I grew up in a little town in northeastern Washington state, a place called Northport. My dad was, really and truly, the town marshal. I was raised on stories, told mostly by my adopted grandmother, Florence Wiley, about ‘old times’, when she lived on a farm outside of Coffeyville, Kansas. In my childhood, she was usually working at the wood-burning cook stove while she told her stories, and that stove has been in every western I’ve ever written, always in the same part of the kitchen. Later, when the uncles went together and bought her an electric model, she hated it, claiming it burned everything, and banished it. The black iron and chrome Kitchen Queen was soon back in residence.
Her stories were great. Jesse James once slept in the family barn, and she clearly remembered the day the Dalton brothers tried to rob the bank in Coffeyville. The townspeople had gotten word that they were coming, and they were ready, on roof tops and between buildings, with rifles. The gang was annihilated–the shots were audible from the farm several miles outside of town–and later the bodies were displayed as a deterrent to budding outlaws. Grandma Wiley’s father was ahead of his time, psychologically, and refused to take his children to town and parade them past those bloody corpses, like so many others were doing.
My dad and uncles were rodeo cowboys in their younger days–Uncle Jack Lael was a champion, rode at Madison Square Garden, and got to kiss Miss America, so I grew up around horses and tales of the baddest bulls and wildest broncos on the circuit, of course. When people ask me how I can make the old west seem so authentic in my books, I like to say it’s because I was born and raised in it!