My current work in progress is a historical set in Colorado in the late 1800's. Yes, I know I was writing a contemporary mystery, but that one had to be set aside for a while. (Painted myself in a corner.)
I based the fictional town of Bear Paw on the real town of Lake City. I've vacationed there several times, so the place is at least familiar. It's a pretty little place in a valley with a beautiful lake. A lot of Texans own shops there, so the local population has a love-hate relationship with us. Bring money, but leave. I'm ok with that. Winters there are too cold for me anyway.
As I said, the town is small, but full of history. Zane Grey mentioned it in one of his western novels and their one dubious claim to fame is Alfred Packer. In the winter of 1873-74 he guided five men bound for the gold fields in Breckenridge, CO. They were warned not to go into the mountains, but decided to try anyway.
After a couple of months, Mr. Packer showed up at an Indian agency quite healthy looking for someone who claimed to have survived on rabbits and vegetation in the wilderness. The truth was pretty gruesome. Somehow, the other men died and he ate them. His story changed a couple of times, so no one is certain of the truth except, he did admit to cannibalism. He served 18 years in prison. So much for peaceful, country living.
I'm NOT writing anything about Alfred. I just thought the town history was interesting. Don't worry. You can go back to eating barbecue ribs.
My heroine is a young widow from New York City. Terrible things happen to her and she has to decide whether to remain in Bear Paw or to take her child and leave for the relative safety of a large city.
Part of the plot includes the legend of a Spanish gold mine hidden in the mountains. Imagine my surprise finding that the legend really does exist. While verifying events in Colorado, I came across the legend of Spanish monks and conquistadors discovering a mine and enslaving Indians as workers.
Sometimes reality really is stranger than fiction. History if full of little details that often get overlooked. Isn't it wonderful?