Friday, 28 September 2012

Death Valley Scotty

Death Valley Scotty

This is a name well known to many Californians and Nevadans. It is also the title of my latest novel.

Walter E. Scott was born in Kentucky, but he lived almost all his life in California, and he is buried in Death Valley. He was a "true character". His fascinating life spanned the transitional years from the Old West to the new, the youth of Los Angeles and the creation of Hollywood, many of whose stars befriended him. It was quite a surprise to find that a novel had yet to be written about him, so I decided to write about him.

Scotty began as a cow-puncher, later rode in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and became famous as a gold millionaire, but his real skill was keeping people guessing. He managed to keep himself in the newspaper headlines for half a century. Scotty's life was so rich that I found myself with the luxury of having too much material to choose from. Events represented in the novel as all having taken place during the summer of 1905 actually took place over a much longer period but I telescoped time for dramatic purposes. It's what we writers do.

"He sleeps quite as well one place as the other. But he does like to keep his body clean and is always bathing; and I have never seen Scotty in my life when he wasn't freshly shaven. Part of the water in his canteen is always kept to shave with."

So said Albert Johnson's wife, Bessie, who grew to know Scotty well. Scotty's story has for me something of the true American spirit about it. He was a natural showman who could ride and shoot and prospect along with the best  but he was hall-marked with some particularly American virtues - a shrewd self-reliance, a man of the great outdoors, a man who knew how to live free. There's no doubt that he loved razzmatazz, but he could recognize life's true values behind the tinsel. California is, even now, still a young place, and whenever I'm there I find a yearning for history and for historic figures. Walter Scott is to me an authentic Old California hero.

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