I’ve read that novels don’t need an introduction, but Beckoning Candle is more than a novel. It is a nonfiction novel because it was inspired by true stories handed down by my ancestors. It depicts real historical figures and actual events woven together with imaginary conversations with the use of the storytelling techniques of fiction. Truman Capote claimed to have invented this genre with his book In Cold Blood in 1965.
In some instances, it’s 100% fiction.
Beckoning Candle is a sweeping family saga that spans four centuries. It is the story of two great nations and my ancestor’s struggle from tyranny—religious and political.
To better understand this saga, it will help if you know a little about my ancestry dating back to 1575.
John Willis and William Bradford were born in England in the 16th century. Both were Separatists because they separated from the Church of England, ruled by a king.
They were later contemporaries in the small village of Plymouth Colony, in the New World—America. They both lived out their lives there. Generations later two of their descendants fell in love! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
To order, learn more about the author, and the characters in Beckoning Candles visit:
Texas Ranger Jack C. Hays influenced every western novel and movie I read, watched, and wrote.
This is the story of a battle near present-day Sisterdale, Texas, that led to the creation of Samuel Colt’s six-shot revolver. It was when the Comanche controlled the Texas Hill Country that I live in today. Although there are laws about their removal, Indian Mounds and arrowheads can still be located near my home. John Coffee “Jack” Hays is one of my heroes.
He became legendary around this time of the year (June 1844) on the Pinta Trail during the Walker’s Creek fight. The battle was also known as the battle of Pinta Trail Crossing, Cista’s Creek, or the battle of Sisters Creek. The location was where today’s Sister Creek flows into the Guadalupe River next to Sisterdale Road (FM 1376), one mile south of present-day Sisterdale, Texas.
When I write a story, I like to visit the location around the time of year the event took place. This is because I want to experience the colors of leaves on the trees. And the beauty of the flowers at that time of year. Also, I want to know what they saw and felt. And in this case, I ride my horse down the creek as the rangers and Comanche must have and climb the steep bluffs as I watch a Morning Dove and a Red-tailed Hawk.
As I smell the grass and watch the whitetail deer drink from the creek and observe the breathtaking views, the story begins to come to life in my mind. This day causes me to meditate on the penman’s words in Psalms 42, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” I believe it was written by David (although this psalms doesn’t mention that) when he sought to find a place of solitude. But unfortunately, David seems to be heartsick.
But oh, how wonderful being still and alone in nature and away from the clamoring crowd brings clarity to one’s mind. But most of all, in seeking the Lord’s face, all that matters comes into focus. And just as necessary are the things in life that don’t matter become clear too. The Texas Hill Country, with its rivers and views, are my sanctuary of peace. Here, I seek His face, His peace, His wisdom, and yes, His joy!
And it is here that I write words that may only matter to me and perhaps a few others one day. Captain Jack C. Hays left San Antonio in June 1844 with fourteen men of his ranger company to scout for a Comanche war party led by Yellow Wolf, which had recently been raiding into Bexar County. The rangers camped on the Guadalupe River and present-day Sister Creek on June 9.
It was there one of the rangers, Noah Cheery climbed a cypress tree for honey and yelled from atop the bee tree, “Jerusalem, captain, yonder comes a thousand Indians!” The rangers quickly saddled and mounted while the Comanches, estimated at 80, knew the rangers were no match. The rangers were outnumbered 5 to 1.
The “Houston Morning Star” characterized the fight as “unparalleled in this country for the gallantry displayed on both sides, its close and deadly struggle, and the triumphant success of the gallant partisan captain of the West.” “This fight marked the first time an entire company of rangers used Colt revolvers in combat, and a Comanche who had taken part in the battle later complained that the rangers ‘had a shot for every finger on the hand.”‘
The Comanche was right. Hays was the first to use the Colt Paterson five-shot revolver. The odds seemed now to be even. However, the Comanche would soon discover they were no match for the Texas Rangers.
Later, Hays expedited ranger Samuel Walker to meet with the then bankrupt Samuel Colt, which led to the design of the legendary Colt Walker six-shot revolver used in the novels and movies based on the Old West. It also made Colt wealthy and one of the most famous inventors in American history.
Every time John Wayne reaches for his six-shooter and says “pilgrim” 25 times throughout The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, I think of that. Although it was a Winchester rifle Wayne used to shoot Lee Marvin.
To the Best of My Recollection my Memoir Release Date: July 2022
Randy Willis is as much at home in the saddle as he is in front of the computer, where he composes his western family sagas.
Drawing on his family heritage of explorers, settlers, soldiers, cowboys, and pastors, Randy carries on the tradition of loving the outdoors and sharing it in the adventures he creates for readers of his novels.
He is the author of Destiny, Twice a Slave, Three Winds Blowing, Louisiana Wind, Carolinas Wind, Beckoning Candle, The Apostle to the Opelousas, The Story of Joseph Willis, and many magazine and newspaper articles.
Randy Willis is an American novelist, biographer, rancher, and music publisher.
Miss Elvy had earlier that year asked for his children to take her aged husband Joseph Willis to live with them. ✯ ✯ ✯ Christmas Day
December 25, 1852
Longleaf, Louisiana, near Babbs Bridge
Great-Grandpa Joseph Willis relived much of his life in Louisiana on the wagon trip in October of 1852 from Evergreen to Babb’s Bridge. He poured out his heart to us, and I discovered a joy in writin’ and keepin’ an account of all his stories.
Just when it seemed that no day in our family would ever top the 1845 Willis Feast of Thanksgiving…it did. It all begin the first time ever I saw a white Christmas, December 25, 1852, in Babb’s Bridge, and the entire family was there. Each family member brought a decoration for our tree. The cedar was so big that we had to cut it down three times just to get it inside the door. There were strings of popcorn, wooden figures, sugared fruit, paper dolls cut out by the girls, gingerbread, and somebody even brought a bird’s nest.
We had ornaments that had meanings, too, like a pine tree, which symbolized eternity, pinecones that meant warmth, and a teapot that signified hospitality, which has always been taught by our family. There were candy canes with the Good Shepherd’s crook, with white stripes for the purity of Jesus and his virgin birth and the bold red stripes for Christ’s shed blood. At the top of the tree was the star of Bethlehem made from a quilt. And, the Christmas stockin’s stuffed with nuts, candy, and fruit hung on every available nail.
I’ll never forget the looks on my cousins’, brothers’, and sisters’ faces. Dolls, books, tablets, pencils, wooden soldiers, and even a rockin’ horse were unwrapped that happy morn. I got a new writin’ tablet that I started using to write this.
Christmas Day started with a few flurries, and everyone ran out to see the snow. Mother taught us to make something I’d never eaten before—ice cream. She showed us how to add milk, cream, butter, and eggs with the snow in a pewter pot. She had read where President Thomas Jefferson had even made ice cream with split vanilla beans. Imagine that! Our traditional hot spiced cider warmed us from the cold. The smell of roasting chestnuts in Mama’s cast-iron skillet in the fireplace brought back precious memories of Christmas past.
As the flakes began to fall steadily, more guests arrived, including Mr. Cormier and Miss Adelaide. She was with child, due in a few months. Mr. Cormier told Great-Grandpa, “If the baby is a boy, we are gonna name him Joseph.” Great-Grandpa’s face shone with an all-knowin’ peace. You could hear the excitement in their voices as Mr. and Mrs. Cormier brushed the snow off.
Mr. Malachi Perkins, Miss Eliza, Randall, and Emily came in together. Mr. Perkins went right up to Great-Grandpa and gave him a hug, sayin’, “Pastor, we consider ourselves engaged, but as you know by Louisiana law, we can’t get married. We’ve fallen in love, and if it was legal, we’d be hitched already.” He hesitated, then went on, “We so want to do what’s right in the eyes of the Lord. I remember ya tellin’ me how your mama and daddy had a clandestine weddin’. I don’t want to bother ya on this special day, but would ya mind thinkin’ ‘bout it in a few days and lettin’ us know if ya’d perform our weddin’ ceremony?” Great-Grandpa took all of two seconds, grinned, and said, “Ain’t gotta think about it, Malachi. I’d be honored…if ya don’t mind if I do the ceremony sittin’ down. I’m a half-step slower than I used to be.” Everybody laughed.
“Ya know, Pastor, ya could get in trouble for doin’ it!”
“Yes, I know, but I’m ninety-four, and my race here is almost run. What are they gonna do, shoot me? They already tried that, when I was only knee-high to a grasshopper.”
The entire room seemed to be filled with a sweet joy. We all cheered and clapped. Randall and Emily looked the happiest. Great-Grandpa motioned for me to come over and whispered in a voice real low, “Quite a few folks are named after me now. If you ever have a son, Dan, you should name him Randall, after Eliza’s son. You can even nickname ‘im Randy, if you so like. That way, our descendants will remember that miracle and share it with their children.”
We watched the storm bringin’ heavier snow, which seemed to be driven by a blue norther as our neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Robert Graham arrived. And yes, Julia Ann was with ‘em. Great-Grandfather asked to be carried to the barn to talk to his aged four-legged friend, Ole Sally. He told her he had a gift for her—a mule blanket that all the Willis women had made. They had made a matchin’ blanket for him, too. I listened to ‘im sweet-talk ‘er in ‘er ear. He thanked ‘er for being a good friend and told ‘er that he could never have done it without ‘er. As Ole Sally leaned over the stall gate, Great-Grandpa kissed ‘er on the nose. She backed ‘er ears, and he laughed, sayin’, “Aww, you know you like it.”
We carried him back to the house, and then I asked him to share his annual Christmas story once again. Everyone gathered ‘round the fireplace. He looked like he was doin’ what he loved best.
The wind was blowing the snow so hard we didn’t hear Mr. Ford arrive with Mr. and Mrs. Peter Tanner, the brother and sister-in-law of his late wife. Mr. Ford rushed through the door with a great big smile, sayin’, “Looks like Solomon Northup will be freed on January 3rd. He’s gonna be a free man!” Again, everyone clapped and cheered.
Great-Grandpa’s heart was full of joy. Mine, too! He beamed as he said, “I don’t see how a Christmas could get any better than this.”
He’d started to tell the Christmas story when there was a knock at the door. I jumped up to answer the door. There stood a snow-covered, half-frozen woman in a green hooded cape. Her hair was all wet and matted. All of a sudden, I recognized her—and so did everyone else. There were a few gasps and then lots of hugs. Great-Grandpa couldn’t see very well, as his eyes were dimmed by age. He asked, “Who’s that? Who’s here?”
She put her finger up to her lips to keep everyone silent. No one said a word as she went over to Great-Grandpa, hugged him, and said, “Merry Christmas, Pastor Joseph Willis. I love you with all my heart.” His eyes glistened as he pulled her to him and said, “I love you even more, Miss Elvy Willis. Welcome home! I’ve saved a place beside me for ya. You’re just in time to hear my favorite Christmas story again. “He was born in a little-known village. He was brought up in another community that people said nothing good would ever come out of. He worked with his hands in a carpenter shop until he was thirty, and then for three years, he traveled as a country preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never commanded an army. He never owned a home. He never went to college. He never traveled more than a couple hundred miles from the place where he was born.
He was rejected by the religious folk of that day. While he was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. One friend denied him. Another betrayed him. Many even hated him. He was turned over to his enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial and was then nailed to a notorious prisoner named Barabbas’ cross between two thieves. His executors gambled for his only possession—his coat.
“Most of his friends had abandoned him by then. When he died, he was laid in a borrowed grave. Then, on the next Sunday mornin’, he rose from the dead. As we look back across eighteen hundred years and examine the evidence and sum up his influence, we must conclude that all the armies that ever marched, all the ships that ever sailed, all the governments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, and all the presidents that ever led combined have not had the influence on mankind that this one Country Preacher has had!”
Not a sound was heard ‘til Great-Grandpa said, “Merry Christmas, everyone!
I got a stirrin’ in my heart and started singin’, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”
Great-Grandpa and Miss Elvy joined in: “Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room….” Finally, everyone was singin’. “And Heaven and nature sing, and Heaven and nature sing, and Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing. Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!”
Randy Willis is as much at home in the saddle as he is in front of the computer where he composes his family sagas. Drawing on his family heritage of explorers, settlers, soldiers, cowboys, and pastors, Randy carries on the tradition of loving the outdoors and sharing it in the adventures he creates for readers of his novels.