3 February 2024
During the era of the Wild West in America, the guy who rode in the seat on top of the coach, to the left of the stagecoach driver, was armed with a shotgun. He was consequently called the “shotgun messenger”. He “rode shotgun”, performing guard duty to ward off bandits and Indian warriors.
The surest sign that “the stage” was transporting bullion, gold or silver, precious treasures, or other valuable goods — usually stored in a big trunk or a strongbox worth robbing — was the presence of the shotgun messenger.
He was packing his break-action shotgun for a reason!
The driver held the reins of the horses pulling the stagecoach, who were oftentimes going at breakneck speed; his right hand operated the wheel brake. The guard, riding shotgun, kept vigilant watch over the landscape ahead, and surrounding, the stagecoach. He was ever on the lookout for sights and sounds of an attack. Watching his rear was also a defensive posture, thus making him one busy and crucial shepherd, shield and bouncer.
The absence of anyone riding shotgun was a visual signal to any and all robbers that the stage was carrying only passengers. If any of those intrepid travelers was wealthy, wearing and/or bearing jewels and money, the stagecoach could, and often did, get targeted by those handkerchief-ed burglars on horses.
Riding shotgun was not for the faint of heart. Riding in the stagecoach was equally terrifying. Danger rode alongside any stagecoach journeying in the West, especially if it was conveying gold from the Philadelphia Mint.
Many motives, motivations, and reasons have been cited, admirably accurate as well as caustically flawed, as those which Won the West for America to achieve its Manifest Destiny. Factors both benevolent and abysmal can be correctly counted, but I think that courage was the overriding force that rode shotgun in the settling of the U.S. West.
Today, I apprehended that My Muse has been riding shotgun for me for many years, even decades. I’d like to think that I’ve ridden shotgun for her, and I likely have. All I know with certainty is that the push-pull chemistry that had been our creative arrangement is no more.
I no longer need an adversarial stance toward my Muse to attain creativity.
When did this transformation occur?
It’s probably been underway for a while, ever since I moved into my Dream House, Larkhaven, in late July 2020. It most definitely took place during ten long, dark nights in the middle of August 2022. I found myself tending to the post-midnight coyote duty with Chance, the wondrous beagle who left my side in late May 2023.
During those spectral, moonlit nights, I walked with Chance, on his leash, out in the property at Larkhaven, for an hour or so, starting at approximately 1:30 p.m. He was on the hunt for coyotes; I was on the hunt for . . .
The courage that I would need to say goodbye to that loyal, loving, rascally hound.
The crystallization of THE SILENT HEART took place during those hours when my Houndey Boy lovingly shared with me his world, his way of life, his canine culture, his most special and treasured pursuits, his zest for adventure. Those inexplicable experiences moved me toward writing THE SILENT HEART in January 2023.
The first part of the novel flowed seamlessly from my psyche, until I ascertained that the plot line needed more time — a second part — which I dubbed The Posse.
The Posse thence got formed, and fictionalized, and finished. I’d thought the end of that novel was the end of that novel, and the last Western. And it was . . .
Until a day or so ago. I was sewing the first seat-cushion of a 6-seat project, and My Muse informed me that my time with my beloved beagle didn’t end with his departure from this earthly sphere.
Chance had led me to The Posse; it was his sublime gift to me. I must now allow My Muse to ride shot-gun with The Posse toward the next book of The Montrose Chronicles, Wind Song.
When a person becomes the owner of a puppy, she thinks the puppy grows up with her. While that bond of love does indeed transpire, there also simultaneously occurs an even more magnificent development, a ripening of the human heart: the owner grows with her dog.
The Western novel, if it’s a true Western, offers to any reader, and to its writer, that feeling known as hope. The Western is an affirmative statement of living.
I can think of no finer affirmation of life, and of the life of that brave beagle, than this next book in The Montrose Chronicles. He’d be thrilled if I wrote a series of novels, so he could ride shotgun as Buttermilk. My Muse is more than okay with that plan.
My mission as novelist is following the trail that Chance Beaumont Milligan led me to discover amid the journey called life.