The Non-Traditional Historical Western Or: How did that Scottish lord get in my Western?

When I started writing the Heart You Own, I knew my heroine, Kara Jonston, would be the daughter of a rancher, but my hero, he was a bit of a mystery. I set out to write a traditional story…you know, strong woman, steely-eyed cowboy/lawman/gunslinger, but it just didn’t feel right with me. While I love Western movies and TV shows, I’ve never been a big fan of the ‘cowboy’ books and I knew I wanted something different.

One of my favorite movies growing up was Chisum (1970). The John Wayne classic told the story of the Lincoln County, New Mexico range wars. A main player in the history of this conflict was John Tunstall, a young entrepreneur who moved to Lincoln, New Mexico, from England via Canada. Now the movie has many errors about Mr. Tunstall, but what sparked my curiosity was how an Englishman ended up in the wilds of the New Mexico Territory to begin with.

I was reading a book about saloons for a scene in the book when I saw an entry about remittance men. These were the sons of the European rich (usually) who were sent as far away from home as their families could afford, and then sent a check on a regular basis to keep them away.  This tended to happen when that son did something so embarrassing or illegal that the family couldn’t cover it up.  Well, reading that sparked my interest, and I continued looking into the European/Western connection and found that foreign investment in the West was not unusual.  This brought me back to John Tunstall.  I thought why not make the hero an Englishman. Someone so different from Kara’s sphere that conflict would be natural, and why not make him an investor in her father’s ranch…more conflict!  I wanted to explore how someone from such a different world might view the American West.

Many years ago my husband and I went to his great-uncle’s ranch near White Oaks, New Mexico and spent several days visiting. To this day I regret I didn’t have a tape recorder with me. His memories and stories were unparalleled and fueled my interest in that part of the state. He fought in WWI and grew up ranching in the very place and time as my book.  His mother emigrated from Scotland to New Mexico with her husband and children in the 1800’s. She is one of the many real people populating The Heart You Own. By all accounts she was a tough, no-nonsense woman, and she makes a statement to the hero and his friend, that her son swore she said.  Listening to his stories of New Mexico at the turn of the century sent me researching again, and I found that a lot of Scots moved to the area for mining and ranching.  Having one of the Scottish ranchers reach out to a fellow countryman about an investment opportunity made sense. Hawke became a Scotsman. Besides, who doesn’t love a big, lusty Scotsman?

About Diane Jewkes

I am a lover of books and history. I grew up in southern New Mexico and currently lives in Colorado with her husband and much-loved dogs. She has two children and three grandchildren living nearby. I can be reached at
This entry was posted in General Information and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.