Discovering Palo Duro Canyon by Melissa Lenhardt
Author Melissa Lenhardt’s new historical fiction novel, Sawbones, takes place in part in the Palo Duro Canyon, which is the second largest canyon in the US. Lenhardt shares her beautiful pictures of this special place and explains its significance.
You can’t write a story about the Red River War in Texas during 1871-74 without using Palo Duro Canyon as a setting. During the 19th century, the Army wouldn’t venture so far west as Palo Duro Canyon and the Llano Estacado because of the lack of water, which is what made the canyon a perfect hiding place for the Comanche. The Comanche were so familiar with the terrain, and so good at leading the Army on wild goose chases, that it took the Army three years to track them down. Instead of attacking the camp and killing the men, women and children, General Ranald Mackenzie captured 1,500 of the Comanche’s horses and slaughtered them. It was a devastating blow to a tribe who’d used their skill on horseback to dominate the Southern Plains for decades. Quannah Parker led his tribe into Indian Territory and surrendered, effectively ending the Indian Wars in Texas and paving the way for western settlement.
Very few people know about Palo Duro Canyon, but it’s the second largest canyon in the US and, while not as imposing as the Grand Canyon, Palo Duro is beautiful and majestic in its own way. I hiked to the hoo-doo formation above, called the Lighthouse, on a research trip a few years ago. The Lighthouse is the location of the climactic scene in Sawbones, where Laura has to decide how far she will go to survive.
Trivia: palo duro is Spanish for “hard wood,” and llano estacado means “staked plains.”
Melissa Lenhardt writes mystery, historical fiction, and women’s fiction. Her historical fiction novel, Sawbones (Redhook, March 2016), is available across all digital platforms. Her debut mystery, Stillwater (Skyhorse, October 2015), was a finalist for the 2014 Whidbey Writers’ MFA Alumni Emerging Writers Contest. Her short fiction has appeared in Heater Mystery Magazine, The Western Online, and Christmas Nookies, a holiday romance anthology. She is a member of the DFW Writers’ Workshop and vice president of the Sisters in Crime North Dallas Chapter. Melissa lives in Texas with her husband and two sons.
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