Thursday, November 29, 2012

One Saddle, One Butt by Ellen O'Connell

This post was going to be about research for my next romance, but two recent incidents derailed me. The first occurred in a long-running thread about historical romance in the Book Corner of Kindle Boards. Someone mentioned there a romance that included sex on horseback, and there was a lot of oohing and aahing and readers posting how they were hurrying to get the book.

Since I’m probably already considered the chief curmudgeon of Kindle Boards, I made myself keep quiet, but thankfully someone else finally posted how unlikely and uncomfortable such a thing would be, so I could second the sentiment without sounding too cranky. Look at the photo here of a working cowboy taken in 1888. Think about a full grown woman on that horse with him and sexual gymnastics. Would it be physically possible? Probably. Fun, pleasurable or romantic? Draw your own conclusions.

How about an English saddle? Less painful maybe but not more practical. And what about the horse? How many live and undrugged horses do you think would put up with our romantic couple as opposed to dumping them on the ground or running off a cliff with them? I never dealt with the kind of docile, broad-backed beast used by circus performers for bareback performances, but that seems about the only practical possibility, and the whole idea still strikes me as borderline horse abuse and stupid beyond belief, not romantic.

If the second incident hadn’t come right on the heels of the first, I would have ignored it. Romances so often have the hero taking the heroine up on a horse in front of him and the two of them riding that way that I’ve stopped slamming the Kindle shut and zapping books over it. It sounds so sexy. Her backside tight against his frontside. Except take another look at the 1888 cowboy. How exactly is our heroine fitting in front of the guy? Then look at the photo of the empty saddle. Even if the hero pushes so far back he’s riding on the cantle, how is the heroine fitting in front of him without the swell (pommel) and the saddle horn bruising her beyond belief in terrible places? Some stories have the heroine sitting on the hero’s thighs. No, she’s not. Look at the angle of his legs.

I’m sure most all of Romancelandia is going to continue to buy into lovely myths about sex in the saddle and heroines who ride not just for hours but days in front of the hero in the saddle in spite of my rant here, but I feel better now.

Photo of the cowboy is in the public domain and was taken in 1888 photo by John C. H. Grabill. Photo of the saddle is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Source: Modified from Image:Tinker Stute.JPG Author: Modification by BLW, original image by Borsi112.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Why would a writer focus on poison? I don’t plan to murder anyone in real life. However, I love to kill people in books. Great way to relax. Joking, joking. But perhaps you've seen the coffee mugs or T-shirts that boast, "Be careful what you do or you'll end up in my book" and "I kill people in books." One of the joys of being a writer is that I can take out all my frustrations on my fictional characters. Well, to you they're fictional. To me, they're (almost) real.


I’m giving away a Kindle Fire 3G to one lucky subscriber of my Caroline’s Occasional Newsletter on December 15th. Stop by my blog or webpage (shown at the end of this post) to sign up. You might be the one who wins. I’ll feature newsletter contests like this one every few months. Don’t worry, no salesmen will call, and your email will remain confidential. Lots of authors have giveaways at this festive time of year. This is my gift to readers for buying my books, and I'll continue giveaways as long as I'm able to sit in my nice pink cave and write the books I love. Now, on to our regularly scheduled blog post:


I first became interested in poisons years ago from reading Agatha Christie’s mysteries. I still love her books and am fascinated with poison. Many plants have medicinal qualities and other seemingly innocent lovelies can be deadly. For instance, in Alexander Dumas’ THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, oleander leaves are ground and incorporated into food to murder. Foxglove can heal or kill, depending on how it is administered and to whom. While researching, I pour through books like DEADLY DOSES from Writers Digest Books and old herbals. My eldest daughter fed my fascination with HERBS AND THINGS by Jeanne Rose, a book on remedies that gives both friendly and unfriendly plants and their uses. My youngest daughter has given me several illustrated books on native Texas plants, many of which can be harmful. Picture the writer rubbing her hands and laughing evilly. BWAHAHAHA!


Before scientific forensic tests, poisoners had far more freedom. Current pathologists’ tests uncover most poisons and, fortunately, create a hardship for villains. Since my current trilogy is historical, my villain is safe from sophisticated forensics. But not, of course, from my hero and heroine. Many poisons leave tell tale signs that even a medieval physician could detect. All readers know that cyanide leaves a distinctive smell and blue coloration of the victim’s lips for a while after death. Advanced arsenic poisoning colors the fingernails at the base. Can you believe women used to use arsenic to control their weight? I’d love to be thin, but not that way! Women also used to deliberately ingest tape worms supposedly as a help with their weight. But that's another post.


For my current Men of Stone Mountain trilogy, I studied poisons available in the Southwest where the book is set. In the first of my trilogy, BRAZOS BRIDE, heroine Hope Montoya is being poisoned. She doesn’t know the killer’s identity or type of poison, but she is an intelligent woman and deduces the poison is administered through her food and/or her tonic. Although she is severely weakened by the contaminant, she devises a plan to escape and gain an ally. The key is to convince Micah Stone to wed her in a temporary marriage of convenience. What would convince him? As is the case now in North Central Texas, a drought has Micah’s cattle dying for lack of water. I don't want you to think Texas is always arid, so here's a photo  while the spring bluebonnets were in bloom:

Photo by my friend Nelda Liles of Plano, Texas, taken on the spring Bluebonnet Trail near Ennis, Texas


Hope Montoya knows someone is poisoning her, but who? She suspects her mother was also poisoned and knows her father was murdered. Who wants her family eliminated? She vows to fight! She realizes she won’t last the eight months until she turns twenty-five and her uncle no longer controls her or her estate. Never will she be dominated by a man as she was by her father, as she has seen her mother and grandmothers dominated. If she marries, she gains control now, but only if she weds a man she can trust. Only one man meets her requirements. Can she trust him to protect her and capture the killer...but then to leave? She offers him cash plus land adjoining the Brazos River to save his cattle.

Brazos River near where Hope's ranch is located and near my home

Micah Stone has been in love with Hope since the first time he saw her. But he was accused of her father’s murder and surely would have hung if not for his two brothers’ aid. Most in the community still believe him guilty. But the drought has him too worried about water for his dying cattle to care about his neighbors’ opinions. When Hope proposes a paper marriage in exchange for land on the Brazos River and much needed cash, her offer rubs his pride raw. His name may be Stone, but he’s not made of it. He can’t refuse her for long, and so their adventure begins. Can he save Hope before the killer succeeds and kills both of them?

A Jimmy Thomas cover from


She looked at her hands. Perhaps she was unreasonable. Or maybe insane for sympathizing with a man who'd had to work harder because of her family.
"I know it is an odd situation. If—if you wear your shirt and britches, I guess it would be all right if you slept on top of the cover here." She patted the bed beside her.

He froze. Not a muscle moved, and he only stared at her. Had she misunderstood? Did he think her offer too forward?

She babbled, "That is, if you want to. You said I should trust you. Well, maybe you would be more comfortable where you are." Why didn't he say something? Would he prefer sleeping in a chair to sharing the bed?

From the street below, she heard raucous laughter and someone called to a man named Ben. Music from a piano, she supposed in the saloon, drifted in through the open windows. A gust of breeze moved the curtains and slid across her skin. In this room, though, there was no sound.

Slowly, he rose and extinguished the lamp as he moved across the room. She slid one of the pillows beside hers then scooted down. What had possessed her to offer him half her bed? Would he think she invited more?

Too late to take it back now, for the mattress dipped as he stretched out. Quaking inside at the thought of him so near, she turned her back to him. She heard his weary sigh, as if he relaxed for the first time in a long while.

"Good night," she offered, and hoped he understood the finality of the phrase.

"Yep. Good night, Mrs. Stone." The mattress shook as he turned his back to her. She felt the soles of his feet press against her ankles. He must be several inches too long for the bed and she guessed he had to bend his legs to fit. She didn't dare turn to see firsthand.

She lay perfectly still, afraid to take a deep breath. Soon his breathing changed and she knew he slept. Outside the open window the town quieted and the distant tinkling of the piano was the only sound. Light from the full moon illuminated the room and slanted across the bed. A soft breeze drifted across her, lulling her in its caress.

With a sigh, she fought to relax, but abdominal pain kept her awake no matter how her body cried for rest. Perhaps if she planned, she’d forget the pain and chills that racked her frame.

Plan, yes. She needed a plan for food preparation when she returned to her home. No, Micah said he had a plan. Oh, dear, once more he took charge when it was her life, her home.

Maybe Aunt Sofia and Uncle Jorge would have left by then and things would be fine. Already she felt more secure. She sensed her eyelids drifting closed and the sleep’s blessed relief approaching.

A gunshot ripped apart the night.

The blast startled her and she screamed as something thudded near her head, showering her hair and face with splinters. Panic immobilized her. What had happened?

Micah dragged her onto the floor as a bullet ripped into the mattress.

Did that capture your interest? I hope so!


Here is the buy link at Amazon Kindle where BRAZOS BRIDE  is available in print and e-book:

The buy link for the e-book at Smashwords is:

Nook's buy link is:

Thank you for stopping by!

Caroline Clemmons writes mystery, romance, and adventures—although her earliest made up adventures featured her saving the West with Roy Rogers. Her career has included stay-at-home mom (her favorite job), newspaper reporter and featured columnist, assistant to the managing editor of a psychology journal, and bookkeeper. ♥ Now she writes full time and loves it! ♥ She and her husband live in rural North Central Texas with a menagerie of rescued pets. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with family, reading, travel, browsing antique malls and estate sales, and delving into genealogy/family history.


Excerpts from some of her exceptional reviews can be found on her Website at View her Blog posts Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at and find book reviews, giveaways, interview, and miscellany.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Gift

As many of you know, I'm Canadian and our Thanksgiving was last month. Since Under A Texas Star is, funnily enough, set in the United States, I feel like I should celebrate the holiday with my my characters. It's a bit of a departure for the blog, but it's a holiday, right?

A Cherryville Thanksgiving

Adele Gumm fussed over the sash on her best dress and then mentally chastised herself for such foolishness. Who was going to care what an old maid wore to dinner, even if it was at the Doctor’s house. It wasn’t as if she had a proper mirror to check herself in. The square glass over the wash stand was just big enough and clear enough to look for stray chalk smudges and loose strands of hair.

She adjusted the sash again.

The pale pink silk had stood up well to years in a trunk. Nor had the rose satin sash lost any of its colour. Certainly, both still whiffed a bit of cedar and lavender, but it wasn’t an unpleasant smell. If she put a sprig of lavender in her hair...

She pushed the thought away.  She was a school marm, not a debutante. Those days were decades behind her. This dress was one of the few relics of that time and she wouldn’t have pulled it out if Rebecca Pincus hadn’t insisted. She only hoped she didn't look like mutton dressed as lamb.

There was a business-like knock on the door.

“Sheriff Langtree! What in heavens?”

The sheriff was always neatly dressed but today he was in his best frock coat and wore an elaborately knotted black cravat.

He gave her a small bow. “The Doc and Mrs Pincus asked if I would drive you into town.”

This was utter foolishness. The school and Adele’s nearby cabin were, strictly speaking, outside Cherryville proper, on land granted primarily because it was mostly useless. Cherryville was quickly growing outward and the walk to the Doctor’s house wouldn’t have been more than a half a mile.

It was more foolish to argue.

“Very well,” said Adele. She reached for her cloak which, unlike her gown, was best described as serviceable. She draped her work-a-day cloak over one arm and looped the other through the sheriff’s. It was late November, which meant the heat of the Kansas summer had finally given way to comfortable temperatures. The night would be cool, hence the cloak, but for now Adele was quite comfortable as she was driven into town in the doctor’s surrey.

The first – and almost last time she wore the pink gown, she rode in a proper carriage. An aunt had invited her to Boston to meet society and find a husband. If she made a good match, her aunt would do the same for Adele’s younger sister Elizabeth. Instead, Adele found love and ran away with a junior officer. His commanding officer assured the young couple that he would give his permission for the wedding after the regiment sorted out some problems in Texas.

“You all right, Miss Gumm?”

“Just fine, Sheriff. Keep your eyes on the road.”

Everything hardship Adele endured grew out of that one impulsive decision to run away, including, she had to admit, the loss of her own niece who ran after that ne’er do well con artist Charlie Meese. That snake in the grass who fooled her, Adele Gumm, into thinking he’d be a fine match for young Marly.

“I said I’m fine, Sheriff Langtree.”

“We’re here, Miss Gumm.”

Adele took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Sheriff. My mind was elsewhere.”

“Would you like a moment to compose yourself?”

“Thank you, sir.”

Now Sheriff Langtree would have been a better match for Marly, if she had only seen it. A little old for her, perhaps, but he would have taken care of her and kept her close. Instead, her niece had taken up with a Texas Ranger. A southerner. Two strikes against him. Texas had taken away the love of her life and southern rebels had taken away her beloved sister.

She sighed. No. The war in Texas had taken Joseph away from her and while a reb had killed her sister, another had saved Marly. Further, she had no one to blame but herself that Marly then ran away from her home.

“I’m ready, Sheriff.”

Langtree whistled up one of the neighbourhood boys before swinging Adele lightly to the ground. He tossed the boy a nickle to take the horse and equipage to the livery, then offered his arm to the lady.

Rebecca met them at the door. “Adele, you look lovely!”

Adele gave a slight sniff to show that such things weren’t important to her, then unbent enough to murmur, “Always liked this dress.”

“Well, you look twenty years younger, doesn’t she, Seth?”

Doctor Pincus took Adele’s cloak and gave Adele an appraising once over. “Miss Gumm has always been a model of good health. Further I shall not say lest I make my wife jealous.”

Adele smiled at the jest. It was a Thanksgiving dinner, after all. She should enjoy herself and be thankful instead of dwelling on her losses.

When Joseph was killed, Elizabeth, who had no interest in a being a Boston debutante introduced Adele to the society of abolitionists, whose cause the two sisters took up. Together with Elizabeth’s new husband and newer baby girl, they emigrated to Kansas, determined to make the new territory free. Adele had been back east, raising funds and awareness for the cause when Elizabeth died, but she was reunited with her niece. That was something to be thankful for, as were the years of trouble and delight the headstrong girl brought her.

The chatter of voices in the parlour cut through Adele’s thoughts.

“How many people are here tonight? You should have let me bring something. I could have made my green bean casserole.”

Rebecca grinned. “After insisting on you put on your finery for the evening, I wasn’t about to ask for more. Come on, my dear. There are a people waiting to see you.”

Adele was used to being greeted by silence when she walked into the classroom. She had her students well trained. She didn’t usually have this effect elsewhere.

Parson Garfield was looking practically slack jawed. Since he was also chair of the School Board, Adele hoped she wasn’t in for a dressing down because she had dressed up.

Mrs Ripley was looking a bit sour. As the banker’s wife, she was used to wearing the finest dresses at any party. Her husband was looking at her with undisguised appreciation and that was more worrying.

There were two other people in the room. Adele pegged the tall, muscular young man as a lawman and wondered if he was a friend of the sheriff’s. The woman on his arm was simply, but elegantly dressed in an ivory gown almost as fine as her pink silk. Her auburn hair was pulled up into a Grecian knot with curling tendrils framing her very familiar face.


“Aunt Adele?” The young lady pressed her hands to her cheeks. “Wow!”

Adele laughed. That was her Marly. You could dress her up but...

That’s as far as Adele got in her thoughts. Marly was crushing her in a tight hug. Words like “Sorry” and “I’ve missed you” and “You wouldn’t believe” tumbled out of the girl’s mouth in a confusion until Adele held her at arm’s length.

“Look at you. A hero and a lady all at once.”

“And look at you, Aunt Adele. Jase isn’t going to believe you’re really my old aunt looking like that. You’re gorgeous!”

Introductions followed. The tall, handsome lawman wasn’t bad for a Texas. Jason Strachan was a good name. She had seen it in the telegram the sheriff sent back when he found Marly and was pleased that it was pronounced properly “Strawn”, not phonetically "Strack-ann".

“Now, Aunt Adele, don’t be angry,” Marly said, looking genuinely worried, “but Jase and I have already been married. He insisted. Said he had to make me respectable.”

Jase groaned and looked heavenwards.

“Good luck with that,” said Adele.

“That’s what I said too,” said Marly. “I’m sorry we couldn’t wait to marry, but we haven’t had our wedding supper yet. That’s tonight.” Marly turned to Parson Garfield. “We’re hoping you’ll do a blessing or something.”

Adele started to laugh. It wasn’t long before everyone – with the possible exception of Marly – joined in. Rebecca recovered first and ordered everyone into dining room.

“You can bless the bride and groom later,” she told the parson, who had managed to nab the seat next Adele’s. “First, let us give thanks.”


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Crazy Horse and the Sioux - Were they bullied?

I, Ginger Simpson, love the history channel, and of course when a recent presentation dealt with the history of Crazy Horse of the Sioux, I was glued to the screen.  I'm sharing portions of that program with you to demonstrate that bullying has been around for ages, and no matter what we do, it's highly unlikely we'll every be able to stop it.

Back in the 1840s, the waving grasses, flowing streams, and distant hills of the Dakota plains were considered sacred.  Only those children of the red man's Great Spirit wandered them without fear.  They lived simply until conflict with the white man began, but until then, the peaceful and harmonious ways of the Sioux tribe were the custom during the time Crazy Horse was born to become a great leader of his people..

Near Rapid Creek, South Dakota, the Sioux dominated the plains, consisting of several bands, with Crazy Horse being from the Ogalala Lakota.. Their size and strength gave them control of the largest territory, protecting their lands from the neighboring Crow, Irikara, Araphoe and Shoshone.  Over the years, by driving back these intruders as a reminder to whom the land belonged,  the Sioux eventually became the most powerful and numerous band along the northern plains.

It's reported that during his vision quest, Crazy Horse received instruction that led to the way in which he lived his life.  For four days he fasted in solitude to open his mind and body to the Great Spirit's word. The young warrior was shown a future in which he would avoid adornment, seek simplicity and go into battle without fear. The arms of his people would protect him.  Although he rode closest to the soldiers, he was never wounded.  His people assumed he possessed special characteristics and spiritual medicine that protected him.

Despite his mysterious aura and self-imposed separation from people, he soon became the second most powerful leader; the first being Sitting Bull.  Although there is very little documenting the life of Crazy Horse, oral history from his ancestors tell how he stood out at a very early age. More fair-skinned than his brotherhood, and having curly brown hair, his black eyes hardly maintained eye contact. He seemed shy and withdrawn, but never remiss in defending his homeland.  His story has been long a legend among the people but other information about him was written by the whites and showed prejudice rather than recognition as a truly talented and admired warrior. Despite the abundance of photographs taken of other chiefs and tribal members, either through an aversion to photography or his shyness, no pictures of this legendary warrior exist..

White American Society began moving onto the Sioux land in the 1850s, and shortly after, life changed.. With interest drawn by the abundant herds of animals moving along the impinging trails, the occasional pilfering of a cow or horse resulted in complaints being lodged with the armies who occupied the many forts built along the traveled paths to protect the white settlers. The Sioux assumed the infantry would disregard the infrequent theft reports and engaged in trade with some of the whites. These types of offenses were handled by Indian Agents with great success.  Although the practice of interacting with the whites introduced the Sioux to many new things, it also brought to them diseases previously unknown to them, making them wary of these intruders to their land.  The Sioux were also wrong in their assumptions about the army and their treaties..

The first dispute along the Great Platte Road resulted because of one lone cow  It was 1854, and the sick and lame animal wandered from a Mormon wagon train into Conquering Bear's camp at a time when Crazy Horse was there.  Approximately 4,000 Brule and Ogalala Sioux camped peacefully, according to their treaty of 1851, when Lt. Hugh Fleming and a small garrison consulted with the chief about the return of the animal.  The owner demanded $25.00 instead of a replacement cow or horse taken from the Chief's own personal herd.  Lt. Fleming demanded the brave who killed the cow be delivered to the fort, but the Chief refused.  The slayer of the animal was a visiting Miniconjou, and the Chief did not want to appear inhospitable..

Upon the reports of the refusal of cooperation, Second Lt. John Grattan led a detachment into the Indian camp.  As a recent graduate of West Point and inexperienced with dealing with the Sioux's ability, Grattan's determination to carry out his job led to Chief Conquering Bear being shot in the back, whereupon the Sioux dispensed with the twenty-nine men who started the fracas.  At the time, the Indian Agent was in the process of returning to the area with the required re-compensation.

It was this ridiculous argument that resulted in General William S. Harney, leading a garrison of 600 men to teach the Lakota a lesson.  He found the Indians peacefully camped and unaware of the pending attack, slaughtering over eighty men, women and children.  During this time, Crazy Horse was away from camp, training a pony, and upon his return once again witnessed the brutality of the paleface he now considered enemy.

So, could things have played out differently?  I think so, but we'll never know because there are always going to be those who need to flex their muscles and prove something to the world.. General William Harney was known to have a mean streak, and his actions later earned him the title of "The Butcher."  His saying "By God, I'm for battle, no peace," proved his intentions.  I'm ashamed to say he was from Tennessee.  We can be like the Sioux an continue to fight for what we believe is right, but will we be anymore successful?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Homesteaders by Lauri Robinson

While driving through Wyoming last year my husband and I talked about what it must have been like to migrate west with little more than a wagon and a dream and what visionaries those pioneers must have been...

The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed a person to claim as much as 160 acres, with the condition that they would improve the property, live on it for five years and pay a fee of approximately $30. Within a few short years over 20,000 pioneers had gone west to stake their claim, and within the next four decades a million more traveled westward to carve a life out of the vast lands. Over two million more purchased land from the railroads, land companies, and/or state governments. What some soon discovered was, though the land was cheap, everything else was expensive. At average, to start a homestead took a minimum of $1,000, translated into 2012 dollars, that would be about $25,000. This was mainly for livestock, equipment, and seed, not building materials for a home or food, etc. 

The influx of people brought new inventions such as special plows and equipment needed, but along with them came new costs, and on average, less than half of the homesteaders actually succeeded. 

Just as the railroad provided ways for cattle ranches to transport their animals, it gave the farmer a way to transport grain. Soon farmers discovered it was more profitable to grow one ‘cash’ crop, and a lot like the cattle barons, they started accumulating large tracts of land to increase profits, especially when John S. Pillsbury of Minneapolis perfected his flour-milling process and the demand for grain increased.   

This wave of homesteaders included women, who worked side by side the men to pursue their dreams, and that, along with the fact in some places there were 100 men for every 1 woman, women of the west were ‘granted’ more ‘privileges’ than those in the east. Land ownership, business ownership, and bringing charges against people or business who wronged them, were a few of the rights women sought and ultimately received in the west, which prompted more eastern women to move west. 

In 1890 the U.S. Census director officially proclaimed there was no more ‘frontier’ in America. 

I wish you all a blessed and happy Thanksgiving. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

A. J. Russell, Photographer Extraordinaire

While researching Double Crossing, I utilized several photos taken by A. J. Russell during the construction of the transcontinental railroad. They came in handy for describing the historical landscapes - completely changed by now, after over 125 years. I didn't think much of these photos, except how convenient they'd been and easy to find on the internet. I saw this photo of the Dale Creek bridge and used it for my book's central danger point -- which I have to admit, came in very handy. Call it exploitation, if you will.

Shame on me.

I didn't consider the man behind the camera lens. These photos are true gems, taken by a courageous American. They are more than mere historical photos of a time period in our country's history. They reflect a rugged natural world, true. But they also reflect the man who carried his equipment across country, sharing the ordeals of the laborers who built the railroad, the tough conditions experienced by surveyors, the hastily built bridges and tracks laid down in the race against time between the Union and Central Pacific railroad companies. Russell was present at Promontory, also, for the famous May celebration in 1869.

Born and raised in New York, Andrew J. Russell worked as a portrait and landscape painter. Perhaps that's where he developed such an eye for grandeur. In 1862, he assisted in organizing the local militia to serve in the "War of Rebellion." A.J. no doubt trudged along with his Army compatriots and faced the fears and boredom until getting an opportunity in February of 1863 to learn photography. From a cameraman, E.G. Fowx, associated with Matthew Brady's studio--what a happy chance.

Russell became the Army's first official photographer and worked under General Haupt's direction, taking photos of busy army engineers' work -- especially on railroads. Which led to surviving the worst of that time of war, and segued naturally into an interest in photographing the construction of the Union Pacific railroad in 1868, only five years later. By that time, Russell's skills had been surely honed. You can see the evidence in the product. The railroad executives cooperated with Russell, of course, no dummies they, since they needed investors and politicians' support -- along with the public once the line was finished. Even the Shoshone Indians, to the right, posed for a photo. Behind them lies the unspoiled west, soon to host sprawling suburbs and strip malls within a hundred years.

Russell traveled three times out west between 1868 and 1869, with multiple cameras, chemicals, glass plates plus a portable darkroom. Yes, *glass* plates. And chemicals. Cameras like the Brownie box style or handy  Polaroids and digital models hadn't been invented back then, too bad. But despite the difficulties, using his own "wet-plate" negatives, Russell documented the railroad's construction work. Amazing.

We have much to be thankful for when seeing these photographs. They show the American west at its most innocent, unspoiled time. Russell's work -- 200+ negatives and 400+ stereographs -- has a home in the Oakland Museum. They portray a changing America, a healing America, and the one major engineering feat that brought East and West together via the transcontinental railroad. His images were used in advertising, in a book put out by the Union Pacific, to illustrate guides for travelers and for public lecturers talking about the American West.

I don't know how much Russell earned from his photographs. Probably not enough. The photo to the right was taken by General Haupt, probably during the War of Rebellion -- known now as the Civil War, although there was nothing civil about it. He looks young, an adventurer and willing to undertake just about anything. Especially a project as daunting as traveling out west before the railroads had been completed.

Russell died in 1902, back in New York. I'd like to raise a Thanksgiving toast to Mr. Russell's memory. Thanks, A.J. We'd never have seen the west before it was truly conquered if not for your work.

Images courtesy of

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Real First Thanksgiving(s)

Cowboy turkey
Did you know the first Thanksgiving in the future United States took place on Texas soil? No, I’m not making that up. It happened on May 23, 1541. Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado held the feast to celebrate finding food supplies. At that time, he and his men were camped in Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle. Feasting with them were Indians Coronado referred to as Tejas.
Another Thanksgiving took place on April 30, 1598. Don Juan de Oñate had been granted land in the northern Rio Grand Valley (in New Mexico) by the viceroy of New Spain. The usual route through Mexico followed the Rio Conchos to the Rio Grande, then turned north along that river into New Mexico. However the don wanted a more direct route, so he sent Vincente de Zaldívar to blaze a trail across the Chihuahuan Desert to the area of present day El Paso, Texas. Zaldívar experienced great hardship in his quest to locate water sources along the route, but when he reported back, he apparently did not tell Oñate just how bad the conditions were.
Consequently, in March 1598, Don Oñate began his trek north with a cavalcade of 500 soldiers, Franciscan missionaries, and colonists, including women and children, and some 7,000 head of livestock. First, they encountered heavy rain, then terrible drought, as well as trouble with Indians. They ran completely out of food and water before they reached the Rio Grande and were reduced to scrounging for roots and rare desert plants to survive. Both humans and animals suffered greatly from thirst.
Finally reaching the Rio Grande, Oñate and his followers took ten days to recover. Then he commanded they hold a day of thanks for their survival. For the feast, the Spaniards supplied game, while Manso Indians brought fish. The missionaries said mass and Oñate declared all land drained by the Rio Grande to be the possession of Spain’s King Philip II.
One member of the expedition wrote of the feast, “We built a great bonfire and roasted the meat and fish, and then all sat to a repast the like of which we had never enjoyed before . . . .” Begun in April 1989, El Paso now commemorates Oñate’s day of thanksgiving.
Note: Some historians insist the first Thanksgiving in the future U.S. took place on April 3, 1513, when Juan Ponce De Leon and his men landed on the Florida coast. They gave thanks as they waded ashore. However, I didn’t find any mention of a feast.
In 1842, Sam Houston, president of the young Texas Republic, gave thanks “. . . to render evidence of national blessings . . . and a profound belief in an Almighty God.” He established March 2 as Texas Independence Day and asked Texans to attend church on that day.
In 1848, two years after Texas joined the Union, Governor George T. Wood proclaimed the first Texas State Thanksgiving. By this act, Texas became the first southern state to celebrate a day of thanks.
  Texas Happy Thanksgiving  

Friday, November 9, 2012

Jacquie Rogers -- Sourdough Baking: Part 3, Sourdough Biscuits

Sourdough was the most common yeast used in the Old West.  Believe me, it wasn't a hardship.  Delicious!  My family prefers it over regular yeast bread.  By far. One of my family's all-time favorites is sausage gravy and sourdough biscuits.  We don't have it often but it's sure a treat when we do.

So now let's get cooking. :)  

If you have a sourdough starter, go for it.  If you don't, check out Sourdough Baking: Part 2 to make one.

Sourdough Biscuits
Truly, truly, a Food of Love!

(Feed starter the night before: 2 cups flour and 2 cups water, if you don't have enough.)

2 ¾ cups Flour
1 tsp Sugar or Honey
½ tsp Baking soda
½ tsp Salt
1 Tbs Baking powder
¼ cup Butter
2 cups Starter
½ cup Milk

Cut butter into dry ingredients. Stir in milk and starter. Knead on floured surface about 30 seconds. Pat to ½" thick (or a little thicker, but not thinner), cut into biscuits, place in greased pan. Let rest at least 30 minutes (or a couple of hours--sourdough isn’t picky). Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes depending on your oven (I bake them at 425 degrees for 18 minutes). When done, turn out on rack so the bottoms don’t get soggy.

Don’t forget to feed starter for tomorrow!

New covers!  Yes, the ♥ Hearts of Owyhee ♥ books all have new covers now, so here's the unveiling!

5 stars from romantchick: Nancy Drew meets William Shakespeare ...hilarious characters, memorable colloquialisms, a clever, engaging plot and fine writing. All of which recommends Rogers's Much Ado About Marshals as everything to do about a charming, well-written romp.

A romantic trip to the Old West stamped with Jacquie Rogers' special brand of humor.
 ~ Caroline Clemmons, author of Brazos Bride

FIVE STARS! Jacquie Rogers writes some of the best Historical Romances on today's market. Not content to simply write a plot and toss in a lot of bed scenes and/or filler, this author adds in subplots, humor, action, suspense, and some endearing strays. ~Detra Fitch, Huntress Reviews

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Grain of Truth or More? by Paty Jager

I attended a conference the end of October with writers of all genres. There were mostly workshops on poetry writing and finding more description, but I attended an evening event that had me giddy afterwards. That sounds a bit strange, but writers who go to a lot of trouble to research will understand my giddiness.

The event was a powerpoint production about a soldier who was General O.O. Howard’s aide during the Nez Perce conflict and who later went on to be one of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce’s greatest advocates. Author George Venn has published a book about C.E.S Wood, the soldier turned advocate. The power point production included highlights from his book.

Many of the points he told the audience about, I’d found in my research for Spirit of the Sky, my third book in the trilogy about the Nez Perce. This book followed their flight to freedom while being chased by General O.O. Howard. Listening to Venn talk about Lt. Charles Erskine Wood, I discovered, had I stumbled across more about him in my research, he could have been the catalyst for my hero, Lt. Watts.

Only Wood was married with five children and a philanderer, so he wouldn’t have made good hero material. But his advocacy for the Nez Perce parallels my hero’s passion to treat the Indians as people rather than a plague.

 Wood didn’t want to be a soldier; he wanted to be a writer and artist. He drew many scenes from the battles and the chase. He sent these drawing to magazines and newspapers in the East and they were attributed to “an Officer in General Howard’s Staff.” He didn’t want the Army to know who was sending the scathing depictions to the news.

 He also kept a journal and wrote of the atrocities he saw and the feelings of the men around him. While his sketches give a very clear view of the battles that were waged, his writings in some instances were a bit “colored”.

 When the war was ending and afterward, Wood helped Howard protect his reputation after having been thwarted for months by the Nez Perce, but helping his superior didn’t stop him from admiring the Nez Perce. He used this admiration and his skill at drawing to give the public a look at the life of the Nez Perce. In his writings, he praised the Nez Perce. After the surrender, he interviewed Chief Joseph and made drawings of the chief and his infant daughter sending those drawings along with other Nez Perce individuals to New York.

 Wood was the General’s aide who took down, or as some say, “wrote” the “Chief Joseph Surrender Speech”. It’s been suggested the first sentence was written as the soldier advocating for his General and the rest as a Nez Perce advocate. No one, including Joseph, ever clearly stated there was a “Chief Joseph Surrender Speech”. But on Oct. 5, 1877 Wood began to publish, recite and revise what today is known as the “Chief Joseph Surrender Speech”.

  “Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. The old men area all killed. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are, perhaps freezing to death. I want time to look for my children and seek how m many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more.”

In 1884 Wood published a full-length pro-Nez Perce story about the 1877 conflict titled “Chief Joseph, The Nez Perce”. Wood became friends with Joseph, and later when Joseph and his family were at the Colville Reservation, Wood sent one of his boys to spend two summers with Joseph.

 It is Lt. Wood seeing the Nez Perce as people and not savages or beasts that I gave my hero in Spirit of the Sky. My hero, Lt. Watts, begins the story with compassion and as he carries out his orders and comes to see the Nez Perce as contemporaries through the eyes and emotions of the heroine, he becomes their advocate inside the Army that is trying to make an example of the Non-treaty Nez Perce.

Blurb for Spirit of the Sky To save her from oppression, he must save her whole tribe. To give her his heart, he must desert his career… When the US Army forces the Nimiipuu from their land, Sa-qan, the eagle spirit entrusted with watching over her tribe, steps in to save her mortal niece. Challenging the restrictions of the spirit world, Sa-qan assumes human form and finds an unexpected ally in a handsome cavalry officer. Certain she is a captive, Lt. Wade Watts, a Civil War veteran, tries to help the blonde woman he finds sheltering a Nez Perce child. While her intelligent eyes reveal she understands his language, she refuses his help. But when Wade is wounded, it is the beautiful Sa-qan who tends him. Wade wishes to stop the killing—Sa-qan will do anything to save her people. Can their differences save her tribe? Or will their love spell the end of the Nimiipuu?

  Soldier to Advocate:C.E.S. Wood’s 1877 Legacy by George Venn
Hear Me, My Cheifs! By L.V. McWhorter

Monday, November 5, 2012

Saloon Tokens

My start into writing historical western romances began with Sarah’s Brass Token. When I first began, the working title was Sarah’s Wooden Nickel. I soon discovered that the wooden nickel came into play long after this story took place so I had to find another title. Research led me to tokens.
Saloons and places for adult entertainment wanted customers to return so whenever they had to make change, instead of giving the patron a half penny, etc, they gave them tokens that were only good in their establishment.  Of course the use of tokens wasn’t limited to just saloons. General stores, drug stores, mills, coal mines, barbers were among other merchants who utilized tokens in daily transactions.  Most were made from cheaper metals like brass.

I found a wonderful site for listing tokens used in saloons from 1870 – 1920 so for those curious please take a gander at Saloon Tokens.

Here’s a brief excerpt from Sarah’s Brass Token (soon to be rereleased)

                “No need for name calling, Scratch,” Horace said. “Sarah has a right to be here like anyone else.”

                “But she ain’t got the right to shop if she ain’t got no funds.” Scratch sidled up to Sarah and leaned his weight against the counter. He fished in his pocket and withdrew what appeared to be a coin, before he grabbed Sarah’s hand and planted the object on her palm. “Anytime you need a job, you jest come see me.”
               Sarah stared at her hand, and the color drained from her face. Tabor took another step closer, intent on seeing what she held, and Sally May peered over her shoulder.              
                “What is it?” Sally May asked. “I don’t think I’ve seen a coin like that before.”
                “You don’t need to know what it is.” Horace narrowed his eyes. “Fetch five more air-tights of peaches for Mr. Nates, Sally May. Mr. Davis, you’d best be careful not to spread your filth in my establishment.”
                Scratch chuckled, and Tabor sensed the tension mounting as everyone waited for Sarah’s reaction.
~ * ~
                Sarah’s fingers curled around the brass token and stuffed it into her pocket. She’d suffered many indignities since moving to Banjo, but none more searing than the insult now hidden between folds of material. A more naive woman wouldn’t know its meaning, but Sarah knew. She’d been propositioned once before with just such a token. Scratch sold them to his customers at the Sassy Lady to use as coin for “special services.” That way his ladies couldn’t cheat him. He’d made no secret of his wish to add her to his harem.
                 As Sarah struggled for control, her eyes darted about the crowded shop. She paused when she saw Tabor Nolan standing to the side, obviously feigning interest in a display of knives. Rather than comfort her, his proximity disarmed her.
                Oh, God. He witnessed my humiliation. He knows. He knows my circumstances.
                Gathering her wits, she took a deep breath, wishing anew the humid day hadn’t left wet patches on her already stained dress.

Currently, I'm polishing this story some more for rerelease and hope to have it available to readers again by Christmas. In the meantime, I invite you to look at my website;

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Spirit of Mattie

By: Peggy L Henderson

Kite Hill Graveyard near Mammoth Hot Springs
Since it’s only a few days after Halloween, I thought it wouldn’t be too far out to write about ghosts and spirits.
Several ghost stories float around about Yellowstone National Park. There is the headless bride that haunts the famous Old Faithful Inn. There is the story of the vanishing hitchhiker, several Crow and Bannock spirit legends; just to name a few.
The one story that intrigued me was the one of Mattie’s spirit.  Not only is her story one of myth and mystery, but it is also a timeless love story.
There are two graveyards within Yellowstone National Park. One is the military yard at Fort Yellowstone, the other one is called Kite Hill near Mammoth Hot Springs, which holds fourteen civilian graves. Some of those graves are unidentified. Two of the graves are of people who committed suicide, one was murdered, and one died in an avalanche.
There are also eight known graves scattered throughout Yellowstone. One of these graves has been of special interest to a lot of people. It is said to contain the spirit of Martha Jane Shipley Culver. She was born on September 18, 1856. She was known as Mattie all her life.
Mattie grew up working in textile mills in Massachusetts, where tuberculosis was common. When she was seven years old, her father was killed in the Civil War, which forced her family to separate and live with various relatives. When her sister Millie married, Mattie went with them to Montana in search of a new life. The textile mills had already taken their toll on Mattie, and she might have already known that she had tuberculosis.
Mattie, her sister and brother-in-law homesteaded near Billings, Montana, and that was where she met Eugene Gillett in 1882. After a one-year marriage, Eugene died tragically of tuberculosis.
For years, she lived alone at the Park Hotel in Billings, until she met the newly appointed manager, Ellery Culver. The two shared many of the same experiences from early childhood. Ellery served in the Civil War like Mattie’s father, and later worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad like her first husband. They married in 1886. A year later, Mattie gave birth to a daughter, Theda Culver.
Firehole River
Ellery Culver accepted a job in Yellowstone National Park as Master of Transportation with the Yellowstone Association and set off for the park. Mattie joined him later, and the family resided at the Firehole Hotel, situated along the banks of that river.  In the fall, they returned to Billings to spend the winter there. By their second year, in 1888, Mattie knew she was dying. Her husband’s job required him to travel to nearby towns, but Mattie decided to stay in the park that she’d come to love, and she even spent the winter there rather than return to Billings.
Mattie died on March 2, 1889. Her tombstone reads that she was thirty years old, but she was actually thirty-two.
Nez Perce Creek Picnic Area along Firehole River. Near site of Maddie's grave
When she died, the ground was too frozen, and there was too much snow to dig a grave. Soldiers stationed in the park placed Mattie’s body in two barrels laid end to end, and covered them with snow. A week later, her husband and a friend prepared a real grave for his wife’s final resting place. They used a partition from the Firehole Hotel that had been her home, and a place that she loved, and fashioned a coffin. Ellery buried his wife along the banks of the Firehole River.
Ellery took his one-year old daughter to live with Mattie’s sister Millie, who had moved west to Washington. Hearing  the spirit of his wife calling him back to Yellowstone, Ellery returned to work in and around the park, drawn to the Firehole area where Mattie lived and died. In 1891, the Firehole Hotel was burned down to make way for a new hotel some miles away. This left Mattie’s grave in solitude along the river.
Tragedy once again struck Ellery, when his daughter Theda became ill, and at nineteen years old, answered her mother’s call and died.
Poor health forced Ellery to move to California, where he died in 1922. The park service would not allow his body to be buried alongside his wife in Yellowstone, and people who have visited his grave in California swear that he is not there, but has joined his beloved wife along the banks of the Firehole River.
Many people who have visited Mattie’s grave are repeatedly drawn back to the area. It is said that her spirit walks along the riverbank, and if you listen closely, you can hear her humming to the birds and animals, and beckon you to return time and again.
 --from Yellowstone Ghost Stories

(all photos are my personal property)