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?
Party games! Don’t you love them? My household is a family of “gamers.” Over the years, snow-days and holidays and birthday parties, whenever we were all together, we would usually have a game of some sorts going. It has come in handy this winter, which has been quite a LONGGGGG one! We are all ready to see some spring flowers here in the Midwest.
What would we have played if we all lived in the 1800’s? Some of the social games from then survived into my childhood, such as Blind Man’s Buff and Twenty Questions and Musical Chairs. But no matter the year, games have always provided a way for people to have fun, “let down their hair” a little, laugh, interact socially, flirt, and enjoy socially approved physical contact.
The spirit of these social games in the 1800s involving boys and girls, men and women of the middle and upper classes, was that an overly competitive attitude was considered “poor form.” The idea was to have fun together and not to “out-do” another player to the point that feelings were hurt. Camaraderie, a relaxing of inhibitions, and laughing at one’s self were the important aspect of social games. I imagine that cowboys, used to a barn dance or two, would feel out of place playing some of these games, but I bet they would have brought an entirely new competitive atmosphere to them!
Here are a few examples of games from the 1800s that involve a mixing of the genders ~
Puss, Puss in the Corner
For the game, all that you need is a fairly square room with four corners and the furniture moved out of the way. If played outside, you need something to denote the four corners such as bean bags or chairs. I suppose a baseball diamond could be used, but such a large area would make for a very energetic game. The game requires five or more players. One stands in the center of the square, while the others stand in each corner. The central player calls out: “Puss, puss in the corner!” On the word “corner” everyone moves to a different corner. Since there are five players, one will always be left out and that one becomes the new “Puss.” If more players are involved, the one left out of a corner goes to the end of a line of the others waiting to play, and the first in that line becomes the new “Puss.” Sometimes when this game was played, a “forfeit” was demanded of the one who became the new Puss.
Twirl the Trencher
In this game, everyone sits in a large circle (with or without chairs depending on the age of participants.) Each player is assigned either a number, an animals name, or a flower’s name. The starter goes to the center of the circle and spins a plate on its edge (wooden or some other unbreakable plate or disc.) He calls out a number or one of the names and dashes to his seat. The person being called out, must jump up and rush to the plate to spin it again and call out another player. The play continues until someone is not quick enough and the plate falls. That player, then must pay a forfeit.
The Key of the King’s Garden
This is a memory game much like Grandmother’s Trunk. Players sit in a circle. The one starting begins by saying “I sell you the Key to the King’s Garden.” Then indicates a player on his right or left. That player adds to the sentence. For example, by saying, “I sell you the chain that held the Key of the King’s Garden.” Then it is the next person’s turn in the circle. “I sell you the dog that wore the chain that held the Key of the King’s Garden.” This continues around until everyone has played. If someone does not repeat the words exactly, a forfeit is demanded.
(My favorite part!)
These games were played for fun with a light-hearted attitude. Keeping score (numerically) wasn’t done. However, there was such a thing as “forfeits” which added tremendously to the fun. (Personally, I think these should make a comeback!)
Forfeits occurred when someone made a mistake, lost their chance to a seat or space in the game, or lost in some way. That player would write their name on a piece of paper, which would then be placed in a bowl or basket. At the end of the game (or the evening,) a judge would be chosen. A second player would select a paper from the bowl and announce: “I have a forfeit to be redeemed.” The judge would ask whether it belonged to a lady or a gentleman. Upon learning which it was, he would then assign a task for the person to perform (not knowing the actual person’s identity.)
Examples of “forfeit” tasks ~
A man puts on a lady’s hat and imitates the owner. Or a woman puts on a man’s hat and imitates the owner.
The “forfeiter” is posed by a selected number of other players, usually in ridiculous positions.
Bow to the Prettiest, Kneel to the Wittiest, and Kiss the One You Love Best
This is reserved for a man. (Hopefully he will do all three tasks with the same lady!)
The Nun’s Kiss
A lady kisses a man chosen by the judge, performing the kiss through the bars of a chair.
The person must give a piece of advice to all (or just one) players. (Always done in the spirit of fun and good humor.)
The person leaves to each other player an item or a quality he thinks he possesses. (Also done in the spirit of fun and good humor.)
Kiss the One You Love without Revealing Who It Is
The individual must kiss all the players of opposite gender, without letting on which player is the one he or she loves.
There are many others – as varied as the imagination of the judge!
* * * * * * * * * *
With teenagers constantly watching their phones
rather than communicating face to face,
I can’t help but think that these would be fun to bring back!
Who is with me?
What is a social game of yours that you have enjoyed playing?
Comment to be entered into my giveaway drawing for my newest release!
“This book was a pure delight.”
The Prairie Doctor’s Bride/San Francisco Review of Books
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:
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
Scruple= (an apothecary weight=1/4 teaspoon
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
A Wave at It-1/16 tsp
Whole Heap-2 Rounded cupfuls
However you measure it,
here’s hoping that your Thanksgiving is a “whole heap” of fun!
Did you ever place dress-up as a kid? I remember trying on my mother’s shoes and throwing her purse over my arm and pretending to be a grown up. There is something powerful in the act of putting on a costume and pretending to be someone else. Perhaps someone you wish you could be for just a short time.
I think that is one of the reasons readers (and authors) love historical novels. We get to step into the shoes of someone who lived in a different era and imagine what it would be like if we had lived then. And it’s not just novelists and readers. Think of all the living history museums there are around the country. How many reenactors dedicate months of their time and significant dollars from their bank accounts to recreating battle scenes from the civil war. How many historians make presentations in costume to help bring their topics alive to their audiences.
At one of the writing conferences I go to every year, there is a genre dinner on the first night where authors have the chance to dress up like one of their characters or in a way that represents their genre. I typically wear a denim skirt, boots, and cowboy hat, but I secretly long to become more authentic in my dress-up.
I recently found a website that offers professionally made historical costumes, and I felt like a kid in a candy store. A rather expensive candy store . . . but there were so many delights, I stopped caring about the price tags.
I’ve decided to start saving my pennies. Maybe by next year, I’ll be decked out in the outfit below.
Shoes – $50
Cameo Brooch – $20
Crinoline for underneath – $50
Professionally made Polonaise set – $275
Getting to step back in time and live for a few hours as one of my characters – Priceless
Pioneers are famous for their ingenuity, and when it comes to celebrations, that pioneering spirit led to some crazy traditions. The 4th of July has been a treasured American holiday since we won our independence back in 1776 and our western forebears were determined to celebrate it with all the excitement it deserved.
Western communities would often hold picnics for the 4th. People would gather from miles around to share in baking contests, horse races, children’s games, and lots of good eatin’. Yet they had no fireworks to shoot off in honor of the big day. A handful of rowdy cowboys might ride through town shooting off their guns, but that was nothing special. They needed something big. Something spectacular. Something so phenomenal, the womenfolk would all run for cover.
And that is how the art of anvil shooting was born.
No one knows which blacksmith was crazy enough to start the tradition, but it quickly caught on and became a staple of 19th century July 4th celebrations in the south.
First, you need two well-matched anvils then about a pound of black powder and a fuse. Turn the first anvil upside down on a flat, solid surface. Fill the hollow in the base with the black powder and add the fuse. Often a playing card would be placed over the powder to serve as a washer. Finally, the second anvil, or flier, would be placed right side up atop the first anvil, fitting base to base.
Once everyone was ready, the blacksmith (or other brave individual) would light the fuse and everyone would scurry to a safe distance. When the powder lit, the explosion would shake the ground and send the anvil up to 200 feet in the air. Once the anvil landed it could be shot again, and again, until the supply of powder ran out.
To carry on the tradition, when blacksmiths gather today at large conventions, anvils are usually shot. In fact, the video below is by a world champion anvil shooter.
As you celebrate the 4th of July today, enjoy your family and friends, and when those fireworks explode, you might look out for falling anvils!