Honey Bees and The Westward Expansion (Again)

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Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. I’m currently bogged down trying to whittle away at a massive to-do list so I hope you’ll forgive me for recycling an older article, one I originally posted about 5 years ago. I drafted this one right before my book The Proper Wife released because it tied to a scene in that book.

Hope you enjoy the revisit!

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This book (The Proper Wife) was a lot of fun to write – the characters of Eli and Sadie were such seeming opposites that getting them to their Happily-ever-after took quite some doing.

One of the scenes in this book hinged on Sadie deciding she needed to harvest honey from a beehive whose location was a carefully guarded secret.  Since I had no experience with or knowledge of bees and honey gathering, especially from a nineteenth century perspective, this meant I had to dig in and do a bit of research.  And, as usual, my research took me down an unexpected but fascinating trail.

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One of the intriguing little tidbits I stumbled across was that, while there are many species of bees that are indigenous to the Americas, honey bees are not.  This took me completely by surprise – I’d always assumed they were a native species.  It is not known exactly when they first arrived here, but it is certain they came over with the early colonists as they were considered essential for both the wax and honey they produced.  Honey bee hives were mentioned in journals and shipping records as early as 1622.  However, it would take another 231 years for these highly prized insects to reach the west coast.

One could actually say that the journey of the honeybee across America mirrored that of the settlers.  They faced some of the same barriers – disease, harsh climates, predators, resource competitors, and geographical roadblocks – that hindered their advance.  But the human and apian settlers had a very symbiotic relationship during this westward push.  The honey bees not only provided honey and wax for the settlers, they often arrived in advance and helped to spread the white clover and other European grasses that the imported livestock favored.  In return, the humans planted countless acres of land with crops that were favorable to honey bee populations, built hives, and more importantly transported them over terrains such as treeless plains and mountain ranges that would have been difficult for the honey bees to cross on their own.

In fact, it is doubtful the honey bees could have crossed the Rocky Mountains without the help of humans.  Some settlers transported hives during their own overland travels, others had them shipped around the horn of South America.  But it was no easy task.  There is a story that tells of an 1846 attempt to bring honey bees to Oregon.  A settler who was planning a trip using the Applegate Trail was offered $500 to deliver a hive of live honey bees.  The tale goes that he loaded up two hives just to make certain he arrived with at least one intact.  Unfortunately all the bees in both hives perished of cold and disease before they made it across the mountains.

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It is reported that the first honey bees arrived in California in 1853.  These originated when 12 hives were purchased in Panama, transported across the Isthmus and then sent via ship to San Francisco.  Only one hive survived the trip but once there it flourished and eventually produced a number of swarms.

Of course, none of this history played a part in my  book.  The bee harvesting scene is quite short (but pivotal) and I really just needed to find out what a rustic hive might have looked like in the late nineteenth century and how one would go about collecting the honey.

How about you folks out there?  Any of you have experience with honey bees, either in the wild or in a man-made hive? If not, just let me know your favorite way to use honey (mine is in tea!)

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And because I cheated a bit and recycled an older post, I’m going to make it up to you all with a giveaway. I’m going to select one name from all of those who answer the above question by noon tomorrow and that person can have their choice of any book from my backlist. Just check back to discover the name of the winner.

Winnie Griggs
Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author or email her at winnie@winniegriggs.com.
Updated: June 7, 2016 — 12:44 am

35 Comments

  1. Hi Winnie! Personally, I’m very afraid of bees, so I stay as far away from them as possible!!

    When our kids were young, the house we lived in had a tree between us and our neighbor. Well, unbeknownst to us, it had a massive bald-faced hornet hive way up in it’s branches! Our kids played outside a lot, and it was super scary to think that they could have been stung! Those type of hornets from what I was told, are very aggressive and don’t like you around their hive. We hired an exterminator to come take care of them and when he took the hive down after killing them, we couldn’t believe how big it was!! The Lord was definitely looking out for my kids!

    I do, however, love honey! There’s a place her that sells local raw honey fresh from wherever they get their supply from. It is SO good….expensive, but worth it! I also like it in my tea, or spread on fresh made biscuits or dinner rolls or peanut butter & honey on bread…yummy!! And it’s so good for you, many nutritional benefits to boot!

    Thanks for getting my taste buds craving some natural sweetness, now I need to go buy some more honey…haha! And also for the history lesson & book giveaway!

    1. Oh man, hornets are bad, bad business. So glad y’all never had a personal encounter!

  2. My favorite way to use honey is by the spoonful as a tastey treat.

    1. LOL – a purist I see 🙂

  3. I am extremely afraid of bees and I am allergic as well. I have been stung twice in my childhood and I swelled up…it wasn’t very pretty.

    My whole family loves honey. I do not. I think it’s because of bees that I just can’t handle the idea of eating something they created. I will eat things that have been made with honey providing it has been cooked with the honey in it.

    Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    1. Hi Cindy – you definitely have good reason to be afraid of them if you have an allergy! But it’s a shame you can’t enjoy this yummy product more

  4. Very intriguing. I did not know that about honey bees. I went to see some hives once but must keep my distance as there is some question to allergies. Honey and I do not get along so I cannot eat it.

    1. So sorry you aren’t able to enjoy this tasty treat. And it was brave of you to visit hives if you are allergic

  5. I am allergic to bees, so I avoid them at all costs. But I do love honey.

    1. Wow, I didn’t realize bee allergies were such a widespread affliction. But at least you get to enjoy the honey!

  6. I adore natural honey and we have friends who keep bees. I am not afraid of bees as our friends have taught us all about them. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Susan, how nice to have friends who are beekeepers. I hope they keep you supplied with the sweet stuff 🙂

  7. I love the interesting tidbit about bees. Me and my grandkids love honey on biscuits. The one other thing is that I read the Proper Wife and loved the story highly recommend the read if you have not yet read it.

    1. Hi Geralyn, glad you enjoyed the post. And thanks for those kind words about The Proper Wife 🙂

  8. Wow! I had no idea that honey bees were not indigenous. I really enjoyed this article–thank you!

    Funny timing too because I just sent off a donation to the NRDC along with a signed petition against Big Ag chemicals this weekend because honey bees are at serious risk now and are dying off. The NRDC said, “1 out of every 3 bites of food we eat relies on bees for pollination. It’s time we put a stop to bee-killing pesticides.”

    I recall getting my fair share of bee stings as a kid from running barefoot through the clover in our yard. As a homeowner now, I notice no one has or wants clover in their yards, using yard chems to have astro turf-like lawns. Not us, of course, and besides still having bees on our property, we have lovely butterflies, some of which are also endangered. It’s always a good day when I see a Monarch butterfly as it flits by when I’m on my riding mower. I obviously enjoy nature and am sad at the effect humans are having on so many different life species.

    Now I have to go back and re-read The Proper Wife. And perhaps Morning Glory, maybe? 🙂

    1. Hi Eliza. I too recall stepping on a few bees as I raced around our backyard – they only slowed me down for a little while :). And thanks for that plug for my book!

  9. Hello,
    Thanks for the great information about bees in the US. I love honey! Some of my favorite uses are in my BBQ sauce, drizzled on cooked carrots and in my homemade honey mustard dressing. I also use beeswax mixed with honey on skin irritations.

    1. Hi Dawn. And wow – you had me at homemade honey mustard dressing! Sounds really yummy.

  10. Winnie, this is so interesting! I did not know that honeybees weren’t indigenous to the USA. When I was very young, I remember not caring too much for honey. But when I got to be about 11 or 12, HOME PRIDE bread came out with their wheat bread, and Mom bought some of it. Up to that point, ROMAN MEAL was the main type of wheat bread out there–but I discovered that honey and HOME PRIDE wheat bread was just a match made in heaven. I got on a kick of eating that every afternoon for my after-school snack and have loved honey ever since.

    Great post–I didn’t see it the first time around, so I’m glad you reposted it.

    1. Hi Cheryl – glad I could teach you something :). And I didn’t get hooked on honey until later in life either, only for me it was much later. For some reason we never had it around the house growing up. It was my husband who eventually introduced me to this luscious sweet treat, and I’ve been hooked ever since!

  11. My husband’s aunt was a beekeeper and she would always give us honey. My father in law also was a beekeeper for a while. My only experience with bees is getting not to get stung by them! I am glad my husband takes care of any bee issues we might have. Since he grew up around them, he is not bothered by them.

    1. Oh how nice to have beekeepers in the family!

  12. Hi Winnie, I had no idea honeybees were not native. Thanks for sharing so much great info. I get so worried about all the pollinator bees who are dying off through pesticides. Gotta take care of our world. Thanks for the fine post..

    1. Hi Tanya, glad you enjoyed the post. And yes, I don’t think many folks realized the kind of impact losing our bee populations would have.

  13. There is a lot of farmland around where I live and they have Bee boxes… the bees like to come and drink the hummingbird water I make…

    1. Hi Colleen,and LOL, sounds like some smart bees 🙂

  14. Thank you for the post about bees. I actually been reading books by Suzanne Woods Fisher that have bees in the stories. I like to use honey in my baking.

    1. Hi Mary. I’m curious – Do you just substitute honey for the sugar when you’re baking?

  15. HI Winnie! We actually have bees in one of our trees that has split down the middle. We haven’t tried to do anything with them here but we had a hive at our ranch so we called a local bee keeper and he came and collected the bees and their hive.

    1. A honey tree that’s split down the middle – what a wonderful set piece for a story! 🙂

  16. Besides tea, I often start out my day with warm water with lemon and honey.

    1. Sounds like a lovely way to start the morning!

  17. Like many, I had assumed that honey bees were native to the US. I had no idea they originated in Asia and spread to Europe and Africa before man brought them to the Americas. Let us hope they can survive the current threats to the health of their hives.

    I like honey in my tea. We also use it as a medicine on cuts and scrapes. Thanks for an interesting and informative post.

    1. Patricia, you’re quite welcome. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  18. Honey on toast.

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