One of my questions in telling this story is 'How do I incorporate all my research material with Hugh's letters in a way that feels natural and unforced?'
I have been thinking about writing a 'secret diary'. The idea being that Hugh wrote this diary while in America. But this just felt fake and, as one of my friends said to me, this story has to be authentic.
Then last week I had a better idea. I have been talking with a few American writers and they picked up on descriptions of my grandmother and it occurred to me that Granny was as much a part of this story as was my great-grandfather. She introduced me to the story. She shared the letters. She told me the stories. And ultimately she gave me the letters.
And I remembered an interview I filmed with her in 1991 when she talked about her father and life as a child before the 1st World War. I went through my tapes and found the footage: there was an hour and a half of unedited reminiscences.
So yesterday I edited this down to seven minutes. How strange to hear her voice again after so many years. It was bittersweet.
I have finished the video with the comment about Hugh's parents attitude - that they felt he was letting them down by not joining the army and going to America. This is a good starting point for the story.
The Wild West in the 1880s was a time of extreme hardships. Life was tough and cheap.
The ranges had just been opened up by the railways to vast cattle-raising operations and refrigeration was the latest technology, allowing cattle to be butchered in Chicago and shipped around the world to an hungry market. Many British cattle companies were making yearly profits from between 20 to 50 per cent.
My great-grandfather's story is unique in that we still have a hundred of his letters, graphically illustrating his life as a cowboy. Beginning in 1883 a young and optimistic Hugh goes west only to return to his family in 1893 without a penny to his name. Was he bitter? No. This experience gave him the backbone to live a long and fruitful life. He would always refer to his time out West as the best years of his life.
This year I will share his unique insights here on the Tenderfoot website as I attempt to bring Hugh alive to a new audience.
I hope you will join me as we travel across time to the Great Plains of America.