“We moved to Idaho to live closer to what America used to be, but I’d never want to go back to the Old West,” says Stephen Bly, award-winning western author whose 101st book is Creede of Old Montana.
Bly loves black, boiled coffee like the best of the trail cowboys, doing research for his novels and collecting antique Winchesters from that time, but he enjoys living in the 21st Century. “In the Old West both winters and summers could be miserable. For those first trappers, miners and cowboys, many a winter day was spent just trying to survive.”
Having an ample supply of firewood was a crucial concern of every pioneer, especially those out on the treeless prairies, Bly explains. The cold Arctic winds blew down through Alberta and blasted into the western U.S., freezing everything it touched. Summers could be as miserable. “There was often no wind movement. Bugs swarmed. Skin cracked. Crops blistered. Living down in the canyons was especially a challenge.”
The weather…the rustic living conditions…the health concerns, Bly’s characters face all of this and more. The worst problems have nothing to do with nature. His newest hero, Avery John Creede (Creede of Old Montana), hankers for peace and quiet and a relaxing, cool breeze as he rides into Fort Benton, Montana, for a reunion with army pals. He discovers a running gunfight with a notorious outlaw and two women determined to distract him instead. One gal wants him dead.
Stephen Bly lives in the tiny town of Winchester, Idaho (pop. 308), at 4,000 foot elevation, next to Winchester Lake State Park, on the Nez Perce Reservation.
“Folks often ask me if I always wanted to grow up and write books about cowboys,” Bly says. “Nope. Not me. I never wanted to be a writer. But I did grow up on a farm and wanting to be a cowboy. I had Roy Rogers PJs and curtains and a plastic statue of trigger on my dresser.”
Bly’s home includes an Old West false-front town in the yard that he built himself that includes a schoolhouse, jail, newspaper office, blacksmith shop, café, gift shop, mercantile and two-story hotel.
“Makes a great photo op for fans who come by to visit or a barbecue setting for friends and family,” says Bly.
The Bly house also resides in a forest of second cut, 100-year-old Ponderosa pines. These trees have been the inspiration for the play on words phrase “Ponder Rosa” for his novel One Step Over The Border and a cowboy poem or two. “There are hundreds in view from my window. Dozens in our yard. So, stare out the window long enough and all sorts of writing ideas come to mind.”
Parts of the Old West remain, but with all the modern amenities. That suits Bly just fine.