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Old October 25th, 2015, 05:06 PM   #1
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19th Century "Action Hero"


I am a wannabe writer, which pretty much means that I want to write but do not have the talent. Anyway, I am probably going to get ridiculed on this site, mostly because this is an American History Forum, not a world of make believe. Anyway I have a story idea for an Action/Adventure Western series of books. How do I find information on how much a paid professional gunfighter got back in the 19th century? I was thinking along the lines of having my guy charge $100,000. Is this viewed as too far-fetched?

The timeline was set in 1880s. It is primarily the global adventures of a Texas gunfighter for hire and his Chinese sidekick. I figure a good ten stories should cover it. Since nobody has ever heard of me. Probably won't even sell the first book. I swear whether or not you believe me, I am not trying to "clone" or "rip-off" characters. The inspiration for my story idea comes from "Have Gun - Will Travel" [1957-1963]. I want to write stories akin to that. What makes a decent adventure story? Should each story end with a cliffhanger? [Ex: 1930s and 1940s serials] or has that been done to death? Should the sidekick in the stories be different or keep him throughout? I hope you can help me. Thank you for allowing me to post.

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Old October 25th, 2015, 05:32 PM   #2

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$100,000 seems a tad excessive, considering a working man's wage of the era. Here's a downloadable pdf of what Americans were earning 1860-1890.

http://www.nber.org/chapters/c2500.pdf

Of course, "superstars", be they in sports, entertainment or gunslinging, are going to take home a little more than the rest of us.
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Old October 25th, 2015, 05:38 PM   #3

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Watch the start of the magnificant 7. When the mexixans try to hire the mercanaries. The amount offered was low but should give you an idea
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Old October 25th, 2015, 05:58 PM   #4
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In the 1880s, Billy the Kid had a bounty on his head of $500 and the James brothers $5000 each ; so it's unlikely that $100,000 would be an appropriate amount.

A gunslinger for hire would basically be a bounty hunter, unless he's being paid to protect someone or kill an innocent man. If his job is a bodyguard it's unlikely he'd be earning more than a few dollars a day; if he's an assassin - well I'm not sure. But if I were you I'd stick with him being paid bounties on wanted criminals.

And if you're wanting some advice on your story; a Texan with a sidekick sounds too much like 'The Lone Ranger', so maybe choose another state? And as for leaving cliffhangers , look for an overall story-arc covering your 10 novels, and have each story concluding some mini-branches, but leaving others open. For instance you could have a minor bad-guy getting killed, but the big boss escapes; don't leave too big a cliff-hanger, otherwise readers will just be annoyed.

And good luck with your stories!
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Old October 25th, 2015, 06:53 PM   #5

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Timben View Post
I am a wannabe writer, which pretty much means that I want to write but do not have the talent. Anyway, I am probably going to get ridiculed on this site, mostly because this is an American History Forum, not a world of make believe. Anyway I have a story idea for an Action/Adventure Western series of books. How do I find information on how much a paid professional gunfighter got back in the 19th century? I was thinking along the lines of having my guy charge $100,000. Is this viewed as too far-fetched?

The timeline was set in 1880s. It is primarily the global adventures of a Texas gunfighter for hire and his Chinese sidekick. I figure a good ten stories should cover it. Since nobody has ever heard of me. Probably won't even sell the first book. I swear whether or not you believe me, I am not trying to "clone" or "rip-off" characters. The inspiration for my story idea comes from "Have Gun - Will Travel" [1957-1963]. I want to write stories akin to that. What makes a decent adventure story? Should each story end with a cliffhanger? [Ex: 1930s and 1940s serials] or has that been done to death? Should the sidekick in the stories be different or keep him throughout? I hope you can help me. Thank you for allowing me to post.

Timben
Late 19thC and Edwardian European literature, especially "Boy's Stories" is peppered with "Action heroes" such as Sexton Blake, Richard Hannay, Alan Quatermain, Willy Sampson--America had Nick Carter and Jack Wright, any one of Charles' Pierce's characters and in a Western context there was Karl May's "Old Shatterhand".
All these people righted wrongs, solved crimes, saved fair maiden etc. but were so rich in their on right, they DIDN'T NEED TO BE SO VULGAR as to look for financial reward. (When did the Lone Ranger ask anyone for cash? Come to think of it, where did he live?)
As they were rich, and invariably well educated and well connected they could do stuff that normal folks couldn't.
So here's an idea--create yourself a blue-blooded gentleman gunfighter, scion of a leading family (never disclosed who) cast out for some perceived social sin, righting wrongs just for the hell of it--after all, how could he defend the impoverished and weak if he wants a fee higher than the annual budget of an 1880s Western territory?
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Old October 26th, 2015, 02:11 AM   #6

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Look into the life of Tom Horn. He was an interesting man, and he was hung in Wyoming for murder. He was a hired "Cattle Detective" to eliminate rustling, and he was pretty effective. Men started turning up dead with a rock for a pillow, but rustling diminished. When a young boy was shot to death, Tom Horn was blamed. He denied the charge, but what would one expect? He was a docile prisoner who spent his time braiding rope; he was a great favorite of his jailers. I'm not sure what Tom Horn was paid, but it probably wasn't very much.

In his earlier life, Horn was attached to the Apache Scouts under General Crook and served honorably in the campaign. I believe he had little formal schooling, but he was a great tracker and rifle shot. Tom Horn wasn't Paladin, but he is a character well worth learning about. If Horn had a companion, which he did not, I would think it would be an Apache ex-scout.
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Old October 26th, 2015, 07:14 AM   #7

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Two members of the Wild Bunch, George Newcomb and Charley Pierce fetched $5,000 dollars each after being shot and killed in Oklahoma in 1895.

.................................................. .................................................. ......................

This might help your research, the memoirs of Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo;

https://archive.org/details/cowboydetectivet00siririch

Last edited by Triceratops; October 26th, 2015 at 07:31 AM.
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Old October 26th, 2015, 07:48 AM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Timben View Post
The timeline was set in 1880s. It is primarily the global adventures of a Texas gunfighter for hire and his Chinese sidekick.
Timben


Just notice that it is global adventures. This man's career might provide some ideas;

[ame]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Russell_Burnham[/ame]
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Old October 26th, 2015, 08:54 AM   #9

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Originally Posted by Triceratops View Post
Just notice that it is global adventures. This man's career might provide some ideas;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Russell_Burnham
An American Hero you never heard of
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Old October 26th, 2015, 09:30 AM   #10

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Since you are contemplating Western Fiction, invent your characters as you need them. It is important though to supply the reader with accurate details. For instance, Western fans are minor experts on the firearms used, so any mistake you make will be pounced upon and the whole story-line may collapse. Western fiction fans often know quite a bit about the actual history of times in the various territories/States where the Wild West was played out. They will Likely know who the President was, the economics of the times, and the major Indian campaigns, so you need to build on that to create believable scenarios.

Western films and television shows don't reliably reflect the realities of 1870-1890. The really good stories recognize that the all good stories are centered on the human condition, often as unwitting symbols of Universal issues. The contest between "good and evil", "wealth and poverty", "justice and injustice" are played out in the supposedly simpler late 19t century. Elmore Leonard was a master at writing Westerns that Hollywood loved to film, but Hollywood's versions were almost a perversion of Leonard's novels. Clint Eastwood's western genre films are great entertainment, and he works hard to produce films that are more authentic looking than most.

The period that forms the backdrop to Westerns, was really more about ordinary folks struggling to make a better world for themselves in very difficult circumstances. Distances led to isolation, and the most common dramas involved personal challenges. To break a leg while trying to plow a field, or the woman whose loneliness led to insanity, were the stuff of common drama and testing. The actual threat of an Indian raid over most of the Western frontier was almost nil in the late 19th century.

Our ranch building were constructed defensively because our land was Apache land and it sat on one of the major routes to and from Mexico. The ranch compound never was attacked, though we had horses, mules and cattle stolen on a regular basis. The ranch hands rode in pairs about their work, and so far as I know none were ever attacked by the Apache. There was risk, but the risk was accepted for what it was and reasonably counter measures were adopted. When confrontations did happen, settlers tried to form harmonious relationships with the Apache backed up by projecting a sense of strength. For the Apace stealing was preferable to begging, but when their situation was desperate, they came for medicine and thereafter thefts might decrease. In places where the Indian Wars were already history, folks probably seldom gave any thought to attack.

The nearest ranch was the Glenn's about three hours away on horseback, too far for immediate relief. The nearest town was Douglas and that was a day's journey. Ranch work begins before dawn and the number of calories consumed at breakfast would kill a modern American. The women cooked two large meals every day on a wood fired iron stove. While the men were working the cattle, the women grew truck gardens,gathered wood, and did the laundry. To have visitors was uncommon. If a neighbor showed up there was a possibility that they were in need. Sometimes the need was an accident or sickness, and stretching a family's resources to help increased the risk losing everything. Strangers knew not to dismount before being invited, but once accepted could expect to be treated as royally as a family could afford. The "good dishes" were brought out, an old hen might be put into the pot, and the family would converse well beyond normal bedtime ... just after dark. Family might ride in from Texas without prior notice, and they could stay a week or a month helping out around the ranch.

The children became important labor almost as soon as they could walk and talk. Store bought clothing was too expensive, so some ranchers lived in tatters and were familiar with hunger. Even without the Apache, ranching in those days was dangerous work. I had a horse killed after being spooked by a rattlesnake once while riding fence, and had to walk ten miles? back to the house. A worn saddle girth could give way, and dump the rider in a clump of cactus. Pioneers survived most of these challenges, but they are now all but forgotten.

Outlaws and lawmen were almost interchangeable, and respectable folks avoided both. Outlaws and lawmen were predators who generally regarded the rest of humanity as suckers, sheep to be sheared. There weren't many, and just like today they were a plague on the country. Civil War veterans suffering from PST could not adjust to peace and they became robbers and murderers unless circumstance gave them a badge. In the absence of law over vast mountains, prairies and deserts was a temptation to theft, rape and murder. In a world where currency was scarce, a man could be killed for the cloths on his back, or to steal a fine horse. The predatory elements tended to concentrate around mining operations. Lonely traveled by likely victims attracted young outlaws tired of the harshness of daily life. Gamblers and cheats of all sorts paid protection to the local lawman, who as likely as not also ran the local bordellos.

In that world, a daily wage of a dollar was a good job. Barter was common, but only the things traded could be stolen. The country was rich, but those who made money off of the Frontier generally lived in New England, or elsewhere. The big ranches were run by poorly paid cowboys for absentee landlords in Kent. For most of the settlers, their most valuable property was the family bible and a few tintypes of distant family.

Families played games, read and told stories to fill the time. Dominoes were a favorite because unlike playing cards, they were harder to destroy. If the family owned a pack of cards, they were very careful using them. The preferred books were those that were long and filled with dramatic narrative. At the end of the day, the family might gather around while the best reader delivered the next chapter in one of Dicken's novels.

When I was growing up on the family ranch we had an old man who had "served" with us since sometime in the late 1870's. In the late 1940's, Mr. Brown was more of a mentor than he was a working cowboy. He wore a broad brimmed Kosuth hat that he had owned since those hats first appeared. Mr. Brown had lived his entire life in the Southwest, he had driven cattle up the Goodnight, and drank whisky in low dives. His skin was wrinkled and burnt by the sun, and his hands bore witness to the hardness of life on the range. Mr. Brown had once been married, but he only had one relative ... a sun who lived in an insane asylum up near Tucson that he never spoke of. Now there was a Man, a man who had been a personal witness to the reality that stood behind the fictions in Penny Dreadfulls, or Hollywood's fantasies. As you can imagine, Mr. Brown was a favorite of all the children. He had met John Wesley Hardin on a trail drive, had drunk with Frank James in a saloon, and sat around countless campfires where stories were exchanged by master storytellers. Oh my, but could Mr. Brown carry us back in time to marvel at what he had seen, done and heard about. I don't think Mr. Brown ever killed anyone, but then I'm sure he edited his stories for children's ears.

Before outlining a series of western stories based on a wandering knight and his faithful companion, understand the time. Even more important, since you admit to being a poor writer, is to develop and hone your writing skills. Write everyday. A thousand words of clean and proper prose daily is really important. Writing sounds easy enough, but it's not. No matter how good your premise, unless you can keep a poor reader interested and turning pages, you might as well take up welding. Good writing demands dedication, focus, and mastery of grammar. Few are so naturally gifted that they can easily sit down and crank out best sellers twice a year. Just to write a publishable short story of under 10K words is beyond most people. Good luck.
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