Category: Places

The Smoky Hill River

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I am working on a series of historical western romances for Harlequin that take place in the fictional town of Oak Grove in Logan County in northwest Kansas. The town is situated just north of the Smoky Hill River which has so many interesting stories about it that I wanted to share a few here.

The waters of the Smoky Hill River start in the high plains of eastern Colorado and flow east with many other rivers joining in, until it flows into and forms the Kansas River. From there the water flows into the Missouri River and then on to the Mississippi River.

Kansas MapFor many years, Comanche, Sioux, Kiowa, and Arapaho tribes hunted extensively along the river before being forced out by encroaching settlers. Game was plentiful in the extensive grasslands and fish populated the river.

There are differing stories as to how the river got its name. The Plains Indians, depending on which tribe, called it CHETOLAH OR OKESSE-SEBO. The early English and French explorers called it the RIVER OF THE PADOUCAS. It has since become known as the SMOKY HILL RIVER.

George Bird Grinnell (1849-1938—naturalist, explorer, author, anthologist) said that the name came from a large grove of cottonwood trees along the river on the Kansas/Colorado state line. The trees were very tall and could be seen for miles from the flat grasslands. It is said they looked like a cloud of smoke. The place was a gathering place for many tribes to camp and barter and visit with each other. It was also a burial grounds and a place of refuge for the Indians under Black Kettle of the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864.

James R. Mead’s version differs slightly. He said that the river is named the Smoky Hill because of the buttes along the river, that when seen from afar appear hazy from smoke. James  R. Meade was a trapper and trader in the area during the years of 1850 to 1860.

Logan County,Kansas

The Smoky Hill Trail used by the Native Americans along the river was the shortest, fastest route west across Kansas. In 1858, it was traveled by those heading to the goldfields of Colorado or beyond. The Native Americans did not want to relinquish the rich land and skirmishes with settlers followed. The army set up several forts along the river. A road followed, and then as more settlers came, a railroad. In 1870, the Kansas-Pacific Railway to Denver was completed.

Smoky Hill River

The Smoky Hill River in the area of Logan County where my story takes place is only about three feet deep. Of course, this level changes dramatically depending on the rains and the melting snow. One bit of research I found interesting took place in 1868 when a drought plagued the plains and the river level was quite low. An immense herd of bison—hundreds of thousands of them (enough to cover a thirty-mile area)—came to the river to drink. The first bison were crowded out by the animals that followed, who in turn, were pushed out by those in the rear. It is said they drank the river dry!

I am collaborating with author, Lauri Robinson, in writing the stories of the people of Oak Grove. Laurie has the fortune of having lived in the area for a few years. Since I have never visited Logan County along the Smoky Hill River, I have had to lean on book and internet research of the area for my next three stories. If any of you have been there and have something you would like to add, suggest or correct—please comment! I have a feeling that I will only feel reassured of my information if I get a chance to visit the area myself. A road trip may just be in my future!

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Welcome Guest Author Tracie Peterson!

Hello all of you wonderful readers,

This month I’m debuting a new series titled Heart of the Frontier. Book one is titled Treasured Grace and is the story of three sisters in 1847. The focal setting of the story is the Whitman Mission in the area of present day Walla Walla, Washington.Whitman Mission, Walla Walla, Washington

Whitman Mission aerial of grounds layout

This is a model of the mission layout with the main mission house to the right, the blacksmith shop in the center and the Emigrant’s House on the left. The mill pond (upper left) was where they also had a grist mill.

Treasured Grace by Tracie PetersonThis location was the site of the Whitman Mission Massacre that took place November 29, 1847. It was this massacre that truly changed the course of westward expansion and brought on the setting up of military forts along the Oregon Trail.

Marcus and Narcissa Whitman (she was one of the first two white women who crossed the Rocky Mountains) had tried for over ten years to win the hearts and minds of the Cayuse Indians in their area. However, a measles epidemic struck and killed a great many Cayuse, as well as whites. The Cayuse were convinced that Whitman (who was a doctor as well as a preacher) was trying to kill them and so on November 29th, they attacked and killed the doctor and Narcissa, along with most of the other men who were living at the mission. The remaining fifty-four women and children were taken hostage and held for nearly a month by the Cayuse.

The mission site is part of the National Parks system and open to visitors.

On my many visits there to glean information for my series, I found the park rangers to be some of the best I’ve encountered while doing research.  It was fascinating to learn about the Cayuse people. They were a nomadic people who were known for their horses and horsemanship. They were also considered to have some of the fiercest warriors.

They lived in tulle mat lodges and traveled with the seasons to harvest various roots and vegetation, as well as take advantage of the salmon fishing.

In the 1840’s this area of America was called Oregon Country. It was mostly inhabited by Native Americans and the British. The latter ran a string of Hudson’s Bay Company forts and traded with both the Native Americas and whites who came west. I mention this because another fascinating aspect of this massacre and the aftermath was the part the Hudson’s Bay Company played.

When it was learned that 54 white women and children were being held captive, Peter Skene Ogden (one of the factors at Fort Vancouver – now present day Vancouver, Washington) went to work to secure their release.  He and Chief Factor James Douglas put together a ransom hoping they could convinced the Cayuse to let the women and children go without harm. The ransom included 62 blankets, 63 cotton shirts, 12 Hudson Bay rifles, 600 loads of ammunition, 7 pounds of tobacco and 12 flints.  Eventually the Cayuse did agree to this and the women and children were set free. I thought it quite interesting, if not touching that The Hudson’s Bay Company never billed the American settlers for the ransom. I thought it equally interesting that reimbursement by the American government was never offered.

If you’d like to read a brief summary of the actual attack, this website should help.

I had a lot of fun researching this series and hope you enjoy it.  Book 2 Beloved Hope will come out in June and Book 3 Cherished Mercy is due out in September.Tracie Peterson

 

Tracie will send one of today’s commenters a lovely gift basket containing Treasured Grace and five more of her latest book, plus some other goodies. Take our word for it: You’ll love the prize!

 

Find Tracie online at her website, TraciePeterson.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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Arizona’s ‘Capital on Wheels’ ~ by Susan Page Davis

For my book My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains, my characters needed some transportation in Arizona during the territorial period after the Civil War. There weren’t any trains there yet, so stagecoaches it was.

The first stagecoach appeared in Arizona in 1857, and this mode of transportation had come to stay.

Before the Civil War, the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach line had a regular route across Texas and what is now New Mexico and Arizona, to southern California. When the war broke out, however, they abandoned it and used their northern route, through Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

But people still needed to travel in Arizona. When the war ended, the capital was at Prescott, which had remained Union territory. People in more populated southern locations, such as Tucson, needed to go back and forth to the capital. Several independent stage lines sprang up and developed their routes with varying success.

When I went to Prescott to do research for the book, the stagecoach problem was one of my focuses. The place where I found the most help was in the archives at the Sharlot Hall Museum. There I learned about several enterprising men who gave it a good try, and it was tough in those times.

The owners and workers found a great many obstacles to maintaining regular stage service over hundreds of miles of desert, and having to deal with increasingly hostile Indian tribes as well as the inhospitable terrain and climate. Indians stole hundreds of horses from mining operations and stagecoach stations. Some of the station agents had to haul in feed and water for the animals.

My characters attempted to make a stagecoach journey from Tucson to the fledgling mining town of Wickenburg, and from there on up to Prescott. As readers will see, this journey was interrupted several times.

The capital itself was a thorny problem during that period, and it was changed so often it got the nickname “Capital on Wheels.”

After the Confederate Territory of Arizona was formed in 1862, and in February, 1863 officially got Tucson as its capital with Jefferson Davis’s approval, Abraham Lincoln signed the law officially creating the Arizona Territory with Prescott as its capital. The territory was divided into north and south for a while, and for the rest of the Civil War it had two capitals.

Superstition MountainsAfter the war, in 1867, the capital was moved back to Tucson for the reunited Arizona Territory. At that time, Tucson was more developed than any other city in the territory.

However, in 1879, the legislature voted to move the seat of government back to Prescott. That move lasted ten years.

The capital had been located in each location for about the same length of time all told, and some people began to feel it should be moved to a neutral location, somewhere between Tucson and Prescott. By this time, more towns had been founded, and some of them mushroomed. Phoenix was not in existence at the time of my story, but twenty years later it was thriving. In 1889 the capital was moved permanently to Phoenix. Arizona became a state in 1912.

Today we can swiftly drive the length of Arizona in air-conditioned cars in a few hours. We can enjoy the vistas of the beautiful desert without discomfort. But our modern travels are a far cry from what Carmela Wade experienced.

 

About My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains

A Chance for Escape Takes Two Unlikely Allies on a Romantic Adventure through the Desert

Since she was orphaned at age twelve, Carmela Wade has lived a lie orchestrated by her uncle, pretending to be a survivor of an Indian kidnapping and profiting from telling her made-up story on the speaker circuit. But as she matures into adulthood, Carmela hates the lies and longs to be free. On a stagecoach in Arizona Territory, Carmela and her uncle are fellow passengers with US Marshal Freeland McKay and his handcuffed prisoner.

The stage is attacked. Suddenly a chance to make a new life may be within Carmela’s reach. . .if she can survive the harsh terrain and being handcuffed to an unconscious man.

 

Desert Moon

 

 

Susan will give a copy of My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains to one person who comments on today’s post, and a copy of Desert Moon to another commenter. The winners may choose to receive either print or digital format.

 

 

Susan Page Davis

 

Susan Page Davis is the author of more than seventy published novels. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award and the Will Rogers Medallion, and also a winner of the Carol Award and a finalist in the WILLA Literary Awards. A Maine native, she now lives in Kentucky. Visit her website at SusanPageDavis.com, where you can see all her books, sign up for her occasional newsletter, and read a short story on her romance page.

Buy My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains: http://amzn.to/2kGDjPz

 

 

Following the Oregon Trail

Source: Wikipedia Commons, photo by Mike Tigas

Before I was a romance writer, I was a voracious romance reader. My reading of choice in those early days was historical romance, particularly American-set historicals. There were two facets of American history that drew me more than any others — Colonial/Revolution and Westerns. So it wasn’t a stretch that the first manuscript I ever wrote was set along the Oregon Trail. And since my sister moved to the Northwest, I’ve taken opportunities over the years to go on road trips to see her instead of flying (which I don’t like anyway).

During one of these trips, I got to see with my own eyes several of the Oregon Trail sites that I’d researched and written about in that first manuscript. I was fascinated to travel in the steps of those brave men and women who headed out for a new life, who traveled into the largely unknown landscape that was filled with danger on a daily basis.

Source: Wikipedia Commons, Scotts Bluff National Monument – Panorama. August 2006. Author: Kahvc7

Nebraska and Wyoming are often considered flyover states, but there’s so much to see, so much history to be absorbed if you take to the roads instead. One of the famous landmarks Oregon Trail travelers looked for on their journey was Chimney Rock in present Morrill County, Nebraska. This geological feature made of a combination of clay, volcanic ash and sandstone has a peak nearly 300 feet above the surrounding North Platte River valley. Travelers along the California and Mormon trails also used it as a landmark. You can see it today from US Route 26 and Nebraska Highway 92. Learn more at the Chimney Rock National Historic Site website.

Source: Wikipedia Commons, photo by Chris Light

About 20 miles to the northwest of Chimney Rock, also along Nebraska Highway 92, is Scotts Bluff National Monument near the town of Gering. This collection of bluffs on the south side of the North Platte River was first documented by non-native people when fur traders began traveling through the area in the early 1800s. It was noted to be among the first indications that the flatness of the Great Plains was beginning to give way to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It’s named after Hiram Scott, a fur trader who died near the bluff in 1828, though the Native peoples of the area called it “Me-a-pa-te” or “the hill that is hard to go around.”

Oregon Trail Ruts near Guernsey, WY. Source: Wikipedia Commons, photo by Paul Hermans

After crossing into Wyoming, another National Park Service site preserving trail history is Fort Laramie National Historic Site, which sits at the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte rivers. It has a rich history as a frontier trading post and then an Army post up until its decommission and transfer out of the final troops in 1890. The fort also has appeared in pop culture, including in the Oregon Trail and Age of Empires video games, the 1955 movie White Feather, and a 1950s CBS radio drama called, appropriately, Fort Laramie. You can learn more at the Fort Laramie NHS website.

Perhaps one of the most amazing things you can still see today along the Oregon Trail are actual ruts made by the thousands of heavily loaded wagons heading west. This physical evidence made me feel closer to those long-ago travelers than anything else. One of the places you can see these ruts is Oregon Trail Ruts, a National Historic Landmark near Guernsey, Wyoming.

To learn more about the Oregon National Historic Trail overseen by the National Park Service throughout seven states, visit their site. I hope to be able to visit even more trail sites in the future. I’d especially like to see Independence Rock in Wyoming and more end-of-the-trail sites in Oregon.

Have you ever traveled to historic sites you’ve either written or read about? What were your favorites? I’ll give away a signed copy of A Rancher to Love, part of my Blue Falls, Texas series from Harlequin Western Romance to one commenter.

Happy trails!

Updated: February 26, 2017 — 2:56 pm

Special Guest – Sondra Kraak

Some places sow themselves into your memory. They must be cherished. Revisited, even if only in the imagination. And if those places have been sown into the fertile loam of a writer’s imagination, they must be written about. Plain, Washington, is such a place for me.

Originally known as Beaver Valley to the pioneers who settled it, Plain packs a fierce visual punch with its medley of grassy meadows and pine forests. Rocky peaks play sentinel over the winding Wenatchee River, formerly a favorite site of native tribes for salmon fishing. Anything but plain, as its name might suggest, this pastoral valley has the power to send you back to frontier time with the soundtrack from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers rolling through your head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looks like the perfect setting for a historical romance, right? Which is why I based my first two novels on beautiful, Plain, Washington, renamed Pine Creek in my stories. And though I’d promised myself I wouldn’t write about a school teacher—it’s been done and overdone—my debut, One Plus One Equals Trouble, turned out to feature not one teacher, but two. Hence, the math equation and the trouble that ensues when two teachers are accidentally hired for the same position.

The red one room schoolhouse I pictured as I wrote about Barrett and Claire battling for the teaching position, was this historic gem below.

 

The old Winton schoolhouse used to sit several miles from Plain before being moved into Plain to be preserved. As a child, I visited it numerous times during camping trips to nearby Lake Wenatchee. The bright red building sat by the tracks, a delight for my dad, an avid railroad photographer. While he waited to photograph a freight train, my sister and I would wonder what it would be like to attend a one room schoolhouse. We thought of Christy and Anne of Green Gables. Ideas spun my thoughts as robustly as the steel wheels clickety-clacking over our pennies on the tracks. I suppose it was inevitable that when I began to write, a red schoolhouse with a pair of teachers pushed its way into my novel.

What is it about schoolhouses, horse-drawn wagons, and rugged valleys with refreshing streams that so intoxicates our senses and paints a whimsical idealism over our impression of frontier times? Because really, it was hard living without plumbing, electricity, or Nutella. I think it’s the simplicity that lures us into a love of the past. When I think of Plain—Pine Creek—I feel that quirky, old-fashioned charm that acts like a balm against today’s busyness and our media-crazed society. And I hope readers feel it, too. I hope they can hunker down in that Cascade Mountain valley beside San Franciscan native Claire as she adjusts to frontier life in a landlocked town. Or keep in stride with easygoing Barrett as he sets out to woo his unexpected and stubborn competition.

To show my gratitude for being able to visit the Petticoats and Pistols blog today, I’d love to giveaway print copies of the first two books in my “Love that Counts” series: One Plus One Equals Trouble and Two Ways Home.

Would you leave a comment telling me about a special setting in your life that carries you back to the past? Maybe a small mountain town like Plain, or a rustic desert valley? And after you comment, I’d be delighted if you’d hop over and visit my One Plus One Equals Trouble page on my website. You’ll get a little taste (four excerpts) of Barrett’s and Claire’s struggle to win the position without losing their hearts.

 

This is how the story starts: Killing Edward Stevens was beyond her proper ways. So instead, Claire Montgomery made tea. Even if she wanted to kill him, which she didn’t—not entirely—he was two states away, and she was here, stuck in a sparsely furnished cabin with a drafty window and a roof that moaned with the slightest wind.

And for those of you who like to read the last page first, who can’t stand a little mystery, I’ll share the last line—and only the last line—with you: “Ever.”

Bio:

A native of Washington State, Sondra Kraak grew up playing in the rain, hammering out Chopin at the piano, and running up and down the basketball court. Now settled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, she enjoys spending time with her husband and children, blogging about spiritual truths, and writing historical romance set in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She delights in sharing stories that not only entertain, but nourish the soul.

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Janet Chester Bly – 7 Little Known Facts of Goldfield, Nevada

Goldfield, Nevada of Esmeralda County is most known these days for its haunted hotel and array of original buildings still in good repair. A 20th century boom town, it sprang into existence after a rich gold strike by William Marsh and Harry Stimler (part Shoshone) in December 1902 and mostly died by 1910. Stimler and Marsh were first on the ground after sighting an Indian named Tom Fisherman loaded down with yellow rock. They eventually pressured Fisherman into showing them the place where he found the treasure. A revival of mining soon exploded in Nevada.

Here are seven other random factoids about the fascinating early days of desert ghost town Goldfield, Nevada.

A Town Full of Visionaries

Fantastical mining and business schemes abounded, of course, but also new inventions. Improvements for the mines, such as making building blocks from sagebrush. Brake upgrades for carriages. Charles Chrisman created the “Desert Flyer,” a sixty horsepower auto with no gears. However, efforts to produce the auto failed. Then, there were the various airships concocted by men with names like Beller and Froberg who made daytime and secret night test flights to the entertainment and endless derision of Goldfield citizens.

Death Stats

Alcoholism was either the sole cause or leading factor in more than 5% of deaths, especially in the boom years. In fact, water cost more than whiskey, which provided a story kernel for my late hubby author Stephen Bly’s novel Fool’s Gold, Book 1, Skinners of Goldfield series. In the early days, a bath was the ultimate expensive luxury.

Next, homicide victims were 4%.

Suicides rated 3%.

Unforgiving Environment

Descriptions of the site by newcomers ranged from “hideous” to “too much sky and not enough water” to “the end of the world.” Parmeter Ken in the Goldfield Gossip, 1906 wrote Goldfield had the “worst climate in the world … For three months it scorches the life out of you; freezes and chills you for another three, and blows what’s left of you into dust for the remaining six.”

Hosts of Pests

The desert town was home to its share of rattlesnakes, tarantulas, vinegarones, and bloodsucking flies. However, some considered the lizards the most beautiful they’d ever seen. One young man found them also somewhat palatable. He survived for five days by chewing cacti and lizards until a rescue party found him.

Teachers and Firemen

Both these trades held a unique distinction. They often worked without pay for periods as long as five months at a time.

Womba Women

Only the most vigorous women pulled up stakes with their men to come to Goldfield. One man wrote of his wife: “She is a brave little body and is entirely willing to cast her fortunes with me in Tonopah or Goldfield, and brings the matter up every day.” The ghost town still has about 200-300 hardy living residents and is a popular tourist stop.

The Ladies Aid Society

This group proved to be the civilizers and equal opportunity social movers of this frontier town. They raised money for a building where religious meetings of many different beliefs could take place. The hall also provided concerts, a justice court, as well as boxing matches, and served as an all-purpose recreation center for dances.

(You can find out much more in resources such as Goldfield/The Last Gold rush on the Western Frontier by Sally Zanjani)

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Have you ever visited the town of Goldfield or one like it? What was your most compelling impression? Would you ever want to live there? Would love to have you leave a comment below so we can chat and also you can be entered in a drawing to receive a free copy of Down Squash Blossom Road — either paperback (USA only) or .pdf for your digital reader.

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AUTHOR BIO:

Janet Chester Bly is the widow of Christy Award winning western author Stephen Bly. Together they published 120 fiction and nonfiction books for adults and kids. Janet and their three sons finished Stephen’s last novel, Stuart Brannon’s Final Shot, a Selah Award Finalist. Down Squash Blossom Road is Book 2 in the Reba Cahill contemporary western mystery series.

Download 5 free chapters now here:
http://www.blybooks.com/genre/contemporary-fiction/

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Book 1 is Wind in the Wires. Find it here: http://www.blybooks.com/books/inspirational-books-novel/

Down Squash Blossom Road

What Secret Lies Down Squash Blossom Road?

Cowgirl Reba Cahill’s schedule is full. Save the family ranch. Free her mom from a mental institute. Take a road trip that includes Goldfield, Nevada. Solve a murder and kidnapping. Evade a stalker. Can she also squeeze in romance?

Reba Cahill focused on the duties of the ranch, along with her widowed grandmother. But a crippled Champ Runcie returns to Road’s End in a wheelchair and seeks revenge for the accident that put him there. He blames Reba’s horse. Meanwhile, a letter from her estranged mom forces her and Grandma Pearl back on the road: I can leave now. Come get me. Love, Mom

When they arrive in Reno, her mother issues a demand and refuses to return to Idaho. They head west instead by way of Goldfield, Nevada. In California, Reba’s friend Ginny’s marriage is on the rocks. The family business is threatened. And squabbles turn deadly.

Reba digs deep to find the courage to forge a relationship with her mom and escape a crazed man’s obsession. She also hopes for a future with a horse trainer who offers her a new horse to replace the one she lost in the accident. But why does he have a photo of a pretty woman on his wall?

 

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Rachel Hauck said of Book 1, Wind in the Wires: “I love your voice! I love the setting…It’s a great story!”

 

To Connect with Janet Chester Bly:

Sign up for Almost Monthly Bly Books News and receive 5 free chapters Wind in the Wires, Book 1 … http://www.blybooks.com/contact/stephen-bly-books-newsletter/

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Updated: January 17, 2017 — 10:19 am

Fun With Fictional Town Names

WG Logo 2015-04

Hello! Winnie Griggs here. I’m buried in revisions that really need to get turned in tomorrow, so I hope you’ll forgive me for revisiting an old post today. This is actually the first post I ever did here on Petticoats & Pistols, back in March of 2009. Back then I was a guest poster, not a bona fide Filly and was quite green at the art of blogging. But everyone, both Fillies and commenters alike, were so warm and welcoming that I was overjoyed to later be invited to come on as a regular.

And since I’m reusing an old post, I’ll freshen it up a bit with a giveaway.  See details below!

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I have always been fascinated by colorful and quirky small town names.

I grew up in South Louisiana so I was familiar with town names such as Westwego, Cut Off,  Dutchtown, Raceland, Crown Point, Head of Island, French Settlement and Grosse Tete (French for Big Head).

For someone who already had storytelling in her blood, these names really sparked my imagination.  I spent many childhood hours making up stories about how all these towns got their curious names.  Westwego – was it named by some settlers from back east who travelled great distances and decided this was far enough?  Or was it merely a stopping point for folks headed even farther west?   And who in the world would name their town Big Head?  At some point I learned Dutchtown was actually settled by German immigrants and was originally called Deutschtown, but the name evolved over the years into what it is today.  Another fascinating story-sparker!

When I went to college I moved further north while still remaining in Louisiana and encountered a whole new map of town names to puzzle over.  There I encountered towns with names like Bunkie, Dry Prong, Flatwoods, Powhatten and Breezy Hill.  Again, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering about the circumstances and people who settled these places.

Then I married my college sweetheart, my own prince charming.  He swept me away to his home town, a place I was delighted to discover was called Plain Dealing.

Today, whenever I start a new book, finding the right name for my town (always fictional) is just as important to me as finding the right names for my hero and heroine.  There is always a story in my mind about how the town name came to be, though that rarely makes it to the pages of the book.

My first book, WHAT MATTERS MOST, was set in the Texas town of Far Enough.  The town name was based on my childhood musing over the real town of Westwego.  I pictured a small group of settlers travelling through the area and the womenfolk getting tired of the whole thing and telling their menfolk they’d travelled ‘Far Enough’ and were ready to settle down NOW!

For my second book, SOMETHING MORE, the heroine arrives on the scene at a stage relay station called Whistling Oak.  The name came about when I pictured a giant oak with a hole formed by two trunks that had not quite fused together.  As the stagecoach driver explains it to the heroine, “See that ol’ oak tree over yonder with the hole in the middle?  That’s what gave this place its name.  Big wind blows through just right and you can hear the whistling for near a mile.”

whistling-oak

Large flocks of small blackbirds winter near my home.  Hundreds of them will land in fields or trees in the area.  If something comes along to spook them, they all fly up at once, like a scattering of pepper on the wind.  That was the inspiration for Pepper Cloud, MO,  the town my third book, WHATEVER IT TAKES, takes place in.

pepper-cloud

My fourth book, A WILL OF HR OWN, is set in a town called Clover Ridge, VA, a somewhat more mundane town name than I normally go for.  But I wanted something that was indicative of lushness and serenity.  Besides, the story doesn’t tarry there for long.  A good one third of the book actually takes place aboard a ship.

Turnabout, TX was the town name I chose for my fifth book, LADY’S CHOICE.  That one was almost a no brainer since the whole theme of the book, in both the primary and secondary storylines, was about turning one’s life around after having made poor choices earlier in life. (2016 update: That book was revised and republished in 2012 under the title HANDPICKED HUSBAND and was the first book of my current Texas Grooms series)

When I started work on my current release, I struggled for quite a while with what to name the town.   I came up with and eventually discarded several names.  THE HAND-ME-DOWN FAMILY is my first foray into the inspirational market and I wanted something that would provide a subtle nod to that change.  I also wanted it to have that rural, small town feel and be just a tiny bit quirky at the same time.  And then one morning I woke up and there it was.  Sweetgum TX.  The sweetgum tree is indigenous to the area, the name is fun and rustic sounding and the word itself has that hint of heart to it that I was looking for.

sweetgum

2016 Update: Since the time I wrote this post I’ve come up with a number of other town names for my books – Knotty Pine, Tippanyville, Foxberry and Frog Swallow among the more notable.

So, do you pay very much attention to town names in book?  Do they help set the tone for you at all?  And are there real town names you’ve come across that have tickled your fancy, piqued your interest or just plain caught your eye?  Share some of your favorites.

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GIVEAWAY: I’ll be selecting one person from the list of those who comment on this post to receive one book of their choice from my entire backlist.  Drawing will take place some time after noon Central Time on Tuesday.

Updated: November 6, 2016 — 11:28 pm

Hittin’ the Road! with Crystal Barnes

clbarnes_avatarHowdy y’all! Crystal Barnes here and it’s such a thrill to visit y’all at Petticoats and Pistols. And speaking of visiting places, how many of y’all like road trips? I know I sure do.

 

Be it to the Texas Ranger Museum in Waco, where you can learn about the daring, brave men who helped bring order to the West. I even learned how to take apart a Colt Peacemaker and put it back together again. Did you know those guns weighed as much as a 5lb bag of sugar?  Crazy!

Perhaps you’d prefer a trip to the Texian Market Days at the George Ranch Historical Park in Richmond, Texas, where you can tour multiple houses from the past, see reenactments, and/or learn how to fire a cannon or spin your own yarn. There are four different homes on this property. The 1830s Jones Stock Farmhouse is a dog-run style cabin with a covered breezeway down the middle. I used this structure as a model for Russell Cahill’s home in book two of my Marriage & Mayhem series, Love, Stock, & Barrel.

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Their 1860s Ryon Prairie Home I’m using as a basis for my heroine’s home in my upcoming story Hook, Line, & Suitor (Marriage & Mayhem, Book 3). (You’ll see some of that Texas Ranger learnin’ pop up in this story too.) This house also has a breezeway, but the wealth of the family is much more easily seen.
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Want another great place to visit in Texas, be it for research or just plain fun? Perhaps you should make a pit stop in Anderson and tour the Fanthorp Inn. The inn was built as a home in in 1834 and later enlarged for hotel purposes. It also served as the area’s first mercantile and post office (1835). You’ll also have the chance to ride a stagecoach while visiting. Why would the inn host stagecoach rides? The inn lay on the stage line crossroads for Houston to Old Springfield and Nacogdoches to Austin.

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Recently, I was blessed to accompany a friend on a research trip to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and boy, did we have a wonderful, memorable time.

 

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To me, that’s what stories are supposed to be too—a wonderful trip with a new friend (or an old one if you like series or reruns, which I do). If the story trail includes some cowboys, desperados, and exciting turn-of-events, even better.

 

How about you? Do you enjoy road trips? What are some of the best places you’ve visited—be it for research or just a fun getaway? Not a road traveler? What are some of your favorite towns/places to visit through stories?

 

I’d love to hear all about them. I love finding new places to visit, plus I’ll be giving away a FREE copy (ebook or paperback) of one of my stories to one of this post’s commentors. (Winner’s choice of title.)

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An award-winning author, bona fide country girl, and former competitive gymnast, Crystal L Barnes tells stories of fun, faith, and friction that allow her to share her love of Texas, old-fashioned things, and the Lord—not necessarily in that order. When she’s not writing, reading, singing, or acting, Crystal enjoys exploring on road-trips, spending time with family, and watching old movies/sitcoms. I Love Lucy is one of her favorites. You can find out more and connect with Crystal at http://www.crystal-barnes.com.

You can also on her blog, the Stitches Thru Time group blog, her Amazon Author page, GoodreadsPinterestGoogle+, or on her Facebook author page.

Want to be notified of her latest releases and other fun tidbits? Subscribe to her newsletter.

Updated: October 17, 2016 — 7:35 pm

El Muerto: The Headless Horseman of Texas

Kathleen Rice Adams header

First published in 1820, Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has been terrifying children for almost 200 years. Though the tale of a hapless schoolmaster’s midnight gallop through the New York woods made the phrase “headless horseman” a household term in America, by the time Irving’s story appeared headless horsemen had been staples of European folklore for centuries. German, Irish, Scandinavian, and English legends all offered versions of the ghoulish phantoms, who usually were said to appear to proud, arrogant people as a warning.

headless horsemanTexas has its own gruesome headless horseman legend. Unlike Irving’s unforgettable spook, though, Texas’s headless horseman rode among the living once upon a time.

Some say he still does.

In the summer of 1850, a Mexican bandido by the name of Vidal made an egregious error: He and several compadres rustled a sizable herd of horses from several ranches south of San Antonio. One of the ranches belonged to Texas Ranger Creed Taylor, a veteran of the Texas War for Independence and a man not inclined to forgive his enemies. (Taylor later would be one of the participants in the Sutton-Taylor Feud, a bloody, years-long running gun battle that resulted in four times as many deaths as the better-known fracas between the Hatfields and McCoys.)

Rustling cattle already had earned Vidal’s head a dead-or-alive bounty. Stealing a Texas Ranger’s horses was the proverbial last straw. Together with fellow Ranger William A.A. “Big Foot” Wallace and another local rancher, Taylor set out to put a stop to Vidal’s unbearable insolence.

The Headless Horseman: A Strange Tale of Texas, 1865

Capt. Mayne Reid’s version of a Texas Legend, published in 1865, received a mention in Charles Dickens’s final novel, Our Mutual Friend.

As a group, the early Texas Rangers were hard men. Tasked with protecting an enormous patch of land rife with outlaws and Indians, the early Rangers were expert trackers, accomplished gunmen, and not opposed to meting out immediate — and often brutal — “frontier justice.” Vidal was about to discover that in a very personal way.

After tracking the bandidos to their camp, Taylor, Wallace, and the third man mounted a surprise attack while the outlaws were asleep. Killing the desperados was not enough for Taylor and Wallace, though. The entire Ranger force was fed up with the rash of rustling plaguing Texas at the time. Not even leaving bodies hanging from trees or hacking them to pieces and using the bits for predator bait had made a strong enough statement.

So, Wallace got creative. After beheading Vidal, he secured the corpse upright on the back of the wildest of the rustled horses, lashed the bandido’s hands to the saddle horn and his feet to the stirrups, and tied the stirrups beneath the animal’s belly. Just to make sure anyone who saw the ghoulish specter got the message, he looped a rawhide thong through the head’s jaws and around Vidal’s sombrero, and slung the bloody bundle from the saddle’s pommel. Then Wallace and his friends sent the terrified mustang galloping off into the night.

William A.A. "Big Foot" Wallace, ca. 1872

Big Foot Wallace, ca. 1872

Not long thereafter, vaqueros began to report seeing a headless horseman rampaging through the scrub on a dark, wild horse. As sightings spread, some claimed flames shot from the animal’s nostrils and lightning bolts from its hooves. Bullets seemed to have no effect on the grisly marauder. They dubbed the apparition el Muerto — the dead man — and attributed all sorts of evil and misfortune to the mysterious rider.

Eventually, a posse of cowboys brought down the horse at a watering hole near Ben Bolt, Texas. By then the dried-up body had been riddled with bullets and arrows, and the head had shriveled in the sun. The posse laid Vidal’s remains to rest in an unmarked grave on the La Trinidad Ranch. Only then did Wallace and Taylor take public credit for the deed. The episode contributed to Wallace’s reputation and had the intended effect on rustling.

Even the revelation of the truth behind the legend did not end el Muerto’s reign of terror. Until nearby Fort Inge was decommissioned in 1869, soldiers reported seeing a headless rider roaming the countryside around Uvalde, near Taylor’s ranch. Thirty years later, a rise in the ground 250 miles to the southeast, near San Patricio, Texas, was christened Headless Horseman Hill after a wagon train reported an encounter with el Muerto. A sighting occurred in 1917 outside San Diego, Texas, and another near Freer in 1969.

El Muerto reportedly still roams the mesquite-covered range in Duval, Jim Wells, and Live Oak counties — still fearsome, still headless, and still reminding those who see him that Texas Rangers didn’t come by their tough-hombre reputation by accident.

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Robbing Banks Stealing HeartsI haven’t written any tales about headless horsemen — yet — but ghosts play a significant role in one of my short novellas. Family Tradition is one of two stories that compose Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts.

Everyone should have career at which they excel. At failing to commit crimes, nobody is better than Laredo and Tombstone Hawkins. Maybe they can bumble their way into love.

Family Tradition
Haunted by his kin’s tradition of spectacular failure, bank robber Tombstone Hawkins is honor-bound to prove his family tree produced at least one bad apple. When carnival fortuneteller Pansy Gilchrist tries to help, she accidentally summons a pair of dishonest-to-goodness ghosts. Getting into the spirit of a crime is one thing…but how do you get the spirits out?

 

Here’s a brief excerpt:

Stone blinked at the apparitions. If not for Madame Minerva’s confirmation, he’d have sworn he was seeing things—and he hadn’t touched a drop of whiskey in weeks.

He eased backward a step.

So did she, sidling up next to him until her hipbone collided with his leg.

The two ghosts floated around the table, one on each side, and planted themselves close enough for Stone to poke a hand through either misty shape. Forcing a swallow down his throat, he squinted at the nearest. He’d been on the receiving end of that old man’s irritated glare far too often.

Heart racing fast enough to outrun a mule with a butt full of buckshot, Stone faded back another step.

The fake gypsy stayed with him, as though she were glued to his side.

The gauzy forms kept pace.

“Emile?” Madame Minerva’s voice squeaked like a schoolgirl’s.

Even on a ghost, disappointment was easy to spot. A pained frown gripped one apparition’s face. “I’m not part of the con any longer, Pansy. You can’t call me father just once?”

Stone ducked his head and tossed the woman a sidelong glance. “Pansy?”

“Said Tombstone,” she hissed.

The second ghost spoke up, his voice strangely hollow but recognizable. “Boy, you got nothin’ to say to your ol’ pop?”

“I uh… I…” Stone’s tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.

Thank God, Emile picked up the conversation. “I see my little girl is keeping the family tradition alive.”

“I am.” Pansy’s breathy whisper carried a hint of tears. “Oh, Emile, I wish you had stayed.”

“I’ve been here all along. You just haven’t looked for me before.” Emile’s specter extended a hand to cup his daughter’s cheek. Pansy leaned into the phantom caress.

Stone snatched her before she toppled over. Too late, he discovered she weighed little more than a ghost herself. His grab yanked her off her feet and slammed her into his chest.

He exercised quite a bit more care setting her back on the dirt floor.

 

 

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Mission Santa Ines on the El Camino Real

Phyliss Miranda sig line for P&P BluebonnetIt seems like just last week I blogged with you all … well it was!  But if you can stand me one more day, I’m going to continue along the El Camino Real and write about another Mission I visited not long ago.

My youngest granddaughter came home from school and said she had an end-of-the-year school project and needed my help.  She had to select a mission and write about its history, as well as draw pictures.  Of course the Mission La Purisima was the first one to come to mind, but as she reminded me, anybody could drive the two or three miles to get a bird’s eye view.  The next choice is where we went every Wednesday to the market in Solvang … Mission Santa Inez.  It was a great choice, so we rounded up as many grands who wanted to go and my daughter and I headed towards Solvang.  We could kill three birds with one stone, go to the market, go to our favorite winery while the kids went to the ice cream shop, and visit the Mission for Addison’s project.  What a wonderful outing!front-view-of-santa-ines

But first some history.  Mission Santa Inez was founded in September 1804, and was known for their excellency in saddle making.  Today the Mission is fairly well dwarfed by the tourist town of Solvang.  This is one of the most beautiful Missions I’ve visited, but like the others I’ve written about, it has folklore to match it’s magnificence!

chapel-santa-inezOne story tells of a dark vampire that once inhabited the church when it was in ruin.  The tale says that there is a creature that will suck the blood from the toes of any hapless stranger who sleeps the night in the chapel and has the bad luck to remove his shoes.  Maybe the tale has its origin in the owls who once perched in the building long ago. Maybe not.  Maybe it’s just a myth!

Another legend caught my attention because it tells that the statue of San Antonio, that was brought by the Spanish padres, is somehow blessed and has the power to grant one prayer of an unselfish nature.

This quiet and beautiful place wasn’t always so peaceful, for it was here in 1824 that the Great Revolt started.  The Chumash native converts grew tired of the cruel treatment afforded them by the Spanish soldiers, and revolted in a bloody rampage which lasted a month.  According to folklore, A Chumash woman  warned the padres of the uprising saving many lives.  As the legend goes, she was buried under the alter in a special site reserved for padres and political leaders.  Maybe it is this woman who haunts the grounds of the old graveyard-santa-inezchurch.  Some say they feel her presence near the old laundry basin.  It is said that tape recordings made at the cemetery and laundry area always seems to pick up stray whispers and the mournful wail of a Native American flute.

The site is calm now, but if its memories do replay to the visitor, this should be a very haunted site indeed.

santa-inez-back-yardNow for where Addison and I worked.  This is the backside of the Mission.  We sat on the wishing well and I helped her vocalize the mission, without the ghosts, but it’s history.  She did a fantastically beautiful drawing from this view.  She’s like her PawPa, an artist at heart.  I lost five dollars in coins to the wishing  well.

I hope you enjoyed a glimpse into my visit to California a few months ago.  Stick with me because I’m still going to revisit the Mission La Purisima and tell you about my college grandson’s real adventure with what could have been a ghost.  I’ll let you all decide.

And, yes we all had ice cream, got some beautiful vegetables along with strawberries, blueberries, and some wonderful mulberries, as well as a couple of bouquets of flowers and headed home … no Lucas and Lewellen Tasting Room for us that day.

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  To two readers who leave a comment, I’ll put your names in one of my

lady Stetson hats direct from Solvang and you can select

your choice of one of my eBooks from Amazon.

Hugs from Texas to all you all, Phyliss

Updated: October 3, 2016 — 7:00 pm
Petticoats & Pistols © 2015