Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Not so Hygienic West by Rhonda Frankhouser

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How can something so sexy, be so stinky?

As western romance writers, it's our job to 'romanticize' cowboy lore when much about them, and what they endured in the Old West was anything but romantic. The scruffy beard, the dirt covered boots. It's all irresistible, but let's think a minute. If he's scruffy and dirty, might he be in need of a bath!

In Ian Harvey's article in the Vintage News, he tells of the disgust experienced by the Native Americans when they first encountered these foul-smelling western travelers covered in heavy, non-breathable fabrics.

The Natives were accustomed to the harsh conditions, so they knew how to survive, find food, shelter and water and how to keep themselves clean. They bathed regularly, and tended to personal hygiene, while these emigrants moving through their lands, sometimes went months without a proper bath. 

It's a well documented fact that those journeying across the hot desert of the old west, battled many foes. The relentless heat, the barren, dusty plains, the over abundance of insect invasion which led to illness and disease, and most importantly, the lack of clean, fresh water. 

Once settled, keeping the water clean and sanitary was yet another difficulty they faced. The seepage from outhouses often contaminated the only source of fresh ground water to be found for miles. Water saved in barrels and ponds became stagnant as dirt and germs infiltrated. Without knowledge on proper storage and disinfection practices, the much-valued water became a source for infection and disease.

Melissa Sartore, outlined ways water was preserved in her article in Weird History. Sponge baths were often the best they could do, if they could manage to salvage even that much water. Families would share one bathtub, and clothes and dishes were washed in what remained, if they were washed at all. 

Ewww, right? But water was more valuable than gold!

Water became big business. Entrepreneurs took advantage of the thirsty people, and sold gallons of water for ridiculously high prices. Ian Harvey further shares that a cup could be sold for a dollar, five dollars, and in some very destitute places, up to a hundred dollars, while a pound of meat went for a penny. Puts things in perspective, for sure.

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So it appears smelling good wasn't the priority back then that it is today. I suppose no one can blame the cowboy of the old west for being a little stinky, when dehydration and death was the alternative. Who knows, maybe women back then, with a lack of bathing choices themselves, might've found something primal and sexy about a man drenched in his own sweat.  

For me, I'll continue to write strong, handsome cowboys who smell enticingly of horses, leather and Sandlewood, so my readers can continue to appreciate when his boots get kicked off and his well worn jeans finally hit the floor. 

Thanks for listening. 

About the Author
After fourteen years in hospice care management in central California, award-winning author, Rhonda Frankhouser now writes full time from her lovely Atlanta, Georgia home. Rhonda's Ruby's Ranch Series, earned a finalist honor in the Uncaged Review Raven Awards; a second runner up in the prestigious InD'Tale Magazine RONE awards and a Book and Benches, Reviewers Top Pic ~ Books of Distinction award. Her follow up Shadowing Souls Series and Let Yourself Believe Series, have captured the attention of both romance and mainstream readers alike. Rhonda is a happily married stepmom to 3 beautiful daughters; 2 adorable pugs and a lazy Labrador named Dutch.

Follow Rhonda on Amazon, Bookbub, Goodreads, Medium, and subscribe at to get a free copy of Seasons of Love, a Children's Story.

Watch for her new release, Christmas at Ruby's Ranch, coming soon!



Kristine Raymond said...

I love this! And, it's so true. I think it's why 'saloon girls' drenched themselves in perfume - both to cover up their own indelicate aromas and to mask those of their 'customers'. Lol

Alicia Haney said...

This is so very interesting, I guess a lot of them had no choice, and a lot of them took advantage of whoever wanted or needed water, which is so sad. Well, the cowboys and ranchers really worked hard and of course they had to smell, all the sweating and all the dust, plus the animal smells . I am so very grateful I was born when I was, people had it so hard back in the days, but they survived. Thanks for posting this very interesting article.