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Stuff I learned, part II: What famous people really said!

As noted in an earlier blog, historical fiction needs to be accurate, and feel truthful. That’s why historical novelists often anchor a fictional story with real history, using actual places and events, and real people and the things they (reportedly) said.

Early in the writing of GALLOWAY’S GAMBLE, I decided to give readers a little something extra by heading each chapter with a relevant quote – some from fictional characters, some of literary origin, others documented (or at least believed) to have been said by real historical figures. Quotes from actual people ranged from ironic, to prophetic, to downright funny. Here are a few:

“If I owned Texas and Hell, I'd rent out Texas and live in Hell.” – General Philip H. Sheridan, U.S. Army

This career army officer (left), who fought in the Civil War and later Indian Wars (among other assignments), clearly did not like Texas.

At the end of the Civil War, Sheridan led a large occupation force of 50,000 men to make sure Louisiana and Texas were firmly under Union control, as well as to dissuade French adventurism just across the border in Mexico.

In March 1867, the early days of Reconstruction, he was appointed military governor of Texas and Louisiana – soon dismissing the governors of both states. Texans and Sheridan shared a mutual lack of affection, which would certainly explain his quip about the Lone Star State.

“There are not enough Indians in the world to defeat the 7th Cavalry.” - Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer

Master of unintentional irony? To be truthful, when I found this quote, I couldn’t pin down exactly when or even whether Custer (right) said or wrote this, not with absolute certainty. Possibly, it’s apocryphal. But don’t you really, really want it to be true? And it sure fits with the brash, daring young commander’s established reputation for reckless arrogance.

“After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives…you may win Southern independence, but I doubt it.” - Texas Governor Sam Houston

He pretty much nailed the future of the Confederacy. Houston (below) stunned fellow Texans by speaking out against the Texas legislature’s decision to secede in February 1861. When called upon to pledge allegiance to the Confederacy, it’s said this most revered Texan of all just sat in the capitol basement and whittled. He knew a road to ruin when he saw one: “The North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche.”

So the people of Texas took this great man – who’d fought in the War of 1812; led ragtag Texans to victory in the war for independence from Mexico in 1836, defeating General Santa Anna, the butcher of the Alamo; served as Republic of Texas president, then led the drive to statehood in ’45, and got elected senator and then governor – and booted him from office in disgrace. As Jamey Galloway observes of Houston's fate: “That’s when I learned that people who put heroes up on pedestals can just as easily knock them down.”

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