Will the 1821 Sheriff of Madison County, AL, please stand up? #amwriting #dilemma #histfic #research #Alabama200 #history

I have a dilemma related to one of the characters in my new series, the Fury Falls Inn. While reading about Alabama’s early history, one of the notes I took was that of the very first sheriff of Madison County, Alabama. One of the reasons it intrigued me is that his years of service coincides with the time period of my series set in 1821. Could I use him in my story?

I considered using this man’s name in my story to give it historical accuracy. Not as a main character but a tertiary one. But before I portrayed him in any way, it seemed prudent to investigate as to what kind of a man he was and how effective he was at his job. After all, I don’t want to paint him with the wrong brush, so to speak. You know, if he was a really great sheriff, then I wouldn’t want to make him seem inept, and vice versa. So I started looking…

I came across this article by Ruby W. Lawler, Chairwoman of the Program Committee of the Gurley (AL) Historical Society, that included the following comment about the sheriff:

“The first sheriff of Madison County was Stephen Neal who held office from 1809 to 1822. Crime in those days was usually confined to stealing a horse or a display of public drunkenness. In many cases, the locals would extract [sic] their own swift punishment without the need of the local sheriff.”

Sounds to me like he might not have been very busy, but I don’t know that. I haven’t researched crime reports from that era, and wouldn’t know where to find them. It’s also not relevant to my dilemma. The statement above includes nothing about him as a person, just one passing comment about the kinds of crime he might have dealt with. What this quote confirmed for me was that stealing horses was an historical issue, one that I had included in The Haunting of Fury Falls Inn (Book 1), so that’s cool to know.

Still, the question of whether to use Neal’s name and thus his persona, or make up someone else, niggled in my brain. I’d prefer to be historically correct—rather than creating a fictional sheriff—but I don’t want to misrepresent a real person. I kept looking and found this article by Donna R. Causey for Alabama Pioneers that had this to say:

“Stephen Neal, one of the earliest settlers and sheriff of the county from 1809 to 1822, purchased the lot embracing the east end of Commercial Row [in Huntsville] and sold it to different parties, who built store-houses there.”

I interpret this statement to imply he was rather wealthy, both because he bought a large lot and he would have made money when he sold smaller lots to others. The accompanying photo of the house Neal purchased is quite impressive, too.

Then I found this brief history from the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, which sheds a bit of light on Neal:

“Sheriff Neal served in his appointed capacity until Alabama became a state in 1819 and held it’s [sic] first ‘Constitutional Convention’ at what is now known as Constitution Hall Park in downtown Huntsville.

“Following the adoption of the Alabama Constitution, Sheriff Neal became Madison County’s first elected Sheriff by defeating eighteen opponents, the most candidates to ever run for the office of Sheriff in a local election.” [emphasis added]

When I first read this, I thought, Aha! If Neal was respected enough to defeat 18 other candidates, he must have been doing a pretty good job, right? So it should be safe for me to use his name and portray him as being a competent sheriff.

But then I remembered that it was a common practice in that day and age for candidates to throw rallies where they not only stood up on a tree stump and extolled on what they’d do if elected, but they also doled out whiskey to the men who attended, essentially partying with them to show what a great candidate they were. Buying their loyalty and their vote, in a manner of speaking. So did he get elected because more people knew his name and/or liked his partying style? (Hm, is that where the term “party” came to be associated with political entities? Another research question…)

It’s fairly common for people to vote for candidates they’ve heard of. Since Neal had been sheriff for ten years, he’d been a known entity. Good or bad. I don’t want to jump to any conclusions about who he was and how he behaved. I’m not trying to imply that I think one way or the other. I’m just “thinking out loud” here as I ponder whether to use the name of the real sheriff or not.

I wish I could find out more about his personality, his job performance, but when I think about it, I don’t need to delve too deeply into his character for the purposes of my stories since he’s a minor/tertiary character. As I’m beginning final revisions to the first story, I think the best path forward is to fictionalize the sheriff. I focus more on a fictional deputy anyway, so ultimately what name I give the sheriff isn’t going to change much with regard to plot and action. But I believe it’s better to not portray a real historical figure incorrectly.

Do you agree with me, that it’s important to know the historical figure as much as possible before employing their personage in fiction? Even for “walk on” characters? Or am I overthinking this?

I’d love to hear your opinion… Thanks!


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Remembering the Fort Mims Massacre #amwriting #histfic #research #Alabama200 #history

One of the more horrific historical events I encountered in my research of Alabama history is that of the Massacre at Fort Mims. This event shapes how one of my characters reacts in my story, which I’ll explain in a minute. Keep in mind that when I began to read about the early history of the state, it was with fresh eyes as I was not raised in Alabama but Maryland, so never learned anything about this state’s history. I located the History of Alabama and Incidentally Georgia and Mississippi from the Earliest Period by Albert James Pickett (Volume II, Charleston: Walker and James, 1851) where I read with interest the somewhat florid descriptions of the early history of the state.

This image appears in History of Alabama and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi from the Earliest Period

When I came to the account of the battle and killing at Fort Mims, I really was horrified to think that people could hate so much as to murder by terrible means, scalp, and burn out men, women, and children. According to the History of Alabama, at the time of the attack, “The whole population of Fort Mims, consisting of whites, Indians, soldiers, officers, and negroes now amounted to five hundred and fifty-three souls” inside the fort, and of those about 533 died. However, the Encyclopedia of Alabama site states that “some 400 American settlers, U.S.-allied Creeks, and enslaved African Americans had taken refuge inside” and they don’t cite how many people died. But why is there such a huge discrepancy in the number of people in the fort?

I did a bit more digging and found an article entitled “Original letter describing the tragic events at Fort Mims with [films & pics]” by Donna R. Causey. Her picture of the historical marker for Fort Mims reveals a number closer to Pickett’s, thus corroborating his reporting: “Indians took fort with heavy loss, then killed all but about 36 of some 550 in the fort. Creeks had been armed by British at Pensacola in this phase of War of 1812.”

There’s a footnote on page 267 in the History of Alabama that supports that last sentence. He noted that “The Spaniards and the British agents charged McQueen’s party to ‘fight the Americans’ and if “the Americans should prove too hard for both of us, there are vessels enough to take us all off together.’”

From what I’ve read, it seems the underlying reason for the tensions between Americans and the Creeks apparently stemmed from the influx of white settlers into the area, claiming the hunting lands the natives had used for generations and converting it into cotton plantations. They did this with the approval of the U.S. government to some extent, but it’s also true that individuals, like Andrew Jackson, overstepped the letter of the law for their own benefit. The creation of the Federal Road into the region had increased the arrival of so many people seeking to find their wealth on the fertile soil.

I can only try to imagine how outraged the people who had lived and hunted on that land must have felt about those lands being taken away by force. Then to have the British incite the natives further, by arming them and encouraging violence against the Americans, lit the powder keg.

I know that people have fought and died defending their beliefs, property, and loved ones for centuries. But reading the detailed account in the History of Alabama proved eye-opening and shocking by turns. Lines such as these:

“The eastern part of the picketing was soon full of Indians, headed by five prophets, whom the Americans immediately shot down, while engaged in dancing and incantations. This greatly abated the ardor of the enemy, many of whom retreated through the gate, for the moment. They had been assured that American bullets would split upon the sacred persons of the prophets, and pass off harmless.”

“The assailants, from the old line of picketing, in the additional part of the fort, and from the outside stockading, commenced a general fire upon the Americans. Soldiers, negroes, women and children, fell.”

“His repeated discharges made lanes through the savage ranks. Fresh numbers renewed their efforts against him, and often an Indian and an American would plant their guns across the same port-hole, to shoot at each other.”

“The superior force of the assailants enabled them to constantly to bring fresh warriors into the action. They now set fire to the main building, and many of the out-houses. The shrieks of the women and children went up to high heaven.”

“The weak, wounded and feeble, were pressed to death and trodden underfoot. The spot presented the appearance of one immense mass of human beings, herded together too close to defend themselves, and, like beeves [cattle] in the slaughter-pen of the butcher, a prey to those who fired upon them.”

I won’t go into any more detail as to the various ways the women and children were killed. Suffice it to say, it’s appalling.

This event colors the reaction that Flint Hamilton, a character in The Haunting of Fury Falls (coming October 2019), has when he encounters two “Indians” sneaking around the stable one evening. He knows he’s not the best with a gun and he remembers hearing about the savage massacre in the southern part of the state. He surely doesn’t want to have a repeat occurrence at the Fury Falls Inn on his watch! So he proceeds with a fair amount of caution…

Sometimes history is difficult to digest and even more so when I try to put myself in the scene, trying to relive the experience. I had a similar experience when I wrote about how the plantation house in Undying Love (Secrets of Roseville Book 1) became haunted—imagining being the woman as she died, especially where she died makes me slightly queasy to this day.

Had you heard of the massacre at Fort Mims? Have you been to the historic site? Are you like me, interested in visiting places of historic importance?


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Woof! Dog Breeds from the 1800s #amwriting #histfic #dogs #research #Alabama200 #history

Last week I talked about the Florida Cracker Horse, a horse breed that I’d never heard of before and chose to include in my new supernatural historical fiction series, Fury Falls Inn. There are also some paint horses and Morgans, too. But there also had to be dogs.

I’m a dog lover, there’s no doubt about that. My family has had dogs all my life. I’ve been in the 4-H dog training project as a teen, winning ribbons for dog obedience and grooming way back in the 1970s. We have two dogs now, both Chow mixes, Zola (the golden one) and Sierra (the sable one). So I simply had to have dogs in my series! These dogs are all sensitive to ghostly presence, too. They confirm for Flint that he’s not imagining the ghosts when they appear to him.

Sierra and Zola after their bath and clip!

No self-respecting (I imagine, anyway) farm would be without either hunting dogs or herding/watch dogs to protect the livestock. But then the question arises as to which breed(s) were most likely to be found in 1821 Alabama?

A bit of online search yielded the Dogluvers site with Dogs Breads By Year of Origin, which answered my question nicely.

Given that the inn is out in the wilderness and foothills, it seemed logical they’d have hunting dogs around, so I perused the list until I found the ones I thought most useful for my story. Which did I settle upon?

I have four dogs, and three breeds in my series, all of which originated in the 1800s, though I don’t the precise date. Still, it’s better than having a breed that didn’t originate until a later century. Anyway, I chose to have a male Golden retriever named Red; a male chocolate Labrador retriever named Beau; a female black Lab named Pickles; and a female tawny and white Cocker Spaniel named Cocoa.

The Golden retriever is a large, active dog but “extremely sociable” and a “friendly watch dog,” as well as “good natured.” Those characteristics made it a good fit for a place catering to guests and people coming and going. It’s also easy to train. I think they’re beautiful, too, so wanted to include this breed in my story.

The Labs are also “friendly” and “responsive” as well as easy to train. They are very similar to the Golden retriever in temperament and they come in three colors: yellow, liver/chocolate, and black. So I could distinguish the two Labs by having one chocolate and one black. I like a variety…

Qualities of the Cocker Spaniel breed which made it a good pick for living at the Fury Falls Inn included that they are sociable and a moderately good watch dog. I also thought that since they are considered to be “affectionate” and “responsive” any younger guests at the inn wouldn’t be scared of her. On top of that, I have fond memories of Polly, our Cocker Spaniel when I was a little girl. Even when she piddled across the driveway when she was nervous or excited. She was very loving and friendly, though.

Writing any story, I’ve found, requires sleuthing out some answers to particular questions. Naturally, historical settings require more research than contemporary stories. Some of the questions I had to find answers for may surprise you… Until next time!


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About the Florida Cracker Horse Breed #Alabama200 #amwriting #supernatural #histfic #horse #history #historical #fiction

I want to share what I learned about a new-to-me breed of horse: the Florida Cracker Horse. I love horses, have ridden and competed, and helped my daughter do the same until she became an adult. I had never heard of this breed, but when I was researching breeds of the 1800s, I came across this one.

Image courtesy Wikipedia.com

Horses were the main mode of daily transportation for many during the time of my story, 1821. Many were gaited breeds, and this one is no exception. The Florida Cracker Horse went by many different names: Chickasaw Pony, Prairie Pony, and Grass Gut to name a few. The “Cracker” nickname came from the sound of the whips the cowboys used to drive the cattle while they rode along.

This breed of horse was used mainly as a stock horse and ranged in height from 13.2 to 15 hands, so they are similar in height to a large pony. That height would have made it fairly easy to mount, too. You’d find a wide range of colors to choose from: bay, black, gray, dun, chestnut, roan, and pinto.

Naturally, there are horses in my series, Fury Falls Inn, and so I wanted to include breeds most likely to be found in northern Alabama during the time of my story. This one fits the bill, in my opinion, since they originated in Florida which is a neighboring state. I think they’d have been popular since they were known for speed and agility as well as being surefooted with a comfortable “coon rack” ambling gait. Perfect for a saddle horse.

Have you heard of this breed before? I wonder if there are any still in the state? If anyone knows, I’d love to hear from you.



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Roads in Early Northern #Alabama #Huntsville #Alabama200 #amwriting #supernatural #histfic #history #historical #fiction

One thing I’ve gleaned from writing The Haunting of Fury Falls Inn and other historical fiction: We take getting around by car for granted. The smooth (mostly – if you ignore potholes and such) surfaces we drive on enable us to drive from one city to another close by in minutes or hours. We don’t often think of it taking days or even weeks to reach the next city or the next state, for that matter. I’m reminded of driving from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Mount Vernon, Virginia in a matter of two-three hours, while contemplating how envious George and Martha Washington would have been of such a speedy trip. For them, in the late 1700s, it could take weeks to make such a journey!

Back when the State of Alabama was the new kid on the block, the roads (dirt for the most part) were often treacherous on a good day and impassable due to heavy rain turning them into a quagmire on a bad one. In fact, most transportation occurred on rivers because it was far more comfortable and less laborious to float down the river than to travel by horseback or stagecoach.

There were roads across Alabama as depicted in the picture of an 1822 map of the state. I’ve included a close-up of the Madison County area which is where my series is set. But most people held the belief that rivers and streams which could be navigated and which were located close to a town, gave that town an advantage over other towns without a river nearby. Thus Huntsville held high hopes of becoming a major city because of the Big Spring near downtown.

1822 Geographical, Statistical, and Historical Map of Alabama
Closeup of the Madison County area of the 1822 map pictured above. Note that the Winchester Road arcs to the northeast from Huntsville and is not shown here crossing into Tennessee, but the road did and does today.

Still, the roads need a lot of work! In Alabama: The History of a Deep South State by William Warren Rogers, Robert David Ward, et al. (July 3, 2018, p55) the roads of north Alabama are described as “crude” and that people “literally bushwhacked their way across the mountains, often hopelessly lost and searching for creeks and streams to follow toward rivers and known points.” Further, the area was “the most broken mountainous country” with “the largest rattlesnakes.” In 1818 northern Alabama was a “roadless wilderness.” But that soon changed.

In Madison County, the effort to develop a better network of roads really took off after the second land sales in 1818. By 1828, roads connected all sides of the county with the rest of the state and the neighboring state of Tennessee. Many of the roads were either toll or turnpikes constructed by stock companies that were chartered by the Legislature.

The Federal Post Office Department at that time also would designate certain roads as post roads or mail routes, which then increased that route’s status as a main route between the larger cities. The earliest designation of a post road in Madison County, Alabama, was on July 16, 1822, when R.J. Meigs, Jr., the Postmaster General, ordered the creation of several routes with Huntsville at the center.

Most travel along the roads was accomplished by horseback or stage. The hotels and inns each maintained stage coaches or hacks for the use of their guests and the public. For instance, from the Early History of Huntsville, Ala.: 1804-1870 by Edward Chambers Betts (Brown Printing Co., 1916, p65), the following ad is cited, which apparently typically included a sketch of a stage coach drawn by four moving horses:

“A Four Horse Hack.”

“On reasonable charges rented for any length of time or for any distance. Apply Huntsville Inn.   I. Jones.”

Having discovered these types of facts, I’ve included the concept of the Fury Falls Inn having its own coaches and horses as well as mention the difficulty of travel in 1821, the time period of my series. Of course, when those horses are stolen, Flint Hamilton, the fill-in innkeeper, has his hands full trying to satisfy his distrustful employer and the guests! Imagining the hardships of traveling from one town to another across such terrain is difficult for me to fully comprehend. Especially when I think about having to bushwhack a path while fearing becoming disoriented and lost in the wilderness. Nope, traveling back then was not for the weak or faint-hearted!

As a person who loves to drive, I have a feeling I wouldn’t have been traveling very much under such conditions. Which means I’d have been more a homebody than I am now. But at least I have plenty of books to read…and write! Until next time, I hope you’ll find some new books to read and enjoy!



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Discovering Old Winchester Road #Huntsville #Alabama200 #amwriting #supernatural #histfic #Alabama #history #historical #fiction

The best part of researching for a novel is taking day trips with my loving husband to explore and experience a place. Trying to imagine what life would have been like in a past era in a present location or house or, in this case, along a road.

The fictional haunted roadside inn in my upcoming new series, Fury Falls Inn, is situated along the Winchester Road that connects Huntsville, Alabama to Winchester, Tennessee. I invented a location and setting in the foothills of the Cumberland Plateau in northeast Alabama. But was my fictional locale at least plausible? I don’t mind a little poetic license but I strive to stick as close to what’s plausible and possible as I can.

So we went for a drive one pretty Saturday afternoon not too long ago. As I drove up the current busy road, I noted that the road stays away from the hills, sticking to the flatter terrain alongside.

But then we came across the Old Winchester Road and it turned to hug the base of the hills close. So we turned to explore where the older road would take us. We followed it up into the low mountains with homes here and there and forest all around. A river ran along the valley, bisecting a crop field at one point.

We wound up and around and eventually came out at a T-intersection with another highway. By that time we had crossed into Tennessee which is beyond the boundary for the location of my series. So we turned around and headed back, deciding to turn again to explore the Mountain Road that took us up and over the ridge and down the other side. All the while that I was driving through the steep hills I was trying to imagine walking or riding horseback along a more primitive dirt/mud road. Or driving a wagon pulled by horses or perhaps leading a team of oxen over the hills.

We even came across a small waterfall but not as steep a one as I imagined in my book. But there are points along the foothills that could possibly have a waterfall if conditions were a little different.

All of this experience gave me more confidence in the plausibility of the location and setting I’ve used in the first story in the series. The brick and clapboard inn, the stable and corral, the mineral springs and water fall with a river running across the property. All are inspired by my research into 1800s farms and homesteads.

By the way, after doing a bit more research into titles for this genre, I’ve changed the titles. The first book is now called The Haunting of Fury Falls Inn (Fury Falls Inn Book One). I think that’s a more descriptive title that speaks to the entire storyline perfectly. Although I often struggle with what to call a book, let me tell you! Titles are hard to choose.

One last note. Starting this Friday, I’ll be sharing some guest author interviews with you all. I’ve invited some authors of all genres to share not only their latest release but also more about themselves as authors and readers. I hope you’ll find some new books to read and enjoy!



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A Bit of History of the Green Bottom Inn and Race Track #Huntsville #Alabama200 #amwriting #supernatural #histfic

When I started to research Alabama history, I came across the Early History of Huntsville, Alabama: 1804 to 1870 by Edward Chambers Betts, dated 1909 and revised in 1916. One side note caught my attention.

Apparently General Andrew Jackson not only frequently visited Huntsville, and purchased “vast areas of Madison county lands” but he also enjoyed some relaxation. He would stay at the Old Green Bottom Inn located 4 miles north of Huntsville in Normal, on property now belonging to the Alabama A&M University. There, General Jackson would race his horses and “fought his cocks.” If you’re curious, you can read more about his visits here.

The Old Green Bottom Inn, one of the first hostelries in Alabama, was built by John Connelly in 1815 along with the adjoining race track. The race track became a kind of mecca for sportsmen from across the entire state of Alabama (then part of the Mississippi Territory). By the way, the Alabama Territory was created in 1817, and the cotton economy and fertile soil attracted “cultured and wealthy Virginians, who brought with them large droves of slaves.” Only 2 years later, on August 2, 1819 the Alabama Territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Alabama.

Historic Huntsville Green Bottom Inn
Postcard Back

Sadly, the inn burned down in 1931 and only a portion of stone wall remains standing.

This discovery of an inn confirms the idea of a roadside inn in northern Alabama in 1821, the time period of my Cassie Fairhope and the Haunted Inn, which will release in the fall of 2019. My fictional Fury Falls Inn, though, is situated at the base of the foothills of the southern end of the Cumberland Plateau of the Appalachians, along the Winchester Road that ran from Normal to Winchester, Tennessee.

I enjoy digging into the real history of an area and then incorporating those details as authentically as possible into my historical fiction. All while providing an engaging and enjoyable story for my readers.

Next time I’ll talk about a recent road trip with my ever supportive husband to the foothills along the Winchester Road. Until then, I hope you’re reading something that you enjoy!


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Visit my Website for more on my books and upcoming events.