In company with Old NFO and Lawdog, I headed for the Texas Panhandle this weekend, to do some research into an area that will be prominent in at least two more Walt Ames novels. We met up with Alma Boykin on arrival, and she acted as our tour guide for the weekend.
We began at the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum in Canyon. It's one of the nicest small-to-medium-sized museums I've ever seen (and I've visited many of them, on three different continents). It's very well laid out, with an excellent collection of exhibits. It covers the prehistoric geology, biology and zoology of the area, its importance to several Native American tribes, the arrival of white settlers and the cattle industry, the development of the oil industry, and all sorts of ancillary topics. There's a very nice collection of regional art (several examples of which I was sorely tempted to 'borrow' for the walls of my home), and a clothing and textile section that we didn't visit, but mentally noted as a place to bring the lovely Phlegm in future (she's very into that sort of thing).
Not surprisingly to readers who know our proclivities, the firearms collection occupied much of our time. Of course, being who and what we are, we identified two mislabeled exhibits; Lawdog spotted a Colt M1877 revolver that was labeled as the Lightning model, but was in reality the larger Thunderer, while I spotted a Winchester 1873 carbine model that was mislabeled as a full-length rifle. Alma, who's researched at least two of her books in the museum's archives and knows everyone there, noted the details and handed them to a member of the staff before we left. Apparently they have a lot more guns in storage than those on exhibition, so we're hoping that one of these days, we may be able to arrange a behind-the-scenes visit to look at the rest of their firearms collection. I'm betting we'll be able to find several more errors in cataloging!
After a late lunch, I put my head down for a nap while Lawdog and NFO visited a few other local museums; then Alma took us to Trail Boss, a local barbecue restaurant, for supper. The food was delicious, and made the visit worthwhile on its own merits. We'll be visiting there again. (I tried to look innocent while suggesting to Lawdog that he try their 'Ghost Riders In The Sky Cheeseburger'; but unfortunately he noticed, just in time, that it included two slices of ghost pepper cheese. He gave me one of those looks, and very rapidly chose a different dish!)
After supper, Alma took us back to her family's home to meet her father. Inevitably, he and Old NFO had both been based on the same Pacific island at various times during their respective periods of military service, so the conversation rapidly degenerated into "Do you remember?" and "Was that like this when you were there?" and "What about old so-and-so?" I get the feeling NFO's been everywhere, done everything and met everyone. It's a lot of fun to eavesdrop on his conversations.
Sunday morning was spent at the Palo Duro Canyon State Park. It really tugged at my heartstrings - the terrain and vegetation there are so like parts of Africa, where I grew up, that I literally couldn't tell them apart visually. I felt right at home. I reckon I could take any of my local friends, drop them into parts of Africa, and defy them to realize that they'd left the US at all. Also, the place is almost oozing with memories . . . if I were the superstitious type, I'd say it was haunted. There's so much history in that canyon that you can almost hear the spirits calling to each other. It's a remarkable place. (Click the image below for a larger view.)
Among other things, we visited the general area where the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon took place in 1874. Again, one can almost hear the ghosts whispering there. The deliberate slaughter of so many of their horses broke the spirit (and the resistance) of the Comanche tribe, which retreated on foot to its reservation in the Indian Territories (today part of Oklahoma). According to Alma, the Comanche have from time to time held memorial services in the canyon to commemorate what was, for them, a national tragedy, with permanent spiritual as well as practical implications.
After lunch at a tourist stop in the Canyon, it was time to head for home. We said our goodbyes to Alma, with promises to visit again soon. We were greatly amused by Lawdog's comment that we were 'heading back east' - which for NFO and I usually means the far side of the Mississippi river! Lawdog's stamping grounds are in west Texas, which is very different from east Texas, so I can see what he was getting at. On our way through one of the towns where he'd served as a deputy sheriff, he entertained us by pointing out the locations of some of his adventures. ("That's where I shot Santa... and that's the joint where Pearl stole the steaks.") We wheedled some more details out of him here and there. He'll be describing those incidents and more in his forthcoming book.
I learned a lot, and I'll be using the information in future Westerns. We'll be heading back to the Panhandle soon for more research (and more good food and company!).