Why do I write? The stories of my ancestors inspired me

David A. Bowles

When this author heard some of the intriguing, terrifying, and heartwarming stories of what his Texas ancestors went through, he decided the stories needed to be told in the form of a book series.

by David A. Bowles

My family told fascinating stories about our ancestors that came to Texas during the early days of the Republic. Some were so far-fetched they were difficult for a young boy to comprehend. My aunt told me the story of a nine-year-old boy being captured by Indians. “Right down yonder,” she said, pointing toward Bouldin Creek behind our house. My father argued the boy’s father had been killed and scalped by Indians on Shoal Creek. The stories were similar but never the same. I asked the boy’s name captured by Indians. They didn’t know names, but they remembered the stories.

The story that impressed me most was the one about my great-grandfather working on the capitol building, that beautiful granite building that stands at the end of Congress Avenue in Austin. Some family members even claimed he built it.

In the eighties, I was given my grandmother’s papers and the Bible of my great-grandmother, Elnora Van Cleve. She made meticulous notes about her family. Elnora’s father, Lorenzo Van Cleve, was born in 1806 and died in 1858. I began my search in the Austin History Center for Lorenzo Van Cleve before personal computers and digitized documents.

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Lorenzo’s marriage to Margaret Smith was one of only six marriages in Travis County during 1841. Their child, Elnora, was the first child to be born in Austin. I found the marriage license and a letter from her father giving his consent for Margaret to marry Lorenzo.

My family told fascinating stories about our ancestors that came to Texas during the early days of the Republic. Some were so far-fetched they were difficult for a young boy to comprehend.

More research found a payment request signed by President Mirabeau Lamar. It authorized a sixty-dollar payment to Lorenzo Van Cleve for a table for the president’s office. Further research showed Lorenzo had worked on many of the new federal buildings in Austin. Grandmother hadn’t made up a story. Her grandfather did build the capitol building. It just wasn’t the capitol we know. It was a dogtrot wooden structure built from hand-hewn logs. Not very impressive, but it served its purpose at West 8th and Colorado. There, Anson Jones, the last president of Texas, lowered the flag of the Republic of Texas on February 19, 1846. Then he handed it to James Pickney Henderson, the first governor of Texas, and said for all to hear: “The Republic of Texas is no more.” The American flag was raised, and Texas officially became the twenty-eighth state.

With documentation to back up the stories, I became obsessed with the idea of writing a series. I knew nothing about the book business, so I sought out those who did. I asked several authors if they would write the story, wanting nothing in return but a good book. Those writers said only I should write it, because it was my story.

At a writers’ conference, ghostwriter Cecil Murphy, who has written over a hundred books for others, said the same thing. “You’re too involved in the characters and storyline. No one could write it to your satisfaction.”

They were right. I had researched the story. The characters had already been developed in my mind.

I took writing classes and joined a writers’ group where we critiqued each other’s work. Author friends suggested I write the story as historical fiction. David Bowles writing a novel?! I had no experience in dialogue or writing scenes. That’s heavy stuff. I had self-doubt, but friends and family encouraged me to go for it.

A friend (an avid history buff) and I were discussing my first draft of Spring House. I said, “I don’t know any author who has been successful writing a novel about their family.” My friend mentioned Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind), Zane Grey (Riders of the Purple Sage), and Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove). He suggested I write a series like Little House on the Prairie or Lonesome Dove. That’s what I set out to do with the research I had. My editor came up with the name “Westward Sagas” for the series. It was my decision to use the names of my family in the series. Margaret Mitchell, Zane Grey, and Larry McMurtry created fictitious names for their characters.

Most of my characters are real, their personas created from letters they wrote and their actions toward others. Church records, wills, and other family documents helped me determine their traits. Fictional characters were created to carry the story along. The first fictional character was Trapper John in Spring House. Every good book needs a character like him. Trapper was a simple old soul that was the salt of the earth, honest and hardworking, but a little lackadaisical in his personal hygiene. I intended to only use him in Spring House, but readers told me they liked Trapper John so I brought him back in Adam’s Daughters and Children of the Revolution. Sometimes I use the name of a friend or family member as a fictional character, like Doc Puryear, a cousin that lives in a barn with his horse in Lubbock, Texas. Bella, the name of my longtime housekeeper, was the name of a fictional Mexican girl in Comanche Trace that real protagonist Will Smith fell in love with. Comanche Trace is the story of Fayette Smith’s abduction on his ninth birthday and his uncle Will’s determination to find him and bring him home. Adam’s Daughters is about three strong-willed girls. Children of the Revolution is about the first generation of Americans.

I write because I have stories in me that need told! I’ve published five books in the trademarked Westward Sagas series and have two more spinning around in my head. The stories, like lyrics of an old song, stuck in my mind. They just won’t go away, until I finish the last chapter.

The reason I write is because I can’t not write!

David A. Bowles is an international award-winning author who has published five novels in a series known as the Westward Sagas, the fifth book of which was released in February 2023. The stories are based on his great grandmother’s family and their journey from Chester County, Pennsylvania, to Texas, and are based on years of historical research. The author is the fifth generation of his family to be born in Austin, Texas. A prolific writer, Bowles has written hundreds of stories about history and the true-life characters he’s met, as well as ones he’s created.

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