I’m a coffee drinker, as were many of the folks who settled the west. Pioneers, cowboys, ranchers, farmers, miners and townsfolk all loved coffee, but the process of making it wasn’t as simple as it is today. Green beans were roasted in a skillet over a fire, then put into a cloth bag and crushed with a heavy object. The grounds were dropped into a pot of water and boiled. The roasting beans had to be tended to carefully, because if one bean burnt, the flavor of it ruined the entire batch. Home roasted coffee could be quite foul if the roasting process went amiss.
Before the Civil War, real coffee was expensive, so many people drank mock coffee made of rye, okra seeds, parched corn or bran. (Parched corn is dried corn roasted over a fire.) In the mid-1860s, Jabez Burns developed a commercial coffee roaster about the same time that affordable paper bags became available. A man named John Arbuckle developed a special glazing process using egg and sugar to preserve the flavor of the beans, and then bought the rights to a patented packaging system and began selling roasted coffee beans in one-pound paper bags. By 1881, his company was operating 85 coffee roasters. His coffee was billed as the “coffee that won the west”.
Now back to cowboy coffee. While on the trail, cowboys had to stay alert during bad weather and hard times and coffee helped them do that. It also kept their insides warm and helped wash down meals. A camp cook usually kept several pots of coffee going at once, and it wasn’t uncommon to leave the old grounds in the pot and simply add new. One camp cook wrote that he used about 175 pounds of beans a month.
There are several ways to make cowboy coffee, but they all involve putting the grounds directly into the water. Some people advocate bringing the water to a boil, then throwing the grounds in (a 1 to 8 ratio — 1/8 cup coffee per cup of water). Others (including me) put the grounds in the water and bring the coffee to a full boil. Regardless of when you add the coffee, the next step in to settle the grounds. To do that, you either pour cold water through the spout, or add crushed eggshells. (I’m a water gal.) If this is done correctly, there should be very few grounds in your cup when you finish drinking.
And then there’s always this recipe from Western Words: A Dictionary of Range, Cow Camp and Trail that you might consider trying: “Take two pounds of Arbuckle’s coffee, put in enough water to wet it down, boil it for two hours, then throw in a hoss shoe. If the hoss shoe sinks, she ain’t ready.”
When I was in college, I had a hankering for a union suit, which is essentially a long-john onesy. I was studying geology and found myself in situations where I needed additional warmth. Since a union suit would be both amusing and practical, I asked for one for Christmas. This was in the 1970’s, when outdoor technical clothing was in its infancy–down jackets were just becoming a thing–and finding a wool-blend union suit wasn’t that easy. Cotton, I feared, wouldn’t be warm enough. My mom, bless her, managed to find an bright red union suit made of a wool-cotton blend and gave it to me for Christmas. How I loved my union suit. I was the only girl I knew who owned one. I had it for 20 years before I made the error of storing it in the garage in a container that mice got into. I think you know the
rest of the story. (Insert very sad face here.)
Interestingly, even though it is common to associate union suits with men–prospectors, old west cowboys, etc–the garment was originally made for women as an alternative to restrictive clothing during the middle and late Victorian age. The union suit was created in Utica, New York in 1868, and was billed as “emancipation union under flannel”. It was a one-piece garment made of red flannel with buttons up the front and a drop-seat in the back. The union suit was so practical in terms of comfort and warmth that it soon became popular with men. Men being men, it was not uncommon for a union suit to be worn all week, or even all winter. I once read an account of one man who’s leg hair grew through his union suit and he had to be cut out of it before receiving medical attention. Uh….
The union suit continued in popularity, primarily as a working man’s garment, until the mid 20th century. As time passed, long johns–two piece thermal undergarments–gained popularity, eventually bypassing the union suit. The union suit survives, however, and is much easier to find than now than in the 1970’s when I made my Christmas request.
Do you have any experiences with or know of any anecdotes about union suits?
I’ve spent many hours the last few weeks combing through digital editions of old newspapers from Pendleton, Oregon.
As I was browsing through the news on one front page, a headline caught my eye.
Buzz Wagon Proves Too Much for Ted
The first thought that popped into my head was “what’s a buzz wagon?” The second was “who’s Ted?”
If, like me, you haven’t been exposed to the early 20th century slang term, a buzz wagon is what some people used to refer to an automobile. (Presumably from the noise emitted from those early vehicles.)
On a lovely June day in 1912, a cowboy named Ted and another cowpuncher brought 300 head of horses to Pendleton to sell.
According to the newspaper, Ted could ride anything that had two ears and a tail, but the “golderned buzz wagon” was too much for the buckaroo to handle.
While they waited around town the evening before they were to set to sell the horses, Ted and his fellow cowpuncher wandered down to the Pendleton Round-Up grounds to see what amusements they might find.
What they found was an automobile left sitting in the arena, unattended, while members of the Elks club tried out teams for an upcoming chariot race (wouldn’t that be fun to see?).
The two cowboys thought the seats of the auto looked inviting, so they slid in to watch the proceedings. After a while, Ted landed on the brilliant idea of taking the auto for a spin. Although he’d never been in an automobile before, let alone drove one, he asked his friend to get out and give the car a crank to start it.
The car started but ol’ cowboy Ted found he couldn’t control the “red devil” as it traveled across the track of the arena. He whipped the wheel one way then the other, touched every button and pulled every lever to no avail. The auto stopped when he bashed into a pole at full speed.
When the owner of the car arrived on the scene, Ted offered to buy the man a new automobile. The owner thought he could have the auto repaired and they settled on $25 payment.
Ted declared he was through with man’s inventions, much preferring a bucking horse than the unpredictability of a “buzz wagon.”
To find out more about the happenings in Pendleton during 1912, be sure to attend the Petticoat Ballon April 12 on Facebook! The fun begins at 10 a.m. (Pacific Time) and runs until 2 p.m. Guest authors, games, giveaways, and details about my latest Pendleton Petticoats book, Quinn, will be shared!
I imagine that most of us read a historical romance for enjoyment first, and then some learning on the side about what life was like back in the day. It is fiction, after all, not a scholarly history book. However, words, items, and phrases that are untrue to the setting can pull the reader out of the story and possibly make them quit reading the book altogether. As an author, I feel I owe the past and my ancestors, the respect of portraying them as truthfully and authentically as I am able.
I just finished up the rough-draft of my next book and am in the middle of fact-checking to make sure that I have everything correct.To double-check the initial usage of words, I use my ancient Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary on my desk or I pull up Dictionary.com. I must make sure that the things my characters say and the items they use, actually existed in the time and setting of my historical romance. Thank goodness for the internet! It is so much easier today than when I first started my career as a writer. (The internet is always right…Right?) I do find though, that in this part of the writing process, I get sucked into checking out all sorts of strange, fascinating and downright weird tidbits that never make it into any of my stories.
The Rebel and the Lady
When I first started writing westerns, I peppered my second book, The Rebel and the Lady (set at the Alamo) with Stetsons and blue jeans, only to find out upon fact-checking that those items didn’t exist in 1836. The John B. Stetson Hat Company started making the Stetson in Philadelphia in 1865, almost thirty years LATER! Arrrgh!
Denim pants were around, but were called “waist overalls” in 1873. They weren’t dubbed “jeans” until 1890.
Stetson Hat used in the Army
In the book I am currently writing, I recently made the correction about my hero hitching his thumbs on his belt loops. Although belts have been around for centuries in various forms, the kind we think of today, along with belt loops, began catching on with the general population slowly. They were on some Civil War uniforms, but wearing them really took off in 1922 when they were placed on Levi jeans. Before that, suspenders were the norm. (I kind of like the look of suspenders. How about you?)
Standard Civil War Infantry Waist Belt
I was sucked down the rabbit-hole again when I wondered if a small town like Oak Grove would have water-closets in each of their businesses along the main street. I mean…people lived on the second floor and had their business on the first floor. In a city like Chicago or New York there would be a sewer system. But what about a one-horse town like Oak Grove that is just starting out? Would each business have an outhouse behind it? Would there be any type of communal cistern? What about communal privies?
Not only is it items that I need to check the existence of, it is words and phrases. Although “fetch” has existed since before the 12th century, the use of it meaning someone attractive or pleasing to look at (fetching) wasn’t common usage until 1880 (according to some dictionaries.) My story is set in 1879 and my editor caught this one. I still insisted on its use though. It characterized one of my characters perfectly. And my thoughts are that people used it for awhile before the dictionary made it an official word. Just as “google” was used as a verb for searching the internet several years before it was admitted to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006. (My! Has it been around that long already?)
The words, phrases and items that I don’t catch when I fact-check are usually caught by the eagle-eye of my copy editor in London. She is hyper-critical and an amazing editor. It would be great to send in a completed manuscript and have it so “clean” that she can’t find any issues. So far, that day has not happened. ?
We’re very happy to have multi-published author Charlene Raddon come to visit. Writing is in her blood and she pens some mighty good stories. Authors, if you’re in need of a cover, check out her Silver Sage link at the bottom. Please make her welcome.
Since the heroine in my latest book, Divine Gamble, dealt faro for a living, I had to do a good deal of research on 19th Century games of chance.
Thanks to TV and old western movies, most people (like me) believed poker to be THE game of the times. Instead, it was faro. An honest faro game is as close as you can get to an “even money” game, meaning your odds of winning are nearly the same as for the house. Before the end of the century, however, card sharks figured out how to cheat even at faro.
Faro (for Pharoah, from an old French playing card design) was played with a standard pack of 52 cards. First played in France and England, faro became particularly popular in the U.S. In the movie Tombstone (1993) Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) plays faro, but the game wasn’t depicted entirely accurate. In Wyatt Earp (1994) Wyatt (Kevin Costner) and his brothers deal faro using the right layout, but still do not play 100% correctly.
The term “bucking the tiger” is said to have come from early card backs that featured a drawing of a Bengal tiger. “Twisting the tiger’s tail” is another euphemism for playing faro. Many gambling parlors were often referred to as “tiger alley” or “tiger town.” Brag, another popular saloon game of the time, which later evolved into 5-card draw poker or “Draw”.
Draw, also called “bluff poker” or “bluff,” was a rarity on the frontier until the late 1870s.
One person was designated the “banker” and an indeterminate number of players could be admitted. The faro table was typically oval, covered with green baize, and had a cutout for the banker. A board was placed on top of the table with one suit of cards (traditionally the suit of spades) pasted to it in numerical order, representing a standardized betting “layout”. Each player laid his stake on one of the 13 cards on the layout. Players could place multiple bets and could bet on multiple cards simultaneously by placing their bet between cards or on specific card edges. Players also had the choice of betting on the “high card” bar located at the top of the layout.
A deck of cards was shuffled and placed inside a “dealing box”, a mechanical device also known as a “shoe“, which was used to prevent manipulations of the draw by the banker and intended to assure players of a fair game.
The first card in the dealing box was called the “soda” and was “burned off”, leaving 51 cards in play. The dealer then drew two cards: the first was called the “banker’s card” and was placed on the right side of the dealing box. The next card after the banker’s card was called the carte anglaise (English card) or simply the “player’s card”, and it was placed on the left of the shoe.
The banker’s card was the “losing card”; regardless of its suit, all bets placed on the layout’s card that had the same denomination as the banker’s card were lost by the players and won by the bank. The player’s card was the “winning card”. All bets placed on the card that had that denomination were returned to the players with a 1 to 1 (even money) payout by the bank (e.g., a dollar bet won a dollar). A “high card” bet won if the player’s card had a higher value than the banker’s card. The dealer settled all bets after each two cards drawn. This allowed players to bet before drawing the next two cards. Bets that neither won nor lost remained on the table, and could be picked up or changed by the player prior to the next draw.
A player could reverse the intent of his bet by placing a hexagonal (6-sided) token called a “copper” on it. Some histories said a penny was sometimes used in place of a copper. This was known as “coppering” the bet, and reversed the meaning of the win/loss piles for that bet.
When only three cards remained in the dealing box, the dealer would “call the turn”, which was a special type of bet that occurred at the end of each round. The object now was to predict the exact order that the 3 remaining cards, Bankers, Players, and the final card called the Hock, would be drawn. The player’s odds here were 5 to 1, while a successful bet paid off at 4 to 1 (or 1 to 1 if there were a pair among the three, known as a “cat-hop”). This provided one of the dealer’s few advantages in faro. If it happened that the three remaining cards were all the same, there would be no final bet, as the outcome was not in question.
A device, called a “casekeep” was employed to assist the players and prevent dealer cheating by counting cards. The casekeep resembled an abacus, with one spindle for each card denomination, with four counters on each spindle. As a card was played, either winning or losing, one of four counters would be moved to indicate that a card of that denomination had been played. This allowed players to plan their bets by keeping track of what cards remained available in the dealing box. The operator of the casekeep, such as the heroine in my book Divine Gamble, is called the “casekeeper”, or colloquially in the American West, the “coffin driver”.
Certain advantages were reserved to the banker: if he drew a doublet, that is, two equal cards, he won half of the stakes upon the card which equaled the doublet. In a fair game, this provided the only “house edge”. If the banker drew the last card of the pack, he was exempt from doubling the stakes deposited on that card. These and the advantage from the odds on the turn bet provided a slight financial advantage to the dealer or house.
Other popular games of chance in wild west saloons were “Beat the Dealer” or “High Dice”, a quick and simple game. This was often played right on the bar with the barkeep as the dealer.
Then there was “Under and Over” (or “High/Low” or “Hi & Lo” or “Lucky Number 7”), a popular party game for three to six players played with a dice tray and 2 dice in a shaker cup.
“Chuck-a-Luck”, aka “Sweat”, Sweat Cloth”, “Birdcage”, “Chucker Luck”, “Chuck” or “Big Six” is an old game originating in England. This was played with a dice cup and 3 dice. Because of cheating, the use of a heavy welded metal birdcage device became the standard for the game.
Grand Hazard (not to be confused with Hazard) was a more advanced for of Chuck-a-Luck, with a more sophisticated layout allowing for the simple 1 through 6 “chuck bets”.
Hazard was played with two dice and was the ancestor of the modern dice game, craps.
Monte Bank was a popular card game of the early 19th Century, particularly in the Southwest and mining camps in Northern California.
In Divine Gamble, a mistake made long ago has put Maisy Macoubrie in a killer’s crosshairs. Her only hope is to run. Yet, her chances are slim of surviving alone.
The Preacher, a bounty hunter known for bringing men in alive, finds his own face on a wanted poster—dead or alive—for a crime he didn’t commit. He knows who the real killer is, but trying to prove it could be the last thing he ever does.
United in battle against a common enemy, can Maisy and The Preacher find love and solace in each other? Can they win the biggest gamble of their lives?
Are you a gambler? Have you ever visited a casino? Or have you read a book where they did? Charlene is giving away one digital copy of Divine Gamble to one commenter.
Charlene Raddon is an award-winning author of western historical romance novels and a book cover artist. Originally published by Kensington Books, she is now an Indie author. You can find her at:
My newest book in the series, THE PRAIRIE DOCTOR’S BRIDEhas just been released. (YAY!) Since the hero is a doctor, I had to portray him doing doctorly things. In books or movies about the Old West, someone with a broken leg or arm will often have their injury splinted with sticks for immobilization. Usually this is “out in the bush,” and although Doctor Nelson Graham could certainly do this method I wanted him showing off his education a bit. Doc Graham was not a lay doctor or a bone-setter (a barber or in a pinch the local blacksmith.) He attended a prestigious school in Boston, and then had several years of experience, employed by the Kansas-Pacific Railroad Company to attend the men building the railroad. He had his own home-office in Oak Grove, Kansas. So, I had to find about a little more about the history and care for fractures.
The earliest known care for a broken bone (after resetting) dates back to the early Egyptians of the 5th Dynasty (2400 B.C.) Hippocrates, a physician of the 4th century BC, wrote about immobilizing the bone to let it heal and also having the injured person do specific exercises to prevent atrophy of the muscles. His writings spoke of using cloth soaked in resin and wax. A little later on, starch was added to assist with quicker hardening. Throughout the next 1500 years, different solutions and pastes were used, such as egg whites, clay, and gum mixtures. If a person had a broken bone, they did a LOT of laying around.
Plaster of Paris had been used as a building material for centuries, but in the early 19th century, it became widely used for immobilizing broken bones. The injured limb would be reset and placed inside a wooden box and then the plaster poured over it, encasing the leg or arm in a rigid sleeve. This was heavy and made it impossible for the injured person to move.
Then in the 1830s, Louis Seutin, a doctor in the Belgian army, used strips of linen and carton (or pasteboard) splints that were wet and molded to the limb. The limb was then wrapped in bandages and coated with a starch solution and allowed to dry.
GAUZE COATED WITH PLASTER OF PARIS
Building on Seutin’s work, Antonious Mathijsen, a medical doctor in the Dutch army, found that strips of coarse cotton cloth into which dry plaster of Paris had been rubbed, could be applied and then moistened with a sponge or brush. The cast would harden as it was rubbed and would dry in minutes. Another version of this would be to very carefully dip the dressing or cloth into a bucket of water, so as not to dislodge the plaster of Paris already rubbed into the cloth, and then apply it to the limb. This lighter-weight, smaller cast made it possible for a person to move about while a bone healed.
Mathijsent wrote about his method and it was published in 1852 in a medical magazine, Repertorium. This became the standard for setting broken bones until 1950 with only a few minor changes—ie: the use of shellac to make the cast water-resistant. And alterations such as this picture–with a stub to enable walking and yet keeping the cast dry and clean.
So – knowing this – I could finally write the scene where Doc Graham took care of Wally Brown’s arm and actually used a plaster of Paris cast! Since I was a nurse in my past life and the history of medicine has always fascinated me, I had to be careful not to “talk technical” as I wrote the medical passages but to remember to use regular words. Instead of “new, granulation tissue” I described the skin as reddened, a bit puffy, and without any sign of purulence.
If you are interested in finding out more, here are a few links to check out:
In 1849, California pioneer Catherine Haun wrote, “Although very tired of tent life many of us spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in our canvas houses. I do not remember ever having had happier holiday times. For Christmas we had grizzly bear steak for which we paid $2.50, one cabbage for $1.00 and oh horrors, some more dried apples! And for a Christmas present the Sacramento River rose very high and flooded the whole town!”
Now that’s a holiday to remember!
Celebrating Christmas wasn’t easy for those making their way in new territories, but upholding traditions was an important way of making these places feel like home. Often resources were limited and decorations consisted of whatever was handy—evergreen trimmings, berries, pictures clipped from magazines, popcorn garlands—and presents were often handmade, or ordered from catalogs, if mail service of that kind was available.
In Boise, Idaho, the community shared a tree in the 1860s and residents were invited to “communicate through it with their friends,” according to the Idaho Statesman. People could exchange gifts and there was a Christmas Eve party at the tree.
But what about those people who were truly in the wilderness on Christmas Day? Well, some of them couldn’t take time off from the important business of staying alive as this journal quote from fur trapper David Thompson attests: “Christmas and News Years day came and passed. We could not honor them, the occupations of every day demanded our attentions; and time passed on, employed in hunting for a livelihood.”
Lewis and Clark and spent several Christmases on the trail during their famous expedition. Christmas of 1804 was spent in Fort Mandan, North Dakota where the men were issued flour, dried apples and pepper to help celebrate the holiday. Clark wrote of this Christmas: “I was awakened before Day by a discharge of 3 platoonsfrom the Party and the french, the men merrily Disposed, I give them all a little Taffia and permited 3 Cannon fired, at raising Our flag, Some men went out to hunt & the Others to Danceing and Continued untill 9 oClock P, M, when the frolick ended.”
In 1806, the expedition was stranded at Fort Clatsop on the Pacific Coast. This was more of a gift giving occasion, according to Clark: “Our Diner to day Consisted of pore Elk boiled, Spoilt fish & Some roots, a bad Christmass diner. I recved a presnt of Capt L. of a fleece hosrie Shirt Draws and Socks—, a pr. mockersons of Whitehouse a Small Indian basket of Gutherich, two Dozen white weazils tails of the Indian woman, & Some black root of the Indians before their departure.”
That “Indian Woman” was Sacagawea.
If you’re interested in learning more about Christmas in the Old West, check out Christmas in the Old West: A Historical Scrapbook, by Sam Travers. The information in this blog was adapted from that book.
Have a Wonderful Holiday Season and a Very Merry Christmas! I’ve loved spending 2017 with you, and look forward to 2018!
If you’re like me, you’ve already been queueing up the Christmas music. There’s something special about the hymns, carols, and jingles written to celebrate the season. But in the west of the 1800s, music was a precious commodity, at any time. There are tales of families sacrificing to bring a piano on the Oregon Trail, stories of stampedes averted by a cowboy with a calming voice. If you could play an instrument or sing well, you were instantly popular!
Perhaps that’s why music boxes were so prized. First developed in the early nineteenth century in Europe by watchmakers, some early specimens were tiny enough to fit inside a gentleman’s snuff box. The mechanism was much like what you may have seen in a child’s toy—a cylinder with bumps equating to notes and a toothed comb that the cylinder rotated against to “ring” out the song. You cranked the mechanism to tighten a spring, which slowly unwound and stopped the motion of the cylinder.
People were entranced by the sound, and demand grew. Music boxes grew larger, fancier. Some came in tortoiseshell cases, others encased in fine wood. Sizes increased to tabletop and even as large as a grandfather clock. Companies found ways to swap cylinders, so you could play more songs. The number of teeth “playing” across the cylinder grew to over 300, providing a range of octaves. More springs meant the box could play for hours without rewinding.
Catalogs allowed you to pick from a range of music, from popular tunes to classical pieces and hymns. One piece even mimicked the sound of a bird singing. Supposedly Beethoven was particularly enchanted with the devices and composed music with them in mind.
At first the price for these boxes was high enough that only the wealthy could afford them. But after the Civil War, more reasonable boxes became available. These used less durable components, such as wooden or even paper rolls. Coin-operated versions were placed in railway stations for the public’s enjoyment. Pocket watches became musical, playing chimes to mark the hour. And people on the frontier ordered the boxes and gave them to those they loved. My hero Levi Wallin gives one to my heroine Callie Murphy in this month’s His Frontier Christmas Family. Callie loves music, but her family circumstances have prevented her from owning any kind of instrument. The music box becomes her prized possession.
The advent of the phonograph and player piano toward the end of the nineteenth century usurped the popularity of the music box. But examples continued to be created long afterward. The round music boxes in this blog post belonged to my great-grandmother and her sister, both of whom were born in the late 1800s. One was used to hold face powder—the original powder puff is inside.
Perhaps, like Callie, they loved music in any form, even from a magical little box.
Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for an autographed copy of His Frontier Christmas Family, Regina’s new release.
Regina Scott started writing novels in the third grade. Thankfully for literature as we know it, she didn’t actually sell her first novel until she learned a bit more about writing. She now has more than thirty-five published works of warm, witty romance. She and her husband of nearly 30 years reside in the Puget Sound area of Washington State. Regina Scott has dressed as a Regency dandy, driven four-in-hand, learned to fence, and sailed on a tall ship, all in the name of research, of course. Learn more about her at her website or connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, or Goodreads.
His Frontier Family
After taking guardianship of his late friend’s siblings and baby daughter, minister Levi Wallin hopes to atone for his troubled past on the gold fields. But it won’t be easy to convince the children’s wary elder sister to trust him. The more he learns about her, though, the more he believes Callie Murphy’s prickly manner masks a vulnerable heart…one he’s starting to wish he was worthy of.
Every man in Callie’s life chose chasing gold over responsibilities. Levi—and the large, loving Wallin family—might just be different. But she can tell he’s hiding something from her, and she refuses to risk her heart with secrets between them. Even as they grow closer, will their pasts keep them from claiming this unexpected new beginning?
I’m always happy to post at Petticoats and Pistols. I grew up on a farm/ranch in rural Texas so I love everything Western. Thank you for the invite.
In December the last book of the Texas Rebels series will be released. Texas Rebels: Elias. I’m excited to finish the series. I thought I would share how I came to write seven books about seven brothers. My husband and I watched the TV miniseries the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. I told my husband I would like to write something like that, but more modern day and not so dark and violent. I guess the idea was in my head because that night I dreamed about two feuding ranching families in Texas. When I woke up the next morning, I had these two families, their names and exactly what had happened to keep them feuding for years.
The Rebels and McCray’s were fighting over a fence line and water rights. The McCrays said if a Rebel stepped over the fence line to McCray land they would be shot. One day two of the younger Rebel boys jumped the fence on a horse and Ezra McCray shot them. John Rebel rushed toward the blast to find his two sons lying on the ground. Ezra was on a horse with a rifle in his hand. He raised the rifle to shoot John, but John fired first, killing Ezra McCray. This scene was very vivid. Then there was John and Kate, his wife, talking to five other kids, telling them what had happened and they had to take their two little brothers to the hospital. Kate called each of them by name. I quickly went to my office and wrote down the names and events before they faded from my mind. Seven brothers and I had all their names. That was a true gift. Here’s where I hen-scratched them down. No one can read this, but me.
After breakfast, I went to work on what I had. I jotted more notes and then study the names of the brothers. Did I want to write about seven brothers? Would my editor buy a series about seven brothers? Oh, what the heck, I went with it. I could do nothing less with all the scenes in my head. The rest of the day I thought about these two families and how I wanted to write them. It took a long time and several headaches to pull it all together.
Two things had to happen before the stories would work. First, the feud would escalate because of the shooting. Second, John Rebel would pass away. The books would be about how his grown sons would deal with life after his passing. Then I gave each brother a characteristic that would define him and help me write his story. Falcon was the oldest, so he was the strong, responsible one taking over as head of the family, with his mother. Quincy was the peacemaker, trying to keep peace among the brothers. Egan was the loner. Elias the fighter. Jude the quiet one, as he was one of the kids who’d been shot. Paxton was a bull rider and a ladies man. The youngest was Phoenix, the fun-loving jokester. Now I had something to work with.
I did an overview of the stories that would change with each book. All the brothers would work the large Rebel Ranch, but the McCrays would always be there, making life hard. With each book that would slightly change as the McCray women start to notice the Rebel men as someone other than their enemy.
Elias’s story is the last book in the series. He said he was never getting married. He liked his freedom. When Maribel McCray returns to Horseshoe, Texas she shakes up his world. She has a seventeen-year-old son and says that Elias is the father. Kate Rebel insists that Elias is not. Elias and his mother argue and he leaves the ranch he loves. This tears the family apart. The last scenes were hard to write. I won’t tell you what happens because it would spoil the book. But I enjoyed writing Elias and finding his softer side. And finding a way for the families to live in peace.
Now you’ve had a glimpse into the weird workings of an author’s mind. The books are done. Time for cheering. It’s hard to believe they all started with a dream.
I’m giving away an ebook of Texas Rebels: Elias and a Horseshoe Christmas ornament (the stories are set in Horseshoe, Texas.)
Question: Have you had any vivid dreams that stayed with you for a long time? Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for an ebook copy of Elias and a horseshoe ornament.
Maribel McCray knew moving back to Horseshoe, Texas, would mean facing Elias Rebel, the cowboy she was forbidden to love in high school. She just didn’t expect it to happen so soon. With her teenage son, Chase, in trouble, she needs Elias’s help. He may be a Rebel, sworn enemy of every McCray, but he’s also Chase’s father.
For the lone bachelor of the Rebel clan, there’s only one way to make up for lost years with his son—become a family for real. But Maribel’s distance runs deeper than the Rebel-McCray feud. Elias won’t settle for a marriage of convenience with the woman he’s falling for again. How can he convince Maribel some second chances are worth taking?
Oak Grove, Kansas, the fictional town and setting of the Oak Grove Series that I am writing with Laurie Robinson, is the end of the trail for the Texas cattle drives. The town grows and prospers with the cattle industry in the 1880s much like Dodge City, Ellsworth, and Abilene. With its stockyards and a train depot, I knew some of the inhabitants would have to have jobs that involved the cattle business.
The era of cattle drives in American history began at the end of the Civil War and lasted into the 1890s. Demand for beef in the big cities in the east as well as an abundance of cattle in Texas (five million!) created an opportunity for hard-working men. In Texas, a steer was worth about $3, whereas in Chicago, that same steer would fetch an average of $20, although demand would sometimes push its value to $40. Other reasons for moving the cattle north were to feed the miners in Colorado and California, or to stock ranches as far as Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming.
Some herds were as large as 3,000 cattle. Along with the cattle, extra horses were also included on the drive so that when one horse tired and needed to rest, another could be saddled and used. Cattle could stretch out for a mile on the trail and to manage the herd, cowboys had certain positions.
Duties of each Cowboy —
Point – Rode out in front and helped guide the herd.
Swing – Rode along the flanks of the herd to keep them gathered in.
Flank – Rode behind the Swing and performed the same job.
Drag – Rode behind the herd and kept stragglers from being lost or falling behind. A dusty job.
Wrangler – Took care of the remuda of extra horses. Lowest paid position.
Cook – Drove the chuck-wagon, cooked the meals. Next to the boss, he was the highest paid man on the drive.
These were not gentle milking cows! Longhorns were cantankerous and bad-tempered. The horns on a steer spread an average of five feet from tip to tip. Rounding up cattle, branding them to establish ownership, and getting them to head in one direction as a group was not without mishaps and sometimes dire consequences. Then there were the dangers along the trail.
Range cattle were not smart. They got lost in gullies. They headed out into snowstorms rather than seeking shelter. They were easily spooked and alarmed. A flash of lightning, the boom of thunder, or even an odd odor could initiate a stampede where the herd would run for miles. The only way to stop a stampede was for the cowboys to get out in front of the herd and fire their pistols, wave their hats and yell in a effort to confuse and frighten the cattle into slowing and circling until they calmed down. One wrong decision and in an instant a rider could be impaled on a horn or trampled to death under hooves. Stampedes were the chief threat and worry for a cowboy on a trail drive.
Another danger could occur at river crossings. Should a cow or steer panic, they could drown and take a cowboy down with them.
Then there were the predators. Rustlers—men who would steal the cattle and, although much less common, Indians on the reservations who attacked the drive. Animals such as the American Timber wolf, cougars, brown bears, and farther north…grizzly bears where also a threat. Rattlers and scorpions bothered the men. Although their bite or sting was not usually fatal to a healthy young man, it could still cause horrible pain. A smart cowboy checked their bedroll before bedding down at night, and in the morning, checked their shoes or boots before putting them on.
Weather was also a danger. Freezing temperatures and blazing heat were both enemies to the herd and to the cowboys. Finding water along the trail was a matter of life and death. Traveling this way, a drive from San Antonio to Kansas would take about two months. No matter how careful the cowboys were, there was always a percentage of cattle that did not make it to the stockyards.
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In spite of the danger and the dust, I believe many cowboys enjoyed the camaraderie of driving cattle to the stockyards. Sleeping on the hard earth after a long day’ work, however, is not so appealing. I am thankful for my comfy bed!
What, in this season of Thanksgiving, are you thankful for?
Comment for a chance to win a copy of Mail-Order Brides of Oak Grove!
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In the book that will be released in December — The Prairie Doctor’s Bride — a character has an accident along the trail, leaving behind unfinished business in Oak Grove. More on this in a future post…For now, Mail-Order Brides of Oak Grove, the first book in the Oak Grove Series, is available.
Kathryn Albright writes sweet historical Americana Romance. Come visit !