time for dessert! We drove through Yellowstone (in a blizzard) and went to visit fellow author Andrea Downing in Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons! It was so much fun to meet Andi in person. She, in fact, mapped out the route of our journey for us. 

Two authors cutting up under the antlers

It wasn't all fun and games in Jackson Hole. Andi and I were able to finalize a joint project. We re-released our stories that were in the anthology The Good, the Bad, and the Ghostly under the title From the Files of Nat Tremayne: Two Tales of Hauntings in the Old West. The eight stories in the original anthology were all connected by a detective agency specializing in paranormal events. It was a fun project to work on, and I'm happy to see our work live again. This week the book is on sale for $0.99. Get it. It's a good one: spooky, funny, and above all--romantic.

All images courtesy of  me!


Andrea Downing said...

Wow. I love your metaphor of the quilt Patti but even better was how you sequed into our book! Lovely post snd some great pics (except us freezing to death on Jackson Town Swuare🤠)

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Thanks! That was some trip and I only touched on some of the things we saw.