Friday, March 28, 2014

Confessions of a Crazy Canuck

Me in Mazatlan, age five.
  I love the idea of Texas the way Karl May loved the idea of the wild west. It is only loosely based on reality and owes a great deal to pop culture including John Wayne movies, Louis L'Amour stories and the amazing pitching speed of Nolan Ryan. It started long before my love of history took hold.

It started in Mexico.

My sister and I had whooping cough. I was five; Joanne was two. She was the reason we had to seek out a warm, dry climate for Christmas instead of visiting family in Montreal. Since my parents weren’t exactly flush with funds, they packed up my father’s company station wagon and we drove south, headed for Mazatlan.

With the self-centred clarity of a child, I only remember the parts of the trip that had an impact on me. I remember the switchback roads in the mountains. Dad loved them. Mum and Joanne were throwing up. Me - who was car sick on a straight road - was morbidly fascinated by the sheer drops out the side window.

I remember eating peeled shrimp like candy... and my first real pineapple.

When we finally reached the beach, I stepped on a crab and was scared of the sand for years after. (That's me, scared, photographed with my father.) I don't remember the crab, but I do remember being scared.

For some reason, I also remembered Laredo. I don’t remember much about the town except the name. It etched itself on my consciousness; the sound of the word was as exotic and exciting to me as Paris or Istanbul might be to someone else.

Traveling to Mexico became a family habit for a while - especially after we acquired a camper. It was in the camper that I started reading Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. I had run out of Georgette Heyer and had not yet developed an interest in the mysteries my mother brought along for the trip. Dad gave me a copy of Riders of the Purple Sage, followed a couple of L’Amour’s short story collections. Suddenly I started taking an interest in the country we were traveling through. The United States - particularly Texas - ceased to be a geographic obstacle between home and our destination.

"Too often I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen." - Louis L'Amour
When I needed to research Texas history and geography for Under A Texas Star, memories of those trips floated up to the surface.

One other trip cinched the deal – but it wasn’t one I took. My parents decided to go to Mexico when my mother retired. The family camper was long gone. Instead they outfitted a van with a kitchenette, bed and porta-potty. Feeling a bit envious, I wished them bon voyage one chill November morning. A couple of days later, they called from the Mexican border.

They had forgotten the vehicle permit. They couldn’t get into Mexico.

Stifling a laugh that I would have paid dearly for, I suggested they visit Texas while they were there – and bring back guide books. I was setting my mystery in the old west.

And now the confession. Since I'm hip-deep in book edits, I stole most of this post from an early self. As I keep telling my kids: "Recycle. Reuse. Re-purpose."

My brave baby sister wasn't scared of sand.
My sister wasn't afraid of the sand.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Counting Coup

I'm currently writing another historical western novel, and belong to a critique group comprised of mostly 'historical regency' authors.  You can imagine we don't speak the same language. 

 In one of my chapters, I mentioned 'counting coup' and confused the heck out of everyone.  I consider it might be an interesting topic to share here since this is the fifth week and no one else is scheduled to blog.

The Plains Indians, about which I write, were a proud people, and even in warfare, there were honors and recognition to be earned.  In fact, the more risks one took, the more honor he brought to himself and his tribe.  

'Coup', I learned comes from a french word meaning, 'blow.'  Coup was counted when a warrior was able to touch an enemy...often with a long stick aptly named a 'coup stick', or even their lance or bow.  The warrior received more honor when an opponent was not killed.  Coup was counted on women and children as well, or touching the tepee of an enemy or his horse.  'Touching' in some form was required, as killing an enemy from a distance with an arrow or bullet did nothing to garner favor.

A warrior who claimed to have counted coup was expected to describe his deed in great detail before the tribal council, and MUST have someone who witnessed the act.  If the story was found to be truthful, then the warrior was awarded a tail feather from a golden eagle...a bird admired for it's own courage and swiftness.

An array of feathers was not a uncommon sight as young men vied to add to their reputation and the ability to recount their brave deeds at various ceremonies.

To give you an idea of the great lengths the Sioux went to to recognize accomplished 'coups,' consider these examples as shown above:

1. First coup - A feather to be worn upright with a horsehair tuft at the top.
2. Wearer wounded - Upright feather dyed red.
3.  Wearer wounded but killed foes - upright feather with quilled bands (one per foe.)
4.  Wearer killed foe - Red spot on feather.
5.  Wearer cut foe's throat and took scalp - notch in feather.
6.  Wearer wounded many times - Split feather.
7.  Wearer cut foe's throat - Top of feather clipped on diagonal.
8.  Wearer counted coup four times - Serrated ages on feather.
9.  Wearer counted coup five times - Side of feather partially removed.

So, you can see, there was a lot to remember in recognizing counting coup and equally as much work put into preparing the proper feather for each claim.  

I don't know about you, but I find this sort of information so interesting.  I value the day I discovered America's Fascinating Indian Heritage as a research resource, published by Reader's Digest.  It's from this book, I've gleaned so much history about the Lakota and their rites and rituals.  Love it, but hate that I've used it so much the binding is coming apart.  *picture me frowning.*

Friday, March 21, 2014

Mail Order Brides in the West...

Mail order brides have always fascinated me. In the 1800's women married for a sense of security, and financial stability. They were widows seeking help to raise their children, lost souls searching for independence.

In the 1800’s mail order brides became very popular. Men migrated west to farm land, build towns and cities, and mine for gold. Most being successful, soon found themselves financially stable. But one thing was missing...women. There were very few women in the early days of the west and if a few popped up, they were always married. Soon men began sending letters to churches and newspapers back east looking for brides.

The women took on the status of mail order bride for many reasons, but one looms above all the Times were tough back then and a woman needed to know she was taken care of. This wasn’t a marriage founded on love, but instead on knowing you had a roof over your head, food in your stomach, and money in your purse. Those things held precedence to love. This doesn’t mean some didn’t find love. I think that was possible, but it wasn’t the reason they were together.

In the early stages of writing Chasing Clovers, I started to research the mail order bride. I put those
fears into my protagonist, Livy Green. Why would she marry a man she’s never met? Was she running from something, or possibly someone? Was she destitute with no where to live? Was she lonely? Was she married with children and now a widow?

I soon realized she was desperate and from my perspective you’d have to be. She didn’t necessarily want to be a bride, but she needed to escape the life she was living and there was only one way to do so...answer an ad for a mail order bride. She’d marry a man she’s never met and be a step mother to his two young children. I described her fears of first meeting John Taylor. Her shaking hands, rigid back, tight lipped. She didn’t know him. Was he a drinker, a gambler, a forceful person? Her anxiety was real. I’d like to think every mail order bride back then and now had the same thoughts running through their heads before they met their groom.

In Chasing Clovers, Livy and John’s story is an adventure filled with laughter, sorrow, and forgiveness. It is an emotional tale woven solely for you, the reader, to enjoy and fall in love with.

Below are actual ads from the book  HeartsWest: True Stories of Mail Order Brides on the Frontier by Chris Enss. I used this book for research and loved it.

"A lively widower of 40, looking much younger, 5 feet 7 inches high, weighing 145 pounds would like to correspond with some maiden or widow lady of honor who would like a good home, kind husband and plenty."

"A gentleman of 26 years old, 5 feet 3 inches, doing a good business in the city, desires the acquaintance of a young intelligent and refined lady possessed of some means, of a loving disposition from 18 to 23, and one who could make home a paradise."

"Wanted: A girl who will love, honest, true not sour; a nice little cooing dove and willing to work in flour:"


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lakota Woman - Posted by Ginger Simpson

Last month, I posted a letter I'd received from an expert on American Indians.  He suggested that if I wanted to get into the true spirit of the Sioux, I should order Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog.  I got the book and have been reading it to aid my writing and boost my research about the Lakota people.  I've been so moved by the story, I want to share the very beginning of the book.  Although this scene is not written about the same era which I elect to share in my novels, the content definitely has the hook that makes you want to read I'm getting a real feel of what the Indians have gone through at the hands of our government and the treatment they've received at the hands of the white people who call themselves Christians.  Let me introduce, Mary Crow Dog  (her married name):

I am Mary Brave Bird.  After I had my baby during the siege of Wounded Knee, they gave me a special name--Ohtika Win, Brave Woman, and fastened an eagle plume in my hair, singing brave-heart songs for me.  I am a woman of the Red Nation--A Sioux woman.  That is not easy.

I had my baby during a firefight, with the bullets crashing through one wall and coming out through the other.  When my newborn son was only a day old and the marshals were really upon us, I wrapped him up in a blanket and ran for it.  We had to hit the dirt a couple of times and I shielded the baby with my body, praying.  "It's all right if I die, but please let him live."

When I came out of Wounded Knee, I was was not even healed up, but they put me in jail at Pine Ridge and took my son away.  I could not nurse.  My breasts swelled up and grew hard as rocks, hurting badly.  In 1975, the feds put the muzzles of their M-16s against my heard, threatening to blow me away  Its hard being an Indian Woman.

My best friend was Annie Mae Aquash, a young, strong-hearted woman from the Micmac Tribe with beautiful children. It is not always wise for an Indian woman to come on too strong.  Anne Mae was found dead in the snow at the bottom of a ravine on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  The police said she had died of exposure, but there was a 38-caliber slug in her head.  The FBI cut off her hands and sent them to Washington for fingerprint identification, hands that had helped my baby come into the world.

My sister-in-law, Delphine, a good woman who had lived a hard life, was also found dead in the snow, the tears frozen on her face.  A drunken man had beaten her, breaking one of her arms and legs, leaving her helpless in a blizzard to die.

My sister, Barbara, went to the government hospital in Rosebud to have her baby, and when she came out of anesthesia found she had been sterilized against her will.  The baby lived only for two hours, and she had wanted so much to have children.  No, it isn't easy.

When I was a small girl at the St. Francis Boarding School, the Catholic sisters would take buggy whips to us for what they called "disobedience."  At age ten, I could drink and hold a pint of whiskey.  At age twelve, the nuns beat me for "being too free with my body."  All I had been doing was holding hands with a boy.  At age fifteen, I was raped.  If you plan to be born, make sure you are born white and male.

It is not the big, dramatic things so much that get us down, but just being Indian, trying to hang on to our way of life, language, and values while being surrounded by an alien, more powerful culture.  It is being an iyeska, a half-blood, being looked down upon by whites and full-bloods alike.   It is being a backwoods girl living in a city, having to rip off stores to survive.  Most of all, it is being a woman.

Among Plains tribes, some men think that all a woman is good for is to crawl into the sack with them and mind the children.  It compensates for what white society has done to them.  They were famous warriors and hunters once, but the buffalo is gone and there is not much rep in putting a can of spam or an occasional rabbit on the table.

As for being warriors, the only way some man an count coup nowadays is knocking out another skin's teeth during a barroom fight.  In the old days, a man made a name for himself by being generous and wise, but now he has nothing to be generous with, no jobs, no money and as far as our traditional wisdom is concerned, our men are being told by the white missionaries, teachers and employers that it is merely savage superstition they should get rid of it they want to make it in this world.  Men are forced to live away from their children so they can get Aid to Dependent Children.  So, some warriors come home drunk and beat up their old ladies in order to work off their frustrations.  I know where they are coming from.  I feel sorry for the, but I feel even sorrier for their women.

Skipping ahead a little...

The Brule, like all Sioux, were a horse people, fierce riders and raiders, great warriors.  Between 1870 and 1880, all Sioux were driven into reservations, fenced in and forced to give up everything that had given meaning to their life--their horses, their hunting, their arms, everything.  But under the long snows of despair, the little spark of our ancient beliefs and pride kept glowing, just barely sometimes, waiting for a warm wind to blow that spark into a flame again.

Skipping again...just to the conditions in which Mary lived with her grandparents:

The old couple raised us way out on the prairie near He-Dog in a sort of homemade shack.  We had no electricity, no heating system, no plumbing.  We got our water from the river.  Some of the things which even poor white or black ghetto people take for granted, we did not even know existed.  We knew little about the outside world, having no radio and no TV.  Maybe that was a blessing.


Wow....I can't wait to read more of this fact by the time this blog is published, I will probably have finished it, but I wanted to whet your appetite.  I'm thinking that Yellow Moon (my current WIP) is going to take on a whole new meaning after this.  My current beginning chapters are way off base, according to the expert, and if anything, I want to get my historical facts right.

Maybe next month, I'll share more from Mary's story.  I think you might like that.  Right?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Weddings in the West

Due to the number of weddings and funerals that happened along the trails, most Wagon Masters would not head west until a Vicar was procured to travel with the group. Out of necessity, Wagon Masters could perform these duties, but most didn’t relish the extra burdens. Often the Vicar or Circuit Preacher would return and travel with the next train west. Traveling preachers also provided many of the first trail stations or towns along the way with weddings or church services on a regular basis. The Circuit Preachers were also responsible for stopping at county seats or state capitols and filing all the deaths, births and marriages.

Even in towns, church weddings were rare in the early 1800’s. Usually the affair happened in the home of the bride or groom, or a family friend. Attendance was generally small, just a few relatives and friends. (This was true of funerals as well, and it was up to the family to prepare the body for burial. Usually more people attended funerals than weddings because a death meant the entire community had suffered a loss.) If needed small communities would assign one person to reside over weddings and funerals until a preacher traveled through and officiated the already performed ceremony by completing and filing the paperwork.

After their wedding, a newly married couple was expected to stay home for the next few days for others could call upon them. The dress was something the bride could wear again or already had. It wasn’t until 1840 when Queen Victoria wed Prince Albert in an elaborate white, satin gown that the tradition of a white gown started to spread. However, the color and ability to keep it clean held the tradition at bay until the early 1900’s.

Here’s an old poem, published on many internet wedding sites, (I couldn’t find the date of its origin)… “Married in white, you will have chosen all right. Married in grey, you will go far away. Married in black, you will wish yourself back. Married in red, you’ll wish yourself dead. Married in blue, you will always be true. Married in pearl, you’ll live in a whirl. Married in green, ashamed to be seen, Married in yellow, ashamed of the fellow. Married in brown, you’ll live out of town. Married in pink, your spirits will sink.” (Perhaps it wasn’t Queen Victoria, but this poem that encouraged brides to wear white!)

There were a few traditions most weddings tried to uphold. The veil being one of them, it signified maidenhood, and therefore usually skipped by the bride for a second wedding. Often veils were passed down from generation to generation. The tradition of the wedding veil comes from the times of arranged marriages. The bride wore a veil so the groom couldn’t see his bride’s face until after the ceremony, assuring the man couldn’t back out once he saw his bride. Also, a law in 1775 forbid brides to wear any kind of make-up, assuring the groom wasn’t trapped by an ‘illusion’.

The cake was also important, it signified fertility and abundance, and it was generally a fruit cake—that is until baking powder and baking soda were invented, then a white cake became popular and the fruit cake became the groom’s cake, which was usually cut into pieces and sent home with the guest.

And the ring…It signified eternal love. The wedding ring dates back to 2800 B.C., this was the time of ‘ownership’ and the ring signified possession. The tradition the wedding band to be worn on the third finger of the left hand is because it was believed that finger has a vein that runs straight to the heart.

Church weddings grew in popularity throughout the 1800’s and by the turn of the century weddings, which included dances following the ceremony, became more popular, namely because when the couple was married in a church, more people could attend, therefore the event became a social gathering.

I’m currently writing a few stories in the roaring twenties, when big parties and big weddings were stylish, hence the reason for the wedding post. Hope you all enjoyed it. 


Friday, March 14, 2014

#NewRelease Rawhide 'n Roses, a short story sampler by 15 authors

Rawhide 'n Roses
A short story sampler
by 15 western romance authors
Amazon |
Alison Bruce
Carol Spradling
Caroline Clemmons
Celia Yeary
Chad Strong
Charlene Raddon
Cheri Kay Clifton
Jacquie Rogers
Lyn Horner
Margaret Tanner
Paty Norman Jager
Peggy L Henderson
Rain Trueax
Simone Beaudelaire
Susan Horsnell

Saddle up your horses and head out to the heart of the Wild West in this collection of short love stories by authors of Western Romance from all over the country and around the world.

Whether your passion is historical or contemporary, there's something inside for everyone.

Join us at the Rawhide 'n Roses Barn Dance on Facebook, March 15 and 16!

Grab your favorite drink, sit back and enjoy!  Then read these fabulous stories:

Gold Mountain 
by Alison Bruce
There's more than one way to mine for gold, as May Travers well knows, and Marshal Ben Jessup is about to find out.

A Gentle Touch 
by Celia Yeary
Adam Taylor tames mustangs with a gentle touch, but would the same method calm a frightened abused woman?

A Midnight Clear 
by Simone Beaudelaire
A lonely widow finds a new opportunity for love during an icy Christmas in modern-day Wyoming.

by Caroline Clemmons
Houston McClintock is on his way home when an attack by vicious robbers redirects his life onto a surprising path to love and fulfillment.

Marrying Jenna 
by Charlene Raddon
Branch McCauley and Jenna Leigh-Whittington's wedding day arrives at last, so why is Jenna riding hell-bent out of town wearing her wedding dress and a gun belt? Will the wedding ever take place?

Connie’s Gift 
by Rain Trueax
The gift of second sight, which Connie no longer believes she possesses, becomes a deadly threat to her and the man she loves.

Stable Hands, 
Stable Hearts 
by Chad Strong
When 17yr old Scott thinks he spots the girl of his dreams, will his feelings for her distract him from winning?

Gunslinger's Angel 
by Margaret Tanner
Gunslinger Cal Devereaux is saved by an angel, but is she a heavenly creature or a warm blooded woman?

Petticoat Patrol 
by Susan Horsnell
When a man has no son, he calls on his daughters to help protect his ranch.

When Love 
by Carol A. Spradling
A stowaway's past and future collide on the Santa Fe Trail.

Bluffing the 
by Paty Jager
Nellie Preston not only wants to keep her brother from hanging, she wants to become the marshal’s wife.

The Lawman’s 
by Lyn Horner
A prickly schoolmarm sets a handsome lawman’s teeth on edge until the day he starts to wonder what she’d look like without her specs and with her hair down.

Yellowstone Proposal 
(A Yellowstone Romance Series Short Story) 
by Peggy L. Henderson
Willing to face dangers only told in legends, Evan risks everything to find the woman who captured his heart.

Much Ado about Misfires 
(A Hearts of Owyhee short-short story) 
by Jacquie Rogers
A cowboy on rollerskates and an old flame with a new beau — can Reuben lasso the woman he loves?

Destiny’s Kiss 
by Cheri Kay Clifton
She gave up life in the present to find her destiny in the past.

Take a look!

Available at
I hope you enjoy these short stories--just a sample of 15 western romance writers, each with a unique voice and style.

Contact Jacquie:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wild West Myths

Hi everyone. First I want to say how excited I am to be a part of this wonderful blog. It's great being able to join the ladies here.

A little about me, I write historical cowboy romance {at various publisher stages} and most recently I've dived into hands on research for a contemporary cowboy romance series. I've also been poking around a bit in the Civil War era.

Today I wanted to keep my first post light and hopefully fun. No matter what the topic, I love hearing about how things were said to be versus how they really were.

1) Myth: It's often said that settlers were constantly battling the Indians. Murderous ambushes were at every dusty turn.
Truth: There were, no doubt, messy and blood battles with Calvary. However, the random attacks on settlers were few and far between. There were hundreds of thousands of settlers and it's tracked that, in reality, several hundred, at most, died this way.

2) Myth: Train robberies were everywhere.
Truth: In reality, train robbery was very hard to pull off and didn't span over numerous years {1865-1875}. Trains generally had hired mercenaries riding to protect their trains. Would anyone go unprotected knowing there was potential danger? Evidently only to make a good story ;) It's said that from 1859-1900 less than 12 robberies took place.

3) Myth: The West was filled with murder.
Truth: Not in reality {again, makes for great story telling though}. An estimate of 70 out of every 100,000 people died this way. It's way better than our statistics in this day and age.

4) Myth: Cowboys were created in the Wild West.
Truth: The cowboy was actually a Mexican cattleman known as vaqueros. They created the original cowboy lingo {most still used today} as well as wore chaps and had rodeos. So they are rumored to be 20 o 200 years of cowboy before "our" cowboy showed up.

In reality, most of the violence was, in fact, government instigated and caused. There wasn't a ton of attacks or murders for random settlements. The dangerous Wild West was new and a difficult life, but, in reality, they really were pretty safe.

I'm not sure if I was a little disappointed to learn this or not. I mean, don't we all remember John Wayne and his movies. Hundreds of people died in each movie and it gave the original West a picture that allowed us to think of how brave everyone was. How tough it was. How dangerous each day had to be.

On the other hand, I'm relived to see it wasn't exactly quite a rough as thought. Yes, day to day life was still very difficult. You had settlements that tried to provide everything, by hand, for the people in it. Could you image doing that with your city or town in this day?

I was also surprised to see that the West, in fact, had camel. Yes, camel. Those you won't see in many {if any} westerns. It was also filled with a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. It was not 95% white.

I'm pleasantly sure that our westerns and cowboy stories won't change...but it's nice to know there wasn't constant death surrounding those that brought life to the frontier.