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Why didn’t Renaldo and Hank carry guns with them for protection? Eduardo had a gun when he was at his parents’ home, wouldn’t Renaldo and Hank carry guns when they’re traveling along open and rough terrain with potential predators (both animal and human)?

Fun (and probably shocking) fact, most cowboys didn’t carry guns! Turns out that’s a Hollywood fabrication. Guns were expensive, hard to maintain, and cumbersome as a guy on a horse. Six shooters? Super pricey. You had a rifle if you were a frontiersman (bear, wolves), and you had a handgun if you were a man of the law, but cowboys? They were the bottom of the barrel.

I cannot stress enough how low on the totem pole cowboys were at this time.  Cowboy = guy who literally rode next to or behind a herd of cattle on a cattle drive for very little pay.  They didn’t have the funds or need for such hardware. It was considered a dangerous practice to carry a pistol, and wasn’t something that was looked upon with positivity. (Not to mention that handguns were considered a luxury item.)

A dispatch from the Texas Live Stock Journal dated June 5, 1884, 14 years after Bitter Springs is set:

The six-shooter loaded with deadly cartridges is a dangerous companion for any man, especially if he should unfortunately be primed with whiskey. Cattlemen should unite in aiding the enforcement of the law against carrying of deadly weapons.” 

Also, where the book takes place–Western Texas along the New Mexico border–that was Hank’s territory, his second home. He knew the people who would be in that area (and Tsá-cho was who was leaving Hank those clues along the trail) so there was no need to be wary–those were his people, the Mescalero.

This was one of the more eye-opening facts I uncovered while researching the book: Guns and shootouts just weren’t as prevalent as Hollywood would have us believe. At all. Especially the time when the book was set. (Sorry to disappoint you guys.)

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One thing Hollywood got right: a black man on a horse out West [accurate]

That big famous shootout at the OK Corral? (Where the inspiration for the book came.) That had an actual body count of three, and that was the highest number of murders in the town’s history. Pulp novels about the life in the Wild West were cheap and easy to produce at the end of the 19th Century, and “city slickers” ate up the idea of the Wild West, gunfights, cowboys, the whole rigamarole that still holds on to this day. But it was done for ratings. It wasn’t reality.

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People at that time would commonly have a rifle or shotgun for emergency or for grabbing dinner. Handgun or set of pistols? Not very prevalent among everyday folk. And shooting a rifle while on horseback takes a lot of skill. (That was the draw of Annie Oakley and Wild Bill Hickok after all!) You’d carry it to ward off a bear, cougar, something like that, get a deer to feed the family, the leftovers to be salted, smoked and/or hung for later.

Where our boys were? Not really needed. Horses would be wary of rattlesnakes and spook before getting in striking distance. Bears are non-existent, wolves and cougars wouldn’t bother with a person on horseback. (And let’s call a spade a spade: white settlers would also be carrying in case of attack.) And again, any Natives they encountered would have been seen as allies by Hank. (Maybe not Renaldo, since the Valle familia were fairly isolated from native peoples, but definitely would see Hank as their ally.)

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Ruger Vaquero, reproduction of a “cowboy action” handgun

The most popular handguns — your Colts, Winchesters, Smith & Wessons, etc .– were typically an Army/Navy weapon, and not sold widely to the public until after 1870. Since Bitter Springs is set in 1870…  Now, a knife is a weapon most people would carry. Handgun? Not so much. Also, while we call them “six-shooters”, a lot of them only shot five bullets. I AM JUST RUINING EVERYTHING, SORRY.

Also, and this is the high-falutin’ stuff, one of the driving forces for me in this book was to show masculinity outside of the toxic model that has been force-fed everyone for centuries. Guys on horses, on the range, falling in love, feeling deeply, gentle with animals, considerate of others, and no violence*. …I just lost a bunch of you, didn’t I? WAIT COME BACK. These guys have a hard as hell job, and somehow they –in real life, as well as in the book — managed to not only do their jobs but be very successful without being toxic.

* there is an animal death at the hand of one of the characters in the book, but it’s an act of mercy. And deeply symbolic. Feel free to ask about that–I don’t want to spoil anything.

Isn’t it amazing to see how much is different from history than we thought was accurate?! I LOVE IT!!

And thank you, again, for reading Bitter Springs, available at the Interlude Press store and everywhere books are sold (and your local library! Just ask if they don’t currently have it on the shelf).

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