Category: Margaret Brownley

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

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?

 

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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?

 

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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!

            

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Updated: February 18, 2018 — 9:59 am
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