Tuesday, April 13, 2021


 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Here it is April already. So much going on and yet very little at the same time. I do confess, April is a favorite month of mine. There is the harbinger of Spring and it's National Poetry Month. 

As work has been extremely busy and I'm a bit tired. I thought I would share some of my poetry, in Haiku form, with you. 

Defining Western
Journeying toward an end
Sunset of our lives

Traveling westward
Moving ahead of the sun
Toward all things new

Early pathfinder

Paved way for all who followed

Seeding a new growth

Men riding horses
Women and children also
Mythology tales

Mountain barriers
Endless prairie and hardship
Overcoming all

(c) Doris McCraw

In as brief a form as possible, I tried to convey what the West and what it means to me as an author and reader. As I write my short stories and novels I think of what it took to move to a new area, put down roots and hold onto what you hoped to build. 

In my short story, 'Duty' in the anthology "Hot Western Nights", my heroine Miranda deals with just that issue. Here is a short excerpt:

    Miranda Foster climbed the hill overlooking the ranch her stepfather had left her to run for his heirs. Clouds flew across the sky. Standing on the hilltop, she watched a storm building, its track headed toward the ranch house. She didn't begrudge her duty, but by the time her step-brother Byron was old enough to take over, she'd be an old maid.

    No one knew she wasn't the owner. It was her step-father's way of keeping the ranch safe. She remembered their conversation. "I know I'm asking a lot of you, but you'll be taken care of."

    Miranda thought back on that conversation as she caught movement near the leading edge of the storm. Watching, she saw five specks detach and draw closer. The wind was pushing her back the way she'd come, trying to guide her to safety.

    Miranda would not be moved. "You may threaten, cajole, or do me harm, but I will not be swayed from my duty," Miranda sent back to the wind as she waited for the oncoming riders, shotgun in hand. She never left the ranch house without it since the coming of Tate Browning. She stood, a calm determination not to give in.

Wishing everyone a lovely Spring and the rest of the year. 

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

Post (c) Doris McCraw

Monday, April 12, 2021


 As an author, naming my characters is an important step for me. I take great care in selecting just the right moniker. After penning 70 something books with many supporting actors, I have selected several hundred names. I pour over baby name sites, I take note of people’s names I hear in public. I even read movie credits for ideas. Some names I reject outright – they may sound weak to me or remind me of someone I don’t like very much. When I owned a publishing company, I forced an author to rename her heroine in a book strictly because the name once belonged to someone who wronged me. I suspect this feeling explains why we have very few babies saddled with the names of Adolph or Judas. Regardless, sometimes a beloved, strong, beautiful heroine can have a very unfortunate name. This truth certainly applies to the historical Texas figure I would like to introduce you to today, Miss Ima Hogg.

Can you think of a worse handle to be hung with? As a chubby human, I probably wouldn’t have survived the bullying. Yet, this gracious woman bore her cross with extreme grace.

She was born in 1882 in Mineola, Texas, a small town located east of Dallas and north of Canton, the home of the world’s largest flea market. The second of four children, she was the only daughter of Sarah Stinson and Jim Hogg. The Hoggs were a family who celebrated public service. Thomas Hogg, her great-grandfather, served in the state legislatures of three states – Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Her grandfather, Joseph Lewis Hogg, served in the Congress of the Republic of Texas and was one of the authors of the Texas State Constitution.  When Ima was four, her father, a lawyer and former DA, was elected Texas Attorney General. They moved to Austin where Ima was enrolled in kindergarten. Four years later, in 1890, Jim Hogg was the first native born Texan to be elected governor of the state. They moved into the Governor’s Mansion in January of 1891. Built in 1855, the mansion had been allowed to run down. The Hogg family saw to its restoration. Ima did her part. Among her duties was to pry chewing gum from the furniture and door facings.

Ima and her brothers were rowdy little youngsters. She particularly favored sliding down the bannisters at the Governor’s Mansion. Her parents overlooked this rambunctious pastime until brother Thomas cut his chin. In response to the accident, Big Jim nailed tacks down the center of the railing, a fairly strong deterrent – ouch! The holes from these remained visible in the bannisters for decades.


Here is a photo of the governor’s mansion today.

Ima and her brothers loved animals and their own private little zoo included dogs, cats, raccoons, possums, birds, a parrot, and a Shetland pony. They often would conduct a mini circus on the grounds of the mansion – until Ima was caught charging each visitor five cents. Big Jim made her return the money and directed the children to keep their entertainment private or free. Later, they added a bear, a fawn, a cockatoo and two ostriches named Jack and Jill. Ima would ride Jill until Will hit it with a slingshot, causing her to take a rather traumatic spill.

As a funny aside, one of the first examples of ‘fake news’ – a term I abhor, by the way – was two journalists who wrote a tongue in cheek piece about Governor Hogg and Senator William Jennings Bryan having an ostrich race. This notorious event was supposed to be routed from the Texas Capitol south down Congress Avenue to the Colorado River. Of course, knowing the Hogg’s owned Jack and Jill gave credence to the report. However, the journalist thought it would be obvious the article was all in fun because Big Jim weighed over 300 pounds and no ostrich alive could bear his weight. After much hoopla, nationwide attention, and bets being laid – the article had to be redacted, corrected, and an explanation given. In 2002, children’s authors Margaret Olivia McManis and Bruce Dupree published a picture book called Ima and the Great Texas Ostrich Race, a fictionalized account where Ima was the one who rode the ostrich. If she’d lived to see this, she probably would’ve purchased a copy.   

This is a photo of Ima’s father, the 20th Governor of Texas. 

Considering the title of this article, I’d like to stop in recounting the facts of her life and talk about her name. As one who takes the business of selecting a name so seriously, it is hard for me to imagine a father making such a selection. I’ve witnessed parents testing out names with great care, especially if the last name is a problem one. For example, take the last name Butts or Butt. I’ve personally known several people by the name. I worked for a John Butts when I was an accountant in Beaumont. The most famous of the Butt family in our area is the founder of the hugely successful grocery chain HEB. The letters H-E-B stand for his name, Harold Edward Butts, but for some reason, his family chose to call him by the nickname Harry. See this sentence copied straight from the Wikipedia article on the man.

Howard "Harry" Butt was youngest of the three sons born to Charles Butt, a pharmacist from Memphis and Florence Thornton Butt.[1] The family moved to the drier climate of Kerrville, Texas due to his father's tuberculosis, and in 1905, his mother opened a small grocery store below their apartment. 

****My readers please note the town Kerrville – home of the Hell Yeah! McCoy Ranch. YAY!

Anyway, if I were Florence, I would not have chosen Harold as my son’s name – with the distinct possibility of it being shortened to Harry. I probably would've gone with something like Kevin or Keith. More than likely, I would’ve turned down Charles’ proposal of marriage.

Anyway, back to Ima.

Even today, she is still known as The First Lady of Texas. Every governor’s wife who came along after her father left the office has had to live in the shadow of Ima Hogg. (Ha! I first typed Ima Butts, which would’ve been another unfortunate choice.) She might’ve been given an unfortunate name, but she did not lead an unfortunate life. Ima was a leader of American society, a famed philanthropist, a patron and collector of the arts, and an advocate of civil rights and mental health issues. She donated works by Picasso, Klee, and Matisse to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and was asked by President Eisenhower to serve on the committee to create the Kennedy Center in Washington. She also served at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy on a task force to locate historical furniture for the White House.

I will mention other of her accomplishments a little later – right now, back to that name. Ima Hogg. After her birth, Ima’s father wrote to his brother, “Our cup of joy is now overflowing! We have a daughter of as fine proportions and of as angelic mien as ever gracious nature favor a man with, and her name is Ima!

Ima, as well as her family, always insisted that her father, Big Jim Hogg, didn’t get the connotation of the combined effect of her first and last names. If he could’ve seen into the future at the merciless heckling she would receive – surely he would’ve chosen differently.

Yet, the name, Ima, was taken from a poem written by her uncle, Thomas Hogg, called The Fate of Marvin, an epic Civil War poem. When word spread through the family of the name’s selection, and news spread slowly in those days – her grandfather Stinson rode his horse fifteen miles to stop the christening, but he didn’t make it in time.  Her older brother, William, oft came home from school with a black eye or a bloody nose from defending her ‘good name’. She bore it as proudly as she could until a few months before her death when she insisted people start calling her Imogene. Her final passport read Ima Imogene Hogg.

She always strove to downplay her unusual name by signing it illegibly and having her personal stationary labeled simply, Miss Hogg. A rumor persisted throughout her life that she had a sister named Ura Hogg, but this was not true. Throughout her life she received letters asking her this inane question, yet she always replied in the negative with grace and dignity.

Her father left public office in 1895 and shortly thereafter, her mother came down with tuberculosis. She died the same year. There is also great evidence that Sarah, Ima’s mother, suffered with depression and Ima succumbed to the same terrible malady after her mother passed. She also endured another bout with mental illness after the stress of the 1918 flu pandemic. I guess we can all relate to this. As a sufferer of anxiety disorder myself, I know how a person’s outlook on mental problems can change – after you experience it personally. I can attest to the fact that I did not fully understand the condition until it hit me like a ton of bricks. I used to think those diagnosed with mental illness were weak or lacking in some way. Now, I know your mind can do some strange things to you. Even when I could sit down and say, ‘nothing is wrong with you’, I could not prevent the feelings I faced. My outlook has changed. So did Ima’s. After watching her mother suffer and suffering herself, she put her money where her mouth was and in later years donated millions to the University of Texas in Austin to create the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, an organization that is still doing great work today.

After her mother’s death, Ima became her father’s hostess in all of his political and business dealings. She took her duties seriously and performed with aplomb and grace. In 1898, she traveled with Big Jim to Hawaii where they met Queen Liliuokalani and attended the ceremony when Hawaii became the 49th state in the United States. Once they prepared to return to the mainland, they were scheduled to sail to Seattle. Demonstrating a distinct psychic ability, at the last minute, Ima sobbed and refused to board the ship. She begged her father to book them other accommodations because of an ‘awful feeling’. He gave in and they took another ship to California – where they learned the original vessel was lost at sea with no survivors.

Good call, Ima.  

One of Ima’s many gifts was music. She’d begun taking lessons at the tender age of three. These lessons continued at a private school before she enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin where she also studied German, Old English, and Psychology. She oft commented that ‘no college freshman was even more immature, more unprepared, or more frightened than I’. Apparently, she quickly recovered. She helped inaugurate the first sorority on the UT campus. After studying two years in Austin, 1899 to 1901, she then moved to New York City to train at the National Conservatory of Music.

Her time in New York came to an end when her father was injured in a train accident in 1905. Ima moved home to nurse him back to health, but he succumbed to his injuries when she discovered him dead in bed in March of 1906. After his death, she traveled to Vienna, Austria to study under famed musician, Xavier Scharwenka. Upon her return to Texas, she taught music for nine years. One of her pupils was concert pianist, Jacques Abram. She also worked to establish and manage the Houston Symphony Orchestra, serving as President of the Symphony Society for a dozen years.

Before Big Jim’s death, he’d bought a property located southwest of Houston called the Varner Estate, a 4600-acre farm that raised cotton, sugar cane, and cattle.

 He was convinced there was oil on the land – and he was right, but it wasn’t discovered until 14 years after his death. Prior to the search for oil, Ima and her brothers wanted to sell the place – until it was discovered Big Jim’s will stipulated that the property could not be sold until 15 years after his death. Good thing – when drilling was done and the wells came in, Ima and her brothers became very wealthy indeed. Unlike some, they used the money wisely. Because of their generosity, at their feet can be laid the credit for the 1600-acre urban Memorial park in downtown Houston, the Houston Arboretum and Nature Conservatory, River Oaks, and Bayou Bend Museum of Fine Arts. All gifts to the people of Texas


They also made the real estate deal that gave Houston Bayou Place, City Hall, the downtown public library, Jones Hall, Jones Plaza, the Hobby Center, and the entire Houston Theater District.

Ima herself founded the Houston Child Guidance Center, as well as the aforementioned Hogg Foundation of Mental Health. She successfully ran for a seat on the Houston School Board in 1943 where she worked to remove gender and race as a criteria for determining pay. She also created art education programs for African American students. When she died in 1975, the Ima Hogg Foundation was the major beneficiary of her will and carries on her work today. Sadly, Ima never married – although she wasn’t without romantic attention, having received over 30 marriage proposals. She just never followed through with any advances. Ima once told someone that she had a fatal attraction to handsome men, but she knew she’d choose unwisely. This probably wasn’t the truth. A more likely version of the story was the fact her brother convinced Ima that she’d inherited mental illness from her mother and if she married, she’d pass the malady on to her children. Ima was most likely too afraid of the possibility to risk it.  

Here is a photo of Ima and another lady riding in a flower covered carriage for the No-Tsu-Oh Festival – (Houston spelled backwards, by the way) – Houston’s used to be version of a Mardi Gras parade.

Long time friend, David Warren, the first curator of Bayou Bend described Ima as ‘small, dainty, and feminine – smart, sharp, and knowledgeable – all rolled into one. This is a description any of us would be proud to own.

All of her life, she maintained a conscientious effort to dignify other people. For example, one morning in 1914, Ima was awakened by someone coming into her room. She discovered a burglar attempting to steal her jewelry. Instead of calling the police, she talked the man into giving her back the jewelry, then proceeded to write down a name and address so he could go out and get a job she promised to arrange. When asked why she would take such a risk, she replied that he didn’t appear to be a bad man. Now, this is not to say she wasn’t human. Although a woman of unfailing politeness, she did have her adversaries. One of them was another pianist by the name of Arthur Rubinstein, who oddly enough was commissioned to entertain at her 90th birthday party. Prior to this, he’d referred to her as a tiresome old woman and she responded by referring to him as a pompous old man.

All in all, Ima was a generous benefactor, who believed inherited money was a public trust, especially money gained from the reserves of the land. She has been described as compassionate by nature, progressive in her outlook, concerned with the welfare of all Texans, a zealous proponent of mental health care, and committed to public education.

Ima died on August 19, 1975 at the age of 93 from a heart attack. She’d been in London at the time and fell getting into a taxi. She died in a London hospital a day or two later, reportedly not from the fall. It’s odd though how often these types of traumas will bring on other health events that prove deadly. Upon receiving word of her passing, the University of Texas here in Austin declared two days of mourning and flew all flags at half-staff. She is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin and her work lives on.

During her life she received many accolades, honors, and recognitions. One of the ones I think would’ve meant the most to her was given in 1963 by a former Governor of Texas named Allan Shivers. He presented her with the University of Texas Distinguished Alumnus Award, the first woman thus honored – and said this about Miss Ima:

"Some people create history, some record it, and some restore and conserve it. She has done all three." Not so bad for a heroine with an unfortunate name.

Thank you for listening – watch for a new release of mine – the revamped, restored, and rejuvenated A WISHNG MOON. What was once a paranormal erotic romance, is now a cozy mystery! By the way, the heroine’s name is a pretty one…Arabella Landry.

Thanks for reading my ramblings,

Love, Sable  

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Friday, April 9, 2021

My Story Inspiration for Following Faith

My Story Inspiration

By Jacqui Nelson

What's the inspiration for my stories? History, loss, hope, adventure, love, and quite often horses. 

Last month I shared my Story Inspiration page (a page that I've included in the back of all of my books) for my first book, Between Heaven & Hell. Today I'm sharing the Story Inspiration page for the sequel to that story...

Following Faith's Book Cover


Story Inspiration page ~ from the back of the book

Following Faith came to life after I was asked to write a short story for the historical romance anthology Journey of the Heart featuring forms of Old West transportation.

I’d always planned to give Hannah’s brother, Eagle Feather (first seen in Between Heaven & Hell) his own story. Oregon became the setting since that was where Hannah had settled, and I wanted his path to reconnect with Hannah’s. 

Next came the decision of what transportation to use. Train, boat, stagecoach, wagon, or just plain old horseback—which I never find plain when every horse is unique. A childhood memory of a very unique horse and a much-loved book sprang to mind. 

San Domingo, the Medicine Hat Stallion first published in 1972 by Marguerite Henry (with illustrations by Robert Lougheed) was re-published as Peter Lundy and the Medicine Hat Stallion in 1972 (when it became a TV movie). Set in Pony Express-era Wyoming, the story’s core is the bond between a boy and a pinto horse with a very specific and rare color pattern—a mostly white body, neck, and head with a darker color that covers the top of the horse’s head and ears like a bonnet or a hat. 

Native legend said such a horse held the medicine to protect its rider from harm. The horse was greatly coveted and often stolen by those who wished to safeguard their—or a loved one’s—life.

What happens with a sacred Medicine Hat horse (with the power to protect its rider) finds a new family?


Oregon Territory 1852

Can a single day together on horseback 
change your life forever?

Labeled a harlot and expelled from a remote logging camp and her only employment teaching children, Faith Featherby embarks on a journey to return a stolen spirit horse to the little girl whose photograph she found hidden in the horse’s riding blanket. 

Orphaned young and stifled by a lifelong shyness, Faith has only her education as a schoolmistress and her memories of her mother’s stories. She’s not an experienced rider, but a Medicine Hat horse—alleged to have the sacred power to protect its rider—might be her best hope for surviving the wilderness... until an Osage warrior rides out of the mist. 

Scarred by a brutal past, the warrior challenges Faith to follow a new path where belief in yourself and your partner, be they horse or man, can lead to a triumph of the heart.

Follow a path. Find a partner. Fight for a future together.

Click here to read an excerpt on my website.

~ * ~

Book Review " a heartwarming story you won't want to miss."


Following Faith is book 2 in my Lonesome Hearts series, which follows the frontiersmen and women who meet on the Oregon Trail and afterward. Each story includes one or more of the characters from the other books but is also a standalone read.

Hope you enjoyed my writing inspiration and that you have a fun Friday full of your favorite things ❤️

~ * ~

Jacqui's author photo

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Gambling in the Old West ~ Julie Lence


Casey's Saloon & Gambling Hall (reddit)

For centuries, gambling has been an accepted form of entertainment, dating back to the Old Stone Age.  The earliest 6-sided dice game dates back to 3000 BC. In the 1800’s, a good portion of the male population frequented saloons and gambling halls to imbibe in alcohol and play a game of chance. These establishments were often considered their ‘home away from home’ and generally accepted by women, who had their own form of entertainment with quilting bees and church revivals, where they had prayer meetings and sang hymns. Many of my novels feature a saloon, and some of my heroes are quite adept at cheating at poker to earn a living. Below are some other games of chance men enjoyed.


Keno (E-bay)

Played exactly like bingo, tables were set up in a room with Keno cards on them. Players would enter and choose which card(s) they wanted to play. The people) running the night’s game stood at the front of the room selling tickets and ivory chips the size of half dollars that had half-moons in the middle. The other person running the night’s game stood at the urn where the Keno balls were dropped in to. Behind those two was a large board with numbers above holes. Just like bingo, the urn holding the Keno balls has a handle. The man turns the handle, the ball drops out at the bottom, the number is called out and the ball is inserted into the hole corresponding with the number. The players use the ivory chips to cover the numbers and when they cover a row, they yell out, Keno!


Faro (Wikipedia)

Because of its fast action, easy-to-learn rules, and good odds, especially when players weren’t cheating, Faro rivaled poker in popularity. With one person designated the ‘banker’ and played with one deck of cards, any number of people (punters) could enter the game. To play, chips (or checks as some called them) were purchased from the banker, with bet values being determined by the house.  A board was placed on top of an oval table covered with green, with a cutout for the banker. One suit of cards (usually spades) was pasted on top of the board in numerical order. Players placed their bets on one or more cards in the layout. A deck of cards was shuffled and put inside the dealing box, (a mechanical device known as the shoe to prevent manipulations of the draw by the banker). The 1st card dealt (the soda card) was tossed away, leaving the remaining 51. The dealer then drew 2 more cards. The 1st (the banker’s card) was placed to the right of the dealing box. The 2nd card (the player’s card) was placed to the left of the banker’s box.

   Suits of cards didn’t matter, and the banker’s card was the player’s losing card. So if the banker’s card was the number the player had set his betting chips on the board on top of the table, he lost his bet and the house won. The players card was the winning card and all bets placed on that number won. The dealer settled all bets on those two cards, then the next round of bets were placed before the next 2 cards were drawn, continuing to the last  cards where the dealer would ‘call the turn.’ This was a special bet at the end of each round, where the object was to predict the exact order of the remaining cards.  If all 3 last cards were the same, there was no bet.  

Roulette (Wikipedia)

There are several theories as to who invented the game, dating back to the 17th century.  The modern version of the game appeared in 184, with Frenchmen Francois and Louis Blanc inventing the single ‘0’ Roulette wheel, that eventually found its way to America in the 1800’s.  Americans eventually rejected the single ‘0’ and returned the ‘00’s’ back to the wheel. Early American wheels had the numbers 1-28, 0, 00, and an eagle, which was a considered a house slot that gave the establishment an extra edge. The game is played on a table with a wheel to one side. On the other side of the table, players place their chip on the number or symbol they think the ball will land on when the wheel stops spinning. The person presiding over the game (croupier) spins the wheel in one direction. He then spins a small white ball in the opposite around a circular track running along the outer edge of the wheel. As the wheel slows, the ball loses momentum and falls into one of the numbered slots, declaring a winner (or winners).


Poker (Photos of old America) 

The game as we know it evolved in the U.S. in the 1800’s. Based somewhat on a game Three Card Brag where players were dealt 3 cards, hoping for a triple, the strategy for involved players remembering which was cards had been dealt and which were still in the deck when placing wagers as the game continued until a winner was declared. Early hands of poker in the U.S. were often played with a 20 or 25 deck of cards. Eventually, the game broadened 1850’s to a 52 card deck, to include stud poker with 5, 6 or 7 cards being dealt. Draw poker derived from that, and wild cards and jokers also came into play in the 1850’s. From the Civil War through the net 5 decades, draw poker was the basis for all other versions of the game.

   Usually played with 1- people, with players tossing chips into the center of the table for their ante, the dealer which variation of the game is to be played (5 card stud) and deals 5 cards to each player. In turn, each player either bets his hand will beat the other players or folds, meaning he doesn’t think his cards will win. Hands are determined as 2 pair (often Jacks or better); 3 of a kind, full house, straight,  of a kind and a royal flush. A fun game, and in many of my books, the dealer is a professional card sharp playing for the house to win money for the house.

Here is a scene from Luck of the Draw, capturing Royce’s skills at a poker table.


As Royce broke open a new deck of cards, he had no trouble pushing aside the ethics he lived by. Honesty and morality had no place at the poker table, not when Paige’s life and the life of their unborn child rested, literally, in the palms of his hands.

He’d spent the three days holed up in Waco due to the rain practicing the tricks Paige had taught him. This morning he shuffled the stiff cards with the ease and dexterity of an accomplished gambler.

Royce picked up his cards and looked them over. His heart beat fast at the sight of the two aces, and as Paige had taught him, he made sure that relief didn't reflect in his gaze.

“How many?” He looked to Mendoza seated across from him and all confidence he felt skidded to a halt. Mendoza no longer had that cocky arrogance about him. He had masked all feeling and thought, emitting a look so blank Royce thought he had dealt Mendoza the wrong hand.

“One,” Marcus answered.

As he tossed one card, face down, to the center of the table, Royce's confidence was restored. He hadn't dealt the wrong cards. By asking for only one card, Royce was certain the landlord was chasing after a full house, betting that the two pair he held would still be enough to beat Royce’s hand if he didn't get his card.

“Dealer will take three,” Royce announced then tossed his throw-away cards, face down, to the center of the table and dealt himself three cards. At the sight of the last card, a lone heart beat jolted him so hard it threatened to burst from his chest, but somehow he managed to keep his entire body from flinching.

Senor Weston.” Mendoza caressed his chin with the side of his index finger. “Your senorita is going to make a lovely addition to my cantina.”

“Is that so?” Royce kept his gaze impassive.

The landlord’s smile broadened as he laid his cards on the table, face up. A pair of queens, a pair of tens, and an eight stared back at Royce, and for a long moment, a deafening silence filled the air.

“You accept defeat graciously, Senor.” Mendoza’s grin widened as he shoved his chair back from the table. “I would say I am sorry for your loss, but I am not. I will send your child to you after the senorita gives birth.”

“Sit down, Marcus,” Royce ordered tersely. “I have not shown my hand.”

Though his eyes narrowed, Mendoza’s tone remained friendly. “You are correct. It would be rude of me to leave the table without viewing your hand.”

A sharp retort hung on the edge of Royce’s tongue, one that would have the landlord turning red, but Royce swallowed the comment in exchange for ending the game. Slowly, with his gaze bearing down on Mendoza, he laid his cards on the table one at a time; an ace, a deuce, another ace, a five, and last, the third ace.

“Paige stays with me.” Royce's tone left no room for argument. And though he would have loved nothing more than to wipe the disbelieving, murderous look from Mendoza’s face, time was of the essence. Paige had been gone from his side too long.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Fencing Bucket

 by Shanna Hatfield

During my growing up years on the farm, making fence repairs was a way of life.

Our cattle subscribed to the theory that the grass was greener on the other side of the fence and often leaned as far as they could through the wires to reach it. Which meant there were often repairs to be made.

My dad had an old canvas bucket that was stamped U.S. on it that he kept all the fencing tools and supplies in, like fence pliers, insulators, staples, wire stretchers, a hammer, pieces of barbed wire and the like. That bucket was always in the back of the farm pickup, along with a roll of barbed wire and half a dozen fence posts. If a fence needed to be repaired unexpectedly, anyone could do it without spending half the day rounding up the necessary supplies.

The bucket that carried the tools was worn and dirty, but still sturdy. It had a padded handle and the bottom of it had a heavy iron ring. The canvas had long ago gotten stiff.

I hadn’t given that bucket a thought in years until I was working on Rescuing the Rancher. There is a scene where Jossy has to repair a fence and returns with a canvas bucket full of tools. In that moment, I started wondering about that bucket. My Dad has since sold the farm and no longer needs to fix fences, so I’m sure the current farm owner inherited the old fencing bucket.

But I was curious about the bucket, so I started searching online.

I discovered the bucket had been produced during World War II as a collapsible water bucket. The canvas was waxed and these buckets were found on most WWII vehicles, often being referred to as a Jeep Bucket.

Since my grandfather wasn’t in WWII, it made me wonder where it came from. I finally got around to asking Dad the other day. He told me Grandpa brought it at an Army surplus store after the war was over, along with several other items. When Grandpa no longer needed it, he passed the bucket on to Dad.

Isn’t it neat how things you never really thought about as a kid can pique your interest as an adult and you discover they have a rich history?

You can read more about Jossy and her fencing bucket in Rescuing the Rancher.

What about you? Do you have (or recall) any interesting items you use at home that you never gave a thought to the origins?

Monday, April 5, 2021

Fun Facts About The Wings of the West Series


By Kristy McCaffrey


The characters in THE WREN (Book 1) came to me when I was 15 years old. I saw a girl and two brothers. This grew into the characters of Molly Hart and Matt Ryan (and his brother Logan).


When I was 23, I moved across the country to attend graduate school in Pennsylvania. I drove with my mom and sister, and during a rest stop in Amarillo, Texas, I looked out over the flat, rolling plains and ‘saw’ a young Molly running among the tall grass.


Although it felt like Molly was stalking me to tell her story, I didn’t publish THE WREN until I was 37 years old. I wrote it while I had four kids under the age of 5 underfoot. Although I’d been compelled to write since I was a young girl, it took me that long to finally do something about it. It’s the first book I ever wrote (and rewrote and rewrote …) and the first I had published.


The character of Molly was named after my paternal great-grandmother—Mary Agnes “Molly” O’Rourke Kearney, who emigrated from Ireland. ‘Hart’ is a family name on my mother’s side.


While writing THE DOVE (Book 2), I traveled to Las Vegas, New Mexico, and was able to find local research books that helped immensely in the layout of the town in 1877. If you’re a writer, do this. Often, local research isn’t available on the internet or Amazon.


I was a bit over-ambitious with this story which includes a multitude of characters and a complicated tale of land grabbing and betrayals, but for a sophomore effort I’m still happy with the book. However, if I ever committed to an overhaul of the plot, I’d include more about Claire helping the local prostitutes with their unique medical problems. When I originally wrote it (in the early 2000’s), I found it exceedingly difficult to find that information. I’m a little more successful today digging up such details.


THE SPARROW (Book 3) took the longest for me to write—about 6 years. While I took a lengthy break to focus on raising my children, I also became stuck in the story at the halfway point. This book employed my most intuitive writing, guiding me toward shamanism, a discipline I knew nothing about. I spent over two years attempting to understand the skills and techniques utilized in this ancient healing modality.


THE SPARROW is my most mixed-reviewed book. Readers either love it or hate it. For me, personally, it was a labor of love, albeit a painful labor at times. While I’ve considered cutting portions of the story to make it more marketable, it encompasses an interior emotional journey that has spoken to similar kindred souls. When a writer is pushed by some unknown force toward a work that makes little sense to her, sometimes the best thing to do is step out of the way and let it be what it needs to be.


Although I now live in Arizona, I wrote THE BLACKBIRD (Book 4) without ever visiting southern Arizona (the location of the story). Clearly this goes against my earlier advice of visiting the setting of a book; however, I’m a very detail-oriented person (probably why I studied engineering in college) and I always immerse myself in intensive research whenever I write a book. I did my homework.


In the book, the heroine is a cuentista, a storyteller. That idea germinated from one of my favorite reference books, Women Who Run With The Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés. I’m very drawn to how myth plays out in our everyday lives, and I try to weave this into my stories. THE BLACKBIRD is a gritty book, especially with the backstory regarding the heroine’s assault by one of the bad guys, but my goal was to showcase the healing and not the trauma of such an ordeal. Tess is truly a special character to me, as is the hero, Cale Walker. He encompasses everything I like in a hero—confidence, a pragmatic cynicism, and an effort to right the wrongs of his own past. He also possesses the insight into recovery that Tess needs, but more importantly, he loves all aspects of her. This frees her to love them as well.


Now, touching on practical matters—while writing THE BLUEBIRD (Book 5), I lost the file twice. The first time, the manuscript was two-thirds complete and I had no backup. It was a rude awakening about my lazy computer habits. I quickly cleaned up my act, but it took me a week before I could bring myself to sit down and write the book again. And then, near the end, I lost the file again. Thankfully, this time, I did have a backup. But my disillusionment with technology runs fairly deep now and I no longer trust ANY source completely, whether it be a computer hard drive, an external hard drive, or Dropbox. These days, I backup in four places every day.


I had believed myself to be finished with the Wings of the West series (although there are three additional short reads that I later added – ECHO OF THE PLAINS, a young adult tale featuring Matt and Molly’s son, Eli; THE SHINY PENNY, a Christmas short story featuring Molly and Emma; and SONG OF THE WREN, a follow up to THE WREN and THE SPARROW that ties up the storyline regarding Matt and Nathan’s involvement with the villain Cerillo.) But during the recent pandemic and lockdown, I decided to explore more stories with these characters and their children.


First up will be a novella tentatively titled THE SONGBIRD. I have a first draft completed that includes all your favorites—with 13 points-of -view! It takes place 15 years after THE WREN and while the focus will be Matt and Molly, Logan and Claire are also there, as well as Nathan and Emma, and Cale and Tess. You’ll also meet five daughters—Katie and Josie (Matt and Molly’s girls), and Anna, Sarah, and Sophie (belonging to Logan and Claire). They will each soon star in their own novel. This story is entirely for the fans, to say thank you for reading and reviewing the series with such love. I can’t tell you how much that has meant to me.


The next full-length Wings novel has a completed first draft, starring Katie Ryan as a Pinkerton detective, but it still needs a lot of work. What's the title? It will continue the bird theme, and I’ve got a few ideas, but nothing is set as yet. So if you have any suggestions, feel free to drop them in the comments below. My hope is to have both books out by this summer.

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Friday, April 2, 2021

Puzzling Times

 by Patti Sherry-Crews

Among my favorite childhood memories were the evenings I spent with my grandmother who lived next door to us, putting together jigsaw puzzles. We ate Ritz crackers with pimento cheese from a jar while watching westerns on TV together: Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, Bonanza, Bat Masterson, and The High Chaparral among others. I credit the reason I wrote my first historical western to those evenings and the spark to my imagination it lit.

This last year I returned to jigsaw puzzles with a vengeance. These past months we always had a puzzle going in my house. And we weren’t alone in this. There were puzzle exchanges between friends, neighbors who set out used puzzles on porches free for the taking, and our local bookstore occasionally put out a cart with free puzzles. Stores along the main shopping street near me had jigsaw puzzle displays in their windows—including clothing stores who didn’t normally stock jigsaw puzzles. It seemed jigsaw puzzles were suddenly everywhere. There are even companies now who will even make jigsaw puzzles out of images you send them, so there was that going on (fun gifts!).

I got to wondering how long we’ve been piecing together fragments to make a picture.

First Jigsaw Puzzles:

English cartographer and engraver, John Spilsburg is credited with making the first jigsaw puzzle 1767. Called “dissected maps,” he pasted maps unto wood and cut them into pieces. The first puzzles of this kind were used to educate children about geography. And thus, it went for about a century and a half.

The First Jigsaw Puzzle

The Early 20th Century:

Around 1900, puzzle mania hit adults. Early jigsaw puzzles were a challenge. There was no image on the box to guide the user, so the completed image was a surprise. The pieces didn’t interlock, and if you’ve ever worked a cheap puzzle where the pieces don’t fit together well, you know how frustrating this can be. Also the pieces were cut along color lines so without clues like a piece that is part roof and part sky, for instance, it makes it much harder to fit all together.

The early puzzles were hand-cut wooden puzzles, which were expensive and out of reach for middle and working classes. Now, if you were wealthy, it was a common practice to buy a jigsaw puzzle to entertain your weekend house guests.

Then the Parker Brothers of game making fame got into the act with their Pastime brand. The Pastime puzzles featured interlocking pieces, some in whimsical shapes such as birds, shoes, cats, initials, and numbers, etc.

The author's own wooden puzzle in progress, note inclusion of recognizable shapes. (maybe aParker Bros. Pastime puzzle?)

The Great Depression:

During this troubled time, the jigsaw puzzle saw an upsurge in popularity as people sought emotional escape. With money tight, people stayed home more often, rather than go to restaurants or shows, and working together on a puzzle was an alternative entertainment. And at a time when morale was low, being able to start and complete a task successfully was a morale booster. I puzzling people of 2020 can relate.

Wooden puzzles were still expensive, so libraries and some stores offered rentals.

 Many out of work carpenters turned to puzzle-making in their basements and garages. Then a man named Charles Russel attached a saw blade to his wife’s sewing machine, and the rest is "jigsaw" history.

Mass Production:

The innovation of die-cut cardboard puzzles made jigsaw puzzles affordable to a larger number of people with costs of ten to twenty five cents. Families looked forward to the “weeklies,” new puzzles put out each week. Companies started to give away free puzzles to promote their products.

Some companies, such as Par Puzzles, continued to make wooden puzzles, but the die-cut cardboard variety took over the market. 

I'm grateful to Grandma Sherry for introducing me to jigsaw puzzles, which has always been an activity that allows me to daydream and make up my own tales. And I'm forever thankful for all the evenings I spent together with my grandma when I was little and for all the subsequent evenings spent with my own family over puzzles.

Are you a fan of jigsaw puzzles? There are ways to put together puzzles. Obviously, finding the edges and the corners is the universal way to start. But then I'm more of a big picture, work by colors person, while my husband is a sort by shape puzzlers who has pieces laid out in trays and cookie sheets. He likes to spend hours sorting pieces, while I like to find a few recognizable images like animals or buildings and work out from those. Together we've ploughed through dozens of puzzles this year alone!

How about you? What's your jigsaw methods?

(Thanks to Anne D. Williams who wrote Origins of Jigsaw Puzzles, and the article used to write this post)