Category: Wild West Research

The Great Die Up

Today I’d like to share information on The Great Cattle Die Up, an ironic take on the term ‘cattle round up’.

Cattle grazing on open range.

During the early 1880s, the summers on the plains of Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas had been wonderfully cool and winters had proven to be unusually mild, making it easy to feed livestock year around, thus lulling ranchers and beef speculators into a sense of false security. Cattle prices were high, and to increase profits, the ranges were overstocked and soon overgrazed. Beef prices started to fall and the summer of 1867 was unusually hot and dry, making it difficult to put up enough foriage to feed the stock in case the weather took a nasty turn…which it did.

It began to snow on November 13 and snowed every day for a month. The sparse food was hidden beneath the deep snow and the cattle, already in poor condition due to the summer drought, began to die. In January, the temperatures plummeted, perhaps as low as -63°F. A chinook came then, melting the top of the snow, then temperatures fell again, creating a hard crus on top of the deep snow. Stories tell of horses and cattle cut and bleeding from the knees down as they attempted to navigate the crusted snow. Cattle roamed into towns, bawling for food and eating shrubbery. Since little forage had been put up, ranchers had no choice but to watch their herds, their very livelihoods, starve and die.

By spring over 500,000 cattle—90% of the open range animals—had died. The carcasses covered the fields and clogged rivers and streams. The smell of rotting beef permeated the air.

Both small ranches and huge cattle companies declared bankruptcy. Thousands of cowboys were put out of work. Some ranchers tried to steal unbranded calves, leading to range wars. Ultimately, it was the end of open range in the area. Barb wire cut the range into smaller sections, changing the face of Montana ranching forever.

Teddy Roosevelt, prior to the Great Die Up had proclaimed cattle ranching “the pleasantest, healthiest and most exciting phase of American existence.” After the winter of 1887, he wrote to a friend, “Well, we have had a perfect smashup all through the cattle country of the northwest. The losses are crippling. For the first time I have been utterly unable to enjoy a visit to my ranch. I shall be glad to get home.”

Not a very happy story, but a true one that forever changed the face of ranching.

Lottie Deno, Lady Gambler

Do you know who Miss Kitty of Gunsmoke was created from? If you said the lady gambler, Lottie Deno, you’d be correct. Born Carlotta Thompkins on April 21, 1844 on a Kentucky plantation, she created quite a stir everywhere she went.

Her parents were very well-to-do and Lottie didn’t want for anything. At her birth, she was assigned a nanny from among the slaves—Mary Poindexter. She was a giant of a woman—7 ft. tall—and she accompanied Lottie everywhere she went. Nobody messed with big Mary.

Lottie’s father taught her to play cards and she became an expert. When he was killed in the Civil War, Lottie played cards to support her mother and younger sister. For a while, Lottie worked on the riverboats and gambling houses along the Mississippi. She was a vivacious redhead with sparkling brown eyes and could charm the pants off any man—and his wallet too. I love this woman!

In 1865 Lottie arrived in San Antonio and a year later was offered a job dealing cards at the University Club. She fell in love several times but stayed single until later meeting a half-Cherokee gambler named Frank Thurmond. He left town very suddenly after killing a man and soon after, Lottie followed.

Lottie rode into the rough town of Fort Griffin, Texas on a stagecoach. She sat out in the open right on the very top where she could see everything. She caused quite a stir. It didn’t take long to get a job at the Bee Hive Saloon. One night she and Doc Holliday played cards all night long and by morning she’d won thousands of dollars of Doc’s money. She also played with legendary Wyatt Earp and many other notables of the old West.

It was in Fort Griffin where Lottie got the Deno part of her name. One of the gamblers who’d lost to her hollered out, “Honey, the way you play your name should be Lotta Dinero.”

Once when a gunfight broke out inside the Bee Hive Saloon all the people fled except Lottie. She got under a table and waited. When they asked her why she stayed, she said she wasn’t about to leave her money and besides, they couldn’t shoot straight.

She separated herself from the violent population of Ft. Griffin by taking a shanty in what they called The Flats on the Clear Fork of the Brazos. She only left it only to visit the local mercantile and to go to work. But Lottie lost her heart to Frank Thurmond and followed him to Silver City, New Mexico where they married and opened two saloons, a restaurant and a hotel.

Lottie got involved in charity work, feeding newly released prisoners and giving them a place to stay.

She and Frank eventually moved on to Deming, New Mexico where they got out of the gambling business and settled down to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Frank became vice president of the Deming National Bank and helped found the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

In 1908, after forty years of marriage, Frank passed away. Lottie outlived him by 26 years until she, too, died and was buried next to Frank. Those who knew her said she maintained her laugh and good cheer to the end. I’d like to have met her. I’ll bet she was a lot of fun.

She and Frank became models for characters in a series of books by Alfred Henry Lewis. Miss Kitty owed everything about her characterization to Lottie Deno.

I think I would’ve been friends with her. She was bold and daring in a time when women were told what to do and how. I like her rebellious spirit, maybe because I’m a little rebellious also.

If you could sit down and talk to one of the larger-than-life characters from the old west, who would it be? I’m giving away a copy of TO LOVE A TEXAS RANGER (#1 Men of Legend series.) 

I’m so excited! I have a new release on February 7th–TEXAS REDEMPTION. This is a reissue of REDEMPTION (2005.)  It’s set in the swamps of East Texas four years following the Civil War. Brodie Yates and Laurel James are searching for redemption for things done in their pasts. Secrets abound–all threatening to come out. It’s a tale of two brothers who love the same woman. I’ll tell lots more about this in my next blog on release day, Feb. 7th. It’s available for preorder everywhere online.

Prairie Cold

I’m no stranger to cold weather. I was born in northern Idaho and I was there for the record cold temperature of -42°F in 1968. My dad was in college and we lived in a house with no insulation to speak of. My bedroom window, frame and all, would occasionally fall into my room if the front door was shut too hard and the nail holding it in wasn’t adjusted just right. I remember my mom putting so many blankets on my bed during that cold snap that once I was under them, I could barely move. The horses started running because of the cold and broke through the fence into the wheat fields. They had to be caught. Good times.

Cows coming in to drink -20F. 

 

Then I moved to northern Nevada, which is also very cold in the winter. On my daughter’s sixth birthday, we woke up to temperatures of -34°F. The pipes were frozen, the truck wouldn’t start. We had a birthday celebration booked at the local McDonald’s. Fortunately, my friend’s truck did start and she was able to pick us up and take us to the party while my husband dealt with hairdryers, heat tapes and engine block heaters.

This fall I moved to Montana. I thought I was ready for the low temperatures—the record so far has been -24°F—but I’d forgotten just how face-burning cold this place can be when one has to go outside a lot. It felt different than the Nevada cold, which made no sense, since we also had numerous below zero days there. A kid at the Mac store in Bozeman cleared it all up for me.  He mentioned that the cold must be a change. I assured him that we had cold weather in Nevada and he quickly said, “That’s desert cold. This is prairie cold.”

He’s right. Prairie cold is colder—which got me wondering about how in the world did the early settlers on the prairie–and I’m thinking the wind-whipped prairies with no mountains in sight–stay warm in those little cabins and sod houses with no wood to stoke the fires? The answer is cattle and buffalo chips and hay twists. The chips are, of course, dried bovine dung. The hay twists are bundles of dry grass twisted together. Both of these fuels burn hot, creating a lot of ash. The fire needs tended full time. One excerpt I read talked about one family member leaving the cabin with a bucket of ashes every time another came in with a load of fuel.

The following excerpt illustrates the ongoing battle of staying warm and cooking with cattle chips.

“Here is the rundown of the operations that mother went through when making baking powder biscuits. … Stoke the stove, get out the flour sack, stoke the stove, wash your hands, mix the biscuit dough, stoke the stove, wash your hands, cut out the biscuits with the top of a baking powder can, stoke the stove, wash your hands, put the pan of biscuits in the oven, keep on stoking the stove until the biscuits are done (not forgetting to wash the hands before taking up the biscuits).”

— From Western Story: The Recollections of Charley O’Kieffe,

1884-1898. Lincoln: U of N Press, 1960.

I am in awe of the men, women and children who weathered the prairie winters back in the day in order to build a better life. I’d like to think I’m tough enough to have endured, as my great-grandmother did, but I’m also very glad I don’t have to find out for real.

What about you? Do you think you could have handled a prairie winter in a cabin or sod house?

1876 Winchester “Centennial” Repeating Rifle

76-00912-01    Oliver Winchester bought the remains of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, started the New Haven Arms Company, reorganized it as the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in 1866, and manufactured some of the most famous firearms ever created. Today we’re going to look at one of their most revered rifles: The 1876 Winchester Centennial Repeating Rifle.

Introduced at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 and named to commemorate our nation’s one hundredth anniversary of independence, Winchester’s lever-action rifle was the largest and among the most powerful repeaters on the frontier.

The Centennial was one of the first lever-action weapons to use larger caliber, center-fire ammunition. In the same way that “rim-fire” meant the hammer struck the rim of the projectile, center-fire means the hammer strikes the center of the bullet when the trigger is pulled. In this case, larger means .45-75 to .50-90 caliber bullets.

The Centennial Repeater was 48½” long with a 28” barrel, and weighed in at 9 to 9½ pounds! And loading it with shells adds at least another pound. A gallon of milk weighs only 8.6 pounds–try holding that out in front of you and keeping it steady enough to hit what you’re aiming at!callout_1876cent_side_loading

The bullets go into the magazine through a spring-loaded feeder on the right side of the rifle. Fully loaded, the 1876 Repeater held 12 total cartridges–11 in the magazine and one in the chamber. All you had to do was stuff the bullets into the feeder, rack the lever and pull the trigger. Confederate soldiers who faced a Repeater in battle referred to it as that “rifle you load on Sunday and fire all week.”

This sturdy, reliable rifle was favored by good guys and bad guys alike. There were many of them at the Battle of Little Big Horn (most in the hands of the Native Americans), and they were common among those who traveled and settled out west.ringo1

The Model 1876 was carried by ranchers and cowboys, Texas Rangers and the Canadian North West Mounted Police. President Theodore Roosevelt owned and used one; even notorious outlaws such as Johnny Ringo (left) and Tom Horn relied on this rifle during the late 1800s.600px-cc16-crossfire_rafe-1876

Hollywood loved the 1876 Centennial Repeater, too. Tom Selleck carried one as Rafe Covington (right) in Crossfire Trail (TNT, 2001) and as Monte Walsh in Monte Walsh (2002). Virginia Madsen used the 1876 Centennial when she saved the day–and her man– also in Crossfire Trail. It made an appearance Steve McQueen’s hands when he played Tom Horn in the 1980 movie of the same name. And characters Johnny Ringo and Sherm McMasters used it in Tombstone (1993).

Just for comparison, the pic at the left600px-cc32-crossfire_1873-yellowboy-1876, from the final gunbattle in TNT’s Crossfire Trail, shows an 1876 Centennial in the back, an 1866 “Yellow Boy” or “Golden Boy” (because of the polished brass receiver) in the middle and a Winchester 1873 in the front.

The 1876 Centennial Rifle was the king of its day. Manufacturing was discontinued in 1898 after Winchester produced nearly 64,000 of this amazing lever-action rifle.

The Mighty Red River

Linda pubpixMen have fought rivers all the way back to Biblical days but none more so than the Red River that creates a natural boundary line between Texas and Oklahoma. It’s very long at 1,360 miles and can get very wide in places and is the southernmost major river system in the Great Plains.

Seasoned cattlemen and drovers of those trail drives feared and cursed the crossing as well as those living in towns along its length. It was a roaring, growling beast. The currents were unpredictable and fast moving and, especially when it flooded, you took your life in your own hands crossing it. Many people (and cattle) died in the attempt. The river demanded respect (and got it) and earned the name The Mighty Red. Quicksand also added to the danger.

It begins not far from where I now live in the Texas Panhandle and winds its way to the Mississippi River. It’s notorious for severe flooding even today, despite that the river usually doesn’t contain but a trickle of water. In an effort to control the flood damage, levees and dams were built along the length.

I always feel very sad whenever I drive across it now and see little or no water. I feel we’ve lost part of our history.

red-river-movieThis waterway has been the subject of many books and movies. Howard Hawks directed and produced the blockbuster Red River in 1948, starring John Wayne. It was filmed in Arizona and the San Pedro stood in for the Red River.

Tidbit: John Wayne gave the producers extensive advice about the possible location and logistical problems associated with making Westerns and insisted Howard Hawks hire real cowhands and trained stunt professionals instead of the amateurs he had lined up. The director ended up signing 70 real cowboys for the job. He also contracted to have dozens of horses represent the hundreds required by the story and about a thousand head of cattle at $10 per day each stand in for Dunson’s herd of 10,000. Wayne said once it was clear Hawks was taking his advice seriously and the budget would be increased, he agreed to do the picture.

Another tidbit: Most of the cattle were actually Herefords because they couldn’t find but about two dozen longhorns. They strategically placed the longhorns during the filming to make it appear the herd was comprised solely of these. And the 10,000 strong herd was actually only about a third of that. Camera angles and other tricks were used.

Joanne Dru was the author of the book Red River that they adapted this movie from.

Often a river, town or other place becomes a character. That’s the case with the Red River. I wrote a scene in Heart of a Texas Cowboy (Book 2 of Men of Legend) of Houston Legend driving 2,000 longhorns across it.

Do you know other rivers that cause big problems, maybe where you live? Comment to enter the drawing for one copy (print or ebook) of To Love a Texas Ranger.

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Our Guest Blogger, Tracie Peterson

Tracie Peterson is giving away a print copy of A Love Transformed to one lucky commenter. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow to see if…her winner is you!

tracie-peterson-author-photoAfter writing 110 books, most of which are historical in setting, I’m often called The Queen of Christian Historicals. Anybody who knows me, knows that historical research for my stories is important to me. I work hard for accuracy and sometimes that means getting my hands dirty to learn something I want my historical characters to do. In keeping with that I’ve learned to drive a stage coach, tat, make soap and candles, handle firearms, skin a deer, studied and use centuries old patterns for clothing and the list goes on. I once had a wanna-be writer say to me, “Why bother – it’s just fiction?” My response? Because it matters!me-spinning-1

Nothing ruins a story faster for me than an author who hasn’t bothered to do their research. For example, one book I read had characters on a railroad line that didn’t exist. It might have been okay to create a fictional rail line, but the author had a railroad in the west before railroads had been established. I read a story once where the hero and heroine were eating at a famous hotel restaurant – only the restaurant wouldn’t be a part of the hotel for another twenty years. It’s things like that that make me throw books against the wall. Of course, I realize many readers will never know the difference, but to me it’s a sacred trust we the author have with the reader to make the books as accurate as possible. It doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes. I make plenty, but we owe it to our readers to give our very best.

Recently, I decided to have a character who finds healing and consolation in working with sheep. She enjoys herding the sheep and then learns to card and spin wool into yarn and so I thought I should do the same. I found someone with sheep who also worked with the raw wool. The smelly stuff had to be washed, dyed and carded and so I learned all about that. Next, I found a wonderful woman who is a historical weaver and spinner. She taught me to spindle spin. My yarn wasn’t very even, but it was good enough to use in crocheting a hat.carding

Once I had spindle spinning under my belt, I found a friend who taught me to spin on a wheel. What fun! I found I really took to the process. I loved the feel of the wool in my hands and the methodic, relaxing process of sitting at and operating the wheel. I found it to be great time for prayer. Better still, it allowed me to be able to share the process in my story. Sure, I could have just plunked my character down at the spinning wheel and said “she spun” but I felt that knowing more allowed me to really bring that action alive.spindle-spinning-1

To me learning new things for the sake of the story is important, whether it’s new writing techniques or old day-to-day processes that kept a family alive and well. I love to talk to people who know their history and craft. To me one of the most important aspects of our job as writers is to weave history seamlessly into the story so that the reader finds themselves swept up in the time-period and lives of the characters. My favorite authors are those who can draw me into the story so completely that I feel like I’m there—right alongside the characters. Those are the very best stories of all. So if you ever wonder if the extra research is worth the effort—it is.

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Lady Killers

Kathleen Rice Adams header

The Wild West could be a dangerous place. If outlaws, gunfights, and Indian attacks didn’t do a body in, disease or injury very well might. For an unlucky few, danger emerged from an unexpected source: women with an axe to grind … literally.

Belle Gunness

Belle Gunness and her children

Lizzie Borden may have been the most infamous of America’s female killers, but she certainly wasn’t the only woman to dispose of inconvenient family, friends, or strangers. She wasn’t even the most prolific American murderess. That honor probably goes to Belle Gunness, a Norwegian immigrant suspected of killing more than forty people — including two husbands and several suitors — in Illinois and Indiana at the turn of the 20th Century. When authorities began investigating disappearances, Gunness herself disappeared … after setting up a hired hand to take the fall for arson that burned her farmhouse to the ground with her three young children and the headless body of an unidentifiable woman inside.

The shocking crime of serial murder seems even more chilling when the perpetrator is a woman. Cultural and biological factors encourage women to eschew physical aggression. Most women fight with words or, sometimes, by manipulating male proxies. Consequently, females seldom go on the kind of violent binges that characterize male serial killers. In fact, only about 15 percent of serial murderers in history have been women.

According to Canadian author, filmmaker, and investigative historian Peter Vronsky, who holds a PhD in criminal justice, when men kill, they employ force and weapons. Restraint of the victim often provides part of the thrill: Many male serial killers derive sexual gratification from the act of taking a life. Women, on the other hand, prefer victims who are helpless or unsuspecting: 45 percent of convicted female serial killers used poison to dispose of spouses, children, the elderly, or the infirm. Instead of a sexual high, their primary motivation was money or revenge.

The eight female serial killers below were active during the nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries in the American West. (Another half-dozen cropped up east of the Mississippi during the same period.)

Delphine Lalaurie

Delphine Lalaurie

Delphine LaLaurie

The volatile wife of a wealthy physician, Delphine LaLaurie tortured and killed slaves who displeased her. An 1834 fire at her New Orleans mansion revealed her depravity when a dozen maimed and starving men and women, along with a number of eviscerated corpses, were discovered in cages or chained to the walls in the attic. One woman had been skinned alive; another woman’s lips were sewn shut, and a man’s sexual organs had been removed. LaLaurie fled to avoid prosecution and reportedly died in Paris in December 1842. Years later, during renovations to the estate, contractors discovered even more slaves had been buried alive in the yard.

Mary Jane Jackson

A New Orleans prostitute with a violent temper, Mary Jane Jackson was a relative anomaly among female serial killers. Described as a “husky,” universally feared woman, she physically overpowered her adult-male victims. Nicknamed Bricktop because of her flaming-red hair, between 1856 and 1861 Jackson beat to death one man and stabbed to death three others because they called her names, objected to her foul language, or argued with her. Sentenced to ten years in prison for the 1861 stabbing death of a jailer-cum-live-in-lover who attempted to thrash her, 25-year-old Jackson disappeared nine months later when the newly appointed military governor of New Orleans emptied the prisons by issuing blanket pardons.

Kate Bender

Kate Bender

Kate Bender

A member of the notorious Bloody Benders of Labette County, Kansas, beautiful 22-year-old Kate claimed to be a psychic. In 1872 and1873, she enthralled male guests over dinner at the family’s inn while men posing as her father and brother sneaked up behind the victims and bashed in their skulls with a sledgehammer or slit their throats. Among the four Bender family members, only Kate and her mother were related, though Kate may have been married to the man posing as her brother. When a traveling doctor disappeared after visiting the Benders’ waystation in 1872, his brother began an investigation that turned up 11 bodies buried on the property. The Benders, who robbed their victims, disappeared without a trace. A persistent rumor claims vigilantes dispensed final justice somewhere on the Kansas prairie.

 

Ellen Etheridge

During the first year after her 1912 marriage to a millionaire farmer, 22-year-old Ellen Etheridge poisoned four of his eight children. She attempted to kill a fifth child by forcing him to drink lye, but the 13-year-old boy escaped and ran for help. A minister’s daughter, Etheridge confessed to the killings and the attempted murder, laying the blame on what she saw as her husband’s betrayal: He had married her not for love, but to provide an unpaid servant for his offspring, upon whom he lavished both his affection and his money. In 1913, a Bosque County, Texas, jury sentenced her to life in prison. She died in her sixties at the Goree State Farm for Women in Huntsville, Texas. (Note: Someone who claimed to be Ellen Etheridge’s grand-niece told me Etheridge did not die in prison but instead lived the rest of her life in Oregon with her sister, the speaker’s grandmother. I remain skeptical because the woman offered no proof except her word, but I thought I’d mention the discrepancy.)

Linda Burfield Hazzard

Linda Burfield Hazzard

Linda Burfield Hazzard

The first doctor in the U.S. to earn a medical degree as a “fasting specialist,” Linda Burfield Hazzard was so committed to proving her theories about weight loss and health that she starved at least 15 patients to death. In 1912, she was convicted of manslaughter in the case of an Olalla, Washington, woman whose will she forged in order to steal the victim’s possessions. Hazzard served four years of a two- to twenty-year prison sentence before being paroled in late 1915. She died of self-starvation in 1938.

Della Sorenson

Between 1918 and 1924, Sorenson killed eight family members to satisfy a twisted desire for revenge. Upon her arrest after an attempt to poison her second husband failed, she told authorities her niece and infant nephew, her first husband, her mother-in-law, two toddlers, and her own two daughters “bothered me, so I killed them.” She poisoned all of the children in the presence of their parents by feeding them cookies and candy laced with poison. A Dannebrog, Nebraska, jury declared the 28-year-old insane and committed her to the state mental asylum. She died there in 1941.

Lyda Southard

Lyda Southard

Lyda Southard

A serial “black widow,” Lyda Southard married seven men in five states over the course of eight years. Between 1915 and 1920, four of her husbands, a brother-in-law, and Southard’s three-year-old daughter — all recently covered by life insurance policies at Southard’s suggestion — died only months after the nuptials, apparently of ptomaine poisoning, typhoid fever, influenza, or diphtheria. Southard eventually was convicted of second-degree murder in the poisoning death of her first husband, earning her a ten-years-to-life sentence in the Old Idaho State Penitentiary. She escaped with the warden’s assistance in 1931, only to be recaptured and returned to serve another eleven years before receiving parole. After changing her name and divorcing three times, she died of a heart attack in 1958 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (At least she divorced her final three husbands instead of murdering them.)

 

Bertha Gifford and a six-year-old victim

Bertha Gifford and a six-year-old victim

Bertha Gifford

At the turn of the 20th Century, Bertha Gifford was known as an angel of mercy in Catawissa, Missouri. Not until 1928 did authorities discover her deadly ruse: The twenty to twenty-five sick friends and family members she took into her home and cared for between 1909 and 1928 all died of arsenic poisoning. Gifford was declared insane and committed to the Missouri State Hospital, where she died in 1951.

 

 

 

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Chasing Samuel Hawken by Claudette Greene

Claudette Greene in Buckskins

Claudette Greene in Buckskins

In 1972 the movie Jeremiah Johnson hit the big screen bringing with it an interest in the HAWKEN rifle, a gun that Jeremiah coveted and eventually acquired. This movie sparked considerable interest in owning a firearm of this sty le. Many companies in the muzzle-loading field quickly brought forth their rendition of a HAWKEN rifle. Not many people knew “HAWKEN” was the name of an actual man with a shop building rifles in St. Louis in the 1800’s. No, not many knew but there was one.

In 1960 after 20 years of military service my father opened a small gunsmithing shop on Whidbey Island in Washington state. I joined him in the business and began attending trade shows to see what was new in the firearms industry. On one such trip at a very large show I ventured down an isle and was surprised to see that among the men in sport coats and ties was a man in full buckskin attire.

Samuel Hawken

Samuel Hawken

He was standing in a booth amid racks of HAWKEN rifles with other men dressed in a similar fashion. The display tables were draped in buffalo skins with tomahawks, powder horns, knives and other accouterments set about. I felt as if l had taken a step back in time and was comfortable in the atmosphere it all created. Then I saw it, hanging high above it all, a sign that read The HAWKEN Shop. While talking with the men in the booth, I learned that these rifles marked HAWKEN really were HAWKEN rifles. These were not imitations, they were the real deal! I was hooked and the HAWKEN rifle was embedded in my mind. The HAWKEN rifle came about from a need of people moving westward for firearms capable of taking down game larger than the rabbits, squirrels, and deer they hunted in the east. Moving westward, they would encounter elk, bear, and bison. A larger caliber rifle would be in demand.  sam-1muzzleloading-pistol-and-powder-horn

I learned that in the 1970’s this buckskin clad man had brought the HAWKEN SHOP back to life. He was an estate buyer in St. Louis and had purchased what was left of the shop from the 1800’s. His plan was to once again offer these rifles to the general public. This he did. He took original parts from the rifles and had molds made to assure that rifles of current manufacture would be a continuation of those built in the 1800’s. With letters from HAWKEN descendants attesting to their authenticity, he made the HAWKEN rifle again available. Rifles from the HAWKEN shop were carried by such men as Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, and other mountain men of notoriety. HAWKEN rifles found their way across the prairie, they accompanied trappers upriver in their quest for furs, and traveled on wagon trains heading for the gold fields. The rifle being of sturdy build could come in handy as a pry bar to loosen your wagon should it bog down in the mud. The HAWKEN rifle is as steeped in history as the men who carried it.

claudette-greenes-gunshopIn the late 1970’s the proprietor of the HAWKEN shop experienced some personal difficulties, forcing closure of the shop, and it was again put into storage. The HAWKEN shop never totally left my mind, and I went in search to find it. In 1990 my partner and myself located the owner and purchased the HAWKEN shop and are again offering this historically correct rifle. We have traveled to museums, historical landmarks, and forts, following the trails of the mountain men. We continually strive to learn more of the man Sam Hawken and his rifle and continue efforts to preserve this part of our country’s history.

Claudette Greene is offering an historical board game she developed and sells in her store.  It involves several years of research and is about the Hawken muzzle-loading rifle and the mountain men that tamed the West. Leave a comment for a chance to win.

Updated: September 15, 2016 — 9:10 am

The Devil’s Rope Comes to Texas — and a Giveaway

Kathleen Rice Adams header

young longhorn

Longhorn cattle in the Texas Hill Country

Texas has seen a number of mass migrations since the Mexican government opened the territory to Anglo settlers in the 1820s, but perhaps none were as transformative as the influx that took place immediately following the Civil War. Carpetbaggers, footloose former Union soldiers, and dispossessed former Confederates all found attractive the state’s untamed rangeland brimming with feral cattle called longhorns. Many a man with nothing more than guts and grit built a fortune and a legacy by shagging longhorns from deep scrub and driving the tough, stubborn, nasty-tempered critters north to the railheads in Kansas and Nebraska. Others pushed herds to Montana and Wyoming to begin new lives where the West was even wilder.

Between 1866 and 1890, cowboys drove an estimated twelve million longhorns and one million horses north. A crew of twelve to twenty men could push a herd of 2,000 to 3,000 beeves about ten to fifteen miles a day, reaching Kansas railheads in three to four months.

The development of barbed wire in the mid-1870s — along with an incursion of sheepmen and farmers — put a crimp in the cattle drives by crisscrossing Texas’s wide-open spaces with miles and miles and miles of fence. To protect themselves and their herds from the yahoos who would use Texas range for something besides Texas cattle, wealthy ranchers strung wire around the land they owned or leased, often extending their fences across public land, as well. What once had been open range across which cowboys drove enormous herds of steak on the hoof became parceled off, causing no end of frustration and unfriendly behavior.

Fence-cutting began almost as soon as the first of the wire went up. Small confrontations over “the Devil’s rope” happened frequently, with wire-nipping taking place in more than half of Texas counties.

barbed wireIn 1883, the conflict turned bloody. Instead of merely cutting fences that got in the way during trail drives, bands of armed cowboy vigilantes calling themselves names like Owls, Javelinas, and Blue Devils destroyed fences simply because the fences existed. Fence-cutting raids usually occurred at night, and often the vigilantes left messages warning the fence’s owner not to rebuild. Some went so far as to leave coffins nailed to fenceposts or on ranchers’ porches. During one sortie, vigilantes pulled down nineteen miles of fence, piled the wire on a stack of cedar posts, and lit a $6,000 bonfire.

In response, cattlemen hired armed men to guard their wire…with predictable results. Clashes became more violent, more frequent, and deadlier. In 1883 alone, at least three men were killed in Brown County, a hotspot of fence-cutting activity, during what came to be known as the Texas Fence-Cutter War.

The bloodiest period of the Fence-Cutter War lasted for only about a year, but in that period damages from fence-cutting and range fires totaled an estimated $20 million — $1 million in Brown County alone.

Although politicians stayed well away from the hot-button issue for about a decade, in early 1884 the Texas legislature declared fence-cutting a felony punishable by a prison term of one to five years. The following year, the U.S. Congress outlawed stringing fence across public land. Together, the new laws ended the worst of the clashes, although the occasional fracas broke out in the far western portion of Texas into the early part of the 20th Century.

Texas Ranger Ira Aten

Texas Ranger Ira Aten

The Texas Rangers were assigned to stop several fence-cutting outbreaks, and being the Texas Rangers, they proved remarkably effective…with one notable exception. In February 1885, Texas Ranger Ben Warren was shot and killed outside Sweetwater while trying to serve a warrant for three suspected fence-cutters. Two of the three were convicted of Warren’s murder and sentenced to life in prison.

In 1888, a brief resurgence of fence-cutting violence erupted in Navarro County, prompting famed Texas Ranger Ira Aten to place dynamite charges at intervals along one fence line. Aten’s method was a mite too extreme for the Texas Adjutant General, who ordered the dynamite removed. The mere rumor of the explosive’s presence brought fence-cutting to a rapid halt in the area, though.

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Though Civil War battles left few scars on Texas, the war’s aftermath was devastating — and not just because barbed-wire fence appeared. Texas existed under federal martial law for five long years after the war ended, becoming the final member of the Confederacy to repatriate only under duress. During Reconstruction, lingering animosity led some of the occupation forces to plunder and terrorize their jurisdictions. Bearing their own grudges and determined to become an independent republic again, Texans demanded “the invading foreign army” remove its boots from sovereign soil. A U.S. Supreme Court decision finally ran the rebellious Lone Star State back in with the rest of the herd in 1870, at last reunifying a divided nation.

A Kiss to Remember

 

My newest story, The Trouble with Honey, takes place during Reconstruction in Texas: A marshal’s widow can escape a Union Army manhunt only with the help of an outlaw condemned to hang. The novella is part of the trilogy The Dumont Way, which begins a saga chronicling the lives and loves of a Texas ranching dynasty from before the Civil War to the turn of the 20th Century.

The Dumont Way is available in the five-author boxed set A Kiss to Remember. Three other Petticoats and Pistols fillies also contributed to the collection: Cheryl Pierson, Tanya Hanson, and Tracy Garrett.

 

Excerpt:

Boots meandered across the stone floor. The marshal’s snicker slapped Daniel between the shoulder blades. “Injun Creek hasn’t seen this much excitement in a month of Sundays. We’re planning quite a celebration for you.”

One of life’s great mysteries: Had Halverson been born arrogant, or had the skill required practice? “Always did fancy a crowd of folks looking up to me.”

Whistling, the marshal moved away. Daniel stared at the dingy clapboard across the alley. That wall wouldn’t present much challenge. This wall, on the other hand… A barrel of black powder and a lucifer would come in handy right about now.

He rested his forehead against the bars. Daisy would dig up his body and throw a second hemp party if he didn’t show up for the wedding.

The jailhouse door scraped open, and a swirl of fresh air tapped him on the shoulder. Fingering the tender crease running from his eyebrow to his hairline, he pivoted. If Halverson’s lucky shot hadn’t dropped him—

His fingertips stilled. So did his breath.

The marshal ushered in a voluptuous vision and lifted a tin plate from her hands. An abundance of golden hair, gathered in soft swirls at the crown, framed her head like a halo. Curls fell beside rounded cheeks.

“What’re you doing here?” Judging by the pucker in his tone, Halverson had eaten one too many sour apples. “Where’s that old drunk you insist on keeping around?”

“Henry hasn’t touched a drop in—”

“What? Twenty-four hours?”

The angel raised her chin. “He isn’t feeling well.”

Daniel drifted to the front of the cell and slouched onto the forearms he draped over a horizontal bar. The familiar voice… Nectar, fresh from a hive.

Gracing Halverson with a shallow smile, the buxom beauty tipped her head toward the plate. “Chicken and dumplings for your prisoner’s supper.”

Steam rising from the lump meant to be his meal carried a whiff of old socks. Daniel’s thoughts churned right along with his stomach. High point of the day: bad vittles. Now, the lady… She was downright mouthwatering.

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A Kiss to Remember is available exclusively on Amazon (free for those who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited). I’ll give an e-copy to one of today’s commenters who answers this question: If you had migrated to Texas after the Civil War, would you have settled in town or on a ranch or farm? Why?

Thanks for stopping by today! I’m looking forward to your comments. 🙂

 

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The Oldest Revolver in Existence

oldest-revolver_1If I asked you to name the maker of the oldest revolver in existence, who would you say made it? Colt? Smith & Wesson? You’d be wrong.

The oldest revolver know to exist in the world today was made in 1597 by German weapons blacksmith Hans Stopler and it is in the collection of the Maihaugen Folk Museum in Lillehammer, Norway.

The revolver belonged to Georg von Reichwein, a well-known officer who made his name defending Norway in the wars against Sweden in the early 1600s. Reichwein bought or received the revolver in 1636, according to the inscription on the gun stocoldest-revolver_3k, the year he was promoted to major and was put in charge of the forces stationed at the Bergenhus fortress in Norway. The gun is ornately decorated, with mother of pearl and engravings, so it’s doubtful it was meant for daily use.

Though it may be the oldest known revolver, it is definitely not the earliest one ever made, because the craftsmanship and sheer refinement of the weapon says it was built on well established conventions.

Like other guns of the era it is a flintlock, but instead of a single barrel and chamber, ioldest-revolver_4t uses a rotating cylinder with eight chambers and a fixed barrel. Each cylinder has a sliding cover to protect its flash pan and prevent chain fires — lighting up more than one charge at a time. That’s a bad thing!

The big difference in this revolver? It must be manually rotated! You point, pull the trigger, rotate the cylinder to the next chamber and repeat. According to the museum curator, the revolver was “made to injure other people. Not necessarily to kill, because in war at that time the most important was to injure other soldiers.”

Want to see a bit more?  Click here!

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