Category: Outlaws

Wild West Words: An Outlaw by Any Other Name

Kathleen Rice Adams: classic tales of the Old West...that never forget the power of love

If you’ve ever read a western novel or watched a western movie, no doubt you’ve run across a whole herd of quaint terms that add character to the story. Where did those terms come from, why did folks use them, and when were they popular?

The Outlaw

Thomas Mitchell, Jack Buetel, and Walter Huston in The Outlaw (HowardHughesProductions, 1941) [promotional image]

Here are some of the words and phrases used to describe the bad boys of the Old West. Some of them are older than one might imagine. Western historical romance authors may be dismayed to find others are newer than they hoped.

Buscadero: gunfighter. From the Spanish buscadero, literally a searcher. The origin of the slang usage is obscure; possibly “seeking trouble.”

Bushwhacker: cowardly enemy who strikes from ambush. Americanism; arose c. 1809. Oddly, the verb “bushwhack” arose later, c. 1837. During the American Civil War (at least from 1862-1865), “bushwhacker” acquired a less-pejorative connotation, meaning any irregular who took to the woods to strike from cover and then vanish. The term was applied in equal measure to both friend and foe.

Cabrón: an outlaw of low breeding and even lower principles. In Spanish, the word means “goat.” Origin of the slang usage is obscure.

Cold-blooded: unfeeling, dispassionate, cruel. Arose c. 1828 from the old (1600s) notion that excitement increased human blood temperature. Reptiles have been called cold-blooded since about 1600, and the reptilian image also played into the description as applied to killers and other reprehensible sorts who acted without apparent regret.

The Law and the Outlaw

Promotional flier for
The Law and the Outlaw, 1913

Cold lead: from the mid-1800s until the 1920s, a bullet. About 1920, usage changed and “hot lead” became slang for bullets. The reason is unclear.

Cowboy of the Pecos: rustler, based on the notion safety could be found in the lawless area around Texas’ Pecos River.

Dressed to kill: double entendre meaning not only that a man wearing two guns most likely was a killer, but also that wearing a double rig (a holstered pistol on each hip) made it difficult for a gunman to do anything with either hand without implying a threat; therefor, dudes who adopted the practice were likely to be killed.

Dry-gulch: to ambush someone, particularly in a cowardly manner.

Get the drop on: to obtain a marked advantage, especially with the help of a gun. Probably dates to the California gold rush of 1849, when claim-jumpers sometimes seemed to materialize from the ether before hijacking a profitable claim at gunpoint. First documented appearance in print 1869 in Alexander K. McClure’s Three Thousand Miles through the Rocky Mountains: “So expert is he with his faithful pistol, that the most scientific of rogues have repeatedly attempted in vain to get ‘the drop’ on him.”

GTT: on the wrong side of the law. Short for “gone to Texas,” this usage dates at least to the Civil War, when deserters and other former soldiers from both armies — suddenly unemployed and inured to violence — migrated to still-wild, wide-open Texas, “lost” their names, and took up outlawry. (Originally, “Gone to Texas” was the phrase families ruined by the financial panic of 1819 painted on doors and fence signs before lighting out to begin anew in greener pastures south of the Mexican border.) In his 1857 book Journey through Texas, Frederick Law Olmstead noted that many newcomers to the state were suspected of having skipped out on something “discreditable” back home. Thomas Hughes, in his 1884 book G.T.T., wrote “When we want to say that it is all up with some fellow, we just say, ‘G.T.T.’ as you’d say, ‘gone to the devil,’ or ‘gone to the dogs.’”

Days on the Range (Hands Up!)
by Frederic Remington

Gun: until the early 20th Century, cannon or long guns like shotguns and rifles. Handguns were called pistols or — after Samuel Colt introduced his first patented repeating revolver in 1836 — six-guns or six-shooters.

Gunman: shootist; gunfighter. First recorded use 1903 in a New York newspaper. (Gunsman, with an S in the middle, arose on the American frontier during the Revolutionary period.)

Gunslinger: No such term existed in the Old West. The word is pure Hollywood, from the early days of western movies.

Gun shark: gunfighter. Arose mid-1800s from the earlier (1700s) use of “shark” to indicate a voracious or predatory person, based on the reputation of the fish.

Heeled up: armed. Arose ca. 1866 from the 1560s usage of “heel” to mean attaching spurs to a gamecock’s feet.

Hogleg: large revolver. Originally referred to the Bisley single-action Colt (first manufactured 1894), but later generalized to any big pistol.

Holdup: a robbery. American English colloquialism, 1851. The verb “to hold up,” meaning “to stop by force and rob,” didn’t arise until 1887, apparently from the robbers’ command to raise hands. “Hold up,” meaning to delay, dates to 1837.

Hustler: thief, especially one who roughs up his victims. Arose 1825. Sense of “energetic worker” is from 1884; sense of “prostitute” dates from 1924.

Lam: to run off. U.S. slang dating to 1886; of uncertain origin. “On the lam,” meaning flight to avoid prosecution or consequences, arose c. 1897.

Jesse James' Oath, or Tracked to Death by W.B. Lawson (Street & Smith Publishers, Dec. 1897)

Jesse James’ Oath, or Tracked to Death by W.B. Lawson (Street & Smith Publishers, Dec. 1897)

On the cuidado: running from the law. From the Spanish warning ten cuidado, which means “be careful.”

Owlhoot: outlaw. “Riding the owlhoot trail” referred to a man who had left the straight and narrow to become an outlaw. One explanation of origin came from a man living in the Indian Territory of eastern Oklahoma around 1870. He claimed the name came about from the Indians in the area using owl hoots to signal danger or someone’s approach. Another tale indicates outlaws were called “owlhoots” because, when they were getting ready to ambush somebody in the dark, they would imitate the hooting of owls to signal one another.

Pecos swap: theft. Again, based on the reputation of Texas’s Pecos River area.

Pistolero: expert with a handgun. Adopted from Mexican Spanish, in which the word has the same meaning.

Rattlesnaked: ambushed (literally or figuratively) in a particularly devious or cunning way. Dates at least to 1818.

Safecracker (also safe-cracker): individual with a talent for liberating money from locked vaults. Arose ca. 1897, as a reference to robbers who used dynamite to thwart security boxes.

Shootist: expert marksman. Arose 1864.

Sidewinder: dangerously cunning or devious person. Arose American West ca. 1875 as a reference to some species of rattlesnakes’ “peculiar lateral movement.”

Stickup: robbery at gunpoint. Arose 1887 from the earlier (1846) verb “stick up,” meaning to rob someone at gunpoint. The phrase “stick up for,” meaning defend, is from 1823. The archaic noun “stick-up” arose ca. 1857 as a colloquial term for a stand-up collar.

 

Outlaws Were Big Business

Wanted posters have a long history and they existed long before America was discovered. In England, I believe the first ones came about as the sheriffs sought to get their hands on Robin Hood. Most believe the thief’s name was an alias used freely by all thieves in England. But that time period is when the first wanted posters came about.

In America, the first was for the capture of John Wilkes Booth for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. I don’t know how large a part the poster played in Booth’s capture but I do know they were used extensively afterward as a tool for catching criminals.

The money offered for the culprit was a great incentive and the amounts varied. If the crime was against railroads, stagecoach lines, or big banks, it was more because the companies put up the money. For smaller businesses for just low profile criminals, it was often around $50 or less.

Since photographs were extremely hard to come by for the most part in the 1800s, the posters usually only gave a brief description of the outlaw or maybe had a hand-drawn likeness.

The progression of cameras changed the landscape considerably. No longer were lawbreakers hidden in the shadows. Their faces were everywhere for all to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the poster used the phrase, “Dead or Alive” on it, that made it okay to just kill the wanted man or woman. The person got the reward either way and it was often safer to bring them in dead.

Jesse James had a $25,000 bounty on his head and the Governor of Missouri put up the money. That’s equivalent to $115,000  in today’s currency. A whole lot of dinero.

Most were lots smaller. In 1892, a poster offered $6,500 for The Sundance Kid. That same year, Bob, Emmett, and Grat Dalton had a $5,000 reward for all three, not each. In 1874, the Texas Rangers put out one for John Wesley Hardin and didn’t state an amount. One for Billy the Kid only offered $500.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2007, the FBI went a step further and began to use electronic billboards. In 2014, they claimed that 53 cases had been solved as a direct result of the billboards.

I’ve used wanted posters in quite a few of my books and in my upcoming To Marry a Texas Outlaw in November, Luke Weston has a $2000 bounty on his head for killing a federal judge. It’s fun to fantasize about living in that era and thinking about all that money. It would’ve been nice for someone who made less than a dollar a week come into a windfall like this for catching an outlaw.

Do you think you’d have been a bounty hunter back then? Lots to think about. I have one copy of To Love a Texas Ranger to give away to someone who comments. The drawing will be Sunday.

Updated: March 14, 2017 — 4:11 pm

Welcome Guest – Erin Johnson

Rachel photo web

I’ve always been interested in history and did a lot of research on the West while I was writing the Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes (Cengage, 2012). I also spent time in Arizona after my father moved to a ghost town near the Mexican border, and I was fascinated by the area around Tombstone, where much of the WANTED series is set.

encyclopedias

Wanted_GraceBk1

In the first book in the series, Grace and the Guiltless, Grace is the lone survivor after outlaws massacre her family. She risks her reputation by entering the notorious Bird Cage Theater to report the crime to the sheriff:

Clouds of smoke enveloped Grace. Like the black, acrid smoke from the burning cabin that still clung to her pores and clothes, the sweetish cigar smoke and the sharper scent of burning tobacco from hand-rolled cigarettes suffocated her. Raucous laughter, the tinkle of a piano, and the clink of glasses pulsed through the room. The infamous alcoves, or bird cages, some with their red velvet curtains drawn, perched overhead like rows of fancy packages.

Her eyes stinging from the haze, Grace squinted to find the sheriff. So many black frock coats blurred into an indistinguishable mass…

WantedGraceandtheGuiltless_smDisentangling herself from pawing hands as she crosses the room, Grace irritates the sheriff by separating him from the painted lady keeping him company.

The heavyset man frowned at her. “So, what can I do for you, Miss —”

“Grace Milton, sir. Yesterday my parents . . . my whole family . . .” Grace’s tongue tripped over the words. If she said them aloud, it would make it real. But if she didn’t, those killers would get away with what they had done. “Elijah Hale and his gang . . . they shot my pa, and-and…”

The sheriff’s face paled at the mention of Hale’s name, but he leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers, though his hands shook slightly. “Mr. Hale is well known in these parts as a respectable man.”

Respectable man? A picture imprinted itself on Grace’s mind – Hale smiling, his gun pointed straight at her father’s heart.

The sheriff pulled a cigar from his vest pocket and rolled it between his fingers, avoiding her eyes.

Her Cold Revenge 9781630790073 web“Did you hear me? Hale killed my pa. And my ma, and my—”

The sheriff chomped down on the cigar, twisted, and then spat the end into the nearby spittoon. The wad hit the brass with a wet ringing sound. “Any witnesses?”

“Me,” Grace choked out.

Sheriff Behan lit his cigar and blew a puff of smoke in Grace’s direction. “Not sure your word,” he said, his gaze raking her disheveled appearance, “would stand up against Hale’s.” He waved his cigar in a dismissive circle. “You bring me some proof, and I’ll consider looking into it.”

A white-hot volcano of rage erupted in Grace’s stomach. Did that badge glinting at her from across the table mean anything at all?

“My family’s dead in the ground.” She sucked in air to control the tremor in her voice. “I dug their graves myself.” She held out her blistered and bloodied hands. “Is that proof enough for you?”

Something flickered in the sheriff’s eyes. Pity maybe? But he quickly shuttered it. “That’s a sad story Miss Milton, but people die every day.” His voice loaded with fake sympathy, he continued, “Lots of Injuns ’round here. Renegade soldiers. Hermits. Even coyotes. Understandable you’d be a mite mixed up following such a tragedy. You being hysterical and all.”

Wanted_GraceBk2“I. Am. Not. Hysterical.” Grace spat out each word. Furious, yes. Hysterical, no. Although he was rapidly pushing her in that direction. She’d get no help from this snake.

As Grace suspects, the sheriff is in cahoots with the gang, so she trains as a bounty hunter to singlehandedly track down the criminals. One reviewer calls her the “Katniss of the Wild West.” But when Grace falls for Joe, a?rugged range rider, can she give up her independence to take on a partner?

In book 2, Her Cold Revenge, Grace must prove her skills and stop a train robbery masterminded by the outlaws who slaughtered her family. And as she slowly opens her heart to both Joe and the Ndeh tribe, who take her in, her heartache begins to heal. Yet she’s still torn between revenge and love.

“Every second had me on the edge of my seat…”

“I’ve never been so moved by a book. You honesty made me cry…”

The books in the WANTED series came out in the UK first, and then in the U.S., with different covers.

Scuppernong readingFeast on Fiction

 Erin Johnson grew up watching classic western movies with her father, which fueled her lifelong love of horseback riding. She’s always dreamed of being a fierce-talking cowgirl, but writing about one seemed like the next best thing. She loves traveling, painting, and teaching, and she writes under several pseudonyms for both children and adults.

Blog: https://lje1.wordpress.com/erin-johnson/

Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/story/16791791-grace-and-the-guiltless

https://www.wattpad.com/story/38198225-her-cold-revenge

Buy links: G&G https://www.amazon.com/Grace-Guiltless-Wanted-Erin-Johnson/dp/163079001X/?tag=pettpist-20

HCR: https://www.amazon.com/Cold-Revenge-Wanted-Erin-Johnson/dp/1630790079/?tag=pettpist-20

Giveaway! : Erin has a great giveaway with two separate winners!  For a chance to win, leave a comment for Erin and you’ll be entered.  One winner will receive a copy of Grace & the Guiltless and the second winner will receive a copy of the recipe book, Feast on Fiction!

Updated: August 2, 2016 — 11:57 am

Great Escapes? by Patti Sherry-Crews

Patti Sherry-Crews is funny, friendly, and a pleasure to know. She lives smack-dab in the middle of the Midwest and took part of her education in Wales, where she studied archaeology, Welsh, and Welsh literature. Nevertheless, she writes western historical romance. Go figure. Welcome to Wildflower Junction, Patti!

Jesse James's Grave in Kearney, Missouri

Jesse James’s Grave in Kearney, Missouri

What do Billy the Kid and the Grand Duchess Anastasia have in common? Like Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Jesse James, The Lost Dauphin of France, and the Princes in the Tower, years after their “deaths” rumors of their survival persisted.

It’s obvious why certain factions in Europe would want their royals to escape death. But why do we want to believe a group of gunslingers and bank robbers went on to live a quiet life under an assumed name?

I’ve been thinking about this question, and except for a few stray individuals such as D.B. Cooper, I can’t think of a group so rumored to have faked their own deaths as much as the American outlaw of the old west.

Is it because the time and place capture our imagination? Or is it the personalities? Maybe we can’t bear the thought these mythologized, larger than life men were fallible after all? I picture Butch and Sundance always two steps ahead of the posse, Billy the Kid slipping out of handcuffs and escaping from jail, and Jesse James outwitting the Pinkertons. It is hard to then, picture these same men pinned down by gun fire in Bolivia, being taken down in the middle of the night while visiting his sweetheart, or being shot in the back while righting a crooked picture.

Billy_the_Kid

Billy the Kid

It was not uncommon for outlaws to go by an alias. Butch Cassidy was born Robert LeRoy Parker. Billy the Kid was christened Henry McCarty in New York City but was also known as Henry Antrim and William H. Bonney. Butch and Sundance moved around South America under the names James Ryan and Harry E. Place (Etta Place). So it’s a short stretch to see them moving on with a new name after “killing off” their old one.

Rumor has it Butch went on to live in the Pacific Northwest under a name unknown to this day. A few Billy the Kids surfaced, Bushy Bill being the most famous. Of all of them, even though Jesse James isn’t my favorite outlaw, I believe he did successfully fake his own death—but that’s another story.

When I was creating my own bad boy for Margarita and the Hired Gun, I had these men in mind, but especially the resourceful and charming Billy the Kid. Like Billy’s mother, Rafferty is an Irish immigrant who got his American start in New York City. The Kid was only 5’3”, and judging by the few photographs we have of him, it’s hard to see his sex appeal. Despite all that, he was quite the ladies’ man. A picture recently surfaced of him playing croquet and wearing a striped cardigan I’d expect to see on my grandfather. He looks incredibly young. A man loved by ladies and feared by men—my type of hero.

Rafferty had many “adventures” in America, and in true outlaw style, he had to change his name a few times. The excerpt I’ve included is the scene where Rafferty tells Margarita his real name. They’ve endured a hair-rising stretch of the trail and both have let their guard down in their relief. It is the first time since fleeing Ireland he hears his own name being spoken.

About Patti

patti Sherry-crews in kitchenPatti Sherry-Crews writes romances because she can’t help herself. She is a romantic who turns everything into a romance in the hope that everyone can just work it out and live happily ever after. Patti has published stories in several other genres, including paranormal and narrative nonfiction. Margarita and the Hired Gun is her first historical western but won’t be her last. The old west has always fascinated her, because the time and place are unique: the mix of cultures all coming together at a point in history when so many people were drawn westward in attempts to reinvent themselves after the great shake-up of the Civil War. The old west saw the borders between law and outlaw blurred, and people moved back and forth between the two, a theme reflected in Margarita and the Hired Gun.

Visit Patti online at Visit Patti online at her website, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

 

margarita-coverMargarita and the Hired Gun

Beautiful Margarita McIntosh escapes Flagstaff with a hired gun, Rafferty, as her only protection from her father’s powerful enemies who are hot on their trail. Giving up her life of leisure is nothing compared to the passion she finds in Rafferty’s arms. Together, they face a perilous journey that becomes a fight for their very lives—and a dream of the future neither of them could have imagined.

Excerpt

Within minutes, the trail turned onto a flat piece of grassland on top of a plateau. Margarita took in a deep breath. Her hands were shaking. He waited for her to come up alongside him.

“I think we all need a rest,” he said, smiling thinly at her.

He dismounted and led his horse and the mule over to a copse of trees. He tied up his horse and mule to a tree near a patch of grass, which the animals hungrily tore into. Margarita followed his lead.

“Are you hungry?” he asked, reaching into one of the packs.

“No. I don’t trust my stomach right now.”

“Fine, but do get some water into ya,” he said, sitting down with an apple and his canteen on a big boulder in the shade. She sat down on the ground beside him and was met with his look of surprise. She’d never sat near him before.

“What would have happened if the path was too narrow for you to get off your horse?” she asked, shuddering.

He regarded her with a little grin on his face. “You don’t have to think about that now, and I don’t want to. That part of the trail is behind us, never to be repeated on this trip.”

He pulled a large knife out of his boot. Margarita flinched. He gaped at her before cutting a slice out of the apple. He handed her a slice.

“It will do you good. An apple will settle your stomach.”

Her hand brushed against his fingers as she took the slice, sending a shock up her arm. He drew back as if feeling a charge, too.

“Thank you, Raf…I don’t know what to call you. Do you have a first name? Rafferty is a mouthful.”

He looked down and smiled. “I do have a first name.”

After a long pause she added, “But you’re not going to tell me?”

“I’ve got no problem telling you,” he said, but he continued to sit in silence.

“It appears that you do,” she said, laughing. “I didn’t mean to stump you with that question.”

He looked down at her, his deep blue eyes full of mischief. “I’m only trying to work out which name to give you. I’ve had a few.”

“Oh…I see. How about the one your parents gave you?”

He looked down at his hands, focused on carving out another slice of apple. “Michael.”

“That’s a nice name.”

“And Rafferty isn’t my last name. It’s Byrne.”

“Why do you have so many names?”

“Loads of people out here have more than one name. That’s what you do here, which is one reason I like the west. If you stop liking who you are, you become someone different,” he said with a wink, handing her another slice of apple.

She smiled coyly at him. “Mr. Byrne, what have you been up to?”

He chuckled. “Maybe I’ll tell you sometime. We have weeks yet ahead of us. My misdeeds will give us something to talk about. How about you, Margarita? Margarita is quite a mouthful, as well. Do people call you Rita?”

She realized this was the first time he called her by her name. She liked the way her name sounded coming from him. The way he seemed to chew the separate syllables of her name sounded like water roiling gently over pebbles in a creek.

She sat for a moment, relishing the heat radiating in her chest at the sound of her name spoken in his deep, silken voice. He was looking at her with something close to affection in his eyes. Then, she shook herself. “Not if they want to stay on my good side! I hate being called Rita. My father calls me Maggie.”

The smile disappeared, and the blood drained from his face. He stood up. “Time to hit the trail again if we want to reach camp and get these horses watered.”

He was walking away from her, already at his horse.

“All right, Michael,” she said, in a sweet voice, with a smile on her face.

His back was to her, but she saw his shoulders stiffen. Something about the gesture wiped the smile right off her face.

Find the book at:
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Patti will give an ebook of Margarita and the Hired Gun to someone who answers this question before 11 p.m. Sunday: What would your outlaw name be? Go comment!

 

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?

Outlaw Heart and Doc Holliday Trivia~Tanya Hanson

MarryingMinda Crop to Use

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A couple of autumns ago, Hubs and I visited Colorado during peak aspen season and found ourselves in Leadville.

Well, you don’t just find yourself in a place two miles high…we went on purpose, had a great visit and lunch in a historic saloon. Finding Wild West memorabilia all over the walls of the Silver Dollar Saloon (formerly The Board of Trade) told me I had to set a story in this “Cloud City” breathing and seething with history, and somehow, Doc Holliday would play a part.

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And I found out some stuff I thought I’d share. Please leave a comment today for a chance to win an e-copy. What info about Doc Holliday did you find most interesting?

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1. John Henry Holliday, was born in Griffin, Georgia, on August 14, 1851, with a cleft pallet. His uncle, physician John Stiles Holliday surgically repaired the newborn’s defect and possibly the baby was named for him. The doctor’s first cousin Dr. Williamson Crawford Long was the anesthesiologist. John Henry Holliday most likely had a slight life-long speech impediment.

2. John’s beloved mother Alice died of tuberculosis when he was 15. His father’s remarriage only three months later to a woman just a few years older than John added to his terrible loss.

3. His father Henry Burroughs Holliday was a planter, druggist, and a soldier who moved the family near the Florida-Georgia line when he realized their home in Griffin GA was in the warpath of U.S. General Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea.

4. John Henry Holliday had been close friends with his first cousin Martha Anne “Mattie” Holliday since childhood, and after his father’s second, unpopular marriage, he spent even more time with her family. Romance bloomed, to both families’ displeasure. Although John eventually went west and Mattie joined a convent using the name Sister Mary Melanie, the two were in touch his whole life. Mattie is said to have burned his letters upon his death. The great granddaughter of her step-uncle named a character Melanie after her in her one and only novel. A character in love with a first cousin. The author, Margaret Mitchell. The book—Gone With the Wind.

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5. I don’t know if the nature of John’s birth defect influenced his decision to become a dentist, but his family’s status required a respectable profession. One of 26 candidates, he graduated from Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery during its 16th commencement ceremony in 1872. His thesis was titled “Diseases of the Teeth.”
6. In 1873, John H. Holliday and his partner Dr. John Seegar won dentistry awards for “best set of teeth in gold”, “best set in vulcanized rubber”, and “best set of artificial teeth and dental ware”. (From “Facts Any Doc Holliday Aficionado Should Know and Probably Doesn’t” by Susan Ballard)
7. Not long after graduation, John Henry Holliday set up practice in Atlanta. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and given the prognosis of a short life. It is highly likely he contracted the incurable disease from his mother. To improve his condition, he headed to the drier climes of the west. Eventually, wracking coughs during dental procedures and extractions helped him accept that dentistry was not for him and he needed to seek anther profession.

8. He discovered a natural ability for gambling. Which meant developing gun fighting and knife skills to protect himself against disgruntled opponents. His reputation spread. Tall but often pale and frail from his illness, he encouraged and maybe even embellished stories about the “deadly dentist” out of self preservation. Supposedly he aimed overhead or for the hand or arm, so as to disarm, not kill, an opponent.


9. He could handle his liquor, but the tales of him consuming three bottles a day were highly exaggerated. As are the numbers of his purported massacres. Holliday most likely killed 2 men and wounded 8 others. No legal reports or newspaper accounts support anything else. Some believed Holliday accepted his diagnosis of a short life and lived dangerously because he didn’t have much time left anyway.

10. Oh, not that he didn’t make enemies. And friends such as Wyatt Earp. Truth is, Holliday was very much a part of the 30-second shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, and was himself wounded. Not long after, he was accused of killing Frank Stilwell, the man who murdered Wyatt’s brother Morgan in cold blood. Wild with grief and vengeance, Wyatt and Doc did pursue the man but Wyatt fired the fatal shots. Doc let loose two bullets after the fact. He willingly stuck by Wyatt on his ride for bloody retribution.

11. After embalming, Morgan Earp’s body was dressed in Holliday’s own blue suit before beginning the funeral cortège from Arizona to the elder Earps’ home in Colton, California.

12. Doc ended up in Denver by 1882. When The Territory of Arizona tried to extradite him, Colorado’s Governor Frederick Pitkin refused. Safe in Colorado, Doc spent time in Leadville at exactly the same time I set my story Outlaw Heart, 1885. This was shortly after a jury acquitted the popular Doc from shooting a man he actually did shoot. I found I simply could not tell Doc to stay silent when he asked for a speaking role in my story.

13. In addition to Mattie, Doc found romance with Mary Katherine Harony, but their complex 10-year on and off relationship deserves its own blog and I’ll do one on her in the near future.

14. Whatever his crimes, misdemeanors, and reputation, the flaxen-haired, elegant John Henry Holliday was easily likable, had many friends, inspired loyalty from just about anyone, and ever remained a gently-spoken, easy tempered charming Southern gentleman. He died of his long illness in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, on November 8, 1887, at only 36 years old.


I hope you enjoy meeting my highly, and apologetically fictionalized version of Doc Holliday in OUTLAW HEART, which releases tomorrow and is available for preorder. Please leave a comment for a chance to win an ecopy…what was the Doc fact that most surprised you?

Outlaw Heart

Outlaw Bronx Sanderson, saved from the hangman five years before, trudges two-miles high to Cloud City to find absolution and forget the wrongs caused by a redheaded widow up in Canada.

Then Lila Brewster enters his new world and opens his heart to new possibilities. But this flame-haired beauty married to a memory won’t break the vow she made to a dead man. How can Bronx convince her, and himself, the time is right to take a chance? Especially when her brother-in-law blusters into Leadville with impossible demands.

Here’s a little excerpt, when Bronx first meets Doc Holliday:

Bronx ran past a laundry and four saloons before he stumbled into one called the Board of Trade.

Not many noticed him, which was a good thing, but not many men crowded the tables, either. Then again, most were likely still digging or sweating or otherwise earning their wad. Guilt shoveled through him. He ought to be finding an occupation himself instead of lollying an afternoon away with a red-headed widow, and now, taking the edge off because of it.
The place was civilized, though. Tall dark paneled walls with a long horizon of mirror behind the bar.

“Take a seat, newcomer.” A somehow familiar face invited Bronx to a faro table. The voice wore a silky drawl, the hand tapped the chair next to him. “Welcome to this fine establishment.”

Bronx nodded, polite, for sometimes the impolite invited gun fighting. “Thanks but kindly. Not a gambling man,” he said, meaning it, despite eager for masculine company.

Instead of a red-headed widow.

“Well now, sit anyway. You look like a Kentucky bourbon man, if I may be so bold. My tab is yours.”

The brown mustache and smooth-cut hair. Many a wanted poster described just this face. Oh, and Bronx had studied them all for years, since turning outlaw at fifteen. Been both proud and terrified when his own face showed up on one. Recognition niggled like fleas. Then familiarity smacked him hard as legend became life. Asa’d been right.

“John Henry Holliday. You’re John Henry Holliday.” Bronx sank to the chair, out of breath like he’d been running fast on a hot day. The deadly dentist.

“Pleased if you’d simply call me Doc. So many already do. I’m charmed to meet you, I’m sure.” Doc Holliday raised an empty hand from his belt.

Bronx half rose and shook it, found his words. “Doc, then. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. Bronx. Bronx Sanderson.”

Pleased how easy his true name slipped off his tongue, Bronx relaxed against the hard back of the chair. Nodding at the barkeep for a second glass, Doc filled it up half.

Bronx raised it in a toast of sorts, while Doc Holliday studied him, careful, finally tapped a fingernail on his front tooth. Eyebrows clenched together over a fine-looking nose if Bronx might say so himself. But his neck twitched where his hair lay against it when Doc Holliday’s eyes narrowed.

“I’m recalling such a name from my Arizona days,” Holiday mused. “And yourself on a poster or two. Yet…I was led to believe…” He took a long drink. “…a man with your face and name died in a jail break in Prescott. Just hours before getting your neck stretched. It was a sad thing, dying just as one got free.”

For a flash, Bronx’s thoughts turned black at the momentous day. The jailer’s granny had believed in him, tucked the key in a cake. Seems like she’d spread a lie to keep him safe all the way through…

Bronx clenched his fists in disbelief. Who had she buried in his stead?

“You did not know?” Doc Holliday stared at him, thoughtful, like he was thinking many thoughts himself. “So you have been someone else. Someplace else. Four, five years now?”

Nodding, Bronx gulped a huge swallow. Shuddered as the raw brew struggled down his tight throat.

Doc burst into laughter. “So…how many know you’re back here? From whenever you came back from?”

“Uh, three. No, four including you and two ladies at the boarding house.”

“Well, if they’re proper females, they likely won’t suspect you have been a wanted man. And the improper ones, well. Likely they can be bought off.”

“I won’t be showing them my face, there.” Bronx huffed. “I need to save my coin. But truth is Doc, I didn’t kill the U.S Marshal. They were folks in Prescott out to get me.”

Doc grunted, amused, as his mouth touched his glass. “Always the same story, my friend. Never quite one’s own fault. But I won’t say a word. We’re a brotherhood of sorts, are we not?”

Updated: June 1, 2016 — 1:45 pm

The “Pinks” and Jesse James

Phyliss Miranda sig line for P&P BluebonnetHappy day after Memorial Day to all.  I’m out in California celebrating the high school graduation of one of my granddaughters, so I decided to rerun one of my very favorite blogs that I wrote long before I became a P&P Filly.  I hope you enjoy it!

In 1852, celebrated Chicago hero and former Deputy Sheriff, Allan Pinkerton, founded the first detective agency in the United States. Hated and feared by criminals, the Pinkerton Agency eventually became known as the “Pinks,” enjoying a colorful history, which included averting a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln on the way to his inauguration.

During the Civil War, Pinkerton had a flourishing career as head of the pinkerton_logoAmerican Secret Service. Adamantly opposed to slavery, he worked for the Union Army to trap southern spies. With his law enforcement agency, he garnered great success. His slogan “We Never Sleep” was painted on his door, along with a huge, black and white eye, resulting in the origin of the term “private eye”.

Said to have a third sense, Allan Pinkerton had an uncanny ability to allanpinkertonidentify guilty parties long before police investigators came up with a suspect. Although some thought he had mystic powers, he proclaimed it nothing but experience because he researched the habits and practices of not only specific criminals on the lam, but of the criminal mind in general.

By the late 1860’s his sons, William and Robert, joined him and opened branch offices in several cities. Predecessors to the modern day FBI, the agency focused on swindlers, confidence men, and other no-gooders plaguing the big cities and little towns of America. Their field agents clipped newspaper articles and pictures, organizing them in categories. By the 1870’s, they had the largest collection of mug shots in the world and became a data base of criminal activity, leading to the FBI identification system used today.

jesse2As the New Frontier spread west, so did the “Pinks”, chasing outlaws like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and “Black Jack” Ketcham, but it was the infamous outlaw Jesse James who, for a short time, created scandal and bad publicity for Pinkerton.

Until 1875, the agency held a stellar reputation that even some outlaws admired. But not the James brothers; Jesse, in particular, had an intense dislike for Allan Pinkerton. For years, the renegade managed to outwit the lawman. “Old Man Allan” knew if he continued widening his network of men hunting Jesse and kept pressure on him, the cocky, wanted man would eventually panic and do something stupid.

On January 5th, two members of the James family were innocently attacked by a Pinkerton-led posse. Believing Jesse was hiding inside, the men surrounded a cabin near Kearney, Missouri. When he didn’t surrender, an iron torch was tossed inside. Jesse James’ mother was maimed and his handicapped stepbrother killed.

At this point, fact and fiction collide. Some scholars believe this sparked jesse1Jesse James’ path of retaliation, taking him to Chicago for only one reason…to kill Allan Pinkerton. As the story goes, for weeks the outlaw roamed the city’s streets with a loaded gun. Inside was a bullet with the name “Pinkerton” on it. But the famous detective never knew James was in town. Being frustrated and unable to get Pinkerton at the right time and right place, James returned home. This tale has never been substantiated.

For certain, the incident involving James’ family strengthened the outlaw’s position of being viewed by some as a modern-day Robin Hood fighting the wealthy Yankee bankers and rail men tooth and toenail. Well into the 1870’s many Missourians were still riled that, in their opinion, the North had won the war. The “Pinks” were considered the tools of the tycoons. The atrocities against the gang’s family only fueled support for them. Allan Pinkerton staunchly denied that one of his agents tossed the torch and patiently waited his turn to take Jesse into custody.

As history would have it, the gang eventually got overconfident, made pinkagentsmistakes, and lead by Jesse ventured from their beloved south to hold up a bank in Northfield, Minnesota. They found a less sympathetic public, meeting with savage resistance. Because the Pinkertons had sent information in advance that the James Gang, which by then included three of the renegade Younger brothers, was heading north, the town’s citizens were prepared. Caught in a hellish barrage of bullets, the outlaw band withered. Several of the gang were captured. Wounded and bloody, Jesse and Frank escaped, but it was the beginning of the end for them.

On April 3, 1882, after another robbery and with a bounty on his head, one of Jesse’s own gang shot him. Two years, after writing eighteen books, Allan Pinkerton died in his Chicago mansion.

I’ve been asked why I decided my hero in “Ropin’ the Wind” in our anthology Give Me a Cowboy released in 2009 would be a Pinkerton Agent. I wanted a different kind of law enforcer. When you read a western historical romance you are pretty much guaranteed there will be somewhere a mystical, reputable Texas Ranger or a tough-as-leather-strop sheriff. You expect one, just like horses and sagebrush. I wanted someone unique; thus, out of my imagination and research surfaced a citified, undercover Pinkerton Agent with a Texas background. It was so much fun to once again partner with one of the founding fillies of Petticoats and Pistols, Linda Broday, along with Jodi Thomas and the late DeWanna Pace to write the anthology, “Give Me a Cowboy.”

I have to admit a Texas Ranger turns my head, even a modern day one. That’s why I cast my “Pink’s” Achilles ‘ heel a rebel-rousing, retired Texas Ranger. There’s just something about a fearless Ranger that ladies love, but I was sure happy how different my hero, Morgan Payne, turned out in “Give Me a Cowboy”.

What kind of cowboy turns your head and wiggles into your heart?

 

To one lucky reader who leaves a comment today, I will

send you a Bath and Body Works Gift Certificate

or you  can choose one of my eBooks at Amazon.com.

Watch for “Out of a Texas Night” coming in the fall.  It’s the second in the

Kasota Springs Contemporary Series and follows some of the families

from “Give Me a Cowboy” several generations later.

 

Updated: May 30, 2016 — 10:33 pm

Jane Porter: Life with the Alpha Hero

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We’re heading towards Valentine’s Day and I’m in the thick of writing my next, and final, Taming of the Sheenans story, set in Marietta, Montana and I love this series because it celebrates tough rugged men and equally strong women.

The series started with five brothers that grew up together on the Sheenan ranch in Paradise Valley and each of the brothers (including the lost brother, Shane, that shows up this April) is a true alpha hero.

American actors Robert Redford (left) and Paul Newman in a still from the film, 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,' directed by George Roy Hill, 1969. (Photo by 20th Century Fox/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

American actors Robert Redford (left) and Paul Newman in a still from the film, ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ directed by George Roy Hill, 1969. (Photo by 20th Century Fox/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

An alpha hero is my favorite hero to write, and read. He isn’t defined by money or success. He might be powerful and successful, but that’s not what sets him apart.

 

What makes him riveting reading is that he is almost always a masculine, primal male. He doesn’t need to be rich, but he must have the means to provide for his woman. And he can and will, because he is strong, mentally and physically.

But alpha males are not perfect. They make mistakes…maybe even more than other men…and that’s because they take risks and they aren’t quitters and they refuse to walk away from a fight where something important is at stake.

john-wayne-movie-poster-1971-1020222804These heroes may have painful pasts, too, and because they’ve had to overcome challenges and tragedies, they can be overly confident. Possibly arrogant.

But when they love, oh how they love. Once an alpha hero finds his match…his mate…he will never be content with another woman.

I adore reading and writing alpha heroes because they sizzle and are sensual in bed (whether they seduce the heroine before marriage or wait til after), but he’s complex, and he demands more from his woman. He doesn’t want a doormat. He wants an equal, and he’s going to demand a lot from his woman. Maybe even in bed.

UnknownA great alpha hero must know how to satisfy a woman. He must focus on her, and focus on her pleasure, ensuring she is going to have the most sensual, satisfying experience of her life. He’s a man that’s gifted in foreplay, and can, and will, put her needs before his.

Readers that enjoy love scenes, want to read love scenes where the hero does satisfy the heroine…but not just sexually, emotionally, too. A great love scene requires connection and time. In real life people are rushed and tired and there might just not be enough foreplay, but in a romance novel, the hero better make sure he has endless time and energy to please his woman.

4343437733_remembering_paul_newman_photos_02152009_43_820x1003_answer_3_xlargeAnd thank goodness this same hero doesn’t ignore his ranch responsibilities. We don’t read about him leaving his socks or boots all over the bedroom. His dirty Wranglers aren’t crumpled on the bathroom floor. His truck isn’t filled with junkfood wrappers. Even better, he always takes care of the livestock and the chores so that she doesn’t have to pick up his slack. No, the great alpha hero in our western romances is concerned about making life better for her. He isn’t there to make life harder, but easier.

images-1I love that.

I love that in a romance, we get a man who wants and needs his woman, but doesn’t want her trapped in the laundry room, or the kitchen.

Heaven.

Do you have a favorite type of hero? What makes him special? I’d love to hear what kind of man makes you swoon! (He can be real or fictional!)  Leave a comment for a chance to win a $15 gift card from Amazon!

TheTycoon'sKiss-SMALLWinner announced on the 10th!

PS: In case you’re interested in catching up with my Sheenan Brothers, Book 2, The Tycoon’s Kiss is on sale for .99 until Feb 8th so be sure to get your download soon!

 

Updated: February 3, 2016 — 12:02 am

Jailbreak!

MargaretBrownley-header

The hero in my current work in progress is in jail and needs to escape or he’ll soon be keeping company with the daisies.  The question is how? As usual, whenever I have a plotting problem I hit the books. Much to my surprise my research showed that escaping jail was no big deal in the Old West.

There was a good reason for this. Jails were often built in a hurry and were flimsy affairs. Adding to the problem, towns didn’t have the money to hire jail guards. One California jail was so poorly built that prisoners were put on their honor not to escape.

The way prisoners escaped varied and, in some cases, were even laughable. Dynamite was used on occasion, but was seldom necessary. Some prisoners simply walked out of unlocked cells. Others, like a man in a Yuma jail, wiggled the bars loose in a window.

AG jailArroyo Grande’s wooden jail house was the object of scorn and breaking out was somewhat of a town joke. On several occasions prisoners skipped town taking along the iron chains that were meant to hold them prisoners.

Roy Bean (yes, that Roy Bean) supposedly escaped a San Diego hoosegow by using a jackknife to cut through soft mortar. Bean went from escapee to the colorful judge known as The Law West of the Pecos.

Ten men escaped the Tombstone jail while the guards were having supper. They simply dug a hole in the wall and jumped fifteen feet to the ground.

Billy the Kid escaped from the Silver City prison through a chimney.

San Francisco’s first jail was a flimsy log structure built around 1846. John Henry Brown, editor of the California Star, wrote in ACTUAL EXPERIENCE OF AN EYE-WITNESS, FROM 1845 TO 1850: “One night a man, by name of Pete, from Oregon, was put in the Calaboose, for having cut the hair off the tails of five horses and shaved the stumps. As Leavensworth (the Alcalde) did not send him his breakfast, he called on Leavensworth at his office, with the door of the Calaboose on his back, and told him if his breakfast was not sent up in half an hour we would take French leave. Leavensworth sent his breakfast.”

jail treeWickenburg, Arizona didn’t have a jailhouse. Instead, prisoners were chained to a large Mesquite tree until they could be transported out of town. No one ever escaped the tree. However, so many prisoners were once chained to the boughs, there was no room for more.

Out of necessity one criminal was tied to a nearby log. He got sick of waiting, so he picked up the log and walked to the closest saloon.

One woman escaped jail with nothing more than her feminine wiles. After stagecoach robber Pearl Hart slipped out of Sheriff Wakefield’s supposedly secure jail, she boasted “he fell in love with me.”

Jailbreaks were so prevalent that New Mexico governor Lionel Sheldon declared that “escapes are as easily made as from a paper bandbox.”

Not all jailbreaks were successful, of course, and some escapees were either shot dead or caught a few days later. But many did manage to get away. Out of those who were caught, some went on to escape again and again.

More Love and Laughter from Margaret Brownley

Margaret’s story The Nutcracker Bride: He’s a Texas Ranger and she just shot him!

12brides of Christmas

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Updated: September 20, 2015 — 6:58 am

The Fake Ghost Who Started a Real Religion

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Once upon a time in a farmhouse in Hydesville, New York, there lived two sisters who loved to scare family and friends with their vivid imaginations. One day in late March 1848, the girls told a neighbor about spooky happenings in their bedroom. Eager to disprove the girls’ claims that the ghost of a murdered traveling salesman inhabited their home — a tale with which they’d already terrified their mother — the neighbor accompanied fourteen-year-old Maggie Fox and her eleven-year-old sister Kate into their bedroom … where the neighbor, too, was dutifully terrified by the apparently sentient wall-rapping in response to the girls’ questions.

The old fox cottageThus began a religion known as Modern Spiritualism, which is still practiced today.

After having their worst fears seemingly confirmed, the Fox family abandoned the farmhouse, sending Maggie and Kate to live with their older sister, Leah Fox Fish, in Rochester, New York. That may not have been the wisest decision. Rochester was a hotbed of religious activity. Mormonism and the movement that later became Seventh Day Adventism both saw their genesis in the Rochester area.

Upon hearing the tale of the murdered salesman and the unearthly sounds, a group of Rochester residents examined the Fox homestead and found strands of hair and bits of bone in the basement. At a subsequent community meeting, the girls were put to the test: Could they communicate with the dead in Rochester, too?

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The Fox sisters: Left to right: Leah (1814–90), Kate (1838–92), and Maggie (1836–93)

The girls proved they could by summoning raps on the floor. In addition, Leah seemed to communicate with one community leader’s deceased daughter. All three Foxes were escorted into a private room after the demonstration, where they disrobed and were examined for any hints of duplicity. None were found.

Word of the sisters’ uncommon abilities reached Andrew Jackson Davis, later to become known as “John the Baptist of Modern Spiritualism.” Davis claimed to have received a Divine message on the very day the Fox sisters first channeled spirits on the family farm. In response to the dreary Calvinist teachings of the day, people could not wait to adopt a new spiritualism that taught each individual was the master of his own salvation. The spirits of those who had passed on were there to guide them to their ultimate fate, as they, in turn, would guide those who came after them.

The Fox Sisters embarked on a tour of New England and the Midwest, demonstrating their abilities to notables including newspaperman Horace Greeley, author James Fennimore Cooper, and abolitionist William Cullen Bryant. Many accused the girls of perpetrating a hoax, but a growing number of people, convinced by the knocking and apparent communication with dead relatives, embraced the Spiritualist movement.

In 1857, Maggie married explorer Elisha Kent Kane, a man thirteen years her senior who, though he reportedly loved her to distraction, insisted she was a fraud. He died an untimely death shortly after the wedding. Maggie began drinking heavily and abandoned Spiritualism to honor his memory. Kate married a devout Spiritualist leader and continued to develop her skills as a medium, including the use of blank cards upon which messages from the Beyond seemed to appear magically. Among the hazy apparitions she allegedly summoned was Benjamin Franklin’s.

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The Fox sisters demonstrate their ability to levitate a table (1850).

By the end of the Civil War, more than two million believers had converted to Spiritualism; by 1880, adherents grew to more than eight million.

In 1888, Maggie received $1,500 to tell her story in front of a large audience at the New York Academy of Music. By then doing her best to live a life of sobriety, Maggie confessed to the hoax that started the mass hysteria.

“My sister Katie and myself were very young children when this horrible deception began,” the New York World reported. “At night when we went to bed, we used to tie an apple on a string and move the string up and down, causing the apple to bump on the floor, or we would drop the apple on the floor, making a strange noise every time it would rebound.”

The sisters soon discovered they could manipulate their knuckles, toes, and other joints to make a variety of unusual sounds. Maggie demonstrated by removing her shoe, placing her foot on a small stool, and producing “rapping” noises

“A great many people when they hear the rapping imagine at once that the spirits are touching them,” Maggie said. “It is a very common delusion. Some very wealthy people came to see me some years ago when I lived in Forty-second Street, and I did some rappings for them. I made the spirit rap on the chair and one of the ladies cried out: ‘I feel the spirit tapping me on the shoulder.’ Of course that was pure imagination.”

Spiritualists quickly split on the matter, one camp saying Maggie was a true medium who had been consumed by spirits intent on deceiving humanity, and the other claiming she had sold out her religion because, as a poor widow, she needed the money.

Fox1

The Fox sisters conduct a seance in New York (ca. 1855)

Leah, a popular medium in New York City, disowned her younger sister. Kate hit the bottle with increasing frequency and enthusiasm. The sisters never reconciled, even after Maggie recanted her confession a scant year after she embarrassed the family.

Leah, embittered by her sister’s betrayal, died in 1890. Kate died two years later while on a drinking binge. Maggie followed eight months later, in March 1893. Later that year, the diverse Spiritualist groups came together to found the National Spiritualist Association, the forerunner of the National Spiritualist Association of Churches, which exists today.

Postscript: In 1904, a group of children discovered what appeared to be a skeleton among the ruins of the abandoned and crumbling Fox homestead. A doctor who examined the bones estimated they had been in the basement for about fifty years. Although the find lent some credence to the Fox sisters’ tale about the murdered salesman, the media and society at large continued to scoff at Spiritualists.

Five years later, another doctor examined the bones and pronounced them a clear attempt to defraud. The alleged skeleton was composed of bits and pieces from several bodies, including those belonging to chickens and other animals.

The Fox homestead burned to the ground in September 1955. A marker now stands on the spot where Modern Spiritualism was born:

Upon this site stood the Hydesville Cottage
The home of the Fox Sisters
Through whose mediumship communication
with the Spirit World was established
March 31, 1848
THERE IS NO DEATH
THERE ARE NO DEAD

 

The dearly departed who refuse to depart cause problems for the hero and heroine in “Family Tradition,” one of two related stories that compose Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts. The book releases Friday, but it’s available for pre-order now at Amazon.com.

 

RBSH_3D_200x300_shadowEveryone 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?

Have you ever encountered a ghost? Tell us about it in the comments! I’ll give an E-BOOK of Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts to one of today’s commenters.

 

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