Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Before Her Time: Susan LaFlesche Picotte

I recently started research trying to find evidence of female doctors in the 1800s on the Indian Reservations and was fascinated to learn that the first Native American doctor on a reservation was a woman—Susan LaFlesche Picotte.
     Although of mixed race, Susan was born in a tepee, June, 1865, the youngest of four
girls, on the Omaha Reservation, Nebraska. Her father, Joseph LaFlesche, was chief of the tribe and known as Iron Eye. Her mother, Mary Gale, was the daughter of an Army surgeon and understood both English and French, yet she refused to speak anything other than Omaha. Iron Eye, on the other hand, saw the need for Indians to assimilate into the white man’s culture and encouraged his daughters in their education. Susan was therefore sent to the reservation mission school—a boarding school run by Presbyterians. She would never receive a native name nor the tattoos of her tribe.
As Susan grew up, she became aware of the white man’s treatment of her people. She saw a woman die despite four calls to the local doctor who never came. Her own father lost a leg because of an untreated infection, and her parents lost a son in infancy. These incidents no doubt encouraged her on her path. At age fourteen, she was sent to school in New Jersey, and from there went on to the Hampton Institute in Virginia, originally founded for the education of former slaves. By 1886, Susan had decided to go on to medical school and was accepted at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.  Help in paying for her studies was organized by a family friend with connections to many reform organizations.  The Connecticut Indian Association would continue to support Susan in numerous ways throughout her career.
(2) First Woman's Medical College
At a time when it was believed women had smaller brains than men and were therefore unsuited to advanced studies, and that the stress of such studies would impair their ability to have children, Susan faced more hurdles as a female than she did as a Native American.  But at the WMCP, she graduated top of her class of thirty-six in 1889, and returned to the Omaha reservation.   There, unable to become the reservation doctor, she became the doctor for the Indian school. However, with the closest doctor some eighteen miles away, Susan inherited some twelve hundred patients in an area of about 1,350 square miles.
(3)Susan's graduating class from medical school--she is 2nd row down, 4th from right
In 1894, while caring for her mother and subsequently her sister’s husband, she met Henry Picotte, a Sioux, who came to help on his brother’s farm. The couple married in 1894 and eventually had two sons. While Henry had a happy and loving disposition, he was also an alcoholic and died in 1905, with complications of tuberculosis. 
Susan would go on to fight against alcoholism on the reservation as well as for the rights of Native Americans. When her sons inherited land they were unable to claim, she fought government agencies until the boys received their rightful inheritance. These battles, combined with her ten-hour workdays and travels through sub-zero weather to her patients, eventually took their toll on her health. She passed away aged just fifty in 1915.
Susan LaFlesche Picotte had become the first Native American doctor thirty-one years before women could vote and thirty-five years before Native Americans could become U.S. citizens.

(1) courtesy Nebaska State Historical Soc'y--public domain
(2) courtesy Drexel University College of Medicine Archives and Special Collections--public domain
(3) courtesy Legacy Center, Drexel University College of Medicine

Friday, September 14, 2018

Wild Women Stage Drivers of the West

Wild West stagecoach drivers, freighters, expressmen...and women! My story-in-progress revolves around a wagon driving heroine who hauls freight for Peregrines' Post & Freight in Denver and Noelle, Colorado.

But what about the real-life women who mastered the job first? They led the way and blazed the trails. Who were they and what drove them to take up (and put down) the reins?

Mary Fields, aka Stagecoach Mary 

( born 1832 in Tennessee )

Born a slave and freed in 1865, Mary worked in a judge's home and then a mission convent hauling freight, doing laundry, growing vegetables, tending chickens, and repairing buildings. She also ran several restaurants in Montana, Wyoming, and southern Canada. Standing six-feet tall, she smoked cigars, packed a gun, and became known as a hard-drinking brawler.

In 1895, Mary became a U.S. mail coach driver after she was the fastest applicant to hitch a team of six. She ran her route with horses and a mule named Moses and never missed a day’s work. If the snow was too deep, she donned snowshoes and carried the mail sacks on her shoulders. Her reliability earned her the nickname Stagecoach.

When she retired in Montana, she gardened, ran a laundry service in her home, and babysat the local children. She was friends with actor Gary Cooper who grew up as her neighbor. When Montana passed a law forbidding women to enter saloons, the mayor of Cascade granted her an exemption.

Delia Haskett Rawson 

( born 1861 in Ukiah, California )

Delia’s mother was a school teacher while her father owned a hotel and blacksmith shop and served as an agent for the Wells Fargo stage line. From a very young age, Delia was always asking her father to let her hold the reins. She became a skilled trick rider, roper, and shooter but she didn't stop there.

When Delia was 14, one of her father’s drivers became ill. She took the reins and completed her first U.S. Mail stagecoach runleaving in the afternoon and reaching her destination at 3 a.m. For 10 years, she was a regular backup driver on the 45-mile Lakeport to Ukiah run.

In the 1880s, she married and moved to southern California with her husband and had three children. In 1934, when the Pioneer Stage Drivers of California Association was organized, she was elected Vice President.

Charlotte (Charley) Parkhurst, aka One-Eyed Charley 

 ( born 1812 in Vermont or New Hampshire - sources vary on the location )

Charley was raised in an orphanage but ran away and, disguised in boy’s clothing, worked in a livery stable in Massachusetts. She kept her disguise for the rest of her life. In both summer and winter, she wore gloves and pleated shirts to hide her small hands and her figure.

In 1849, Charley followed friends to California to become a California Stage Company driver.  Shortly after arriving, while attempting to shoe a horse, she lost the use of one eye when the horse kicked her. For twenty years, she drove the stage for many companies including Wells-Fargowhich earned her the nickname Six-Horse Charley. She chewed tobacco, cussed, gambled and wore an eye patch that added to her tough appearance.

In 1868 while still disguised as a man, she was a registered voter, making her the first woman to vote in California. After retiring from driving, she worked at lumbering, cattle ranching and raising chickens. Only when she died did anyone discover her true gender.

Robyn Llewellyn  

( born... in my mind )

Who is Robyn Llewellyn? Raised by three brothers, she's a trouser-wearing tomboy whose one talent is driving wagons and hauling freight. But she wants to learn so much more. So she heads to Noelle, Colorado for a makeover. Why? Because Noelle is a town notorious for transforming women's lives.

An unedited excerpt from Robyn, a Christmas Bride (release date: this December)…

Dresses were menaces. The dratted skirt caught on the saddle and nearly upended Robyn as she dismounted from Caradoc. She landed with a curse and a flurry of fabric. The usually unrufflable Clydesdale snorted, sharing her surprise. Her Noelle journey suddenly loomed a thousand times larger than her usual jaunts around Denver hauling Peregrine freight.

She should’ve waited to don her new attire after arriving in Noelle, but she’d wanted to start her transformation as soon as possible. She misjudged a dress’ unique challenges. Wearing a skirt was hard work. Why did women agree to do it?

In trousers, she could’ve sprung off Caradoc’s back in one smooth leap. No frustration. No fuss. No flash of petticoats, like a flag announcing her arrival. Her unladylike dismount brought stares, whistles, and even catcalls from the men on the street between the train depot and Peregrines’ Post and Freight Noelle.

Her expletive about foul-smelling goats shocked them into silence. Not very ladylike either, but effective. Would apologizing for her lack of grace been the correct response?

She’d have to ask Birdie. Giving the men a final glare, she spun on her heel to tie Caradoc’s reins to Peregrines’ hitching rail.

Before she could, the office door opened and Birdie stepped out and enveloped her in a hug. “Voilà, you’re here! How delighted we are to finally see you in Noelle.”

Trying not to squirm like a gangly gosling under a mother’s wing, Robyn patted Birdie’s shoulder. Coming from a family of brothers who didn’t hug she wondered how Birdie, who’d grown up with brothers as well, had become so open with her emotions.

Then a man who resembled Max—except with wilder hair, a blonder beard, and lighter eyes—appeared and she understood. Birdie released Robyn and stepped into the circle of her husband’s arm. She flew to him like a bird to a nest. Love had changed Birdie.

It had changed Robyn as well, but only her heart. Noelle and its women were her best hope for changing all of her. Then she might win love as well.

~ * ~ 

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Birth of a Blogger

I'm shy but that possible?

I Promise to Only Tell my Story Once...

Write an intro blog? About myself? Oh, this could be interesting. Or worse yet, not interesting at all, but I’ll do my very best not to bore you to tears. Let’s see, me in a nutshell. Avid reader, cancer survivor, non-wicked stepmother of 3, married to my knight-in-shining-armor (finally), animal advocate, 2 time hole-in-oner, country music fan, John Denver groupie, pizza hound, & lover of the HEA.
I was born and raised on a small family farm in Bakersfield, California. Bakersfield is known for hot, hot summers, bad air quality, great Mexican and Basque food, and the Bakersfield Sound’s very own Buck Owens and Meryl Haggard. Nashville of the West! Here's some other fun, quirky facts about my hometown. Thanks to my friend, Beth Cheatwood, for posting this on FB .
My grandparents were adventurers. My parents were members of the real Children of the Dustbowl, Grapes of Wrath migration to California from Alabama and Texas back in the late 1930s. At age 16, they fell in love and married only miles from where they first met at the Weedpatch (farm labor) Camp. My mother, the oldest of six girls, suffered at the hands of an abusive, alcoholic father. My father, the second oldest of six children, rescued her from that desperate situation to form the first true love story I’d witness in my life.
Vision of the Dustbowl, photo from article
I’m the youngest of three children, the baby. Sounds awesome, unless you’re the child left to do all the farm chores, and there were a lot. I complained then, but now I treasure those memories and all the things I learned along the way. My early morning riding sessions with Dad and the long hours of learning the family recipes in our little kitchen with Mom. Those were the good times. My parents were among the generation of geniuses who did everything themselves. No tradesman ever visited our home. If something needed to be done, they figured it out themselves.

~Things I took for granted when I was young~

' Eating fruits and vegetables straight from the garden
' Watching shooting stars laying on a blanket with my dogs
' Riding my horse Cricket in the foothills
' Reading to my animals
' Christmas Eve sleepovers with all my family
' Watching my dad play guitar as my mom sang along
' Family volleyball, badminton & softball games (they got crazy)
' Mom’s cooking
' Dad’s homemade ice-cream
' My dog Sam
Me trying to ride our ornery boy, Jobo.
I was the first of my family to earn a college degree. Philosophy and French Literature. Yeah, I know, why? I was lucky enough to study what I wanted to learn, rather than what would get me a good job. My plan was to attend law school and make my parents proud, but cancer sidelined that dream. Thank goodness it did. In an odd sort of way, cancer saved me. My recovery was comprised of moving to the Sierra Nevada mountains and writing out the pain and fear I’d buried inside. I spent hours on warm, flat rocks in Yosemite Valley, just breathing and feeling and writing as though my pen performed some sort of emotional exorcism, shredding through notebook after notebook. It was the first time in my life that I felt truly connected, spiritually. Journaling is the answer - just saying.
Yosemite Valley - where Bill and I were married in 2005!
Life took me in many strange directions from stock broker to hospice worker, but the writing bug continued to grow. I never planned to become a writer or write romance, but IMO every good book needs a powerful, blissful, lustful love story, so I’m excited with the way my career is going so far. Naturally, I pull story ideas from my own life, growing up in the country with horses, and dogs and various other critters that kept me company. It’s fun to put my characters through things I’d never be able to endure and see them win out in the end.

My first novel, Our Last Day, was never meant to be anything but a cathartic story, filtering my own fears of death and dying to figure out how I might have handled my own closures and goodbyes if things had gone differently with my diagnosis. Turned out a writer friend of mine demanded I submit it to agents, just to see what would happen. I got three interests and a contract within a month of sending out the query. So, I became a writer writer, not just a closet writer. Publication in 2019! 
But that was only the beginning of my journey. I could write, but I knew nothing of the craft and discipline of writing. I didn’t know there was such a thing as head hopping or how writing in a passive voice could put a reader to sleep. I had no idea that the editing process would feel like I was dissecting my very own child. Writing a synopsis nearly put me off writing for good.  Stephen King’s, On Writing, Anne Lamont’s, Bird by Bird and Julia Cameron’s, The Artist’s Way, kept me from tossing my laptop over a cliff. A heartfelt thank goes to all three of them, along with many others who supported me along the way.   
My first published novel with SoulMate Publishing came in November 2016, with Return to Ruby’s Ranch – Book 1 of the Ruby’s Ranch series. It’s a western romantic mystery set in the Kern River Valley in California. The series covers the lives and loves of each strong matriarch in the family. Book 2 - Escape from Ruby’s Ranch, was published in July of 2018. Book 3 – Legacy of Ruby’s Ranch is currently under the pen. I love, love these unique, troubled, passionate women. Oh, and their cowboys are pretty yummy too.

Health Nut Café, my first venture into paranormal romance, was published in December 2017. It’s not the creepy cool kind of paranormal we saw in JK Rowlings world, but a super fun, thought provoking love story written around the idea of soulmates. It’s the book-love of my life, so far, so I can’t wait to delve back into the crazy lives of Jonathan and Becca.

Dutch, Ruby and Geddy - my writing assistants.

As of April 2018, my own knight-in-shining-armor, handsome husband Bill and I moved 2200 miles away from our hometown to stunning northeast Georgia. The country of blue skies, thick green trees, cicadas singing you to sleep, crazy Georgia Bulldog fans and sweet tea at every restaurant. We love the southern charm and welcoming people and lots of new adventures. After almost fourteen years working in hospice care, I am now writing full time. When I’m not writing, I’m fussing over my three gorgeous furbabies, 2 pug sisters, Geddy and Ruby and our freaked-out-by-thunder, 115 pound Labrador named Dutch. Golfing with my KISA. Exploring the beautiful South and thinking up the next mystery to be solved by a handsome cowboy and his lady love.

Our new home in Georgia - my writing sunroom is on the far right! 

Me and my gorgeous KISA cowboy, Bill

I want to thank the awesome group at Cowboy Kisses and also the lovely, Julie Cerniglia Lence, for inviting me to participate. If you have questions, subjects you’d like me to cover or would just like to chat, drop me a note at!

Enjoy one of my favorite family recipes!

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Cowboy Hats

What’s one of the first things you notice about the Cowboy topping this page—well, besides the fact that he’s cute as all get-out and has a great smile? His hat, of course! Cowboys certainly never go anywhere without one. Especially since their work involves being out in the weather every day.

I grew up in southeast Texas with two brands of hat tripping off my tongue: Stetson and Resistol. First, a little history from Stetson itself, combined with information from Wikipedia:

John B. Stetson was born in 1830 in Orange, New Jersey, where his father Stephen was a hatter. He worked in his father's shop until he went West for his health. There, Stetson created a rugged hat for himself made from thick beaver felt while panning for gold in Colorado. According to legend, Stetson invented the hat while on a hunting trip to show his companions how he could make cloth out of fur without tanning. Fur felt hats are lighter, they maintain their shape, and withstand weather and renovation better. Stetson soon grew fond of the hat for its ability to protect him from the elements. It had a wide brim, a high crown to keep an insulating pocket of air on the head, and could be used to carry water.

As Stetson’s travels continued, a cowboy is said to have seen him and his unusual hat. He rode up, tried the hat on for himself, and paid Stetson a five dollar gold piece for it before riding off with the first western Stetson hat on his head. That friendly gesture towards a fellow traveler of the new frontier gave birth to what is now known the world over as the “cowboy hat.”

Now aged 35 and in better health, Stetson returned east in 1865 and established his own hat firm in Philadelphia. After some initial designs based on popular outdoor styles of the day, Stetson decided to create a hat based on his experiences in the American West, which he called the "Boss of the Plains". 

The original "Boss" was flat brimmed, had a straight-sided crown, with rounded corners. A plain hatband was fitted to adjust head size, and the sweatband bore John B. Stetson's name.The shape of the hat's crown and brim were often modified by the wearer for fashion and to protect against weather by being softened in hot steam, shaped, and allowed to dry and cool. Felt tends to retain the shape in which it dries. Within a decade the ‘Stetson’ name became synonymous with the word 'hat' in every corner of the West. 

Here's some hat care tips from the Resistol hat company based in Garland, Texas: 


To remove dust or surface dirt from your hat:
Straw - simply wipe with a clean damp cloth.
Fur Felt - use a soft brush starting at the left side of the hat and brush counterclockwise toward the back and around again.

If your hat gets wet:
Straw - simply shake off the excess water.
Fur Felt/Wool - you need to turn down the “self-conforming” leather sweatband and stand the hat on the sweatband so it can dry naturally. While the hat is wet, don’t rest the hat on its brim as this will cause it to alter the shape.

Avoid exposing your hat to heat from stoves, radiators, lamps and car windows. The combination of heat and perspiration will shrink the sweatband.

To keep perspiration and hair dressing from penetrating the outside of the straw, occasionally turn down the sweatband so it can dry naturally between wearings.

Should your fur felt (if it is a light color) becomes spotted with water or grease, you can clean it with a little baby talc or cornstarch – NO liquid cleaners – please.

Till next time,