Monday, November 20, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

My favorite holiday is approaching fast. The gathering of friends and family to give thanks makes me look forward to Thanksgiving more than any other holiday.

Although my family, and many others, goes for the ‘traditional’ turkey dinner for Thanksgiving, the first one—a three-day feast of thankfulness hosted by the Pilgrims and a local tribe of Wampanoag—is thought to have consisted of lobster, rabbit, chicken, fish, squash, beans, chestnuts, hickory nuts, onions, leeks, dried fruits, maple syrup and honey, radishes, cabbage, carrots, eggs, and goat cheese. 

Due to the size and abundance of wild turkeys, the turkey became a Thanksgiving mainstay by the time President Lincoln issued his proclamation declaring the last Thursday of November as a national Thanksgiving holiday. Some historians claim Lincoln was also the first president to official pardon a turkey (his son’s pet turkey). 

A few turkey facts:

The average turkey purchased for Thanksgiving is 15 pounds.
The heaviest turkey recorded was 86 pounds.
A mature turkey has approximately 3,500 feathers.
Turkey is the most popular ‘leftover’ food.

We all know Thanksgiving is followed by Black Friday. I’ve been there done that, and will never do it again. It’s just not my cup of tea. I much prefer to stay home reflecting upon the wonderful gathering we’d experienced the day before. However, if any of you are shoppers and plan on going out on Black Friday, I hope you find deals of a lifetime!

I’m thankful for the life I live every day, but relish the one day I can celebrate the fact we live in a wonderful country, our freedom, our right to worship God, our family, friends, and all the obvious, bountiful, and even sometimes taken for granted things.

Blessings to each and every one of you during this wonderful holiday.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

From Sea to Shining Sea—the Cross Country Ride of Nan Aspinwall

One of my dreams when I was young was that my parents would drop me by the side of the road (in this case, The Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, NY) and I would get on my horse and just ride away clear across the USA. Little did I know that, as far as the cross-country ride was concerned, another woman had beat me to it some fifty years earlier.
Nan Jane Aspinwall was also born in New York, in 1880, but she spent most of her formative years in Nebraska where her parents were shopkeepers. By 1899, she was performing in burlesque as an oriental dancer by the name of Princess Omene, but by 1906 she had reinvented herself once more as ‘Montana Girl.’ With this moniker came a reinvented history—that she had been brought up on a ranch in Montana.  Whatever the truth of the matter, she did manage to learn trick roping, stunt riding, steer riding, archery, sharp-shooting, and other rodeo show events, eventually gaining medals and becoming the highest paid artist in the combined Buffalo Bill Wild West and Pawnee Bill Far East show. Also in the show was husband Frank Gable, whom she had married around 1900. Apparently, it was on a bet from Buffalo Bill that she undertook the cross-country ride carrying a letter from the mayor of San Francisco to the mayor of New York.
Going against advice to ride a sturdier horse, Nan chose instead to ride her Bay thoroughbred, Lady Jane. Now think about this:  in an age when women were still not permitted in many states to ride astride, Nan, aged 31, undertook this ride of 4,496 miles, over some 180 days, alone and with full responsibility for her horse—whom she had to shoe some fourteen times herself. She supported herself by giving roping and riding demonstrations and hoping for hospitality, which was not always forthcoming. Two towns at least disapproved of her so greatly, that she shot off her gun in disgust.
Somewhere between Shafter NV and Procter, Utah (now, apparently ghost towns), Nan turned off onto an old prospectors’ trail she believed a shortcut through the mountains. Unfortunately, the trail petered out, and the
horses’ hooves had not left marks in the granite. She apparently rode aimlessly without food or water until nightfall and in the morning left Lady Jane to climb up a peak to try to get her bearings. It was only the horse’s whinny that let her find her way back to the mare. The next day she led Lady Jane to alleviate the horse’s burden, finally deciding to mount and let the mare lead the way—which the animal did, straight down a mountain into a railroad camp where Nan collapsed. This adventure cost her a week in hospital.
She crossed the desert, sixty-five miles with only arsenic water available, in one day. At other times, she made as much as ninety-five miles a day, but from San Francisco to Denver she averaged forty-one miles a day and thereafter only twenty-seven. On July 8, 1911, Nan completed her journey, drawing a crowd to City Hall Park where she delivered the letter to the mayor. She also took her horse into the freight elevator and went up twelve flights! News articles of the day all mention the fact she was wearing a divided skirt, an item just coming into fashion according to the New York Times.
Nan and Frank ran their own Gable’s Novelty Show after 1913, a sort of vaudeville Wild West show. Frank passed away around 1929 and sometime in the 1930s, Nan remarried to an Al Lambell who also predeceased her.  For whatever reason, Nan removed herself from public life. She moved from Seattle, where she had been living, to southern California in 1954, apparently to be near a brother. She was childless, heavily involved with the Christian Scientist church, and spent her last seven years on a farm in San Bernadino, where she died in 1964.
Nan’s amazing ride was immortalized both in a radio show and in a 1954 TV episode of Death Valley Days.  At a time when nice girls rode side-saddle, and barbed wire had already cut across the country, Nan faced both prejudice and open hostility as well as the hardships of the elements and geography.
It makes me think that perhaps that little daydream of mine might have turned into a night-mare.

For more about me and fewer bad puns, find me at:

Twitter:  @andidowning

Monday, November 13, 2017

Cinnabar Basin School House: A Small Piece of Montana History

Last summer, while searching online for a place to stay near the north end of Yellowstone National Park, my husband and I came across a posting for Stermitz Ranch.  We'd been looking for a hotel in the town of Gardiner, Montana, just outside Yellowstone's north entrance. The ranch clearly wasn't going to be as convenient to the park. But it was a historic schoolhouse! On a ranch! As usual, we chose adventure over convenience and booked our stay.

Weeks later, heading into the mountains on a gravel road in the pitch dark with a carsick child, we questioned the wisdom of our choice. After an enormous day of driving we were all miserable. We reached the schoolhouse, found the key and stumbled into bed.

When we opened our eyes in the morning, we felt transported to another era.

When the owners of Stermitz Ranch decided to renovate the old, abandoned school house on their property, they were surprised to discover that many of the original furnishings and school supplies were still inside. They used them to decorate the one room cabin.

The old school books are still on the shelves.

The owners created a book about the schoolhouse that was pretty fascinating for a history buff like me.

After wandering around the school house, we stepped outside. While we knew the ranch would be beautiful, our surroundings still took our breath away.

And of course there were the horses. I couldn't wait to go riding, and I was thrilled when my little son said he'd like to go too.  Best of all, he absolutely loved it! In this photo he's meeting Reuger, the sweet horse he still talks about all the time.

While the location of the ranch isn't entirely convenient to Yellowstone, it was worth the extra twenty minutes of driving time. The road from the ranch to Gardiner follows the Yellowstone River.  We took the dirt back road and found ourselves driving through herds of antelope and elk.

Sometimes, taking a chance while traveling truly pays off, and our stay at the Stermitz Ranch Schoolhouse was one of those times.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Native Numbers

Before the Europeans came over on their handsome ships, before the “new world” was “discovered”, we’re told America was a great big empty land. Sure, there was an indigenous culture, but it was a handful of isolated people here and there, barely ever seeing each other. The continent was basically a blank canvas waiting for the mass of Europeans to come and settle it. A great wilderness with a giant vacant sign out front. Except it wasn’t.

Far from being just a bunch of ragtag tribes, Native Americans may have numbered as many as 100 million when Columbus first missed India by a few thousand miles. To gain perspective on this, one should know that the entire population of Europe numbered around 70 million in those days. Giovanni de Verrazzano, an Italian sailor, describes first seeing the East Coast of North America in 1523. “He observed that the coastline everywhere was ‘densely populated,’ smoky with Indian bonfires; he could sometimes smell the burning hundreds of miles away.”
It was Smallpox that wiped out about 90% of the population before the pilgrims arrived, contracted from European settlers used to living in close quarters with their livestock. Despite the plight of this plague, at least 1 million Natives still remained. And they were sophisticated. Television might have you believe the Natives were all about war paint and taking scalps, but there was more to the indigenous people by far. Native culture was all about extensive agriculture, opening up new trade routes across the continent and building America’s first city. Then “civilization” showed up, and any chance of recovering from that super-plague was swept away on a tide of smallpox, STDs and genocide.

About the Author:

I have been writing westerns for many years now. I feel my obsession with the Wild West stems mostly from my western heritage. My family is spread across the Appalachias, the Rockies, from the East Coast, all the way back to the west. I am mixed with Cherokee Indian, Irish, Black Foot Indian, French Creole, and several other nationalities I probably know nothing about. Through my journey to discover myself, I have managed to write some pretty amazing stories. If you would like to read any of my works you can find me at