Fort Smith, AR has a colorful history which includes outlaws, legalized prostitution, gambling and murder. In 2017, the border city became the setting for Bordertown Gypsy, the first novel in The River Series quadrilogy. At one time, the WWI era novel reached #4 on an Amazon Top 100 List.
Here are some more interesting facts about Bordertown Gypsy.
1)Bordertown Gypsy (and Lynchtown Wolf, Mobtown Player, and Rivertown Crooner, the other three books in The River Series) were inspired by a dream I had in March 2016. I began writing them the next morning.
2)Bordertown Gypsybegan exactly 100 years (to the month) before the date it was released.
3)From 1907 – 1924, prostitution was legal in Fort Smith in the Vice District, aka The Row. It is widely accepted as historical fact that amongst the patrons of the Row were judges and other city officials. Miss Laura’s Social Club, a former row house, now serves as Fort Smith’s Visitor Center.
4)Numerous characters in Bordertown Gypsy are historical, nonfictional characters including Mr. Edgar Lee Matlock, who, in his lifetime, served as Crawford County Judge, President of First National Bank of Van Buren, and an attorney in Van Buren. While an attorney, his office was located next door to the King Opera House, which operates even today.
5)The Mann Act of 1910, while originally created by congress to protect unsuspecting immigrant girls from being tricked into becoming prostitutes, it soon thereafter was broadened to encompass a scope of offenders, including unfaithful husbands and men who were suspected by the government to have committed other federal crimes of which the government had too little evidence to convict. Of the men charged with this crime, you may recognize the names Charlie Chaplin, Chuck Berry, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Tony Alamo.
6)Gypsies have a long history of living in the Fort Smith region. In the late 1800s, the owners of Cole Drug, William and Marie Cole, rescued a gypsy girl from drowning in the Arkansas River and, as a result, the gypsies came to trust the Coles. Around 1912, the local gypsy community voted that Marie serve as the postmistress for them. In December 1932, Edwin Hicks wrote, “Only she knew where to find the persons to whom they were addressed. She made Fort Smith the capital of the gypsy world.” Rumor has it that there is still a large gypsy community just over the border in Spiro, Oklahoma.
7)The southwest corner of 4th and H Streets is where the fictional Cordero family lived, but that location has an interesting history. Sometime in the latter part of the 19th century, riverboat captain Hugh L. Rogers built a mansion for himself there. In 1892, St. John’s hospital, under the guidance of President Isaac “Hanging Judge” Parker, moved into Captain Rogers’ former home. The hospital remained there for only a few years before relocating again and eventually becoming Sparks Hospital. For over 100 years, the history of what happened on the southwest corner of 4thand H is a little sketchy, but, today, it is home to The Hope Chest, a ministry which gives out clothes, household items, and other essentials to needy persons in the Fort Smith area.
House plan the Cordero family’s home was modeled after.
In Bordertown Gypsy, however, everything in the home would be reversed.
8)World War 1 (1914 – 1918) claimed the lives of about 18 million people. That’s pretty bad… but the influenza pandemic of 1918 was much worse. Between January 1918 and December 1920, when the strain was finally eradicated, 500 million people total were infected with the virus and an estimated 50 to 100 million people lost their lives. And, what made this strain even worse than most other strains of influenza is that healthy young people were more susceptible to death than any other demographic. (Think soldiers on the front lines.) And, because the deadly strain originated in the trenches of a war in which virtually the entire world was involved, when the soldiers were sent home they unwittingly carried it back to every corner of the earth. Yikes.
9)Early in the morning on Wednesday, May 30, 1923, fictional characters Daniella and Robert meet for the first time by the Arkansas River. Even though it is still nighttime, he can see her beauty by the light of the full moon… There really was a full moon on that date which peaked between midnight and 6:00 am. Ironically, I wrote this scene before discovering this fun fact.
10)A large portion of the Fort Smith side of the Arkansas River is either rocky or lined with small cliffs. To get the effect portrayed in Bordertown Gypsy of Daniella’s sandy fishing spot, we had to shoot the cover and insert photos on an island in the middle of the river. Although it is a stable island, it often spends time submerged under water when the river gets too high. While exploring the island, we found a makeshift shelter, evidence that someone may live there.
Model Diana Abrajan
11)Finally… What’s in a name? Cordero means ‘young lamb’ (aw, how sweet!). While technically pronounced Kohlm, Callum is often pronounced Cay-lum or Call-um, which means ‘dove’. You probably guessed Gerulf means ‘wolf’, but did you know Ulric has canine roots, too? It actually means ‘wolf ruler’. Oh, that’s kind of creepy. I wonder if the next book, Lynchtown Wolf, is about Wulf or Mr. Ulric…