Category: Margaret Brownley

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.

Amazon

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?

Amazon

B&N

iTunes

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!

Amazon

Updated: May 20, 2018 — 8:26 am

Going, going, GONE!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think you should know that the classic candy that has been a constant since 1847, is about to go the way of phone booths.   Yes, that’s right.  The company that makes Necco Wafers has announced that, unless it finds a buyer, it will close its doors forever in May.

Do you know what that means?  Future generations will never know what drywall tastes like. 

Originally called hub wafers, the coin-shaped candies were carried by soldiers during the Civil War and World War II.  Since the candy traveled well and never melted or spoiled, soldiers and yes, even cowboys, could carry them with confidence.

These candies traveled as far as the North Pole, and that’s not all. Admiral Byrd took two tons of the things with him to the Antarctica.  Even more impressive; Necco Wafers was the first candy to multi-task.  They served as wafers during communion and were tossed in baskets for payment at toll booths.

Sad to say, Necco isn’t the only old company at risk. In recent years, we’ve seen the demise of the Sears Wish book and five and dime stores. Who knows what will be next? 

I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but I shudder to think that Baker’s chocolate—a friend to cooks since 1780—might someday be declared unfit for human consumption.  Don’t laugh. It happened to wheat, eggs and red meat. Who’s to say the same thing won’t happen to chocolate?

Never mind that cowboys and civil war soldiers enjoyed morning cups of Baker’s hot chocolate with no known problems.  Cast-iron stomachs of the past have no place in today’s world. 

It’s not just food and drink that’s in danger. The next company that could bite the dust could very well be Remington, established in 1818. It’s hard to believe that the company that produced the “rifle that won the west” might one day close its doors. But firearms aren’t all that popular these days.  Nor for that matter are typewriters. So who knows? 

And what about Brooks Brothers, another formidable company founded in 1818? The company made the first ready-to-wear suits in 1849.  Those flocking to California that year for the gold rush couldn’t wait for tailors to outfit them. For that reason, forty-niners depended on Brooks Brothers for their clothing needs. So did Abe Lincoln, Eisenhower and J.F. Kennedy.

Anything made of paper is about to become obsolete, including maps, shopping bags and checks.  Here in California, the war on drinking straws is heating up.  If that’s not enough, many of the nation’s newspapers have vanished in recent years. That means that old standbys like The New York Times (founded in 1851 as the New York Daily Times) could one day shut down their presses forever. 

I also worry about Merriam-Webster, founded in 1831. If it goes the way of encyclopedia salesmen, I will have to share the blame. I can’t remember the last time I actually looked something up in an honest-to-goodness, print dictionary, can you? 

Nothing is safe in today’s fast-paced world as proven by Kodak. Who would have thought that a company that we all knew and loved would close its dark-room doors forever and stop making cameras?

Founded in 1889, Kodak was the absolute leader in photography. It’s still in business making mobile devices, but its past glory is gone. Phone cameras have taken its place, but it’s not the same. An iPhone second just doesn’t have the same ring as a Kodak moment.

So, what old-time product do you or would you miss? What were you glad to see go?

 

Amazon

Updated: April 19, 2018 — 1:49 pm

How the West Was Wed–Giveaway

It’s PUB week for my book How the West Was Wed

and I’m giving away an eBook copy.

The only thing threatening their success is love.

After finding herself a widow at the age of twenty-six, JOSIE JOHNSON moves back home to Two-Time, Texas and takes over the town’s only newspaper, the Gazette.  Everything works as planned until the very charming, very handsome BRANDON WADE moves to town to start his own newspaper. At first Josie welcomes the competition, but soon learns that readers prefer Wade’s bold hyperbole to her more serious type of journalism.

Brandon never meant to put the pretty publisher out of business and suggests a solution.  Nothing sells newspapers like a good juicy scandal, but lacking that, the next best thing is a good old-fashioned print war between two battling editors.  Brandon even writes up an article disparaging himself and his paper to demonstrate. Josie refuses to stoop to such tactics.  She’ll gain her readers back on her own terms—or not at all!  But when her paper accidentally publishers Wade’s article, the print wars are on.

The rivalry between Josie and Brandon meets with immediate success and both newspapers fly off the racks. The editorial warfare is the talk of the town and readers can’t seem to get enough. While the ink wars rage on, Josie and Brandon find themselves fighting yet another battle—a mutual attraction that could put everything they worked for at risk.

Before the Civil War, people were content to receive news weeks and even months after an event, if at all.  The war changed that. Suddenly, people were demanding to know what was going on, and newspapers became an important part of life.  President Lincoln recognized that newspapers could be used to sway public opinion and he used them to good advantage, much as politicians do today.  

Here’s my question: What’s your favorite way of getting the news?

 

Amazon

 

Updated: March 17, 2018 — 7:03 am

Fake News and Feuding Editors

Accuracy to a newspaper is what virtue is to a lady;

but a newspaper can always print a retraction.

                                                                                                       –Adlai E. Stevenson     

My March release, How the West was Wed, follows the story of two rivaling newspaper editors.  JOSIE LOCKWOOD is the successful editor of the town’s only newspaper until the very charming, very handsome BRANDON WADE moves to town to start his own newspaper. At first Josie welcomes the competition, but she soon learns that readers prefer Wade’s bold hyperbole to her more serious type of journalism.

I especially enjoyed writing about a Victorian newspaper woman. Women editors date back to colonial times, and some edited publications in the east during the first half of the nineteenth century. Still, in those early days, the newspaper business was primarily a male occupation.

This changed somewhat during the westward movement. The late eighteen-hundreds saw some 300 females editing 250 publications in eleven western states. California led the way with 129 known female editors. No doubt there were more, but some female publishers sought credibility by listing a husband’s name on a masthead.

Newspaperwomen covered everything from national and local news to household hints.

Newspapers at the time also carried what today might be called fake news. Along with their morning cup of Arbuckle’s, Victorian readers were regaled with stories of mysterious creatures, flying objects, ghosts, extraterrestrials and other strange phenomena.

It’s not hard to see why the news business would attract female interest. Having control over editorial content afforded women the opportunity to lead a crusade, promote religious and educational activities, and bring a community together. Women still didn’t have the vote, of course, but some female publishers had strong political views which they were all too glad to share with readers.

Editorial disputes like the one between Brandon and Josie were common in the Old West, but not all had such a happy ending. Sometimes things went too far.  In some instances, the feud ended in gunfire.

Most feuds, however, were carried out with a war-of-words. Rival editors prided themselves on the quality and quantity of their insults. Typesetting was a tedious job. It took less time and effort to call someone an idiot or numbskull in print than to find a gentler approach.

If editors weren’t fighting each other, they were fighting readers. Any editor printing an inflammatory story could expect to be accosted at the local saloon or challenged to a duel. Things got so bad that an editor of a Kansas newspaper wrote: “What this community needs just now is a society for the prevention of cruelty to writing men, otherwise editors.”

After one man was acquitted of killing the editor of the Leavenworth Times, the Marion County Record wrote, “That’s just the way with some juries—they think it no more harm to shoot an editor than a jack-rabbit.”

Fortunately, today’s disgruntled readers are more likely to drop a subscription than drop an editor, but one thing hasn’t changed; For more than a 150 years, the death of newspapers has been predicted.  It was once thought that the telegraph would do the ghastly deed.  Today, the Internet is taking the blame.  Whether it fully succeeds is anyone’s guess.

So, what do you think?  Are newspapers still relevant?

 

Meet the Brides of Two-Time, Texas!

            

Amazon author page

iTunes

B&N

Updated: February 18, 2018 — 9:59 am

Where’s the Beef?

It’s a scary world and about to become a lot scarier.

Not only are we faced with the prospect of driverless cars and mirrors designed to voice unabashed opinions of our wardrobes, I recently realized that my “smart” doorbell has a higher IQ than I do.

Cowboys and cowgirls of the future?

Now scientists are closing in on giving us animal-free meat.  What that means is that our steaks will soon be grown in labs, not on cattle ranches.  Cowboys of the future will wear white coats instead of denims and Stetsons—and they sure won’t be riding horses.

It’s not hard to understand what’s driving this new technology.  Some believe that cattle and the methane gas they produce is the number one cause of global warming.  There are also financial considerations; It’s estimated that the cells from a single live cow will produce 175 million quarter pounders!  That’s about what McDonald’s sells in nine months.

I’m currently working on a book set on a Texas cattle ranch in 1800s and I can’t help but wonder what my hero would think about all of this.  No doubt he would be appalled and regard the so-called “clean meat” as a threat to his very existence. But he also knows what it’s like to fight a losing battle. In the book, his ever-ready Colt stops rustlers, horse thieves and “belled snakes,” but is useless in the face of progress.

Only time will tell if the National Cattleman’s Association will be successful in convincing consumers to demand the “real thing” in their hamburgers.  Or if it, too, will go the way of cattle drives.

Of course, not everyone agrees on what the “real thing” is. Some aficionados insist that none other than grass-fed cattle fit the bill, but that can be a hard sell.

Grass-fed cattle taste different than cattle fed on corn and soy. It has less fat, which means it’s healthier, but the taste doesn’t always suit modern palates and can take some getting used to.

Then there’s the difference in texture. Grass-fed cattle move around more than cattle in feedlots and therefore have more muscle.  This makes the meat “chewier.”  Those rugged cowboys of yesteryear might have relished a chewy steak while sitting around a campfire, but today most people prefer the tender, melt-in-your mouth taste of prime grain-fed beef.

Feed, muscle and fat aren’t the only things that affect taste. The way meat is handled during shipping, aging and preparation makes a difference, too. Barbecued steak doesn’t have the same flavor as meat cooked on an open campfire.  So even if you purchase grass-fed beef today, it still won’t taste the same as it did during those old chuck-wagon days.

Who knows?  Maybe future generations will prefer the taste of lab-grown meat, which some describe as “crunchy.”  There’s no stopping progress, but neither can we stop changing tastes.

So what changes or new tech do you like or dislike?

 

Amazon author page

iBooks

 

Updated: January 24, 2018 — 5:12 pm

My Most Meaningful Christmas Gifts

At age eight, I received a most meaningful gift. It was a big beautiful doll with blond hair and eyes that opened and closed. I had worked hard for that doll. To get on Santa’s “good” list, I cleaned my room and did my chores.  Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I even did everyone else’s chores.  When I opened the box Christmas morning and saw two big blue eyes staring back at me, I was elated.  I felt as if I could make every dream come true if I wanted it bad enough and was willing to work for it.

At twelve, I received a most meaningful gift.  It was an angora sweater. A year earlier, I had received toys for Christmas. “Graduating” to clothes was a big deal. I remember feeling so grown-up. That gift told me that others saw me that way, too.

At seventeen, I received a most meaningful gift.  It was a heart-shaped necklace from my boyfriend.  I believed at that moment that love would last forever.  The chain snapped less than a week later, and we broke up soon after. That gift taught me that some things are meant to last for only a short time, and that we must enjoy them while we can.

In my twenties, I received a most meaningful gift.  Our oldest son was born just before Christmas. It was a gift that both elated and humbled me. This baby—this beautiful gift from God—was solely dependent on me and I wanted so much to be the perfect mother.  But as I walked the floor that Christmas day trying to comfort a colicky baby, I realized the futility of that goal. I soon learned that no child ever said that his or her mother was perfect, only that she was the best.

In my thirties, I received a most meaningful gift.  The Christmas I most remember during that time was a bleak one.  My husband’s company was on strike and we were down to our last fifty cents.  As I filled our three children’s stockings with nuts and oranges, I dreaded the following morning when they would see how little Santa had left.  Much to my surprise and delight, I never heard one of them complain. If anything, they seemed to be more appreciative of the few gifts they did receive.  That was the year I learned that sometimes less is more.

I received the most meaningful gift during our saddest year. Our oldest son died a few months before Christmas and I couldn’t even bring myself to put up a tree.  I cried most of that day and I don’t remember what presents I received, but I do remember one important gift.  For it was that year that I learned that we’re stronger than we think we are, and though we lose so very much with the death of a love one, we can’t possibly count all the blessings that remain.

I don’t know what gifts are in store for me this Christmas, but I do know this: the gifts that touch our hearts are the ones that stay with us the longest.

Merry Christmas and may the gifts of love, peace and joy be yours.

 

Enjoy the Gift of Reading

      

Amazon

B&N

iTunes

Updated: December 21, 2017 — 9:19 am

A Pinch of This and a Dash of That

Have you ever noticed that some of those old family recipes never taste as good as you remember from your childhood?  Those early cooks didn’t waste a thing, as anyone who inherited a recipe for giblet pie will attest. I also have a recipe that calls for one quart of nice buttermilk. As soon as I find buttermilk that meets that criteria, I’ll try it.

I especially like the old-time recipes for sourdough biscuits. Here’s a recipe from The Oregon Trail Cookbook:

“Mix one-half cup sourdough starter with one cup milk. Cover and set it in the wagon near the baby to keep warm … pinch off pieces of dough the size of the baby’s hand.”

Early cooks didn’t have the accurate measuring devices we have today and had to make do with what was handy—even if it was the baby.

If you’re in the mood to drag out an old family recipe this Thanksgiving, here are some weights and measures used by pioneer cooks that might help: 

Tumblerful=Two Cups

Wineglass=1/4 Cup

Pound of eggs=8 to 9 large eggs, 10-12 smaller ones

Butter the size of an egg=1/4 cup

Butter the size of a walnut=2 Tablespoons

Dash=1/8 teaspoon

Pinch=1/8 teaspoon

Dram=3/4 teaspoon

Scruple= (an apothecary weight=1/4 teaspoon

Gill=1/2 Cup

Old-time tablespoon=4 modern teaspoons

Old-time teaspoons=1/4 modern teaspoon

2 Coffee Cups=1 pint

As for the size of the baby, you’re on your own.

                                                                Weights from Christmas in the Old West by Sam Travers

 

Chuck wagon or trail recipes call for a different type of measurement

Li’l bitty-1/4 tsp

Passle-1/2 tsp

Pittance-1/3 tsp

Dib-1/3 tsp

Crumble-1/8 tsp

A Wave at It-1/16 tsp

Heap-Rounded cupful     

Whole Heap-2 Rounded cupfuls

Bunch-6 items

However you measure it,

here’s hoping that your Thanksgiving is a “whole heap” of fun!

 

For Your Christmas Reading Pleasure

Amazon author page

iTunes author page

Updated: November 12, 2017 — 9:29 am

Those Gutsy Women of the Old West

Never underestimate a woman doing a man’s job!

My passion is writing about the old west and the fabulous women who helped settle it.  Western movies helped establish the male hero, but depicting women mainly as bonnet saints, soiled doves and schoolmarms did them a terrible disservice.

The westward migration freed women in ways never before imagined. Women abandoned Victorian traditions, rigid manners and confining clothes and that’s not all; they brought churches, schools and newspapers to frontier towns and helped build communities.

Female barber wielding “man’s most sacred implement.”

Women today may still be banging against glass ceilings, but those brave souls of yesteryear had to break down doors. One newspaper reporter complained that “Women dared to lay hands on man’s most sacred implements—the razor and strop—and shave him to the very face.”

Ah, yes, women were barbers, doctors, firefighters and saloon keepers. Women even disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War. With little more than their faith to guide them, they owned cattle ranches and gold mines and fought for women’s rights.

In 1860 Julia Shannon of San Francisco took the family portrait to new heights when she shockingly advertised herself as a daguerreotypist and midwife.  Cameras were bulky, chemicals dangerous and photo labs blew up with alarming regularity. It was a hard profession for a man let alone a woman.

Kate Warne dressed in Union soldier disguise

Forty years before women were allowed to join a police department, Kate Warne worked for the Pinkerton National Detective agency as an undercover agent from 1856 to her death in 1868. Not only did she run the female detective division, she saved president-elect Abraham Lincoln from a planned assassination by wrapping him in a blanket and pretending he was her invalid brother.    Her story is the inspiration behind my Undercover Ladies series in which the heroines were—you guessed it—Pinkerton detectives working undercover.

It took strong and courageous women to bury children along the trail; barter with Indians and make homes out of sticks and mud. It’s estimated that about twelve percent of homesteaders in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and Utah were single women.  And yep, women even took part in the Oklahoma land runs.

An article in the San Francisco Examiner published in 1896 says it all: “People have stopped wondering what women will do next, for keeping up with what she is doing now takes all the public energies.”

These are the heroines for whom we like to cheer.  It must have been a shock to the male ego to have to deal with such strong and unconventional women—and that’s at the very heart of my stories. The gun may have won the west, but praise the Lord for the gusty and courageous women who tamed it.

Can you name a gutsy woman–either past or present?

 

Speaking of heroines of the Old West,

let’s not forget gusty Sheriff Amanda Lockwood,

who almost always gets  her man.

Amazon

B&N

iTunes

Updated: October 26, 2017 — 6:39 am
Petticoats & Pistols © 2015