Friday, March 29, 2013

The Sears House ~ Ellen O'Connell

The story I’m currently working on (as yet untitled) is my first sequel and features a hero and heroine who were children in 1881–2 in Beautiful Bad Man. That puts the new story up to the turn of the century, later than anything I’ve done in the past.

In researching, as usual I went off on interesting tangents, and one of the most interesting was finding out about the Sears house, a little later still, but such a historical tidbit I can’t help but share.

Starting in 1908 and ending in 1940, customers could mail order complete houses from Sears, Roebuck and Co. through what was called their Modern Home program. Sears shipped via rail everything single thing needed to build the house of your choice right down to the nails. (I can’t help but wonder—did you get the exact number of nails needed? Did they make an allowance of some percentage for bent and ruined ones?)

The illustration included here (which is now in the public domain) is for House #115. I don’t know if you’ll be able to read it on your screen, but the price for this house is $725. In the Sears archives, I found prices ranging from $452–$2,906 for different models sold in the 1908–1914 time period.

Sears destroyed its records of sales of these houses after discontinuing the program, but during the years of the Modern Home program, the company sold between 70,000 and 75,000 houses in 447 styles. The customer could choose to have central heating and plumbing packages with his house (or order an outhouse).

Lumber was shipped precut and fitted. The houses included a new framing system that made building easier. Drywall and asphalt shingles were new building materials that superseded the previous plaster and lathe walls and wood or tin roofs that required more expertise to construct.

The houses were of excellent quality and some are now designated as historical buildings. Since there are no longer records, a house has to be identified as a Sears house nowadays by certain identifying marks or characteristics.

I see modular houses clogging up the highways as they’re transported by truck along the highways sometimes, and in remote areas of Colorado modulars are more common than“stick-built” houses, but somehow the idea of prefab houses being shipped so long ago and put up by their new owners the way barns were raised in the good old days tickles my fancy. I really wanted these houses to fit in my time frame and include one in the story, but darn it they came along a little too late.

Monday, March 25, 2013


Don’t you love a nice series where a favorite hero and heroine reappear as secondary characters in a later book? Characters become our friends and we applaud when a hero or heroine we admired reappears in the cast of a new book. Series and linked books apparently remain popular through the ebbs and flows of subgenres.

A series can center around members of the same family, as in my Men of Stone Mountain series about the three Stone brothers. Others series feature characters who live in the same locale, such as Jacquie Rogers’ Hearts of Owyhee/Much Ado series. Lyn Horner’s Texas Druid series features siblings who share paranormal traits and come from Ireland to Texas. In fact, I believe the other authors on this blog each have had well-received series.

When setting up my Men of Stone Mountain series, I chose North Central Texas due to a fondness for the region in which I live. The site of fictitious Stone Mountain is near where the current Possum Kingdom Lake stands, plus surrounding ranch land, and is only an hour away from my home. A tour to the pioneer Belding-Gibson Ranch inspired me and I chose that ranch as it now stands and as it was for my stories--with a few fictitious alterations, of course. 

BRAZOS BRIDE is set at the main ranch, but with a Spanish-style hacienda instead of the actual home. HIGH STAKES BRIDE is set adjoining the first ranch for the most part, with parts on and in a mountain. BLUEBONNET BRIDE is set in the fictitious town of Radford Springs, which would be near Possum Kingdom Lake. 

The original Belding cedar log cabin on the right
and the smokehouse on the left are
now incorporated into the ranch house.
The Belding family descended from Henry Belding, a man who pioneered this area back when Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache were genuine threats. In spite of hardships, the ranch prospered and grew, but has been divided over the generations. Currently, the Belding-Gibson Ranch is operated by Barbara (Belding) and Charles Gibson. They honor their heritage and preserve the ranch's traditions. Theirs is a beautiful land and their home incorporates the original cabin as a bathroom and the smokehouse as a storage room/pantry. The cold room is now part of a hallway. I loved visiting this beautiful ranch when it was open for touring one day several years ago. Barbara Belding Gibson wrote a book about the ranch, PAINTED POLE: THE BELDINGS AND THEIR RANCHES IN PALO PINTO COUNTY, 2001, Sunbelt Eakin Press, that aided me in my research.  

Part of the Palo Pinto Mountains from a valley

This region is the Palo Pinto Mountains, which look like large hills to people from some areas, but geographically are genuine mountains. The Comanche named them Palo Pinto, which means painted post or painted pole, due to the way the scrub oaks covering them turn bright colors in the fall. There are also cedar and live oaks as well as the usual elm, cottonwood, hackberry, and other native trees to give a nice variety to the landscape. Fat cattle graze on this land and oil wells dot the area. 

Money on the hoof in good times;
a liability in drought times

 In my Men of Stone Mountain series, as well as being linked by siblings, poison plays a role in each book. Finding the right poison was an interesting task, and I think I came up with three that will prove perfect for the stories. Research on native Texas plants that could be used as poison proved interesting and, on the other hand, frightening that deadly poisons are so plentiful and easy to locate. Scared yet? Of course not, because you know these are romances and that by the end of the series all major characters will have found true love. But getting there is a pleasant experience (I hope) because there are surprises and mysteries in store along the way. 

Posionous Pokeweed, which some people
boil three times, pour off the water each
time, then serve as greens. But not to me!

Oleander blooms. Lovely but
don't taste any part of them!
Needless to say, I didn't conduct actual experiments from my poison research. Um, that's my story. Honest.

Here’s a brief glimpse of the Men of Stone Mountain series.

BRAZOS BRIDE, book one: Hope Montoya knows someone is poisoning her, but who and why elude her. She’s grown weak from the poison, and needs help. To whom can she turn? Both her parents have died, and she suspects they also were murdered by the same person targeting her. She seeks help from Micah Stone. He is outside the circle of people who might have wanted her dead. Micah’s cattle are dying from lack of water in the current drought. He needs access to the Brazos River. When Hope proposes a paper marriage, his is offended. He’s loved her since the first time he met her, and he can’t refuse her. His brothers Zach and Joel pitch in to help protect their new sister-in-law. Trouble dogs them with one disaster after another. Can Micah discover the killer before he and Hope become victims?
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HIGH STAKES BRIDE, book two: Zach Stone envisions himself as the head of a ranching empire with a dutiful wife by his side seeing to his comfort and a passel of children. When he comes across Alice Price, nothing goes as he plans. Alice is “event prone” and either stumbles onto or causes once crisis after another. She’s on the run from two stepbrothers who’ve promised her as payment in a gambling debt to the meanest man in Texas or Mexico. She throws in with Zach to escape, and that’s when Zach’s life gets interesting—more so than he intended. Along the way Zach and Alice find an orphaned boy and his dog to accompany them to Zach’s ranch. His aunts are staying with him to chaperone. Can Alice evade her stepbrothers and make her getaway to New Orleans? What if she decides to stay with Zach? Life is just too complicated for this pair, that is, until fate takes a hand.
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BLUEBONNET BRIDE: Joel Stone is proud of his brothers and the lives they’ve created. Each is married, and he wonders why, as the eldest, he is still single. He’s settled into the life he has as Radford County Sheriff, with his small ranch and his large house in town. As long as his brothers are happy, he’s happy. That is, until he meets the new widow in town and her little girl. Rosalyn Dumas is a dressmaker who captures Joel’s attention the first time he sees her and hears her sultry, Southern voice. Her daughter Lucy takes a shine to Joel right away and calls him Mister Sheriff. Joel knows Rosalyn hides a secret from her past, but he doesn’t care. Rosalyn knows her secret would send her to the gallows if she’s discovered, and she resists her attraction to Joel. A woman on the run from a murder conviction certainly doesn’t need to associate with the sheriff, but he pops up every time she turns around. How long can she evade capture?
Amazon buy link:

I hope that whetted your appetite for this particular series. There are more books planned about people living in Radford Springs, Radford County, Texas. The next one will be released late May, 2013. Watch for substitute mail-order bride Tabitha's story and then a Christmas story in November. Each book is available at iTunes, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, and in print from Create Space.

Here’s the link to my website where you can find my books listed with an excerpt from each:

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cotton, Cowboys and Indians

 When you think of the Old West, what fabrics immediately come to mind?

For me, there are two: denim and calico. It's true, cowboys were as likely to wear canvas or twill pants before Levis Strauss and Jacob Davis invented riveted jeans in 1873, but printed calico staked its claim in American fashions long before that. And both cotton fabrics have a long history before they became associated with the Old West.

Cotton has been cultivated and woven for at least 7,000 years in the Indus Valley (Pakistan) and Mexico. India developed a vital textile industry based on cotton. Through them, calico and muslin was introduced to Europe.

Calico and muslin have a simple weave. Muslin uses bleached cotton and is a more finished product. Calico is unbleached and rougher in texture. Typically, it would be dyed or printed in bright colors. Chintz is calico cloth that has been printed and finished. These printed fabrics were exported to Europe and highly popular with everyone not connected to the wool trade. Since the wool industry had more clout than fashion consumers, trade sanctions protected the wool trade until English and French mills could print the cotton cloth more cheaply than the Indians.
Unlike the larger, bolder floral prints that we associate with chintz and Indian calico, English calico used smaller, denser patterns. It was the Lancashire printed calico that went to America. There, the printed calico was so common that the term "calico" came to mean the print not the cloth.

Natural calico (known as grey cloth in the trade) became known as muslin in America. What the English called muslin became finished muslin.

The devolution of the Indian textile industry by English and French trade sanctions, was capped off by American ingenuity. With the invention of the cotton gin by Ely Whitney, British, French and American mills could produce cheap cotton cloth and no longer relied on importing Indian calico and muslin.

Calico and muslin are simple weaves. There are others. Twill is a weave where pattern of diagonal parallel lines is created by "by passing the weft thread over one or more warp threads and then under two or more warp threads and so on, with a "step" or offset between rows to create the characteristic diagonal pattern." (Wikipedia) Serge is a specific pattern of twill which is very durable.

Using worsted (the type of wool most used for weaving cloth), serge is used for overcoats and uniforms. Serge de Nimes, developed in Nimes, France, used cotton. De Nimes became anglicized to demin, a sturdy, hard-working cloth. Produced in American mills, it was the choice of Levis Strauss and his partner when they produced their new work pants. The cloth had been around, however, since the eighteenth century.

Jean, which takes it's name from Genoa (in French "Gene") is the same fabric and may be older than its French counterpart. Seventeenth century artwork has come to light showing common folk wearing clothes made of blue jean. (London Telegraph) Like our blue jeans, the cloth shows the indigo warp threads on the outside and the white weft threads on the inside.

Both calico and jeans are cotton fabrics, and both terms have evolved to mean more than material. Calico has come to mean the pattern, wherever it is used, as well as lending itself to calico cats and being used as a euphemism for women. Jeans are used to designate the pants made out of jean or denim. (However, denim jeans is a phrase that should be avoided.) Most of all (at least on this blog) they share a common bond in their connection to cowboys and their gals.

Wikipedia entries for Calico, Muslin, Worsted, Twill, Serge, Denim

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Festivals - Then and Now by Ginger Simpson

Photo courtesy of 
Anyone like county fairs?  Carnivals?  Amusement parks?  I think most of us looked forward to all of these events when we were children, and maybe even as adults.  I shudder when I think about some of the ritualistic festivities that the plains Indians, especially, the Sioux, excitedly such as The Sun Dance.  Believe it or not, this twelve-day event ended in a ritual ceremony to celebrate the Great Spirt or Wakan Tanka as their God was called.

Imagine girding yourself for a ride on a roller coaster  or being brave enough to try something even scarier.  At Disneyland, even It's a Small World scares me, but then I'm a wimp.   I've already been stuck in a dark 'fun-house' when our watercraft bumped against the wall and stayed there.  Turned out, it wasn't quite so fun, but then I digress.

  Moving back to the topic at hand...picture yourself as a Sioux warrior, eager to show your bravery and endurance through a ritual of self-mutilation and torture.  Quite a contrast isn't it?  The Summer Sun Dance was a yearly get-together enjoyed by most of the plains Indians, the Sioux included.  For twelve days devoted to the Sun Dance  tribes gathered at an appointed area and communed with the Great Spirit and one another.  Although the gala wasn't a given, it was rare for a Sun Dance to be missed.

For the first eight days, Women socialized, children played, courtships began, and the men sat and swapped stories while Shamans of the tribes picked assistants for the last sacred four days of the ritual.

 On the first of the four final days, a brave from the masses located a forked-top cottonwood tree of proper dimensions.  This tree served as the centerpiece of the ceremony around which volunteers would spend the last day dancing.

On the second of the last four days, appointed women went in search of the selected tree, but for three times pretended not to find it.  Of course, since everything sacred was performed in "fours", their last try was a success.

The third of the last four days was spent painting the tree in four different for each of the four sacred directions.  With a buffalo cutout atop the "pole", it was raised and the men performed a war dance while shooting arrows at the mock buffalo.

Photo courtesy of
The fourth and final day began at dawn with the Shamans preparing the dancers for their parts in the dance.  Some had volunteered to merely dance around the pole as long as they could, while others were tethered to the pole by having skewers implanted through flaps in their chest skin and danced through the pain which they believed enhanced their communion with their Great Spirit.  The dancing continued until the last of those attached to the tree broke free.

All of these festivities were performed inside a special lodge where an audience gathered and witnessed the dance.  The resounding of eagle-bone whistles filled the air, as the dances blew throughout their dancing ordeal.

Why a cottonwood you ask?  To the Sioux, the leaf resembled a tepee, and the buffalo provided almost everything the tribal Indians needed to survive.  There were many other rituals that took place during the Sun Dance, including a Buffalo Dance and the piercing of the ears of the children.  The ear piercing was considered an initiation to the faith of the Sioux customs.  Oh, what a boring life we lead in comparison, but as for me...I love to dance, but I'd skip right over the skewing part.  If I get scared on "It's a Small World," you can bet I'd never survive the first tinge of pain.  *smile*

Cover by Michelle Lee
Since Destiny's Bride is on Amazon now, I'd like to share an excerpt, dealing with the Sun Dance:


With the changing of the seasons came time to move back to the plains.  Cecile gathered their belongings to secure to a contraption Singing Sparrow and other women would help her build.  They called it a travois and from the description, sounded like a buckboard without the wheels and seat. She couldn’t fathom making anything, let alone this travois thing, but her mother-in-law assured her it wasn’t as difficult as it sounded.  Once the tepee was disassembled, the long support poles would provide the structure.  Even taking apart their lodge posed an overwhelming task. Try as she might, Cecile couldn’t understand the need to move from this place she loved.

“Lone Eagle, I don’t understand why we have to leave here. This is our home. The mountains give us safety that wide open land doesn’t provide.”

“Green Eyes, I know you have come to feel secure and happy in this place, but we must go where the herds of buffalo graze.  The fruit, grains, fish and other food we need are there, as well.”
“Why? You’ve done well on your hunts here. Deer are plentiful.”

“Yes, our hunting has been good, but there is more to our survival than food. The buffalo provides far more than meat. Nothing is wasted when a kill is made. What we don’t eat, we use for coverings for the lodges, blankets, robes, cooking utensils, sinew for our bows… too many things to count.”
“I had no idea. How many will you slay to make all of those things?”

“The Sioux respect every living thing and never take an animal’s life needlessly. We will kill only what we need to survive.”

“When does the buffalo hunt take place?”

“When we are settled on the plains, many tribes will join us in celebration of the Sun Dance. Afterwards, we will hunt together.”

Cecile’s thoughts were suddenly filled with the remembrance of Rain Woman’s description of a buffalo hunt. Daring braves dart in and out of the charging herd, forcing the buffalo into a circle. Other braves wait to shoot until the animals are close enough. Once they’ve slain a sufficient amount, the women are expected to help butcher.

When Rain Woman first told the story, Cecile couldn’t imagine handling the entrails of a dead animal. So far she managed to escape butchering anything, but she supposed the deer hides she’d been scraping were good preparation for what was to come.

“What is the Sun Dance?” There was still so much she didn’t know.

“During the twelve-day celebration, tribes gather to honor the Great Spirit. We dance to thank him for his many blessings. Many braves will participate. Their bodies will be painted in symbols and colors, and they will go without food and water.   Those like me who have already participated in communing with Wakan Tanka will only fast and dance, while others will have their chests pierced with skewers and hang from the sacred Sun Dance pole until their skin breaks free.  It is during this time those men will receive direction from the Great Spirit.

Lone Eagle bore the scars on his body to prove his day of the dance, and by the way his chest puffed with pride while describing the festivities, he'd been a worthy participant. She couldn’t imagine what would drive someone to go through such a test, and her body shivered at the thought of hanging from a pole by her skin. “Isn’t there more to the Sun Dance than that?”

“Of course,” Lone Eagle continued. “The ceremony is an opportunity to visit with those from the other tribes who we see only once a year. Just think of the new friends you will make. The Sun Dance is a festive time enjoyed and revered by the entire tribe.”

 Thinking ahead to summer proved difficult. Cecile’s mind meandered back to the move and the changes coming in her life. She worried about being responsible for reconstructing their lodge in their new camp, but then reasoned that with help anything was possible. She counted all the things she’d already learned. Laundry was among them, and she had even more to do now because of the baby.
“Before we leave, I will wash our clothing one more time.” 

“While you tend to that, I will go check with my father to see when we are going to leave.”  Lone Eagle left before she had a chance to inquire about him watching the baby.

You can find Destiny's Bride with all my other works at
My thanks to Books We Love for giving this story another chance in an improved format.

Aside from the excerpt, all Information for the article provided by America's Fascinating Indian Heritage published by Reader's Digest.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Cowboy Capital

Cowboys lived, rode, and tamed the entire area west of the Mississippi River, but only one town became known as the Cowboy Capital. 

Dodge City, Kansas, also known as the Queen of Cowtowns was incorporated shortly before the Santa Fe Railroad arrived. At the time, the booming business was buffalo bones and hides. The town also provided a social gathering place for the soldiers from nearby Fort Dodge.  (Fort Dodge was the first fort opened after the Civil War offering protection for wagon trains, mail service, and serving as a supply base for troops engaged in the Indian Wars.)

By 1872 when the building of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad drew closer, the town was waiting, practically already bursting. It’s said this is where the red light district was born, from the railroad workers carrying their red caboose lanterns with them when visiting the ‘soiled doves’ already well established in Dodge.

The military had no jurisdiction in Dodge, so there was no real law enforcement in the town. Railroad men, buffalo hunters, soldiers and drifters were known to settle their disputes with their guns, and the infamous Boot Hill cemetery was hastily created for those who “died with their boots on.” Others, those with money, friends, or community standing, were buried in the post cemetery at Fort Dodge.

With the only free bridge crossing the Arkansas (pronounced ARE KANAS in Kansas) River many wagon trains and settlers used the route taking them through Dodge while traveling west.  Once the railroad arrived, there wasn’t even time to build a depot (they used a box car as one) before shipping in and out of Dodge reached unbelievable records. Wheat, hides, meat, and flour filled dozens of cars each day, and the streets were packed with those bringing in things to be shipped, or picking up arriving supplies. Not even mining camps could compare to the riches being made in Dodge at the time. Everyone seemed to have money and nothing in town cost less than a quarter. When Governor St. John was visiting Dodge City on one occasion, he heard of a tornado that had devastated a little town near the Nebraska state line. Within two hours he raised over $1,000 from Dodge City residents and immediately wired the money to the other town.

The first jail house in Dodge City wasn’t a building at all. It was a dried up well, fifteen feet deep, in which offenders (mainly those who’d had too much to drink) were lowered into, and once they sobered up, they were allowed to use a ladder to climb out and be on their way. Dodge City was also known for its chivalry to women. All women were held at high esteem. If a man—any man—was witnessed (even unintentionally) jostling a woman, he was instantly ‘brought to his senses’ by a local bystander.
In 1875 the cattle days were born and for the next ten years Dodge City became the destination for many. Over five million head of cattle where driven up the Chisholm (western branch), the Great Western, or the Texas trails that all led to Dodge. Records indicate about 1200 people lived in the city proper in 1877, however the population varied, more than doubling as summer drew near the drives arrived. Gamblers, cattle buyers, prostitutes and others picked those opportune times to call Dodge home for a few months, and with nineteen establishments licensed to sell liquor, there was always a place to conduct business. 

Well-known lawmen and gunfighters took their turn in Dodge- Wyatt Earp; Bat, Ed, and Jim Masterson; Doc Holliday; William Tilghman; Clay Allison; Ben and Billy Thompson; Lake Short; to name a few.

Fort Dodge closed in 1882 and a few years later the cattle drives ended, but Dodge City remained strong. Due to its location and the numerous railroads, it continued to be one of the greatest overland freight hubs in the country, serving local cattlemen and farmers as well as many other businesses.

Made famous again by the TV series Gunsmoke, Dodge City has never lost its ability to draw in the curious. Still today, over 100,000 tourists visit Boot Hill and the historic Front Street.

Having grown up in southwestern Kansas, I’ve visited Dodge City many times, and never failed to have a wonderful time. 

All five of The Quinter Bride books—Shotgun Bride, Badland Bride, Boot Hill Bride, Guardian Bride and Wild Cat Bride--which are all currently on sale for just $2.99—were set in and/or around the Dodge City region.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Great Caesar's Ghost - the Ides of March!


DOUBLE OR NOTHING, Book 2 of the Double Series,
is releasing today!

How wonderful that today, March 15th, also known as the Ides of March, and my usual day to post something on Cowboy Kisses, happens to be the day my sequel to Double Crossing is being released! It's also my husband's birthday. Watch out, Caesar -- there's a knife in my new book, too.

Here's some of the research details I discovered about the Bowie knife. My hero Ace Diamond uses one, since he's from Texas.

Rezin Bowie, Jim Bowie's brother, created a single edged knife after a bull attack, which he survived (obviously!), and fitted it with a wood handle. The  nine inch long blade resembled a butcher knife, and he gave it or a similar knife to his brother. In fact, the brothers gave many knives out to friends, which is why it's so difficult to pin down the exact one.

After getting shot by the local sheriff, Jim swore he'd always have a knife on hand. So he used the one his brother gave him in what was famously termed the 'sandbar fight' on the Mississippi at Vidalia, Louisana, in September of 1827. Despite being stabbed and shot, he disemboweled one attacker, wounded another and chased off a third. 

The local newspaper spread his fame. He was also renowned for surviving an Indian raiding party with a small band of colleagues -- they'd been outnumbered 15 to 1, but only lost one man compared to 40 Indian dead and 30 wounded. More fame to claim, yet he rarely spoke of his adventurous exploits.

Sometime around 1829 or 1830, Jim Bowie had  asked blacksmith James Black to improve on his brother's design. He modified it to include a clipped point which was double-edged and added to its lethal power.

And of course, Bowie ended up at the Alamo in 1836 -- which really pushed the legend. Despite being ill in bed, he managed to use his knife, a gun and his fists to escort many Mexican soldiers with him to the pearly gates. 

Here's what a present day Bowie knife looks like, to the right.

I'm not a weapons expert, and I've been known to cut myself with a cheap Dollar Store paring knife. Give me those safety blades to carve pumpkins. Now those are safe! Here's an example of the other weapon my hero Ace Diamond uses in both books -- a stiletto. Minus the hand guard, I'm sure.

Ace kept the stiletto in his boot. Whether or not that's actually possible--well, the reader has to give an author a little slack! It is fiction, after all.

And now I come to sharing about my new release! Today I'm hosting a FB event, so come join the fun! I'll share more details about how writing this book almost disemboweled me (just kidding, of course, but close to it!)

Here's the dynamic cover -- the pocket watch is Lily's father's, the photograph could be of her parents, and the cards are from Ace's poker hand. 

A mysterious explosion. A man framed for murder. A strong woman determined to prove his innocence.
October, 1869: Lily Granville, now heiress to a considerable fortune, rebels against her uncle’s strict rules in Sacramento, California. Ace Diamond, determined to win Lily, invests in a dynamite factory for a quick “killing,” but his status as a successful businessman fails to impress her guardian.

An explosion in San Francisco, mere hours before Lily elopes with Ace to avoid a forced marriage, sets off a chain of unforeseen consequences.
Despite Lily’s protests that her new husband has been framed, Ace is dragged off to jail as the culprit. 

Evidence mounts against him. Lily must learn who was actually behind the diabolical plan… and save Ace from the hangman’s noose.
Will she become a widow before a true wife?


BUY LINKS -- Amazon for Kindle, B&N for Nook, Smashwords for other ereader devices! Print edition coming coming later!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Romance of a Sod House

        Recently, I’ve blogged quite a bit about dugouts to promote my new e-release, To Have And To Hold, because the heroine in my book lived in a dugout. But today I’m going to talk about another typical home for a frontier settler—the "soddy".
        Timber was scarce on the Great Plains. Early settlers built their first shelters from what was available, and for many that meant thick prairie sod. A typical sod house was about fourteen feet by sixteen feet in size, with a seven-and-one-half-foot high wall, a low-pitched roof, a central side door, and one or two windows. Interior walls were often finished with plaster or covered with newspapers. Canvas, suspended from the ceiling, made the room lighter and helped keep down the dust. Furnishings were sparse and simple, although prized lace curtains or an heirloom piece of furniture were not uncommon.
        To build a soddy the homesteader first chose a construction site, squared the interior dimensions of the house, and dampened and packed the floor area. Then an acre or so of unbroken ground was selected and a breaking plow used to cut the sod into long strips about twelve to eighteen inches wide and three to four inches thick. These were then cut with a sharp spade into two- to three-foot-long blocks and hauled to the house site on a wagon or sled. Only enough sod was broken and cut for use that day because the sod blocks were easier to handle when the moisture content was high.
Kitchen in sod house
Sod Palace
        Walls were constructed two to three staggered blocks deep (providing a wall depth of two or three feet), with the sod blocks grassy side down. Once the third or fourth layer of blocks were in place, a crosswise layer was installed to add strength to the wall. Wood-plank frames were propped in place at the desired locations for the door and windows, and the wall construction continued until it reached about half its final height. Completed walls were scraped on the inside for a smoother, more attractive surface. This also helped to insure a finished wall that was as vertical as possible. After the walls were finished, support poles were placed at each end of the soddy, and the ridgepole place across them. Then either planks or poles were attached to form rafters, and poles or brush, sometimes tar paper or canvas, was applied. On top of all this, layers (the number of layers varied) of sod blocks were positioned either with the grassy side down and coated with a thin plaster. Sometimes the grassy side was left up, and vegetation was allowed to grow. Finally, the gabble ends were filled with sod blocks, and a plank door was hung.
Dowse Sod House
        Windows were the most expensive part of a sod house and were difficult to install. After setting the frame into the wall, the builder continued to lay rows of sod around it. When the bricks reached the top of the window frame settlers left off two layers of brick and laid cedar poles over the gap. The resulting space, stuffed with grass or rags, protected the windows from breaking as
Dirt floors were found in the majority of the early sod homes. More prosperous families might fasten carpets to the dirt floor. In some cases, rough or planed split logs were used for flooring. But only a few could afford the luxury of wide, rough-cut planks from the sawmill. Many women detested the continual war with dirt, bugs, snakes, leaky roofs and poor lighting. Nothing ever seemed to be clean. Others took the conditions in stride. 

 Charlene Raddon's first serious writing attempt came in 1980 when she awoke one morning from an unusually vivid and compelling dream. Deciding that dream needed to be made into a book, she dug out an old portable typewriter and went to work. That book never sold, but her second one, Tender Touch, became a Golden Heart finalist and earned her an agent. Soon after, she signed a three book contract with Kensington Books. Five of Charlene's western historical romances were published between 1994 and 1999: Taming Jenna, Tender Touch (1994 Golden Heart Finalist under the title Brianna), Forever Mine (1996 Romantic Times Magazine Reviewer's Choice Award Nominee and Affaire de Coeur Reader/Writer Poll finalist), To Have and To Hold Affaire de Coeur Reader/Writer Poll finalist); and writing as Rachel Summers, The Scent of Roses. Forever Mine, Tender Touch, and To Have and To Hold are available as e-books and The Scent of Roses will be released in June 2013.


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