Hello readers and welcome back to my weekly blog. The focus this week will be on the town of Abilene, Kansas. I chose this topic because the town is one of the most important settings in the entire book. In fact, it is one of only two locations to be visited more than once during the course of the story. The other is Chisolm's trading post, also located in Kansas.
But of the two, it is Abilene that has far more significance both historically and in relation to the story. I won't go into details with regard to the story so as to avoid spoiling it for anyone who hasn't read that far in the book. Suffice it to say that the events that occur during each of Garrison's visits to the town have far reaching consequences that extend deep into the story of Part I and beyond.
Historically, Abilene is known as the first, and perhaps most important, of the cow towns that sprung up across the west during this time period. From 1867 to 1871 the Chisolm Trail (see last week's blog entry) ended in Abilene. In that same time period, it is estimated that close to half a million cattle were shipped east from Abilene via railcar.
The cattle did not come alone; they were herded by thousands of cowboys whose presence made Abilene a wild and dangerous place. During this time period several famous gunfighters called Abilene home. Among them were the notorious John Wesely Hardin and Ben Thompson.
It is not surprising then, that the town needed equally formidable men to enforce the law and keep the peace. The first of these was town marshal Tom "Bear River" Smith. He was a rough and tumble sort who often enforced the law with his fists. While he survived two assassination attempts during his term he was eventually killed and decapitated in November of 1870.
His replacement would become one of the most colorful and famous figures in the history of the old west. He was also one of the few true pistoleers. That man's name was James Butler Hickock, better known as Wild Bill.
Hickock took over as marshal in April of 1871. It was in Abilene where his famous gunfight with Phil Coe occurred. During the shootout Wild Bill also accidently shot and killed his deputy, Mike Williams. Reportedly Wild Bill was never quite the same after this incident. In December of 1871, just six short months after his arrival, Hickock lost his job as town marshal.
Of course, Abilene was a very different place in 1864 when Matthew Garrison first arrives. While my original intent was to use Abilene as a bustling cow town, my research quickly determined that I could not do so and maintain the historical accuracy I was aiming for. Fortunately, my research also provided me with a viable alternative option.
I was fortunate to come across a 1940 article on the Kansas Historical Society website that contained a detailed description of Abilene in its pre cattle town days. Many of these details made their way into the story.
The place where Garrison eats and gets a room was the historical Hersey establishment which served as a way station for the Butterfield Overland Despatch stage line. As described in the book it consisted of two log houses, a log stable and corral. Mr. Hersey did indeed advertise that his establishment offered the "last square meal east of Denver." The interior of the building is a product of my imagination as is the old man Garrison encounters there.
The building described in the book on the opposite side of the creek, known as Mud Creek, was owned by C. H. Thompson. It was known simply as "the Hotel" and served as a way station for the Short Line Stage Company.
The mercantile shop described in the book is another historical element. It was called the Frontier Store as described in the story. Its owner was also the postmaster and register of deeds. The store later served as a meeting place for district court.
Of course, the most significant building in Abilene, with regard to the story, has to be the saloon. Most of the story elements take place in this building. In 1864 the historical Abilene did in fact have a saloon called "Old Man Jones." And like in the book it was located, for whatever reason, in the middle of a prairie dog town.
The interior of the saloon and its proprietor, Zeke, are again products of my imagination. In fact, none of the characters Garrison meets here during his two visits has any basis in history. Yet what takes place here during Garrison two visits has a significant impact on the rest of the story. Again, I'll spare the details for those who haven't read the book yet.
Well, this brings our brief exploration of Abilene to an end. I hope you found it both interesting and entertaining. Please be sure to subscribe for future updates and check back next Sunday for the next entry in Pale Horse Revelations.
And, of course, thank you for your interest and support.