By James Rada, Jr.
“Bad” Bart Strong oh-so-careful-like sighted down the barrel. The bead near the muzzle was seated neatly in the ‘U’ of the rear sight. He’d rested the rifle in the notch of a live oak to keep it steady at such a distance. There was a strong gusty crosswind from his left, and he could see the heat dancing along the length of the rifle’s blue-gray barrel. Two hundred fifty, maybe three hundred yards by his estimation. Close as he dared get and still have cover. Have to aim just a shade high and left.
“A drop of sweat ran down along the scar on his wide cheek and across his lips.
He ignored its saltiness, focusing on the business at hand.”
So begins Nueces Justice, the first novel in a seven-book series called The Tumbleweed Sagas by Mark Greathouse. One reviewer notes, “Nueces Justice is an exciting, action-filled book that, though a work of fiction, fully exposes the reader to what Texas was like during this era. Characters are vividly described and can be easily imagined to have existed during this critical time in Texas History.”
Reviewers have noted how the stories transport the reader to the Nueces Strip with accuracy that is surprising, given Greathouse lives in Carroll Valley. He is following in the footsteps of legendary western author Zane Grey, who lived in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, before he and his family moved out west in 1918.
Greathouse calls himself a fifth-generation Texan. His family roots are in the deep south of Texas. His family immigrated there shortly before it became a state in 1845.
“My ancestors settled in the Corpus Christi area, starting in 1845, and built their lives,” Greathouse says. “You can find my ancestors’ names on three different state historical markers.”
Markers about Matthew Dunn, John Dunn, and Patrick Dunn can be found near Nueces Bay and Padre Island. These three men were the first of Greathouse’s family to come to America, and they are the inspiration for his popular Western novels.
Matthew Dunn was the first of the brothers to immigrate to Texas from Ireland in 1845. He went on to fight with Gen. Zachary Taylor during the Mexican-American War.
The Tumbleweed Sagas
Greathouse’s love of Texas is apparent in his series
The Tumbleweed Sagas. The novels are about Texas Ranger Capt. Luke Dunn, who is bringing justice to the Nueces Strip in the 1850s. His adventures are
“an amalgam of underlying true stories drawn from family as coupled with historical events,” Greathouse wrote in an article last year.
Beginning with Nueces Justice in 2019, four novels in The Tumbleweed Sagas have been published and another three written.
The books have been well received and reviewed. “This is not a simple linear story of a good guy after a bad guy. There are numerous twists and turns. There is a neat cast of characters here, each with their own story to tell. They are all intertwined around the lead character, Luke Dunn, a Texas Ranger. Right up to the end, I wasn’t sure where the numerous plot lines were going to end up. I was pleased with the resolution and now find myself compelled to jump into the next book in the series,” reviewer Blaine Pardoe wrote.
The characters also deal with a lot of the same issues that people deal with nowadays, such as racial biases, religious prejudice, and political tumult—all mixed into action-filled stories.
Although Greathouse has published a young adult novel and plans for books in other genres, he enjoys writing westerns.
“It’s really about seeing the image of the western frontier as a final bastion of freedom. The characters that grace the pages of western fiction become the heroes … protectors … knight-errants. Combined with my own Texas ancestral heritage, it’s these essences of freedom coupled with the tenacity, rugged individualism, and bravery of the settlers of the west that intrigued me to immerse myself in writing westerns,” Greathouse says.
He has plans for additional westerns, although they won’t be part of The Tumbleweed Sagas. However, his most-recent novel, Nueces Blood, published in May, was the fourth in the Tumbleweed Sagas.
A Western Biography
As Greathouse has written his westerns, he has enjoyed exploring the time and land when his family was part of Texas. Years ago, his father, John Francis Greathouse, gave him a 40-page, well-worn document with a family tree attached. The document had stories John Hillard Dunn had collected about the family. Greathouse didn’t pay much attention to it until he retired, and he reconnected with a nephew in Texas. The nephew sent him even more family information.
“I went down there to meet with him, and it started inspiring me,” Greathouse says.
He visited archives and museums and interviewed family members.
“I found a photo and the enlistment records of my grandfather, who was a Texas Ranger, in a museum,” Greathouse says. “It got me even more excited to find out more.”
He added names to the family tree and now has more than 2,300 names spanning nine generations.
He started to write a biography about Nicholas Dunn, his great-great-grandfather, who came to America from Ireland. “He brought the clothes on his back, a bundle of stuff, and a plow,” Greathouse says.
Nicholas Dunn eventually owned a 15,000-acre ranch in South Texas.
The story excited Greathouse, and he began to work on the biography. It was actually his first historical work, even before The Tumbleweed Sagas.
As he began searching for a publisher for the biography, he met the editor at Defiance Press & Publishing in Conroe, Texas, and convinced him to read the manuscript.
“He loved it. He said, ‘This is cool. What else have you got?’” Greathouse recalls.
That was when he came up with the idea of The Tumbleweed Sagas. The biography sat on the shelf until last year when Nicholas Dunn: The Making of a Texas Legend was published last year between books three and four of The Tumbleweed Sagas.
In the Blood
Greathouse writes about two hours a day, every day, which is about four to five pages.
“I feel odd if I don’t write every day,” he said. “I need to do it.”
It may be because writing is in his blood. His cousin, “Red John” Dunn was a Texas Ranger, farmer, and museum curator. In 1932, Red John wrote his autobiography, Red Trails of Texas.
Red John Dunn’s daughter, Mary Maud Dunn Wright, not only edited her father’s book, but she wrote her own books under the name Lilith Lorraine. She wrote poetry and science fiction and was also known as a suffragette.
Despite Greathouse’s success with westerns and his heritage in the area, he began publishing with a 2015 young adult novel, Jackson’s Journey.
“It’s probably still available on Amazon,” he said. “Every once in a while I get a small check.”
At the time, he had two sons who were just entering their teens. Greathouse and his wife were already homeschooling the boys, but they had trouble finding appropriate books for the boys to read.
“My wife is a librarian, and she was horrified with the themes and what’s in books,” he says.
That’s when he decided he would write something that he would be proud to have his sons read, something clean and upstanding.
Greathouse had some familiarity with writing. He has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Maryland, but he had practical experience writing after college in the corporate world, working on business plans, press releases, reports, and speeches. He studied the craft of storytelling, though, and developed Jackson’s Journey. It is a story of a boy who was abused as a child who connects with an older neighbor who mentors him, helping him grow from a struggling boy to a successful man.
However, Greathouse was still working, so he never considered turning writing into a career. It was only after he retired and rediscovered his heritage that he also discovered his calling as an author.
Although it might seem odd for a man who was born and raised on the East Coast to write westerns, doing so has allowed Greathouse to connect with his heritage. Just like the rest of his family, he is a Texan at heart.
He and his wife visit there so often, they are planning on buying a second home in the state.
Then he will truly feel he is back where he belongs.
Mark Greathouse’s Books
Jackson’s Journey (2015)
Nueces Justice (2019)
Nueces Reprise (2020)
Nueces Deceit (2020)
Nicholas Dunn: The Making of a Texas Legend (2020)
Nueces Blood (2021)