Category: Kentucky

Book Women—The Depression’s Book Mobile

As a contemporary romance author, my research is different from historical authors. For the third book in my Wishing, Texas Series, To Tame A Texas Cowboy, my research topics included seizure treatment/causes, service dogs and veterinarian office software. As a result, I don’t often come across cool historical tidbits to share with you the way Petticoats and Pistols historical authors often do. But recently, I came across a Facebook post about librarians on horseback. Considering my love of books and horses, I couldn’t resist learning more.

The Pack Horse Library program was part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration during The Depression. In 1930’s Kentucky, the unemployment rate was almost forty percent and around thirty percent of the state’s population was illiterate. The hope was The Pack Horse Library program would decrease both these statistics. In addition to these issues, the ten thousand square foot area of eastern Kentucky this program served lagged behind other areas in the state in terms of electricity and highways. Scarcity of food, education and few economic options compounded the problems.

Getting the program’s employees to these rugged, rural areas of The Appalachian Mountains where people with the greatest need lived proved challenging, too. Because of the terrain, horses were chosen as the mode of transportation. However, the most astounding aspect of the program was that most of the employees of The Pack Horse Library were women! Folks simply referred to them as “Book Women.”

After loading donated books, magazines and newspapers, these librarians set out on their own mules or horses and headed into the mountains. Not an easy task, even when the weather cooperated. But imagine how difficult and treacherous the trip had to be in snowy or rainy conditions. Often the terrain became so rugged or remote, even horses couldn’t travel, forcing the librarians to continue on foot, carrying the books! No matter how cold or bad the weather, these librarians persisted, covering one hundred to one hundred twenty miles a week. One librarian had to complete her eighteen-mile route on foot after her mule died. Now that’s dedication!

By 1936, these devoted librarians serviced over fifty-thousand families and one-hundred-fifty-five schools. But these women did more than provide books. They acted as a connection between these rural Kentucky communities and world. They tried to fill book requests, read to people who couldn’t read themselves, and fostered a sense of local pride. And all for a salary of twenty-eight dollars a month.

All photos from atlasobsura.com

The Pack Horse Library program ended in 1943 along with the WPA. War had pulled the country out of The Depression, but these strong, determined librarians had left their mark. They made a difference.

To be entered for the drawing to win a copy of Colorado Rescue, a looking sharp wine glass and the bracelet pictured, tell me what you love about libraries or share your favorite memory involving a library.

Updated: April 30, 2019 — 7:40 pm

The First American West

Today when we think of the American West, images of vast, empty expanses under huge skies come to mind. Prairies and cattle drives and covered wagons carrying settlers toward hopes of a better life. But before the land west of the Mississippi River became known as the West, America’s western frontier was considerably further east.

Daniel Boone escorting settlers, including his wife Rebecca, through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky, 1851-52 (oil on canvas) by George Caleb Bingham (1811-79); Washington University, St. Louis, USA; American, out of copyright.

I was born, raised and spent the first nearly 25 years of my life in Kentucky. If you’re a Kentucky native, there are several things that just say “home” to you — the Kentucky Derby, basketball, the words to “My Old Kentucky Home” and Daniel Boone. There is probably not another single person throughout history who signifies Kentucky more than Boone. He was among the founders of the state who led settlers along the Wilderness Road through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.

Today you can learn about this famous gateway to the frontier at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, which is located where Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee come together. You can even walk in Boone’s footsteps along portions of the old Wilderness Road here. Prior to 1996, you could drive the route via Highway 25E, but in that year a tunnel through the mountain was completed, connecting the towns of Cumberland Gap, Tenn., and Middlesboro, Ky. Since 2001, work has been underway to restore the Gap to as close to its historic appearance as possible, including removal of the asphalt road and all modern structures, adding vegetation and even adding several feet of lost elevation.

Fort Boonesborough, photo via Wikipedia

Another of my favorite historic sites in Kentucky is Fort Boonesborough State Park on the site of the fort built by Boone and other settlers on the banks of the Kentucky River in 1775, 17 years before Kentucky became a state. The park contains a reconstructed fort with cabins and bunkhouses. During part of the year, costumed artisans and craftsmen showcase how a variety of goods were made in the 1700s to ensure survival on a dangerous frontier.

Even though this period began the settlement of Kentucky in earnest, Boone and his fellow settlers weren’t the first Europeans to set foot in what became Kentucky. You’ll probably recognize the names of famous explorers who walked this land as far back as Hernando de Soto of Spain in 1543, followed by French explorers such as Marquette and Joliet in 1673. It’s important to remember, however, that this land was not unoccupied when Europeans began to explore there or even when tens of thousands of settlers came flooding in via the Wilderness Road. Many Native American tribes called Kentucky home or used it as hunting grounds. Among these were the Shawnee, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Yuchi and Mosopelea.

Bison in Land Between the Lakes, Photo by Spongylumps (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There is a lot more pioneer history to explore across the Bluegrass State, the western part of which once was prairie and home to elk and bison — herds of which can be seen at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area near where I grew up. LBL’s 170,000 acres includes one of the largest undeveloped forests in the Eastern U.S., wetlands, and more than 300 miles of shoreline since it sits on a peninsula between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. One of my favorite parts of LBL is The Homeplace 1850s, a living history farm which features costumed interpreters, breeds of farm animals that would have been raised during the mid 1800s in Kentucky, and crops that also fit the time period. Several special events throughout the year showcase an even bigger slice of 1850s daily life with crafters showing visitors how to hand dip candles, make cornshuck dolls and homemade soap, as well as many other tasks. It’s a great way to get a glimpse into what life on this early frontier was like.

Updated: April 30, 2017 — 7:06 pm