Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Are you one of those super organized holiday people who have up their Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving and mail out their Christmas cards the following week? I used to be, but I have to admit, not so much lately. As of today just about the only decorating I’ve done is to hang up the Christmas stockings. (Mantle is looking mighty crowded these days – I LOVE it!!)
The four stockings made from the same fabric are ones I made for my kids when they were very young. I even crossed stitched their names and a holiday design on the cuff. When my oldest daughter got married I purchased her husband a stocking but cross stitched a cuff to add to it so that it matched the other four. Unfortunately, by the time my next daughter got married my cross stitching days were behind me. So I personalized the rest of them with jaunty embroidered patches.
As I was taking care of that fun bit of holiday tradition (and remembering holidays past), it made me wonder, where did the custom of hanging stockings come from. So I decided to do a bit of research.
It turns out that there are two schools of thought on how this came to be, both shrouded in myth and tradition.
The most popular theory is that it is linked to the stories surrounding the generosity of the original St. Nicholas. Nicholas lived in the third century and was renowned for his concern for and generosity toward those in need. One story tells of a poor widower who had three daughters. The man was distraught over the fate his daughters were facing since he had now dowry to offer prospective husbands. The story goes that Nicholas heard of the family’s plight and secretly, so as to not gain honor for himself, entered their home and left gold coins in the girls stocking which were hung by the fire to dry. Thus the practice of hanging stockings by the fireplace in hopes of receiving a gift was born. Oh, and sometimes an alternate version is given that has Nicholas leaving a small gold ball in each stocking. This is supposedly where the custom of putting oranges in the toe of stockings comes from.
The second theory on the origin of the Christmas comes from a completely different belief system, that of Norse mythology. According to this version, children would fill their shoes with straw, root vegetables or sugar and leave them on the hearth for Odin’s flying horse to eat. As a reward for their kindness Odin would replace their offering with one of his own, that of gifts or sweets.
This practice was widely spread through Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Once Christianity was adopted, the legend of Odin’s benevolence merged with the stories of St. Nicholas evolving over time into today’s current practice.
Whatever the truth of the matter, I’m glad this fun tradition is part of our current day holiday celebrations.
So what about you? Does your family hang stockings? Is there a story behind any of the stockings themselves?
Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for one of two copies of the re-release of The Christmas Journey
Philadelphia lawyer Ryland Lassiter is everything Josephine Wylie wants – for a brother-in-law! As the sole supporter of her family, Josie’s plans for herself have always had to wait. But Ryland will be ideal as the new head of the Wylie clan…once he finally realizes how perfect he is for her sister.
Ry knows its time to settle down. The newly appointed guardian to a friend’s daughter, he’s ready for a home and family. All he needs is a bride…and Josie’s sister is not the Wylie who has caught his eye. If only Josie would see the truth – that the only Christmas present he needs is her love.
Yup, you read that right. How do I get from the first two to the later? It’s easy when the wedding is in Estes Park, Colorado, at The Stanley Hotel, the famed inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining.
First a little history. Freelan Oscar Stanley and his wife Flora, missing the east’s grandeur, opened The Stanley Hotel complete with electric lights, telephones, en suite bathrooms, uniformed staff and a fleet of automobiles in 1909 among the Rocky Mountains in Estes Park, Colorado. However, by the 1970’s the hotel’s splendor had faded, and it might have been demolished if not for Stephen King.
The famed author stayed in Room 217 and a dream here inspired The Shining. The room is thought to be haunted by Elizabeth Wilson. Injured in 1911 in an explosion lighting lanterns in Room 217, when recovered, Mrs. Wilson became head chambermaid and worked at the hotel until her death. Since then, guests have reported luggage being unpacked (now this I’d appreciate ?) and lights being turned on and off. Mrs. Wilson, not a fan of unmarried couples sharing the room, has been known to show her displeasure by climbing into bed between them!
The Concert Hall is another room frequented by otherworldly inhabitants including Flora Stanley. When the hotel opened, F.O. presented Flora with a Steinway Grand Piano. Since her passing, guests and staff claim Flora can still be heard playing. Paul, a jack-of-all trades at the hotel, enjoys frequenting this room as well. Charged with enforcing the hotel’s curfew during his tenure, guests and workers claim Paul can be heard saying “get out” after hours. He’s also said to “nudge” construction workers and flicker flashlights for tour groups here.
On the hotel’s fourth floor, originally a cavernous attic where female staff, nannies and children stayed, guests report hearing children running, laughing, giggling and playing. People also claim a certain closet opens and closes on its own. In room 428, guests report footsteps and furniture being moved above them. However, many claim this impossible due to the roof’s slope. But the room’s most frequent ghostly visitor is a “friendly cowboy” appearing by the bed. Now that’s the room for me! What a great opportunity for hero research!
These are a small sample of the ghost stories associated with The Stanley Hotel. If you’re interested in more tales, I recommend Ghost Stories of the Estes Valley Volumes 1 and 2 by Celeste Lasky. (I purchased mine at The Stanley but they’re available on Amazon.)
If you visit Estes Park, maybe you’ll be inspired as I was. That’s where the idea for my first novel sold to Harlequin, Big City Cowboy, literally walked up to me. But that’s a story for another blog…
If you stay at The Stanley Hotel, could you’ll encounter F.O. Stanley hovering behind his staff at the reception desk. ? If you do, keep these tips from tripsavvy.com on how to capture ghosts on camera in mind. “Take five or six quick shots to capture a fleeting spirit. Oh, and bring up back-up batteries because paranormal experts will tell you if spirits are present, they’ll have a draining effect on your batteries.”
Now it’s your turn. Leave a comment about a place where you’ve encountered a ghost or that’s left you feeling a bit creepy to be entered in my give away. And oh, yes, Happy Halloween!
Tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the year … Halloween! Not only did I have a granddaughter born on Halloween and she’ll turn 21 tomorrow, but I love the kids, their costumes, and giving out treats. I took ten bags of candy to the church today for our annual Trunk or Treat. So many wonderful memories.
But oh do I love apple wassail to kick off the holiday season. I didn’t realize the tradition of Apple Wassail, which is a form of wassailing practiced in the cider orchards of southern England during the winter some five centuries ago. The first recorded mention was at Fordwich, Kent, in 1585. Groups of young men would go between orchards performing the rite for a reward. The practice was sometimes referred to as “howling”. On the Twelfth Night, men would go with their wassail bowl into apple orchards. Slices of bread or toast were laid at the roots and sometimes tied to branches. Cider was also poured over the tree roots. The ceremony is said to “bless” the trees to produce a good crop the next season.
A folktale from Somerset reflecting this custom tells of the Apple Tree Man, the spirit of the oldest apple tree in an orchard, and in whom the fertility of the orchard is thought to reside. In the tale a man offers his last mug of mulled cider to the trees in his orchard and is rewarded by the Apple Tree Man who reveals to him the location of buried gold.
Here’s a couple of well know and fun traditional Apple Wassail rhymes.
“Stand fast root, bear well to
Pray for God send us a howling good crop.
Every twig apple big.
Every Bough, apples now.”
19th century Sussex, Surrey
“But by far here’s the one we all know.
Here we come a wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wandering
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too.
And God bless you and send you a happy New Year.
And God send you a happy New Year.”
The wassail recipe is very easy and fun to make and drink.
1 gallon apple cider
1 quart cranberry juice
¾ cup sugar
2 cups orange juice
16 whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 stick (6 inch size) cinnamon.
Tie the spices in a cheesecloth bag. Add the spice bag and all remaining ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
For a party or a carry-in, heat in a crock pot on low temperature.
Optional: Garnish individual servings with a cinnamon stick and orange slice. Serves 24.
My question to you: What is your favorite holiday beverage?
To one reader who leaves a comment, I will give away an eBook of my latest Kasota Springs Romance “Out of a Texas Night”.
Howdy! And welcome to the Tuesday blog. Well, today I’ll be giving away THE ANGEL AND THE WARRIOR in either e-book format or mass market paperback, winner’s choice. There is a restriction. It is limited to the United States only. There are also the rules for free give-away — over to the right here — that govern our give-aways, so please do give that a read.
Sometimes there’s a problem because some sites out there contact you to ensure you know you’ve won. But we don’t do that here. We rely on you to come back in a day or two to see if you are the winner. If you have won, instructions will be given on how to contact me so that the book can be sent to you. But you must contact me in order to claim your prize.
Off to the left here is the e-book cover of the give-away book and at the very end of this blog is the mass market cover of the book.
All right. So with that said, let’s have a look at what I consider to be one of the most fascinating parts of this book, and of this series. This is the first book in THE LOST CLAN series. Now, this series is set not only within historical times, but within the framework of American Indian Mythology. There are a couple of characters in this series of four books which are caught in all four books, and one of those characters is the Thunderer.
The Thunder Being (or sometimes referred to as the Thunder Bird or Thunder God or Thunderer) is central to these stories. His anger has been stirred up by acts of violence against himself and his children by a clan that is part of the Blackfoot Indians – The Lost Clan. Interestingly, the Thunder Being plays a dominant role in most Native American tribes — perhaps because when one is living so closely to nature, the Thunderer, who can produce so much damage, would be a subject of much legend. In this series of books, the Lost Clan has been relegated into the “mist” by the Creator, who intervened on the people’s behalf when the Thunderer became bent on destroying every single member of the clan. Imprisoned within that mist, each band of the Clan is given a chance within every new generation to choose a boy to go out into the real world. That boy is charged with the task of undoing the curse, thus freeing his people from what would be an everlasting punishment (they are neither real, nor dead). But, not only must the boy be brave and intelligent (there are puzzles to solve within every book), he must also show kindness to an enemy.
Let’s have a look at the Thunderer and some of the different tales about this being. In Blackfeet lore, the Thunderer often steals women. He can take the image of a very large bird — his wings creating the thunder and his eyes shooting out the lightning. In Lakota lore, if one dreams about the Thunder god, he becomes a backwards person. He must do everything backwards. He washes in sand, become dirty in water, walks backwards, says exactly what he doesn’t mean, etc., etc. The dream is so powerful that it is thought that if one fails to do these things, he courts certain death. In THE ANGEL AND THE WARRIOR, the hero is one of these boys who is charged with the task of freeing his people. He is desperate because he only has until his 30th birthday to undo the curse, and the hero of the story is 29, with only a few months left to accomplish this task. Relying on visions and dreams, he is drawn toward a woman with hair the color of starlight. But he regards her and his growing feelings toward her, as little more than a distraction, and great suspicion.
There is also a legend of the Thunder Being in the Iroquois Nation. In this legend, a young woman becomes the bride of the Thunderer and through him saves her village from a huge snake that burrows under her village, thus endangering the lives of everyone in her village. There is still another legend about the Thunderer which you can watch on the Movie called Dream Makers — well, I think that’s the name of the movie (if I am wrong about that name, please do correct me). In this legend, which is also an Eastern Indian tribe, a young woman marries the Thunderer and goes to live with him in the above world. But she is returned to her own world when she becomes pregnant with his child.
What is very, very interesting to me is how many and how vast are the stories and legends that abounded in Native America. Though we often hear or even study the ancient lore of the Greeks, seldom do we read much our own myths — the mythology that belongs intimately with this land we call America — which by the way, to the Native Americans on the East Coast, America is known as Turtle Island. Fascinatingly, there is a story for almost every creature on this continent, from the crow to the sparrow to the coyote (the trickster), the wolf and bear. There are legends about the stars, the Big Dipper hosts legends about the Great Bear (Iroquois) and the Seven Brothers and their sister (Cheyenne and Blackfeet). There are still other tales about the Morning Star and the Evening Star and marriages between the Gods and mortals.
Do you, like me, love these kinds of stories?
In closing, I thought I’d post a short excerpt from the book.
THE ANGEL AND THE WARRIOR, by Karen Kay
He stared at her, and in his eyes, Angelia thought she saw a spark of…laughter?
“After all, what trouble could there be, since a man and his wife are often seen alone together?”
Angelia wasn’t certain she had heard Swift Hawk correctly. “What was that again?”
He shrugged. “What?”
“What you just said.”
He gave her a perfectly innocent look and repeated, “Your brother is over by that ridge, trying to discover who trails him.”
“No, not that—that other thing.”
“You mean about my wife and I being alone?”
“That’s it. That’s the one. Your wife? You have a wife?” she asked, feeling more than a little confused.
He said, “Certainly I have a wife.”
She sent him a sideways scowl. “I don’t believe you. Where is this person?”
He grinned. “Right here beside me.”
“Wait a minute. How can I be your wife?”
“Very easily, I think.”
Angelia sat for a moment, dazed. How could this be? On one hand, she was cheered that Swift Hawk was, indeed, very much interested in her. On the other hand, she realized she should have been worrying less and practicing more of exactly what she should say to this man.
Was this what he’d meant when he’d said they belonged to one another? Marriage?
Aloud, she said, “Swift Hawk, have I missed something? I don’t remember a marriage ceremony between us.”
Swift Hawk frowned. “You do not remember? And yet recalling those moments we spent together is forever here.” He pointed to his head, and then to his heart.
“Moments? What are you talking about?”
“You do not remember.” He tsk-tsked.
Angelia grimaced, placing a hand on her forehead, as if to ease the spinning sensation. “There must be something here I don’t understand, because I don’t recall a thing.”
“Ah, then I should refresh your memory. But…surely you do not wish me to do this…” he made a mock glance around him, “…where others might overhear us, or see us.”
“Swift Hawk, please. Be serious.”
She shook her head. “Have you gone crazy?”
“Perhaps, for my wife treats me as though I am nothing more to her than a…” he drew his brows together, looking for all the world as if he were in deep thought, “…friend.”
“You are a friend.”
“Haa’he, that I am…plus more. Now, I have something else to tell you, and for a moment, I would ask that we forget all this, switch our duties and I will be a teacher and you will be my pupil.”
“Why?” she asked, still feeling bewildered and having difficulty following his line of thought.
“Because I have a problem in mathematics for you.”
“Swift Hawk, please, we are not doing our lessons now. We are having a discussion about…about…”
Swift Hawk shrugged. “All right. If you do not wish to hear this problem, I will not bore you with it.”
Angelia blew out her breath. “Very well. Tell me.”
“No, I do not wish to disturb you with it…at least not now.”
She sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, all right? I… It’s only that you’ve said some things that have…surprised me, things I don’t understand, and frankly, you’re speaking about a subject that must be discussed by us in greater detail. But by all means, let me hear this problem that you have with mathematics first.”
He ignored the sarcasm in her voice and gave her a look that could have been innocent, but it wasn’t. Before she could decide what he was up to, he said, “Tell me, what is the result when you add a man, a woman, and a morning spent together in each other’s arms?”
“Shh. Swift Hawk. What are you doing? Say that quietly.”
“Very well.” Lowering his voice, he whispered, “What do you get when you add—”
“I heard you the first time. Swift Hawk, really, it…it…wasn’t like that… It was…” She stopped, for she seemed incapable of uttering another word.
Now was the time. Now she should tell him.
Angelia opened her mouth to speak, took a deep breath, then held it. How in the name of good heaven could she begin?
She shut her mouth, thinking, summoning her nerve to say what must be said.
Swift Hawk leaned in toward her. “Ah, I can see that you understand. Now you must observe that all of these things, added together, equals a marriage, does it not?”
“No, it—” Angelia shook her head, exhaling sharply. “It does not equal marriage. There was no ceremony.” She said every word distinctively. “But let’s not quibble. Not now. Not here, where we might be overhead. Besides, we forget that Julian might be in trouble. Now, if you would be so kind as to lead me to my brother, I would be much beholden.”
Angelia rolled her eyes. “Please, will you take me to him?”
“Yes, my wife,” said Swift Hawk seriously, though she could have sworn that a corner of his mouth lifted upward in a smile. “Truly, my wife, I will do anything you say.”
“Please, if you must say that, say it softly.”
“Very well.” Leaning up onto his elbows, Swift Hawk spoke quietly, for her ears alone, “Yes, my wife. I am yours to command, my wife.”
Angelia raised an eyebrow. “You are mine to command?”
“It is so.”
“Good. Then I command you not to speak to me of this again.”
Smiling, Swift Hawk inclined his head. “Very well. I will show you instead how eager I am to please you.” He held out a hand toward her.
Angelia rolled away. “Swift Hawk!” she uttered sharply, under her breath. “Stop this at once. Just…just take me to my brother.”
For the last few posts, I’ve been writing about El Camino Real and the haunted missions along the way. Today, I’m going to discuss one area of Highway 101 that I bet just about everybody has seen on television commericals … the Gaviota Pass one and a half miles west of Gaviota, near Santa Barbara, California.
It’s a place where the road narrows to just a few feet. It’s where El Camino Real moves away from the coast and into the interior of California. The long climb up the grade takes travelers to Mission Santa Inez and La Purisima, which I’ve previously blogged on. The land mark is a haunted one, also.
This bronze plaque commemorates where on Christmas day 1846 an ambush set up by Mexican loyalists to stop Lt. Col. John Fremont’s U.S. troops from moving south forcing the Americans to take a more labored approach to capture Santa Barbara where it was captured without bloodshed.
The ghosts of Gaviota Pass date to an earlier time when a detachment of Spanish Lancers were set upon by the local inhabitants. The Spanish were forced to retreat down the road and through the pass toward to coast. For a while it looked like the Natives would win the day, but as the warriors prepared to mount a charge on the exhausted Spanish Troops a strong wind came up from the sea and inland. In desperation the Spanish set fire to the dry grass in the pass. The flames fueled by the ocean’s wind roared up the pass. The native warriors trapped in the conflagration were burned to death.
Defeated spirits haunt the pass today. Some have reported seeing a figure who wanders alone. Local legend is that this is the chief who led his people into the fiery defeat. There is no doubt this is a spooky place, especially for those who visit the place at night. When the wind blows one may still hear the horrible wails of those warriors succumbing to fire.
Now my truth. I’ve gone through this pass hundreds of times, during all times of the night and day, and my daughter who lives in Santa Barbara County travels to LA regularly and neither of us have seen or heard anything. I certainly want to make it clear that I’m not discounting any of this as fact, because I just know that sole legendary chief will make sure I believe in him the next time I’m around the pass.
Those of you who have traveled the 101 and gone through this pass, have you ever had any weird sensations.
Okay, as I promised this is the month, I’m telling you all about my grandson’s experience at the La Purisima Mission not far from his home. Last summer when I was out there for four months, he came out from college in Texas to one of his sister’s graduation. A friend from Texas had moved out to Santa Barbara with her family, so they went ghost busting at the mission. They climbed over the gate, as others did, and after not finding anything that interested them, they returned to his folks home. When his friend started to leave, she couldn’t find her keys. She was sure they were secured in her closed up shoulder bag. They looked everywhere and could find them, so as a last resort they went back to the La Purisima.
When they turned into the drive right outside the gate they saw a flash. Checking it out, they found not only her keys but a billfold, both which had been crushed. There was no way a car could have done it. They came home certain that this had to be an act of one of the Mission’s ghosts.
There wasn’t a driver’s license in the billfold, but a card for a doctor’s appointment and cash. They physician’s clerk called the gentleman and told him where his billfold was but never mentioned where it was found. I answered the door when he showed up. He was pleasantly surprised we had his billfold but perplexed because he was sure it had been secure in his back pocket which was zipped up. “Where was it found?,” he asked. When I told him, all he could say was “That dern ghost must have stolen it, crushed the dern thing to let us know not to go ghost busting out there again.”
Now you tell me whether you think it was just a coincidence or a reminder from our La Purisima ghosts not to bother them at night?
To one lucky person who leaves a comment, I will give away an autographed copy of the award winning anthology A Texas Christmas by sister filly, Linda Broday, Jodi Thomas, the late DeWanna Pace, and me.
Today is Halloween, the day when children across the country dig the innards out of and carve faces into hapless pumpkins, dress in costume and roam the neighborhood begging for enough candy to rot teeth and cause bellyaches for a full year. I have many fond—and some not so fond—memories of Halloween. Like the year my brother and I dressed up as Christmas packages. Do you know how hard it is to walk to school in a water heater box covered in wrapping paper and adorned with an enormous bow?
The practice of decorating pumpkins, or jack-o-lanterns is said to have originated in an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack. Seems Jack convinced the Devil to buy him a drink but didn’t want to pay for it. So he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin. Instead of paying for the drink, Jack slipped the coin into his pocket alongside a cross, which kept the devil from turning back. Jack freed him in exchange for a year of freedom.
When the Devil returned in a year, Jack tricked him into climbing a tree to pick a piece of fruit, then carved a cross into the bark, trapping the dark angel until he promised Jack ten more years of freedom. When Jack died, God didn’t want the trickster in heaven and the Devil had promised not to claim Jack’s soul. According to the legend, the Devil left Jack to roam the countryside with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming ever since. The Irish began to refer to the ghostly wanderer as Jack of the Lantern, or Jack o’ lantern.
Villagers began to carve their own versions of Jack’s lantern into turnips or potatoes and placing them in windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. Irish immigrants brought the tradition to America, where the native pumpkin proved a perfect canvas, and it is now an integral part of Halloween festivities.
So, tell me: do you still carve pumpkins for your front porch on Halloween?
First published in 1820, Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has been terrifying children for almost 200 years. Though the tale of a hapless schoolmaster’s midnight gallop through the New York woods made the phrase “headless horseman” a household term in America, by the time Irving’s story appeared headless horsemen had been staples of European folklore for centuries. German, Irish, Scandinavian, and English legends all offered versions of the ghoulish phantoms, who usually were said to appear to proud, arrogant people as a warning.
Texas has its own gruesome headless horseman legend. Unlike Irving’s unforgettable spook, though, Texas’s headless horseman rode among the living once upon a time.
Some say he still does.
In the summer of 1850, a Mexican bandido by the name of Vidal made an egregious error: He and several compadres rustled a sizable herd of horses from several ranches south of San Antonio. One of the ranches belonged to Texas Ranger Creed Taylor, a veteran of the Texas War for Independence and a man not inclined to forgive his enemies. (Taylor later would be one of the participants in the Sutton-Taylor Feud, a bloody, years-long running gun battle that resulted in four times as many deaths as the better-known fracas between the Hatfields and McCoys.)
Rustling cattle already had earned Vidal’s head a dead-or-alive bounty. Stealing a Texas Ranger’s horses was the proverbial last straw. Together with fellow Ranger William A.A. “Big Foot” Wallace and another local rancher, Taylor set out to put a stop to Vidal’s unbearable insolence.
Capt. Mayne Reid’s version of a Texas Legend, published in 1865, received a mention in Charles Dickens’s final novel, Our Mutual Friend.
As a group, the early Texas Rangers were hard men. Tasked with protecting an enormous patch of land rife with outlaws and Indians, the early Rangers were expert trackers, accomplished gunmen, and not opposed to meting out immediate — and often brutal — “frontier justice.” Vidal was about to discover that in a very personal way.
After tracking the bandidos to their camp, Taylor, Wallace, and the third man mounted a surprise attack while the outlaws were asleep. Killing the desperados was not enough for Taylor and Wallace, though. The entire Ranger force was fed up with the rash of rustling plaguing Texas at the time. Not even leaving bodies hanging from trees or hacking them to pieces and using the bits for predator bait had made a strong enough statement.
So, Wallace got creative. After beheading Vidal, he secured the corpse upright on the back of the wildest of the rustled horses, lashed the bandido’s hands to the saddle horn and his feet to the stirrups, and tied the stirrups beneath the animal’s belly. Just to make sure anyone who saw the ghoulish specter got the message, he looped a rawhide thong through the head’s jaws and around Vidal’s sombrero, and slung the bloody bundle from the saddle’s pommel. Then Wallace and his friends sent the terrified mustang galloping off into the night.
Big Foot Wallace, ca. 1872
Not long thereafter, vaqueros began to report seeing a headless horseman rampaging through the scrub on a dark, wild horse. As sightings spread, some claimed flames shot from the animal’s nostrils and lightning bolts from its hooves. Bullets seemed to have no effect on the grisly marauder. They dubbed the apparition el Muerto — the dead man — and attributed all sorts of evil and misfortune to the mysterious rider.
Eventually, a posse of cowboys brought down the horse at a watering hole near Ben Bolt, Texas. By then the dried-up body had been riddled with bullets and arrows, and the head had shriveled in the sun. The posse laid Vidal’s remains to rest in an unmarked grave on the La Trinidad Ranch. Only then did Wallace and Taylor take public credit for the deed. The episode contributed to Wallace’s reputation and had the intended effect on rustling.
Even the revelation of the truth behind the legend did not end el Muerto’s reign of terror. Until nearby Fort Inge was decommissioned in 1869, soldiers reported seeing a headless rider roaming the countryside around Uvalde, near Taylor’s ranch. Thirty years later, a rise in the ground 250 miles to the southeast, near San Patricio, Texas, was christened Headless Horseman Hill after a wagon train reported an encounter with el Muerto. A sighting occurred in 1917 outside San Diego, Texas, and another near Freer in 1969.
El Muerto reportedly still roams the mesquite-covered range in Duval, Jim Wells, and Live Oak counties — still fearsome, still headless, and still reminding those who see him that Texas Rangers didn’t come by their tough-hombre reputation by accident.
I haven’t written any tales about headless horsemen — yet — but ghosts play a significant role in one of my short novellas. Family Tradition is one of two stories that compose Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts.
Everyone should have career at which they excel. At failing to commit crimes, nobody is better than Laredo and Tombstone Hawkins. Maybe they can bumble their way into love.
Haunted by his kin’s tradition of spectacular failure, bank robber Tombstone Hawkins is honor-bound to prove his family tree produced at least one bad apple. When carnival fortuneteller Pansy Gilchrist tries to help, she accidentally summons a pair of dishonest-to-goodness ghosts. Getting into the spirit of a crime is one thing…but how do you get the spirits out?
Here’s a brief excerpt:
Stone blinked at the apparitions. If not for Madame Minerva’s confirmation, he’d have sworn he was seeing things—and he hadn’t touched a drop of whiskey in weeks.
He eased backward a step.
So did she, sidling up next to him until her hipbone collided with his leg.
The two ghosts floated around the table, one on each side, and planted themselves close enough for Stone to poke a hand through either misty shape. Forcing a swallow down his throat, he squinted at the nearest. He’d been on the receiving end of that old man’s irritated glare far too often.
Heart racing fast enough to outrun a mule with a butt full of buckshot, Stone faded back another step.
The fake gypsy stayed with him, as though she were glued to his side.
The gauzy forms kept pace.
“Emile?” Madame Minerva’s voice squeaked like a schoolgirl’s.
Even on a ghost, disappointment was easy to spot. A pained frown gripped one apparition’s face. “I’m not part of the con any longer, Pansy. You can’t call me father just once?”
Stone ducked his head and tossed the woman a sidelong glance. “Pansy?”
“Said Tombstone,” she hissed.
The second ghost spoke up, his voice strangely hollow but recognizable. “Boy, you got nothin’ to say to your ol’ pop?”
“I uh… I…” Stone’s tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.
Thank God, Emile picked up the conversation. “I see my little girl is keeping the family tradition alive.”
“I am.” Pansy’s breathy whisper carried a hint of tears. “Oh, Emile, I wish you had stayed.”
“I’ve been here all along. You just haven’t looked for me before.” Emile’s specter extended a hand to cup his daughter’s cheek. Pansy leaned into the phantom caress.
Stone snatched her before she toppled over. Too late, he discovered she weighed little more than a ghost herself. His grab yanked her off her feet and slammed her into his chest.
He exercised quite a bit more care setting her back on the dirt floor.
It seems like just last week I blogged with you all … well it was! But if you can stand me one more day, I’m going to continue along the El Camino Real and write about another Mission I visited not long ago.
My youngest granddaughter came home from school and said she had an end-of-the-year school project and needed my help. She had to select a mission and write about its history, as well as draw pictures. Of course the Mission La Purisima was the first one to come to mind, but as she reminded me, anybody could drive the two or three miles to get a bird’s eye view. The next choice is where we went every Wednesday to the market in Solvang … Mission Santa Inez. It was a great choice, so we rounded up as many grands who wanted to go and my daughter and I headed towards Solvang. We could kill three birds with one stone, go to the market, go to our favorite winery while the kids went to the ice cream shop, and visit the Mission for Addison’s project. What a wonderful outing!
But first some history. Mission Santa Inez was founded in September 1804, and was known for their excellency in saddle making. Today the Mission is fairly well dwarfed by the tourist town of Solvang. This is one of the most beautiful Missions I’ve visited, but like the others I’ve written about, it has folklore to match it’s magnificence!
One story tells of a dark vampire that once inhabited the church when it was in ruin. The tale says that there is a creature that will suck the blood from the toes of any hapless stranger who sleeps the night in the chapel and has the bad luck to remove his shoes. Maybe the tale has its origin in the owls who once perched in the building long ago. Maybe not. Maybe it’s just a myth!
Another legend caught my attention because it tells that the statue of San Antonio, that was brought by the Spanish padres, is somehow blessed and has the power to grant one prayer of an unselfish nature.
This quiet and beautiful place wasn’t always so peaceful, for it was here in 1824 that the Great Revolt started. The Chumash native converts grew tired of the cruel treatment afforded them by the Spanish soldiers, and revolted in a bloody rampage which lasted a month. According to folklore, A Chumash woman warned the padres of the uprising saving many lives. As the legend goes, she was buried under the alter in a special site reserved for padres and political leaders. Maybe it is this woman who haunts the grounds of the old church. Some say they feel her presence near the old laundry basin. It is said that tape recordings made at the cemetery and laundry area always seems to pick up stray whispers and the mournful wail of a Native American flute.
The site is calm now, but if its memories do replay to the visitor, this should be a very haunted site indeed.
Now for where Addison and I worked. This is the backside of the Mission. We sat on the wishing well and I helped her vocalize the mission, without the ghosts, but it’s history. She did a fantastically beautiful drawing from this view. She’s like her PawPa, an artist at heart. I lost five dollars in coins to the wishing well.
I hope you enjoyed a glimpse into my visit to California a few months ago. Stick with me because I’m still going to revisit the Mission La Purisima and tell you about my college grandson’s real adventure with what could have been a ghost. I’ll let you all decide.
And, yes we all had ice cream, got some beautiful vegetables along with strawberries, blueberries, and some wonderful mulberries, as well as a couple of bouquets of flowers and headed home … no Lucas and Lewellen Tasting Room for us that day.
To two readers who leave a comment, I’ll put your names in one of my
lady Stetson hats direct from Solvang and you can select
In my last blog I wrote about the Mission La Purisima on the Camino Real in California. I promised to write more about it and some personal things that have happened in the ol’ haunted mission. Before I publish, what I think is an intriguing finish to my personal story about the La Purisima, I wanted to explore some more places along the King’s Highway that I’ve visited or became intrigued with.
I’m gonna bet if you make any Tex-Mex or even Mexican dishes you’ve used Ortega brand products. Here’s my story about Ortega Adobe, Ortega Chili Company, and a mysterious little girl.
The picture to the left is one of the middle class adobe homes and also one of the last houses of its type still standing in California. Built in 1857 by local rancher Emedigio Ortega, he raised nine of his children.
In 1897, one of his sons began the Ortega Chili Company that exists today. Obviously, the international company has outgrown the small three room house.
The building has been used as a Mexican restaurant, a Chinese laundry, a pottery shop, an employment agency, a VFW hall, a speakeasy, the Ventura police state, and lastly, a boy’s and girl’s club. In the 1960’s it became an historic museum. The tiles on the roof were purchased from the Old Mission San Buenaventura after the earthquake of 1857.
Now for the more interesting part of this mission, as I promised.
Supernatural events have become a part of the adobe museum’s crew’s jobs. Staff have caught a glimpse of a man with a derby hat standing on the porch. A visitor who believes she has a psychic gift saw a ghostly little girl in the house standing in the doorway. She had a dark shawl over her head. The house also has a very cold spot in the largest of the rooms where some have heard voices! The story of soft music emanating from a phantom guitar remind us of the history and many different lives that have passed through this house and of some spirits that may have chosen to stick around.
The Ortega Adobe isn’t a mission but I found its story very interesting. I love going to California and this year, as many of you all know, I spent over two months in central California in order to celebrate graduation and birthdays for my grandchildren. I’m eager to write more about my adventures.
Earlier this month when I wrote about the Mission La Pursima, which you haven’t heard the last of, I received a lot of wonderful comments on missions, so I’ll ask you the same question … please share with us any of your experiences on missions, the Camino Real, and ghosts.
To one lucky reader who comments, I’ll give you a choice of one of my eBook’s, including any anthology I’m in or one of my short stories. I’m looking forward to reading all of your comments.
I’ve always been interested in history and did a lot of research on the West while I was writing the Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes (Cengage, 2012). I also spent time in Arizona after my father moved to a ghost town near the Mexican border, and I was fascinated by the area around Tombstone, where much of the WANTED series is set.
In the first book in the series, Grace and the Guiltless,Grace is the lone survivor after outlaws massacre her family. She risks her reputation by entering the notorious Bird Cage Theater to report the crime to the sheriff:
Clouds of smoke enveloped Grace. Like the black, acrid smoke from the burning cabin that still clung to her pores and clothes, the sweetish cigar smoke and the sharper scent of burning tobacco from hand-rolled cigarettes suffocated her. Raucous laughter, the tinkle of a piano, and the clink of glasses pulsed through the room. The infamous alcoves, or bird cages, some with their red velvet curtains drawn, perched overhead like rows of fancy packages.
Her eyes stinging from the haze, Grace squinted to find the sheriff. So many black frock coats blurred into an indistinguishable mass…
Disentangling herself from pawing hands as she crosses the room, Grace irritates the sheriff by separating him from the painted lady keeping him company.
The heavyset man frowned at her. “So, what can I do for you, Miss —”
“Grace Milton, sir. Yesterday my parents . . . my whole family . . .” Grace’s tongue tripped over the words. If she said them aloud, it would make it real. But if she didn’t, those killers would get away with what they had done. “Elijah Hale and his gang . . . they shot my pa, and-and…”
The sheriff’s face paled at the mention of Hale’s name, but he leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers, though his hands shook slightly. “Mr. Hale is well known in these parts as a respectable man.”
Respectable man? A picture imprinted itself on Grace’s mind – Hale smiling, his gun pointed straight at her father’s heart.
The sheriff pulled a cigar from his vest pocket and rolled it between his fingers, avoiding her eyes.
“Did you hear me? Hale killed my pa. And my ma, and my—”
The sheriff chomped down on the cigar, twisted, and then spat the end into the nearby spittoon. The wad hit the brass with a wet ringing sound. “Any witnesses?”
“Me,” Grace choked out.
Sheriff Behan lit his cigar and blew a puff of smoke in Grace’s direction. “Not sure your word,” he said, his gaze raking her disheveled appearance, “would stand up against Hale’s.” He waved his cigar in a dismissive circle. “You bring me some proof, and I’ll consider looking into it.”
A white-hot volcano of rage erupted in Grace’s stomach. Did that badge glinting at her from across the table mean anything at all?
“My family’s dead in the ground.” She sucked in air to control the tremor in her voice. “I dug their graves myself.” She held out her blistered and bloodied hands. “Is that proof enough for you?”
Something flickered in the sheriff’s eyes. Pity maybe? But he quickly shuttered it. “That’s a sad story Miss Milton, but people die every day.” His voice loaded with fake sympathy, he continued, “Lots of Injuns ’round here. Renegade soldiers. Hermits. Even coyotes. Understandable you’d be a mite mixed up following such a tragedy. You being hysterical and all.”
“I. Am. Not. Hysterical.” Grace spat out each word. Furious, yes. Hysterical, no. Although he was rapidly pushing her in that direction. She’d get no help from this snake.
As Grace suspects, the sheriff is in cahoots with the gang, so she trains as a bounty hunter to singlehandedly track down the criminals. One reviewer calls her the “Katniss of the Wild West.” But when Grace falls for Joe, a?rugged range rider, can she give up her independence to take on a partner?
In book 2, Her Cold Revenge, Grace must prove her skills and stop a train robbery masterminded by the outlaws who slaughtered her family. And as she slowly opens her heart to both Joe and the Ndeh tribe, who take her in, her heartache begins to heal. Yet she’s still torn between revenge and love.
“Every second had me on the edge of my seat…”
“I’ve never been so moved by a book. You honesty made me cry…”
The books in the WANTED series came out in the UK first, and then in the U.S., with different covers.
Erin Johnson grew up watching classic western movies with her father, which fueled her lifelong love of horseback riding. She’s always dreamed of being a fierce-talking cowgirl, but writing about one seemed like the next best thing. She loves traveling, painting, and teaching, and she writes under several pseudonyms for both children and adults.
Giveaway! : Erin has a great giveaway with two separate winners! For a chance to win, leave a comment for Erin and you’ll be entered. One winner will receive a copy of Grace & the Guiltless and the second winner will receive a copy of the recipe book, Feast on Fiction!