Playing History’s “what if?” Game

Despite its basis in historical fact, Bloody Big Dry Blues is a fictional construct and creative liberties have been taken. Please let me explain how: One of my undergraduate degrees is in Latin American History, particularly Mexico. As an avid amateur historian, I’m fascinated by the Central Texas region. So much so I decided to live there. Thinking about its history tends to end up with me playing the “what if?” game.

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What if something slightly different happened at a certain point in time, way back when? What if, for example, Deaf Smith hadn’t tricked Santa Anna into that fateful tryst at San Jacinto with the Yellow Rose of Texas? Or what if he couldn’t find any axes to chop down that strategic bridge in time? Rather than the Rio Grande, where would the present border be? The Colorado River or, heck, even the Red River?

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(Map of the State of Coahuila and Texas, 1836)

I also applied this very fun game to the area surrounding Elgin, which was originally located where McDade now is. But there was a flood in 1869, which forced the Houston and Texas Central Railway to move its depot. Thus in 1872 Elgin was situated ten or so miles to the northwest, where it remains today.

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What if this flood hadn’t occurred? Would what is now Elgin be named after the original settler of that frontier rather than some transient railroad surveyor? This is how the fictional place where my novel is set became “Christianville” and Texas became “Texico.” And that allowed me much more liberty in the creation of Bloody Big Dry Blues.

Robert Penn Warren: “Historical sense and poetic sense should not, in the end, be contradictory, for if poetry is the little myth we make, history is the big myth we live, and in our living, constantly remake.”

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