Sunday, December 8, 2013

WISH FOR THE MOON--How a Ghost Town in Texas Inspired a Novel

By Celia Yeary


WISH FOR THE MOON: Because it's Christmas, and because I'd love readers to have an eBook copy that originally sells for $5.49, I have asked my publisher to lower the Kindle price to 99cents until the end of December. I invite you to take advantage of this generous offer from the publisher and read "Wish for the Moon."


At the dawn of the Twentieth Century, sixteen-year-old Annie McGinnis wishes for a chance to see more of the world, since all she’s ever known is the family farm in North Texas. A mysterious visitor arrives who will change not only her life, but her family’s as well. To save Max Landry from a bogus charge, she follows him and the Texas Rangers back to the coal-mining town one county over where a murder occurred. The short journey sets Annie on a path of discovery—new horizons, an inner strength, and quite possibly…love.
This is the only novel I've written in which I used a family location, including a house, a farm, and two characters created from real people.

The house in the 1901 North Texas fictional farm is my grandparent's home that I remember from an early age. They lived then as their ancestors had, with no indoor plumbing, a wood cook stove, and a potbelly stove for heat in one room--to the day they passed away.
I've spent many happy times visiting them, for no one on earth loved us as our Granny and Papa did.

In the story, the fictional McGinnis Family lives on a North Texas farm: the parents; an older son who is smarter than the others, and born handsome, too; and the next son who is a big hulking young man, slow in thinking and talks very little--but is sweet-natured, and obeys orders very well.

The youngest sibling is Annie, sixteen years old, who adores her brothers, especially Clifford. Even though he is several years older, they played together as though they were the same age.

Two characters were created from real people:

Max Landry, a young newspaperman who lost his entire family in the Galveston Hurricane, and in losing his family, he almost lost his way. He wanders, homeless and alone for a year or more, but finds himself on the doorstep of the McGinnis farm. Max has been working in a coal mine in Erath County, one over from Palo Pinto County where the McGinnis family lives. Max looks like my Papa did as a young man--dark, wiry and lanky, with a quick mind and a strong body, and who actually worked in the coal mine in Erath County.

Old Blind Jerral, who lives in a shack far behind the McGinnis farm. He is patterned after my blind Uncle Reeves (Uncle Brother.) I loved my uncle, and can easily recall his way of moving around, the way he did chores, even though blind, and all other daily tasks.
Old Blind Jerral plays a big part in Annie's life as she matures.
The coal mine where Max worked and is accused of murder was a thriving town in 1901. It's called Thurber--now a coal-mining ghost town in Erath County, Texas, located 75 miles west of Fort Worth.
(This is the link to the website for the location of the town. It's an historic site, and this website has some wonderful vintage photos. Because Thurber also made bricks, the one remaining structure is a tall smokestack, which now marks a restaurant and gift shop.)

By researching Thurber, I found an amazing story of a thriving coal-mining town in the Nineteenth Century, now a ghost town with little remaining of the once-thriving populated area. Almost all signs of life are gone, including all the buildings.
Established as a company town and built by the Johnson Coal Company, Thurber was later bought out by The Texas and Pacific Coal Company in 1888. Its mining operation provided the fuel for coal-burning locomotives of numerous railroads, including the Santa Fe, the Southern Pacific, the Texas & Pacific, and the "Katy." By 1920, conversion of locomotives from coal to oil reduced demand which lowered prices.

Miners left the area through the 1920s, leaving it virtually a ghost town. The railroad company bulldozed the entire town.

Thurber had a population of approximately 8,000 to 10,000, from more than a dozen nationalities, though Italians, Poles, and Mexicans predominated.
It was the largest town between Fort Worth and El Paso.
Thurber was a pure company town. Every resident lived in a company house, shopped in a company store, drank in a company saloon, attended a company school, danced at the company opera house, and worshipped in a company church.
During its heyday, Thurber was the first city in Texas to be completely electrified and amenities included refrigeration and running water. It did, however have an abnormally high child mortality rate that still puzzles historians.

Armed guards patrolled a huge fenced perimeter around Thurber, not to keep workers in, but to keep union organizers out. The mostly immigrant workforce was by and large pretty content, but why take chances?
The union eventually infiltrated and won. Thurber became a union town in 1903.
"In 1901, Annie McGinnis becomes involved with a young man who wanders to their farm. He had worked as a miner in a town one county away, but when a big fight broke out among the miners over unionization, someone killed a guard. Max Landry walks away from the town. Later, he is accused of the murder, and the Texas Rangers transport him back to the mining town. Pretty Annie and her big, slow-witted brother, Clifford, follow the men.
Annie hopes to find a way to rescue Max."

“So,” he said, as he mimicked her actions. He linked his fingers over his stomach and scooted down a little more than she did. “Ahhh,” he whispered. “Your family sure works hard.”

Annie giggled. “They do, don’t they?”

“So, tell me, Miss Annie, what all do you do? Besides work in the fields.”

“Well, I went to school, first off, but I’m all finished now.”

“Really?” he asked with surprise. “How old are you anyway?”

“I’ll be seventeen at the end of the month. Mama’s going to make me a chocolate cake. She’s been saving the tin of cocoa powder to do one for me.”

“Seventeen? You look twelve,” he said with a teasing sound in his voice.

Annie used her right hand to reach across her own body to punch him on the arm. “You’re mean,” she said and laughed. “Why do you think I look twelve?”

“Because you have braids and you’re little.”

“Oh. Well, I have two dresses, and they’re made for a woman, not a girl.”

“Is that right, missy? Tell me about your two dresses.”

“One is made from flour sacks. It has pink and blue flowers and is quite plain. It’s my town dress. The other one is of bleached muslin, but Mama put lace around the collar. It has pretty, white buttons down the front, and I have two different sashes, a pink one, and a blue one. They’re made of sateen ribbon. I wanted a red sash, but Papa wouldn’t allow it. Said young women shouldn’t wear red. But I like red.”

“Well, both your dresses sound very pretty.”

“What about you, Max? You talk more citified than country. Like you had more schooling than secondary. Did you, Max? Go to a college?”

“Umm, well, yes, I did. I went to the university down in Houston. When the big storm hit, I was looking for a job.”

Annie leaned forward and turned sideways a little to see his face. “A job doing what?”

“Not really sure,” he said with a dismissive tone to his voice. “I guess I’m not finished wandering just yet. Now, I’m glad, because I came here and met a pretty little girl.”

Grumbling, she moved back to her original position. “I wish you’d stop calling me ‘little girl’ and ‘missy.’ My name is Annie, and I’m near grown. Most of the girls my age are already married and a couple of them have babies.”

“But you? Have you ever had a beau?”

She shook her head and picked at bits of straw on the ground. “Nope. Well, there was Otto Schneider, but I decided in the end that I didn’t want him forever. Oh, he was funny and good, but I couldn’t see living with him. So, I’m stuck, I guess. Not too many young men around. Anyway, he married Caroline Fletcher.”

“I think you ought to go on back to the house,” Max said very softly. “You’ve been out here too long as it is.”

“Oh, I suppose I should,” she said with a sigh.

Max stood first, grasped Annie’s hands, and pulled her to her feet.

“There you go, Annie.”

Annie didn’t move, and she noticed that Max didn’t either. So, they stood together in the almost dark barn, close together, faces near, and Annie could feel his warm breath on her forehead.

Max placed his hands on her shoulders and very gently turned her toward the door. He leaned forward and with her back to him, whispered into her ear. “Goodnight, sweet Annie girl. Sleep tight. Now, go.” And he gave her a little push.


Alone once more in the barn, Max walked to the far end where a kerosene lantern sat on the floor. All eight of Grover’s horses and both his mules stayed outside in the corral tonight, so he had the barn to himself. He found a tin of matches on an up-turned bucket next to the lantern. He struck one match and lit the lamp, but turned it as low as he could. Max used the upside down bucket to sit on and threw the matches on the floor.

From inside his shirt, he reached into a spare pocket and pulled out a small tablet wrapped in oilcloth. He had a stub of a pencil there, also, and he studied the lead, close to worn down. But he decided to write just a little and sharpen it later with his one good possession, a pocketknife.

He began to write.

M. Delano Landry, News Reporter, Houston Herald

North Texas


Tensions ran high during a September 10 meeting of the coal miners. A majority coalition of the Italians and Polish were pro-unionization, but a segment of the Irish, English, and Negroes were against the proposal. Union Organizers have held secret meetings with the majority because the North Texas Coal Mining Company has forcibly denied organizers entrance by posting armed guards inside the barbed wire fence that completely surrounds the company town.

A fight erupted after the meeting when the minority group loudly voiced its opposition. The miners from both sides threw racial slurs about. When the owners sent in security guards, the violence increased, resulting in the death of one guard.

The lantern began to flicker. Max thought he had a good beginning to his article, so he doused the lantern flame, stood, and placed the matches where they had been. Besides, he was bone-tired, and tomorrow promised to be another hard day. At least here at the McGinnis farm, he enjoyed good food.

His looming problem now was the possibility of lawmen looking for him. Max felt correct in thinking he had been the only man to leave the town. If he were the law himself, he would most likely go after the runaway. Maybe he should keep on moving. The longer he stayed in one place, the more likely they would find him.

On the other hand, the entire episode could already be over. Possibly, the judge ruled the death accidental and the owners would leave it at that. Maybe.

Max knew he was under obligation to the paper to write the article, and to finish it or write another, he would need to learn the outcome, one way, or another.
Published by Willow Moon Publishing
Celia Yeary
Website for Thurber, Texas
Coal-mining towns in Texas
Ghost towns in Texas
History of Palo Pinto County


  1. Fascinating history of Thurber and your story sound like a terrific read. I'm heading over to grab it now. Thanks for the special price!

  2. I always wanted to visit the restaurant in Thurber when we lived in the Brownwood and Fort Worth areas but we never made it. Hopefully one of these days we'll be passing by on the Interstate and take a detour.

    Wish For The Moon sounds interesting, Celia. I haven't read anything in a good while set in North Texas. Best of luck with sales!

  3. I love the history of old towns and communities, especially, as you know, Texas. Thanks, Celia, for sharing along with your excerpt and special price for, Wish For The Moon. I, too, will snap this up!

  4. Hey,Lyn--thanks so much. I want people to read this one. It's out of the mainstream, being a coming-of-age story, and even though Annie finds love, it's not a real romance. I've learned readers like a certain definite genre. I'm somewhat the same way, so I can't complain.

  5. Linda--the brick smoke stack is visible from I-20, but of course we drive under and continue on 280 to Mineral Wells. We rarely go there anymore since Mother passed away. But I should kick myself for not going to visit the site.

  6. Carra--thanks! The love of history, especially Texas, I think is what holds us all together and keeps us interested in each other's projects.

  7. I love how you've threaded history throughout this story. Honestly, Celia, you have such an affinity for the Old West. Are you sure you aren't an old soul from that era, come back to tell us all the tales?

    This is a great story, y'all

  8. Maggie--thanks for the Recommend! I appreciate it so much. Oh, I was born an old soul, I guess. I was grown at age 16.

  9. I actually haven't read this one so have picked it up. Love your books, Celia

  10. Susan.. you are a real friend. Thank you so much. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your comments and reading my books. I love it!

  11. I remember those same out houses, pot bellied stoves and wood burning stoves from both grandparents. My maternal grandmother eventually moved into a house with all the modern conveniences, but my paternal grandfather never modernized his school house home. I love that you incorporated real things from your own life in this book. As usual, this story looks fantastic--and what a bargain.
    All the best to you, Celia.

  12. Hi, Sarah--I knew someone would remember houses like this one. Our grandparents lived much like our ancestors did in the Nineteenth Century. My Granny died before she got really old, but she looked very old at age 40. But she did have a kerosene stove and a Kelvinator refrigerator for a short time. Bless her soul. I loved her...she was so sweet.


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