Category: Research

The Pathfinders – James P Beckwourth


James Beckwourth

Born a slave, freed by his master/father when he was 26 years old. Mighty nice of his father to release his son from slavery, huh? By all accounts though, the father was good to the son, taught him to hunt and fish, found an apprenticeship for him, and was genuinely a father to him.

The year he received his emancipation papers, In 1824, Beckwourth joined up with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and headed with an expedition to explore the Rocky Mountains.

A story told by a trapper, in 1825, told of Beckwourth being born to the Crow Indians then stolen by the Cheyennes. Thus began a life so full of tall tales—many of them told by Beckwourth himself—that it’s long been hard to separate fact from fiction. A truth that applies to almost all mountain men as they often had their legend doctored up by the press and by dime novels celebrating them.

That same year, Beckwourth claimed to be captured by the Crow. Another version of this story is he was mistaken as the kidnapped son of a Crow chief and taken into their tribe.

Beckwourth embraced this lore by dressing as a Crow and he soon married the daughter of a Crow chief. By his own account he had four wives. He remained with the tribe for about ten years and rose to the position of Chief, a very powerful and respected man.

And then he went back east and joined the army and took part in the Seminole War, that lasted about five or six years. Then he went to California, then part of Mexico for a few years until a war broke out and he returned to the United States and went back to work for the Army.

James Beckwourth, Crow Chief

And then the California Gold Rush began. Did Beckwourth go and dig for gold? Nope. He opened a store. It was always said that the store owners were the ones who really got rich most reliably in a gold rush.

During the gold rush years Beckwourth worked as a Store keeper, professional gambler, rancher, hotel keeper, and (YAY!) author

One long winter a judge named Thomas Bonner stayed in a hotel in the town near where Beckwourth was ranching, in a town that became Beckwourth, California. During those cold evenings, Beckwourth told Bonner his life story.

It was published in 1854 as The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth: Mountaineer, Scout and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians. Many believe the book is little more than tall tales but there is a look at those days and Beckwourths adventures in it. And the book helped etch Jame Beckwourth in history. The book is still available for sale today on Amazon and I’ve got a ecopy! $0.99!

A particularly interesting fact about this book…though there were many books about mountain men, this is the only one in existence narrated by the mountain man himself. All the books about Kit Carson and John C Fremont and others were written by others while the men the books were about had no idea the book was even published.

 

 

 

Beckwourth Trail, note Reno as the right. This pass is the current route of California State Highway 70, and a branch of the Union Pacific Railround

 

Also during this time the lifelong adventurer did his most well remembered pathfinding. In 1850, Beckwourth discovered what came to be called Beckwourth Pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountain chain. And this discovery is what brought Beckwourth to my attention and set me to researching him. My upcoming series, High Sierra Sweethearts, takes place along this pass.

Beckwourth didn’t just discover a way through those rugged mountains. In 1851, he improved a Native American trail that began near Pyramid Lake and the Truckee Meadows east of the mountains, climbed to the Beckwourth Pass, went along a ridge between two forks of Feather River, and passed down to the gold fields of northern California. The trail spared the settlers and gold seekers, about 150 miles and several steep grades and dangerous passes—including it bypassed the Donner Pass (whew!). This was about four years after the tragedy of the Donner Party

James Beckwourth died at near age 70, while leading a military party to the Crow Tribe in Montana. A tough, adventurous pathfinder to the end.

He has been immortalized with a Postage Stamp and also makes an appearance, slightly altered, in the TV Miniseries Cenntenial and the movie Revenant includes a fictionalize mountain man in the image of James Beckwourth.

 

Updated: June 14, 2017 — 12:55 pm

Time Enough for Locks

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

tumbler lock

Rendering of an ancient tumbler-style lock.

For as long as there have been haves and have-nots, the haves have sought ways to secure their valuables. History no longer remembers the inventor of the first lock, but invention of the first key is attributed to Theodore of Samos in the 6th century B.C., which leads to the suspicion locks have been around at least that long. In fact, crude locking mechanisms dating to about 2,000 B.C. have been found in Egyptian ruins.

The first devices resembling what we know today as door locks were discovered in the palace of Persian king Sargon II, who reigned from 722 to 705 B.C. They were large, clumsy devices made of wood. Nevertheless, they served as prototypes for contemporary security devices.

The first all-metal locks, probably made by English craftsmen, appeared between 870 and 900 A.D. in Rome. A row of bars of varying length, called tumblers, dropped into holes drilled through the horizontal bolt securing a door or gate. Only the person who possessed a metal bar fitted with pins corresponding to the tumblers could shove the bars upward through the holes, thus freeing the bolt.

Bodie Bank in Bodie, California, mid-1870s

Bodie [California] Bank’s vault, mid-1870s (photo by Dick Rowan, National Archives and Records Administration)

No great advancements in lock technology occurred until about the 14th century A.D., when locks small enough to carry appeared. Traveling tradesmen used the so-called “convenient locks” to secure their money and other valuables.

Although padlocks were known to the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, the first combination lock didn’t appear until the 18th century. Until 1857, most banks used combination locks of some kind to secure their vaults. The secret to combination locks was to create complex series of letters and numbers that would frustrate anyone who tried to disarm the mechanism. The code for the combination lock securing the safe in the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington D.C., for example, required a lengthy series of letters and numbers that provided 1,073,741,824 possible combinations. Because cracking the code by systematically running through all the possible combinations would require 2,042 years, 324 days, and 1 hour (barring a lucky guess), the lock was considered burglar-proof.

Nye & Ormsby County Bank, Manhattan, Nevada, 1906

Vault among the ruins of the 1906 Nye & Ormsby County Bank in Manhattan, Nevada. The bank crumbled (literally and figuratively), but the vault survived.

Soon enough, enterprising criminals figured out combination locks had an Achilles heel: Robbers could hold a bank employee at gunpoint and demand he or she dial in the correct code.

In 1873, James Sargent invented what he called a theft-proof lock. The device combined a combination lock with a timer that would not allow the safe to be opened until a certain number of hours had passed, even if one knew the combination.

By the late 1870s, theft-proof locks were de rigueur in banks all over the U.S. Though they weren’t quite unbreakable — dynamite trumps almost any security measure — theft-proof locks thwarted more thieves than any previous mechanism.

 

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Welcome Guest – Maggie Brendan!!!

While I was writing Trusting Grace and beginning to develop the character of my heroine’s ailing father, it was as if God himself intruded into the sub-plot development with His own idea and what I was about to type totally changed. You know, it’s been said that a piece of an author finds its way into their writing subconsciously. Either way—in my proposal, I had the ailing father suffering from a stroke, but when I began to write about his symptoms it seemed God had other ideas in mind so I went with it. Who wouldn’t when the creator of the world wrote His love story to us?

The centerpiece of my historical romance story is about learning to trust and about finding love again for my heroine and hero who were both widowed. It speaks to the depth of how their characters faced trials through dependence on God. However, as the sub-plot eked onto the page, I finally acknowledged that I would need to do a little research before I went any further—something I hadn’t intended to do. To give you a little background—for five years my husband has suffered from a chronic and rare disease, CIDP, Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy. It was clear God wanted me to make CIDP the heroine’s father’s illness and not merely a stroke. Could that have even been a possibility during this historical time frame of 1866? I laughed. I rather doubted it, but to my complete surprise I found that CIDP had its beginning as Multiple Neuritis discovered by Robert Graces in 1843 when little was known about the disease. I also found that some experts believe Franklin D. Roosevelt may have suffered from CIDP instead of polio. Wow, God! You knew all along. I smiled and went back to writing.

So what only started out with a story of love and loss for the hero and heroine also became a story of a father/daughter relationship battling illness with lovingkindness and the resilience of the caregiver, my heroine, Grace. It’s very true that God gives us more grace than we deserve, but even more so when we are facing huge battles whether it is death, illness, loss of love, job, financial or spiritual crisis. It was no mistake that three years before when I sent this series proposal to my editor, I called my heroine Grace.

One thing I’ve always enjoyed while writing was the research and it’s easy to get lost in it. So for all you historical writers of the West, when a random or crazy plot line you think couldn’t possibly work for your story, dig deeper into your research. Hopefully, you’ll be wildly surprised as I was and can add that to your novel.

If my story of love, hope, trust and restoration can help anyone who is a widow or have a spouse with a chronic illness help lift their spirits and give them insight, then I’ve written what I was supposed to write.

I’m giving away a copy of Trusting Grace-only in the US, please-for those who comment. The winner will be randomly selected by Petticoats and Pistols.

Have you been a caregiver for an ailing family member? What was the biggest challenge, and how did you overcome?

A Contest . . . A Discount . . . And a Research Trip to the Deli

You just never know what you might find at the local WalMart deli. On Sunday, I went in to do my weekly grocery shopping and patiently waited my turn at the deli counter. A nice man was assisting several customers, of which I was the last. I asked for a pound of thinly sliced Virgina Ham, and what I got was a research gold mine.

First, this gentleman told me that the meat was technically Virginia Smoked Ham, though they just added a little flavor to it these days instead of smoking it to preserve it like they did back in the day – letting it hang in a smoke house for months and carving off pieces as they needed. He apparently grew up in a small Virginia town in the 1960’s that still had a mercantile. And one day when he was off exploring the woods as a kid, he smelled popcorn and followed his nose. It turned out he’d stumbled across a “shiner” making corn whiskey. The man had a shotgun and a dog, but our intrepid deli man was not afraid. He’d been reading up on the art of making moonshine in the Foxfire books, you see.

To learn more about the Foxfire project, click here.

What are the Foxfire books, you might ask? Well, they are a series of books chronicling the lost arts of survival in the wild as revealed by the residents of Appalachia who preserved this historic way of life by being closed off from the rest of the world. Well, as soon as I got home with my lovely deli ham, I had to look these books up. Sure enough, first published in 1972, The Foxfire Book set to paper everything you need to know about hog dressing, log cabin building, soap making, basket weaving, planting by the signs, preserving foods, making butter, snake lore, hunting tales, faith healing, and–you guessed it–moonshining.

My research brain quickly began taking notes. What a treasure trove of concrete knowledge for a historical writer! Apparently the first Foxfire book was so popular, they came out with 11 additional volumes covering such topics as: wagon making, banjos and dulcimers, hide tanning, springhouses, horse training, wood carving, knife making, cheesemaking, ironmaking, blacksmithing, flintlock rifles, bear hunting, cucumber dolls, wooden locks, shoemaking, and water-powered sawmills just to name a few.

Who knew that visiting the deli would uncover such research riches?

No Other Will Do On Sale!

The first book in the Ladies of Harper’s Station series is on sale just in time to prepare you for the release of Heart on the Line (book 2) next month.

Emma and Malachi’s story is on sale for only $2.99 (or less – Amazon’s price has been as low as $1.99) for the entire month of May. Yay! Grab a copy or email a copy to a friend. It would make a great Mother’s Day gift, too. Instant delivery for less than the cost of a card.

Click here to download from Amazon. It’s available on Nook and all other digital retailers as well.

Fun Giveaway!

And that’s not all . . .

There’s another big giveaway going on with BookSweeps. Two of the Fillies are participating – me and Margaret Brownley. All you have to do to enter is follow us on either Amazon or BookBub. Pretty painless. I’m giving away my RITA nominated novella, The Husband Maneuver. All the books in this grouping are classified as Christian historicals.

The more authors you follow, the greater your chance of winning.

  • Grand Prize – Kindle Fire and all the books in the overall promotion (including the other categories of historical romance such as Regency, Scottish, American, etc.)
  • First Prize – All the books in the Christian Historical Romance category
  • Second Prize – $25 gift card to the book store of your choice

Click here to enter the contest.

  • So what is the strangest place you have ever learned something interesting?
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