Hey, Readers! It has been a while since I have been on the blog, but I am reviving it due to active requests (thank you for your kind words!).
And I am re-launching it with a CHRISTMAS SERIES – featuring posts about Christmas novels, novellas, and short stories! (‘Tis the season, indeed.)
Now, I know you may be saying, “It’s too early for Christmas stories.” And perhaps you are right. But Christmas themed works start making their debut this time of year. And I, for one, plan to celebrate my fellow authors and their work!
First up, is another Sara(h)! Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer. I had the privilege to meet this author at my first ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Conference many years back. We were both newbies at that particular conference and both Historical Fiction/Romance writers.
I particularly admire her connection to the past through her ancestors and their lives. And how that has led to her writing about the Choctaw. I am only too eager to learn more about this connection and her works!
So without further ado, I will turn you over to Sarah!
by Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer
I once made a humorous video declaring myself a writer for a contest. I used clips from classic TV shows and movies, and was tickled by one comment it got:
“I love this video, Sarah!! I thought an “older man” came up with this.”
To which I thought, “No, I was just raised by one.”
My daddy grew up in the days of listening to Gunsmoke as a radio show before it hit the black and white and later, color screen. Roy Rogers was his hero, and for all my life, we watched reruns of the classic TV Westerns:
Have Gun – Will Travel, Daniel Boone, The High Chaparral, Hopalong Cassidy, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Annie Oakley, The Big Valley, Rawhide, The Rifleman, The Virginian, Zorro, and more.
And, of course, the ever classic Bonanza. Do you know the Cartwright boys? If not, allow me to introduce you: Adam, Little Joe, Hoss, and Pa (Ben).
Don’t ask which is my favorite because I love them all—Adam, the level headed, book reading, dedicated leader; Hoss (my mama’s favorite), the loving, forgiving gentle giant; and Little Joe, the quick tempered, fun loving but-don’t-mess-with-my-family protector. Then there was the patriarch, Ben, whose steadfast integrity and faith held those boys in line.
Right always prevailed, no matter what dangers threatened the family or their ranch, the Ponderosa. They laid it all on the line and never compromised.
In part, that long-running series from the ’50s-’70s helped shaped who I am as a person and as a writer. It also shaped one of the main characters in my Choctaw Tribune series without me even knowing it—Matthew Teller, Choctaw owner of a controversial newspaper in Indian Territory, 1890s.
I didn’t realize this until a friend (who has a “mom crush” on Matthew and threatened me to never kill him off in the series) asked how he came to be. Though I hadn’t contemplated it before, I knew right away: He’s a mash up of the four Cartwrights. He has elements from Ben, Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe.
Once that came forefront to my mind, I started seeing it through each of the three books in the series: The Executions (book 1), Traitors (book 2), and Shaft of Truth (book 3).
I’m seeing it in the final three books that I’m working on in this series (books 4, 5, 6), and it makes me love Matthew Teller even more. He’s a brother like I saw the Cartwright boys being. (I always thought they should have had a sister, and Matthew does in the series!)
I wrote Shaft of Truth listening to the soundtracks of classic TV Westerns. I knew the theme songs as soon as they came up, especially Bonanza, which put me into that world as I wrote Matthew’s story.
In a way, these books came about because of my daddy and his love for old TV westerns.
But there’s someone else who had a great deal of influence on Matthew Teller — my great-great-great-great grandfather, William Robuck.
Young William crossed the Choctaw Trail of Tears as a boy with his family in 1831. Among the tragedies they experienced was burying his father on the trail.
With courage and faith, William went on to attend the Choctaw Academy in Kentucky and became a statesman for our tribe and served in several official capacities, including president of the Choctaw Senate. He and his wife, Annie, owned a ranch near present day Grant, Oklahoma. If you’ve ever been to Roebuck Lake near the Choctaw Travel Plaza and the Casino in Grant…yes, that 2,000 acre ranch at Roebuck Lake was in my family once upon a time. Uncle Preston’s ranch in the Choctaw Tribune series is loosely based on it. Danger on the Red River (A Choctaw Tribune Christmas Short Story) is set on the ranch.
I learned William’s story many years ago, and it prompted me to write my first Choctaw tale — Contrast, which mirrored my experience on one of our annual Choctaw Trail of Tears Commemorative Walks, and the hardships my family endured in the 1800s.
I see my grandfather William in Matthew Teller — passionate about serving his people, no quit no matter what, intelligent. I imagine my grandfather faced his own racial issues as a mixed blood Choctaw. It was said he could pass for a white man. To my knowledge, he didn’t try. He was involved in Choctaw tribal government until he passed in 1885.
That’s right about when Matthew’s story picks up. Maybe subconsciously, I was continuing my grandfather’s story, and the legacy he left me.
I like to think that as you get to know the Teller family…you’re getting to know my family, too.
Danger on the Red River
Christmas at Uncle Preston’s ranch sounds delightful to Ruth Ann Teller, who is ready for a break from the Choctaw Tribune newspaper and the hard times they’ve endured. Namely, nearly losing her brother to a gunman.
But drama follows them to the ranch with a flooded Red River, quicksand, and a surprise Christmas present that ties the whole family together.
Spend an 1893 Christmas with the Tellers in this free ebook!
Download a free copy of Danger on the Red River (A Choctaw Tribune Christmas Short Story) here!
Enjoy an Excerpt
Christmas Eve, 1893
“Come on, Matt! It’s past time to leave, and there’s a storm coming.”
Ruth Ann Teller skipped out of the telegraph office, a lean-to attached to the print shop, and went straight to the coat rack next to her brother’s desk. She halted and frowned.
Hair mussed like he’d been running his fingers through it, Matthew was leaned back in his chair, inky hands folded over his midsection. He stared at the empty wall on the other side of the vacant shop. He was that way these days, lapsing into nothingness whether there was work to do or not.
Well, they had no work left this morning. The siblings had arrived at the newspaper office long before dawn on Christmas Eve, a day they were closed but there was one last print job Matthew needed to run and Ruth Ann took care of telegraphs before wishing the other operators a jolly and joyful Christmas.
That and the print job finished and delivered, still Matthew sat rather than cajoling her to get moving so they could get on out to Uncle Preston’s ranch. Their cousin Peter Frazier had stayed home, finishing chores and helping their mother load the buggy. They were waiting on Matthew and Ruth Ann…
She rehung her coat and touched Matthew’s shoulder. He flinched and looked up, blinked, then smiled. He was back.
“Ready?” he asked.
“And waiting. We don’t want to miss Melinda’s noon meal. She made us promise to arrive in plenty of time to set the table.”
“Right. I’m almost finished here.” He shuffled papers scattered over his desk into neat piles, something he normally didn’t bother with. Busy-work, he called it, not something to waste time and energy on. But this morning, he was stalling.
Ruth Ann laid a hand on his arm, stilling him.
“It’ll all be here after Christmas,” she said quietly.
He didn’t move. “You’re right. This is Christmas. Time to put all this aside and just…be. And I’ve already taken care of your surprise.”
Ruth Ann scoffed and stepped back as he stood and lifted their coats from the rack.
“You aren’t fooling me this year, Matthew Teller, I’m going to guess your present by tonight.” She pulled her coat on. “You just worry about guessing your own present.”
His eyes twinkled in a way that told her he already had it figured out. She swatted him. He dodged and slipped into his coat.
The bell over the door jingled despite the sign that read “closed.” Ruth Ann was dismayed to see a customer step in, then he turned. It was Mr. Bates from the General Store for whom they’d run a sales sheet for him to pass out first thing after Christmas. Was something wrong with the flyer?
But Mr. Bates had a deeper look of concern on his aging face. “’Scuse me, but I just got a letter in the morning mail from my brother in St. Louis. I wasn’t going to make the trip up there this Christmas, but he says our mother is feeling poorly. That was two days ago, and he said not to worry, but I wondered…would you mind sending a telegram off to him before you leave? He should reply quick. Just want to make sure everything’s all right, you know?”
Ruth Ann didn’t bother removing her coat. She’d already banked the stove in the telegraph office, and coolness was setting in. Mr. Bates gave her the written message and she settled at the sounder, knowing she could get through to the St. Louis office. It was large enough to keep operators going through Christmas Eve.
Dots and dashes, dashes and dots, just like sleigh bells might sound dashing through the snow. They had little need for sleighs in Indian Territory, but the image made Ruth Ann smile despite the delay.
St. Louis responded that they received the message. She hesitated. How long would the reply take? Mama and Peter were waiting for them.
Matthew nudged her from behind. “Y’all go on out to the ranch. I’ll wait for the reply and catch up on Little Chief.”
Ruth Ann stood and met his gaze. He gave her a look that said she needed to stop being a mother hen.
Since the shooting, and the terror at the Warren home, she walked with him every morning to the newspaper office and stayed—no matter how late—every night to walk home with him. She didn’t want to let him out of her sight.
He’d tolerated it, but today he was firm. “I’ll catch up,” he repeated.
Mr. Bates apologized for the trouble, but Ruth Ann gave him a hug and wished him a merry Christmas and promised prayers for his mother.
Ruth Ann walked toward her family’s box house by the railroad tracks, moving slow despite a rumble of thunder, waiting to see if the telegram would come through and Matthew might catch up. But he wouldn’t, and it was time to stop walking in fear and start walking in the faith that there would be peace on earth, at least in their souls, as was promised so long ago.
More About the Author
SARAH ELISABETH SAWYER is a story archaeologist. She digs up shards of past lives, hopes, and truths, and pieces them together for readers today. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian honored her as a literary artist through their Artist Leadership Program for her work in preserving Choctaw Trail of Tears stories. A tribal member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, she writes historical fiction from her hometown in Texas, partnering with her mother, Lynda Kay Sawyer, in continued research for future works. Learn more at SarahElisabethWrites.com and Facebook.com/SarahElisabethSawyer
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