Category: Montana

Welcome Guest Janalyn Voigt

Top 10 Surprising Facts

About the Old West

Like most authors, I have an inquisitive nature. Maybe that’s why I gravitated toward writing western historical fiction. With so much lovely research to do, who could resist? A trove of little-known facts became my reward. I’m here to share some of the jewels I found with you.

Wild camels roamed the plains. The United States Camel Corps formed to help occupy desert tracts following the Mexican-American War. The first camels arrived in spring, 1856. Completion of the railroad ended the program., however The government sold some of the camels, but others escaped into the wild. The last encounter with a feral camel in America was confirmed in 1941, but unofficial sightings continue into modern times.

Credit: Courtesy of annca at pixabay.com

Everyone did not pack a gun. Guns came at a high price some couldn’t afford. Also, individual towns (including Dodge, Deadwood, and Tombstone) banned firearms.

Dance hall girls weren’t necessarily prostitutes. A lonely man would pay for the privilege of dancing with a woman. Some dance hall girls entertained men upstairs, but others simply danced.

Most men didn’t wear Stetsons. The ‘hat that won the West’ was the bowler (or derby). The iconic Stetson wasn’t introduced until 1865 and cost a lot more. The bowler predominated.

Credit: Courtesy of skeeze at pixabay.com

Buffalo never existed in the West. Settlers incorrectly referred to bison as ‘buffalo’ because they resembled the African cape buffalo and Asian water buffalo. American bison are a different species.

Indians were civilized. Native Americans engaged in agriculture, developed irrigation systems, traded with one another, and built cities. They were a far cry from ‘savages.’

A disaster few remember took more lives than the Titanic’s sinking. The steamboat Sultana went down in 1865 while overloaded with prisoners freed from a Confederate prison. More than 1,800 people died, a greater number than the 1,517 lost in the Titanic disaster. News related to the assassination of President Lincoln overshadowed the worst maritime disaster in U.S history. Few remember the ‘Titanic of the Mississippi’ today.

Men wore denim. Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss patented the first rivet-strengthened denim pants in 1871. Work clothes made from denim cloth had existed before that date.

 

Whiskey contained poisons. Called such things as tanglelegs, forty rod, coffin varnish, and strychnine, rotgut whiskey sold in the Wild West might include turpentine, ammonia, gunpowder, or other toxic ingredients.

Montana had a gold rush. Lesser known than the 49ers of California and sourdoughs of Alaska, Montana miners started stampeding for gold in 1862. I wrote the Montana Gold series to highlight this dramatic era in Montana history.

 

Hills of Nevermore

(Montana Gold, book 1)

Can a young widow hide her secret shame from the Irish circuit preacher bent on helping her survive?

In an Idaho Territory boom town, America Liberty Reed overhears circuit preacher Shane Hayes try to persuade a hotel owner to close his saloon on Sunday. Shane lands face-down in the mud for his trouble, and there’s talk of shooting him. America intervenes and finds herself in an unexpectedly personal conversation with the blue-eyed preacher. Certain she has angered God in the past, she shies away from Shane.

Addie Martin, another widow, invites America to help in her cook tent in Virginia City, the new mining town. Even with Addie’s teenage son helping with America’s baby, life is hard. Shane urges America to depart for a more civilized location. Neither Shane’s persuasions nor road agents, murder, sickness, or vigilante violence can sway America. Loyalty and ambition hold her fast until dire circumstances force her to confront everything she believes about herself, Shane, and God.

Based on actual historical events during a time of unrest in America, Hills of Nevermore explores faith, love, and courage in the wild west.

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About Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt’s lifelong love of storytelling began in childhood when she dreamed up her own bedtime stories. She grew into a precocious reader, a pastime she credits with teaching her to write. Janalyn trained formally with Christian Writers Guild. Today she is a multi-genre author and literary judge. Janalyn is represented by Wordserve Literary.

Updated: May 27, 2017 — 11:32 am

Jane Porter: One Room School Houses

A former teacher, I come from a long line of passionate educators. My father was a history and political science professor. My brother Thom is a business professor at UNC Wilmington, and my great grandfather was a professor of refrigeration engineering at Purdue University.

With teaching in my blood, it’s a given that I’ll write a story or two about teachers (Kit Brennan in The Good Daughter teaches English at a Catholic High School in Oakland, California and Jesslyn from The Sheikh’s Chosen Queen teaches at an international school in the UAE), I’ve never written about a teacher in a one room school house…until now.

My new story, The Lost Sheenan’s Bride, which releases on Friday, July 8th, is about a young teacher taking a long-term substitute job at one-room schoolhouse in Montana. The story wasn’t about the one-room school, but you wouldn’t know it from my research. I’m fascinated by Montana history, and in particular the intrepid women who first settled there.

Some facts from http://montanawomenshistory.org:

  • It’s estimated that up to 18 percent of homesteaders in Montana were unmarried women.
  • Passage of the Homestead Act of 1862 allowed any twenty-one-year-old head of household the right to homestead federal land. Single, widowed, and divorced women fit this description, and they crossed the country to file homestead claims of 160 acres.

Many of the homesteading women in Montana also became the state’s first teachers. Because of the Homestead Act of 1862, one-room schoolhouses were built all over the state.   Historians estimate that there were once 2,600 rural schools in Montana, and those rural schools served a multitude of purposes for each community, from education to social gatherings. In America today, there are still 200 operational one-room schoolhouses, with 62 of them located in Montana.

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The one room school house in Paradise Valley that inspired my story (photo courtesy Megan Crane )

Last month in early June I returned to Montana for eight days, and on my flight from Seattle to Kalispell I sat next to a woman who worked for the Swan Valley school district which still has an operational one-room school in the town of Salmon Prairie. The woman, a school clerk, loves the one-room school in Salmon Prairie and told me about the exceptional quality of education the children receive, the time teacher is able to devote with his students, the ability to individualize lessons and even better, the opportunity for a teacher to truly teach Montana—morning nature walks, visits to local parks (Glacier National Forest, Yellowstone, etc). The teacher doesn’t just teach math and reading, but hunts and fishes with his students and embraces what it means to be a Montanan. (Here is a story on the school in Salmon Prairie! Photographers document Montana’s disappearing one-room schools)

I was able to work a little of that fascinating conversation into my story, but its impossible to convey the history for Montana’s one-room schools in a 50,000 word contemporary romance, but I’ll try to share a bit more here with you since I know you’re all history and western buffs, too.

In 2013, The National Trust for Historic Preservation added Montana’s one-room schoolhouses to their list of the Nation’s 11 Most Endangered Historical Places.

Today at Montana’s Divide School, built in 1870, teacher Judy Boyle functions as teacher, principal, and guidance counselor. Grades K-8 are taught in the same room to as many as eight students. This year she had 3 students, and as there are no janitors, it is part of the kids’ responsibility to help clean the school daily.

As an American Studies major at UCLA, I focused on Frontier literature with my senior thesis on Mark Twain, and you can’t immerse yourself in Frontier lit without understanding the significance of the one-room schoolhouse scattered across vast prairies and in the snug valleys nestled between the Rockies. The schools represented hope and opportunity, and education was a big part of that opportunity. Homesteaders and miners, ranchers and railroad workers wanted their children to succeed, and the best way to succeed was by getting an education, and the sheer number of the schools still standing today are a reminder of the commitment Montanans made to their children.

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Another historic school house in Paradise Valley, this one still in operation.

Many of us grew up with Little House on the Prairie, or are fans of Hallmark’s popular series, When Calls the Heart, so we can picture the one room school. There was very little variation from one school to another:

  • Teachers were typically male. If the teacher was a woman, she had to be single. Married teachers were not allowed.
  • Frequently, families in the rural towns would take turns boarding the teacher, with every family contributing towards the teacher’s salary.
  • Schoolhouses had only a few windows and one door. Bigger schools might have two doors for separate entrances for the boys and girls.
  • The teacher’s desk was located at the front of the room and the teacher wrote the lessons on a large slate board, much like chalkboards or white boards in classrooms today.
  • There was no bathroom or running water. Students used an outhouse.
  • The children sat at narrow wooden desks and/or on long wooden benches, with boys sat on one side and the girls on the other.
  • Schoolhouses were heated by one stove with the older students responsible for keeping the fire going.

One of my favorite books I bought in Montana several years ago, that probably also helped inspire my new story was Visions and Voices: Montana’s One-Room Schoolhouses. The pictures are worth the price of the book alone, but there are also wonderful quotes and stories from former students who were educated in these schools.

Visions and Voices: Montana’s One-Room Schoolhouses
by Charlotte Caldwell
Link: https://amzn.com/0985497106

cover

Three other favorites books from my shelves on Montana and women homesteaders:

Nothing to Tell: Extraordinary Stories of Montana Ranch Women
by Donna Gray
Link: https://amzn.com/0762779098

Montana Women Homesteaders: A Field of One’s Own
by Sarah Carter
Link: https://amzn.com/1560374497

Staking Her Claim: Women Homesteading the West
by Marcia Meredith Hensley
Link: https://amzn.com/0931271908

To celebrate the release of my new book, The Lost Sheenan’s Bride, featuring Jet Diekerhof, the teacher of a one-room schoolhouse in Paradise Valley, Montana, I’m giving away a signed print copy of the book, plus lots of fun reader swag. Interested? Tell me if you think you would have enjoyed attending school at a one-room school. One comment will be drawn and the winner will be announced on Wednesday, July 13th so do check back and see if that was you!

Look for The Sheenans’s Lost Bride at these online retailers:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK

TheLostSheenanBride-MEDIUM

Updated: July 5, 2016 — 2:46 pm

Outlaw Lawmen

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Life on the open range could be a discomforting experience, what with outlaws popping out from behind the sagebrush without the slightest provocation, nesters “accidentally” mistaking a cattleman’s range for the quarter section they’d purchased, steers stampeding wherever they pleased, and wild animals running amok in settlers’ vegetable gardens—not to mention all those Indians to keep track of.

wanted posters on deskThings weren’t much easier for townies. For one thing, outlaws didn’t confine themselves to the countryside. Drunks stumbled out of saloons with reckless abandon, ladies of questionable virtue roamed the streets at will, and barbers pulled teeth or performed surgery like they knew what they were doing. Even church socials sometimes got out of hand.

At least folks in town could count on the law to keep things somewhat under control, right?

Not always.

Finding a reliable lawman was anything but easy. El Paso, Texas, discovered that when it hired Dallas Stoudenmire as city marshal. Stoudenmire, a deadly gunman with a mean temper and a fondness for strong drink, insisted on starting fights and shooting people—some of them even criminals. As a young man, famed lawman Wyatt Earp stole horses. Between gigs as a county sheriff, town marshal, and city policeman, Earp ran faro tables, owned brothels, got arrested for a number of crimes, broke out of jail, led a vigilante group, and otherwise made a nuisance of himself. Pat Garrett may have been a straight arrow legally speaking, but he was unpleasant to be around. Even his fellow officers objected to his disposition: a refreshing mixture of arrogance and surliness.

Some men found a badge to be an excellent disguise for nefarious activities. Take these guys, for example:

Henry Plummer

outlaw lawman Henry Plummer

Henry Plummer

In 1856, at the age of 24, Plummer became the marshal of Nevada City, Calif., the third-largest settlement in the state. In 1859, the marshal killed the husband of a woman with whom he was having an affair. Sentenced to ten years in San Quentin, he received parole in six months and immediately joined a gang of stagecoach robbers.

In January 1862, Plummer formed his own gang and began hijacking wagons transporting gold out of mining camps. When that enterprise petered out in January 1863, Plummer relocated to the newest gold rush in Bannack, Montana. There, he formed the Innocents, a network of road agents that numbered more than 100 men within a few short months.

In May 1863, Plummer lost a sheriff election and subsequently threatened his rival until the man high-tailed it, fearing for his life. Plummer took over the sheriff’s job and right away appointed two of his Innocents cronies as deputies. Oddly, crime dramatically increased. In about nine months, more than 100 murders occurred and robberies, assaults, and assorted other crimes reached unprecedented levels. All the while, Plummer—under the guise of cracking down on lawlessness—hanged witnesses.

On January 10, 1864, having had enough law enforcement for a while, fifty to seventy-five vigilantes rounded up Plummer and his two deputies and hanged them in the basement of a local store.

Burt Alvord and Billy Stiles

outlaw lawman Burt Alvord

Burt Alvord, Yuma Territorial Prison, 1904

In the 1890s, Alvord and Stiles served as deputy sheriffs in Willcox, Arizona. Unsatisfied with their salaries, the two began robbing Southern Pacific Railroad trains to supplement their income. Emboldened by pulling a number of successful jobs, they undertook their most daring escapade on September 9, 1899, in what came to be known as the Cochise Train Robbery. Instead of clinging to tradition and stopping the train on a lonely stretch of track in the middle of nowhere, Alvord and Stiles had five members of their gang blow up the safe while the train was stopped in the town of Cochise. Alvord and Stiles, maintaining their law-enforcement decorum, were part of the posse that unsuccessfully attempted to apprehend the robbers in the Chiricahua Mountains.

About five months later, on February 15, 1900, the gang struck again, in broad daylight in the tiny town of Fairbank, Arizona. While the train was stopped at the station, the Alvord-Stiles gang approached the express car, guns drawn, only to find the messenger responsible for the safe unwilling to abide such rude behavior. During the gunfight that erupted, two of the five gang members were wounded and one ran away. The messenger, also wounded, hid the safe’s key before losing consciousness. Unable to find the key and without a single stick of dynamite between them, the rest of the gang vamoosed.

Fairbank_Railroad_Depot_Arizona_Circa_1900

Fairbank, Ariz., railroad depot circa 1900

Once again, Alvord and Stiles rode with a posse to track down the outlaws, one of whom was injured so badly he had to be left behind about six miles outside town. Despite Alvord’s and Stiles’s attempts to misdirect the pursuers, they stumbled across the wounded man. Before he died, the outlaw fingered Alvord as the ringleader. Stiles confessed and turned state’s evidence, allowing him to remain comfortably outside the bars while Alvord cooled his heels inside. A short while later, Stiles broke Alvord out of the hoosegow and the two of them lit a shuck for Mexico.

The Arizona Rangers invaded Mexico and, in 1904, engaged the two now-expatriates in a gun battle. They captured Alvord, but Stiles got away. After a brief stint in the Rangers under an assumed name, Stiles was killed a few years later while working as a lawman in Nevada, also under an assumed name. Alvord did two years in Yuma Territorial Prison and took it on the lam for Panama upon his release.

H.D. Grunnels

steam-train-1898

Steam train, 1898

In 1898, Fort Worth, Texas, Assistant Police Chief Grunnels talked a gang of Oklahoma bank robbers out of robbing a local diamond merchant and into robbing a train in Saginaw, Texas, instead. Grunnels masterminded the operation, planning to apprehend the bandits after they made off with the money, then collect the reward and keep the loot.

The Apple Dumpling Gang might have performed the train heist with more aplomb. While crawling across the top of the coal tender to reach the engine, the gang’s leader slipped and accidentally discharged his pistol. His minions mistook the misfire as their signal to hop on the train and commence whatever mischief their roles required. Chaos ensued.

Meanwhile, Grunnels and a cadre of Fort Worth police officers not in on the plan raced to the rescue of a train that had yet to be robbed. The discombobulated robbers scrammed. The Fort Worth Police Department became suspicious when it discovered Grunnels reached the scene of the crime before the crime had been reported. Grunnels was fired and indicted, but he disappeared before trial.

 

The heroes in the two novellas that compose Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts could give lessons in how to fail at outlawry to all of the compromised lawdogs above. So, here’s my question for this month: If you were going to commit a crime in the Old West, what crime do you think you could pull off? Bank or train robbery? Horse or cattle rustling? Murder for hire? Spitting on the sidewalk? Something else? I’ll give an e-book of Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts to one of y’all who’s brave enough to expose your criminal dreams. 😉

Robbing Banks Stealing HeartsEveryone 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.

The Worst Outlaw in the West
Laredo Hawkins has one ambition: to redeem his family’s honor by pulling the first successful bank robbery in the Hawkins clan’s long, disappointing history. Spinster Prudence Barrett is desperate to save her family’s bank from her brother’s reckless investments. A chance encounter between the dime-novel bandit and the old maid may set the pair on a path to infamy…if either can find a map.

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?

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