While I was visiting Fort Griffin I heard a story about a man called John Larn. He worked for Bill Hayes. In 1872 Hayes went to New Mexico with a herd of cattle expecting Larn to watch his stock at Fort Griffin.
Larn rebranded the cattle as his own. When Hayes got back he discovered Larn had stolen his cows so he hired men to steal them back. Larn in turn hired his own men to steal the cows back again and then tracked down Hayes and nine other men and killed them all.
Later, Larn built a home for his wife, Mary Matthews, south of Camp Cooper. By this time Larn was the sheriff of the town of Fort Griffin. Larn hired Irish brothers, stone masons, to build a fence. When it was finished, rather than pay the brothers, Larn killed them with his deputy and dumped the bodies into the Clear Fork of the Brazos.
In 1878 the same vigilantes Larn had led against Hayes rose up, hunted him down, arrested him as a cattle thief, and killed him.
This is what the Old West was like. This is why I don’t like the hoary cliches and maudlin romanticization of the west that have taken root in our culture.
We know what the west was like. We know exactly what the west was like. That’s what I want to write about. Other people can write about other things they think the west is about and that’s fine.
But this is the red plain upon which I work, and this is why I like working in the genre. It hasn’t even begun to be tapped for story potential.
I really believe this. Westerns have been around as long as the Old West itself, since Ned Buntline. And I am telling you we have just begun to scratch the surface as far as story potential goes.
We haven’t even begun.