Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Research, Tom O'Day and Me

Historical research can be both fun and exasperating.  Sometimes a single tale or a single person has multiple stories, none the same and it gets difficult trying to separate truth from fiction. Working on a story dealing with lesser know members of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch led me to Tom O’Day and the most convoluted last 30 years, or so, of his life.
There are many, many, head scratchers like this in history, that’s what makes research worthwhile and fun.
Outlaw Tom O’Day rode with the Wild Bunch, or at least they put up with him, according to some Butch Cassidy experts. He is sometimes referred to as a forward scout, you know the guy who goes in and cases the joint, before the robbery. Others say he may have been kept around for comedic relief, like the time he got too drunk to even watch the horses properly.

Regardless of which Tom O’Day the real guy was, he is interesting and certainly much more than just a footnote in Wyoming and Wild West history. Almost any mention of the Wild Bunch and you will find Tom O’Day’s name.

In November of 1903 O’Day was tired of working for wages for area ranchers and decided to run off a few horses to sell for himself, something he had done in the past and was quite good at. He rustled fifteen head of fine horses and took off for the rugged lands of the Owl Creek Mountains of central Wyoming.

The penalty for horse stealing in 1903 Wyoming was five years a horse, so O’Day was looking at 75 years worth of horses. It was a good business if you got away with it. Each prime horse could be worth two or three months wages. O’Day liked his chances, a little bit of work; hide the horses for a few weeks in a mountain pass, then run them into Montana to sell. Easy street, for the next few years, was just around the corner.

But, things didn’t work out so well for Tom O’Day, he got caught, likely because he stole the horse flesh from Bryant B. Brooks, an important Wyoming politician of the day. The judge was soft hearted toward the amicable O’Day and sentenced him to six year in the Wyoming state penitentiary in Rawlins.

Well of all the crazy stuff! Bryant Brooks was elected as Wyoming’s seventh governor two years later and two years after that re-elected to a second term. And then he pardoned O’Day with a year and a half left on his sentence.

Who says politicians can’t be understanding fellows at time?  

O’Day went straight after leaving prison, moving to a Nebraska farm where he lived and worked happily ever after until his death in 1936. Or maybe he moved to Deadwood where he worked as a greater in a gambling and other entertainment business up to his death in 1930. Some Wild West historian’s note O’Day left prison, never to be heard from again until his death in Iowa in the 30s.

OK, so no one knows what become of the horse thief after leaving prison. Well at least we know he left other peoples horse flesh alone for the rest of his life----maybe.
Now get out there and research--and scratch your head too.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fiction or Nonfiction

Sometimes writers tend to forget the line between fiction and nonfiction is not a fine line, but a broad stroke. I like reading both, but there is a difference and it should be known. In our modern society people are often confused as to what is real, what is true and what is not. The following story is a good example of fiction and speculation becoming fact, why, because it was written in a text book, and for generations, students believed a story that at best was a terrific stretch and at worst it was a fable written as a joke that too many took as the truth.
Not sure if every state has a tail of discovery, but Wyoming does. I would rather call it, the, who was here first story. The answer is, of course, Indians, several tribes. But much like Columbus discovering America, when there were already a million, or so people here, Wyoming, for years taught about who the first, non Indian to enter Wyoming was and like Columbus often said they were the discoveries of Wyoming.

Many texts tell us that a brother duo, the Verendrye’s were likely the first non-natives to visit the cowboy state. Nice, but this is based on the fact that that school children in South Dakota found a lead plate in 1913 that was buried by Chevalier de la Verendrye dated March 30, 1743. This is a fine tail, and likely true, with a few details filed in, but it was a long way to Wyoming from Fort Pierre, South Dakota.

Historical speculation seemed to get carried away. Some would be historians assumed the Verendrye’s must have journeyed on to the Black Hills from Fort Pierre and then might just have went on to Wyoming. Maybe just to say they had been there, just kidding.

Fort Pierre is some 200 miles from the Wyoming boarder; believe I will stick with my belief. John Colter, who traveled west with Lewis and Clark, left the ‘Corpse of Discovery’ on the west coast and made his way back east, stopping in what is today Yellowstone. No one believed him when he told tales of Yellowstone wonders, but later they were proved true, and I have been there to see them.

Historical facts are just that, they can be proven; historical speculation belongs in fiction, not text books.


Monday, July 15, 2013

What To Do With All My Money

Now that I am retired thought I might look for a part time job, you know, a bit of extra cash. Looks like I am too late to go with Lewis and Clark and the Corpse of Discovery. Darn, the job paid $5.00 a month too, could have used the money.


Research may be the toughest part of writing; at least it is for me. The reason, it’s too easy to get off track, as evidenced by the above post. Oh, I was looking for stuff on John Colter and his famous run when I got off track dreaming of that once-a-month, five buck payday.


What would this ol’ boy do with the cash, puts me in a day-dreaming mood. But I am thinkin’ Ice Cream.