Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Under the Dirt & Grime…by Amber Bentley

 Please blow Amber a Cowboy Kiss.  We hope once she has her contemporary cowboy romance written, she'll come back and let us know more about it.  Welcome, Amber. - Ginger

 Under the Dirt & Grime ~ Why We Love Cowboys

            As I embark to a different writing pace (contemporary cowboy romance), I've been considering a lot about this new series. And of my love for the historical cowboy.
            The cowboys of old had a protective nature. No one, absolutely no one, was getting to their wife or children (sisters and mothers, for that matter,too) unless they were dead. Ahh, the chivalry that makes us all sigh. They worked long hours trying to keep their homes (the outside), land, barns, livestock and so on. Failure, in that time, was such a high price to pay.
            Who would want to see their children go to bed with grumbling stomachs because they were hungry? When gardens didn't grow, livestock died or were stolen – there was serious impact. If there was a drought, it was tough all around.
            Even in the historical romance books, we often portray cowboys as smelling like leather, even whiskey (or something similar). Maybe the cowboy had a bit of dirt covering him and some sweat coming from his forehead. (Think stunning slow motion entrance of what is supposed to be the hottest guy ever laid eyes upon.) However, more than likely, in that time, he was head to toes in grime and some kind of livestock poop. His cowboy hat probably smelled worse than he did.
            More to think on, within a family, men would often take a bath first. Wives and children after – in the same water. It kind of makes you wonder how clean anyone really got.
            Still, even when faced with the hard truth of cowboys past, you can't help but feel some twinge. Some spark. Some desire to have known the over-protective, hard-working cowboy.
            Though today's women profess to be tough, capable of doing anything a man can. Most of all, not needing a man to provide for them or to protect them. I find myself disagreeing.
            Yes, I've been independent for ages. I've taken care of myself. I've worked hard.
            But some part of me longs for times of old. Of not having to be the strong one. Of having that protective, strong man there to take some of the burden from my own shoulders. The time when it was okay for a woman to cry.
            Historical cowboys were often thin. But don't let that make you think them weak. The hard work put a tough ruggedness on them that no gym could ever deliver.
     Moving forward to my new venture – writing that contemporary cowboy romance series – the modern day cowboy is portrayed as a centerfold hottie, thick with ripped muscled and an 8-pack set of abs. As though he was pulled right from the gym (which he likely was).
            I'm documenting my journey (on my blog, tagged as City to Country) into actual hands on research for this new series. I'm relocating to a “farm” town. There I've got a few friends that have friends that are willing to turn this city girl into a country one. I'll be going hands on behind the scenes at rodeos, getting a close up look at ranches, livestock and the work that goes into them. As well as the cattle auctions and so much more.
            And real modern day cowboys.
            Will I find they're just like every other man? Or will I find that chivalry isn't completely dead?
            I think, one of the main things I'll find to be true, even in this later time period – being a cowboy, especially a rodeo cowboy, is a lonely rode. Many ranchers still work sun up to sun down and come in to eat dinner exhausted. On the rodeo side, I can't imagine too many girls tying themselves to a rodeo cowboy. Months gone at a time, chasing one rodeo to another trying to be that big winner.
We'll see if the new cowboys can live up to my love for the historical ones.

My Blog -

Monday, January 27, 2014


*Pardon me for posting an article I used some time ago on another blog. I couldn't help thinking of this article and the book from which it's taken during our recent move. Again today my family and I were discussing the difficulty of our move. I recall being grateful we had moving vans and neatly staking boxes for our things. Here's the article:

Linda Hubalek has graciously allowed me to quote from her book TRAIL OF THREAD, in which Dorothy Pieratt describes preparing for the trip West from Kentucky to Kansas:

We debated, but finally packed two wagons for each family. We felt it was better for the animals’ sake to limit the weight on each wagon to around 2000 pounds instead of overloading one wagon....Since we need six oxen per wagon, we bought extra animals a few weeks ago. John decided to use oxen instead of mules because the oxen are easily managed, patient, and gentle--even with the children--and not easily driven off or prone to stampeding like mules and horses...After much discussion, John agreed to hitch a cage of chickens on the back of the wagon.

Yesterday we sold everything that wouldn’t fit in the wagons at a public auction on our farm. The strain of the day is still on my mind. This morning I’ve been ready to fetch something and then I stop in midstep, wondering if it’s tucked in the wagon or was sold yesterday. It was hard to see most of the animals and all but a few chickens leave the place. But we can’t take everything along, and we need the money. [*My family members are holding a giant garage/moving sale this spring.]

New wagon beds were built using seasoned oak boards. Sides were jointed together. No nails were used that could work out along the bumpy road and spell disaster. Along the inside of the three-foot-high sides, John built long boxes running the length of the wagon for storage. These boxes will serve as seats during the day if the children want to ride inside. We just add boards cut to fit across the storage boxes, put bedding on top, and the wagon is outfitted for sleeping. The boards fit in a wooden holder that runs along the outside of the wagon. They can also be used to make a bench or table when laid across stumps, or, heaven forbid, as lumber for a coffin.

I had a big hand in preparing the wagons, too. The wagon beds were fitted with a framework of hickory bows high enough to give head clearance, and I hand-sewed long pieces of cloth together for coverings. It was quite an undertaking. It had to be tight, strong enough to withstand heavy winds, and rainproof so things inside don’t get soaked. Even though it was extra work, I ended up making them a double thickness to keep out the cold. A dark muslin went over the framework first, then a heavy white linen. The dark cloth cuts down on the brightness of the reflection as we walk beside the wagon. I coated the outside material with a mixture of hot beeswax and linseed oil for waterproofing. It turned the material a sand color, which should help the reflection, too. The covering is drawn together on the ends by a strong cord to form tight circles. End flaps an be buttoned on to completely seal the wagon top. My stitches and buttonholes will be tested by the first storm we run into. I even stitched pockets on the inside covering to hold little things like our comb, sunbonnets, and other personal things I didn’t want out of reach.

John borrowed a guidebook to Oregon and California from a neighbor, which suggested that for each adult going to California, a party should carry 200 pounds of flour, 30 of hardtack, 75 of bacon, 10 of rice, 5 of coffee, 2 of tea, 25 of sugar, 2 of saleratus, 10 of salt, a half-bushel each of cornmeal, parched, and ground corn, and a small keg of vinegar. We’re not going to California (unless the men change their minds), so we shouldn’t need that much per person, but we’ll need supplies until we get crops and garden planted and harvested. Who knows how long it will be until towns with stores get established in the new territory?

I’ll take one barrel of pickled cucumbers along to prevent scurvy...the decision of what kind and quality of item to trade for had to be made...The mill sells different grades of flour. I wish I could have bought the superfine flour, sifted several times...I bought the next grade, middlings, for our cooking. It’s much more coarse and granular, but it serves the purpose...The mill’s shorts, a cross between wheat bran and coarse whole wheat flour, looked clean, so I also bought 125-pound sack of it... [* My husband loves pickles with a sandwich and now usually says, "Have to keep from getting scurvy" when he eats a pickle.]

We can’t afford to carry the flour in heavy barrels, so it is mostly stacked in fifty-pound cotton cloth to cut down on weight. Because the flour is not kiln-dried, we double-sacked it in a leather bag. If the flower absorbs too much moisture, I’ll end up with a heavy loaf and will have to add more flour to my baking.

Sorghum molasses, our main sweetener, will make the trip in small wooden kegs...For special occasions, I bought three cones of white sugar. The New Orleans sugar we buy reasonably in the stores her may fo for top dollar on the frontier. The cones resemble pointed hats. They are molded atthe factory, and wrapped in blue paper. Usually I leave the cones whole and use sugar snippers, a cross between scissors and pliers, to break off lumps as I need them. To save space on the trip, I ground up the cones and divided the two types of sugar (the white sugar on the top gradually changes to brown sugar on the bottom), then sifted to remove the impurities. The storekeeper said I should pack it in India rubber sacks to keep it dry, but I decided not to add that extra expense. I tucked the cone papers in the wagon because I can extract the indigo dye from it to color yarn and material blue.

I also bought a small quantity of low grade brown sugar since it is ten cents cheaper than the cones. It’s dark, smelly, sticky, and sometimes dirty, but it still gives sweet taste to cooking.

Parched corn is another sacked commodity in the wagon. The kernels were sun dried last fall and I’ll grind them into meal with the mortar when I need it.

Smoked bacon was double-wrapped in cloth, put in wooden boxes, and covered with bran to prevent the fat from melting during the trip. I cooked the crocks of cut meat I had left into a thick jelly. After it set up in pans and dried, we broke it into pieces and packed it in tins. If I add boiling water to some, we’ll have portable soup on the trail.

Smaller sacks of beans, rice, salt, saleratus, and coffee are wedged around the whiskey jugs underneath the wagon seat. The medicine box, filled with tiny cloth sachets holding dried medicinal herbs and little medicine bottles, is wedged on top, ready for an emergency.

I put the sacks of yeast cakes, dried bead, and hardtack inside one of the long boxes, along with the box of homemade soap bars. I’ll have small sacks of each staple in the back box and refill them from the bigger sacks when I need to.

The back end of the wagon drops down partway on chains and will serve as a preparation table for food or for other jobs. The provision box faces the back so it can be opened up without hauling the box out of the wagon every time. It has my tinware, cooking utensils and small sacks of necessities for cooking everyday.
Wish I could have brought all my kitchen utensils, but I settled for two spider skillets, three Dutch ovens of various sizes, the reflector for baking, the coffee pot, the coffee mill, the mortar and pestle, a few baking pans, knives, and my rolling pin.

Walking out to the wagons for the umpteenth time, it struck me that they are starting to look like a peddler’s caravan. They are overflowing with items attached to the sides. The wooden washtubs and zinc washboard are fastened to one side of the wagon. The walking plow is lashed to the other side. Small kegs of water, vinegar, and molasses fit in where needed to balance the wagon. Everybody can see what we own because it’s hanging in plain sight.

The second wagon is packed even tighter than the first with household and farming tools we’ll need after we get to our new land. All the boxes are packed tight so they won’t slide around, rattle, or spill. I hope we won’t have to unpack it until we reach our destination.

You can learn more about Linda Hubalek’s TRAIL OF THREAD at

 Caroline Clemmons' latest release is THE MOST UNSUITABLE COURTSHIP, Kincaids, book 3, and is available in print and e-download from most online stores. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

1894 Year of the Wooden Horse

The Chinese Wooden Horse
By Alison Bruce

February 6, 1894 was the first day of a Year of the Wooden Horse. Twelve years previous, May 6, 1882, in the year of the Water Horse, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed and not repealed until December 1943.

Chinese immigrants were encouraged come to America to work on the railroads and mining. In China, the United States was also known as Gold Mountain.
In an 1882 diary, Levancia Bent noted that “the Chinese seemed to do everything that our own people wouldn't or couldn't do.” Most of the businesses they started involved little capital and lots of labor. A restaurant owner had only to purchase what he needed for one day; a Chinese laundry service needed only tubs and a washboard, plus a little soap. And unlike many European business owners, the Chinese were willing to cater to all elements of society. By the 1880s, one could find a Chinese restaurant–and probably an apothecary shop–in every red-light district from Alaska to Guatemala.

More so than most immigrants, the Chinese kept to themselves. Little Chinatowns cropped up wherever there was a significant Chinese population. They included at least one boardinghouse for railway and domestic workers, a restaurant, apothecary and a laundry which primarily served the non-Chinese workers. There also might be a gambling house, bordello and opium den.

Opiates were not illegal at this time so Chinese apothecaries also catered to the white population. One product, Heaven’s Balm, was particularly popular with the ladies for treating the pain of child birth and “that time of the month”.

When the railway was built and the gold rush slowed to a trickle, the smaller Chinatowns disappeared–as did many of the mining towns. Chinese workers moved to larger urban centres and started to compete for industrial jobs. Like women and blacks, Chinese men could be paid less than white men. Herein lies the real source of the “Yellow Peril”.

January 31, 2014 is also the beginning of a Year of the Wooden Horse. The Chinese zodiac has a sixty-year cycle of twelve animals and five elements. (Those of you born in 1954 are also Wooden Horses.) The fact that this is probably not news to you, that you probably know what “year” you were born in (I’m a Dog) or know where to look to find out, speaks to the metaphorical wooden horse of Chinese culture. Instead of hiding soldiers, like the horse in Troy, it has brought us Feng Shui, Szechuan Chicken, Cantonese Noodles and Manderin Duck. (Fortune cookies, on the other hand, are an American invention.) It introduced America to acupuncture, holistic medicine (both practised in the old west) and the ubiquitous Chinese Laundry.

The Horse is traditionally well respected by the Chinese as a means of transportation and representative of speed, progress and romance. In that respect, they are not that different from the cowboy. People born in the year of the Horse are competitive,  freedom loving, and enjoy travel. They are known for being quick tempered and passionate, but also for being good leaders. The year is thought to generally imbue those traits. So, what were some of the highlights of 1894?

Feb 7th - The Cripple Creek miner's strike, led by the Western Federation of Miners, begins in Cripple Creek, Colorado.
Feb 8th - Enforcement Act repealed, making it easier to disenfranchise blacks
Mar 8th - The state of New York enacts the nation's first dog-licensing law. (Well, they couldn't very well do it in the Year of the Dog.)
Mar 12th - In Vicksburg, Mississippi, USA, Coca-Cola is sold in bottles for the first time.
Mar 13th - J L Johnstone of England invents horse racing starting gate
Mar 25th - Coxey's Army of the unemployed sets out from Massillon Oh for Wash
Apr 5th - 11 strikers killed in riot at Connellsville, Penn
Apr 14th - 1st public showing of Thomas Edison's kinetoscope (The first movie - progress which was nothing to be sneezed at except that's exactly what it showed: developer Fred Ott sneezing.)
Apr 20th - 136,000 mine workers strike in Ohio for pay increase
May 11th - American RR Union strikes Pullman Sleeping Car Co
May 15th - 20th Kentucky Derby: Frank Goodale aboard Chant wins in 2:41
May 30th - Bobby Lowe is 1st to hit 4 HRs in 1 baseball game
Jun 17th - 1st US poliomyelitis epidemic breaks out, Rutland, Vermont
Jun 21st - Workers in Pittsburgh strike Pullman sleeping car company
Jun 23rd - The International Olympic Committee is founded at the Sorbonne, Paris, at the initiative of Baron Pierre de Coubertin. (No horse but lots of running involved.)
Jun 25th - American Railway Union under Eugene V Debs goes on strike
Jun 26th - Karl Benz of Germany receives US patent for gasoline-driven auto (horse-power)

Jun 28th - Labor Day established as a federal employees holiday
Jul 2nd - Government obtains injunction against striking Pullman Workers
Jul 4th - Elwood Haynes successfully tests one of 1st US autos at 6 MPH
Jul 4th - Republic of Hawaii proclaimed, Sanford B Dole as president
Jul 6th - Cleveland sends 2,000 troops to Chicago to suppress Pullman strike
Jul 16th - Many negro miners in Alabama killed by striking white miners
Jul 20th - 2000 fed troops recalled from Chicago, having ended Pullman strike
Aug 17th - Phils get 36 hits, Sam Thompson hits for cycle beating Louisville 29-4
Aug 18th - Congress creates Bureau of Immigration
Aug 27th - Congress passes Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act, which includes a graduated income tax later struck down by the Supreme Court
Aug 31st - Phillies Billy Hamilton steals 7 bases
Sep 2nd - Forest fires destroy Hinckley Minnesota: about 600 die
Sep 4th - In NYC, 12,000 tailors went on strike protesting sweat shops
Sep 27th - Aqueduct racetrack opens in NY
Oct 17th - Ohio national guard kills 3 lynchers while rescuing a black man
Nov 17th - Daily Racing Form founded
Nov 18th - 1st newspaper Sunday color comic section published (NY World)
Nov 18th - 1st comic strip "Origin of a New Species" by Richard Outcault
Dec 22nd - United States Golf Association forms (NYC)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Wagons Ho!

When a family decided--come spring--they would head west, there was a lot to be done. If the husband was an ‘established business man’, the wife may have had a life of leisure up to this point. Meaning, she may have had help with the household chores, which might have provided her with time to tend to a rose garden or have tea with her lady friends. If the husband was a laborer or farmer, the wife most likely not only worked the fields with him, she managed her household single-handedly as well.

Either way, it would have been the wife’s job to pack the necessities for the long trip while her husband secured their passage. Conestoga wagons were actually far and few when it came to wagon trains. The original Conestoga’s were freight hauling wagons. It took six to eight horses or up to a dozen oxen to pull one wagon. The floors of a Conestoga wagon were curved upward to keep the cargo from tipping or slipping, and these wagons could haul up to 12,000 pounds.

Some Conestoga wagons were used to for the California Gold Rush, but by the time the migration wagon trains were happening, most wagons were Prairie Schooners. The name came about because some thought the white canvas tops crossing the prairies looked like sail boats crossing the ocean. Schooners were average farm wagon with arched, wooden bows holding the canvas stretched from side to side. Conestoga wagons had suspension, Schooners did not. The ride was usually so rough, people chose to walk. Schooners were pulled by mules or oxen. (Horses weren’t sturdy enough to make the trip.) If oxen pulled the wagon, a drover or teamster walked on the left side of the oxen, shouting commands or cracking a whip. If mules were used, they were harnessed and driven by someone sitting on the wagon seat.

The woman would have had to decide what to take west. She may have created a list of things to sell or giveaway before the trip, and to begin with she may have insisted on frivolous things, such as furniture. As space began to dwindle, she’d realize the importance of the basics—food. Dried meat, beans, coffee, flour, salt, a cow to be milked, and the necessities needed to prepare the foods, feed the animals, and aid their travels. 

The trails west were littered with furniture…the family rocking chair, or generations old desk, things that at one time had been treasured, became dead weight that needed to be discarded. Crosses decorated the trails as well. Friends, family members, children, wives , husbands and animals. At one time it was said there were so many dead and decaying oxen carcasses one simply had to follow the smell all the way west. For years, the bleached white bones did serve as trail markers.

The trail was long and full of hardships, but men, women and families prevailed, and arrived at their destination intact.

Yet, their work was far from over. Many of the trains arrived west in late summer or fall, which meant winter arrived before many of the homes did. Dugouts and/or hand dug basement were often utilized that first winter. Come spring, there was also land to clear and gardens to plant. Farmers and miners were the most common occupations of wagon train travelers.
If the husband was a farmer, it was most likely the wife was out clearing the fields along with him. If he was a miner, she probably would have cleared the ground for her garden herself, and begin setting down roots of their new life.

On January 27th Harlequin will release the first chapter of The Stolen Kiss, a free read on their website.   Each day for the next twenty days, another chapter will be released. The heroine is Cassandra Halverson, although she didn’t go by wagon train, she did pack up her belongings and move to Oklahoma Indian Territory to start a new life, where she encounters Micah Bollinger.

The Stolen Kiss is related to my February 1st release, The Major’s Wife.


Major Seth Parker knows his wife, and the woman standing before him isn't her. The manipulative vixen who tricked his hand in marriage could never possess such innocence—nor get his heart racing like this!

Millie St. Clair has traveled halfway across the country to pull off one of the greatest deceptions ever. But with everything at stake it soon becomes clear that the hardest part might be walking away from the Major when it's all over….

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Plight of a Civil War Soldier...

While writing HAZARDOUS UNIONS I learned a lot about the Civil War soldier. Men of all ages, some as young as 12 years old and even women enlisted. To be a Civil War soldier on either side of the coin was a horrible job. While 110,000 Union and 94,000 Confederate soldiers were killed in battle, an enormous 388,580 died from illness; diarrhea, typhoid, typhus, malarial fevers and pneumonia were all rampant during the five years of the War. 

The soldier faced more misery than his counterparts in either World War I or II. Poorly clothed, underfed and at times without shoes, these men and women still woke each day, fought on open battlefields and risked their lives. 

Field hospitals were set up within camps and were nothing to write home about. Poor medical treatment, lack of antiseptics and an unclean environment led to many painful infections often taking lives. 
After a battle, injured soldiers were strewn about the dirt floor where they waited for a surgeon to tell them their fate. 

Amputations were custom back then and soldiers watched as their limbs were hacked off with little or no anesthesia. Bloody bullet wounds were dressed and often infected by the unclean hands of physicians. Blood transfusions would’ve saved many lives, but with little understanding as to how this was done, there were only two attempts throughout the whole war.

If these conditions weren’t enough to frighten the hell out of the soldiers then battle would. Unlike later wars, the Civil War at times was no more than a bloody free-for-all slaughter with no care as to how the enemy died as long as he perished. After the battle of Cold Harbor in 1864, 7,000 Union soldiers and 1,500 Confederates were killed within eight minutes.

A Confederate soldier who witnessed the scene said, “The dead covered more than five acres of ground about as thickly as they could be laid.”

The battle at Gettysburg was worse: 51,000 men died from their wounds—more than the number of American soldiers killed in the Vietnam War.

In the end over 600,000 soldiers from both sides died, more than the Vietnam, World War I and World War II combined. It's a very sad and sobering reality and for me, a difficult number to swallow. War is the closest thing to hell, and for every soldier who has ever fought in any are a hero. 
Thank you. 


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Cowboy

Since I'm right in the middle of putting three novellas into one book, I'm going to make today's post brief and paraphrase a wonderful research book, The American Frontier, authored by William C. Davis.  I highly recommend this beautiful "coffee table" book because it's filled with tons of information about life in the old west.

Real Cowboys
The American Cowboy's image has been highly influenced by the motion picture industry.  While we conjure images of John Wayne, Paul Newman and Robert Redford starring in films to entertain us, these cinemas are highly idealized and often historically incorrect.  That's one of the reasons historical authors research their facts.  Credibility is an important factor, even when writing fiction.

It would be a gross understatement to claim films would be as entertaining as those we've watched if cowboys were portrayed as they really were.  The 'heyday' of the cowboy lasted only about two decades, from 1865-1885, and the highest estimate of actual cowpokes was around 40,000.

Although the cowboy maintains an heroic image, he was actually an overworked laborer, riding miles and miles while fighting the elements.
Being a cowboy was not a glamorous profession, and very few made it a permanent career because of the hardships and physical exertions that prevented older men from continuing to perform the associated tasks.The golden age of the American cowboy ended in the mid-1880s because of the failing cattle market prices.

One thing  generally correct in western films was the  attire:  leather chaps to protect against thorny brush, a plainsman style hat with a low crown set against the wind, a scarf or bandana to discourage inhaling dust, spurs to aid in directing one's mount, and heavy gloves to combat the rawhide ropes frequently used.   I'm pretty sure that few of them smelled like Old Spice since days, sometimes, even months passed between a change of clothing or a much-needed bath.

Necessities of a Cowboy

So, when you read the heroine's description:  "He smelled of smoke and leather" remember a real cowboy probably just smelled really, really bad.  *lol*

Again, my appreciation to William C. Davis for allowing me the continued pleasure of a well-researched and helpful publication, The American Frontier.  He has helped me maintain my credibility as a western author, and I learn something every time I research a chapter.  For information on how to get your own copy, I include the link on Amazon.  Oh, and just for the record, I took pictures of his pictures to emphasize my post.  You can probably tell my the flash on the cowboys.  *smile*

Monday, January 13, 2014

Corsets, Society and Frontier Women

Corsetted Victorian woman

In the Victorian Era, during which most western historical romances are set, women were regarded as the weaker sex and corsets a necessity to protect their virtue and support their “fragile” bodies. Tight lacing indicated a virtuous woman, loose lacing a loose woman.


It didn’t seem to disturb men or even women that the devices made deep breathing impossible, caused fainting, led to lung infections, deformed internal organs and caused many miscarriages. Yes, maternity corsets were available but, rather than provide helpful support, they were designed to constrict the pregnancy. I hate to think what this did to the mother and baby.


Doctors were well aware of these ill effects. The following is from an article published in the British medical journal, The Lacet and reprinted in the The Time of London.

“Our old friend, tight-lacing, has again made his appearance. ... The folly is one which was formerly to be found mainly in the drawing-room, but now it also fills our streets. ... as medical practitioners, we see its effects every day in the train of nervous and dyspeptic symptoms … and in the still more grave internal mischief of permanent character which is often caused by it.”

Corsets also seriously restricted movement. After donning a chemise to protect the corset from body oil, it was advisable for a woman to put on her drawers, stockings, garters and shoes before being laced up because she wouldn’t be able to bend over afterward. How could a woman encased in layer upon layer of clothing, bone or metal stays, and laced up tight, ride a horse? Well, there were corsets designed especially for riding, cut higher over the hips to allow sitting in a saddle – a side saddle that is. Ladies did not ride astride, not by society standards.

In an article posted on the author states: “In the 19th century, officers in The Cavalry would wear corsets for back support while horseback riding. A well patterned and constructed steel boned corset can be a suitable replacement for a back brace (under advisement from your physician, of course). During a high impact activity such as horseback riding, extra support can be beneficial to the spine and also help prevent immediate and long term back pain.”

However, I’m pretty sure neither those society ladies nor the cavalry officers performed all the tasks required of a frontier wife and mother. Quoting an article about clothing on the American Frontier by Susan Jarrett, on her site History of Fashion and Dress:


“While there is evidence of high fashion entering the frontier, it can be surmised that for the average American settler of the early frontier, practicality and functionality mattered more than high style. A frontier family's day was filled with hard labor and long hours. For women, skirt lengths were shorter, necklines higher, and sleeves were close fitting. Both women and children wore large sunbonnets or woven hats to protect their skin from the sun. Aprons and smocks were worn to protect clothing from the laborious chores of frontier life.”


Nowhere does the author mention corsets, and although she was writing about an earlier period (1800-1840) it’s safe to assume the same applied to women on the advancing frontier through at least the 1880s, and probably longer. If a ranch wife needed to mount a horse and help her husband push cattle, which some did, she’d most likely put on a pair of boots, hike up her skirts and ride astride. As an alternative, she might sew a divided skirt or buy one readymade if available. Such a skirt wouldn’t be tailored. It would contain yards of cotton, wool, corduroy or possibly denim in later decades. It would be hot and heavy, but worn with a shirt and jacket, it had to provide more comfort than a tightly laced corset.

Horshoe, cactus, stetson & horse divider

Now here’s an excerpt from Dearest Irish illustrating a shy young woman’s dilemma over what to wear for her riding lessons.

New Cover 2013

Jack insisted she learn to ride on a man’s saddle, saying it was more natural and safer. Tye grumbled but couldn’t say no since his wife pointed out she’d always ridden astride before growing heavy with child. Rose expressed no opinion in the matter until Lil casually mentioned she would need to wear a pair of men’s trousers for riding. Horrified at the thought, Rose stared at her wide-eyed from her chair at the kitchen table, where she sat peeling apples for a pie.

“What? No! I can’t,” she protested.

“Why not? I did,” Lil said, frowning from across the table as she shucked corn for dinner. Her mother stood between them, preparing dough for the pie.

“Ye did? But how could ye display yourself so . . .?” Rose bit back the word she’d been about to utter, not wishing to insult her sister-in-law, but it was too late.

Lil narrowed her eyes. “So brazenly? Is that what you were going to say?”

“I-I meant no offense,” Rose stammered, clutching a paring knife in one hand and a half peeled apple in the other. “But I’m not as b-brave as yourself. I simply can’t wear trousers.”

“Even if it means never riding your Brownie and knowing he’ll be shot?”

“Oh, please don’t say that!” Rose cried. Her eyes filled with tears. Dropping the knife, she clapped a hand over her trembling lips, fighting to hold back a flood of regret.

“There is another way,” Rebecca said. Wiping her hands on the long white apron draped over her dress, she glanced at Rose. “I could make a riding skirt for you.”

“You mean one of those split skirts like Jessie wears?” Lil asked dubiously. “I don’t know how she climbs aboard a horse with all that skirt dragging on her.”

“She manages.” Motioning Rose to her feet, Rebecca looked her up and down carefully. “You are about the same size as your sister. Perhaps she will let me use one of her skirts as a pattern.”

“I’m sure she would,” Rose said, a surge of hope helping to dry her eyes. Recalling the riding skirt she’d once seen on Jessie, she thought she could stand to wear such a garment. Certainly it was better than figure-hugging trousers. If it allowed her to ride Brownie, thereby saving his life, she would do it.

Word was sent to Jessie and she immediately supplied not only a skirt, but the paper pattern she’d used to make it. At Rebecca’s request, Tye escorted Rose and her into Clifton, the nearest town, where Lil’s mother chose a durable corded fabric suitable for their purposes. While there, Tye also outfitted Rose with a plaid work shirt, a pair of thick-heeled western boots, and a Stetson hat much like the one he wore.

Once back at the ranch, Rebecca wasted no time in cutting out the pieces for Rose’s skirt. With Lil pitching in to help, the three of them finished sewing it within two days.

On the morning her lessons were to commence with Jack, Rose hesitantly stepped out of the house wearing her blue plaid shirt and grayish blue riding skirt. She’d pinned her long hair into a tight knot at her nape beneath the brim of her brown hat. Walking cautiously in the unfamiliar boots, she tugged on a pair of leather gloves borrowed from her sister-in-law.

Lil had assured her she looked fine; Tye had merely raised an eyebrow and shrugged at her appearance. Still, when Rose spotted Jack standing by the corral, watching her approach, she blushed hotly, feeling self-conscious in her strange new clothes.

“Morning. You ready to learn?” he asked as she drew near.

“Aye, I’m ready.” Painfully aware of his gaze upon her and his imposing size, she studied the ground. Much to her relief, he made no comment about her changed attire.

Dearest Irish (Texas Devlins, Rose’s Story) (Kindle)  (paperback) (Nook)