When you crack open the cover of one of the books in the Colton Gamblers series, you are also opening the door to the fictional town and county of Colton in Forest County, Texas.
Authors create fictional locals for many reasons. Two of the most common reasons, and the ones I fall into are 1) to prevent misrepresentation of the town and its people, and 2) to allow for complete creative freedom.
When I came up with Colton, Texas, I based it on a very real place: Clifton in Bosque County. I found it to be perfect place in Central Texas for my story to take place. Not far from Dallas and Waco, but still rural enough to allow for my large ranches. Despite my creating a fictional place, I read everything I could find about the real Bosque County. And from that reading I found some inspiration. For example, Clifton was founded by four families who settled the town in the 1850’s—Colton is founded by three families in the late 1860s. One of the three founding families of my Colton—the Fergusons—is named in honor of Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, the first female governor of the state. I also kept the name of the county of sorts—Bosque is Spanish for forest; hence, I called my county Forest. In my parallel universe, Forest County replaces Bosque County, but I really tried to stay true to the real town and county.
Forest County is a place steeped in history and Texas pride. So, in good Southern hospitality, c’mon in, hang your hat, and grab a glass of sweet tea. I’ll show you around.
Forest County gets its name from the oak forests that covered the land along the creeks running through it on their journey to the Brazos River that boarders the county in the east, but the majority of the land is grassland. In 1865, three disillusioned first cousins—Cole Cartwright, Elijah Blackwell and Dylan Ferguson— return from the battlefields of the defeated Confederacy to find their home in East Texas a shambles. Determined to make a new start, they head west. In the cowboy town of Dallas, Texas, they decide to pool the few silver dollars they have between them and enter into a poker game. With their gamble, they win 125,000 acres—the whole of Forest County.
Taking the grassland in the southern part of the county, the cousins build three ranches—The CW which belongs to the Cartwrights, The Blackwell Ranch, and the Fergusons build Oak Springs, named for the large creek that supplies all three ranches with water. On these 90,000 acres of land, the cousins build a cattle empire.
Cole Cartwright’s love for order creates the first town, known originally as Cole’s Town and eventually shortened to Colton. A lawyer before the Civil War broke out and wrecked his life, he becomes the first county judge. His no-nonsense authority brings peace and prosperity to a town made up mostly of transient cowboys, prostitutes and drifters. Ironically, the woman destined to become his bride doesn’t love the law as much as he. Isabelle Mason, a wanted woman for the robbery of several banks across Texas, is saved by hanging by Cole when he offers her a deal… Marry him and become mother to his heirs–or hang. Belle takes the deal. Still today his descendants follow his example of becoming lawyers, the mayor and sheriff, but they still have Belle’s sense of adventure.
Elijah Blackwell’s need for adventure and restlessness sends him to explore the wilds of West Texas, and he becomes an Indian fighter.Through him, Indian blood is introduced into the family when he marries widowed Comanche by the name of Inola (known to the whites as Foxie). Their descendants are still a bit on the wild side.
Dylan Fergusons’s love of invention and mind for business helps all three of them create an empire in cattle. He marries Rachael Smith, a local saloon girl who’s keen sense of business makes her a rich woman and owner of the Longhorn Saloon not long after escaping the slums of New York as a young woman. After their marriage, she sells the saloon and moves to Oak Springs Ranch and becomes a lady who works beside her husband to build a fortune. Their descendants still have their love for the land and dream of being simple ranchers though many of them lost their way.
Over the next century and a half, the clans continue to build on the fortune began in cattle, then oil is discovered on Oak Springs Ranch and Blackwell Ranch.
The frontier town was nothing more than a Southern Baptist Church, a general store, a one-room school, and the all important saloon. The large oak tree in the center of the town eventually became the spot for the courthouse. Fitting, considering it was from the massive branches Cole Cartwright hung anyone who questioned the law.
With the discovery of oil, came prosperity in the the twentieth century. Today, the saloon is still standing and is still an important outlet after a long day to catch a beer and to listen to the local band. Several other churches joined the Baptists, and the educational system includes the small university, Colton College. And the old oak tree still stands before the courthouse as a reminder of Wild West justice.
The people of Colton have a sense of community and look out for each other. They are patriotic to a fault, but proud of their Southern heritage.
They love football, rodeo and good gossip, to the point of even calling the gossip chain the Colton grapevine. But don’t let the idyllic quaintness fool you as the members of the founding families are about to find out.
Murder, theft, deceit, fraud and secrets are about to shake this little town to its very foundations.
And the only way to survive is to rediscover the only thing that matters….
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**Please note that all photographs are used as a visual tool and are not meant to be taken literally. The photograph used in Cole Cartwright’s bio, is actually of Judge Isaac Parker (October 15, 1838 – November 17, 1896)–District Judge of Western Arkansas and eventual Congressman, known as the “hanging judge”