Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Hey, what cha' reading??? Bit of history about penny dreadfuls.

Having been ill for several days, I found myself quickly growing weary of television which led me to wonder, what did those confined with illness do to amuse themselves? I’m sure they played their share of checkers and chess, but games required two. I can’t imagine mothers, with much work to do, would wish a second child confined to the sick bed. In my imagination, dear Mother would have told the child to read.

Before the Civil War, literacy was at its highest point. People devoured stories, magazine, newspapers, anything they could get their hands on to enrich the small amount of time they had free. In the late 19th and early 20th century, some of the most popular fiction stories were found in what was known as dime novels or Penny dreadfuls. Granted, they were not Oliver Twist, nor the Great Gatsby, but there were good sized novels of mid length, around 100 or so pages,  available to anyone by mass publication, and didn’t take a long time to read. 

1860 saw the publication of Beadle’s Dime Novels publishing their first story as a feature in Ladies Companion Magazine entitled Malaeska, the Indian Wife of a White Hunter written by Ann S. Stephens. The piece sold over 65,000 copies. Demand had been found! Now, they needed to fill it.
A variety of genre’s awaited readers young and old, Westerns – Wild Bill, Jessie James, Billy the Kid often making the outlaw heroic. It took Owen Wister’s The Virginian to give westerns respectability. (By the way, my favorite)  Railway stories, circus stories (who doesn’t remember Toby Tyler) gold diggers, even Revolutionary heroes in Liberty Boys. For those authors reading this, notice how many of these genres seem like tropes in today’s writing. Lonely wives on ranches, cowboys, farmers, school children, and travelers devoured the tales. By 1874, their popularity was such that the covers no longer were plain yellow paper with woodcut artistry. Now, they sported color illustrations and were published sometimes weekly.

They weren’t all salacious stories, for the most part an underlying theme was that the hero must teach masculine ideals, they avoided vice, they might love their horse more than the heroine and there was certainly no hokie - pokie going on behind the bunkhouse. Villains, ah, villains, always got their come-upance at the very end of the story.

The heyday for the dime novels spanned the years 1860 – 1915. They were replaced by pulp magazines and by 1926 the dime novel has met its end. 

Until next time…

Below are a few selected covers from an image search

 Love the men and the title on the first.http://r.search.yahoo.com/john-adcock.blogspot.com

And the yellow a copy of the first story... Imagine in its day and time with the social morals it was quite a story.  Malaska's image can be found on Wikipedia. 

And I would be amiss if I didn't include a pony express cover.  muraniapress.com

Monday, March 25, 2019


On November 16, 2017 I released a book called COWBOY: His Ranch. His Rules. His Secrets. It has remained in or near the top 100 of its category--Contemporary Western Fiction--ever since, and is probably my most successful release. (I have published over 70 books).

Why? What is the magical pixie dust?

I launched a series--Hunks and Horses--using COWBOY as its base. I thought each book was just as engaging, but none have come close to the continued success of COWBOY.

Some of you have probably read it, and I'd love your feedback, but that's not the only reason I chose this books as the subject for this blog post.

Western Romance has been, and continues to be, one of the most popular genres in the broad Romance category. Let's face it! We are fans of Cowboy Kisses because we are enamored of cowboys. Their hats, boots, old-fashioned values, love of horses, and last but not least, most are easy on the eyes! Quick with a grin, and walking with a swagger, the twinkle in their eye sets our hearts fluttering.

Cowboys tamed the west (and probably the wild women who were brave enough to join them). They fought, toiled, and with sheer grit and determination, settled the land and created something from nothing. We have many holidays commemorating the heroes of history. Shouldn't we have a national cowboy day?

All in favor, raise your hands!

If anyone knows of a date that has historical significance relating to cowboys, please let me know.  My email is MagCarpenter@yahoo.com, or just leave it in the comments below. Maybe we could start something. Spread it around Facebook.

Hey everyone. The ___of ____ is National Cowboy Day!

Have a super rest of your week! If you'd like to subscribe to my newsletter you can pick up a free copy of LOGAN: Cowboy Bodyguard.

Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Possibles Bag by Zina Abbott

In my current work in progress, Virginia’s Vocation, which is scheduled to be released April 12th of this year, my story starts with my heroine visiting a outfitter’s store in Bonner Springs, Kansas. Catering mostly to those pioneers traveling west along the Oregon and California trails, it holds many items useful for people on the move. Having had its origins as a trading post catering to the local tribes, notably the Kaw, or Kansa, and mountain men heading west to hunt and trap, it still has some ties with the Kaw who have been forced from the region onto a reservation several miles away.

Many western romances are about the brave women who join their families on the frontier to battle the elements, wild animals, hostile Indians, thieves, murders and all manner of American and Mexican desperados. Virginia wants no part of that. Although going with her brothers to help while they build homes for their families to move to the following spring, she knows that is not the life she wishes for herself. The merchandise in the store does not appeal to her until the owner—a man who, even though it is 1858, dresses like a throwback to the mountain man days of 1820s through 1840s—draws her attention to a possibles bag.
Mountain Man with possibles bag hanging just below his waist.
What is a possibles bag? In the 18th and 19th centuries, mountain men, minutemen, frontiersmen, and black powder hunters of all kinds would usually be found with two bags slung across their shoulders: their powder horn and their “possibles bag.” In my day, I’ve heard containers that served the same purpose being called a “Boonie Box” or emergency pack. However, the term back in the day was “possibles bag.”

After a muzzleloader or rifle and a hunting knife, a possibles bag was considered a mountain man’s most important piece of equipment. It was so-named either because it contained everything you might possibly need for the day, or because you could possibly find most anything packed in the bag.

Davey Crockett with a possibles bag
In it men carried their possibles, which was anything might possibly need while out hunting, fighting or traveling. Contents included shooting tools, fire starting material, bullets, tobacco, pipe, emergency food, a tin cup and maybe small tools. Oftentimes an interior pocket was sewn to the inside to allow for more organization. The bags were made to either sling over a shoulder or hang from a belt. They generally were positioned next to the person’s right or dominant hand to hang just below the elbow for easy access.

Contents of a possibles bag - taken at Merced River Rendezvous
It appears some were decorated, particularly when acquired from the native tribes in the region through which a mountain man or frontiersman traveled. The idea of an outfitter’s store offering possibles bags made and decorated by local native tribes came about from seeing some of the possibles bags in older prints as well as knowing the Iroquois bands offered beaded purses equivalent to possibles bags as trade items in their region. They were quite popular among white Americans, and often portraits showed women holding and showing off their beaded purse.

To see more examples of possibles bags used by modern hunters or Rendevous reinactors, please CLICK HERE.

Here is an excerpt from Virginia’s Vocation

           “You’re interested in the lady’s possibles bag, are you? It’s made by one of the local Kaw craftswomen.”
          Virginia turned to face the middle-aged store owner with the startling gray eyes. Wearing his dark hair tied back in a queue and dressed in buckskin breeches with a white linen shirt covered by a leather vest, to Virginia, he dressed like a throwback to an earlier era. “Local Kaw? Aren’t they an Indian tribe? I thought they were sent to live on a reservation some distance away.” She watched the man as his eye twitched, and wondered what she had said that prompted his reaction.
          “That they have. When I was a lad, this whole land was theirs. Several years ago, they sold much of their land and went to the reservation by Council Grove, west of Topeka. I still keep in contact with them, and sell many of the goods their women make.”
          “Oh. I wondered. My brothers were here a couple of years ago when they first started looking for new farm land in Kansas Territory. They said they talked to someone who was from one of the tribes that used to live here. The Indian man warned them it was dangerous if we went too far west, because different tribes who live there have not agreed to live on reservations. Kansas Territory seems so unsettled. I guess…” Virginia felt her stomach threaten to tighten in knots, just as it often did at the thought of moving to the untamed frontier the men in her family had selected for their new home. She swallowed. “I guess my brothers have looked into Salina and decided enough people have moved there it would be a fairly safe place to live..."
          “It is true Salina is on the western edge of the territory America has opened up for settling. It used to be part of the traditional bison hunting grounds of the Kaw. Unfortunately, the Cheyenne also claim that same land for their hunting grounds which is far to the west from where the Smokey Hills, Saline and Solomon Rivers join and continue to where we are now. The open prairie available to the buffalo is smaller than it used to be. The Cheyenne have been giving the Kaw people trouble in recent years when they meet up to hunt among the same herds. The Kiowa and Arapaho have been known to go through that land, too. However, as long as Salina continues to grow, and if the local farmers band together and put up a united front to any danger, you and your family should be all right moving there.”
          Virginia turned to look at the far wall of the building. “My brothers say the same. I wish I could feel more convinced.” Virginia’s gaze next followed his finger as he pointed at the bag.
          “I hear many of the tribes like the Iroquois up north make beaded bags that are very popular with the society ladies back east. Most of my customers are headed west and prefer more practical things. However, it does not hurt to mix beauty with what is practical. I know the woman who made this. She does good work. This is not only attractive, but will serve you well for years.”
          Virginia once again fingered the locket at her neck as she studied the bag more closely. Its simple lines and well-crafted design did appeal to her. “I’m not sure what I would use it for. The things I need to keep handy stay in a pocket.”
          Virginia watched the man shrug as he ran his fingers over the stitching holding the shoulder-length strap to the twelve inches square pouch with its rounded edges on the bottom and the decorated flap that covered nearly the entire front.
          “It may be that you have no need for such an item. The mountain men who a generation ago used to come through here on their way west considered them a necessity. They used them to hold anything they might need for the day, whether it be powder and shot, a knife too small to wear on a belt, fire-starter supplies, maybe some coffee, dried jerky or hardtack and a tin cup. If they got caught out in the open away from their camp where they kept most of their supplies, they usually had enough in their possibles bag to allow them to survive overnight. ..."
          Wide-eyed, Virginia stared at each of her brothers in turn as her stomach churned with a renewed apprehension. Crossing a broad, choppy river on a rickety ferry loaded with animals that might misstep and a wagon that might slide did not appeal to her in the least. Yet, as usual, she had no say in the matter. She must endure and hope she did not fall overboard and drown.
          Virginia reached for the possibles bag the storekeeper had shown her and turned to hand it to Jefferson. “Brother, I wish you to add this to your order. It will be for me. I have my big scissors, but I also want a small knife to carry inside the bag.” She ignored the confused and resistant expression on her oldest brother’s face as her determined gaze stayed focused on him.
          “Whatever for, Virginia? This is not a time to purchase fripperies.”
          Her anger rising, Virginia responded with a snap to her voice. “This may be beautifully decorated, Jefferson, but it is practical. I will be in camp, often by myself, and it will be helpful to be able to keep a few small items handy. I’ll put my mending kit in there, along with matches and…and a few other things that tend to get lost or dumped in the dirt when the three of you men start tossing things around looking for a tool or whatever it is you need.”

You will read more about Virginia's possibles bag later in the story.

Virginia’sVocation is part of the Lockets and Lace series. It is on preorder and will be available April 12th. To read the book description and access the purchase link, please CLICK HERE.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019


One of the highlights of my cross-country road trip back in 2015 was Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. And how could it not be a highlight? Here is scenery that both inspires and excites in a corner of Colorado once called the ‘Switzerland of America.’ One of several wide valleys at around 8,000 feet, which include North Park, Middle Park, South Park, and Winter Park, Estes Park itself was renowned for its beauty. But for the long line of British aristocrats that visited the area from the early 1800s, it held a hint of their own landscaped reserves surrounding country estates, yet was a formidable hunting ground, brimming with wildlife they would not encounter back home. No wonder then, given the immense wealth of these visitors, they would want to have it for their own. And one man set out to do just that.

Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, 4th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl, an Anglo-Irish peer, first viewed the Rockies in 1869, aged twenty-eight and on his honeymoon. He had gone to Oxford and served in the Queen’s Life Guards. Best known for being a journalist, writing articles on travel and hunting, he was generally considered an enlightened and rather progressive man for his background, and mixed socially with writers, actors and musicians. His boyhood had been spent reading the western novels of Mayne Reid and Fenimore Cooper so that, despite having a young bride in tow, he now aimed to travel west and hunt.
Circumstances conspired against him that year, however, and his party reached only as far as Denver. The dramatic backdrop to this burgeoning town was enough to enthrall him. In the next sixteen years, Dunraven was to travel annually to the west, sometimes more than once a year. After all, Denver was ‘only’ seventeen days from Liverpool.

Estes Park had been home to Arapaho and Ute and occasional Apaches. Trappers had passed through, and Missourian Joel Estes came in 1859 to try his hand at ranching there. Griff Evans arrived in 1867 and built cabins to accommodate tourists and lead hunting trips. In 1872, Dunraven finally set eyes on the area for the first time.
He had inherited title just a year earlier, and now commanded his family’s extensive fortune, including banks, railroads, shipping and coal, as well as four mansions scattered throughout the British Isles. Having hunted throughout the west on visits over the last three years—including one hunt led by William Cody and his pal, Texas Jack— Dunraven now stayed at one of Evans’ cabins for three weeks and subsequently set his heart on having the park for his private hunting ground. The earl had caught ‘prairie fever’ as Mayne Reid had called it.

Why Dunraven favored Estes Park came down to several details, as varied as the beautiful sunsets, the dry air, and the fact nearby Denver was a station for no less than five railroad lines. He loved the area so much that he paid Albert Bierstadt $15,000 for a painting of Estes Park, the first of many he would take home to remind him of his place in Colorado. The way Dunraven set about obtaining ownership to six thousand acres was a modus operandi that would be employed by numerous ranchers throughout the west in the coming years. Exercising his vast resources, he had his agents bribe various American citizens to make use of both the Pre-emption Act and Homestead Act to either buy or prove up 160 acres each. By choosing the sites wisely, Dunraven enclosed more acreage without access to water. Thirty-one claims were filed for his use.

But such a land grab could not go unnoticed. Squatters moved in, and a grand jury was set to investigate his claims. While none of this came to anything, and Dunraven kept his land titles, the harassment showed him the writing on the wall. He had the roads improved and built a hotel as well as a sawmill. Back home in Britain, he was increasingly involved in politics, and would later serve in Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s government under Lord Salisbury, as well as in the Senate of the Irish Free State. The Earl made his last visit to Estes Park in 1882, but it was not until 1908 that he sold his land to F.O. Stanley and B. D. Sanborn. Stanley, of course, built the now-historic Stanley Hotel. Rocky Mountain National Park was signed into being in 1915.

It is a strange anomaly that a man who wrote approvingly about the preservation of Yellowstone as a national park for the enjoyment of the general public, and later would be instrumental in passing the Irish Land Purchase Act of 1903 (permitting tenants to purchase land with favorable terms from their landlords), should want to illegally secure such a large swathe of American countryside for his own use. But Dunraven was very much a product of his background, if an enlightened one, and only the first of many Brits who would seek to use the west for their own profit and enjoyment.

An earlier version of this appeared 2015 at http://andreadowning.com
Photo of Lord Dunraven public domain; all other photos author's own