Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Timber Culture Act — by Ellen O'Connell

Because of a slot switch, I’m doing two posts this month close together, so it seems fitting they be on related subjects. That’s only my excuse, however. My guess is most of the writers who participate in this blog (and who visit it) are like me—you start out researching something you need to know and end up spending extra hours following up on all sorts of interesting tidbits that turned up in the original research.

That’s what happened to me in my research on the Preemption and Homestead Acts that I talked about in my last post. I needed to know how settlers acquired title to land before the Homestead Act and exactly what the requirements of the Homestead Act were. Did I stop there? Of course not. I saw all sorts of fascinating information I just had to pursue.

One of the most extraordinary, in my opinion, was the Timber Culture Act. This Act was passed in 1873. It allowed settlers to claim an additional 160 acres of land if they planted trees on 40 of those acres (later reduced to 10). The Act was authored by Senator Phineas W. Hitchcock of Nebraska.

One of the references I saw called the Act “farcical,” and that’s how it strikes me. I know some of the land available for homestead had to be different, but I live in Colorado. I’ve driven over vast parts of Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming and bits of Nevada, Montana, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Arizona. If some ignorant politician from the East who had never seen the Great Plains proposed such a law, I could understand it. How on earth a senator from Nebraska could is beyond me.

The sources I found all state that you had to plant 2,700 trees per acre, and I keep thinking they must have that wrong that it must have been 2,700 trees per ten acres. I’m not sure if you planted trees as close as petunias you could fit 2,700 on an acre. Yet I also see that at prove-up time, you were supposed to have 675 living trees per acre, so maybe it really was 2,700.

Considering the dry lands of the West and that we’re talking pre-irrigation times here, I can’t believe anyone could have complied except those fortunate few who homesteaded in areas other than the treeless plains that the Act was passed to improve. And if your Oregon or Washington homestead was already covered with trees, where would you plant another 2,700 per acre?

The settler had 8 years to prove his tree claim and could get a 5-year extension. Evidently some plopped down on the land for 13 rent-free years. Of course ranchers had employees filing claims left and right (true of the Homestead Act also).

The purpose of the law was to give settlers the opportunity obtain an additional 160 acres (after their Homestead Act claim on 160 acres), to provide a future source of wood on the woodless Great Plains, and hopefully to make the arid climate more humid (which might work at the rate of 2,700 trees per acre if they actually ever grew, which they wouldn’t). Nebraska did a lot of other things to encourage tree planting, another research black hole I’m not diving down today.

So the Timber Culture Act was a massive failure and repealed in 1891. In 1884 a Land Office representative estimated that as high as 90% of the timber claims had no trees, although about 20% of homesteaders also filed tree claims and more than 2 million acres were eventually considered proved and claimants got title. I found one site that said in 1974 a C.B. McIntosh visited 49 of the tracts given final certification and found that only one of those still had trees. Cynic that I am, I wonder if the "still" in that statement should have been "ever."

Even that One is hard for me to believe. As a Colorado resident, I have to tell you I’m laughing again just typing this. I look outside, try to imagine 2,700 trees on an acre, try to imagine keeping them alive in the days when irrigation meant hauling water, and can’t get over the foolishness. Even if a family had a well or a nearby source of water and hauled water day and night throughout the summer months, all I see is the family dying of exhaustion and the trees dying a few days later. That's if the baby trees lived long enough to die from lack of water and didn't get eaten by grasshoppers first.

Then there was the Desert Land Act of 1877—I’m not pursuing that one. I’m not. I’m not.

Above Creative Commons photo is by Patricia D. Duncan and is of rare undisturbed (unplowed) tall grass prairie with a stand of cottonwood trees in the northeast corner of Kansas.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Guest Honky Tonk Hearts Guest Donna Michaels

Honky Tonk Hearts Guest by Lauri Robinson

Today I have one more author from The Wild Rose Press and their Honky Tonk Hearts Series. The books in this series are centered around the Lonesome Steer Honky Tonk located near Amarillo, Texas ran by Gus Rankin, and come in all heat levels. Books released in the Honk Tonk Hearts Series so far include: 

Honky Tonk Man by Sylvie Kaye
Nothing but Trouble by Jannine Gallant
Sing to Me, Cowboy by Lauri Robinson
Those Violet Eyes by Vonnie Davis
The Morning After by Brenda Whiteside
Lauri: Today I welcome Donna Michaels. Thanks, Donna, for joining us today! Tell us a bit about you.

Donna: Hello, Laurie. Thanks so much for having me here today. This is a wonderful series. Okay, on to a little bit about me.  I’m happily married to a military man for over twenty-six years, and together we live in Northeastern PA with our four children (sometimes five, when my dil visits from law school…long story), several rescued cats, and my parents who moved in with us when the economy tanked a few years back.  Yes, we have a full house…you can’t make these things up! lol But I truly feel blessed.

I’m a multi published author of Romaginative Fiction. From short to epic, sweet to hot, I write all lengths and most romance genres—Contemporary, Comedy, Sci-Fi, Paranormal, Fantasy, Suspense and Action/Adventure. My works are in both Digital and Print and can be found at my website, Amazon, and B&N. To me, there is no better experience than to give and I hope my books give the reader an enjoyable escape.

Lauri: Now that sounds like a houseful, but also a blessing to all be together! Tell us a bit about your Honky Tonk Hearts story.  

Donna: Sometimes a practical joke is a gift...

That’s the tagline to COWBOY-SEXY to be released 01-02-13.

Finn Brennan is used to his brother playing practical jokes, but this time he's gone too far--sending Finn a woman as a ranch hand. And not just any woman, but a Marine. When 1st Lt. Camilla Walker's commanding officer asks her to help out at his family's dude ranch until he returns from deployment, she never expects to be thrust into a mistaken engagement to his sexy, cowboy twin--a former Navy SEAL who hates the Corps. But before long, Cammie is wishing their fake engagement could be real. The Corps took Finn's father, his girlfriend, and threatened his naval career. He's worked hard for another shot at getting back to active duty. The last thing he needs is a headstrong, unyielding, hot Marine who not only tempts his bed, but soon has him rethinking his goals.

Lauri: A brother with a sense of humor can cause trouble, that’s for sure, and it sounds like Finn’s does!  Tell us what you like best about your story.

Donna: That the characters took over and wrote the story themselves. I kid you not. When Stacy asked if I’d be interested in writing for the HTH series and Finn and Cammie popped into my mind, they immediately took over and wouldn’t shut up. lol Exactly how they are in the book. They have a great chemistry, are headstrong, love to help others and unknowingly help each other heal.

Lauri: Don’t you love it when characters do that? Just take over and give you their stories! Awesome. Give us an excerpts.

Donna: Here you go:

She straightened to her full height and stared him down, brown eyes flashing like fire water. “You’re not my C.O. You can’t order me around.”
“Wrong. Brett’s the only one who can order you to go home,” he corrected, lowering his voice when the two college stable hands entered the building. “But I am the one who can tell you where to work on this ranch.”
She softened her expression, then sauntered closer to finger his collar.
“And what would you have me do, Finn?” she asked in a quiet, sultry voice.
Her complete about-face had his heartbeats kicking the hell out of his ribcage. He stiffened. What was she up to?
Stifled snickers quickly enlightened him. She was keeping up appearance, playing the dutiful fiancée, you idiot. For a moment there he thought…
Didn’t matter what he thought.
Terry sent the boys a look. They grabbed pitchforks before disappearing into a nearby stall.
Cammie removed her hands from his chest and stepped back. “Well? Where do you want me to work? With you?”
“No.” The last thing he needed was her around, countermanding his orders as he guided guests on the horse trail. “Why don’t you help my mom and Aunt Lettie with the party details?”
She blinked, then smiled broadly, her gaze bouncing between him and Terry. “No, I mean really. What do you want me to do?”
“I told you, help my mother. Most women enjoy planning parties.”
She stiffened, every trace of amusement gone from her face. “I’m not most women, Navy. Don’t confuse me with your ex-girlfriend. I’m not Heather.”
He inhaled strong and swift. “No, you’re not.”
Heather was sweet and non-confrontational, not a willful control freak like the lieutenant in front of him.
He was the boss, not her, and it was high time he showed her just who was in charge.
Finn stepped forward, slowly stalking the woman, purposefully invading her personal space until she was forced to retreat. The Marine backed up until her incredible backside hit the wall, stopping her escape. Satisfaction warmed his blood. Chalk one up for Navy.
“Wh-what are you doing?” she whispered.
Brown eyes widened with a mixture of apprehension, and God help him, desire. He palmed the wall on either side of her head and smiled down, beginning to enjoy the situation.
“I’m showing those college boys, and you, who’s boss.”
The instant she opened her mouth to protest, he pressed into her delectable curves and captured those tempting, objectionable lips.
The Stetson fell off his head, but he didn’t care. Over and over, he nipped, drank and tasted, taking advantage of her surprised state. He was on a mission. A mission to teach the headstrong Marine a lesson.
Now was the time to pull away, to leave her staring after him, wanting more. Everything was perfect. He had an audience of three who could verify he had effectively shut the woman up.
But when her tense body unexpectedly softened, his goal became fuzzy. The hands on his chest, holding him at bay, suddenly snaked around his back and pulled him in closer. Her sweet, yielding mouth turned hot and demanding, and Finn had all he could do to hold back a groan.
She tasted incredible, and her lack of resistance fueled his hunger. He deepened the kiss, sliding his tongue into her mouth to capture her essence for his very own. She trembled against him and his body responded with a slow, consuming burn.
Instead of drawing away, he dropped his hands to her waist and held tight as their tongues tangled and explored. Heaven help him, he never wanted any woman so bad or so fast in his life. She took him from zero to sixty inside of two seconds.

Lauri: Zero to sixty! Love it!  Please tell about reviews/what/where you’ll be next promoting your book or other books you have coming out.

Donna: COWBOY-SEXY will continue to hit the blog circuit this fall. I will post the dates on my website as I get them.
Currently, I am working on my first self-publication release—CAPTIVE HERO.
When Marine Corp test pilot, Major Samantha Sheppard accidentally flies back in time and inadvertently saves the life of a WWII VMF Black Sheep pilot, she changes history and makes a crack decision to abduct him back to the present. With her lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut for NASA now at risk, and determined to keep the timeline safe by not messing with history or the future, she hides the soldier at her secluded cabin in the Colorado wilderness. After a rocky start, she convinces him to remain in the present and eventually gives into the strong attraction pulsing between them. But when Sam discovers the man she’s fallen in love with isn’t the soldier she thought, and has now not only jeopardized history but her family’s very existence, she’s forced to choose between life and love. Can Sam find the strength to return him to WWII and certain death? Will their love survive the test of time?
I hope to have CAPTIVE HERO ready for release in September. Please keep an eye on my website and Amazon.
As always, thanks for reading,

Lauri: Thanks, Donna, for being here today and congrats on the awesome addition to the Honky Tonk Hearts series!  

Monday, August 27, 2012


Whether you go for a contemporary or historical, when you pick up a romance, what do you expect from the hero? Let’s talk about the two main components of a hero, shall we?

First, let’s get his appearance out of the way. Do you require a thick head of hair and perfect physique before a man can be a hero in your eyes?  Does he have to be a certain height, have a particular color of eyes, and wear his hair a certain way? I have to admit that my husband Hero is also my hero in books I write.

If he’s bald, are all bets off? I think some bald men are appealing, but I once knew a woman who wouldn't marry this really nice guy because he was going bald. She later married a handsome man who beat her. What if he’s a geek who wears glasses and isn’t that fit?

What each of us means by “perfect” hero physically probably differs from one reader to the next. Not that I’m turned off by a handsome man, mind you, but I don’t care as much about his physical aspects as about his character. And handsome is in the eye of the beholder. Hero is handsome from my point of view. Another woman might talk about how nice she thinks HER husband is and I might think, "What?"

I’m reminded about once when my youngest daughter and I were headed into a department store. This handsome young man in jeans, western shirt, boots, and Stetson held the door open for us. When we thanked him, he smiled politely (as opposed to leering), gave a slight bow, and said in the most adorable Southern drawl, “It was my pleasure.” What a great hero he would have made for a romance novel—if the rest of his actions matched his first impression.

As a rule, I find cowboys, that is western men, to be polite to women. Oh, they might infuriate women by calling then "little lady" with a pat on the head, but they are usually protective of women. At least, those I know are, and I live in a cowboy area of North Central Texas. Not to say there aren't abusive men in the Southwest, because they're everywhere. But I think we have fewer who are cowboys-types.

Here are some qualities that are necessary for a hero, at least IMO. I think you'll find them in all our cowboy heroes. The qualities might not exist at the first of the book, but they’d better be there by the end or I want my money back.

[1] He has to be trustworthy. In our part of the country, you hear “His word is his bond.” That means if he says it, he’ll do it and you don’t need a contract to hold him to his word. No man with that reputation would risk losing it.

[2]  Loyalty. If he’s you’re friend, you don’t have to worry about him stabbing you in the back, figuratively or literally. He will defend you to others and, as the saying goes, have your back. Another saying from the Southwest along this line is “ride for the brand,” and it doesn’t just mean cowboys who work on a ranch.  If he takes a man’s money for a job, he won’t cheat his employer.

[3] Not afraid of commitment. Not just in romance, but I’m reminded of a man I once worked with who rented his apartment, rented his office, leased a car, and had the same girlfriend for five years, yet wondered why no one took him seriously as an adult. His lifestyle was still grad student. Talk about arrested development.

[4] Takes a stand. This may be a part of commitment, but I list it separately. It means he won’t be a “yes” man to anyone. He is not afraid to state his opinion about a course of action, and not afraid to follow up on that opinion.

Dallas McClintock, the hero of THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE, fulfills each of the qualities listed above. I adore Dallas. He's sort of a mix of alpha and beta hero. He's the kind of man I would like to marry. Actually, he is like the man I married, except my husband Hero is not a rancher and hates riding horses. ☺ Hero would rather tinker with electronics or grow tomatoes and peppers.

Dallas McClintock, a hero
courtesy iStock Photos

I’m sure you can think of more qualities you look for in your heroes. Tell us what they are, and which you think are most important. In the meantime, here's a blurb of THE TEXAN'S IRISH BRIDE, along with the new cover. The rights for this book reverted to me, so my Hero made the new cover for me. This story is set in the Central Texas Hill Country near Bandera. I love Texas history and Irish history, and this book combines them. Mostly, it’s about people who struggle for acceptance and for a home. There’s skullduggery in it, of course. I love writing villains readers can hate. The photo of Dallas is on the back cover along with this blurb:

Cenora Rose O’Neill knows her father somehow arranged the trap for Dallas, but she agrees to wed the handsome stranger. She’d do anything to protect her family, and she wants to save herself from the bully Tom Williams. A fine settled man like Dallas will rid himself of her soon enough, but at least she and her family will be safely away from Tom Williams.  

Texas rancher Dallas McClintock has no plans to wed for several years. Right now, he’s trying to establish himself as a successful horse breeder. Severely wounded rescuing Cenora from kidnappers, Dallas is taken to her family’s wagon to be tended.  He is trapped into marrying Cenora, but he is not a man who goes back on his word. His wife has a silly superstition for everything, but passion-filled nights with her make up for everything—even when her wild, eccentric family drives crazy.

The following excerpt is from the wedding feast after Dallas's forced wedding with Cenora. He is still too injured to stand without assistance, and watches the celebration while sitting on the ground propped against a wagon wheel.

Dallas raised his gaze where Aoife directed. 
Four girls danced, but only one drew his attention. Shoulders straight and feet flying, Cenora met his glance, then broke away from the other dancers to perform only a few yards from him. 
Catcalls sounded nearby. She ignored them but gave a toss of her head. Her hair had come unbound, and her act sent her fiery hair awhirl. Light from the blazing campfire cast an aura-like radiance around her. Lantern glow overhead reflected her eyes sparked with merriment, challenge, and something mysterious he couldn’t name. 
No longer the delicate china doll, her wild beauty called to him, mesmerized him. He visualized her brilliant tresses spread across a pillow, her milky skin bared only for him. His body responded, and savage desire shot through him. Surprised at the depth of his reaction, he wondered if her performance in bed would parallel the unbridled nature of her dance.
Good Lord, could this glorious woman truly be his wife? And if so, heaven help him, what on earth was he to do with her?
Warning: Even thought the couple are married, THE TEXAN'S IRISH BRIDE is a sensual book. Here are the buy links for print and e-book download:

Caroline Clemmons writes romance, mystery, and adventure. Check her website at and her personal blog at  Sign up at either for her newsletter to receive new releases, giveaways, and fun contests.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

STRIKING COWBOYS (and I’m not talking about their looks…)

Guest Blogger- Andrea Downing

      We think of the American cowboy as the quintessential symbol of the American West, a rugged individual, independent and hard working.  It’s difficult to believe, then, that in the 1880s most of them were working for large corporations.  Down in Texas, the hands had once sat down with the owner’s family to supper and been permitted to run some of their own cattle on the land.  But by 1883 the large cattle companies had moved in and not only forbidden such liberties, they also put a stop to carrying weapons, gambling and drinking while in their employ, and limited the use of ranch horses.  To men whose lives were in danger every day on the range, this was an unbearable situation. Work hard, play hard might have been the motto of the cowpuncher.  So what do employees do when their working conditions are intolerable?  They strike of course!
      In the spring of 1883, 24 men signed a proclamation that asserted they would not work for less than $50 a month, good cooks would also not work for less than $50 a month, and foremen would not work for less than $75 a month.  The strike at its height had some 300 men out, and lasted 2 and a half months across five ranches.  Sadly, it had little effect.  There was no shortage of men needing work in the Texas Panhandle, and increased wages were offered to those who would return.  Others, who did not accept the increased wage, were told they would never work in Texas again.  Perhaps those men went north?
     Up in Wyoming, ranching had expanded at a phenomenal rate.  While in 1874 there had been only 2 divisions for round-up, by 1884 there were no less than 31 divisions.  In one division alone, 200 cowboys with 2,000 horses worked 400,000 cattle over the 6 week period.  With such an increase in cows on the open range, no wonder that by 1885 the cattle companies faced the problem of over-production and reduced returns. Since their employees—that is the cowboys—were the one cost over which the managers had full control, it was no surprise that the hands would come under fire.  In a 6 hour meeting of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association in October, 1885, the cattle barons came to the conclusion that a “fair” but reduced wage was now to be offered to the punchers.  A reduction of five to ten dollars was decided upon, as well as lay-offs during the summer between the two round-ups.  Previously, there had been only winter lay-offs and that was accepted as the norm, but summer lay-offs proved quite another matter.  In addition, some ranches decided to charge their hands for winter meals, previously part of their wage packet.
Letters went to the newspapers proclaiming that the cowboys could not work for thirty dollars a month for five months and then support themselves for the rest of the year.  Some of the ranches relented and acceded to the demands while others tried to get on with scab crews. Eventually, things went back to normal.     
      However, the overcrowding on the open range was already causing several ranches to look to moving their herds up to Canada, when the final nail in the coffin of open range came in the form of the winter of 1886/87. The prolonged blizzards and sub-human temperatures of that winter, which I describe in Loveland, and which plays a pivotal part in the story,  made the cattle companies realize that such large herds on such widespread rangelands were not feasible.   
     The era of the large ranches had come to an end.

Blurb for Loveland:

When Lady Alexandra Calthorpe returns to the Loveland, Colorado, ranch owned by her father, the Duke, she has little idea of how the experience will alter her future. Headstrong and willful, Alex tries to overcome a disastrous marriage in England and be free of the strictures of Victorian society --and become independent of men. That is, until Jesse Makepeace saunters back into her life...

Hot-tempered and hot-blooded cowpuncher Jesse Makepeace can’t seem to accept that the child he once knew is now the ravishing yet determined woman before him. Fighting rustlers proves a whole lot easier than fighting Alex when he’s got to keep more than his temper under control.

Arguments abound as Alex pursues her career as an artist and Jesse faces the prejudice of the English social order. The question is, will Loveland live up to its name?

As the round-up wound down, the Reps took their stock back to their outfits, and soon the men were back at headquarters or at the camps. Alex knew word had more or less got out and found the punchers were gentler now around her, had a sort of quiet respect for her, and she hated it. She tried to bully them a bit to show them she was still the same girl, jolly them into joshing with her as they had before. It was slow work. At the same time, she yearned to see Jesse, to speak with him, to try to get life back to the way it was before the argument at the corral, and before he saw the scars. The opportunity didn’t present itself. She would see him from a distance some days, riding with the herd, sitting his horse with that peculiar grace he had, throwing his lariat out with an ease that reminded her of people on a dock waving their hankies in farewell. Hoping to just be near him, she slid into one of the corrals one evening to practice her roping.
The light was failing and the birds were settling with their evening calls. Somewhere in the pasture a horse nickered. She sensed Jesse was there, watching, but she never turned as he stood at the fence. She heard him climb over and ease up behind her. He took the coiled rope from her in his left hand and slid his right hand over hers on the swing end, almost forcing her backward into his arms.
She thought of paintings and statues she had seen, imagining his naked arms now, how the muscles would form them into long oblique curves, how he probably had soft downy fair hair on his forearms, how his muscle would slightly bulge as he bent his arm. His voice was soft in her ear, and she could feel his breath on her neck like a whispered secret.
“Gentle-like, right to left, right to left to widen the noose, keep your eye on the post—are you watchin’ where we’re goin’?”
He made the throw and pulled in the rope to tighten the noose. Alex stood there, his hand still entwined with hers and, for a moment, she wished they could stand like that forever. Then she took her hand away and faced him. For a second he rested his chin on the top of her head, then straightened again and went to get the noose off the post while coiling in the rope. She looked up at him in the fading light and saw nothing but kindness in his face, simplicity and gentleness that was most inviting. A smile spread across her face as he handed her the coiled rope and sauntered away, turning once to look back at her before he opened the gate. Emptiness filled her like a poisoned vapor seeking every corner of her being, and she stood with the rope in her hand listening to the ring of his spurs as his footsteps retreated.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lampblacked and Straitlaced

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

That's my brain right now. Why? Because of what was supposed to be the opening sentence of this post: Whatever else defined the old west, it is a product of the Victorian era. 

The idea has taken hold and won't let go. The trouble is, instead of a cohesive article, all I can come with are fragments that illustrate the Victorian influence in American culture and the western genre.

Victorian Britain was at the height of it's political and economic power. Post Civil War America was at the beginning of its rise. The war had sped up industrialization. Some got rich. Many got poorer. In Britain, there were opportunities for adventure, wealth or just a fresh start, in the far-flung corners of the Empire. In America, there was The West.

Hard work and self-restraint were highly valued. In fiction, the adventure hero took readers, whose world was becoming increasingly urbanized, to wild places where determination and common sense won the day. The British "stiff upper lip" isn't so different from the laconic western hero who dismisses the pain of a bullet wound as "jest a nick."

Women were supposed to be modest and chaste. Makeup, which had once been worn by men and women of fashion, had fallen out of favor. Queen Victoria decreed that makeup was only respectable when worn for the stage. Off stage, women who looked heavily made up were considered vulgar.

Painted ladies were found in saloons and whore houses. Respectable matrons would use creams and lotions to maintain their "natural" beauty. Young ladies might enhance their eyelashes with lampblack or use a little berry juice on their lips. Mostly, they were advised to pinch their cheeks and bite their lips in lieu of blush and lipstick.

Queen Victoria was famous for maintaining and enforcing a strict moral code. The Victorian era is famous for repressed sexuality. Women were supposed to be modest, maternal and not given to lustful feelings or behavior. The term Victorian is synonymous with straitlaced. And yet young Victoria writes about her wedding night:
"He clasped me in his arms, & we kissed each other again & again! His beauty, his sweetness & gentleness – really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a Husband! ... to be called by names of tenderness, I have never yet heard used to me before – was bliss beyond belief!"
Victoria experienced passion just as Marly does in Under A Texas Star:
Careful not to pull her hand free of his, she stood and straddled his lap. With her other hand, she reached up and touched his cheek. Then, with only a moment of hesitation, she kissed him.
Surprised, Jase pulled back. But something in her eyes must have melted the last bit of his resolve. He drew her into his arms and kissed her hard and deep.
Marly was in heaven.
As I said, not my most cohesive article. But at least it has a Happily Ever After ending. 


The Walrus and the Carpenter, Louis Carroll

Welcome Stacey Coverstone to Cowboy Kisses

 I'm personally happy to welcome Stacey to our blog today, and I'm so impressed with the pictures she provided to enhance her article.  Yep...I'm definitely going back to Alaska to take more pictures for my current historical WIP.  Welcome Stacey, and thanks for being here today.

Research, Up Close and Personal
By Stacey Coverstone

As an author of historical western romance novels, it’s essential for me to do research in order to describe the clothing, the personal habits, and the figure of speech used by my characters for that time period. It’s also very important to be able to describe the geographical setting accurately. In order to write my novel, Trail of Golden Dreams, I found myself traveling to New Mexico to learn about the Nambe Pueblo and the Tewa people. 

Nambe Pueblo is one of the Tewa Pueblos of the northern Rio Grande region in New Mexico. In the Tewa language, the word Nambe means “People of the Round Earth.” Prior to the arrival of Spanish explorers, Nambe Pueblo served as the primary cultural and religious center for the northern New Mexican pueblo communities. The pueblo is a registered National Historic Landmark and is a major tourist attraction. 

The pueblo sits at the base of the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Sixteen miles north of the state capitol of Santa Fe, it encompasses 19,000 acres of land surrounded by national forest. Its terrain is scenic and striking, featuring waterfalls, lakes, and mountainous areas. 

Nambe Falls and Nambe Lake Recreation Area, located above the pueblo is a popular summertime location for camping, fishing, picnics, events and organizational gatherings. A 15-minute hike along the shaded cottonwood trails takes you to the base of Nambe Waterfalls, three of the most spectacular natural falls in the Southwest. A climb up the side of the canyon brings you to a birds-eye view of the falls. Sitting above the falls are the Nambe dam and lake, a 56-acre lake for recreational and sport fishing. The scenic Nambe Rock Formations are popular with tourists and filmmakers. Fourth of July and an October feast day are the times when the most popular festivals are held at the Nambe Pueblo, when dances and other ceremonies are performed above the Pueblo at the beautiful Nambe Falls.

Today, the Nambe Pueblo is largely Hispanicized, and is almost completely surrounded by non-Indian residents. However, there has been a recent renaissance of interest in the traditional rituals and crafts, and Nambe artists are making a comeback.  Weaving is being revived in the production of kilts and cotton belts. Pottery, too, is once again being made in black on black and white on red designs similar to the work of the Taos and Picuris Pueblo potters. 

In my novel, Trail of Golden Dreams, heroine Josie Hart is half-Tewa Indian, as her deceased mother was born and raised at the Nambe Pueblo. Josie and the hero of my story, Grey Paladin, ride 200 miles of dangerous New Mexico trail following a cryptic map in order to find gold nuggets hidden somewhere near the Nambe Falls by Josie’s outlaw father. To do research for this exciting adventure/romance, I traveled to New Mexico and spent time in Santa Fe, where some of my story takes place. I also drove to the Nambe Pueblo and climbed the side of the rugged canyon to the top where I gazed upon the same magnificent view of the Nambe waterfalls and the valley below that Josie and Grey see in my novel. In addition, I spent time at the river and hiking the surrounding area. The entire region is central to my story and the culmination of Josie and Grey’s journey, so I wanted to be able to describe historic Santa Fe, the Nambe Pueblo, and the canyon, the waterfalls, and the river with accuracy. Sometimes it’s not possible to travel to a destination for research. That’s when the internet comes in very handy. But as an author, if you can go on the road to do your research, I strongly encourage you to do so. In this case, I was glad I had the opportunity to be able to put myself into Josie and Grey’s shoes, literally. 

Excerpt from Trail of Golden Dreams:

The tall, dark stranger looked down into Josie's eyes. A muscle ticked along his jaw. After several long moments, she felt the release of pressure from the gun held at her temple. "Toss your gun on the ground," she commanded, while keeping her derringer pointed at his ribcage.

"I'll toss mine when you toss yours," he said.

Josie searched his face. "Are you crazy, or just stupid? You think I'm going to throw down my gun? Why should I trust you?"

"Because I've never killed a woman before, and I don't intend to start now."

After considering his words carefully, Josie removed the gun from his rib. "On the count of three, we'll both throw our guns onto the ground. Do I have your word as a gentleman?"

The man in black threw his head back and laughed. "Whatever gave you the idea I'm a gentleman?"

She rammed the derringer into his gut again and narrowed her eyes into pinpoints. The gun pressed into taut, rigid muscle. She had too much to lose to let him scare her out of a future she'd only dreamed about before now. "I'll kill you right now, mister, and take my map, and it won't bother me none."

The man grinned. "You're a tough little half-breed, aren't you?"

"Half-breed!" she shrieked, lunging. Josie pounded on his chest with her fists and clawed at his shirt. He grabbed her wrists, and both the revolver and the derringer flew out of their hands and clattered to the ground. The stranger pulled her close. She struggled under his grasp. "Let me go, you big ignorant brute!" She kicked at his shins, but he lifted her off the ground before her boots could do any real damage.

"Calm down, missy," he hollered. Keeping a firm grip around her waist, he danced the two of them around the cave, trying to avoid her bruising kicks. "I'm not ignorant. It was just a stupid joke. That's what Leroy always called you. His little half-breed."

Josie abruptly stopped fighting and glowered up at him. His arms still held her tight, squeezing her shoulders together. "What did you say?" she asked. "You knew my pa?" For the first time, she took a hard look at the cowboy. He was good looking for an outlaw. His mouth drew into a tight line, but his sun-soaked face was unshaven, his jaw was square like a chiseled piece of granite, and his brown eyes were so mesmerizing, she felt like climbing into them. She changed her mind about the mesmerizing eyes when he spit out his hateful answer.

"I knew your pa, all right," he growled. "He was a no-good, low-down, common thief who got what he deserved when they hung him."

Happy Reading!
Purchasing info and more of Stacey’s books can be found on her website:

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Preemption and Homestead Acts - Ellen O'Connell

Among the things I researched for the new romance I hope to have out in September was the Homestead Act of 1862. My guess is everyone who reads here is like me and has some knowledge of the act and of homesteading, but facts I turned up in my research surprised me and of course started me digging deeper.

Where I was wrong was in a romantic notion that the Homestead Act sprung full blown as a unique idea in the middle of the Civil War. In truth the Act was the culmination of a long  series of laws passed from the time of the Revolution attempting to deal with transfer of the millions of acres of the Louisiana Purchase and other public lands to private hands.

Hard as it may be to believe in these days of political amity, policy changed as the government of the time changed hands from one party to the other. Early on the government sold public lands in parcels of no less than 640 acres at a price no less than $2 an acre. What this meant was wealthy speculators bought the large parcels and made fortunes dividing it into smaller parcels and selling those. (Things just don’t change over the centuries, do they?)

Over time, pressure grew to allow purchase of smaller and smaller parcels for smaller sums. The full section (640 acres) fell to 320 acres, to 160, and even to 40. The price fell to $1 an acre.

Pressure also grew to allow squatters, individuals who forged ahead onto public lands, often before they were even surveyed, to purchase the land. So Congress passed a series of “preemption” laws allowing just that until in 1841 it passed a general preemption law allowing settlers to acquire title to land they squatted on by meeting certain conditions. The settler had to be:
  •     a "head of household" or a single man over 21, or a widow;
  •     a citizen of the United States (or a non-citizen intending to become naturalized); and
  •     a resident of the claimed land for a minimum of 14 months.
The settler also had to pay the government a purchase price of at least $1.25 an acre, which increased to as much as $2.00 an acre in some circumstances. Eventually a graded scale was introduced pricing by desirability of the land and some land was priced as little as 12½ cents an acre (desert anyone?).

So the Homestead Act of 1862 followed in the footsteps of the preemption laws. It allowed a settler to claim 160 acres for a filing fee of $18. Requirements resembled those of the Preemption Act but were expanded, so the homesteader had to be:
  •      a "head of household" or a single person over 21;
  •      a citizen of the United States (or a non-citizen intending to become naturalized);
  •     live on the claimed land for five years and make prescribed improvements.
The residence required had to be at least 12 by 14, which tells you the size of most of those sod houses described in a recent blog.

There were some twists on this law, which was, remember, passed in the middle of the Civil War. Anyone who had borne arms against the United States was not eligible. (Former Rebel Matt Slade in my romance Sing My Name could not have homesteaded.) Those who served in the Union armies could get credit against the five-year residence requirement. Freed slaves were eligible.

Harking back to preemption (and the Preemption Act stayed in effect after passage of the Homestead Act), title could also be acquired after a 6-month residency and the required improvements, provided the claimant paid the government $1.25 per acre.

The Homestead Act was of course riddled with all sorts of political conflict. New England states were against it fearing loss of cheap labor. Southerners opposed it for fear the lands would be settled by anti-slavery elements. The Act passed when it did because after secession, Southern representatives and senators weren’t there to stop it.

The Preemption Act was repealed in 1891. The Homestead Act was modified by other acts over the years until it was repealed as to the lower 48 states in 1978 and as to Alaska in 1986.

The Act was one more weapon in the government’s arsenal to subdue native tribes by taking their land, and it was certainly a success there. In a time when women couldn’t serve on juries or vote, they could, and did, homestead and acquire land in their own name, which must have increased economic power for at least some women.

Only 40% of all homestead claims were “proved up” and the homesteader given title, and there was considerable abuse and corruption surrounding the act, leading to it being referred to by some as a “magnificent failure.” However, 10% of all U.S. lands were settled under these acts, which doesn’t seem much like a failure to me.

Oh, and the book that required me to look into the Preemption and Homestead Acts? It’s titled Beautiful Bad Man, and I hope to have it out in September.

The photo above is of a South Dakota homestead and is by Chitrapa (Creative Commons license).

Friday, August 17, 2012

Western Birthday Buddies

Today I’m sharing my birthday with two famous people – Davy Crockett and Maureen O’Hara.

Both were not born in the American West, like me, but ended up living in the west – Davy in Texas, Maureen in California (unlike me, but I might end up out there at some point!) Both were pretty famous, unlike me. My claim to fame is meeting famous people like the actor Wes Studi and novelists Nora Roberts (romance), David Morrell (Rambo action/adventures) and Loren Estleman (mystery/westerns).
Oldest first -- David Crockett. was born on August 17, 1786 (only 200+ years before me) in Greene County, Tennessee (only three states away from Michigan), the fifth of nine kids (I’m the 4th of six kids). Parents John and Rebecca Hawkins Crockett no doubt had a log cabin and lived off the land. I’ve always been fascinated by log cabins, but enjoyed my parents’ suburban house.
David (not Davy -- Crockett was always known by his full Christian name) learned to shoot at eight years old and only attended school for four days. He was a born woodsman. He married at 20 years old, and Mary Finley gave him two sons and a daughter. After Mary’s death, David wed Elizabeth Patton, who gave him two more children. He then became a scout during the War of 1812, and participated in a massacre on the Cree Indians in retaliation for an attack on Fort Mims, Alabama. Whoa! We really *do* have a connection, even though it might be a branch of my husband's family.
Once he returned home to Tennessee, David served as a member of the State House of Representatives from 1821 until 1823. He also won a seat in the U.S. Congress in 1826. His reputation and folk legend status may have ballooned during elections due to his “backwoods oratory” style -- and comic illustrations portrayed him in that coonskin cap. After his defeat in 1833, David grew tired of politics and decided to join the fight for Texas independence. Crockett was killed on March 6, 1836, at the Alamo in San Antonio. I remember watching native Texan Fess Parker on the Disney channel and enjoyed the episodes, even if they were based on the legends. He sort of *looks* like legendary "Davy" Crockett. Sort of. 
Now let’s get to another birthday buddy of mine. Maureen FitzSimons was born on August 17, 1920 (eight years before my own mom) in Ranelagh, Ireland (I wish! I'd love to visit the Emerald Isle), the second of six children. Her father worked as a businessman and her mother was an actress and opera singer. Good genes clearly passed from mother to daughter (just like my mom’s artistic gene passed to me). After her debut as Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Maureen’s early career focused on swashbuckling films like Jamaica Inn, The Spanish MainThe Black Swan and Sinbad the Sailor, plus How Green Was My Valley and the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street.
Maureen starred with John Wayne in The Quiet Man, set in Ireland (my favorite wanna-vacation-there-spot). She also appeared in the westerns Buffalo Bill, The Redhead From Wyoming, Rio Grande, McClintock! and Big Jake. Maureen was well-known for portraying a strong-willed heroine. Sound familiar? Yep, my heroine, Lily Granville of DoubleCrossing, is strong-willed but also independent. Lily may not have fiery red hair, green eyes, and a peaches and cream complexion, but Maureen O’Hara certainly had some influence on her characterization.
<------ To the left is the silent film actress Mary Miles Minter, whose ethereal look is perfect for Lily.  To the right is Duke (John Wayne) and Maureen O'Hara in the western film and comedy McClintock!  --------->
Ace Diamond might not take Lily over his knee, but she will definitely give him a run for his money in Double Crossing's sequel! Keep an eye out for Double or Nothing later this year.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Maureen, and many more to you, too! I'll raise a cupcake in your honor.
--Check out a few of the 5-star reviews on Meg Mims' website!