About a century ago, sunny, sleepy San Luis Obispo County could have passed as the Wild West.
“By the 1870s, Wells Fargo almost didn’t deliver here because they had so many stage coach robberies up on the grade,” Los Osos author Ken Kenyon said. “There were a lot of lynchings, too.”
Kenyon explores the region’s rich past in his new novel, “Passage to Cerro Alto: A Tale of the Central California Coast.” Nipomo writer B.J. Scott’s latest book, “Light on a Distant Hill: A Novel of the Indian West,” also takes place in the days of horse-drawn buggies and bustle skirts.
Both self-published authors said they’ve always been attracted to that time period.
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“It was almost like I could touch that period. It just stood out,” Kenyon explained.
Kenyon described “Passage to Cerro Alto” as a tale of “redemption, human destiny and faith,” inspired by years of research.
Now retired, he worked as a Cal Poly library assistant for almost 25 years and spent a decade as The Tribune’s newsroom librarian.
“I came to be amazed by the way of life in San Luis Obispo in the latter part of the 19th century because a lot was going on then,” Kenyon said, such as the rise of the dairy industry and the decline of the Chumash Indians. “The outlaw west in general caught my attention.”
His book’s diverse cast of characters includes newspaper reporter Homer T. Hall, dairy farmer Alexander Washburn, drifter David Walker and Isabel Ramos, the granddaughter of a Chumash shaman. All find themselves drawn to the remote mountain retreat known as Cerro Alto.
Although the exact location of Cerro Alto is not known today, Kenyon said, its legend lives on.
“It became a myth that when you came up there, something changed,” he said. “It did change people, because of the beauty.”
Scott’s romance novel, “Light on a Distant Hill,” shows a different side of 1870s America.
Scott is the author of three previous historical novels: “Angel of the Gold Rush,” “Angel’s Daughter” and “Legacy of Angels.”
Like the Angel Trilogy, “Light on a Distant Hill’ features a strong, resilient heroine.
“I have an enormous fondness for the female experience in the Old West,” said the author, who works for the state Department of Motor Vehicles. “They had this enormous drive and this enormous strength and they just wouldn’t give up."Sixteen-year-old Ellen O’Hara is on her way to join her future husband, Capt. Eli Morrow, when her wagon train is ambushed by Indians near Elko, Nev. Rescued from certain death by a Shoshone warrior named Bear Paw, she comes to see herself as a member of the tribe.
When the Shoshone join forces with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce to oppose the U.S. Army, Ellen comes face to face with her former fiancé. She must decide whether to return to white society or embrace her new Indian identity.
According to Scott, “Light on a Distant Hill” purposely depicts the tragic culture clash between whites and Native Americans from an outsider’s perspective.
“My primary goal as an author is to be an entertainer, but I also want to be an educator,” he said.