Croquet in the Old West

About three years ago came news that a new photo of Billy the Kid might have been unearthed. Experts hired by National Geographic purported that the tintype showed Billy and a number of his associates on John Tunstall’s ranch in Lincoln County, New Mexico playing croquet. You can see the full photo and learn more at National Geographic’s site. The detail below supposedly shows Billy on the left with Tom O’Folliard in the center pointing at him. On the right may be Sallie Chisum.

I love this photo on many levels. If this is Billy the Kid, we now have an image of him wearing a cardigan and a bow tie, playing croquet with his gang. Tom O’Folliard was Billy’s best friend. Like Billy, O’Folliard was shot and killed by Pat Garrett. Sallie Chisum was the niece of prominent rancher John Chisum, who in turn was a business partner of Billy and Tom’s boss John Tunstall. Sallie Chisum lived in Lincoln County until her death in 1934. To put that date in perspective, my mom, the daughter of New Mexico homesteaders, would have been seven years old. Sallie Chisum is important to historians because her diary contains stories about both Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett.

Historians have been debating whether or not this photo actually shows Billy the Kid, the Regulators, and their associates. Whether or not Billy the Kid is in this photo, we do see a scene of people in the Old West playing croquet. We know croquet sets were sold in New Mexico because Gazette of Las Vegas, New Mexico ran an ad featuring croquet sets in 1878.

In my Clockwork Legion novels, I have a character named Billy McCarty. When pressed, I tell people Billy may or may not be Billy the Kid. In many ways, he’s like the person in the photo, who also may or may not be Billy the Kid. I’m not a historian, but a fiction writer. As a fiction writer, I’m allowed to ask, what if this photo really depicts the Billy of my stories. What if his boss, Englishman John Tunstall, introduced him and his friends to croquet? What if he was an aficionado of the game?

I play with this idea in my latest novel, Owl Riders. In the novel, Ramon Morales first encounters Billy teaching the men who work at Onofre Cisneros’s warehouse in Nogales how to play croquet. As the novel progresses, we find that Billy has skills with a croquet ball and mallet that rival his skills with a six-gun.

You can learn more about Owl Riders and read the first chapter at http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_riders.html

On Saturday, I mentioned that I’ll be signing my vampire books at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans. This will also be the formal debut event for Owl Riders. You might wonder if that means that there are vampires in my new steampunk novel, especially in light of my Billy encountering vampires in last year’s Straight Outta Tombstone. In fact, there are no vampires in the new novel, but Boutique du Vampyre is in the same block of the French Quarter where Ramon and Fatemeh Morales live in the novel.

Saddle up and take flight with the Owl Riders!

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Twisting History

This month has started off with some good news. I have official word that my story “Fountains of Blood” has been accepted for an anthology called Straight Outta Tombstone tentatively scheduled to appear in summer 2017 from Baen Books. Editor David Boop invited me to submit to the anthology a little over a year ago.

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My story idea came quickly and I was inspired by a tombstone in the cemetery behind my house. No one’s buried underneath this tombstone. Rather it’s a memorial to a former cavalryman, governor of Texas, and attorney named Albert Jennings Fountain who disappeared near White Sands along with his son Henry on February 1, 1896. Among other things, Fountain operated the Fountain Opera House in Mesilla, New Mexico. Although that building no longer stands, his family rebuilt the building in 1905 as the Fountain Theater, which now shows films selected by the Mesilla Valley Film Society. As it tuns out, for a time they used stationary with a letterhead I designed for them, giving me a thread of connection back to Fountain himself.

Perhaps Fountain’s most famous client as an attorney was Billy the Kid. Most sources cite Billy’s real name as William Henry McCarty. In my Clockwork Legion novels, William McCarty’s life path is changed when he encounters Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi. Instead of getting caught up in an ugly feud known as the Lincoln County War, McCarty becomes one of the Owl Riders, helping to defend the United States against the Russians.

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Back in our timeline, after defending Billy the Kid, Fountain would go on to launch an investigation into the Lincoln County War. He was on his way home from Lincoln County when he and his son disappeared. In The Brazen Shark, Fountain still defends Billy. This time it’s not for murder, but for helping his friends Ramon and Fatemeh evade soldiers so they could understand why the Russians were invading the United States in the first place. In the Clockwork Legion series, Billy doesn’t die at twenty-one, and Fountain hires him as a bodyguard for his fateful trip. The problem is, even Billy the Kid can’t stand up to the forces out to stop Albert J. Fountain.

After getting ambushed near White Sands and left for dead, Billy awakens and goes for help. After the long journey, he seeks solace from a “soiled dove” in Las Cruces named Marcella who turns out to know more than he would have suspected and provides Billy with essential clues about the disappearance. Those familiar with my books may recognize Marcella from Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

Of course, my short story stands alone and you will be able to read it without being familiar with my novels. However, for readers who want the fun of seeing the connections and how I’ve bent and twisted history in both universes, I recommend starting with the first books in each series Owl Dance and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. Of course, I’d love it if you would keep right on reading all the books in the two series. That would keep you busy for the months waiting for the new anthology. I hear the author list is pretty amazing and hope I can share the full table of contents soon.