Donald La Fon, Author

Location: West Lafayette, Indiana, United States

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Pioneer/Western Adventures

For anybody who has read the stories in my first book, "The Americans," or may be interested in reading them I thought I'd share some of the history, planning and motivation of my work.

I have always wanted to be a storyteller.

My education is in Journalism and History so I have learned to interview, research, gather information and organize it into a story.

That combination, and my love of country and family, motivated me to write pioneer/western stories and to know my ancestors.

I did research in libraries where I delved into books, magazines, files and historic records to research and gather information to use in my stories about pioneer and western people and events like one of my favorite authors---Louis L'Amour.

My plan was to write short stories and, later, to expand them into full-length stories much like L'Amour did.

In addition to being authentic like L'Amour I wanted to show how western women and men of varied ethnic backgrounds were stronger, more interesting and vital than most western writers give them credit.

While I was doing genealogical research on my grandparents' families I began finding more information on my McKinney ancestors and, as I widened my research, they began to emerge as a very colorful and interesting family which included heroes, heroines and scalawags.

The depth and breadth of McKinney contribution to America's growth and the westward migration was like that of L'Amour's fictional Sackett family but my McKinney relatives are very real.

As I was researching and finding more and more fantastic McKinneys I decided to join my two efforts into one. That's why my first short story collection is 60% about McKinneys.

My wife Diana and I decided to vacation in the Bahamas where we met a Bahamian McKinney whose family was from one of the outer islands. He told me there were many in his family and he had heard of McKinneys who were influential in Nassau business circles.

Preparing for a gemstone-hunting trip to Spruce Pine, North Carolina, I did some general research on the area and discovered the huge McKinney influence begun by "Charlie 40" who fathered 48 children. So, when we weren't gathering gemstones and being tourists I did some McKinney research. We also made an afternoon trip to the Battle of Kings Mountain site where I walked the perimeter of the battle site, found the springs where the combatants drank after the battle and visited the burial cairn of Major Patrick Ferguson, a Scotsman who led the Tory militia against the American militia.

Diana also humored me with a short visit to the McKinney, Kentucky, area where we visited a number of historic places, did library research and took lots of pictures. At McKinney I met the Cheney family who allowed me to walk their farm to see the McKinney cemetery, the Fort McKinney site and the spring that was the water source for the Fort. They also told me about the Burton McKinney mansion in which they lived for a time until it burned.

Meanwhile, my research in libraries and on the internet continued and I contacted McKinneys in New Zealand, Australia, Scotland and Ireland to gather family information.

Writing pioneer/western stories has been a long-term goal of mine and to be able to tell stories about my extended family at the same time has provided a lot of deep-seated satisfaction for me.

That's why once I discovered the rich McKinney history I felt compelled to join my writing and genealogical efforts into one project. It just felt right.

My stories may begin with a couple of historical or family events which I blend together to keep my stories and characters moving in and out of situations.

My characters' dialog is fictional but it is as true to the situations as I can imagine and acts as the glue to bind scenes together and to explain characters' motivations and feelings.

The title---"The Americans"---is a bit common but it gives a broad description of the variety of my first stories.

The mix of stories in "The Americans" allowed me to experiment with different times and places and to inject a bit of my own experiences and people I have known.

TROUBLE IN TRINIDAD---A fun effort for me which joined several actual events including Bat Masterson and JW McKinney who met at the Second Battle of Adobe Walls and other real McKinney activities. It also allowed me to mix characters who resurface in another story.

KING'S MOUNTAIN---Here I used research and personal experience to describe a little-known but important battle in the Revolutionary War and the day-to-day lives and feelings of our ancestors. My story also connects with L'Amour's story "The Ferguson Rifle." I visited Ferguson's burial cairn at the battle site and kept an American tradition alive.

THE HAND---Based almost entirely on an experience I had at a casino boat in Evansville, IN. It was a period in my life in which I was a bit down on my luck financially and I had the opportunity to visit the casino. I was playing a draw poker machine and had the chance to try for a safe pair and a small win or to go for a royal heart flush. I went for the big win and hit it. The folks around me were more excited that I was. I went home with more, extra cash in my pocket than I had seen in months. I began with twenty dollars and left with my pockets full of cash.

TRIPOLI---American history is filled with individual heroism and connections to today's events. I found the historic parallels in the conflicts in the Middle East to be worth recounting and keeping in perspective. The account of Mordecai McKinney will be expanded in a later story.

GLORIETA GOLD---There is a story about a lost treasure of gold which was buried during a battle in Glorieta Pass during the Civil War. Relatives of the Younger brothers were continually under pressure by Union forces and others in their native Missouri during the war and afterwards. There were many people in the extended Younger family including Younger brothers and their cousins, the Daltons. I will continue to feature them in my stories.

PUMA---This very short account shows a western woman at her best. Nancy Lomax is unarmed when she fights a puma to save her children. In my research I found a short account of this story and decided it was worth expanding on and enlivining. I was once bitten by a lion so I could relate to her situation.

SANTA ROSA---I skipped lightly over many of the events that led to the move west, some of which are listed in "Glorieta Gold," by Ransom and Justine Younger. Johnny Younger became more of a major character while I introduced several new characters in Santa Rosa. I hinted at several possible story lines I may use to expand some of the characters while Johnny moves in a different direction from Ransom and Justine. Also, the question of the gold was left untouched due to the constraints of a short story.

RAID ON PAULUS HOOK---Another Revolutionary War battle, but while it was very important to the war effort, it does not get a lot of attention. I was at a flea market and met a vendor who had a copy of the medallion the Continental Congress ordered struck to commemorate the second American victory of the war. And, because my three daughters may be, through their maternal grandfather's family, distantly related to "Lighthorse" Harry Lee's family I decided to investigate the events of the battle. The battle was what we would describe today as a special forces attack and was quite risky. I featured Archibald McKinney who was an Revolutionary War veteran. He used his land grants to claim lands southwest of Stanford, KY, which became McKinney, Ky, one of the earliest settlements in Kentucky. I still have not discovered the history of my copy of the original medallion. I used my imagination to enliven or humanize the American side of the battle and to show how the McKinneys and Youngers started bumping into each other as they moved westward---as mentioned in Santa Rosa.

ANDERSONVILLE---Nobody can read accounts of how the prisoners of war during the Civil War were treated without being moved by them. Prisoners on both sides were maltreated and died but once the prisoner exchanges were stopped the imprisoned Union soldiers suffered worse deprivation because the whole South was blockaded and short on food and medical supplies. However, some of the prison commanders decided to wage their own private wars within their prisons. How some of the prisoners managed to survive the disgusting and inhuman abuses is heroic and awful. My interest was further piqued when I discovered some southern prisoners of war held in a camp in Lafayette, IN, included a Daniel McKinney, a Tennessean.

PIRATE PRINCESS---Here we get to follow Johnny Younger as he met a distant family member and a McKinney and moved around the West a bit before he was shanghaied in San Francisco. There really was a pirate princess so Johnny got to meet her and an unlikely romance blossomed. I plan to revisit Johnny and his two travelling friends in later stories. After featuring Johnny in a trilogy of Younger stories I have grown to like his adventurous character.

DOUBLE TROUBLE---One of my most favorite stories because it gives a McKinney history, ties into "Trouble in Trinidad," uses some of my personal experiences, has a twist of irony, includes several dangerous confrontations and has a dash of romance.

HARD TIMES IN TEXAS---Contains true stories about George A. Custer in the times between the Civil War and his death. It features the Harpe Brothers who were a menace in the lawless days west of the Appalachian Mountains following the Revolutionary War. The years after the Civil War were especially hard in Texas and survival required large amounts of toughness to survive in an environment that was rife with dangers of all sorts.

MANHOOD---Included some personal experience like the fight at the dance and other bits. This story is meant to portray the challenges of the times and growth into manhood.

UPDATE---I have finished another short story collection, "The Americans II," featuring four, longer tales that are based on historical events. "Brazil and Back" is about Mordecai McKinney and how he met his wife, Marietje (Mary) Sebring. "Brotherhood," "Bandana," and "The Last Stage Coach Robbery" all are action stories flavored with a dash of romance.

And I am almost finished with my first novel, "Johnny Younger," which is about one of the main character's rolicking adventures included in the trilogy of Younger stories in "The Americans."

I also have begun work on outlaw Jim McKinney's turbulent life story and his violent death in a shootout with 10 lawmen in Bakersfield, CA. In all, he is credited with killing at least six men. After killing two men in a gun battle in Portersville, CA, he was chased by lawmen into Mexico then back north to the Kingman, AZ, area where he killed two would-be bounty hunters. Finally McKinney fled across the Mohave Desert ahead of a posse to Bakersfield where the fugitive McKinney killed two lawmen before being gunned down.

Please share your accounts of McKinney relatives with me and when they are published I will give you credit for your contribution.

Your feedback and support are greatly appreciated.

"The Americans" is available through,,, and or through your local bookstore with ISBN
1-4107-5289-5. Autographed books are also available for $17 total by contacting me at

"The stories in 'The Americans' were so realistic they made me think I must have been a cowboy in a previous life." Walter Stringham, Battle Creek, MI.

"I'm not into reading Western stories but Mr. La Fon hooked me into his book. GREAT BOOK! I highly recommend you buy 'The Americans.' Campja, Ft. Meade,

"Anyone who likes to read should pick this book up. It's a quick read even for just being short of 250 pages. There are 'Historical Nuggets' between the stories, so the book is educational as well as entertaining. I highly recommend this book." Mike Locklear, Hobart, IN.