Researching My Next Historical By Becky Lower

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Early last year, my sister called me with a request to help her drive to Ohio from Oregon. I hesitated for maybe a nanosecond before I agreed. After all, I write American historicals and we’d be following the path of the Oregon Trail, where so many thousands traveled. Only it would be Wagons East this time. I was about to embark on my next novel in the Cotillion Ball Series, and it was to be about one of the brothers in the Fitzpatrick family joining the Pony Express in 1860. What better way to research my topic than take a cross-country trip? I had my suitcase packed in minutes.

I’ll gloss over the part where that particular suitcase caused a pileup on the people mover when I changed planes in Denver. You really don’t need to know what a klutz I can be.

Finally, I made it to Salt Lake City, where I was meeting up with Sis. Snow was lightly falling, and it was a quintessential winter scene. The next morning, as we prepared to depart, we were told there was going to be a blizzard chasing us from west to east, so we’d best get moving. Plans for my research and all my little side trips to Courthouse Rock and the like went flying out the window and into the swirling snow.

We put on a brave face, and laughed at the predictions. I insisted we go to Antelope Island, one of Jedediah Smith’s stomping grounds near Salt Lake City. From Antelope Island, we took another side trip once we got into Wyoming to pay homage to Jed Smith’s discovery of the South Pass, used by settlers coming over the mountains. The temperature was about 13 degrees, and the wind was blowing about 50 mph, so I just got one quick picture and jumped back in the car. Maybe the weather people did know what they were talking about.

Following interstate 80, we hustled along, trying to stay ahead of the threatening clouds. We eliminated some of my planned side trips, but each time we came to a sign pointing to something relating to the Pony Express, I insisted we pull off and check it out. You’d be amazed at the books I accumulated along the way, the quaint museums and saloons we wandered into, the relay stations from the Pony Express that now grace the town squares along the route. The cowboys playing poker at the saloon where we had buffalo burgers.

Even though it was hectic, and yes, we did beat the storm, I managed to get a feel for the route of the Pony Express. With biting temperatures, the constant threat of weather getting the best of us, and ice to fall on, I also got a taste of some of the hazards faced by the brave men and horses that made up the Pony Express. If you read the book, Expressly Yours Samantha, you’ll see that I put some of this first-hand knowledge to use in the story line.