Monday, November 28, 2016


The earliest known button, writes Ian McNeil in An Encyclopedia of the History of Technology, "was originally used more as an ornament than as a fastening, the earliest known being found at Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley [now Pakistan]. It is made of a curved shell and about 5000 years old." Early buttons like these usually consisted of a decorative flat face that fit into a loop. (Reinforced buttonholes weren’t invented until the mid-13th century). Percent% Buttons in this period almost never appeared in straight rows, but were used singly as sartorial flourishes.

Copper alloy from Bronze Age or early Iron Age
Along with brooches, buckles, and straight pins, buttons were used in ancient Rome as decorative closures for flowing garments. However, none of these options worked perfectly. Pins poked unsightly holes into precious fabrics. Supporting yards of cloth at a single point required buttons of architectural heft, made of bone, horn, bronze or wood. Some designs took the functional pressure off buttons by knotting the fabric securely into position, then topping off the look with a purely ornamental button.

(Incidentally, as a button alternative, Mycenaeans of the Roman era invented the fibula, a surprisingly modern forerunner to our safety pin. This design was lost with them until it re-emerged in mid-19th century America.)

The button became more prominent among the wealthy in the Middle Ages.  “About the middle of the eleventh century,” writes Carl K√∂hler in A History of Costume, “clothes began to be made so close-fitting that they followed the lines of the body from shoulders to hips like a glove.” Buttons helped that snug fit along. This didn’t mean clothes were cut more sparingly; wealthy people still liked the costly display of excess fabric. But, on both men’s clothes and women’s, buttons helped accentuate lovely lines, of the arm, say, or the bosom.

Spanish metal buttons dating about 1650 to 1675

The first button-makers guild formed in France in 1250. Still regarded as less-than-functional jewelry, buttons were so prized that sumptuary laws restricted their use. Books, Banks, Buttons and Other Inventions from the Middle Ages by Chiara Frugoni relates how, in a period tale, a magistrate quizzed a woman overly bedecked in buttons.

Buttons came in all shapes and sizes, but most often they were mounted on a shank; you ran thread through the shank’s hole to attach the button to fabric. Unlike modern buttons with their iconic four-square holes, the shank style left the button’s face totally free: a tiny blank canvas one could cover, carve, polish, or paint with luxurious abandon.
Abe Lincoln campaign button
The medieval period was the era when wearing lots of buttons meant big money. Franco Jacassi, reputedly the world’s biggest button-collector, describes this as a time when you could pay off a debt by plucking a precious button from your suit. Italians still describe the rooms where powerful leaders meet as stanze dei bottoni, “rooms of the buttons.”

On women’s clothes particularly, buttons traced the body’s lines in suggestive ways, making clothes tight in all the right places or offering up intriguing points of entry. Along with ribbons, laces or bows, buttons were often used on detachable sleeves, a fad that ran from the 13th to 15th centuries. These sleeves could be easily swapped between outfits and laundered whenever they got dirty. Courtiers might accept an unbuttoned sleeve from a lady as a love token, or wave sleeves in jubilation at a jousting tourney.
After the Renaissance in Europe, buttons—along with many other things—became increasingly baroque, then rococo. Among the more extreme examples were “habitat” buttons, built to contain keepsakes like dried flowers, hair cuttings or tiny insects under glass. Hollowed-out smuggler buttons allowed thieves to transport jewels and other booty secretly. (This tradition of buttons-for-crime resurfaced in a heroin-smuggling attempt in 2009.)

18th Century buttons
Ornate buttoning among the wealthy required some help. Around this era is when buttons migrated to different sides of a shirt for men and women. Men usually donned their own shirts, so their buttons faced right for their convenience. Women with ladies’ maids wore their buttons on the left, to make it easier for the maids to maneuver while facing them.

George Washington’s 1789 inauguration gave the world its first political button. Made of copper, brass or Sheffield plate, these buttons could close a pair of breeches or a jacket while simultaneously announcing the wearer’s politics. Political buttons took on a more recognizably modern (and less functional) shape during Lincoln’s 1864 re-election campaign. (View 150 years of political buttons here.)

Poorer folks wore buttons, too, but they had to craft them laboriously by hand. In Colonial America until the early 20th century, working-class families counted themselves lucky if they owned a hand-held button-mold. You heated up the mold in a bed of hot coals, then filled it with molten lead or pewter, which set into a button shape. The sturdy metal buttons could then be covered with fabric or other embellishments.

Extra buttons made at home could also be sold, which meant button-making could be hellish piecework. Playwright Henrik Ibsen channeled his own awful memories of home button-molding in a pivotal scene in Peer Gynt. Sent to fetch Gynt’s soul, the Button-Moulder explains how the very good and very bad go to heaven and hell, but the middling-good are “merged in the mass” and poured into purgatory, an undifferentiated molten stream from the Button-Moulder’s ladle.

Women stringing buttons from a button mold
Button-making was mercifully accelerated with the Industrial Revolution. An 1852 article from Household Words, a journal edited by Charles Dickens, marvels at the latter-day miracle that was automated button-manufacturing. The writer describes how engravers cut steel dies into the latest fashionable shape, while women and children stamped out pasteboard and cloth to cover the buttons by machine. Another machine stamped out the four holes that had become prevalent for men’s dress-shirt buttons, while another was used to “counter-sink” the button, pressing its center to form a raised outer ridge. (It’s this four-hole flat button that we regard as its iconic shape today.)

Fabric button, front & back
A rash of button patents during this period protected nearly every aspect of button-making, from manufacturing methods for glass or mother-of-pearl buttons, cheaper wire buttons, even improvements to button display cards for sale.

With the growing number of actual buttons came a parallel growth in button metaphors in everyday speech. The OED lists several, dating from the late 1800s to the early 20th century: “to take by the buttons” is to detain someone in conversation; “dash my buttons!” is an epithet of surprised vexation; “to have a soul above buttons” indicated someone employed in a profession unworthy of them; those who “have all their buttons” enjoy sound intellect, while those who are “a button short” do not.

This grand democratization didn’t stem the tide of expensive ornamental buttons. Victorian “Tussie-Mussie” buttons pictured tiny bouquets whose flowers held symbolic messages. Queen Victoria donned mourning buttons of carved black jet upon her husband Albert’s death, kicking off a fashion among bereaved button-wearers throughout the Empire.

 Once they became cheap enough to produce en masse, buttons by the hundreds lined most kinds of tight-fitting clothing, including shoes. (More buttons, closely spaced, gave the wearer the tightest fit.) In his book The Evolution of Useful Things, Henry Petroski explains how this profusion of buttons gave rise to a parallel problem: “Fingers were not a very effective tool for coaxing the crowded buttons through small buttonholes.”

The solution? Buttonhooks, long crochethook-like devices used to draw buttons through holes rapidly. These evolved into various styles to accommodate different button sizes.

Tracing the body’s curves with increasing exactness, buttons have long equaled body consciousness. In the 20th century, button’s sexier side came more overtly to the fore. Buttons, in other words, designate sites of vitality, embarrassment, and thrill. When told that a certain lady wouldn’t hurt a fly, Dorothy Parker retorted, “Not if it was buttoned up.” Gertrude Stein’s slim volume Tender Buttons (1914) is winkingly named after the clitoris. Electrical devices, newly introduced, often used flat-faced “buttons” to complete a circuit, giving rise to double entrendre phrases like “press all my buttons."

Later in the century, buttons migrated as a metaphor from the mechanical world to the virtual one. Buttons now adorn screens big and small, promising to connect us to marvels with a single click. Steve Jobs said of the buttons on Apple’s touchscreens, “We made [them] look so good you'll want to lick them.”

Black glass buttons
Even though zippers entered the clothing-closure scene around the turn of the century, we still wear buttons today. Why? Reasons abound: Zippers can jam and warp or catch little children’s fingers. Velcro, another new-fangled closure, is too futuristic to be taken seriously. Hook-and-eyes and laces have their adherents, but their ubiquity is nowhere near that of the button.

Buttons, in short, offer everyday pleasures. Their little faces turn up agreeably, asking for personality to be impressed upon them. Buttoning oneself up is a slower, contemplative act; unbuttoning someone else, deliciously more so. Pressing buttons still delivers everything we love in the world to us. Why would we ever phase that out?

This article was written by Jude Stewart
 Jude Stewart writes about design and culture for magazines including Slate, the Believer and Fast Company, and is the author of, ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Who Was Bass Reeves?

While making a quick trip to Fort Smith, Arkansas—and I do mean quick—to connect with a family member, I stopped by the Fort Smith historical site long enough to snap a few pictures while sitting in the car. Some were of a bronze statue near the grounds of old Fort Smith. Since I didn’t get out to read the placard, I was left with the question: Who is the statue depicting and what is his history?

The statue was in honor of the great African-American deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves who is believed to be the first black U.S. deputy marshal west of the Mississippi.

Bass Reeves was born a slave around 1838 in Crawford County, Ark. He, his mother and sister were owned by Col. George R. Reeves. During the Civil War, while living in Texas with his owner, Bass Reeves escaped to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). He was accepted by the Creek and Seminole nations and lived with the tribes. After the Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves, he returned to Arkansas and bought land in Van Buren, where he built a house for his wife and children and farmed and raised horses.
Judge Isaac Parker
Reeves and his family farmed until 1875, when Isaac Parker was appointed federal judge for the Indian Territory. Parker appointed James F. Fagan as U.S. Marshal, directing him to hire 200 deputy U.S. Marshals. Fagan had heard about Reeves, who knew the Indian Territory and could speak several Indian languages. He recruited him as one of his deputies, making Reeves the first black deputy west of the Mississippi River. Reeves was initially assigned as a Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas, which also had responsibility for the Indian Territory. He served there until 1893, when he transferred to the Eastern District of Texas in Paris, Texas for a short while, then in 1897 to the Muskogee Federal Court in the Indian Territory.

Bass Reeves
Reeves served for 32 years as one of the most feared lawman in the Indian Territory. Even though he was an African-American and illiterate, he brought in more outlaws from eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas than anyone else. He was able to memorize the warrants for every suspect he was to arrest and bring to trial. At 6-foot-2, Reeves was a broad-shouldered, muscular, powerful man who weighed about 180 pounds and sat tall in the saddle. He was an expert horseman and tracker and a quick, dead-aim shot with pistols and rifles. But he preferred using clever disguises and tricks to capture criminals without gunfire, if possible. Territorial news accounts noted that, of the thousands of criminals Reeves arrested while a deputy marshal, he killed 14 men in self-defense.

Deputy marshals carried written arrest warrants (writs) for those they sought to take into custody. Because Reeves, like most slaves, had not been taught to read or write, he was allowed to memorize the names and charges on his writs and verbally state them when making an arrest. He never arrested the wrong person. He also was allowed to verbally make arrest and service reports to a court clerk who would transcribe them into court records.

One of his sons, Bennie Reeves, was charged with the murder of his wife. Deputy Marshal Reeves was disturbed and shaken by the incident but allegedly demanded the responsibility of bringing Bennie to justice. Bennie was eventually tracked and captured, tried, and convicted. He served his time in Fort Leavenworth in Kansas before being released and living the rest of his life as a responsible and model citizen

Reeves was 69 when he retired from the Marshals Service in 1907. He was 72 and working as a Muskogee, Okla., Police Department officer when he died at home of Bright's disease on Jan. 12, 1910. Although hundreds attended his funeral and his death was widely reported at the time, his grave site in or near Muskogee can no longer be found.

To honor Bass Reeves, in 2007, the bridge for U.S. Route 62 crossing the Arkansas River between Muskogee and Fort Gibson, Oklahoma was named the Bass Reeves Memorial Bridge. On 16 May 2012, the bronze statue of Reeves by sculptor Harold Holden I saw in the park was cast at a foundry in Norman, Oklahoma and then moved to its permanent location at Pendergraft Park in Fort Smith, Arkansas.


 Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novelette, A Christmas Promise, and the five novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine, A Resurrected Heart, Her Independent Spirit, Haunted by Love  and  her latest, Bridgeport Holiday Brides, were published by Prairie Rose Publications. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Holiday Hoopla and Hurrahs by Paty Jager

It’s November and since I blog here every other month this is my last blog on Cowboy Kisses for this year.  I’ve had a great year and still more releases and exciting deals for readers to come from me before the ball drops on 2016.
I just released book 7 in my Shandra Higheagle mystery series. It’s a Christmas mystery with Shandra’s dog, Sheba, having a starring role in the story. Crazy Lil, Shandra’s employee, spends most of the book doctoring her old mare. So you see, while this is a mystery, it also has western elements. You can check out Yuletide Slaying here.

Another big holiday event for me is the fact, I’m selling print book bundles at a special holiday price and if you live in the United States you get free shipping and my autograph on the books. If I run out of books on hand and need to ship them from the printer, I’ll send you autographed book plates. You can check out the bundles and prices here.

December 1st, my contemporary western romance, Bridled Heart, will re-release with a new cover and updated material. I interviewed World Champion bareback rider Bobby Mote and his wife to make the hero in the book ring true. The hero, Holt Reynolds, has his sights set on the World Champion bareback title when he becomes intrigued with ER nurse, Gina Montgomery. In the book, they both have a past they’d like to forget, but that same past defines them. From December 1-10th during the National Finals Rodeo this book will be available for $.99 in ebook. The end of the book is set during the National Finals in Las Vegas.

I’m having a Re-release and Rodeo party on Dec.2nd with seven contemporary western authors. This is to highlight the re-release of Bridled Heart. We’d love to have you stop by to talk rodeo and western romance. They’ll be prizes and lots of fun. You can find the information about this event here.

While it looks like I have a lot releasing right now, I’m also working on the research for the next book in the Letters of Fate series and writing a contemporary western novella for a box set. The life of a writer is never dull or boring!

One of my favorite things during the holidays is baking. I’ll leave you with one of the recipes I use every year in my plate of goodies for friends and neighbors. 

Pound Cake
½ lb butter(softened)
1 2/3 cups sugar
5 eggs
2 cups flour
½ tsp lemon extract

Mix butter and sugar till smooth. Add eggs one at a time. Mix well again. Add flour, then flavoring.
Grease two 4 x 8 loaf pans or four 2 x 4 pans, dust with flour. Bake 50 minutes at 350°. A toothpick inserted should be dry when the cakes are done. Remove from pans while still warm.

Happy Holidays! 

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 25+ novels and over a dozen novellas and short stories of murder mystery, western romance, and action adventure. She has a RomCon Reader’s Choice Award for her Action Adventure and received the EPPIE Award for Best Contemporary Western Romance.  You can connect with Paty through her social media sites.

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