CIVIL WAR NOVEL SHOWS FLORIDA AS WILD AS WEST

"Mitchell was at the bar, his back to the door, sipping from a shot glass. There was no sign of the pot-bellied man or any of the girls. For a man in boots and spurs, Tree made very little sound as he walked on the sawdust.  Light from the doorway shone on Mitchell and cast both his and Tree’s shadows across the bar."  

"Mitchell didn’t look up from his glass until he heard a voice growl and then bark out: "Hey, you!"  Tree’s right hand already was on the butt of the belt gun when he shouted. Mitchell tried to draw, but the Colt’s cylinder didn’t clear the belt before Tree fired." 

Another showdown in another cow town saloon. It’s a scene that’s been repeated countless times during the century-or-so that writers have been penning tales from the sagebrush.  But this time it’s different. The saloon isn’t in Dodge City or Tombstone or any other the other hundreds of names, both real and fictional, of rustler-plagued towns in the West.

This saloon’s in Enterprise, Florida, Yep. Florida. The state that’s known for theme parks and drug smuggling, but not for cattle raising and rustling.  But, Florida is now and always had been more of a cattle state than most Western states. And its history is filled with action as wild as anything that ever came out of Texas, Arizona, or anywhere else west of the Mississippi.

Take, for example, Enterprise. It’s now a little community sandwiched between the city of Deltona and Lake Monroe north of Orlando.   But, 130-odd years ago, Enterprise, along with other Central and Northern Florida cities, were trail towns as tough as Dodge, Tombstone or anywhere else.  This is the Florida portrayed in the novel Guns of the Palmetto Plains, written by Rick Tonyan, a Civil War buff and ex-newspaper reporter.

He grew up on cattle farms before enlisting in the U.S. Navy and starting a career on newspapers. He combined his research into the Civil War, his writing skills and his knowledge of cattle raising to produce the novel.

The book deals with the final years of the Civil War in Central and Northeastern Florida. But to say that it is a historical novel taking place in the South during the War conjures up images of Gone With the Wind and its imitators.

Those images are wrong. There are no mint juleps with fluttery belles and their swains on verandas of plantation houses. 

Instead, there are gunfights, stampedes and trail drives.  Although fiction, the novel is rooted in fact and details are historically accurate. It is set in a time when Florida was a frontier with little law enforcement.
The state became a haven for deserters from both Confederate and Union armies. Deserters organized into outlaw bands that terrorized settlers throughout the state.

Florida was important to the Confederacy because of the vast herds of cattle that grazed on the grasslands of the state’s interior. Those cattle supplied most of the beef for the South from the fall of Vicksburg, Miss., in 1863 to the end of the war in 1865.

The Confederate government organized a militia group, the Florida Cattle Guard, to drive herds to market and protect the beef supply. Guns of the Palmetto Plains tells about members of the Cattle Guard and their struggles against Yankees, outlaws, the elements and each other.

Because of its subject matter, the book frequently reads like a Western. But it’s hard to describe something as a "Western" when most of its action takes place within 30 miles of the Atlantic Ocean.  A Sarasota publishing house, Pineapple Press, solved the problem of how to categorize the book once Tonyan submitted his manuscript to the firm.  Although he didn’t know it at the time he first contacted Pineapple, even as Tonyan was writing, the publisher was developing a home-grown genre of fiction.  Pineapple calls its infant genre Cracker Westerns. 

"Cracker" comes from the nickname for rural Floridians, particularly those who worked cattle. Historically, most cattlemen use whips to drive their stock.  The name "Cracker" refers to the sound of the whips.  Tonyan’s book has much of the same kind of action as a Western, but with a Southeastern flavor. Instead of sagebrush, landscapes are dotted with palmetto scrub and sabal palms. Instead of coyotes howling in the night, alligators bellow. But there still are the gunfights on cow town streets. Outlaws still ambush cattle drives. Lone horsemen still ride trails and hire out their gunslinging abilities. 

Florida’s history leads itself to that kind of treatment. Cattle drives and range wars are as much a part of the state’s heritage as real estate development and drug dealing. 
Take, for example open range laws. Those laws allowed cattle and other livestock to roam free over unfenced land. Ranchers didn’t have to fence in their livestock. Most Western states did away with open range laws during the early 1900s. Florida’s open range didn’t close until 1949.  To try to explain this frontier heritage, Guns of the Palmetto Plains
has a section of historical notes.

The author spent 15 years researching material for the book. He wrote it from his home in DeLeon Springs, a small farming community about 40 miles northwest of Daytona Beach.  Critics have praised the novel for its exciting plot historically accurate details and rich characterizations.

... as historically accurate as anything Zane Grey
or a Louis L’Amour wrote,"
--Tampa Tribune.

"... plenty of romance and action.
Characters in Tonyan’s novel are rough, skilled,
violent; some are evil, some well-intentioned;
all of them are believable and interesting."

-- New Smyrna Beach News and Observer.

"Whether it’s a five-pound Walker Colt .44 revolver
or a holiday dinner menu or Miz Louisa Fatio’s
boarding house in St. Augustine, Tonyan knows whereof
he writes... There’s lots in Guns of the Palmetto Plains
for Civil War buffs and local historians as well as Western-lovers..."

-- The Putnam County Courier Journal.

"Tonyan, like John Jakes did with the America series of novels,
brings history alive and makes it interesting to learn while
at the same time he tells a very good story with very well fleshed out characters. "
--New Volusia Magazine.

 


GUNS OF THE PALMETTO PLAINS
is available in both hardcover and paperback.

The hardcover edition, ISBN 1-56164-061-1, costs $16.95, plus any local taxes.
Paperback copies, ISBN 1-56164-070-0 cost $9.95, plus tax.

Any bookstore that does not stock this novel may order it.
Or, copies may be ordered directly from:

Pineapple Press Inc.,
PO. box 3899,

Sarasota, Fl. 34230.

Anybody who accesses this web site may get a
PERSONALIZED, AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF

GUNS OF THE PALMETTO PLAINS!

Write to
Rick Tonyan,
5784 Johnson Lake Rd.,
DeLeon Springs, FL. 32130.

Include your name and address.  
If you intend to give the book as a gift, also include
the name of the person to whom you are giving the gift,
plus the occasion (birthday, anniversary, Christmas, etc.).

For the hardcover edition,
enclose $16.95 plus $5.00 for postage and handling.
For the paperback copy,
send $9.95 plus $3.00 postage and
handling.

Also, Rick Tonyan is available for lectures and
demonstrations on Florida History, particularly the early
history of the cattle industry and of the Civil War in the
state, and on writing, especially research techniques that
lead to successful projects.

 

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