Category: Old west newspapers

Using Real People, Places & Events in Fiction

Thank you to all at the Petticoats & Pistols blog for this opportunity to post as a guest blogger.

Today I am going to highlight how I came up with the plot for my latest novel, Escape from Gold Mountain. It is very simple. Many of the elements of the plot came from actual history.

1863 DeGroot map of Mono County: Esmerelda & Bridgeport

Two shooting affrays in the same Lundy saloon three hours apart leaving four men wounded and waiting on the doctor in Bodie thirty miles away to come up the following morning to help patch them up? You bet.

In past years, I wrote a series based in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains in remote and sparely-populated Mono County.

 

 

Lundy in the 1890s

 

For the basis of many of my plots and a few known residents for some of my minor characters (and miner characters), I relied on a book titled Lundy by Alan H. Patera.

 

 

Characters based on real people:

Until almost the end of this series, I skipped over the information under the heading of “Desperados” about a couple of bad men, or roughs, as the unruly, disorderly elements were called at that time and place. Then, one incident in particular caught my eye. It involved a “Chinawoman” and two roughs.

I started researching—and researching. I wrote a spin-off novel that ended up being twice as long as the longest novella in the original series. I set it aside. I contracted for a cover. I researched some more. In a different local history of the area, I discovered the name of this woman—Ling Loi. I also learned more about the two men, “Tex” Wilson and Charley Jardine, who were involved with stealing her off the Lundy to Bodie stagecoach.

Bridgeport Chronicle-Union Nov. 8, 1884

In fact, up until I received my final editing, I spent hours in my local library perusing microfilms of the available Bridgeport Chronicle-Union newspaper for anything I could find on these people.

Bridgeport Chronicle-Union Nov. 8, 1884

This incident is not well known. There are no photographs I could find of these three historical characters. I found no physical descriptions other than local Mono County historian Ella M. Cain calling Ling Loi a “little, painted Chinese girl.” That may have been a euphemism for being a prostitute more than a physical descriptor. I do not believe any of them had children—at least, for the men, none they knew of. However, their story was too good to keep, and I fictionally expanded the tidbits of real history to create my longest and most researched novel to date.

 Singsong girl late 19th century

I did find images of Chinese prostitutes which I included in this post. This can give you an idea of how Ling Loi may had appeared and dressed.

The more I researched about the immigration experience of many of the Chinese women, especially in the 1880s when this story is set, the more I learned how many, if not most, were brought to San Francisco under false pretenses – if not outright abducted in their homeland – in order to be forced into prostitution in the brothels and opium dens of both the China towns of the bigger cities and the small mining communities of the west.

 

Street slave in Chinatown, 1896

Although the tong owners who bought them forced them to sign a contract of indenture, it really was slavery. The contracts were written so a woman could not live long enough to fulfill her financial obligations. Most of these women only escaped when they died from disease, most often syphilis.

At the encouragement of Alexa Kang, a World War Two romance author who is of Cantonese descent and is familiar with Cantonese customs and language, I gave Ling Loi more personality and a more active role in the plot.

Story Settings:

My Mono County settings included Bodie, now a state park.

Historical Bodie, California taken from the old Standard Mine

Until September, 1884, Ling Loi worked as a prostitute in Lundy, now a defunct gold mining town that became a seasonal fishing resort.

Lundy in 2014 with Mt. Scowden in background

 

Several chapters take place in the Masonic Mountains north and east of Bridgeport.

Also, one scene is based on a real incident that happened in Bridgeport at the Mono County Jail.

 

In addition to being fictionalized history, this story can also quality as an alternative history. My hero, Luke McDaniels (as well as a few other characters in the book) are fictional. After all, this is a romance. As much as she must deal with all the bad guys, I wanted to be sure the Ling Loi in my story had a happily-ever-after ending.

Here is an excerpt:

         Luke shook his head in frustration. “I should have known you two were up to no good. Look, I want no part of this, Charley. You said you’d give me what you owe me after we got back here today. Just hand it over. I don’t want to get caught in the middle of this mess.”

         “Ah, but you already are in the middle of it, eh? Don’t worry. It’s but a little change of plans.”

         Luke stepped forward, then assumed a stance with feet spread, and his fists on his hips, close to his weapons. “Where’s my money? I want it now.”

         Charley fished the reticule out of his pants pocket and emptied the contents in his hand. He counted out part of the half eagles and returned them to the reticule. The rest he put in his pocket. After pulling the strings tight, he tossed the bag to Luke.

         Before Luke could pull the purse open, Charley spoke. “There’s twenty dollars in there, Shorty. You want to take it and ride out, then be on your way. You want the full fifty, you’ll have to see this last job through to the end, eh?”

         Luke bit back the bitter threats he felt like hurling Charley’s way. Instead, he glared at the man, taking into account the calculating gleam in the Canadian’s eyes and his hand hovering near his knife.

         Luke’s mind raced as he considered his options. He could take the money and go, even if it meant fighting his way out. He already knew enough short-cuts through the surrounding remote territory to get far away quickly. However, if he left under these circumstances, would Charley end up fingering him for the abduction just as he once threatened to blame him for the cattle rustling?

         Although he gave no indication to the others, an awareness of the Chinese woman seated on one of the log stools not far from him jarred his conscience. He wondered—in addition to being cattle rustlers, thieves, and abductors, were Charley and Tex also murderers? If he left, she had no protection from them. She was not his concern, but he hesitated at the thought of walking away and later discovering the worst had happened to her.

         Luke tossed the reticule back to Charley. “I want all my money.”

I will be giving away a digital copy of the book to one person chosen at random who leaves a response on this blog post. Tell us about your favorite gold or silver mining town and/or your favorite mining town location.

Escape from Gold Mountain will initially be offered on more than one vendor. The release day is scheduled for September 4, 2019. If you are a Nook reader, the book will only be available for Nook purchase for about 12 days before it will be offered digitally exclusively on Amazon and in the Kindle Unlimited program.

 The book will also be offered in print format and continue to be offered for sale as a paperback on both vendors.

Here are the Kindle and Nook pre-order purchase links:

Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble

About Zina Abbott:

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. A member of Women Writing the West, Western Writers of America, and American Night Writers Association. She currently lives with her husband in California near the “Gateway to Yosemite.” When she is not piecing together novel plots, she pieces together quilt blocks.

 

Connect with Zina Abbott:

 

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Updated: September 4, 2019 — 8:26 am

Old-Time Advertisements

 

 

 

 

 

And now a word from our sponsor…

Those particular words didn’t come into play until the radio, but advertising has been around since the beginning of mankind.  Cavemen painted billboards on rock walls. Ancient Romans printed advertisements for gladiatorial games on papyrus.

After the invention of the printing press, advertisements began appearing in newspapers and periodicals. Circulars were posted on chimneys, lamp posts, walls, wagons, fences—you name it.  Since painting the town with ads was considered a public spectacle, men with buckets of paste worked mostly at night.

According to the old ads, only women had body odor.

Ads were designed not only to sell products, but also to solve personal and social problems. In many cases, people were oblivious to such personal shame as body odor or halitosis until some thoughtful marketer pointed it out.

Sense and Sensibilities

Looking back, I can’t help but laugh at some of the strange wording used to avoid offending customers.   During the 1800s the word limb was used for leg and white meat for chicken breast.  No one dare mention pants or trousers in polite company.  This posed a challenge for marketers. 

The Scott Company was so embarrassed at having to advertise toilet paper during the 1880s they customized the paper for their clients. The Waldorf Hotel became a big name in toilet paper. When a customer walked into a general store and requested a roll of Waldorf, no questions were asked. 

Speaking of toilet paper, Northern Tissue advertised “splinter-free” toilet paper in 1935.  If that doesn’t want to make you go “ouch” consider this: the “cure” for a certain male condition currently blasted nightly from the TV was, in the early 1900s, thought to be electric belts.

The westward migration spurred advertisements for real estate, investments and tourism.  

In 1860 the Pony Express advertisement in California read:

Can you imagine seeing an ad like this today?

“Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over 18. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”

The Civil War created a great need for clothes, shoes and ready made food and advertisements during the era reflected the new consumerism. 

Writers hear a lot about “branding” today, and we can thank the patent medicine companies of yesteryear for that.  By touting exotic ingredients, producers could distinguish themselves from competitors.  Other companies followed suit and slogans like the “soap that floats” became increasingly popular. 

It’s Wonderful, Amazing, Spectacular!

Not that long ago, a girl could be somebody, as long she was a secretary.

 Exaggeration was the order of the day and no one was better at reeling off adjectives than Richard Sears.  Eventually, Sears toned down the ads and was said to have concluded: “Honesty is the best policy. I know because I’ve tried it both ways.”

Honesty didn’t come easy for some advertisers and reform was needed. 1892, the Ladies’ Home Journal announced it would no longer accept patent medicine ads. The bogus potions were costing Americans millions of dollars per year and were coming under heavy attack by commentators and consumers.

In our factory, we make lipstick. In our advertising, we sell hope.”-Peter Nivio Zarlenga

Women purchased most of the household goods and so it made sense to have women create the ads.  As early as the 1900s, advertisers welcomed female employees.  The first advertisement to use sex was for Woodbury soap and was created by a woman.  Tame by today’s standards, the advertisement featured a couple with the message “The skin you love to touch.”  Not only did this raise eyebrows, but it promised sex, romance and love to anyone savvy enough to buy the product.  It worked:  Sales skyrocketed.

Studying advertisements is a great way to learn the customs, concerns, prejudices and history of earlier times.  I shudder to think what future generations will learn from ours.

What are your favorite or least favorite ads?

Read Margaret’s books and they will make you younger, wiser, thinner and rich

(Sorry, after reading all those old-time ads, I couldn’t resist!)

 

Cowboy Charm School

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                                                         The Cowboy Meets His Match

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Updated: August 21, 2019 — 7:05 am

Researching the 1880’s Newspaper Office

 

Composing sticks, tympans, and friskets…Oh My! What do these all have in common? 

They are all parts that make up an Old West newspaper office. 

When I decided to write Abigail White’s story as the last addition to The Oak Grove Series, my research into the early newspaper office of the 1880’s took me back to my local “living history village” where I was able to glean information on American small-town newspapers from our local historian and docent. As you can see — it was a foggy, damp, day in early March.

For a town like Oak Grove, situated on the Kansas plains, paper was ordered and arrived on large rolls by wagon or by train. Once delivered, it was cut to the desired size.

                                                

Type was made of a composite of cast iron and steel. The most common were Wisconsin type and Hamilton type. Type was stored in type-cases – large drawers with many different sized compartments. The higher or upper case held capital letters. The lower case held… you got it…lower-case type.

The composer stick was the width of the column that would be used in the paper. The one at Midway Village was manufactured in Chicago by the H.B. Rouse Company which was a common national supplier of these devices in the U.S. The type would first be arranged in this and then transferred to a large frame. 

The compositor or typesetter (or in my story – Abigail or her brother, Teddy White) – removes a piece of type from one of the compartments of the type case and places it in the composing stick. Not so difficult until you realize this had to be done working from left to right and bottom to top, placing the letters upside-down! Can you tell what this type says? (Answer at bottom of post.)

Composing Stick ~ Photo by Wilhei [CC BY 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The composer stick was the width of the column that would be used in the paper. The one at Midway Village was manufactured in Chicago by the H.B. Rouse Company which was a common national supplier of these devices in the U.S. The type would first be arranged in this and then transferred to a large frame. 

For pictures, the newspaper office would purchase a few etchings from a factory, and then used them in numerous ways. For example – an etching of pine trees to be used at Christmastime or a fancy United States Flag etching to be used on National Holidays such as the Fourth of July. Local companies that used the newspaper for sale announcements would have their own etchings made and supply them to the newspapers to be used frequently over the years.

Printer’s ink was oil-based, thick and tarry. It won’t spill if turned upside down. On cold days, the ink didn’t flow well and would become so thick that it would create a blob on the letters and thus on the paper if used. A blade would be used to scoop it up and spread it on a flat plate. Here you can see the round, disk-like flat plate.

Oak Grove Gazette Printing Press

With the linotypes of the 1870s and 1880s, “printer’s disease” was a danger.  It was contracted by working with lead in the linotype. The workers would absorb the lead through their skin and get lead poisoning. These types of printers were in the larger cities and so I didn’t make mention of it in Christmas With the Outlaw. The plate would be pressed against the letters and then against a piece of paper. A rhythm would start up, and if not very careful, the plate could easily smash fingers. For newspapermen, it was the middle two fingers that most often were smashed or severed.

A “galley proof” or test copy was always made before any further papers were printed. This was to ensure that the type had been set accurately. A piece of type could accidentally be stored in the wrong case and as rapidly as the apprentice had to work, it could end up being placed back into a composing stick. The metal type, being comparably soft, could also become damaged or worn.

A cylinder printing press

Once the galley proof was checked and last-minute corrections were incorporated, the type would be fixed in the frame to ready it for printing.

A rope stretched across the length of the newspaper office so that once printed, pages could be placed over the rope for drying. Once the ink was dry on the “front,” the back side of the paper could then be printed upon.

It was a dirty job and as you’ve read…could be dangerous. The large paper cutters could easily cut off fingers that got in the way! Newspaper men had ink-stained fingers and they often worked overnight to get the paper out in the morning.

In Christmas With the Outlaw (in A Western Christmas Homecoming Anthology,) siblings Teddy and Abigail put out a weekly paper along with flyers for town events. They inherited their printing press from their parents and transported it by wagon to Oak Grove, looking for a fresh start in a growing new town. Abigail is also the town reporter and takes her job seriously.

Oh yes! And the answer to the above type in the composing stick is:  

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog and feels
as if he were in the seventh heaven of typography. 

Leave a comment for your name to be entered into the drawing for an autographed copy of my just out ~

 A Western Christmas Homecoming!

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Yesteryear’s News …

 

I decided today to go back and look at some of my history with P&P.  Our local newspaper sold after a century and a half and I’m none too pleased with some of the changes. It’s been on my mind so much, that my first anthology “Give Me a Texan” came to mind. Although it was publish a decade ago, I still love my story.  My hero is newspaperman Quinten Corbett who wasn’t exactly expecting his new apprentice to be a female.  Quin has to find something for the Boston-born Kaira Renaulde to do since she was much too sophisticated for the rough-and-tumble frontier town of Amarillo. He gives her assignments that today might be called “fluff” reporting.

In order to stay authentic, I researched newspaper articles during that era and used two of them.  “October 9, 1884: An itinerant looking man with very small mules was selling apples and things here Wednesday. They came from Wichita Falls. The apples retailed at four bits a dozen, and were quickly taken.”    — The Mobeetie Panhandle

Naturally, this type of article didn’t set well with the newspaper man, so he sends her out again.  This time she comes up with another piece.  “August 14, 1884: The juicy watermelon, the odoriferous muskmelon and the warty, git-up-and-dust cucumber have been here several days. Men and things change, but every returning season finds the cucumber possessing unalterably the same old characteristics.”    — The Mobeetie Panhandle

I’m happy to say that “Give Me a Texan” is still in print after a decade, as are the other anthologies, so if you want to know more about how Quin and Kaira handle working together, you can still order it through Amazon.com.

In the anthology “Give Me a Texas Outlaw”, which came out nine years ago and is also still available at Amazon in both rack size and eBook, I used old newspaper articles for the epilogue taking a bit of creative liberties. I tried to tie together my stories in the four anthologies just a little bit, along with foreshadowing the next two in the series.  Never did I believe that the anthologies, particularly “Give Me a Cowboy” would lead to my contemporary western romances with the same families of Kasota Spring, Texas, three to five generations later.

Here’s some more interesting information, I researched.

October 25, 1890: “At Tolosa, five miles south of Kemp, John Williams and Will Perkins became engaged in a difficulty, both being under the influence of whiskey. Perkins struck Williams just above the temple with a black smith’s hammer, smashing his skull. Williams made his escape, with the officer in pursuit, going in the direction of Athens, his former home. Williams is the son-in-law of W. Almow, a prominent farmer.”  Note: They called this “engaging in a difficulty” in those days?          —The Galveston Daily News

December 19, 1890: “Professor Garard, superintendent of the public schools, died very suddenly last night. He had been complaining a little for several days, but was feeling better yesterday. He ate a hearty supper last night, retired to his room and was found dead this morning.”   —The Galveston Daily News

I thought it’d be fun today to give you a taste of authentic news articles during the 1800’s.  I’ve left the spelling and punctuation as it was written for authenticity, so you’ll see some very odd spelling.  It took the folks a while to decide exactly how to spell Panhandle.  It was Pan Handle and Pan-handle, plus a couple of other ways before they settled into Panhandle.

“September 27, 1883: The largest cattle ranch in the world is said to be that of Charles Goodnight, at the head of Red River, Texas. He began buying land four years ago, securing 270,000 acres at 36 cents per acre. In the meantime the price has advanced from $1 to $2 per acre, but he is still buying, and controls 700,000 acres. To enclose his landed possessions, 250 miles of fence is required. On the range he has 40,000 cattle.”   Dodge City Times

September 20, 1883: “The wire cutters are busy at work with their clippers, cutting the fences in Montague, Clay, Wise and Denton counties, greatly to the annoyance of the owners.”

–Mobeetie Panhandle

June 29, 1882: “Hamburg has a curiosity in the shape of a chicken which has only one leg. It was hatched that way, is about two months old and seems as happy and contented as though it had four legs.”     —Dodge City Times

May 18, 1882:  “Pan Handle Items: The road between here and Tascosa said to be well defined by a row of black bottles that flash back the rays of the sun. They are empty.”   –Mobeetie Panhandle

October 16, 1880: “Land in Texas is cheap. The last Legislature set apart 3,000,000 acres of land in the Pan Handle, ordered a survey and put it on the market at a minimum price of 50 cents per acre. The survey of this 3,000,000 acres has been completed, and the land is now in market.” **    —Dodge City Times

**This is the land the state traded for a new capitol building, land that became the well-known XIT Ranch.  On my list of future blogs is the story of the famous XIT Ranch, which is still in existence today.

And, one of my favorite articles comes from the Dodge City Times dated September 20, 1879: “The Pan Handle has been suffering for the want of rain, as several weeks have elapsed since rain has fallen; and if we don’t soon get rain we will have a long dry spell.” Hate to say it, but this is applicable to our weather today in the Texas Panhandle.

Since the Panhandle, as it was finally spelled, is suffering from a serious drought and prairie fires today, I must agree … if we don’t soon get rain we will have a long dry spell.

Do you have favorite newspaper or magazine quotes you’d like to share?

I’m fortune to have a supply of all six anthologies, authored with our own Linda Broday, Jodi Thomas, and the late DeWanna Pace. Tonight I’ll be drawing a winner to either get an autographed copy of “Give Me a Texan” or your choice of one of my eBooks, including my recently released “Out of a Texas Night”.

Updated: July 2, 2018 — 8:04 pm

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

Newspapers of the Old West

Hi everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Whenever I go to an estate sale or thrift store, one of the things I like to check out are the book shelves. Over the years I’ve found some nice, eclectic research nuggets.

One such book is one I picked up recently call “Newspapering In The Old West.” I know most folks get their news via television or some form of online access these days, but it wasn’t so long ago that the morning paper was a fixture in just about everyone’s home.

This tome not only talks about newspapermen, printing presses and practices of the time, but it also contains a wealth of excerpts from the papers themselves including news stories, photographs and advertisements. Thumbing through this book provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of the old west from the perspective of the early news media.

One story, titled From Dodge City to Potato Hill reads as follows: “Embry, who shot Anthony, editor of the Leavenworth Times, has been acquitted. That’s just the way with some juries – they think it no more harm to shoot an editor than a Jack-rabbit.” Marion County Record, Marion, Kansas, 1876.

The book is also full of fascinating little tidbits, like this one: “Some frontier publishers printed on cloth because of paper shortages. In 1887, however, the Omaha Daily World printed just four copies of its October 12 edition on satin in honor of a visit to that city by President Cleveland.”

Another interesting little fact I learned was that many of the old west newspapers were not averse to hiring women as typesetters and linotype operators. And then there was this  side note: “Husband and wife publishing teams were commonplace on the frontier. Before 1900 the women were more often found in the back shop rather than in editorial positions.” These tidbits will undoubtedly find their way into a book of mine someday.

I was also fascinated by some of the colorful names these early newspapers had, names like The Solid Muldoon, The Tombstone Prospector, The Territorial Enterprise, The Epitaph, The Pick and Drill, The Colorado Chieftain, The Frontier Scout, The Thomas County Cat and The Red-wing Carrier Pigeon.

There was a whole lot more, and the photos were fascinating. If you’re interested in checking it out, you can find copies at THIS LINK

So what do you think? Do you still get the newspaper delivered to your home? And do you know any fun or unusual names of newspapers to add to my list?

Updated: February 5, 2017 — 1:02 am

Kitty LeRoy: Beloved Tramp

Main Street, Deadwood, SD, 1876

Main Street, Deadwood, SD, 1876

Some real-life episodes in the Old West read like fictional adventures. Some read like tragedies. Some read like romances.

The life stories of a few non-fictional characters—like Kitty LeRoy—combine all three.

“…Kitty LeRoy was what a real man would call a starry beauty,” one of her contemporaries noted in a book with a ridiculously long title*. “Her brow was low and her brown hair thick and curling; she had five husbands, seven revolvers, a dozen bowie-knives and always went armed to the teeth, which latter were like pearls set in coral.”

From all reports, LeRoy was a stunning beauty with a sparkling personality that had men—including both notorious outlaws and iconic officers of the law—throwing themselves at her feet. She was proficient in the arts of flirtation and seduction, and she didn’t hesitate to employ her feminine wiles to get what she wanted.

Often, what she wanted was the pot in a game of chance. One of the most accomplished poker players of her time, LeRoy spent much of her short life in gambling establishments. Eventually, she opened her own in one of the most notorious dens of iniquity the West has ever known: Deadwood, South Dakota. With spectacular diamonds at ears, neck, wrists, and fingers glittering bright enough to blind her customers every night, it’s no wonder LeRoy’s Mint Gambling Saloon prospered.

With her reputation as an expert markswoman, there was very little trouble…at least at the tables.

LeRoy was born in 1850, although no one is sure where. Some say Texas; others, Michigan. One thing is certain: By the age of ten, she was performing on the stage. Working in dancehalls and saloons, she either picked up or augmented an innate ability to manipulate, along with gambling and weaponry skills that would serve her well for most of her life. According to local lore, at fifteen she married her first husband because he was the only man in Bay City, Michigan, who would let her shoot apples off his head while she galloped past on horseback.

Lower Main Street, Deadwood, SD, 1877

Lower Main Street, Deadwood, SD, 1877

A long attention span apparently was not among the skills LeRoy cultivated. Shortly after her marriage, she left her husband and infant son behind and headed for Texas. By the age of twenty, she had reached the pinnacle of popularity at Johnny Thompson’s Variety Theatre in Dallas, only to leave entertaining behind, too.

Instead, she tried her hand as a faro dealer. Ah, now there was a career that suited. Excitement, money, men…and extravagant costumes. Players never knew what character they would face until she appeared. A man? A sophisticate? A gypsy?

Texas soon bored LeRoy, but no matter. With a new saloonkeeper husband in tow, she headed for San Francisco—only to discover the streets were not paved with gold, as she had heard. While muddling through that conundrum, she somehow misplaced husband number two, which undoubtedly made it easier for her to engage in the sorts of promiscuous shenanigans for which she rapidly gained a reputation.

Although the reputation didn’t hurt her at the gaming tables, it did create a certain amount of unwanted attention. One too-ardent admirer persisted to such an extent that LeRoy challenged him to a duel. The man demurred, reportedly not wishing to take advantage of a woman. Never one to let a little thing like gender stand in her way, LeRoy changed into men’s clothes, returned, and challenged her suitor again. When he refused to draw a second time, she shot him anyway. Then, reportedly overcome with guilt, she called a minister and married husband number three as he breathed his last.

Now a widow, LeRoy hopped a wagon train with Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane and headed for the thriving boomtown of Deadwood. They arrived in July 1876, and LeRoy became an instant success by entertaining adoring prospectors nightly at Al Swearengen’s notorious Gem Theatre. Within a few months, she had earned enough money to open her own establishment: the Mint. There, she met and married husband number four, a German who had struck it rich in Black Hills gold. When the prospector’s fortune ran out, so did LeRoy’s interest. She hit him over the head with a bottle and kicked him to the curb—literally.

Gem Theatre, Deadwood, SD, 1878

Gem Theatre, Deadwood, SD, 1878

Meanwhile, thanks to LeRoy’s mystique—and allegedly no little fooling around with the customers—the Mint became a thriving operation. LeRoy reportedly “entertained” legendary characters as diverse as Hickock and Sam Bass. But it was 35-year-old card shark Samuel R. Curley who finally claimed her heart. Curley, besotted himself, became husband number five on June 11, 1877.

Shortly thereafter, Curley learned LeRoy hadn’t divorced her first husband. The bigamy realization, combined with rumors about LeRoy’s continued promiscuity, proved too much for the usually peaceful gambler. He stormed out of the Mint and didn’t stop until he reached Denver, Colorado.

Folks who knew LeRoy said she changed after Curley’s departure. Despite nights during which she raked in as much as $8,000 with a single turn of the cards, she grew cold and suspicious.

Her grief seemed to dissipate a bit when an old lover showed up in Deadwood. LeRoy rented rooms above the Lone Star Saloon, and the two moved in together.

By then, Curley was dealing faro in a posh Cheyenne, Wyoming, saloon. When word of LeRoy’s new relationship reached him, he flew into a jealous rage. Determined to confront his wife and her lover, he returned to Deadwood December 6, 1877. When the lover refused to see him, Curley told a Lone Star employee he’d kill them both.

LeRoy, reportedly still pining for her husband, agreed to meet Curley in her rooms at the Lone Star. Not long after she ascended the stairs, patrons below reported hearing a scream and two gunshots.

Deadwood, SD, 1878

Deadwood, SD, 1878

The following day, the Black Hills Daily Times reported the gruesome scene: LeRoy lay on her back, her eyes closed. Except for the bullet hole in her chest, the 27-year-old looked as though she were asleep. Curley lay face down, his skull destroyed by a bullet from the Smith & Wesson still gripped in his right hand.

“Suspended upon the wall, a pretty picture of Kitty, taken when the bloom and vigor of youth gazed down upon the tenements of clay, as if to enable the visitor to contrast a happy past with a most wretched present,” the newspaper report stated. “The pool of blood rested upon the floor; blood stains were upon the door and walls…”

An understated funeral took place in the room where Curley killed his wife and then took his own life. Their caskets were buried in the same grave in the city’s Ingleside Cemetery and later moved to an unmarked plot in the more noteworthy Mount Moriah.

The happiness the couple could not find together in life, apparently they did in death. Within a month of the funeral, Lone Star patrons began to report seeing apparitions “recline in a loving embrace and finally melt away in the shadows of the night.” The sightings became so frequent, the editor of the Black Hills Daily Times investigated the matter himself. His report appeared in the paper February 28, 1878:

…[W]e simply give the following, as it appeared to us, and leave the reader to draw their own conclusions as to the phenomena witnessed by ourselves and many others. It is an oft repeated tale, but one which in this case is lent more than ordinary interest by the tragic events surrounding the actors.

To tell our tale briefly and simply, is to repeat a story old and well known — the reappearance, in spirit form, of departed humanity. In this case it is the shadow of a woman, comely, if not beautiful, and always following her footsteps, the tread and form of the man who was the cause of their double death. In the still watches of the night, the double phantoms are seen to tread the stairs where once they reclined in the flesh and linger o’er places where once they reclined in loving embrace, and finally to melt away in the shadows of the night as peacefully as their bodies’ souls seem to have done when the fatal bullets brought death and the grave to each.

Whatever may have been the vices and virtues of the ill-starred and ill-mated couple, we trust their spirits may find a happier camping ground than the hills and gulches of the Black Hills, and that tho’ infelicity reigned with them here, happiness may blossom in a fairer climate.

 

Sources:

* Life and Adventures of SAM BASS, the Notorious Union Pacific and Texas Train Robber, Together with a Graphic Account of His Capture and Death, Sketch of the Members of his Band, with Thrilling Pen Pictures of their Many Bold and Desperate Deeds, and the Capture and Death of Collins, Berry, Barnes, and Arkansas Johnson (W.L. Hall & Company, 1878)

The Lady Was a Gambler: True Stories of Notorious Women of the Old West by Chris Enss (TwoDot, October 2007)

Women of the Western Frontier in Fact, Fiction and Film by Ronald W. Lackmann (McFarland & Company Inc., January 1997)

 

 

 

World of Newspaper Publishing by Carol Cox

carolphotoI’ll admit it—I’m a research junkie. I love digging up new information that will breathe life into my historical novels. In writing my latest release, Truth Be Told, that meant delving into the world of newspaper publishing in the late 19th century. My travels over the past year took me to a number of museums featuring exhibits from early frontier newspaper offices.

Print_Museum_collage

I picked up some basic terminology from those visits—as well as from reference books—but for this story, I needed more. Amelia Wagner, my heroine, would be operating a weekly frontier newspaper. Many scenes would be set in the printing office, so I had to have a clear idea of what the setup would look like. And what would she be doing from one day to the next? I needed to make sure the setting and Amelia’s activities offered an accurate reflection of the times.
After scouring the internet for more information, it turned out the answer lay practically in my own back yard. A call to Sharlot Hall Museum in nearby Prescott led me to Sky Shipley, the owner-operator of one of only three type foundries left in the UnitedState, who graciously agreed to help fill in the many gaps in my knowledge.
Washington_Hand_PressWe met at the print shop at Sharlot Hall Museum, where a Washington hand press—identical to the one Amelia uses in Truth Be Told—is on display.

 

Seeing the press up close and personal helped me envision some of the day-to-day operations of a weekly frontier newspaper. I could almost see the ink man using a brayer to distribute ink across the set form while the press man put a sheet of newsprint in place before cranking it forward under the platen.
Hauling on the lever, the press man would move the platen down to make an impression on the paper before rolling it back again so the sheet could be stripped out and then repeating the process all over again, one sheet at a time.
Two people working in a well-established rhythm might be able to make two impressions per minute.  After printing, the sheets would be hung up to let the ink dry before being printed on the other side.
While the Washington press would have been used to print the weekly paper, jobbing presses, like the one in the photo below, produced smaller items—business card, invitations, menus, wanted posters, etc.—that provided a much-needed cash flow essential to the paper’s survival.

Jobbing_pressOne especially fascinating tidbit of information was that newspapers of that era were often the target of ill will, because editors had opinions that didn’t always sit well with all sectors of the population. Editors were threatened, and their shops were sometimes attacked. In addition, editors often had wars in print with each other. When it came to name-calling, there were no holds barred, and no one cared much whether the printed accusations were true or not.

That set the stage perfectly for the premise of Truth Be Told, where Amelia’s father, the original editor of the Granite Springs Gazette, is a man committed to printing nothing but the truth. His passion for integrity would have made him something of an anomaly—and a ready target for men who were less scrupulous.
It was a thrill to find such a treasure trove of information so close at hand, and it just goes to show you never know where research may take you…sometimes you’ll find the answers you need right under your nose!
Truth Be Told cover
Many thanks to Karen Witemeyer for inviting me to join you today! I’ll be giving away a print copy of Truth Be Told, so be sure to leave a comment in order to be included in the drawing. I can’t wait to chat with you!

 

Updated: May 22, 2014 — 7:37 pm

Today in Texas History – Last Known American Town Crier Dies

newsletter_headerjpg - 2

towncrierHear Ye . . . Hear Ye . . .

What do you think of when you hear the term Town Crier? I tend to picture Paul Revere shouting warnings about the British or those medeival guardsmen pacing about and announcing “9 o’clock and all’s well” every hour. Before the advent of newspapers, town criers were responsible for shouting out the relevant news items to the townsfolk. However, as times progressed and news traveled by way of newspapers, telegraph, and even telephone, the town crier’s job description transitioned into an advertising role. Companies would pay them to advertise their goods and services. The town government would pay them to announce times and locations of sporting events and parades.

Technology, the radio in particular, eventually erradicated the need for town criers. Yet there were a few who held on to the treasured tradition longer than most. The one to hang on the longest was Julius Myers, the last known American crier. And on this day in Texas history, September 18, 1929, Julius Myers died in San Antonio at the age of 62.

Julius Myers was born in New York in 1868 and moved to Luling, Texas at around age 20. He opened a small grocery business and soon after began advertising with posters and hand bills. Before long, other companies noted his success, and paid him to advertise for them as well. At the time, newspapers only came out once a week, so this form of additional advertising proved quite effective. His business thrived.

In 1912, Julius moved to San Antonio and became the official town crier. He and hist trusty steed, Tootsie, could be seen roaming up and down Houston and Commerce streets on a daily basis. He carried a megaphone and would call out details pertaining to store sales, theater performances, and sporting events. He would dress in costume to match what he was advertising. A farmer for a farm and ranch show, a clown for a dog show, even a frontiersman with buckskin and six shooter. He also donated his time and voice to charitable causes like the Red Cross and the Elks Lodge when they sponsored events to raise money for needy children.

San Antonio 1920s

Downtown San Antonio, 1920s

Eventually, as more and more automobiles clogged the downtown streets, people began to complain that Julius and his horse were holding up traffic. In 1927, the mayor officially asked Julius to resign his position as town crier. So many people missed him, though, that pettetions were signed and demands were made to reinstate him, calling him a San Antonio institution and a unique tourist attraction. A few months later, Julius was given special permission to resume his role on a limited basis as long as he didn’t use his horse and impede traffic. Julius continued on as town crier until his death two years later.

 

 

Have you ever seen an historical reenactment with a town crier?

What is your preferred method of receiving local news today? TV, online, newspaper, Facebook?

Updated: September 9, 2013 — 10:33 am

All the News That’s Fit to Print–and Then Some

 

Love and Laughter in the Old West

 

Margaret Brownley

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite research tools is old newspapers.  I used to make myself sick going through microfiche at the library, but thanks to the Internet many old newspapers are now available on line.

 

Reading some of these newspapers is like reading the National Enquirer.  During the 1800s there were no shortages of ghosts, UFOS, monsters and other strange phenomena.  Weird animals?  You name it.  Giant reptiles, huge birds and an eighteen horn cow made headlines.  It wasn’t just oversized animals that made news: One man supposedly outgrew his coffin. 

 

Buzzing lights, airships, immense meteors and strange moving lights were witnessed by firemen, undertakers, miners and a twelve year old who “didn’t believe in ghosts, whose parents never scared him with spook stories, and who is one of the best behaved scholars in the fourth grade.”

 

Meteor sightings frightened residents and created “adject fear” in livestock. An air ship spotted over Dallas, Texas in 1896 was proclaimed by preachers to be the “Second coming of Christ.”

 

Cowboys and Martians

 

You’ve heard of Roswell and the alien that supposedly crashed there, but did you know that something similar happened in Aurora, TX in 1887?  According to “Hidden Headlines of Texas” compiled by Chad Lewis “something out of this world” crashed and demolished a windmill in Aurora.  “Mr. T.J. Weems, a U.S. Army Signal Service Officer and an authority on astronomy, gives his opinion that the pilot was a native of Mars.”

 

Ghosts were reported throughout the west, even by those proclaiming not to believe in them.  Houses, mines, theaters and even certain roads were haunted.  According to an article in a Tombstone Epitaph dated 1907, a Texas mining man purchased a haunted mine and soon realized his mistake when “spirits” chased away his workers.

 

Wild men ran rampant through the old west, though none of the real wild men reported in newspapers were quite as handsome as the “wild man” in my June release A Vision of Lucy (Yep, inspiration abounds in those old newspapers). Posses were formed to chase down scantily-clad wild men but apparently few were ever caught. 

 

Blame it on the Republicans

 

One wild man in Galveston created “consternation” among its citizens by “lapping up milk like a dog” and “eating fried chicken raw.”   Not everyone was disturbed by his behavior.  The Galveston Daily News defended the wild man in an editorial: “Well, do not be heard on the poor, frenzied half-frenzied creature; he is probably some eminent Republican who ran away to keep from being nominated for the vice presidency.”

 

“Lunacy” and “sudden insanity” seemed to plague 19th century citizens.  Jokes, religious excitement, storms and disgrace were among the reasons given for a sudden crazed or deranged state.   One husband had his wife committed for reading a dime novel.

 

You’ve heard of postal workers running amok, right?  It turns out that telegraph operators sometimes went postal, too.  One such telegrapher in El Paso, Texas proclaimed he was God and threatened to “demolish” a co-worker.   Another crazed telegraph operator terrorized an entire county.  It’s not clear if he was ever captured.  Then there was the man who claimed to be hypnotized by telegram.

 

Things got so bad according to a preface in Wisconsin Death Trap by Michael Lesy that “Many historians have become convinced there was a major crisis in American life during the 1890s.”

 

 Must be Those Electric Curlers

 

Some people blamed the bizarre behavior reported in newspaper in the latter half of the nineteenth century on the Industrial Revolution.  Electricity, telephone and automobile came right on the heels of the train and telegraph.  Not only did these inventions change the way people lived but how they thought.  Electricity was even blamed for “messing with women’s heads.”  Some were more than eager to blame Edison for the suffragette movement that swept the country.   

 

It kind of makes you wonder what they’ll say about those of us who lived through the electronic revolution, doesn’t it?  Personally, I haven’t seen any Martians, but I swear I was once hypnotized by my iphone.

 

www.margaretbrownley.com

 

A Vision of Lucy (A Rocky Creek Romance)

Updated: May 20, 2011 — 6:07 am