Sipokni West – the REAL Sipokni West, that is – is located in the small town of Reagan, Oklahoma, approximately two hours south of Oklahoma City and just a few miles north of my hometown of Ravia (the childhood home of Gene Autry). Designed as both tourist attraction and motion picture set, this recreation of an Old West town is the brainchild of a buddy of mine, Reagan resident Johnny Shackleford – sort of a hometown Will Rogers, rarely seen without a twinkle in his eye or a funny story to tell. Various projects over the years as an entertainer have taken him to Hollywood soundstages (he was an extra in the 1982 Willie Nelson film Barbarosa and once worked with TV’s Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore), and to country music concerts hither and yon.

He’s also been a lifelong aficionado of the Old West. And it was his love for the tales and legends from that period in American history that launched Sipokni West. Pronounced “sip-OAK-nee,” Johnny once told me that the name comes from a Chickasaw word for “old.” He said it was suggested by an uncle who was versed in the Chickasaw language. “‘Sipokni’ just sounded perfect the first time I heard it,” he has said. (In my imagined history of the fictional community, the name “Sipokni” is said to come from the Manowack Indian word for “wonderful land”; it is a change which I have always assumed Johnny approves of; he’s never said otherwise, at any rate.)

Having worked on similar projects elsewhere over the years, Johnny envisioned Sipokni West as a location site for western oriented film and television productions. He and his late father began construction in 1992, and over the years Johnny has continued working on the project while also maintaining his Reagan Upholstery business and pursuing his other career as a popular local country music performer.

Johnny has paid for the project out of his own pocket; although the project never has quite become the major tourist attraction Johnny hoped that it might be, overall it has been a successful and popular venture. I’ve seen first-hand how schoolchildren and other visitors who have toured the site have become so enthralled that they haven’t wanted to leave; it has been the subject of numerous articles and television interviews, and has drawn visitors not just from across the country but from around the world. And, as Johnny hoped, the site has indeed been used for location shooting for several western film and television projects - including Te-Ata, No Rest For The Wicked and Black Marshal: The Story of Bass Reeves.

The idea of helping to promote the Sipokni West by writing fiction tales set in an imagined version of the old west town is something that came to me by accident. Every now and then - mainly as a diversion from discussing the burning issues of the day and other more "traditional" fare - I would devote one of my weekly newspaper columns in the Johnston County Capital-Democrat to sharing a piece of short fiction that I'd composed. One week I wrote a story based in a western town and decided to set it in Sipokni West, more as a sort of "in-joke" than anything else. Johnny Shackleford read it and liked it and expressed hope that I might write more.

I liked the idea and kept it in the back of my mind. Not long afterwards I resurrected the idea of writing stories set in Sipokni West - but not, initially, in prose form. As a lifelong fan of old time radio dramas I had been toying with the idea of writing a radio script of my own, more as an attempt to exercise my own creative muscles than out of any hope that it might actually be produced at some point. My initial attempt involved a pulp-type adventure hero named Joshua Williams (named for my two sons, Joshua and William), but I wasn’t happy with that effort and decided to try again. This time I tried my hand at writing a western and decided again to set the action in my fictionalized version of Sipokni West. 

That script, entitiled "The Ballad Of Reno McKee," was written in September of 2000 and, if I do say so myself, turned out fairly well. So well, in fact, that I wrote a second script, "Chester Wooley's Gold," that was inspired in part by an old "Lone Ranger" story I had heard years earlier.  Johnny and I have talked now and then about the possibility of recording these scripts and selling the recordings at the Sipokni West gift shop; maybe someday we will finally get around to that.

After writing those two scripts I turned my attention back to prose stories set in Sipokni West. Some of these again appeared as installments of my weekly newspaper column; others were too long to fit in that format and, with Johnny's permission, I had several of these printed up in pamphlet form and sold them both at the Sipokni West gift shop and at the newspaper office. Some of these tales were actually re-writes of stories that predated Johnny's Sipokni West project  - or at least my knowledge of that project - by a number of years. In some cases the original versions weren't even Westerns at all, but were set during other times and in different locales; in these instances the stories had to be completely rewritten in order for them to be presented as Westerns. Others had been set in the days of the Old West all along, and all that was required was the simple substitution of the Sipokni West name for whatever town had been used originally.

And one story was originally conceived as a science fiction story set on an entirely different planet many centuries in the future. (Interestingly enough, turning a science fiction story into a Western seems to take far less effort - at least it did for me - than it does to rework a tale set in the late 20th century or early 21st Century into a story set in the 1870s or 1880s.)

In time I had written enough stories that I was able to collect them into a book-length collection. That book - entitled Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West - was published in 2007 and was sold at Sipokni West, the Johnston County Capital-Democrat (the newspaper I was working for at the time), and online at where (as of this writing) it is still available ( As a fan of crossover stories and Philip José Farmer's "Wold Newton" mythos, I made sure that I included a number of such crossovers in several of the stories that appeared in the book, to help create the illusion that my stories and the various Western tales that I references were all connected in some fashion or another and therefore part of a much larger mythology.

The protagonist of "Buck Mason Loses His Horse," for example, is named for the hero of The Deputy Sheriff Of Comanche County, one of several highly entertaining Western novels written by "Tarzan" creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. The original idea was that my Buck Mason and Burroughs' character were one and the same, and I indicated as much in my afterward to Days Gone By. After the book was published, however, I went back and re-read the Burroughs novel for the first time in a number of years and realized with horror that my tale had been set in the mid 1880s while Burroughs' was set in the early 20th century. 

My good friend and fellow Wold Newton scribe Win Scott Eckert included listings for that story and several of my other Sipokni West tales in the timeline of his two-volume opus Crossovers (Black Coat Press, 2010) and provided the solution to my Buck Mason screw-up; he listed my Buck Mason as being the father of the character in the Burroughs book, thereby allowing me to save face while maintaining the JAS-ERB connection. Thanks, Win!

There are also references in "Buck Mason Loses His Horse" to the Western novels of Louis L'Amour and J.T. Edson (the mention of Orrin Sackett and Dusty Fog, respectively), as well as to both the classic John Wayne film Stagecoach and its 1960s-era remake. (This particular story was one of those I had written prior to my knowledge of Johnny’s project, and was the first of several such older stories that were re-written as a Sipokni West tale.) I was so pleased with the way I worked in the references to these other Western characters that I continued including familiar characters as I continued the series. By way of example:

• "A Fate Cast In Silver" includes two of my favorite childhood heroes – Zorro and the Lone Ranger, although neither are specifically mentioned by name – and merges their legends together in what I hope is a more or less believable fashion. (Knowing that Johnny Shackleford shared my love for these wonderful characters made the story a natural.) The Zorro in this story was the version portrayed by Antonio Banderas in the 1999 film The Mask of Zorro and its sequel, The Legend of Zorro; the Zorro character does not appear himself, but the schoolteacher in my story is his widow, an older version of the character portrayed in the films by Catherine Zeta-Jones, and one of the young students with whom she interacts in the tale is a young John Reid, who will grow up to become the Lone Ranger. 

• The Indian tribe mentioned in my stories "A Christmas Together," "Three Sons of The North Wind" and "The Ghostly Stallion," the Manowacks, were named after another fictional Native American tribe created by the noted western, fantasy and horror writer Joe Lansdale for his novel Captured By The Engines, which features the comic book hero Batman. I wrote in the afterward to Days Gone By that I didn’t necessarily consider my Manowacks and Lansdale’s Manowacks to be one and the same, and I simply borrowed the name because I thought it had a good Native American sound to it. But I have since changed my mind about this, for two reasons: 

First was the fact that my son Joshua (who was all of 12 years old at the time I wrote "A Christmas Together") firmly believed it to be entirely possible from an anthropological point of view for my Manowack tribe to have evolved into the society later encountered by the famed Caped Crusader. (Who am I to argue with the imagination of a 12-year-old - especially one who actually uses words like “anthropological” in a sentence?)

Secondly, shortly after Days Gone By was published I had the opportunity to meet Joe Lansdale at Philip José Farmer's home in the summer of 2007, and told him of my borrowing his tribe for my stories; he thought it to be a great idea and very much in keeping with some of Farmer's intermingling of various stories and characters. That was good enough for me, and so now I tell everyone that my Manowacks are the same tribe that Lansdale wrote about.

(Incidentally, “A Christmas Together” was more or less inspired by Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman - which happened to be one of my wife Melissa’s favorite television shows of the time. I guess I was trying to impress her…)

• “Rite Of Passage” contained more references to the works of Louis L'Amour (specifically the character of Kyle Shore, who originally appeared in the novel The Skyliners, and the mention of the title character from "Shalako") as well as to other Western books and movies. Sam Hollis was a character portrayed by Dean Martin in a comedic Western film entitled Texas Across The River back in the 1960s, while Stoney Burke was, of course, the character portrayed by both John Wayne and Bob Livingston in the old “Three Mesquiteers” film series. And the brief mention of the town of Hendersonville is a reference to another of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Western novels, The Bandit Of Hell's Bend.

• In "A Star Falls, A Rose Blooms..."   two former government agents - Jeff Cable and Jeremy Pike - are recruited to help my character, former sheriff Jess Harper, to stand up against the villainous John Fain. Jeff Cable was the undercover agent played by William Shatner in the short-lived 1970s series Barbary Coast. Jeremy Pike, as portrayed by Charles Aidman, was a temporary replacement for an ailing Ross Martin, who played Artemus Gordon, during the final season of The Wild Wild West. John Fain was the villain portrayed by Richard Boone in the 1971 John Wayne film Big Jake. (In the afterward to Days Gone By, I put on my Wold Newton hat and suggested that Jeremy Pike was in fact an ancestor to Captain Christopher Pike from Star Trek.)

This particular story also contains references to the following established Western characters: Chris Larabee, from the television version of The Magnificent Seven - the role originated by Yul Brynner in the original movie version and later portrayed in subsequent (inferior) sequels by George Kennedy and Lee Van Cleef, and later played in the television series by Michael Biehn; Griff King, played by Tim Matheson, was one of the ranch hands depicted in later episodes of Bonanza; Lulu McQueen, one of several members of a lost wagon train seen in the 1973-74 comedy series Dusty’s Trail; and Nellie Oleson, the snobby little girl from the television series Little House on the Prairie, who in my story is mentioned as having grown up to become a prostitute!

(My wife hasn’t quite forgiven me for that, as Little House was another of her favorite TV shows - but I really hated that character and took a certain amount of delight in knocking her down a few pegs.)

There is also a mention of Virginia City from Bonanza, while the description of Miss Lily's fringe-topped surrey, “led by a beautiful team of snow white horses,” was intended as a playful reference to the popular musical Oklahoma!

In addition to the above references to existing Western mythology, I also made sure I stayed true to what had already been established regarding Sipokni West. Jess Harper, Wichita Billings and Ham the bartender all first appeared in my two Sipokni West radio scripts (the events depicted in those scripts were also referenced in the book). Secondary characters who appear in several of the stories -  such as Ortho, Pete and “Short Round” - were named for characters regularly portrayed by Johnny Shackleford and members of his troupe of Old West re-enactors at the real Sipokni West. And Lily LeRose and her Autumn Roses were named for characters portrayed for several years by a talented group of ladies from the Johnston County Historical and Genealogical Society during events at the real Sipokni West, starting with the annual Labor Day “Old West Round-Up” festival in 2001.

Since Days Gone By was published in 2007, I have thought about writing a new series of Western stories set in my fictional version of Sipokni West. To date I have yet to actually begin work on these new stories - to many irons in the fire, to use the obvious western metaphor - but I have managed to add to the Sipokni West mythology in other ways:

"Herbie's Ghost," a story included in my 2011 collection Something In The Air, was a longer version of a piece I had originally written as a newspaper column some years earlier (and was in fact a personal favorite of my publisher, the late Ray Lokey). In rewriting the tale for book publication, I decided to change the setting to Sipokni West even though it was not set in the Old West; in fact I had originally planned to include the story in Days Gone By but changed my mind at the last minute. In my mind this tale was set generally during the era of my father’s childhood, sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s, and I figured it would be out of place in the earlier collection. So I set it aside until I began work on Something In The Air; it remains a favorite of mine after all these years.

A second story in Something In The Air, this one entitled "Day Of The Dove," is set primarily in a town named Eureka Creek rather than in Sipokni West. However, the story does include a brief mention of the Manowack Indians, so it is a part of the Sipokni West mythos as far as I'm concerned. (The town of Eureka Creek is obviously just up the river from Sipokni West.) And by that same reckoning... 

Another story I wrote, "Ghost of Thunder Island," was included in the 2013 anthology The Avenger: Burning Heart of the Crucible, the third volume in a series by Moonstone Books featuring the popular pulp fiction hero of the 1930s and '40s. The story takes place in 1939 New York, but in writing the take I decided to make one of the characters a grandson of the protagonist in the aforementioned "Rite of Passage" from Days Gone By. THAT story was a great deal of fun to write, and in 2014 was even nominated for a New Pulp Award in the category of “Best Short Story.” It didn’t win, of course, but I never really expected that it would; still, like they. say, it was an honor just to be nominated...

(For the record, "Ghost of Thunder Island" was actually a sequel to a 1975 comic book story featuring another pulp hero, Doc Savage, published by Marvel Comics in the first issue of their quarterly black-and-white Doc series. My tale also featured a police detective character who originally appeared in stories of a third pulp hero, the Shadow; another police character is supposed to be related to the family depicted in the contemporary TV drama Blue Bloods, and there was also a reference to the character of actor Bruce Baxter from Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of King Kong.)

Finally, on Jan. 31, 2014, I wrote an extremely short piece entitled "One Saturday In Sipokni West," which is basically my version of a very old (and actually kind of stupid) joke. But it was nice to revisit the sheriff of my old western town, Jess Harper, even if only for a brief moment. 

At some point I do hope to write some new Western tales set in Sipokni West - and I rather like the idea of using the town as a setting in stories set in more contemporary times as well, just to lend added weight to the idea of it being a real community with a sense of history.

Watch this space for details, I suppose...