Write a Western set in the 19th century, they said. It’ll be easy, they said.
When I set out to write Retribution, a Western set in 1880s Colorado, I went in with the optimism of a writer with 15 books under her belt. I’ve researched plenty of different subjects, from dirty bombs to picking locks to witch doctors and Voodoo priestesses to submarines and drug cartels. I figured the Wild West would be a breeze. So much information available! So many sources!
Yeah. Well. Turns out those sources tend to contradict each other. Not only that, but the year I chose, 1880, turned out to be pivotal for both Leadville, Colorado, the town in which the story takes place, and for one of the historical figures we meet in the book, Marshal Mart Duggan.
But once I commit myself, I am doggedly determined.
Well, at least I’m dogged.
Leadville, Colorado was a booming mining town in 1880. Horace and Augusta Tabor and Horace’s partner, August Rische, discovered silver there in 1877. Once word got out, miners, investors, and all kinds of enterprising folks soon followed. Leadville’s population swelled from a small tent city to a thriving metropolis of 15,000 in a matter of months. A vacant lot that was worth $250 one morning might be re-sold for $10,000 that night.
Day drinking was the norm for many of the citizens of Leadville, being a rough and tumble kind of town, and fisticuffs and gunfights were common. Needless to say, the town’s lawmen didn’t last long.
The first Leadville marshal was run out of town a few days after he was appointed, and his replacement was shot dead within a month. Realizing that Leadville required a firmer hand, Horace Tabor sent to Denver for someone with a fearsome reputation.
Enter Mart Duggan.
Described as a feisty Irishman with ice-blue eyes, Duggan preferred to render justice in his own way. Often, the most effective lawmen had experience on the other side of the law. Wyatt Earp certainly landed in that group. So did Duggan.
Underappreciated in Western lore, Mart Duggan was known at the time as one of most feared gunfighters around. He was also multi-talented, having been a bronco rider, a bull-whacker, a member of a variety act, and a thief.
When Duggan took over as marshal of Leadville, his first order of business was to fire every deputy that had anything to do with the unsavory elements in town and hire all his own men. He skirted the law, but that’s the kind of law Leadville needed. He stood down mobs and arrested anyone he thought he should, rich or poor. He also protected those who needed it, like the time a conman cheated a group of dance hall girls by selling them fake jewelry. Duggan hunted the man down, pistol-whipped him (a favored method of persuasion), and made him return every cent, using what money the man had left to pay for drinks for everyone at the dance hall until he was broke. Duggan then ran the swindler out of town.
Mart Duggan had his flaws, of course. What great character doesn’t? It’s said he had quite a fondness for the bottle along with a nasty temper, especially when liquor was involved. He quit his job as marshal several times, but Tabor kept luring him back. At one point, Duggan quit and bought a livery stable, but that soon failed because of his penchant for killing people he didn’t like, but that others did.
Claire Whitcomb, the main character in my new Western Retribution, meets up with Marshal Duggan when she’s accused of murdering her family. He believes her story and takes her under his wing, teaching her how to defend herself. After what I learned about Mart Duggan, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what he would have done.
In April 1888, Mart Duggan died of a gunshot wound to the back of the head, allegedly fired by a man employed by his enemies. As he lay dying, someone asked who’d shot him. Duggan refused to say, taking the name of his assassin to the grave.
Although not as well-known in Western lore as, say, Wyatt Earp or Bat Masterson, Mart Duggan was larger-than-life, and definitely deserves a place in the pantheon of Wild West lawmen.
***Want to read more? Retribution is available now! Click dvberkom.com/book/retribution/ for links.
They took everything. Now she wants revenge.
Spring 1880: Claire Whitcomb and her family are building a good life near the boomtown of Leadville, Colorado, when tragedy strikes: a group of renegades attack, killing everyone but Claire and burning their home. Not knowing who to turn to, Claire teams up with Mart Duggan, the town’s tough-as-nails marshal, to track down the outlaws responsible. Duggan and his friend, Thomas, a local Ute, skirt the law to get results, but that’s fine by Claire.
She’s gunning for the men who destroyed her life—and won’t settle for anything less than retribution.