July 13, 2014

Nevada Via the Alamo with Mary Jean Kelso

Who knew what trails our ancestors might blaze for us when they boarded ships abroad and sailed to America?

As for me, I have been a Nevada resident for eleven years, now. Yet, I knew my roots were in Texas -- a state I had never stepped foot in even though I had crossed it several times by train.

My career was created by my ancestors -- without my knowledge until the last couple of years. 

Reported by interviewers to be "prolific" I now see through research material linking me to William Jennings Bryan, who ran for U. S. president three times, which we have something in common. References state that he was "a prolific writer."

I have ties to the Alamo through my 2nd great-grandfather who was killed there during the battle. Giving me the opportunity to belong to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the Alamo Defenders Descendents Association. His son, Samuel K., my great-grandfather, was one of Captain Cady's First Mounted Texas Rangers. They did all the hard work and didn't live to know the glory. While I write western stores, previously unaware that it was my "calling" to do so.
I am sure I am an author due to inheriting the good ol' "stick-to-it-ive-ness of never giving up.

In honor of my relatives' sacrifices to build a state and a nation, my daughter, Wendy Whiteman, and I co-authored my one factual book.  A Visual History Record of Alamo Defender Gordon Cartwright Jennings’ Family released March 1 and introduced March 8 at the Alamo Society Symposium in San Antonio. It has its own Facebook page where it can be ordered through PayPal.

As a Nevada resident, I and my daughter make a yearly trip to Texas to honor the ancestors who did the really hard work at the hallowed grounds of the Alamo.
Since I am charged with writing about Nevada as a Nevada Author, I must fill in the blanks with why I see Nevada as similar to Texas.

While Texans are deeply Western in their lifestyle, there must be some competition as to which state is more "Cowboy" -- Nevada or Texas. I'm sure they must be close in their bragging rights to be Country.
I have been a journalist most of my life. Besides holding down a full-time job, and raising a family, I worked writing articles for newspapers and magazine while my true desire was to write fiction, Children's fiction. When that was nearly impossible to break into, I turned to Young Adult and had some success. (My first book, Mystery in Virginia City, has been reprinted 3 times and is now released as Goodbye Is Forever).

Even then, in 1984, my subconscious drew from historical senses while writing a contemporary story about Virginia City, Nevada. I set the story in the historic site and used the town's original locations for a backdrop.
Thousands of people who visit Nevada plan a side trip to the old town where Samuel Clemens transformed into Mark Twain. 

I was honored, at a book signing recently, to speak from Mark Twain's personal podium that was one of very few items to be saved from a church fire many years ago. Truly an honor in an author's journey!

If you come to Reno, Nevada, plan a visit to Virginia City. Gather you children and show them what life was like a hundred and fifty, or more, years ago. I believe it will make history come alive for them. I know it did for me.

I am convinced that growing up hearing about family history is what led me to write, naturally, about homesteading and pioneering. I enjoy imagining how the people would have moved about their daily lives when their activities, to us, are now so antiquated.

And, when you think about it, whether I set a story in New Mexico, Texas or Nevada, life wasn't that much different when you crossed the borders from one state, or territory, to another.

There is much to see in Nevada, whether it is a lively ghost town, like Virginia City, or ghost towns mostly inhabited by the spirits when the tourists return to evening entertainment in the casinos. 

Outdoor activities are abundant whether it is Lake Tahoe nearby or a hotel facade on Virginia Street in Reno that boasts one of the tallest climbing walls in existence. Museums are plentiful -- many geared to children.
River rafting and other sports are plentiful as well as hunting and fishing in season.

There is truly something for everyone in Nevada. Check this site for more information: http://www.travelnevada.com/.

Why did I title this piece "Nevada Via the Alamo"? I believe I had a grandmother that was as headstrong as I am. And, we are told, her grandmother, Catherine Overton Avery McCutcheon Jennings, was even more so. (She led the settlers away from Santa Ana's army that was coming to kill them.)
When things didn't work out for my grandmother's family in Texas, they hit the Chisholm Trail and headed to ranch in Montana. Leaving most of the Jennings/Williams relatives behind. Since my father worked for the railroad he transferred to various locations in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Eventually he moved his family to Oregon, where I was born and lived most of my life until moving to Nevada. 

Still, although I didn't have my feet on Texas soil until two years ago, when I did, it answered many questions for me. Questions like, "Why do I write Historical novels instead of Sci-fi?" "Why do historic buildings feel comfortable to me?" And, "Why do I so enjoy visiting these places?"
I suggest you look into your genealogy. What you write just might be in your genes.

Visit Mary Jean Kelso here:  http://maryjeankelsoauthor.wix.com/mjkel
(all info provided by author)


  1. You have such an interesting heritage! No wonder you've become prolific with your chosen field. Thanks for the post!

  2. Annette, what a wonderful idea this is. And Mary Jean, great interview. Lots of info about you and your books. So cool.

    I am in Oregon's Willamette Valley - 13 pulished books and more coming real soon!! I would love to be included in this blog. Such a unique idea too.

    Books for Kids - Skype Author Visits

  3. Hi Mary Jean, This is a wonderful guest post, full of family history and our Western History. Half of my family came as far west as Oklahoma and the other half all the way to Washington, where I was born till moving to California when I turned eight. Great stuff. I think writing is in my genes, too! Thanks,

  4. AnonymousJuly 13, 2014

    Thanks everyone.

    Mary Jean

  5. I used to live in Reno - sorry we never met! And you're so right that there's much more to Nevada than gambling. Interesting post - thank you!

  6. Hi, Mary Jean,

    Just read your post. I have never visited Texas, but certainly would like to do so. We 've all read about the history of the Alamo. Very courageous men fought there! How wonderful to be related.

    As for Nevada, we have visited a number of times and enjoyed our trips. I loved Virginia City, Lake Tahoe, Carson City, and even Las Vegas. My husband wanted to move to Nevada, but our family is in the east. Good luck with your writing.


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