YORKTON - The late 1800s in Nevada was a time where the wild west was still truly very wild.
There were lawmen and crooks all carrying guns and it is those men that Yorkton writer Elmer McInnes focuses on in his latest book ‘Nevada Gunsmoke.’
“From 1860 to 1900, many towns in Nevada sprang up to serve the mining camps in the area,” explains the page dedicated to the book at mcfarlandbooks.com. “These towns provided the breeding ground for a unique character known as ‘the mining camp gunman.’ This book delves into the violent and gritty lives of various Nevada characters, including gunfighting miner Dick Prentice, lawman and politico Leslie Blackburn, peace officer William McKee, ruthless killer Hank Parrish, outlaw escape artist John Burke and other characters.”
The book is McInnes’ fourth to be published. The others include; Gamblers & Gunmen Along The Northern Pacific Railroad; 2006: Bud Ballew: Legendary Oklahoma Lawman, 2008; Walter T. Ross: Lawman and Conman, 2012.
In addition, he has had a number of magazine articles published in such magazines as True West, Old West, Wild West History Association Journal and others.
“I have always been attracted to the lesser known characters of the old west,” McInnes told Yorkton This Week. “. . . I think Billy the Kid, Jesse James and Wyatt Earp are great but I also think they have been done to death. . . Although I am interested in individuals like Billy the Kid, Jesse James and Wyatt Earp, and there is always unknown information yet to be found on all these characters, I have an attraction to the lesser knowns due to their freshness and the feeling of discovering an interesting story never told before.
“I have found that many of these unknown individuals led just as interesting and exciting lives as many of the famous, if not more so which is often the case . . . I get the idea that readers are looking for something fresh and stories not yet told. I think Nevada Gunsmoke fits that bill by giving fans of the old west a totally new avenue to pursue and hopefully enjoy. Trust me, the stories will amaze and entertain.”
While McInnes has no formal training as a writer, apart from what he picked up in high school, he has been a lifetime reader which he said has been an education itself, “by reading and studying the writings of other writers whom I enjoy and are in the same field as myself.
“Studying such authors as Robert K. DeArment, Chuck Parsons and John Bossenecker, (stars of outlaw/lawman/gunfighter writing) has been a great way to hone my skills.”
It was reading that led to the idea for the latest book for McInnes who was born on a farm about 12 miles south west of Yorkton, moving to the city of Yorkton when he was nine years old, generally living here since.
As you can probably guess I read prodigiously on the subject of crime and law enforcement in the old west time period,” he explained. “I would often read short bits and slight mentions of the gunfighters, lawmen and outlaws of the state of Nevada but nothing with any type of detail ever emerged.
“Therefore, I decided to delve into a bit of my own research into Nevada. I was amazed at the interesting and exciting lives being lived in the Nevada mining camps of the 1860- 1900-time period. I decided this needed to be chronicled.”
With the idea set, the work behind the book began.
“For me -- and I assume for all non fiction writers -- the process begins with the research,” said McInnes.
“The research is my favorite aspect of putting together any of my books. This one was extensive in not only online, telephone and email time but also entailing three research trips to Nevada. I believe my research is not complete until I have visited the actual places where my stories took place. Not only do I get a feel for the area and the landscape but by visiting actual depositories where actual hard copy records are kept I have often found records I would never have found otherwise.”
The research proved extensive, and has happened over the last quarter of a century, said McInnes, leading to a massive amount of material, enough for the latest book, a hoped for sequel, and even a third volume should interest be there.
That said researching a book in Nevada is also a challenge when you are a writer from Yorkton, SK.
“The most challenging aspect for most of my projects is distance,” said McInnes. “Doing research in the U.S. while living in Canada is a bit of a problem, but not as much as you might think. Of course the day and age we live in with instant communication to almost anywhere in the world, google, etc. has simplified the process considerably.
“Still, the distance can create a bit of a problem when, say, for example, you know the document you need right now is in Virginia City, Nevada in a drawer at the local court house, but the court clerk is away on holidays and no one else knows where this particular piece of paper is.”
Then there was a little bump in the road – a worldwide pandemic.
“Although I had done all the research for Nevada Gunsmoke before the onset of COVID, the pandemic is definitely having an effect on future projects that I am wanting to research,” said McInnes. “Hopefully COVID will soon be a thing of the past, at least for our daily lives, travel, and I can soon get back to scheduling a few research trips once again.”
Of course research is only phase one of the process of creating a book. Next comes writing.
“As far as the actual writing, I often find this closer to what I would call work,” said McInnes. “Although I also enjoy this process it can often be a bit daunting at times. It forces me to be highly organized with my documents which, thank goodness, is not much of a problem for me. When I have a rich and highly interesting subject, however -- as this, and I think all my books feel for me, or I guess I would do something else - the flow is often great.
“This book definitely rolled off the keyboard.”
But, is the author happy with the book that rolled off keyboard?
Well he feels the book offers something new for lovers of old west tales.
“As I already stated I believe the best aspect of the book is its freshness of content and the exciting, highly interesting lives it portrays,” said McInnes. “If history buffs are enthralled with Earp, James, Hickock, etc. characters like the fighting miner Dick Prentice, lawman William McKee and killer Hank Parrish will allow them to discover something new with the same pizzazz as the more famous.”
And, the book does have something of a built in audience to attract.
“The target audience will specifically focus in on those hard core fans of outlaw/lawman history of the old west,” said McInnes who would count himself among those. “Having said that, however, anyone interested in old west history, history in general, true crime or those simply looking for rousing, captivating and exciting true stories never before told will find the book a great read.
“If you're looking for a history of crime in the mining camps of Nevada 1860-1890 this is your definitive volume. Nothing like it has ever hit the bookshelves before.”
While McInnes will be focusing on promoting the new book, he is also looking for a publisher for another completed manuscript, one that connects to Yorkton directly.
“I currently have a manuscript dealing with seven historical incidents involving law enforcement personnel that were stationed in the city of Yorkton, 1880's to pre World War II, that I am hoping to find a publisher for…,” he said.
“Plus, I am always researching and gathering information on additional old west characters and incidents.
Nevada Gunsmoke can be purchased in select bookstores (mostly in the U.S.) and is also available on all the online book sellers i.e. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. It can also be purchased on McFarland & Co.'s website at www.mcfarlandpub.com