I’ve been getting ready to launch my new middle-grades novel, Macon’s Perfect Shot, with a reading Wednesday, Oct. 8, at 6 p.m. at the Gallatin History Museum, 317 W. Main, in Bozeman. The Museum’s Research Room is the perfect place for the event because it’s where I discovered the stories that inspired the book.
My first book, Adventures in Yellowstone, is a compilation of a dozen first-person accounts of early travel to Yellowstone Park. I wanted it to be an anthology in the words of the people who live the adventures because that makes their emotions and personalities shine through.
When I finished Adventures, I discovered I had a lot of stories left that I didn’t think were strong enough to stand on their own, so I invented a 14-year-old boy to live them. Turning to fiction let me attribute several incidents to a single character and to embellish true stories by creating dialog and exploring motivations that weren’t explicit in the accounts in my collection of more that 300 tales.
The first thing I needed was an overarching story that could be used to tie a lot of little incidents together. I chose Henry “Bird” Calfee’s account of his trip to the brand new Yellowstone National Park in 1872. Calfee told his story in a reminiscence apparently published in a newspaper many years after his trip. It’s contained in an unidentified and undated newspaper clipping in the Gallatin History Museum Reasearch Room.
Calfee, who later became one of the first commercial photographers in Yellowstone Park, traveled with his friend, Macon Josey. The pair rode on horseback through the roadless wilderness for several weeks and visited all the major sights in the park: Mammoth Hot Spring, Yellowstone Falls. the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and the geyser basins.
Their adventure climaxed when Josey fell into a geyser and scalded himself up to his waist. Then Calfee had to figure out how to get his injured friend home and the route he chose led directly toward a murderous band of horse thieves.
I also found a story in an 1872 issue of the Bozeman Avant Courier newspaper that described pioneer sheriff Henry Guy’s pursuit of the notorious Harlow gang that had been stealing horses in the Gallatin Valley. Based on information provided by Calfee and Josey, Sheriff Guy tracked down the gang and engaged them in a fierce gun fight that left three men dead.
The Calfee-Josey story provided a nice adventure narrative, but I wanted to create a coming-of-age story. Although the real Macon Josey was an adult, I made my character by that name a 14-year-old boy. I altered the facts and had Calfee, not Josey, fall into a geyser. That provided a strong pivot point in the plot where Macon had to grow up fast.
After I had an overarching plot, I began looking through my story collection for other tales I could use as models for Macon’s adventures. Some of those stories have been posted on this blog.
- An early explorer taking a tumble into the icy waters of the Gardiner River. by Philetus Norris, the second Yellowstone Park Superintendent.
- Washing dishes in a hot spring that turns into a geyser in by Harry J. Norton, who wrote the first tourist’s guide to Yellowstone Park.
- Bear hunting by Jack Bean, a Bozeman pioneer and hunting guide.
All the stories I used came from the 1870s, so Macon’s Perfect Shot provides a realistic picture of what travel to Yellowstone Park would have been like when it was a roadless wilderness. The book is aimed toward fifth- and sixth-graders, but I tried to write a novel that would be fun reading for any age. I think I succeeded.
If you’d like to learn more about Macon’s Perfect Shot or early travel to Yellowstone Park, I’d love to tell you all about it at the book launch. I hope to see you there.
It’s free and open to the public and I’ll be available to sign copies of the new book and my first book, Adventures in Yellowstone. And watch for my next book, The Stories of Yellowstone, which is scheduled to be published in November.