I’m ready to start my new historical western romance series. The idea has been brewing since the first of the year. I’ve been researching, asking readers questions, and now I’m am ready to start writing the first book in the series.
The series is called Ladies of the Silver Dollar Saloon. Guess where a lot of each story will take place? Yep! In the Silver Dollar Saloon in Shady Gulch, Dakota Territory. I wanted the town on a railroad, and I discovered that the Great Northern Railway ran from Duluth to Bismarck in 1873 and continued on in 1881.
Shady Gulch is a made-up place, but I’m using towns along the railroad route to formulate my own. I didn’t want to worry about keeping things exact to an already established town. This way I have some leeway. But I’m making sure I have historical facts and figures in the stories along with fun characters.
The free land act gave a person 21 or older 160 acres of farm ground. They had to prove up 10 acres for 5 years and it was theirs. Many people of different nationalities came to the Dakota Territory to start a new life. Some made it and others left when harsh weather kept them from being able to prove the land. Wheat was the biggest cash crop. It sold for $1 a bushel in the early 1880’s. And with the railroad, they didn’t have to haul it by wagon hundreds of miles away.
My research on the Dakota Territory has given me even more ideas for the stories and heroes the Ladies of the Silver Dollar Saloon will meet and marry. With the cattle ranchers, railroad men, farmers, schools, newspapers, and so many different cultures converging in the area and along the railroad route, the ideas just keep pinging around in my head.
I’ve also been researching saloons in the time period of my story. They sold whiskey and beer. Whiskey at most saloons would be watered down to make the saloon more money. In some places they sold whisky colored camphine, fusel oil, and oil of turpentine. This was why many who drank to excess ruined their stomachs and died. It was also noted they would mix creek water with any or all of these ingredients to make a drink that was hot, acrid, and bitter, giving it the illusion of strength:
Tartaric, citric, and sulfuric acids, fusel oil, ammonia, black bone meal, gunpowder, molasses, oak bark, oatmeal, cayenne pepper, tobacco, snake root, nitre, juniper berries, creosote, and turpentine.
No wonder whisky got the nickname “Rotgut”.
The Scotch-Irish have been credited with being the creators of whiskey in America. They used rye, corn, barley, and potatoes to make the whiskey. “Western Whiskey” which originated in the wild untamed west had three varieties: rye, bourbon, and corn whiskey. Corn whiskey, of course, was made from corn with a bit of barley malt to help it ferment. Whiskey was made in barrels which made it easier and more profitable to transport than the commodities it was made from. Bourbon has been said to have been accidentally invented by the Reverend Elijah Craig in 1789. He scoured the inside of empty barrels with glowing ashes to clean and ready them for whiskey. He then forgot several barrels that were hid in a dark corner, and when they were found and opened they had aged, mellowed, and had a full-bodied spirit.
Beer was the other drink sold at saloons. It appeared early in the West. There was a brewery in California in 1837 when it was still under Mexican rule. The first regular brewery opened in San Francisco in 1850. German Union troops had a “lagerbeer wagon” follow them in the Civil War. By 1880 breweries were in mining camps and larger cities.
Most saloons sold both beer and whiskey but there were some that sold on beer. A large or “big ‘uns” was 10 cents and a “little ‘uns” was a nickel.
The Silver Dollar in my series will have both whiskey and beer and because my saloon owner will also be a hero in one of the books and I have him portrayed as a good guy, he’ll sell only real whiskey but will also have a watered down bottle for the drunks who should be home taking care of their families.
The first book of this series: Savannah and Larkin will be available in August.
Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 30+ novels, a dozen novellas, and short stories of murder mystery, western romance, and action adventure. She has a RomCon Reader’s Choice Award, EPPIE, Lorie, and RONE Award. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. This is what readers have to say about the Letters of Fate series- “...filled with romance, adventure and twists and turns.” “What a refreshing and well written love story of fate and hope!”
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