Category: Maps

Old West Towns: Real or Myth?

Shops and businesses on the streets away from the center of town were laid out willy-nilly; some with entries facing alleyways. Boarding houses and private homes were seemingly dropped at random, as if tossed like dice from a gambler’s hand. –from my WIP, Stop the Wedding (book #1 Shotgun Brides)

I’m working on a new 3-book series that takes place in the fictional town of Haywire, Texas.   Before I could begin writing, it was necessary to map out my town.  Fans of western movies might think that’s a bit strange.  When a town is only one street wide and a block long, what’s to map out?  Well, for one thing, western movie sets are generally much smaller than a real town ever was, and less spread out.

Gold Hills, Nevada

The town in my book was built prior to the Civil War.  That’s important to know, because towns founded before the war generally sprang-up along wandering cow paths.   If you ever got lost in parts of Boston, as I once did, you’d know how confusing such towns can be.

Fortunately, after the war, town founders hired surveyors to plat grids oriented to railroad specifications. This practice came too late to help the poor residents of Haywire—or my hero who gets lost while chasing a bad guy through town.

Since business taxes in the Old West were calculated on width, shops and saloons were built long and narrow. What was generally called Outhouse Alley ran behind the buildings, parallel to the main thoroughfare.

Some buildings did double-duty. Schools often shared space with the Oddfellows or Masons, and shopkeepers lived over shops.

My town’s main street is T-shaped which runs into the railroad.  On the other end of Main, the town is split in two by a hundred-foot wide cross street.  A street like this was known in many western towns as the Dead Line, the purpose of which was to separate moral businesses from those beyond the pale.

Dead Line streets were wide enough so that anyone who accidentally ventured into the wrong side of town, occupied by saloons, bordellos and in Haywire’s case, the barbershop, could easily turn horse and wagon around.  Thus delicate constitutions were saved and reputations left intact.

Typically, the bank would be built next to the sheriff or marshal’s office, which explains why bank robberies in the Old West were rare. Only the most daring outlaw would attempt a bank robbery. It was much easier to rob stages—and a whole lot healthier.

Movies do get some things right. For example, buildings in many towns were mostly wood with false fronts.  These fake facades were added to make hastily-built buildings look more impressive and provide a place for signage.  Some towns, especially in the south-west where few trees could be found, were built mostly from adobe.

Speaking of movies, what western would be complete without having the hero barge through a saloon’s bat-wing doors? In reality, not every saloon had such doors. In some parts of the country, it was too cold or windy and too much dust would blow inside. Saloons that did have café doors also had standard doors that could be shut and locked when necessary.  A tour guide at Universal Studios explained that movie sets had saloon doors of different sizes: an extra-large one to make the heroine appear small and demure, and an extra-small door to make the hero appear taller and more imposing.

Another thing that frontier towns had that you won’t see in most western movies is a sign telling visitors to check their guns.  Now that’s one area where Hollywood and Haywire can agree.

Have you ever visited a western ghost town or movie lot?

 

Welcome to Two-Time, Texas

There’s a new sheriff in town and she almost always gets her man!

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Updated: April 27, 2017 — 4:50 am

My Research Travels Take Me to Montana and a Giveaway!

 

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My very next novel will be pre-set in Marietta, Montana.  That sounds like a real place, doesn’t it?  Yet, it’s not located on any map that we know of.  What I mean by pre-set, is that this town already exists in many other author-related books, so in a sense it’s real.  There are café’s and schools, a chocolate shop, and a sheriff’s office all in the small town of Marietta.  Characters live there, either in town, or near Copper Mountain or in Paradise Valley, doing what normal folk ordinarily do, ranching, banking, baking, dining and romancing!

For my new adventure, I’ll be one of four authors writing a romance about when the Rodeo comes to Marietta. My bronc-riding hero (who has no name yet—would love for you to name him) returns to his roots and meets up with his deceased brother’s widow—the very same girl he dumped for the excitement of the rodeo.  Said heroine, wants nothing to do with him, until he reminds her of the unrequited passion they’d once shared.

So my research begins learning about Montana.  I’ve never been, and usually I set my stories in places I’ve traveled, so this will be a bit of a challenge.   Here’s some fun facts about Montana:

 

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The State flag is stunning: Rocky Mountains, cliffs and rivers under the big sky.

Montana’s Motto:  Oro y Plata  (Spanish-Gold and Silver)

Montana is the Spanish word for “mountainous”.

The state nicknames are:  Big Sky Country and Treasure State

Montana became a state in 1889

It’s the 4th biggest state in the US

But 44th most populated with just over 1 million people

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So now I ask you to help me come up with my hero and heroine’s names?  I’m really at a loss, usually I have a clear vision of their names, but right now I’m coming up blank. Both are Montana born and bred and have worked on ranches.   Give me your suggestions and you’ll be in a random drawing for a really cool 2 in 1 book.  The Cowboy’s Pride by Charlene Sands/The Paternity Proposition by Merline Lovelace

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Also available for PRE-ORDER is my newest Desire  (releases on July 1st)  Isn’t it pretty?

The Billionaire's Daddy Test

 

 

Updated: May 14, 2015 — 2:44 pm

Law Comes to the Nueces Strip

Texas always has been a rowdy place. In 1822, the original Anglo settlers began trickling into what was then Mexico at the invitation of the Mexican government, which hoped American immigrants would do away with the out-of-control Comanches. Texans dispensed with the Comanches in the 1870s by foisting them off on Oklahoma, but long before that, the Texans ran off the Mexican government.

Republic_of_Texas_labeled_smallFrom 1836 to 1845, Texas looked something like the map at right. The green parts became the Republic of Texas as a result of treaties signed by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana after Sam Houston and his ragtag-but-zealous army caught the general napping at San Jacinto. The treaties set the boundary between Texas and Mexico at the Rio Grande.

This caused a bit of a fuss in the Mexican capital. No matter how embarrassing his situation, Santa Ana did not possess the authority to dispose of large chunks of land with the swipe of a pen. Mexico eventually conceded Texas could have the dark-green part of the map—bounded to the south by the Nueces River, which lies about one hundred fifty miles north of the Rio Grande—but the light-green part still belonged to Mexico.

Arguments ensued.

While Texas and Mexico were studiously avoiding one another in the disputed territory, outlaws, rustlers, and other lawless types moved into the patch between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. After all, no respectable outlaw ever lets a perfectly good blind spot on the law-enforcement radar go to waste. The area, 150 miles wide by about 400 miles long, came to be known as the Nueces Strip.

NuecesStrip_smallIn 1845, the United States annexed all of the land claimed by Texas, including the disputed territory, and came to military blows with Mexico over the insult. By the time the two countries signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 to settle once and for all (sort of) who owned what, the lawless element was firmly entrenched in the strip of cactus and scrub between the Nueces and the Rio Grande. For nearly thirty years, brigands raised havoc—robbing, looting, raping, rustling, and killing—on both sides of the border before retreating to ranchos and other hideouts in the Strip’s no-man’s land.

That began to change in 1875 when Texas Ranger Captain Leander McNelly was charged with bringing order to the southern part of Texas. Newly re-formed after being disbanded for about ten years during the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Rangers were determined to clean up the cesspool harboring notorious toughs like King Fisher and Juan Cortina. With a company of forty handpicked men known as the Special Force, McNelly accomplished his task in two years…in some cases by behaving at least as badly as the outlaws. McNelly was known for brutal—sometimes downright illegal—tactics, including torturing information out of some prisoners and hanging others. He and his men also made a number of unauthorized border crossings in pursuit of rustlers, nearly provoking international incidents.

Nevertheless, the “Little McNellys” got the job done. By the time McNelly was relieved of command and subsequently retired in 1876, the Nueces Strip was a safer place.

McNelly died of consumption in September 1877. Though he remains controversial in some circles, the residents of South Texas raised funds and erected a monument in his honor.

 

 

Maps – A Researcher’s Hidden Treasure

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When I start researching a new project, or even when I’m in the middle of one and just need some quick directions, there is nothing quite so practical as a good, historic map. They are hard to find, but when I stumble across a site that has maps in a format that I can enlarge and use, I get a little giddy. One of my favorites is on the Library of Congress’s site called American Memory. The maps that I have found the most pertinent to my personal research are the Railroad Maps. Most of my books are set in the 1880s, the decade that saw the most growth in the Texas railroad system. It was critical for me to know which towns the railroad had reached by which years. This site, combined with the Handbook of Texas Online, answered those questions.

For example, here is a map of the railroads in Texas in 1883:

1883 Texas Railroad Map

Now, the beauty of using these maps online, is that I can enlarge them to the point that I can read all the little town names alone each of those tracks.

I used the map below to plot my setting for Stealing the Preacher. The Archer brothers lived on a ranch outside Palestine, and I needed my hero to travel to a town to interview for a preaching position. I opted for Brenham since it was a fast-growing town in the 1880’s. But Crockett never makes it there because he is abducted from his train just outside of Caldwell. The outlaws take him overland past the small town of Deanville and back to their ranch where he eventually meets the heroine, Joanna. I’ve circled the key cities in red.

Close up railroad map

Beyond railroad maps, historic city maps are priceless. Sometimes I use fictitious towns which gives me the freedom to put things wherever I want, but many times I set my stories in real places. In order to describe these places accurately and to give the reader a true feeling of steeping back in time, I need accurate maps.

This is a piece of the Sanborn Map for Ft. Worth back in 1885. These maps were collected for fire insurance purposes, and they are a wonderful resource. Not only do they show street names, but when you enlarge them, you can also see the name of local businesses that were in existence during that time frame. I gained access to the Texas maps through my local university library. I used this piece of the Fort Worth map when plotting the opening of Head in the Clouds.

Ft. Worth 1885

Adelaide Proctor traveled to Ft. Worth, chasing the traveling book salesman she thought was going to marry her. I needed to give her a place to stay while she was there, and this section of the map shows a section of town right next to the railroad depot. The blue arrow points to Clark House which was a fashionable hotel in the area. Adelaide ended up staying here, but she brought her beloved horse, Sheba, with her on the journey and needed a place to stable her. Thanks to this map, I found a handy livery stable just up the street and was able to have my hotel drummer point her in that direction. (Green arrow) Unfortunately for poor Adelaide, this lovely hotel did not prove to be the welcoming retreat she had hoped, for it was here that she discovered the scoundrel she had quit her job to follow was already married.

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Never fear for our intrepid heroine, however. I was able to use another portion of this map to lead her to a lawyer’s office on the corner of Houston and W. 13th Streets so that she might inquire about a governess position on a sheep ranch over in Menard County where a much more suitable hero waited.

My next release, Full Steam Ahead, is partially set in Galveston. And once again, I hit the goldmine in finding a map that fit my time frame. I found a 1859 Galveston map, only 8 years removed from the time period of my story. Combined with other resources, I was able to piece together where my heroine’s family house would be and the route she would take to escape to the docks in order to board a steamboat heading to Liberty, Texas. Here is the link to the Galveston map. You can enlarge as needed. Imagine Renard House (my heroine’s family residence) in Lot 61. I was able to verify the existence of other historical houses from the 1830s in the same neighborhood, so I felt safe placing her home there.

Are you a map person?

When you travel, do you use GPS or do you prefer the good old fashioned paper maps?

Do you get excited by looking at old maps that give a picture of what things used to be like, or is that pleasure saved for geeky researchers like me?

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