Category: Settings

Jane Porter: Historic Hotels of the West

TheTycoon'sKiss-SMALLI am a history buff with a weakness for historic buildings, and in particular, historic hotels.

My dad, a history and political science professor, passed his love of history to his kids and years after studying American Lit & History at UCLA, I went back and got a teaching credential so I could teach English and Social Studies to junior high and high school students.

Whenever I travel, I try to stay in one of the oldest hotels in a town, or one of those fascinating historic buildings that have been turned into a hotel today, preserving a bit of the past while making the building relevant for today’s generation.

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Hubert Howe Bancroft’s Historical Library ( 1883) was my inspiration for Marietta’s Library

In my Taming of the Sheenan series, my hero and heroine in The Tycoon’s Kiss, are both preservationists. Troy Sheenan, a hi-tech tycoon in the Silicon Valley, never forgot his roots in Marietta, Montana and has bought the turn of the century Graff Hotel and restored it to its former glory after the hotel had been abandoned for twenty plus years. Renovating the Graff has nearly bankrupt him, but he had to do it because the hotel was too big a part of Montana history to let it be demolished. Fortunately, he meets the new Marietta librarian, Taylor, who is equally passionate about Montana history, including the town’s 19th century library and my tycoon and book girl fall in love with each other in part because they both love Montana’s rugged history.

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The Grand Union Hotel in Montana which was the inspiration for my Graff

 

ACMFD-MEDIUMThinking back, I could have happily written an entire story just about American Frontier buildings, except I don’t think my romance readers would have been happy with me f I’d left out people and romance completely.

I’ve used Marietta’s Graff Hotel as a setting many of my Sheenan Brothers stories, but it plays a central role in my brand new release, A Christmas Miracle for Daisy.

In A Christmas Miracle for Daisy, single dad, Cormac Sheenan, and his four-year-old daughter Daisy are living at the Graff during the holidays while their Paradise Valley log cabin style home is being remodeled to make it ‘child-safe’. Cormac isn’t big on Christmas and festivities and Marietta has become Christmas town, with the handsome old Graff featuring daily visits with Santa Claus.

santapainting

Santa from 1900

My new Christmas story is a riff on Miracle on 34th Street, and so I don’t need to tell you the challenges everyone faces. Cormac is a non-Kris “Krinkles” believer, while Daisy knows without a doubt that Kris is the real thing. Santa needs to pull off a miracle but its not easy without magic and faith.

I loved using the Graff for a Christmas setting because I could fill the dark paneled lobby with a soaring fir tree, and put garland and red ribbons above doorways and add weekend holiday teas to the hotel’s restaurant menu. I also added another historic building to my Marietta, Montana collection with the addition of the turn of the century “Crookshank Department Store”, a big brick building on Marietta’s Main Street.   I’m also sharing a couple Pinterest links to boards featuring Marietta decked out for Christmas, along with the great turn of the century buildings I love so much:

https://www.pinterest.com/thejaneporter/a-christmas-miracle-for-daisy/

https://www.pinterest.com/thejaneporter/the-tycoons-kiss/

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 8.17.44 AM

This interior bar from the Montana Hotel in Anaconda, MT found its way into my Graff Hotel in fictional Marietta, MT

As you can tell, when researching, I spend considerable hours pouring over histories and pictures of my favorite old hotels of the West so I thought I’d share some of my favorite recommendations with you. I’ve been able to stay at each of these places, too, and am including a link so you can visit, either in person or as an armchair traveler…which sometimes can be the best way to travel!

Five of Jane’s Favorite Historic Hotels of the West

  1. The Grand Union Hotel – Fort Benton

http://grandunionhotel.com

http://grandunionhotel.com/about-hotel-history.htm

The historic Grand Union Hotel was opened in 1882, seven years before Montana became a state.   However, within a year two new railroads opened—the Northern Pacific and the Canadian Pacific Railroad to Calgary—and overnight the hotel and town declined.   Just two years after it was opened, the bankrupt hotel sold at a “sheriff’s auction” for $10,000. The hotel struggled on through the 20th Century, before closing in the 1980’s and then undergoing a multi-million remodel over a period of years before reopening in 1999, making the Grand Union Montana’s oldest operating hotel.

  1. The Davenport Hotel – Spokane, WA

http://www.davenporthotelcollection.com/our-hotels/the-historic-davenport-hotel/history/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Davenport_Hotel_(Spokane,_Washington)

Spokane’s 1914 Davenport Hotel is one of my favorite hotels in the West. It was built to be a destination spot where guests could escape from the noise and chaos of the outside world for the Davenport’s elegance and refinement. The hotel was nearly demolished in 2002 but saved at the last minute for an extensive renovation that has once again made the Davenport the place to go west of the Cascades.

  1. The Oxford Hotel – Denver, CO

http://www.theoxfordhotel.com

Opened to the public in 1891, the Oxford Hotel was built by Colorado brewer

Adolph Zang with the newest technology, and stunning grandeur with oak furnishings, silver chandeliers and frescoed walls. The newest technology meant that all guest rooms had rare creature comforts: steam heating, electric and gas lighting and bathrooms with separate water closets.   The hotel was updated a number of times over the next seventy-five years, but restored to its former glory in the 1980’s to the tune of $12 million.

  1. The Browns Palace Hotel – Denver, CO

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Palace_Hotel_(Denver,_Colorado)

http://www.brownpalace.com

Browns Palace Hotel is the second oldest hotel in Denver, opened just one year after the Oxford Hotel and name for its owner, Henry Brown. The hotel was designed around an atrium—one of the features I love best about this hotel—and features a gorgeous afternoon tea (my favorite thing to do when traveling…).

  1. The Sacajawea Hotel – Three Forks, MT

http://www.sacajaweahotel.com/history

The historic Sacajawea dates back to 1910 and was renovated one hundred years later, after spending almost a decade boarded up. Unlike the big city sandstone and red brick hotels, this is a white painted beauty in a small, rural community thirty miles outside Bozeman. I’ve been here several times, if not to overnight, then for a fantastic steak dinner in the hotel’s handsome dining room.   I could write an entire blog about Three Forks, MT as it factors hugely in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, as well as being a key stop on the Milwaukee Railroad.

FIELD_YOSE_19_Wawona-Hotel

(Plus one extra favorite from my childhood, The Wawona Hotel outside Yosemite, near the Mariposa Grove, a station stop in 1856 with rustic accomodations that were replaced in 1879 with the 25 room hotel. Just 90 minutes from my home in Visalia, the Wawona was a magical Victorian period two-story hotel with lots of crisp white paint and picturesque verandas overlooking the lawn. I could picture the horse drawn carriages at the turn of the century arriving with guests from San Francisco and Los Angeles. The hotel today has 104 guest rooms and has been operated by the Park Service since the 1930’s, and remains my first hotel love….with the Awahnee Hotel in Yosemite valley as a very close second! http://www.yosemitepark.com/wawona-hotel.aspx )

IMG_7686Do you enjoy staying in old hotels or visiting historic buildings?  Leave a comment for a chance to win this fun prize and I’ll be back to pick a winner on Sunday, the 6th of December!

 

 

 

 

Updated: November 22, 2015 — 6:08 pm

What C. J. Carmichael Loves About Montana

cj1I’m so happy to be visiting Petticoats & Pistols today. For the past five years my romance novels have focused on cowboys and ranch settings, specifically in my favorite state of Montana. Full disclosure here, I’m actually a Canadian, living on the border of the Rocky Mountains in Calgary, Alberta. But four years ago my spouse-to-be and I fell in love with a cottage on Flathead Lake, south of Glacier National Park in Montana, and the love affair has only grown since then. (For the guy and the cottage!)

Maybe this photo will help explain the appeal:

To get to this cottage Mike and I drive through some of the best ranching land in the world (stopping frequently so I can take photos).

cj2In fact the highway south of Calgary is called “The Cowboy Trail” and it leads almost the entire way to Montana. And the further south we go, the more beautiful it becomes.

See what I mean? So, loving Montana the way I do, is it any wonder when my friend Jane Porter called to invite me to write for a new publishing company she was starting (Tule Publishing) and suggesting we begin with a series of romances featuring cowboys in a fictional town in Paradise Valley Montana, that I said: Hell yes!cj3

It isn’t just the scenery in Montana that I love. It’s the emphasis on family, intrinsic to the cowboy way of life, the code of honor the men and women of the west live by, and their love and appreciation for their land and their animals. All of these qualities are wrapped up into the 6 book series that I’ve subsequently written for Tule. All is not sunshine for the Carrigans of the Circle C however. There are secrets that divide, family conflicts, painful losses and other obstacles along the path to love and forgiveness.

cj4

The latest book in this series came out this October. A Bramble House Christmas is about a grieving man and a lonely woman who travel to Marietta, Montana for the holidays…never expecting the magic they will find on they arrive. I love writing Christmas stories for many of the same reasons I’m drawn to cowboys and ranch settings. I appreciate the way we focus on home, family and hearth at that time of year. It’s the season to reflect on the things that are really important in life. At the end of each story, I strive to leave my readers with a smile on their face and a tear in their eye.

cj5

Thanks so much for inviting me to your blog to chat about what I love about Montana, westerns and Christmas romances. Now it’s time to hear from you. What do you look for when you pick up a Christmas romance? And do you love western settings as much as I do? I’ll be giving away an e-book copy of Snowbound In Montana and A Cowgirl’s Christmas to two random commenters.

p.s. On my website right now is a contest for a Kobo Glo HD. Please take the time to enter and to sign up for my newsletter if you’d like to hear about my future releases and reader giveaways.

Happy Reading!

CJ

Updated: November 3, 2015 — 8:24 am

The Ghosts of Galveston

Kathleen Rice Adams header

 

At only twenty-seven miles long and three miles across at the widest point, Galveston, Texas, is not a big place. Located about two miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico an hour south of Houston, the barrier island and tourist Mecca is home to 48,000 year-round residents.

At least, that’s the number of residents the most recent U.S. Census counted. Those who call Galveston home know the population is much larger, because a goodly number of the island’s dearly departed…well, never departed.

Bettie Brown

Ashton+Villa

1859 Ashton Villa
courtesy Galveston Historical Foundation

Built in 1859 by a wealthy hardware merchant, Ashton Villa is one of Galveston’s most striking museum houses. Miss Bettie Brown, the merchant’s eldest daughter, was quite the character during her lifetime. She never married, drove her own carriage, and smoked in public, scandalizing the community. She lived to a ripe old age and died in 1920…but that doesn’t mean she left the property. Today, she reportedly scandalizes tour groups by appearing in the Gold Room and her private dayroom, roaming the grand staircase, locking and unlocking one of her lavish trunks, stopping clocks, and playing the piano.

Clara Menard

menardatnight

1838 Michel B. Menard House
courtesy Galveston Historical Foundation

Also called “the Mardi Gras ghost,” the spirit that inhabits Texas Declaration of Independence signatory Michel B. Menard’s 1838 mansion is thought to be that of his daughter Clara, who died in her teens. According to legend, within the first few years after it was built, the house was the site of one of the first Mardi Gras balls in the country. During the festivities, a young woman slipped on the staircase, fell, and broke her neck. Ever since, the hazy figure of a young woman dressed in party regalia of the era has been seen standing at the foot of the stairs during Mardi Gras season.

 

Daniel Brister

1877 Smith Brothers Hardware Store

1877 Smith Brothers Hardware Store

In 1920, twenty-five-year-old police officer Daniel Brister attempted to stop a robbery outside the 1877 Smith Brothers Hardware Store. He had just handcuffed one of the perpetrators when the second one shot him in the chest. Though bleeding, Brister chased down and cuffed the second robber, too…only to die of his wound moments later. Brister seems to have become less upstanding in the afterlife. These days, he pinches women’s posteriors and breathes down their necks in the restaurant now located at the spot of his death. He also throws pots and pans in the kitchen.

Jean Lafitte

Jean Lafitte, artist unknown courtesy Rosenberg Library, Galveston

Jean Lafitte, artist unknown
courtesy Rosenberg Library, Galveston

The pirate Jean Lafitte built the first permanent structure on the island. All that remains of the 1816 smuggler’s refuge Maison Rouge, originally painted red and surrounded by a moat, is a crumbling foundation. The U.S. Navy chased the privateer off the island in May 1821, but Lafitte reportedly loved Galveston so much, he returned in 1823…after he was killed during a sea battle off the coast of Honduras. Legend holds the pirate buried a treasure beneath three oaks on the western end of the island. Treasure hunters never have found the loot, but several have reported encountering Lafitte—right about the time he chokes them.

Lovelorn Lady

1911 Hotel Galvez, courtesy Hotel Galvez

1911 Hotel Galvez, courtesy Hotel Galvez

Because of its location overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, the 1911 Hotel Galvez once was a favorite getaway for Frank Sinatra and several U.S. Presidents. The most famous guest of the “Queen of the Gulf” never checked out of Room 501. According to generations of hotel staff members, the lovelorn lady awaited her fiancé in the room. When his ship went down off the coast of Florida and he was not listed among the survivors, she hanged herself. Sadly, the fiancé showed up about a week later. These days the Lovelorn lady doesn’t confine herself to Room 501, although that seems to be her favorite haunt. She has been seen or felt throughout the hotel, wandering the halls, breaking dishes, turning on water faucets, slamming doors, and blowing out candles.

Capt. Marcus Fulton Mott

After serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, Marcus Fulton Mott became a prominent lawyer and state senator. He built a grand Victorian mansion in Galveston’s upscale East End in 1884. The home burned in 1925. Prominent businessman George Sealy Jr. subsequently built an 8,200-square-foot “summer retreat” on the site after acquiring the property in 1926. Although the existence of a cistern on the grounds has never been confirmed, Mott’s son may have murdered three women and thrown their bodies into the well—or at least that’s what Mott’s ghost has told people. Reportedly, he vowed never to leave until the women’s bodies are recovered. Reports of supernatural activity at the house have died down in the past two decades, but prior to the mid-1990s, the ghost at the Witwer-Mott House allegedly ordered people out of the home, threatened them, and threw mattresses across the room…while people were on them.

Point Bolivar Lighthouse Ghost

1872 Point Boliver Lighthouse, courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

1872 Point Boliver Lighthouse
courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

The original Point Bolivar lighthouse, built in 1850, was pulled down during the Civil War so the Yankees couldn’t capture the light and use it as a navigational aid. The new lighthouse, built in 1872, still stands, though it was decommissioned in 1933 and sold to a private individual in 1947. No one has been inside the 116-foot-tall structure for years, yet people—including Patty Duke and Al Freeman Jr., who filmed a movie there in 1970—have reported seeing a figure on the light deck at the very top. Some say the ghost may be that of a lighthouse keeper’s son who killed his parents at the scene. Others believe Harry C. Claiborne, who began a twenty-four-year, two-hurricane tenure as lighthouse keeper in 1894, was so devoted to duty that he still mans his post.

Samuel May Williams

1838 Samuel May Williams House courtesy Galveston Historical Foundation

1838 Samuel May Williams House
courtesy Galveston Historical Foundation

Samuel May Williams served as Stephen F. Austin’s secretary, became the first banker in Texas, and founded the Texas Navy. The home he built on Galveston in 1838 is the oldest standing residence on the island. Known as “the most hated man in Texas,” Williams had a habit of pinching pennies and ruthlessly foreclosing on mortgages. Few are surprised he apparently hung around to terrorize the living. Fires have been lit in fireplaces when no one was in or near the home, there’s a “cold spot” outside the children’s rooms on the second floor, and a misty figure appears in the windows of the cupola atop the roof.

Tremont House Ghosts

Tremont House, courtesy Wyndham Grand Hotels

Tremont House
courtesy Wyndham Grand Hotels

The Tremont House opened with great fanfare on April 19, 1839, in commemoration of the Battle of San Jacinto. By the 1860s, the Tremont had fallen on hard times—in more ways than one. In 1862, the Union Army commandeered the hotel to quarter soldiers. In 1865, the Tremont burned to the ground. Seven years later, the phoenix rose from the ashes even bigger and grander than before. The Tremont hosted guests including Buffalo Bill Cody, Clara Barton, Stephen Crane, and five U.S. Presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant. More hard times and several hurricanes later, the Tremont was demolished in the 1920s…only to be rebuilt once more in the 1980s. Somewhere along the line, a whole passel of ghosts moved in. A Confederate soldier marches up and down the lobby, where a little boy the staff calls Jimmy plays with bottles and glasses at the bar. Jimmy is thought to be the child who was run over in front of the hotel in the late 1880s. “Sam” was murdered on the fourth floor by a thief who wanted the haul Sam had made at one of the city’s storied casinos. The spirit in Room 219, assumed to be a disgruntled former employee, scatters the contents of guests’ luggage.

Unknown Schoolteacher

1895 Hutchings-Sealy Building courtesy Mitchell Historic Properties

1895 Hutchings-Sealy Building
courtesy Mitchell Historic Properties

Among the many acts of bravery and selflessness recorded during the Great Storm of 1900, one stands out as especially poignant: That of a young schoolteacher who had taken refuge on the third floor of the Hutchings, Sealy and Company Bank on the Strand. As the seventeen-foot-storm surge submerged the island, sweeping property and lives from the face of the earth, the schoolteacher climbed through a window, perched on a ledge, and dragged people out of the flood and inside the building. She cared for the living for several days, until she succumbed to a fatal fever. To this day, no one knows her name, but she has a familiar face. Ever since the disaster, residents and visitors alike have seen a young woman dressed in the fashion of the day in various parts of the historic bank building. Before the restaurant that occupied the building for many years closed in 2008, some employees reported hearing her call their names.

William Watson
(May disturb some readers.)

Galveston Railroad Museum, courtesy Nsaum75

Galveston Railroad Museum
courtesy Nsaum75

Of all the ghost stories on Galveston, William Watson’s may be the most gruesome. A bit of a daredevil, the thirty-two-year-old engineer was standing on the cowcatcher of a locomotive as it left the Santa Fe Union Train Station September 1, 1900—one week before the Great Storm destroyed the city. According to reports at the time of his death, Watson frequently pulled the stunt. Something went horribly wrong that day, though. He slipped from his perch, went under the train, and immediately was decapitated. His body stayed put; his head ended up one-quarter mile down the track, where the engine stopped. Watson reportedly haunts the former station (now the Galveston Railroad Museum), though not usually in visual form, thank goodness. Most of the time he merely makes strange noises and redecorates.

A second spirit hangs out at the museum, as well. For a time, part of the building served as a residential psychiatric treatment facility. In the 1980s, a female patient jumped to her death from a fourth-floor window. Since then, the gauzy form of a woman has been seen sitting on windowsills, one leg outside, before disappearing.

These are only a handful of the non-corporeal residents of Galveston. Sometimes called “a cemetery with a beach attached,” the island is second only to New Orleans in the number of reported hauntings. In addition to the celebrity ghosts, other spirits with unknown names and less spectacular stories remain on the island, partly because of Galveston’s dramatic history.

The island switched back and forth between Union and Confederate hands several times early in the Civil War (the Rebs finally managed to hang onto it from January 1863 on), and both sides left bodies behind in buildings along the Strand. After the Great Storm, the surviving buildings along the Strand became temporary hospitals and morgues. The Strand fell into disrepair for a number of years until late Galveston philanthropist George Mitchell stepped in to renew and revitalize the area in the mid-1980s. During renovations, a number of skeletons were discovered in the walls, left there by war or storm victims who literally “slipped through the cracks,” evidently. That may explain why Galvestonians and visitors frequently notice vague forms in uniforms or period clothing floating near ceilings in some of the historic buildings.

Other reported hauntings include:

  • Orphans who drowned during the Great Storm have been spotted at the Walmart built on the site of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word’s doomed orphanage.
  • The Flying Dutchman was reported in Galveston Bay twice in 1892.
  • Bishop’s Palace may be haunted by the spirit of a former owner, who checks the building’s structural integrity when hurricanes threaten.
  • An unknown man, possibly a Great Storm victim, sometimes runs along the sand at Stewart Beach.
  • A pack of twelve phantom dogs with glowing eyes allegedly appears as an omen of impending tragedy or disaster.

Robbing Banks Stealing Hearts

 

 

Two well-meaning ghosts bedevil Tombstone Hawkins and Pansy Gilchrist in “Family Tradition,” one of two short novellas in Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts. The book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple’s iBookstore, Kobo, and Smashwords.

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome Guest J.D. McCall!!!

Lecompton, Kansas: A Legendary, Forgotten Town

Borrowed Guns Cover 1 (2)I’ve been asked by a few people why I chose Lecompton, Kansas, to be the setting of my second book, and the simple answer is: my publisher, Rebecca Vickery at Western Trailblazer, asked for a follow-up effort. I was not planning on writing a second novel, figuring on being a one-and-done author after Borrowed Guns, so when asked for a new effort featuring the same two main characters, I balked by saying I didn’t have any ideas for a story. This was the truth as I am not a very imaginative person, and I also made it clear at the end of the first book there were no further adventures involving the two.

Rebecca then suggested taking an incident mentioned in Borrowed Guns, and making a short story out of it (does a hundred and fifty-five thousand words qualify as short?), featuring one of the characters. Lucky for me, I set that event twenty years earlier in the historically important city of Lecompton, just south of a rowdy little town called Rising Sun.

Rising Sun completely disappeared from the Kansas landscape within a few decades of its founding, unlike the more politically significant city of Lecompton across the Kansas River to its south, which has endured until this day. With the population hovering around six-hundred in 2014, Lecompton is still a proud little town, never having forgotten the major role it played in precipitating the election of Abraham Lincoln, in turn leading to the secession of the southern states, and ultimately, the Civil War.

Elmore Street, Lecompton-The Wall Street of the West_blog

Elmore Street, Lecompton: The Wall Street of the West

Following the opening of Kansas Territory, scores of Northerners and Southerners flooded the area in attempt to promote their ideological vision for the future state. Lecompton was the first official capital of the Kansas Territory and was originally founded as a pro-slavery settlement, boasting two newspapers, both in favor of making Kansas a slave state. By 1855, enough Missourians had crossed the border to illegally vote in a pro-slavery legislature which took up residence in Lecompton. Abolitionists in Topeka answered this chicanery by drawing up their own free-state constitution for Kansas, but President Franklin B. Pierce threw his support behind Lecompton, declared the Topeka government in rebellion and rebuked the Topeka constitution, ending its debate in the Senate.

Rowena Hotel, Lecompton Kansas_blog

Rowena Hotel, Lecompton, Kansas

Basking in Pierce’s support, Lecompton legislators drafted their own pro-slavery constitution and submitted it to a vote by the populace in 1857. To make certain it passed, the ballot box was again stuffed with pro-slavery votes from residents of Missouri who crossed the border to vote. The trickery was discovered when an informant saw the candle box containing the fraudulent ballots being buried by two legislative clerks. Upon investigation by the sheriff, it was later found, and a legitimate election was scheduled to be held. Two other constitutions were proposed prior to the new vote, with the free-state constitution winning the election, and all three sent to Washington to be debated on by Congress.

SouthOfRisingSun_blogIt was during this debate that the fight mentioned in the South of Rising Sun broke out on the House of Representatives floor. President James Buchanan, a pro-slavery advocate, urged the legislators to adopt the original Lecompton Constitution, but it was eventually by-passed in favor of the free-state constitution, paving the way for Kansas to enter the Union as a non-slavery state in January of 1861.

The Lecompton Constitution was mentioned thirteen times in the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates of the 1858 Illinois senatorial campaign. Democrat Stephen Douglas, who ran for president against Abraham Lincoln in 1860, refused to support the Lecompton constitution when it was being debated in Congress, arguing that the citizens of each territory should be allowed to decide the slavery issue by their own vote. Douglas’s outright refusal to support the Lecompton Constitution so enraged Southern Democrats that they split from their Northern counterparts and ran their own candidate for president against Lincoln and Douglas. In addition, a fourth candidate entered the race, and with the vote split four ways, Lincoln won the election with only thirty-three percent of the vote, and the rest became history.

Constitution Hall Lecompton Kansas

Constitution Hall, Lecompton, Kansas

The story is somewhat more complex than the distilled version I have related, but it would require an entire book to elaborate all the intricacies of the politics involved, and I have no intention of going down that path. It does, however, lay to rest the argument that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights.

Today, not a single trace remains of Rising Sun, but visitors to Lecompton (originally called Bald Eagle) can tour the Territorial Capital Museum and Constitution Hall and learn about the fascinating story behind this small but historically important Kansas town. Since doing extensive research for South of Rising Sun, I’ve become engrossed by Lecompton’s past and its role as “the birthplace of the Civil War.” Did you know Lecompton was also home to one of the biggest gunfights in the West? But that’s another story.

To discover more about Lecompton, visit LecomptonKansas.com.

I’ll give an e-book of my latest historical western, South of Rising Sun, to ten readers who leave a comment about the setting, Lecompton, Kansas. The winners will be announced Sunday evening (Aug. 30).

 

John-Old West Pic B&W jpgJ.D. McCall grew up in Kansas during the time when Westerns were king on television and at the movies. Living in a state that was home to such places as Abilene, Dodge, Wichita, and many other of the wickedest cattle towns ever found in the West, he was never far from Kansas lore, which included the legendary figures of Earp, Hickok, Masterson, and Cody. Not surprisingly, he has retained a great affection for that part of American history which was once the Old West. Born too late to be a cowboy, J.D. makes his living in this modern day as an industrial hygienist in the field of occupational health and safety. He continues to reside in the city of his birth, Ottawa, with his wife and three children.

Visit J.D. at his website. Find all of his books on his Amazon author page.

 

Fallen Lone Stars: Indianola

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Founded in 1840 as an Indian trading post, Indianola, Texas, served as a major seaport from 1844 to 1886. The city and Galveston, about one hundred fifty miles northeast, had many things in common—including a desire to outstrip the other and become Texas’s maritime leader.

Indianola in 1860 (Helmuth Holtz, Library of Congress collection)

Indianola in 1860 (Helmuth Holtz, Library of Congress collection)

For a long time, Indianola seemed to be winning. Companies in the city’s industrial district began canning beef as early as 1848. In 1869, Indianola became the first U.S. port to ship refrigerated beef to New England.

The city’s reputation for innovation and dogged determination paid off handsomely. Ships arrived from New York and other New England ports, ferrying passengers and goods bound for San Antonio and California. Indianola became a major debarkation point for European immigrants…and a few boatloads of camels imported for the U.S. Army’s notorious Camel Corps experiment. (The experiment was abandoned at the outbreak of the Civil War, and some of the camels were turned loose. The last feral camel sighting in Texas took place in 1941.)

“Union Troops in the Streets of Indianola, Texas.” Civil War wood engraving by Thomas Nast, published in the New York Illustrated News, April 6, 1861. From the collection of the Calhoun County Museum, Port Lavaca, Texas.

“Union Troops in the Streets of Indianola, Texas.” Civil War wood engraving by Thomas Nast, published in the New York Illustrated News, April 6, 1861. (From the collection of the Calhoun County Museum, Port Lavaca, Texas.)

Indianola did so well that it made itself a target during the Civil War. Determined to cut one of the major Confederate supply lines, Yankee vessels blockaded the port in October 1862 and demanded surrender. Being Texans, the nearby fort politely declined with a cannonade. Several scuffles later, Indianola and its port fell to the Yanks on December 23, 1863. One of the jewels of Texas remained in Federal hands for the rest of the war.

In 1867, fire and a yellow fever epidemic ravaged the town. Indianola rebuilt bigger and better, reaching a population of 5,000 by the time the first death knell rang. Although the city had been damaged by a strong storm in 1851, a major hurricane in 1875 demolished almost everything. Tough to the core, the people of Indianola used the debris to rebuild again.

Indianola ca. 1875. Image courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Indianola ca. 1875. (Texas State Library and Archives Commission collection)

Then, in August and September 1886, two major hurricanes six weeks apart left Indianola and its celebrated seaport in ruins. Sand and silt blown in by the storms made the bay too shallow for big ships to navigate. Most of the residents moved inland.

The post office closed in 1887, and what remained of the town was abandoned.

The storms ended Indianola’s competition with Galveston for maritime supremacy. Galveston got its comeuppance in 1900 when the Great Storm leveled the island city, giving Houston the right break at the right time to become—and remain—the dominant economic power in Southeast Texas.

The city once known as “the Queen City of the West,” today is “the Queen of Texas Ghost Towns.” Though an unincorporated fishing village stands on the shore, Indianola lies beneath the water, 300 feet off the coast in Matagorda Bay.

 

Fallen Lone Stars: Chappell Hill

The Stagecoach Inn has been in continuous operation since it opened in 1850. (photo courtesy of Larry D. Moore)

The Stagecoach Inn has been in continuous operation since it opened in 1847. (photo by Larry D. Moore)

Chappell Hill, Texas — founded in 1847 on 100 acres owned by a woman — is located roughly halfway between Austin and Houston on part of the land Mexico granted to Stephen F. Austin in 1821. Mary Haller, the landowner, and her husband Jacob built a stagecoach inn on the site, at the junction of two major stagecoach lines. Soon, other folks from the Deep South migrated to the area and planted cotton, for which the climate and soil were perfectly suited.

By 1856, the population had risen to 3,000 people, eclipsed only by Galveston and San Antonio. The town included a sawmill, five churches, and a Masonic Lodge, in addition to two of the first colleges in the state — one for men and another for women. A railroad line followed soon after.

A longhorn dozes among bluebonnets outside Chappell Hill, Texas. (photo by Texas.713)

A longhorn dozes among bluebonnets outside Chappell Hill, Texas. (photo by Texas.713)

During the War of Northern Aggression (otherwise known as the American Civil War), the men of Chappell Hill served in both Hood’s Texas Brigade (infantry) and Terry’s Texas Rangers (cavalry), participating in most of the major battles of the conflict. Two years after the war ended, in 1867, many of the Chappell Hill men who survived the fighting perished in a yellow fever epidemic that decimated the town and the rest of the area around the Brazos River.

Chappell Hill never recovered, plunging from one of the largest, most vibrant communities in the state to little more than a memory.

Today, with a population of 300 in town and approximately 1,300 in the zip code, Chappell Hill is an unincorporated community that retains its fighting spirit and independent nature. A May 2008 special election to determine whether the community would incorporate drew two-thirds of eligible voters to the polls. Incorporation was defeated by a vote of three to one.

Today, Main Street in Chappell Hill, Texas, is a National Historic District. (photo by stevesheriw)

Today, Main Street in Chappell Hill, Texas, is a National Historic District. (photo by stevesheriw)

Widely regarded as one of the best historically preserved towns in Texas, Chappell Hill maintains its landmarks with admirable zeal. The Stagecoach Inn has been in continuous operation since the doors first opened. Main Street is listed as a National Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places. Restored homes, churches, and businesses offer tours to visitors, and the annual Bluebonnet Festival and Scarecrow Festival attract tourists from all over the state.

If you’re ever in the area, it’s worth a visit.

 

Kathleen Rice Adams header

 

Fallen Lone Stars: Llano, Texas

Llano's Southern Hotel, built from 1880-83, also served as a stagecoach stop. Today, the building serves as office space for The Buttery Co., one of Llano's oldest businesses.

Llano’s Southern Hotel, built from 1880-83, also served as a stagecoach stop. Today, the building serves as office space for The Buttery Co., one of Llano’s oldest businesses.

Llano (pronounced LAN-oh) is located in the Texas Hill Country about an hour north of Austin, very near the geographic center of Texas. Founded in response to a legislative act creating Llano County in February 1856, the town was established June 14 of the same year. A public vote under a live oak tree on the south side of the Llano River chose the town’s location: a tract of 250 acres donated by a local rancher.

The area boomed from 1886-1893 after iron ore deposits were discovered in nearby Iron Mountain. With high hopes for the future, the Llano Improvement and Furnace Company embarked upon a mission to build an iron furnace and foundry. Land speculators from Dallas and northern states poured into the area with investment money, wanting to be part of “the Pittsburgh of the West.”

The Llano County courthouse, built in 1893 and still in use, is a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Larry D. Moore)

The Llano County courthouse, built in 1893 and still in use, is a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Larry D. Moore)

The population soared to 7,000 in 1890, encouraging the Austin and Northwestern Railroad to extend its line to a terminal on the north side of what promised to be a thriving metropolis. Increased access to transportation attracted granite quarrying and finishing companies intent on profiting from the abundance of granite in the surrounding hills.

Then the bubble burst. The iron ore deposits proved insufficient for commercial exploitation, and the Llano Improvement and Furnace Company abandoned its project. The company’s withdrawal threw the town’s big plans into disarray. Although charters had been sold to construct a dam, an electric power plant, a streetcar system, and electric streetlights, only a small dam and the streetlights were completed. Speculators and local businesses lost fortunes as a result.

A wagon hauls a slab of granite through the streets of Llano in this undated postcard photo.

A wagon hauls a slab of granite through the streets of Llano in this undated postcard photo.

A series of fires in the late-1890s, probably set to collect insurance money, destroyed much of the town. Consequently, insurance companies refused to provide any coverage in the area until well into the 20th Century.

The granite processors remained. Today, Llano’s primary industries are farming, ranching, and granite quarrying and finishing. The town’s population is roughly 3,000 people except during November and December, when the undisputed “Deer Capital of Texas” overflows with hunters.

 

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Law Comes to the Nueces Strip

Texas always has been a rowdy place. In 1822, the original Anglo settlers began trickling into what was then Mexico at the invitation of the Mexican government, which hoped American immigrants would do away with the out-of-control Comanches. Texans dispensed with the Comanches in the 1870s by foisting them off on Oklahoma, but long before that, the Texans ran off the Mexican government.

Republic_of_Texas_labeled_smallFrom 1836 to 1845, Texas looked something like the map at right. The green parts became the Republic of Texas as a result of treaties signed by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana after Sam Houston and his ragtag-but-zealous army caught the general napping at San Jacinto. The treaties set the boundary between Texas and Mexico at the Rio Grande.

This caused a bit of a fuss in the Mexican capital. No matter how embarrassing his situation, Santa Ana did not possess the authority to dispose of large chunks of land with the swipe of a pen. Mexico eventually conceded Texas could have the dark-green part of the map—bounded to the south by the Nueces River, which lies about one hundred fifty miles north of the Rio Grande—but the light-green part still belonged to Mexico.

Arguments ensued.

While Texas and Mexico were studiously avoiding one another in the disputed territory, outlaws, rustlers, and other lawless types moved into the patch between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. After all, no respectable outlaw ever lets a perfectly good blind spot on the law-enforcement radar go to waste. The area, 150 miles wide by about 400 miles long, came to be known as the Nueces Strip.

NuecesStrip_smallIn 1845, the United States annexed all of the land claimed by Texas, including the disputed territory, and came to military blows with Mexico over the insult. By the time the two countries signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 to settle once and for all (sort of) who owned what, the lawless element was firmly entrenched in the strip of cactus and scrub between the Nueces and the Rio Grande. For nearly thirty years, brigands raised havoc—robbing, looting, raping, rustling, and killing—on both sides of the border before retreating to ranchos and other hideouts in the Strip’s no-man’s land.

That began to change in 1875 when Texas Ranger Captain Leander McNelly was charged with bringing order to the southern part of Texas. Newly re-formed after being disbanded for about ten years during the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Rangers were determined to clean up the cesspool harboring notorious toughs like King Fisher and Juan Cortina. With a company of forty handpicked men known as the Special Force, McNelly accomplished his task in two years…in some cases by behaving at least as badly as the outlaws. McNelly was known for brutal—sometimes downright illegal—tactics, including torturing information out of some prisoners and hanging others. He and his men also made a number of unauthorized border crossings in pursuit of rustlers, nearly provoking international incidents.

Nevertheless, the “Little McNellys” got the job done. By the time McNelly was relieved of command and subsequently retired in 1876, the Nueces Strip was a safer place.

McNelly died of consumption in September 1877. Though he remains controversial in some circles, the residents of South Texas raised funds and erected a monument in his honor.

 

 

Valentine’s Day is Nearly Here!

Phyliss Miranda sig line for P&P BluebonnetIt’s only a few weeks until our special “love day” will be here … Valentine’s Day. Just in time for the occasion, Prairie Rose Publications released one of my short stories, “Tumbleweeds and Valentines”.

A short story about family, love, protection, and caring; each of my family members have the same objectives. It all comes to a head on Valentine’s Day.

I thought it’d be fun to go behind the scenes and let you see how we come up with character’s names, decide on vocations, and what type of historical research we have to do. Using “Tumbleweeds and Valentines” as my example seemed to be a great way to bring this to you and; and, of course encourage you to order the short story from one of the links below.

Tumbleweeds and ValentinesEven the most established author will tell you that more times than not they don’t get the working-title they want for their books through major publishing houses. It’s all up to the house and the contract because they know more about the business than we do as authors. I got to keep my story title, although I knew ahead of time that the name of the collection was ”Hearts and Spurs”. In other words, give your story a title that you like and don’t get down in the dumps or upset when you find out it isn’t the one on the front of the cover … a cover that likely you got no input into either, unless again cover approval/input is part of your negotiated contract.

The first thing I needed, as any other writer, is the names of the hero and heroine (H/H) and the setting. It’s also very important with settings that they are historically accurate; however, you have creative permission to bend it to fit your story, if it’s reasonable. That’s the reason, although I write my western historical romances, in the Texas Panhandle, I stay somewhat accurate.

My setting is in Caprock, Texas. All of the towns that I write about, both historical and contemporary, are based on towns in and around the Caprock of the Texas Panhandle, where I was born and raised. Thus the name Caprock, Texas. Greene Street where Mandy lives is an original street in Amarillo, although it’s long been replaced with another name.

I used a phrase in the story similar to, “Caprock has grown like the merchants of Colorado City wanted….” If you switched the name to Amarillo, you’d be correct. The merchants of Colorado City, Texas, wanted a town to become a railhead plus a passage on up north, so they solicited a number of merchants to set up business in this area, believing the railroad would come through here. The railroad named us Oneida, but we eventually where changed to Amarillo Spanish for yellow soil. All the houses were painted yellow, once the town was settled up on higher ground instead of in a buffalo wallow called then and now Wildhorse Lake. And, yes, we still have a viable railroad and shipping yards for cattle. As a matter of fact, at one time during the mid-1800’s, there were so many cattle to be shipped that the pastures were filled with them and extended nearly 100 miles south and to the New Mexico border.

valentine-chocolateWhere do names come from? Sometimes they are meant to recognize someone, either negatively or positively. Other times, it’s simply a name that works. I’ve also looked up at my reference books shelves and found a name for a minor character. I use a “name your baby” type book sometimes other times folks I know. In this book, I wrote Mandy, which is the name of the daughter-in-law of a friend and of course her last name had to be “Love” for Valentine’s Day.

Her business partner in the confectionary shop is Emma Parker who has two nephews. Trey is the blacksmith and I needed him to be that vocation. Then came time to name his twin, so rhyme time kicked in. Trey and Clay, and their last name is Hemphill and is in honor of a long-time deceased friend of mine. By the way, Emma is my oldest granddaughter, while Parker is my youngest grandson. Jenny, in the book is Emma’s sister, while in real life that’s my youngest daughter’s name and also the name of a friend. I try to respect my friends and family and never use their names or one of their family names without asking. With my family, I use middles names, if at all possible and never their last names or where they live in a blog or anything public.

valentine-graphics-1The neat thing about names is that most authors have a little quirk with a name that is always in a book. In my case you’ll always find the name of a bull of the year or at least a famous bull.

How people dress, especially women, is so very critical. For an historical, I use a series of research books by John Peacock and particularly like “The Chronicle of Western Fashion” From Ancient Times to the Present Day. I find an outfit that fits the era and my lady and try to describe it. In this particular story, Amanda wears a pale blue and while calico dress. I depicted it adequately and then wrote her name next to it in Peacock’s book, so I know I’ve already used that outfit. The nice thing about these research books is at various places it author stops to physically describe the various clothing. I opened it to a random page. In 1605 this picture showed a noblewoman wearing her hair “dressed over pads and decorated with feathers and flowers; gown with high standing lace collar supported on wire frame, long hanging sleeves and wide skirt on cartwheel frame; high-heeled slashed shoes with wired bows.”

I love to cook, so you’ll see characters fixin’ candy, fried pies, and tarts in this story. I use them for actions tags instead of verbal tags for my heroine and her business partner. Since this is a short read and I didn’t have a lot of words to describe what they were makin’ for the Valentine’s barn dance, hootenanny, or shindig … whatever you may have called it in 1889.

There is so much more I’d like to write about, but I hope this gave you a taste, pun intended, of what this story is about and if you’re lucky you’ll win one of two free copies.

Please share with me your favorite Valentine’s goodie. My two most favorite are in the story. Let me hear from you ladies.

Updated: January 19, 2015 — 9:47 pm

Nuns on the Frontier

threesisters

An early re-enactment of the 1869 journey from Galveston to San Antonio undertaken by three Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. The journey resulted in the formation of what is today the largest congregation of women religious in Texas.

When the sun rose on Sept. 9, 1900, the island city of Galveston, Texas, lay in ruins. What would come to be called The Great Storm, a hurricane of massive proportions, had roared ashore from the Gulf of Mexico overnight, sweeping “the Wall Street of the Southwest” from the face of the Earth.

Over the following weeks, rescuers pulled more than 6,000 bodies from the rubble, piled the remains on the beach, and burned them to prevent an outbreak of disease. Among the departed, discovered amid the wreckage of St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum, were the bodies of ninety children ages 2 to 13 and all ten Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. In a valiant, yet ultimately futile, attempt to save the children from floodwaters that rose to twenty feet above sea level, each sister bound six to eight orphans to her waist with a length of clothesline. The lines tangled in debris as the water destroyed the only home some of the children had ever known.

Sister Vincent Cottier and two of her young charges at the orphanage in Galveston. All three perished during The Great Storm of 1900.

Sister Vincent Cottier and two of her young charges at the orphanage in Galveston. All three perished during The Great Storm of 1900.

All that survived of the orphanage were the three oldest boys and an old French seafaring hymn, “Queen of the Waves.” To this day, every Sept. 8 the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word worldwide sing the hymn in honor of the sisters and orphans who died in what remains the deadliest natural disaster ever to strike U.S. soil.

Established in Galveston in 1866 by three Catholic sisters from France, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word is a congregation of women religious. Not technically nuns because they take perpetual simple vows instead of perpetual solemn vows and work among secular society instead of living in seclusion behind cloistered walls, they nevertheless wear habits and bear the title Sister. Today the original congregation is based in Houston, but back then Galveston seemed an ideal spot for the women to build a convent, an orphanage, and a hospital. On January 7, 1867, they opened Nazareth Academy in Victoria, Texas. In 1883, the federal Bureau of Education praised the academy as one of six Texas schools providing “superior instruction of women.” By 1869, the sisters had founded a second congregation in San Antonio. From there, they expanded to other cities in Texas, including Amarillo, and even farther west, all the way to California. In 2014, the sisters operated missions in Ireland, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Kenya in addition to the United States. They continue to operate Nazareth Academy, but as a coeducational school serving children in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Two postulants from the Congregation of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, ca. 1890.

Two postulants from the Congregation of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, ca. 1890.

Armed with faith instead of guns, the sisters did their part to civilize Texas’s notoriously wild frontier. They did not do so without significant hardship. Catholics often were not well-tolerated in 19th Century America, although in Galveston the sisters were admired and even loved for their industry and benevolence. That benevolence led to the deaths of two of the original three Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, who perished during Galveston’s yellow fever epidemic of 1867.

As a Galvestonian, the history of the island city and its diverse people fascinates me. I continue to hope for inspiration that will grow into a story set here, where the past overflows with tales of adventure dating back well before the pirate Jean Lafitte built the fortified mansion Maison Rouge on Galveston in 1815. In the meantime, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word provided the inspiration for the heroine in a quick read, The Second-Best Ranger in Texas, which is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and .

TheSecond-BestRangerInTexas_200x300

 

A washed-up Texas Ranger. A failed nun with a violent past. A love that will redeem them both.

Thanks so much for stopping by. As a token of my appreciation, I’ll give a copy of The Second-Best Ranger in Texas, in the winner’s choice of e-fomats, to one of today’s commenters.

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