Category: Margaret Brownley

Before There Was a Texas, There Were Texas Rangers

I’m on the last draft of the third book in my Haywire Brides series (at least I hope it’s the last draft). My male protagonist is a Texas Ranger and, as some of you might have guessed from my earlier books, that’s my favorite type of hero to write about.

The Texas Rangers have a long and checkered history, starting in 1823. When Stephan F. Austin hired ten men to protect the frontier, he probably never imagined that nearly two hundred years later, the force would still be going strong.  

Those early Rangers were called various names including mounted gunmen, mounted volunteers, minutemen, spies, scouts and mounted rifle companies.  The term Texas Rangers didn’t come into use until the1870s.

Maintaining law and order on the frontier wasn’t easy, but those mounted gunmen still managed to move with quick speed over long distances, and settle trouble on the spot. Those early rangers were called upon to serve as infantrymen, border guards, and investigators.  They tracked down cattle rustlers and helped settle labor disputes.  They both fought and protected the Indians.

The job didn’t come cheap.  A man was expected to provide his own horse and it had to be equipped with saddle, blanket and bridle.  A man also had to supply his own weaponry, which included rifle, pistol and knife. 

As for clothing, a Texas Ranger wore what he had.  It wasn’t until the Rangers became full-time professional lawmen in the 1890s that many started wearing suits.  (Today, Rangers are expected to wear conservative western attire, including western boots and hat, dress shirt and appropriate pants.)

He would also have carried a blanket, and cloth wallet for salt and ammunition.  To alleviate thirst, a ranger would suck on sweetened or spiced parched corn.  Dried meat, tobacco and rope were also considered necessities. What he didn’t carry with him was provided by the land. It was a tough life and it’s not hard to guess why a man seldom lasted more than six months on the job.

Those early professional Rangers received twenty-five dollars a month in pay and worked hard for it. An officer’s pay was seventy-five dollars.

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame

Today, the Texas Rangers enjoy a stellar reputation, but that wasn’t always the case. Frontier justice could sometimes be harsh and cruel, and some Rangers fought according to their own rules. This led to excesses of brutality and injustice, including the massacre of unarmed citizens.  The Rangers were reformed by a Legislature resolution in 1919, which instituted a citizen complaint system.

The Texas Rangers have undergone many changes and transformations through the years. But the biggest change of all probably has such legendary Rangers as John B. Jones and Big Foot Wallace a-whirling in their graves; The Texas Rangers recently allowed women to join the ranks.  (Hmm.  I feel a story coming on.)

I told you the kind of heroes I like to write.  What kind of heroes do you like to read about?

“This book charms.”  Publishers Weekly

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Updated: January 18, 2019 — 2:16 pm

The Golden Age of Christmas Music

The 1940s and 50s has been called the golden age of Christmas music, and for good reason.  White Christmas, Sleigh Ride, Winter Wonderland and Rudolph, The Red Nose Reindeer are just some of the treasures that came out of this period.

Following World War II people were ready for messages of hope and change, and song writers were only too eager to comply.   

Some of the greatest Christmas hits have fascinating and even funny stories behind them.  Silver Bells, written in 1950, is one of them. 

Inspired by the number of different kinds of bells heard at Christmas, the songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evan decided to write a song about them. 

They called the song Tinkle Bells.  After they finished writing the lyrics, they played it for Evan’s wife and were shocked then she almost fell off the couch laughing. 

She then explained that the song might make people think more of the bathroom than Christmas. The two men didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about until she explained that mothers used the word “tinkle” to get their youngsters to use the toilet.

The two men wisely changed the song title to Silver Bells.

Jay and Ray weren’t the only songwriters saved from making a mistake. Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane wrote Have yourself a Merry, Little Christmas for Judy Garland to sing on screen.

What they hadn’t counted on was Judy rejecting their song and threatening to walk off the set unless the lyrics were changed. In the original song, they’d written that the two lovers might never see each other again.  Have yourself a Merry Christmas/it may be your last/next year we’ll be living in the past.

Judy knew that wasn’t the message that people wanted to hear in times of war. She sent the song back for a rewrite. Though Martin and Blane were convinced it was a mistake, they gave the song more upbeat lyrics and scored a hit.

Another hit was inspired by a parade. Gene Autry had been invited to be a special guest at the Hollywood Christmas parade.

Fearing that his prewar career success was behind him, he was delighted to be greeted by thousands of screaming youngsters.  It seemed he had not been forgotten.

However, Gene soon learned his mistake. The children weren’t screaming for him. They were screaming for the man behind him.

“Look, Ma,” one boy yelled.  “Here comes Santa Claus.”

Gene Autry had been upstaged, and his worst fears had been realized. The screaming children had no idea who he was.  Later, he recounted the incident to his composer friend, Oakley Halderman.

Halderman laughed.  “Sounds like a song to me.”

The two men worked on the song together. Here Comes Santa Claus became Autry’s first hit in a decade, and helped to relaunch his career.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is The Little Drummer Boy.  What is your favorite?

“This book charms.” -Publishers Weekly

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Updated: December 15, 2018 — 8:51 am

Sears: The Amazon of the Gilded Age

I was saddened this week to hear the Sears has filed Chapter 11. The company has appeared in so many of my books, it feels like I’m losing one of my characters. 

Among my favorite resources is a Sears Catalogue dated 1894. I use it to research fashion, furnishings, vehicles and just about everything else a household would have needed back in those early days.  Prices are clearly marked, along with full descriptions—a writer’s dream.

The company was originally started in 1886 by Richard W. Sears in Minnesota to sell watches.  The idea came to him while working as a railroad agent.  A jeweler received a large shipment of watches, which were unwanted.  Sears purchased them and sold them to the railroad agents, making a handsome profit. 

A year later, he moved to Chicago and hired Alvah C. Roebuck to repair watches. Together they established a mail order watch catalogue, which proved to be a great success. 

However, Sears was a restless type and always looking to improve. He didn’t have to look far.  At the time, farmers living in rural areas had to purchase products from the local general store on credit and at high prices. Shopkeepers would decide how much to charge by estimating a customer’s credit-worthiness. Choice of products was also extremely limited.

Sears decided to take advantage of this by offering a catalogue under the name Sears, Roebuck & Company.  His timing was perfect: The government’s Rural Free Delivery Act opened delivery routes in rural areas, allowing for better distribution of the catalogue.

The catalogue featured a wide selection of products at clearly marked prices. Consumers were delighted to find prices consistent and not have to haggle.  They were also drawn to the easy-to-read, warm, friendly language used to describe goods, and the catalogue proved an instant success.

Houses were delivered by rail.

By 1895, the catalogue had grown to 532 pages and featured such items as sewing machines, sporting equipment, household furnishings, tombstones and barber chairs.  It was even possible to purchase an entire house from Sears, delivered by train.   In 1905, automobiles were added to the catalogue. It even sold a “Stradivarius model violin” for $6.10

Sears began opening retail stores in 1925 and, for years, was the largest retailer in the United States.   

Many reasons have been cited for the company’s demise.  Critics claim Sears made many mistakes and couldn’t keep up with the likes of Walmart and Amazon.

This might be true, but Sears taught America how to shop and for that reason, its legacy will no doubt remain intact.   

“This book charms.”-Publishers Weekly

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Updated: October 17, 2018 — 8:18 am

Prairie Guest Books

In the recently released Old West Christmas Brides collection, Chimney Rock plays an important part of my story.

Located in Nebraska, this rock formation was one of the many prairie “registers” along the pioneer trails leading west, and could be seen from as far as thirty miles away.  Some considered it the eighth wonder of the world.

Thousands of travelers carved or painted signatures onto these “registers.”  Sometimes they left messages to those traveling behind.     

Those in a hurry would simply hire one of the businessmen who had set up shop at the base of the rocks to carve or paint signatures for a fee.  Travelers would often add hometowns and date of passage. 

Chimney Rock was taller in the 1800s.

The best known “Register of the desert” was Independence Rock.  Travelers beginning their westbound trip in the spring tried to reach this rock by July 4th.  Reaching it any later could be disastrous. For that would mean, travelers might not reach their destinations before running out of grain or the winter storms hit. 

The most recognized landmark on the Oregon trail, Independence Rock is located in Wyoming.  The granite outcropping is 1,900 feet long, 700 feet wide, and 128 feet high and has been described as looking like a turtle or large whale.  It’s a mile around its base. 

 

True West Magazine

It’s hard to imagine in this day of instant communication, the importance of these rocks.  In those early days, mail was none-existent and anyone heading west had no way of communicating with family back home.

Travelers climbed the rock to engrave their names, but also to look for the names of friends or relatives who had passed before them. One of the earliest signatures to be found is that of M.K. Hugh, 1824.

Cries of Joy!

Lydia Allen Rudd reached the rock on July 5th, 1852.  Though she wrote in her diary “that there are a million of names wrote on this rock,” she was somehow able to locate her husband’s name.  He had passed by the rock three years earlier.    

Unfortunately, erosion and time have erased many of the names, but the echoes of the past linger on. 

If you were a traveler in the 1800s, what message would you leave for those traveling behind? 

 

 

“This tale charms.” -Publishers Weekly

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Updated: September 26, 2018 — 2:33 pm

Cowboy Charm School & Giveaway!

When buying a horse don’t consult a pedestrian;

When courting a woman don’t ask advice of a bachelor.

                                               -Cowboy Charm School

I’m excited that my next book Cowboy Charm School will be published September 4th (but can be ordered now.) I played with the idea for four or five years before I actually got around to writing the book.  Book ideas generally come to me in scenes.  I’ll suddenly visualize someone atop a runaway stagecoach or scrambling over a roof and then have to figure out who, what, and why.

The scene that popped into my head for Cowboy Charm School was a wedding scene with a handsome stranger running down the church aisle yelling, “Stop the Wedding!” 

It took me awhile to figure out that the man was Texas Ranger Brett Tucker,  who thinks he’s saving the bride, Kate Denver, from marrying an outlaw. He’s mistaken, of course, but the groom jealously jumps to all the wrong conclusions and the couple breaks-up. 

Brett feels terrible for what’s he’s done and is determined to set things right. Since the hapless groom hasn’t a clue as to how to win Kate back, it’s up to Brett to give him a few pointers–and that’s when the real trouble begins. 

For a chance to win a copy of the book, tell us the best or worse advice anyone ever gave you.  (Contest guidelines apply.)

“This tale charms.” -Publishers Weekly

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Updated: August 19, 2018 — 7:38 am

Who Said it Best?

It’s hot and my brain is mush, so I decided to do something that wasn’t too taxing.   Take a look at these Old West quotes and tell us who said it best or which quote is your favorite.

  1. “A pair of six-shooters beats a pair of sixes.” —Belle Starr

        “Never run a bluff with a six-gun.” – Bat Masterson

Belle or Bat?

  1. “I never hanged a man that didn’t deserve it.” Judge Parker’s hangman

        “I never killed unless I was compelled to.” –Belle Starr

Belle or George?

  1. “You all can go to hell. I am going to Texas.”  — Davy Crockett

       “Leave me alone and let me go to hell by my own route.” –Calamity Jane

Davy or Calamity Jane?

  1. Aim at a high mark and you will hit it.” Annie Oakley

       Shoot first and never miss. –Bat Masterson

Annie or Bat?

  1. “The grimly humorous phrase about our town was that Tombstone had ‘a man for breakfast every morning.’” — Josephine Sarah Marcus

      “Tombstone is a city set upon a hill, promising to vie with ancient Rome in   fame, different in character but no less important.” —John C

                                              Josephine or John?

  1. “I have no more stomach for it.” – Tom Horn, resigning as a lawman

       “At my age I suppose I should be knitting.” — Poker Alice

Tom or Alice?

  1. “For my handling of the situation at Tombstone I have no regrets. Were it to be done again, I would do it exactly as I did it at the time.”—Wyatt Earp

       “I do not regret one moment of my life.” —Lillie Langtry

Wyatt or Lillie?

  1. “After being so bad I could hear the angels singing.” —Lillie Langtry

      ”People thought me bad before, but if ever I should get free, I’ll let them know what bad means.”-Billy the Kid

Lillie or Billy?

    9.  “Talk low, talk slow and don’t say too much.” – John Wayne

               “Never miss a good chance to shut up.~ Judge Roy Bean

                                                  John  or Judge Roy?

 

 

New from Margaret Brownley!

Cowboy Charm School

When buying a horse don’t consult a pedestrian;  

When courting a woman don’t ask advice of a bachelor.

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Updated: July 26, 2018 — 6:54 am

Beware Cowboy Fever; It Can Sneak Up on You!

(My publisher is running a 99 cent special on my book High Button Shoes today only! See below!)

I bet you didn’t know this, but cowboy boots multiply when you’re not looking.  Or at least that’s what happened at my house.  It all started when someone gave me one—ONE!—cowboy boot planter for my yard.  That’s all it took. Before I knew it, another boot showed up

Do you know what happens when family, friends and neighbors walk in and see two of anything?  They immediately think you’re a collector.   People love collectors.  It makes gift-giving so much easier.  No thinking required.

Soon, I was drinking my morning coffee out of a boot-shaped cup and washing my hands with soap from boot dispensers.  Cowboy boots took over my jewelry box as earrings, framed my family photos and opened my wine bottles. And it didn’t stop there.

Somewhere along the line my boot collection expanded into all things western. Cowboy nutcrackers started showing up on my window sills. Western plaques began adorning my walls.  Miniature horses took over table tops.  Even my feathered friends were treated to bird houses shaped like saloons.   

No longer do my children, grandchildren or friends have to slave over a Christmas shopping list trying to figure out what to give me.   The word is out; Grandma/mom likes everything, as long as it’s western.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I thank my lucky stars that the planter that started it all had been a cowboy boot and not something gross like, say, a zombie! 

                  Are you a collector and if so, did you become one on purpose or by accident?

On Sale Today Only, for 99 cents!

High Button Shoes

A feisty widow; a dashing outlaw—something’s definitely afoot.

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Updated: June 29, 2018 — 9:25 am

The Case of the Bungling Robbers

Some people just aren’t cut out for a life of crime.

An example of this is the case of two cowboys named Grant Wheeler and Joe George. In 1895, they decided to try their hand at robbing the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The real loot was carried by rail, so why waste time robbing stages?

After carefully working out a plan, George and Wheeler purchased a box of dynamite and boarded the train.  Five miles out of Willcox, Arizona, the desperadoes got the engineer to stop the train with the help of a .45 revolver.  Piece of cake.

One of the outlaws uncoupled the express car from the rest of the train and ordered the engineer to pull forward.  Wheeler and George then broke into the express car.  The safe had eighty-four thousand dollars in cash and their hands were itching to get hold of it.

They must have been ecstatic to discover that the Wells Fargo agent guarding the loot had escaped. In addition to the unguarded safe, they also found bags of silver pesos used as ballast on the floor.  Oh, heavenly days!

Working quickly, they placed sticks of dynamite around the safe and ducked outside to escape the blast.  Unfortunately, the safe remained intact.

They decided to try again with extra dynamite but got the same results.  The stubborn safe refused to give up its treasure.

If at First…

Not willing to give up, the bungling robbers decided to try yet a third time.  This time, they used too much dynamite and blew the entire express car to smithereens.  Pieces of lumber and thousands of silver pesos filled the air. Acting like shrapnel, some of the coins were embedded in telegraph poles.  It’s a miracle the two men survived.

When the smoke cleared, they found that the safe door had been blown off, but only a few dollars had escaped the blast. The real booty was the Mexican pesos, but the silver coins were scattered all over the countryside.

Meanwhile, the train has rolled into town and sounded the alarm. The sheriff tried putting together a posse with no luck. Folks were too busy racing out to the scene of the crime to hunt for silver pesos.

…Try, Try, Again!

After licking their wounds, Wheeler and George decided to give train robbery another shot.  No sense letting their harrowing experience go to waste.

A week later, they showed up to rob the same train and felt confident they knew what they were doing.  This time they would make careful use of the dynamite.

The fourth times a charm—or is it?

Wheeler and George ordered the crew to separate the express car from the engine and passenger cars.

Everything went according to plan.  You can almost imagine the two giving each other a high-five as they entered the express car. They were, however, in for a rude awakening.  For the hapless duo soon discovered that the crew had reversed the order of the rail cars.  Instead of the express car, Wheeler and George were left with the mail car. They had been duped!

Disgusted, they rode off empty-handed—again!

Coming in September

He stopped her wedding once by mistake;

Dare he stop it a second time–for real?

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Updated: June 21, 2018 — 8:19 am

Cha-Ching: The Bell Heard Around the World

 

This past week, while working on a scene set in a general store, I got to wondering when cash registers might have been found in the Old West. I was surprised to discover that the cash register (called a Cashier at the time) was invented in 1879 by a saloon owner.

James Ritty (public domain)

James Jacob Ritty, owner of the popular Pony House Saloon in Dayton, Ohio, knew something was wrong.  Buffalo Bill and John Dillinger were among his many customers and business was booming.  Still he saw no profit.  He was suspicious that his bartenders were dipping into the till but couldn’t prove it.

The problem was very much on his mind during a sailing trip to Europe. While studying the ship’s mechanics, particularly the counting mechanism that recorded the propeller’s revolutions, he got an idea; why not invent a device that would record a shop’s sales? 

Upon returning to the states, he ran his idea by his brother, John, and after a couple of false starts, the two patented what became known as Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier. 

Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier 1879. public domain

The machine had a clock-like feature that rang up sales, but no cash drawer.  During each sale, a paper tape was punched with holes so that the merchant could keep track of sales. At the end of the day, the merchant could add up the holes.  This was no easy task. Even though the machine was designed to record daily sales no greater than $12.99, the tally could be as long as twenty feet.

Their invention worked and Ritty’s profits rose, but it wasn’t fool proof. Without a cash drawer, money still turned up in the wrong pockets.

The brothers later added a cash drawer and the Cha-Ching sound that shop owners love to hear.  (It’s thought that merchants came up with odd prices like forty-nine or ninety-nine cents, so cashiers would have to open the till to make change. This helped insure that all sales were recorded.)

The brothers opened a factory above the saloon. Running two businesses soon proved too much for James, and he sold his cashier business to a group of investors.  Eventually, the company sold to John H. Patterson who renamed it the National Cash Register Corporation.

The Thief Catcher

By the 1880s, cash registers could be found in retail shops across the country.  Though the new and improved registers aided bookkeeping and inventory chores, they were resented by clerks.  It’s easy to understand why; the machines were called “thief catchers.”  Honest clerks resented the implication and dishonest clerks missed the extra income.   

But then, as now, enterprising thieves always found a way. 

Speaking of thieves, do you always ask for receipts, even at fast food outlets?  If not, you should. Dishonest clerks can do a lot with unclaimed receipts–and none of it good!

 

The only thing threatening their success is love!

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Updated: May 20, 2018 — 8:26 am
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