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November 11: Flash Fiction Challenge

November 11Today I got an email from the NaNo organizers that encouraged:

Time + Work = Novel.

That formula could apply to many endeavors including the time and work our veterans put in to serve their countries; or the time and work displaced citizens put in to find new homelands.

I’m thinking of both service and those served in light of Veteran’s Day or Remembrance Day. Like the yin and yang of writers and readers, a novel exists in the hands of both. And so do wars exist in lives of soldiers and those seeking peace.

Not that writing a novel is a war, but it can be a battle at times. Often I fight doubt and have to press through hardship to reach my goal. The biggest hardship is managing time, which often leaves me feeling exhausted. Not as worn as a soldier on the battlefield, or displaced persons on the run. But in the battle to get words and time committed to pages and revision, I find late nights and coffee-fueled morning are becoming a pattern.

So I’m proposing rest. Soldiers often took R&R even in war-times, their leaders recognizing the importance of overcoming battle fatigue. And what better place to rest than in my bed, or so says Grenny who stretches out across our comforter, relieved that the humans have finally vacated his favorite spot. Restful spots can vary as much as mattresses and pillow preferences (talk about wars, couples often fight about firmness and softness, fluffy or flat, hot or cold).

Even sheriffs need time off to unwind. Was it possible that Cobb McCanles tired of his profession and wanted a comfortable retirement to recoup from his occupation? Around the same time that Cobb was planning his leave, a fellow sheriff in another North Carolina county found refuge in an insane asylum:

INSANE — Mr. Plunkett, Sheriff of Carabus County, was brought to this city Friday last and placed in the Insane Asylum. The duties of his office, it is said, were probably the chief cause of his derangement.

~ 24 Nov 1858 Weekly Raleigh Register

Pressure is a motive to consider. Yet, Cobb was young and self-possessed; he hardly seemed ready to settle into a comfortable down mattress or padded cell. The fact that Cobb served any longevity as Sheriff of Watauga County, North Carolina is a matter of restless dispute.

James Butler Hickok has numerous biographers and all make various claims to Cobb’s service as Sheriff. Because most biographers glorify Hickok, they all want to discredit Cobb to make it look like he was the bully who got what he deserved — shot. Yet, if anyone points out that Hickok, or Wyatt Earp were bullies, the fact that they occasionally wore a territorial lawman badge is used to defend their tough actions. If it were true that Cobb served as an elected Sheriff for more than seven years, and that he formally organized a process of adjudication of the law in the Nebraska Territory, then his actions at Rock Creek might be better understood as ones attributed to a lawman.

Respected contemporary Hickok historian, Joseph Rosa, like all other past historians of this event, does not seek any documents or records relating to Cobb McCanles. All he does is repeat second-hand stories historian John Preston Arthur recorded in 1911 and that William Connelley repeated in 1933.  Rosa writes:

He got himself elected deputy sheriff of the county in 1852, but he and the County Sheriff, one Jack Horton, disliked but tolerated each other. Horton was a big man and may have resented the younger man’s strength, which probably equaled his own. They agreed that McCanles would not run for sheriff in any forthcoming elections, but McCanles obviously had no intention of keeping such a promise, and in 1856 announced himself as a candidate.

First of all, how do we have any way of knowing whether or not Horton resented McCanles? Come on, that’s my job as a fiction writer to come up with thoughts, feelings and motives. Historians make good fiction writers at times. Do you see how cleverly Rosa defames Cobb as an oath-breaker?

Connelly is among the worst Cobb bashers as far as historians go. George Hansen wrote a 1927 article for the Nebraska Historical Society about the Rock Creek incident and included Monroe’s eye-wittness account and family history from the McCanleses. Connelly was with neighboring Kansas Historical Society and resented Hansesn’s account that showed Cobb in a more favorable light. So great was the verbal battle between these historians that Rosa refers to them as factions. And factions only muddy unclear water. Here’s a snippet from Connely’s book where he discredits Hansen’s work:

Perhaps neither Mr. Hansen nor his magazine knew the facts — a most unfortunate circumstance if true — for it would seem that the editor should have known, having been entrusted with the accurate preservation of the history of a great state. If these men were in possession of the truth and suppressed it, what a situation they made for themselves…

…The real purpose of Mr. Hansen’s statement was to establish a good name for the ruffian.

“At the age of twenty-three David was elected to the office of sheriff of Watauga county on the Whig ticket, to which office he was elected four successive terms.” [Connelly is quoting Hansen.]

Not true. Jack Horton was sheriff from 1852 to 1856 and McCanles was his deputy during that time. In 1856 McCanles ran for the office against Horton and was elected. This was his only election. He held the office until he absconded, January 6, 1859. His term would not have expired until 1860.

Mark Dugan is the only historian I’m aware of who actually searched records to settle this dispute. Stoneman’s Cavalry burned the Watauga County Courthouse in 1863 during the Civil War. A side note is that my 3rd-great grandfather rode in that raid on the Union side and he was married to Cobb’s niece, my 3rd-great grandmother. Mary, Cobb’s wife, lost her brother in that raid. He was a Confederate soldier. Digging into the past, even today, can be like digging into a wound. Duggan did though, and he claimed to have found a tax receipt from 1852 that was signed by a deputy on behalf of “Sheriff D. C. McCanles.”

While that seems to settle the dispute, Dugan fails to copy or record the whereabouts of this receipt. I’d like to believe it, but I don’t want my research to be as biased as that of others. I had searched North Carolina newspaper archives for news of Cobb’s land deed troubles in 1859 and beyond. In trying to understand the role of sheriff and bonds at that time, I found a book of historic statutes from North Carolina. It was there I discovered that sheriffs in the 1850s were elected to two-year terms. That means, if Cobb really was elected at the age of 23 in 1852, then Hansen was correct in recording four elected terms for him.

Once I found out when elections took place, I began searching August newspapers for election results. And this is what I discovered:


McCanles(s) elected Sheriff of Watauga! However, I was surprised to see his political party as “d” for Democrat, not Whig. Each election year, I found results that Cobb was elected and under different parties. In 1854 he did run on the Whig ticket; in 1856 he ran on the controversial K.N. (Know Nothings); and in 1858 he ran on the “dis.” ticket which I have yet to decipher. Discontented, perhaps? He left North Carolina and his position of authority six months after his fourth election.

Thoughts of why fill my head as I try to connect my draft to deeper research results. My current research is because I wrote earlier chapters and noted wobbly entries as “look up later.” Well, it’s now later. And it’s late. Time and work is spent and now I seek a comfortable spot that is Grenny-approved.

November 11, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a place of comfort that is a refuge. Have fun with it, like a pillow fight between best friends at a slumber party or newlyweds in search of the perfect mattress. Or you can go dark and write about unusual comforts, like a bad habit or a padded cell. Play with the idea of comfort and refuge.

Respond by November 17, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Refuge on the Porch by Charli Mills

“Perhaps you have milk that is not more than one quarter flies?”

Sarah set aside her ledgers when the traveler walked into the post holding a teacup like a live rattler. He had slept in the bunkhouse with the Express riders, declaring he couldn’t sleep another night on the ground.

“Sleep comfortable, Lord Burton?”

“Comfort has fled these rough parts.”

“I’ll fetch you fresh milk and hot tea. You can wait on the porch.”

When Sarah returned, Lord Burton was smiling. Like many who felt displaced in the vast prairies, the old hickory rocker was a throne of comfort.



October 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionCrickets and insects hum like a hidden orchestra tucked away in the dry prairie grass. It’s original grass, the tall feathery stalks that buffalo once grazed. The Oregon Trail is so deep, the ground so compacted that nothing grows in its pale ruts. It cuts across the grass, winds along a muddy creek and opens up to a ranch. Buildings of hewn logs gray in the summer heat and winter wind, held together with chinking. A sturdy wooden bridge traverses the steep gorge of the gurgling waters below, connecting the west ranch to the east.

This is Nebraska in October. The setting is an historical road ranch along the Oregon Trail–the super highway of pioneer wagon trains, Mormon ox carts, gold-seekers on horseback, US Calvary, freighters, stagecoaches and the Pony Express. This is Rock Creek.

Western historian, Joseph Rosa says this about the place:

Rock Creek is situated just six miles from Fairbury, Nebraska. It flows into the Little Blue River from the north. Today, it is little more than a landmark, but in 1861 it was the scene of a quarrel which ended in tragedy–death to three men, and fame to one other. It was here that James Butler Hickok’s legend really started.

No single gunfight, with the possible exception of the Earp-Clanton fight in October, 1881, in Tombstone, Arizona, has caused so much controversy as the Hickok-McCanles affair at Rock Creek on the afternoon of Friday, July 12, 1861.

Controversy. That’s putting it mildly. For over 150 years, people still squabble over who was to blame. Clearly, if you’ve studied the event, it has neither heroes nor villains, yet stories attempt to retell that day in black hats and white. Fantastical tales arise from this affair and rob the humanity of the men involved. It came down to tensions, personalities and a clash of righteousness. Women were involved as much as the primary men.

My goal is to stand where Sarah Shull stood as the events unfolded; to stand where Cob bled out in front of the cabin door; to see where Hickok made his daring shot through the curtain and the women in the kitchen. I was disappointed in that regard. The replica cabin is built incomplete.

There’s only one known photograph of Rock Creek Station prior to 1861. While several people, including Cob’s son, Monroe, have drawn diagrams and sketches, the replica is based on what can be seen in the photograph. It only has one door and lacks the common kitchen I had imagined as an alcove off of the main cabin. The interpretive center describes the missing section as a lean-to. The second door in proximity to the curtain and kitchen is crucial, yet omitted.

Expectations often lead us astray. What I expected to see was not there and was the root of my disappointment. Sometimes this is true of writing. We expect the story to go a certain way and it does not. But we can also find gold in those dashed expectations if only we let go enough to see a different view.

One view of Rock Creek was crystal clear–the west cabin where Sarah most likely lived at the time Hickok was tending horses at the east ranch would have afforded the two the perfect view of one another. In an earlier flash fiction, I wrote that Sarah watched Hickok with the horses every morning. From visiting Rock Creek I now know that this a plausible scenario.

What does it mean? I don’t know, yet. I’m preparing to let the research settle and the characters inform the story through the writing process. Once I have a draft, I’ll return to the research and make certain that details are historically accurate and my characters believable. I’ve decided to call my WIP, Rock Creek because the place is key to the characters’ conflicts and ultimate crisis. In preparation for writing, I created a mock-up cover.

Back to expectations. I hadn’t expected to find Mary McCanles buried next to Cob, her grave reading “wife of D.C. McCanles.” I have several new ideas about her–she never stopped loving Cob and she never returned to North Carolina. I encountered a new person, a young girl in the kitchen with Sarah Shull and Jane Wellman the day of the incident. She fabricates a story that makes my blood boil with anger and she earned herself a place in my novel as an antagonistic character who stirs up strife.

I hadn’t expected to feel at peace at Rock Creek. I wonder if Sarah felt that there, or if it was Mary. After all, Mary McCanles was the only one who stayed in the area. Her tea pot and rocking chair from North Carolina reside at the visitor’s center. Maybe Sarah never felt settled after leaving North Carolina.

Beyond my expectations was the owner of the Fairbury Executive Suites. Julia Katz has a gilded touch for interior design and marketing. Her place is a bakery, espresso and wine bar, antique and craft store with suites above the retail center. We stayed in the Manhattan Suite with its red and gold decor, full kitchen, two bedroom with feather beds and cotton robes for each guest. That such a place existed in rural Nebraska, I had no idea!

Julia also put me in contact with a McCandless cousin who is also writing about Rock Creek. He’s an actor, playwright and theater professor in Nebraska. I hadn’t expected that at all. I called him while in Nebraska and he shares my passion for the family, the story and for getting into the minds of the characters to tell it.

Expectations can set up our characters for disappointment or surprise. Expectations can foreshadow, enhance a setting, or create a plot twist. What expectations are lurking in your stories?

October 15, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that has an expectation met or missed. It can be an implied expectation to your reader, or a character’s expectation for an outcome. Think of how expectations can direct a story.

End of the Trail by Charli Mills

In the dark Sarah stood at the embankment, brushy and weedy. She’d never seen grass tall enough to hide prairie wolves or fierce Pawnees. The thought should have pushed her back to the safety of the campfires where Cob sawed an Appalachian reel on his violin. She could hear the thud of men’s boots on the hard-packed ground as they danced and whooped. Cob wanted to buy this road ranch and build a toll bridge across the narrow gorge of Rock Creek. Toiling days and rowdy nights on the Oregon Trail was not a fair exchange for North Carolina.


Cover (3)

West Cabin Across Rock Creek From East Corrals

Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.