A Story of the West during The War of the Rebellion
The West – conjures up pictures of Cowboys and Indians, covered wagons, Wild Bill Hitchcock, saloons, gunslingers and Wyoming or Colorado, etc. But did you know that leading up to and including the Civil War, the ‘west’ was what we call today the Midwest – like Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Ohio. Huh? The original 13 colonies/states (New York to Maine, to Pennsylvania, Carolinas, etc) was considered the civilized society and anything past the Appalachian Mountains is the West.
When the Civil War is discussed even today, it is a story of the North and the South but what about the West? The Midwest was the food-producing states. Both sides counted it as theirs. Missouri, for instance, was the ‘west’, with no status as North or South until “Bloody Kansas” occurred. Newspapers in the North wrote their stories, painting the slave-holding Missouri as Southern. Missouri had a lot of ties to the north from an economic standard, being a bread-winning state and St. Louis was one of the nation’s highest importing towns, that you could by any import there, verses New York or New Orleans or Charleston (the other big ports).
Many businesses in St. Louis were tied to the North but this slanderous news stories propagated at this time during the crisis pushed Missouri in a corner, so to speak, and therefore, they did throw their hat in with the South. Many southerners did settle in the state and it was a slave state but that didn’t make them southerner. Even today, northerners referred to Missouri as southern and vice versa.
When the war comes, it concentrates on the east and the prime objective by the north was ‘take Richmond!’ – the old concept of take the capital (yet at first, the capital for the Confederacy was in Alabama). The push was take the Army of Northern Virginia, led by the mastermind Robert E. Lee, out, take over Richmond and the North wins! But what of the west? The West does include more than the battles at Shiloh, Vicksburg and Franklin. The west was also the breadbasket of the South (& North) but the key to conquering the rebels was the Mississippi River. Take it and cut the Confederacy in half (plus cutting them from their main food source –Texas).
The western theater also became the dumping ground by both sides for officers that lost favor in the east. General Halleck (US), Rosecrans (US), Braxton Bragg (CS), Joseph E. Johnston (CS) are good examples, like Johnston and President Jefferson Davis didn’t get along, but the South needed men, so Johnston was kept, just reassigned to the west. Sounds pretty awful, right?
My latest release, Rags & Hope, deals with this issue.Here is the blurb:
There was one thing about the War of Rebellion they could both understand: At least on the battlefield, the enemy is clear.
Thanks to his father’s political machinations, grieving widower Colonel Pierce Duval wants nothing more than to leave his family home in New York and return to his Union command in Tennessee. A chance and harrowing encounter with a true-blue Southern belle stirs emotions in him he thought long buried. When her safety is at stake, how can he not help her?
Cerisa Fontaine ran away from her wealthy Louisiana home, hoping to form a new life where no one would know her family’s awful secret. But her controversial marriage and southern drawl make her a pariah in New York. Her situation becomes downright perilous when her husband is killed in battle and Cerisa is left alone and penniless, forced to seek employment at the only establishment that will accept her: a brothel. When the handsome colonel offers her a way out, she’s compelled to accept despite his Yankee roots.
Each for self-serving reasons of their own, Pierce and Cerisa embark on a journey south to Tennessee, posing as a married couple. But even as their secrets stand between them, their passion wages its own war against their better judgment. All too soon, they must make a life altering choice: remain loyal to their cause, or give in to their heart’s desire.
One of the writer-related questions I get most often is where do my ideas come from. The answer is a bit complex. As a writer, I see stories everywhere – in snippets of conversation, in song lyrics, in throwaway scenes from movies and TV shows and just from everyday life. But story ideas are also very fragile – they can disappear like mist when the sun beats down or like dream fragments once you’re fully awake.
So, whenever I get an idea for a new story, even if it’s just for a character or scene, I’ll set up a document in my Ideas folder to capture it before it gets away. From time to time I’ll go back in and add to one or more of the files, depending on what snags my interest at the time. And eventually one of these ideas will tell me it’s ready to be turned into a full blown book.
All of the above is backdrop to explain that one of these idea files contained a snippet of a story set in the late 19th century with a female doctor in the lead role. Of course a story like this requires a lot of research – questions such as what educational options were available for women and where could these be found, how well received were female doctors, what difficulties would they have faced due to their gender and just in general what medical treatments and a medical practice looked like during that time period.
And as often happens, while I was happily ensconced in researching some of this, I stumbled upon an unexpected and totally intriguing story about a fascinating woman. Her name was Mary Walker. She was born in 1832, in upstate New York to parents who encouraged all of their children to pursue formal education. Mary took full advantage of her parents’ ideals and at the age of 25 graduated from Syracuse Medical School with a doctor of medicine degree – she was the only woman in her class. She then went into private practice and eventually married another physician, Dr. Albert Miller. However, in an action that was typical of her fierce independent spirit, she retained her maiden name. Eventually, she and Miller divorced due to his alleged infidelity.
When the Civil War broke out, Mary wanted to serve in the army as a surgeon, but because she was a woman she was unable to do so. Not willing to give up, she worked for free in a temporary hospital in Washington D.C. From there she moved on to Virginia, treating the wounded at numerous field hospitals throughout the area. Finally, in 1863, her medical credentials were acknowledged and she was appointed as a War Department surgeon. A year later she was captured by the Confederate Army and remained their prisoner for about four months.
In 1865, Dr. Walker became the first woman to ever be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, an acknowledgement for her services during the Civil War.
Mary’s unconventional life extended past her service during the war. She was an active and vigorous proponent of women’s rights. She became an author and a lecturer, focusing on issues such as temperance, health care and dress reform. And putting action to her words, she could often be seen garbed in bloomers or even men’s trousers and a top hat. Dr. Walker was a member of the Woman’s Suffrage Bureau in Washington D.C. and testified before committees in the US House of Representatives on woman’s suffrage issues.
In 1917 her name, along with 910 others, was stricken from the list of Medal of Honor recipients. The reason given was that none of these had ever officially served in the military. However, despite orders to return her medal, Mary refused and continued to wear it for the remainder of her life. She passed away in 1919 at the age of 86.
But that’s not the end of Dr. Walker’s story. In 1977, thanks to efforts made by her family who pushed for a Congressional reappraisal of her accomplishments, President Jimmy Carter restored her medal posthumously. She is one of only six people to have this honor restored after it was rescinded. And to date she is still the only female to ever have this medal awarded to her.
So what do you think of this very unorthodox woman? Is there something about her life that particularly intrigued you? Comment on this post for a chance to win an advance copy of my upcoming December release Once Upon A Texas Christmas.
Abigail Fulton is determined to find independence in Turnabout, Texas—and becoming manager of the local hotel could be the solution. But first, she must work with Seth Reynolds to renovate the property by Christmas—and convince him she’s perfect for the job. If only he hadn’t already promised the position to someone else…
Ever since his troubled childhood, Seth yearns to prove himself. And this hotel is his best chance. But what does someone like Abigail know about decor and furnishings? Yet the closer the holiday deadline gets, the more he appreciates her abilities and her kindness. His business ambitions require denying Abigail’s dearest wish, but can they put old dreams aside for a greater gift—love and family?
Americans didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day as we know it until the mid-1800s. By 1856, the practice of sending somewhat sappy cards had become so widespread that newspapers began to call the blossoming tradition a “social disease.” Conservative elements in society tried to stamp out the celebration because they considered such unvarnished expression of fondness evidence of “moral deterioration.” The February 1856 edition of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine included a cartoon depicting card-giving as crass and self-indulgent.
A “window” valentine, ca. 1864. Such cards were called window valentines because front flaps opened to reveal a hidden message or image.
A scant five years later, as the Civil War began, Valentine’s Day took on new significance. Cards often depicted sweethearts parting. Many incorporated flaps that opened to reveal soldiers standing in tents or couples at the altar. Some included a lock of the giver’s hair.
In addition to cards, songs of love and loss became popular with Civil War soldiers on the battlefields. At night, encamped on opposite sides of imaginary lines only hundreds of yards apart, men wearing blue and men wearing gray sang as one. Some of the songs were meant to keep sweet memories alive; many mourned happiness never to be.
The following are a few of the most popular love songs of the Civil War.
The Yellow Rose of Texas
A popular marching tune all over the Confederacy, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” dates to the state’s early colonial period. The first known transcribed version — handwritten on a piece of plain paper — appeared around the time of the Texian victory at San Jacinto in April 1836. In its original form, the song tells the story of a black man who has been separated from his sweetheart and longs to reunite with her. This YouTube video contains the modified version Texas troops actually sang during the Civil War, complete with references to “Bobby Lee” and Hood’s Texas Brigade…with one exception. By the time of the war, the phrase “sweetest rose of color” had been replaced with “little flower” in order not to imply white soldiers were pining for a mulatto woman.
“Aura Lea” (also spelled “Aura Lee”)
Most people today recognize the melody to “Aura Lea” as “Love Me Tender,” which became an instant hit when Elvis Presley sang the song during his first appearance on the big screen in the 1956 movie of the same name. The original, composed in 1861 by W. W. Fosdick (words) and George R. Poulton (music), is one of the happier songs of the era. Nevertheless, this song and “Lorena” (below) were banned in some camps because they tended to provoke desertion, especially among Confederates from 1863 forward.
The Rev. Henry D. L. Webster wrote the words to one of the most popular love songs of the Civil War in 1856 after his intended broke off their engagement. His friend Joseph Philbrick Webster composed the music. Western Writers of America listed “Lorena” as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time; an instrumental version appears in the iconic film Gone with the Wind.
Credit for the lyrics has been given to Marie Ravenal de la Costa and the melody to John Hill Hewett, though the story behind the song may be apocryphal. The version most generally accepted is that, in 1862, Miss de la Costa penned the words in the Atlanta church where she had gone to pray after receiving word of her fiancé’s death on the battlefield. She left the handwritten lyrics behind. One of the saddest songs of the period, “Somebody’s Darling” was as popular in the North as it was in its native South.
When I Saw Sweet Nellie Home
Also known as “Seeing Nellie Home” and “Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party,” the original was composed by John Fletcher (music) and Frances Kyle (words) in 1859. In 1861, Otto W. Ludwig changed the words to create the strident Union ballad “Courage, Mother, I Am Going,” about a young man who believes he won’t return from a war he is morally obligated to fight. Needless to say, Confederates sang the original. The Union version faded into obscurity after the war.
Published by Stephen Foster in 1848, “Oh! Susanna” was popular with both bluebellies and graybacks, who viewed the words through entirely different cultural lenses. This version contains the original second verse, which is controversial (and potentially offensive) because of the language.
My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night
Published by Stephen Foster in 1853, “My Old Kentucky Home” speaks of love for home and family. The song became enormously popular with both armies during the Civil War—which was odd in the case of the Confederacy, because Foster’s notes on the original handwritten sheet music clearly indicate he intended the song to be an abolitionist anthem inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (Foster was a staunch abolitionist.)
Just Before the Battle, Mother
One of the saddest Civil War favorites speaks of love not for a sweetheart, but for a young’s man’s mother. With words and music (1862) by George F. Root, “Just Before the Battle, Mother” was strictly a Union song. (The lead-in on this version, performed by the 97th Regimental String Band, is long. The words start just before the one-minute mark.)
The Picture on the Wall
A sad song more popular among the folks at home than soldiers on the battlefield (for obvious reasons), Henry Clay Work’s “The Picture on the Wall” (1864) is almost unknown today. During the Civil War, it expressed tremendous grief about the loss of both sweethearts and sons.
Annie Laurie (also spelled “Annie Lawry”)
Brought to America from Scotland around 1832, authorship of the song is unknown. By the time of the Civil War, the words had changed from the original Scottish. Because the song was so well known, it was one of the most often sung across the lines, despite — or perhaps because of — the haunting chorus: “For bonnie Annie Laurie, I’d lay me down and die.”
Composed in 1863 by Mrs. Parkhurst, the tune to “Sweet Evelina” is spritely even though the words come from the point of view of a young man fated never to marry the beautiful girl he loves. The song was incredibly popular among soldiers on both sides during the war but had all but disappeared by 1900.
Listen to the Mockingbird
Septimus Winner, using the name Alice Hawthorne, wrote the words to “Listen to the Mockingbird” in 1855 and set them to music composed by a guitarist friend. Despite the upbeat melody, the song tells the story of a man’s love for a young woman who has died. The tune was popular with both Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs. As an aside: In 1862, Winner was arrested and charged with treason after he published “Give Us Back Our Old Commander: Little Mac, the People’s Pride.” The song protested Lincoln’s firing of Gen. George B. McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Federal authorities released Winner only after he promised to destroy all remaining copies of the sheet music…but calling back the 80,000 copies that sold in the first two days after the song’s publication proved impossible. (McClellan was an exceptionally popular man.)
An excellent album called Songs of the Civil War contains renditions of some of these songs by artists including The United States Military Academy Band, Waylon Jennings, Richie Havens, Hoyt Axton, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Kathy Mattea, and Jay Ungar and Molly Mason (of “Ashokan Farewell” fame). It’s available from Amazon on CD and audiocassette, as well as in MP3 format and via Amazon’s PrimeMusic.
Powerful emotion breeds enduring art of all kinds. As heart-stirring as some of the music, poetry, paintings, fiction, and other art forms of the mid-1800s, let’s hope we don’t see another such prolific period for a similar reason ever again.
And speaking of Valentine’s Day…
Prairie Rose Publications is offering a token of its love to readers all week: Fourteen free novels, anthologies, and boxed sets. Who doesn’t love free? Let me tell you something: There are a passel of hunky heroes in that herd I’d love to snuggle up to on Valentine’s Day or any other day. Fourteen more novels, boxed sets, and anthologies have been discounted to 99 cents.
Y’all can find a list of the books here. Go take look if you’re of a mind to spend some time lost in love with sigh-worthy heroes and feisty heroines.
Save the Earth; it’s the only planet with chocolate
I’ve got candy on my mind this month and it’s not even Valentine’s. There are two reasons why I’m thinking of all things sweet and it has nothing to do with the empty box of chocolates on my desk; January is national candy month and the heroine of my current work in progress owns a candy shop.
While doing the research for my book, I turned up some fun and interesting facts. For example, we can blame our sweet tooth on our cavemen ancestors and their fondness for honey. But the most surprising thing I discovered was that marshmallows grow on trees—or at least used to. That was before the French came up with a way to replace the sweet sap from the mallow tree with gelatin.
I also learned that during the middle ages, the price of sugar was so high that only the rich could afford a sweet treat. In fact, candy was such a rarity that the most children could expect was an occasional sugar plum at Christmas. (BTW: there are no plums in sugar plums. Plum is another word for good).
This changed during the early nineteenth century with the discovery of sugar-beet juice and mechanical candy-making machines.
Soon jars of colorful penny candy could be found in every trading post and general store in the country. It took almost four hundred candy manufacturing companies to keep up with the demand.
This changed the market considerably. Children as young as four or five were now able to make purchases independent of their parents. (Had youngsters known that vegetables including spinach was used to color candy, they might not have wasted their money.)
Children weren’t the only ones enjoying the availability of cheap candy. Civil War soldiers favored gumdrops, jelly beans, hard candy and, hub wafers (now known as Necco wafers).
Never one to miss a trend, John Arbuckle, noted the sugar craze that had swept the country and decided to use it as marketing tool. He included a peppermint stick in each pound bag of Arbuckle’s coffee to encourage sales.
“Who wants the peppermint?” was a familiar cry around chuck wagons.
This call to grind the coffee beans got a rash of volunteers. No rough and tumble cowboy worth his salt would turn down a stick of peppermint candy, especially when out on the trail.
Arbuckle wasn’t the only one to see gold in candy. Outlaw Doc Scurlock, friend of Billy the Kid and a Bloody Lincoln County War participant, retired from crime in 1880. Though he was still a wanted man, he moved to Texas and opened up a candy store.
Cadbury, Mars and Hershey rode herd on the chocolate boom of the late 1800s, early 1900s. Penny candy still made up eighteen percent of candy sales but, by this time, some merchants had refused to sell it. Profits were thin and selling such small amounts to children was time-consuming. Chocolate was more profitable. The penny candy market vanished altogether during World War II when sugar was rationed. Fortunately, no war could do away with chocolate.
Okay, so what’s your favorite candy? Anyone have a candy memory to share?
This past year, I was honored to be asked to participate in two more of the “Wolf Creek” collections that are the brainchild of Dr. Troy Smith, a wonderful author, outstanding history professor at Tennessee Tech, and a very good friend. Troy’s vision, when he created the fictional post-Civil War Kansas town of Wolf Creek, was that it would be populated by a very diverse community. That, in itself, would cause its own brand of problems as the people of Kansas were sorely divided during the Civil War—and that conflict left its mark long after the War ended.
With over two dozen western authors making up the fabled “Ford Fargo”, author of the Wolf Creek anthologies and shared universe books, I have found myself in some very fine company to work alongside in these creations. The beauty of this project is that each author has the freedom to incorporate their character(s) into a loose framework that Troy lays out, and every shared story gets off to a great start, has no “sagging middle”, and comes to a very climactic ending—yet, it does so with the efforts of (usually) 6 authors per book.Imagine the thrill of being a part of such a collective effort—and seeing how flawlessly the eventual project comes out!
Available in print and e-book formats at Amazon.
In 2016, I participated in two anthologies. These are somewhat different from the “shared universe” books in which there is one story, divided into chapters. The anthologies are separate short stories, but they do propel the same story along to the completion, in many ways, a lot like the chapter books do.
I had a story in a book that was published in May, Wolf Creek: Book 14—WAR STORIES. This was a fun one, because there is a creepy barber, John Hix, who lives in Wolf Creek. He claims to have had nothing at all to do with the Civil War, yet he’s always wanting others to talk about what THEY did during the War…and he has his own reasons. And let’s just say, there have been some “unexplained disappearances”… This was a bittersweet book, as the incomparable western author, Frank Roderus, was a contributor—and this was one of his last publications before he passed away.
In my story, UNCLE JOHN, my character, Derrick McCain, discovers quite by accident that he has a daughter, six-year-old Viviana, that he didn’t know he had—and her mother is dying. But just as Vivi’s mother passes, Derrick is in for another surprise—one that troubles him to his soul: it becomes apparent that somehow, John Hix, the barber, is well-acquainted with little Vivi and her mother—and this is one man that Derrick doesn’t want anywhere near his family!
Available in print and e-book formats at Amazon.
The second book I contributed to this past year was called Wolf Creek: Book 18—HUNTER’S MOON. My story was THREE GOOD MEN, and this time, the town of Wolf Creek will soon be under siege by a band of raiding Kiowas who will show no mercy. They’ll reach the McCain family farm first, and though Derrick wants nothing more than to stay behind with the three men who’ve come to warn him and make their stand in his farmhouse, he knows he has to see his family to safety above all else. With the help of Sheriff Sam Gardner, a crusty lawman, Derrick and his wife, Leah, begin the trip to Wolf Creek in the dead of night under a hunter’s moon. But it isn’t long before Derrick realizes they are going to have to abandon the wagon and take their chances in the darkness of the forest to have any kind of hope of making it safely to Wolf Creek.
Some of the Kiowas follow, and while Sam and Leah make their way through the night with Vivi and her baby twin brothers, Derrick battles the Kiowas to save his family. When daylight comes, will the McCains and Sam be alive to continue the journey to warn the citizens of Wolf Creek of the impending attack? And what will become of the THREE GOOD MEN who have stayed behind to hold off the Kiowas and give Derrick, his family, and the town of Wolf Creek a fighting chance under a HUNTER’S MOON?
Here’s an excerpt from THREE GOOD MEN. Leah, the children, and Sam are making their way through the forest, and Leah is understandably worried about what’s going to happen. Here, she talks things over with Sam–and wonders where in the heck her husband is–or if he’s even still alive…
They walked in silence for a few more moments. Leah’s mind raced. Where is Derrick? He said he’d be right behind us. By her guess, it had been at least twenty minutes since they’d parted—maybe longer. Leah hurried to catch up with Sam, leaving Vivi out of earshot. “Sam, can you tell me—what was going on with you and John Hix? Were you–”
“Hix is a killer. I figured him out, followed him to your place. Charlie and Roman had ridden up just before I got there. You know the rest.” He shook his head and shifted Liam in his arm. “I hated having to go off and leave him there with Charley and Roman. But…there was no other choice.”
“Do you think—” Leah bit her lip. “I shouldn’t even mention my house at all, with the danger of the Kiowas killing three men. But…I love my home. I love what it means—a family…where my children lay their heads to sleep every night, in safety. Where my husband and I drink coffee in the mornings…and plan our dreams for the future. And where I finally have a place of my own, where I belong. To lose it—”
“Leah, they may not come—”
“Oh, they’ll come. Charley and Roman wouldn’t have stopped at our place if they’d thought there’d be any chance the Kiowas would’ve gone straight on to Wolf Creek. I have a feeling…I know my home will be destroyed.”
“If that happens,” Sam said carefully, “Wolf Creek will help you rebuild. I know that’s small consolation, but—”
She shook her head. “Forgive me. I shouldn’t even be thinking about my things when men’s lives are at stake.” She smiled at him as he glanced at her.
“It’s natural. Thinking about everything you stand to lose,” he replied.
“My family is all that matters. We will rebuild if we have to, of course. The most important thing is that we keep everyone…safe.” Her voice broke.
“You’re worried about Derrick,” Sam stated flatly. “He’s an excellent tracker, as you well know. Could be he decided to go after them; buy us some time. Don’t be thinking the worst, Leah.”
She nodded, and kept putting one foot in front of the other, trying to calm her thoughts. Don’t be thinking the worst. But how can I keep from it?
“Mama, Uncle John said he paid for some candy for me at the store,” Vivi reminded her.
Leah forced herself to smile back at the little girl. “I heard. That was nice of him.”
“He’s going away.”
“Yes.” If John Hix was killed by the Kiowas, or if he went away forever, it would be a relief. Leah had never liked Hix, and she knew Derrick felt the same. They tolerated Hix for Vivi’s sake. And to be fair, Hix doted on their daughter. It was strange to think that the odd little barber knew Vivi better than she or Derrick…or, at least, had known her longer.
“Will he ever come back, Mama?”
“I don’t know, Vivi. But at least he was able to say goodbye.”
Vivi nodded, but she looked downcast.
Leah’s heart clutched. Vivi had suffered so much loss—leaving her home, losing her mother, and now, John Hix. Leah refused to consider the further impending loss that weighed so heavy on her soul right now. Where is Derrick? The thought nagged. Thank goodness Vivi was too young to understand what was happening, truly, at the moment.
They could be in the process of losing everything. Everything, including their very lives.
Both of my stories have been entered in the WESTERN FICTIONEERS PEACEMAKER COMPETITION. I’ve been a finalist in that contest three times before, so I’m sure hoping for a win this year in the short fiction category with one of these stories.
Y’all keep your fingers crossed for me!
My character, Derrick McCain, is an odd hero because he is “just a man”—not a lawman or an outlaw or anything glamorous. He is a farmer who did some things in the Civil War he isn’t proud of. He’s half Cherokee and half white, and though he didn’t set out to be a “family man”, throughout the Wolf Creek series, he’s found himself in that situation under very different circumstances.
I’m wondering what kind of heroes you all like to see? A lawman set on seeing right done? An outlaw who’s seen the error of his ways and turned his life around? A cowboy fighting for justice on the range? Or someone like Derrick, who just winds up through fate’s hand becoming a hero—though he never thinks of himself that way…
Leave me a comment! I always want to know what other people think, and I’m giving away a print copy of a past WOLF CREEK book that I’ve been a part of to TWO LUCKY COMMENTERS!
Texas has seen a number of mass migrations since the Mexican government opened the territory to Anglo settlers in the 1820s, but perhaps none were as transformative as the influx that took place immediately following the Civil War. Carpetbaggers, footloose former Union soldiers, and dispossessed former Confederates all found attractive the state’s untamed rangeland brimming with feral cattle called longhorns. Many a man with nothing more than guts and grit built a fortune and a legacy by shagging longhorns from deep scrub and driving the tough, stubborn, nasty-tempered critters north to the railheads in Kansas and Nebraska. Others pushed herds to Montana and Wyoming to begin new lives where the West was even wilder.
Between 1866 and 1890, cowboys drove an estimated twelve million longhorns and one million horses north. A crew of twelve to twenty men could push a herd of 2,000 to 3,000 beeves about ten to fifteen miles a day, reaching Kansas railheads in three to four months.
The development of barbed wire in the mid-1870s — along with an incursion of sheepmen and farmers — put a crimp in the cattle drives by crisscrossing Texas’s wide-open spaces with miles and miles and miles of fence. To protect themselves and their herds from the yahoos who would use Texas range for something besides Texas cattle, wealthy ranchers strung wire around the land they owned or leased, often extending their fences across public land, as well. What once had been open range across which cowboys drove enormous herds of steak on the hoof became parceled off, causing no end of frustration and unfriendly behavior.
Fence-cutting began almost as soon as the first of the wire went up. Small confrontations over “the Devil’s rope” happened frequently, with wire-nipping taking place in more than half of Texas counties.
In 1883, the conflict turned bloody. Instead of merely cutting fences that got in the way during trail drives, bands of armed cowboy vigilantes calling themselves names like Owls, Javelinas, and Blue Devils destroyed fences simply because the fences existed. Fence-cutting raids usually occurred at night, and often the vigilantes left messages warning the fence’s owner not to rebuild. Some went so far as to leave coffins nailed to fenceposts or on ranchers’ porches. During one sortie, vigilantes pulled down nineteen miles of fence, piled the wire on a stack of cedar posts, and lit a $6,000 bonfire.
In response, cattlemen hired armed men to guard their wire…with predictable results. Clashes became more violent, more frequent, and deadlier. In 1883 alone, at least three men were killed in Brown County, a hotspot of fence-cutting activity, during what came to be known as the Texas Fence-Cutter War.
The bloodiest period of the Fence-Cutter War lasted for only about a year, but in that period damages from fence-cutting and range fires totaled an estimated $20 million — $1 million in Brown County alone.
Although politicians stayed well away from the hot-button issue for about a decade, in early 1884 the Texas legislature declared fence-cutting a felony punishable by a prison term of one to five years. The following year, the U.S. Congress outlawed stringing fence across public land. Together, the new laws ended the worst of the clashes, although the occasional fracas broke out in the far western portion of Texas into the early part of the 20th Century.
Texas Ranger Ira Aten
The Texas Rangers were assigned to stop several fence-cutting outbreaks, and being the Texas Rangers, they proved remarkably effective…with one notable exception. In February 1885, Texas Ranger Ben Warren was shot and killed outside Sweetwater while trying to serve a warrant for three suspected fence-cutters. Two of the three were convicted of Warren’s murder and sentenced to life in prison.
In 1888, a brief resurgence of fence-cutting violence erupted in Navarro County, prompting famed Texas Ranger Ira Aten to place dynamite charges at intervals along one fence line. Aten’s method was a mite too extreme for the Texas Adjutant General, who ordered the dynamite removed. The mere rumor of the explosive’s presence brought fence-cutting to a rapid halt in the area, though.
Though Civil War battles left few scars on Texas, the war’s aftermath was devastating — and not just because barbed-wire fence appeared. Texas existed under federal martial law for five long years after the war ended, becoming the final member of the Confederacy to repatriate only under duress. During Reconstruction, lingering animosity led some of the occupation forces to plunder and terrorize their jurisdictions. Bearing their own grudges and determined to become an independent republic again, Texans demanded “the invading foreign army” remove its boots from sovereign soil. A U.S. Supreme Court decision finally ran the rebellious Lone Star State back in with the rest of the herd in 1870, at last reunifying a divided nation.
My newest story, The Trouble with Honey, takes place during Reconstruction in Texas: A marshal’s widow can escape a Union Army manhunt only with the help of an outlaw condemned to hang. The novella is part of the trilogy The Dumont Way, which begins a saga chronicling the lives and loves of a Texas ranching dynasty from before the Civil War to the turn of the 20th Century.
Boots meandered across the stone floor. The marshal’s snicker slapped Daniel between the shoulder blades. “Injun Creek hasn’t seen this much excitement in a month of Sundays. We’re planning quite a celebration for you.”
One of life’s great mysteries: Had Halverson been born arrogant, or had the skill required practice? “Always did fancy a crowd of folks looking up to me.”
Whistling, the marshal moved away. Daniel stared at the dingy clapboard across the alley. That wall wouldn’t present much challenge. This wall, on the other hand… A barrel of black powder and a lucifer would come in handy right about now.
He rested his forehead against the bars. Daisy would dig up his body and throw a second hemp party if he didn’t show up for the wedding.
The jailhouse door scraped open, and a swirl of fresh air tapped him on the shoulder. Fingering the tender crease running from his eyebrow to his hairline, he pivoted. If Halverson’s lucky shot hadn’t dropped him—
His fingertips stilled. So did his breath.
The marshal ushered in a voluptuous vision and lifted a tin plate from her hands. An abundance of golden hair, gathered in soft swirls at the crown, framed her head like a halo. Curls fell beside rounded cheeks.
“What’re you doing here?” Judging by the pucker in his tone, Halverson had eaten one too many sour apples. “Where’s that old drunk you insist on keeping around?”
“Henry hasn’t touched a drop in—”
“What? Twenty-four hours?”
The angel raised her chin. “He isn’t feeling well.”
Daniel drifted to the front of the cell and slouched onto the forearms he draped over a horizontal bar. The familiar voice… Nectar, fresh from a hive.
Gracing Halverson with a shallow smile, the buxom beauty tipped her head toward the plate. “Chicken and dumplings for your prisoner’s supper.”
Steam rising from the lump meant to be his meal carried a whiff of old socks. Daniel’s thoughts churned right along with his stomach. High point of the day: bad vittles. Now, the lady… She was downright mouthwatering.
A Kiss to Rememberis available exclusively on Amazon (free for those who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited). I’ll give an e-copy to one of today’s commenters who answers this question: If you had migrated to Texas after the Civil War, would you have settled in town or on a ranch or farm? Why?
Thanks for stopping by today! I’m looking forward to your comments. 🙂
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
–Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863
HEADQUARTERS GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC
General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868
The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.
It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.
By order of
JOHN A. LOGAN, Commander-in-Chief
N.P. CHIPMAN, Adjutant General
Official: WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.
Today we celebrate Memorial Day, though celebrate may not be the best word. We remember—that’s more appropriate. Originally called Decoration Day, it was meant to be a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. Though it has turned into the unofficial first weekend of summer and most of us spend it picnicking and boating and barbecuing with friends and family, we shouldn’t lose sight of its meaning—its reason.
“Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died while in military service
to the United States of America.”
Today, let’s take a minute out of our day of boating, eating and celebrating, to remember. Put down the hot dogs, the baseball bats, the sunscreen, and remember all those who sacrificed for us—both those in the past and those doing so right now—so we may enjoy a wonderful summertime tradition.
An army may travel on its stomach, but soldiers also appreciate clean underwear. In honor of Veteran’s Day, I’m saluting the only women recognized by the US Army during the 19th century—the military laundresses.
Laundry was an arduous task before the advent of the washing machine. After sorting the clothing, stains were treated with chalk, clay or lye, depending on the kind of stain. Clothes were soaked, sometimes for days, then washed, scrubbed on a scrub board, rinsed and then boiled to kill lice and take out the last of the harsh soap. After that, the clothes were rinsed and hung to dry, then ironed with heavy flat irons. Imagine a hundred soldiers tending to their laundry in a camp environment on top of their other duties. Laundresses were essential, so in March of 1802, the “Act Fixing the Military Peace Establishment in the United States” recognized women retainers as military personnel.
According to the Act, up to four women were allowed to accompany a company of 100 men, and each woman would receive one ration of
meat, bread and whiskey a day. (The ratio later changed to one laundress per 19 ½ men.) In addition to their food ration, they were also allowed bedding straw, fuel and the services of the surgeon. If the laundress was married, she shared quarters with her soldier husband. If not, she shared housing with the other laundresses, as well as a hatchet, a camp kettle and two mess pans. Housing consisted of tents when on the move and actual quarters when serving at post, although at some posts, the laundress quarters, located on suds row, were the most cramped and squalid.
When payday rolled around, the soldiers’ debts to the laundresses were paid before their debts to the sutlers, or merchants. The amount the laundresses were paid was set by the camp administrators. In 1851 at For Crawford, the laundresses received 50 cents for two shirts, two pair of underwear and two pairs of socks. In Fort Boise in 1866, enlisted men paid $2.00 a month and officers paid $5.00, since their uniforms might require starch or bluing. Soap was a rare commodity, so the price shifted according to who supplied the soap. In addition to doing laundry, laundresses served in other capacities, cooking, cleaning and acting as midwives. Many baked and mended for extra money.
Soldiers were free to do their own laundry if they did not wish to hire a laundress. Some soldiers, particularly those who were convalescing from injury or illness, made extra money doing laundry for their fellow soldiers.
Interestingly, the wives of officers were not recognized as essential company personnel and could be banned from the post by the commanding officer. Not so the laundresses. They traveled with the Army, except in combat situations. Once combat was over, the laundresses once again joined the company. As recognized retainers, the laundresses were subject to Army regulations and there are records of laundresses being brought before military courts.
Where did the laundresses come from? They were often the wives of senior enlisted men and their pay helped to support the family. Widows or mothers of soldiers also became laundresses. The captain of the company hired the laundresses, who were required to have a letter of recommendation or a certificate of good character. No woman of bad character was allowed to follow the Army. However, that didn’t mean these women were refined. Most were illiterate, so there are no written journals or diaries of laundresses. Most information about the laundresses comes from soldiers’ letters and military records.
In 1875, the Army started looking at laundresses from an economic point of view and realized that rations, quarters and fuel used by laundresses came to almost $200,000. In 1883, the Army stopped issuing rations to laundresses, although laundresses married to soldiers were allowed to stay with the company until the husband’s enlistment was up.
There are a lot of fascinating stories and lore about individual laundresses, and I really enjoyed reading about these tough women who provided such an essential service to our armed forces over a century ago.
“Give me eighty men and I’ll ride through the whole Sioux Nation.”
So said Capt. William J. Fetterman in late 1866 as he assumed command of a U.S. Army detail tasked with defending a woodcutting expedition against Indians in the Dakota Territory. A fellow officer had declined the command after mounting, and failing to sustain, a similar effort two days earlier.
Fetterman overestimated his abilities and severely underestimated his opponent.
Born in Connecticut in 1833, William Judd Fetterman was the son of a career army officer. In May 1861, at the age of 28, he enlisted in the Union Army and immediately received a lieutenant’s commission. Twice brevetted for gallant conduct with the First Battalion of the 18th Infantry Regiment, Fetterman finished the Civil War wearing the brevet rank of lieutenant colonel of volunteers.
After the war, Fetterman elected to remain with the regular army as a captain. Initially assigned to Fort Laramie with the Second Battalion of the 18th Infantry, by November 1866 he found himself dispatched to Fort Phil Kearny, near present-day Sheridan, Wyoming. Since the post’s establishment five months earlier, the local population of about 400 soldiers and 300 civilian settlers and prospectors reportedly had suffered fifty raids by small bands of Sioux and Arapaho. In response, the fort’s commander, Col. Henry B. Carrington, adopted a defensive posture.
Red Cloud, ca. 1880 (photo by John K. Hillers, courtesy Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)
Fetterman immediately joined a group of other junior officers in openly criticizing Carrington’s protocol. Although the 33-year-old captain lacked experience with the Indians, he didn’t hesitate to express contempt for the enemy. His distinguished war record lent credence to his argument: Since the Indian raiding parties consisted of only twenty to 100 mounted warriors, the army should run them to ground and teach them a lesson.
Fetterman’s voice and continuing raids eventually convinced the regimental commander at Fort Laramie to order Carrington to mount an offensive. Several minor scuffles, during which the soldiers proved largely ineffective due to disorganization and inexperience, merely bolstered the Indians’ confidence. Carrington himself had to be rescued after a force of about 100 Sioux surrounded him on a routine patrol. Even Fetterman admitted dealing with the “hostiles” demanded “the utmost caution.”
Jim Bridger, at the time a guide for Fort Phil Kearny, was less circumspect. He said the soldiers “don’t know anything about fighting Indians.”
On December 19, an army detail escorted a woodcutting party to a ridge only two miles from the fort before being turned back by an Indian attack. The next day, Fetterman and another captain proposed a full-fledged raid on a Lakota village about fifty miles distant. Carrington denied the request.
On the morning of December 21, with orders not to pursue “hostiles” beyond the two-mile point at which the previous patrol had met trouble, Fetterman, a force of seventy-eight infantry and cavalry, and two civilian scouts escorted another expedition to cut lumber for firewood and building material. Within an hour of the group’s departure from the fort, the company encountered a small band of Oglala led by Crazy Horse. The Indians taunted the army patrol, which gave chase … beyond where they had been ordered not to go.
The great Sioux war leader Red Cloud and a force of about 2,300 Lakota, Arapaho, and Northern Cheyenne waited about one-half mile beyond the ridge. In less than twenty minutes, Fetterman and all eighty men under his command died. Most were scalped, beheaded, dismembered, disemboweled, and/or emasculated.
Monument at the site of the battle (courtesy Phil Konstantin; used with permission)
The Indians suffered sixty-three casualties.
Among the Sioux and Cheyenne, the event is known as the Battle of the Hundred Slain or the Battle of 100 in the Hands. Whites know it better as the Fetterman Massacre, the U.S. Army’s worst defeat on the Great Plains until Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer made a similar mistake ten years later at Little Big Horn in Montana.
Whether Fetterman deliberately disobeyed Carrington’s orders or the commander massaged the truth in his report remains the subject of debate. Although officially absolved of blame in the disaster, Carrington spent the rest of his life a disgraced soldier. Fetterman, on the other hand, was honored as a hero: A fort constructed nearly 200 miles to the south was given his name seven months after his death. A monument dedicated in 1901 marks the spot where the officers and men fell.
A war of another kind erupts within the pages of Prodigal Gun, the only novel-length western historical romance ever nominated for a Peacemaker Award. A Texas fence war pits cattlemen against sheepmen and barbed wire, bringing a notorious gunman home sixteen years after the Confederate Army declared him dead. The book is available in trade paperback and all e-formats at virtual bookstores everywhere. (An excerpt is here.)
In the Old West, folks couldn’t just walk into a liquor store and pick up a bottle of their favorite hooch. Some saloons and general stores sold wine and spirits by the bottle or jug, but a goodly number of people — especially those who lived on remote homesteads — fermented or distilled their own. Homemade wine was common all over the South and West, where pulpy fruits and weeds like dandelions grew in profusion.
Wild muscadine and scuppernong grapes provided the base for many southern home-brews. The two varieties differ primarily in color: Muscadines are dark, from deep cherry-red to almost black; scuppernongs are green to bronze to almost white. Both are highly acidic. Failure to wear gloves while picking or mashing can leave a rash on the skin. However, the high acid content, coupled with prodigious fruit production, makes muscadines and scuppernongs excellent candidates for fermentation.
Although the muscadines and scuppernongs used in contemporary artisanal wines are cultivated like any other crop, the wild foundation stock behaved — and still behaves — much like kudzu, overgrowing everything in its path. To say the grapes are aggressive and abundant would be an understatement. The landscaping around my home can attest to that.
In fact, according to local lore, the people who owned this house in the 1920s made good use of wild muscadine grapes. They had to be sneaky about their “hobby,” though, because during Prohibition revenuers were everywhere. Reportedly, the covert libation operation was discovered when a driver lost control of his car and collided with a hastily erected addition to the house, which dutifully collapsed. Vats and vats of muscadine wine spilled into the street. I’m not sure how that worked out for the brewers, but since they were prominent citizens, I doubt anyone got in too much trouble.
The homeowners rebuilt the addition with a good deal more attention to sturdiness. I use it as an honest-to-goodness living room (as opposed to the formal living room at the front of the house) and call it “the wine cellar.”
Muscadine wine comes to the rescue of the hero in “Making Peace,” one of two short novellas in The Dumont Brand. Heroine Maggie Fannin mixes quinine with her homemade wine to treat the malaria hero Bennett Collier picked up while tramping through swamps during the Civil War.
Her back to him, the woman stood at a rough-hewn table against the wall on the opposite side of the hearth. Sunlight leaked through chinks in the mortar between the split logs, gleaming along a russet braid that traced a stiff backbone. A faded calico dress hung loose on a frame without softness or curves.
She turned and caught his stare in eyes the color of warm cognac. A soldier’s eyes: resigned, yet defiant; determined to go down fighting.
Levering up onto stiff arms, he braced his palms on the floor.
The woman knelt and shoved a tin cup forward. “Drink.”
His gaze dropped to the vessel for only a moment before returning to those fascinating eyes.
Her lips and brows pinched. “Drink or I’ll pour it down your throat. I didn’t nurse you through three days of the ague just to turn around and poison you.”
The rustic music he’d heard earlier underlay the sharp words. Holding her gaze, he shifted his weight, took the cup, and drew it to his lips. The sweet wine almost hid a familiar bitterness. “You found the quinine.”
Quinine—more precious than gold to any soldier who’d spent too much time in the swamps. He’d stolen the near-empty bottle. The righteous Bennett Collier, a common thief. “You went through my saddlebags.”
“I didn’t take nothin’ else. I swear it.”
He hadn’t meant the statement as an accusation. “Nothing in there worth taking.” Except the bundle of letters from his father. I miss you, son. Keep yourself alive and come home. Three years too late. He nearly choked trying to clear his throat.
He tossed back the rest of the wine. The bitter drug sharpened a pain in his chest; the sweet wine, a bitter memory. “Muscadine.”
Today, most home-brewers use commercial yeast and add pectic enzyme. The latter clarifies the wine and draws more color from the grapes. Typically, those who ferment wine at home also add Campden tablets (potassium or sodium metabisulfite) to kill bacteria and inhibit the growth of wild yeast.
None of those ingredients would have been available in Maggie’s rundown shack on the mainland across the bay from Galveston, so her recipe might have looked something like the one below, which I found written in tidy cursive on a yellowed slip of paper tucked into one of my grandmother’s books. I have no idea how old the recipe is or from whence it came. The comments in parentheses are mine.
(makes 5 gallons)
5-gallon bucket very ripe (soft and starting to shrivel) muscadine grapes
12 lbs. white sugar
Spring water (or any water without chlorine)
Rinse grapes. (If the grapes have been sprayed with pesticides, wash them. Otherwise just rinse. Wild yeast on the grapes’ skins and in the air, combined with sugar, causes fermentation.)
Mash grapes in large (glazed ceramic) crock. (The vessel should be large enough to hold the mashed grapes and the sugar with a couple of inches of “head space” between the top of the liquid and the lip of the crock.)
Add sugar. Give mash a good stirring.
Cover crock with thick cheesecloth (or use a T-shirt). Tie string around lip (to hold the cheesecloth). Set in warm place.
Give mash good stirring every day until stops bubbling. (The amount of yeast in the environment will determine when the mixture starts bubbling and how long the activity lasts.)
Strain juice into clean (glazed ceramic) crock or churn. Add spring water to make five gallons. (Again, leave head space between liquid and rim.)
Cover crock. Set in cool cellar or barn. Let sit six weeks. Strain into jars. (Knowing my grandmother, “jars” meant Mason jars. That’s how my grandfather bottled his moonshine. I’d use wine bottles, but what do I know?) Screw on lids, loose for a few days. Tighten lids, let sit six months in cellar or barn.
I can’t vouch for the recipe because I’ve never tried it. Use at your own risk.
Home-brewing has become a bona fide trend over the past several years, so recipes and equipment for making beer, wine, and mead are everywhere. If you’d like to attempt a more modern approach to muscadine wine-making, you may want to visit this link (from Louisiana) or this one (from Kentucky).
Be aware: Unlike in 19th-century America, today’s federal government and all U.S. states have laws governing the production of alcoholic beverages for personal consumption. According to the federal Internal Revenue Code, home-brewers may produce 200 gallons of beer or wine per calendar year if there are two or more adults residing in the household; 100 gallons per calendar year if there is only one adult residing in the household. If they produce more, they must pay federal taxes on the overage.
State regulations vary widely. In Texas, for example, the head of a household or an unmarried adult living alone may produce 200 gallons of wine, ale, malt liquor, or beer per year. Those who wish to produce more — or do so “accidentally” — not only owe state taxes in addition to federal tax, but also must acquire a license.