Behind the Story: A Good and Honorable Thief

“A Good and Honorable Thief” is the third of three short stories in my short story collection A Little Bit of Love.

I really enjoyed the historical research I did for my novel With Perfect Clarity, and when I decided to put out a small short story collection I thought why not set one in the old West? I don’t remember how I came up with the idea of a stagecoach robbery, but once the idea was in my head it was clearly exactly the story I needed.

I quickly learned that I would not have been a fan of traveling by stagecoach. They were cramped, dirty, and it took forever (from a modern-day perspective) to get anywhere. It was unlikely – but not impossible – that Indians might attack, and then of course there were those pesky road agents. Conveniently I started my research right before watching Deadwood, so was pleasantly surprised to see they used the term ‘road agent’ – that was an accurate term, but one that I’d never heard of before.

The stagecoach in this story is taking the Overland Trail. This trail was used by stagecoaches to ferry mail and passengers, as well as by wagon trains of people moving out west. You can still see remnants of this and other wagon trails – in some places the ruts worn by covered wagons are still inches deep, even after all this time.

Wells Fargo acquired several stage lines after the Civil War ended, and became the largest stagecoach company in the west. One of the fun facts I learned while researching Wells Fargo was that they posted “rules” for their passengers.

wells_fargo_stagecoach_rules

The rules included things like:

Forbidden topics of conversation are: stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings.

So of course I had to have one of my characters chastise another for mentioning Indians…

The robbers in my story were soldiers in the Civil War. After the war ended many men moved out west, either because they no longer had homes or jobs, or simply because the war had been too much for them. This included both honorably discharged soldiers as well as deserters (although presumably some of the latter had headed west before the war ended).

I find it fascinating to read about what life was like in the old west, and I’m sure I’ll write more stories set during that time period.

I traveled on part of the Overland Trail through Colorado and Wyoming last week, and here’s what – or perhaps I should say who – I have to show for it.

2013-12-21 New Little Dog

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