I’m down to the last week before my deadline and things are crazy! However, as any professional writer will tell you, we’re never just thinking about one project. We are writing one while marketing another. We are working on edits for a third a researching plot ideas for a fourth. Thankfully, I’m only juggling three of those balls instead of all four this week, but it still requires a mental dexterity that can be as taxing as it is exciting.
Next week I will turn in my current manuscript and start work on the next project – one that took me to Gainesville, TX last week to research their wonderful history in person. My story will feature a Harvey Girl heroine working at the newly opened Harvey Lunch Counter in 1902 Gainesville, TX. The people of Gainesville have done a fabulous job of preserving their history, and last week I blogged about walking the very halls of the Santa Fe Depot that my character will. You can find that blog here.
Today, I thought I’d share some of the other wonderful finds I discovered in Gainesville. Not only did I need to know what the lunch counter and depot were like, but I needed to learn about the city itself, and I found a treasure trove. Gainesville has numerous preserved homes from the late 1890s and early turn of the century, the era that I will be writing about.
We took a driving tour of the town, and I took lots of pictures. These are my top 8 houses. The hero in my story is going to have a slightly snobbish mother who looks down on the heroine, viewing a waitress as not only being beneath her son’s station as a lawyer and wealthy rancher’s heir, but as a morally loose woman as well. Which of these houses do you think such a woman would live in?
If YOU were going to live in one of these houses, which would you choose?
Settings are very important to me in my stories and when I can, I go to visit the land. I stand, close my eyes and listen to what the wind tells me. Often I hear voices long past whispering in the breeze and I know this is what I’m supposed to write.
In the back of The Cowboy Who Came Calling, I explain that everything I put in the story is historical fact. I think readers want to know that.
This story is set in the small town of Santa Anna, Texas in the central part of the state. Both the town and the nearby mountain were named for the Comanche war chief, Santanna. He was an important chief and the first of his tribe to visit Washington, D.C. There, he saw what his people were up against and began advocating for peace. He was struck down and died in a cholera epidemic in 1849.
Here are the Santa Anna Mountains in the distance. Not very high at all. Most probably wouldn’t even call them a mountain range.
This monument was erected by the state to mark the site of Camp Colorado. It was part of a line of forts built in the 1800s to protect settlers against the Indians. There wasn’t anything left when I last visited here. It’s on private land now. Luke McClain joins a gang who use the old fort as a hideout in my story.
The town (only 8 miles from Coleman, TX) was never very large and today the population is a little over a thousand people. Here is a very old building and an old crumbling wall.
The picture below shows the thick vegetation and in the distance, the ridge of Santa Anna Mountains above the treeline.
Below is Bead Mountain that I mention in the story is actually a sacred Indian burial ground. When it rains, colorful beads wash down the sides. It’s actually reputed to be haunted.
Okay, that’s a quick look at my setting. I apologize for the poor quality pictures.
Here’s your question: How often do you look on the map for the place a story is set when you’re reading? Do you feel cheated just a bit when you find it’s a made-up place? I’m giving away four copies (winner’s choice of print or ebook) of The Cowboy Who Came Calling. Comment to enter the drawing.
I don’t normally admit to this, but I like walking through cemeteries. Not at midnight and not for the purpose of raising the hair on the back of my neck. And it can’t be just any cemetery. It needs to be an historic one. One with old tombstones and centuries of past lives beneath the soil.
Last month, I was in Granbury, TX for a writers retreat, and I realized I had the perfect opportunity to engage in a little tombstone tromping. Just a short drive away from where we were staying was the historic Acton Cemetery. I made sure to stop by there on my way out of town on Sunday afternoon. Here are a few of the highlights:
Davy Crockett’s second wife, Elizabeth, is buried here along with two of their children. I love how the monument depicts her looking into the distance as if waiting for her husband to come home. So bittersweet.
David and Elizabeth Crockett’s son, Robert, and his wife Matilda were located to the left of Elizabeth’s grave. To the right were her daughter, Rebecca, and her husband J.M. Halford. Unfortunately, Mr. Halford’s tombstone was so weathered, it was nearly impossible to make out the words. Thankfully, a new marker was erected for him indicating J.M. Halford was a Baptist preacher. Rebecca’s original tombstone was nowhere to be found, but she, too, had a new marker erected by her descendants.
John Washington Middleton is buried here, a Texas Ranger from the early days. He rose to the rank of Captain and fought valiantly against outlaws and Indians. A bit ironic, since his son, John Whitfield Middleton ended up being a rancher and adventurer who many believe fought alongside Billy the Kid during the Lincoln County War of the 1870s before splitting ways with the famous outlaw and returning to Texas ranch life. Both men lived into their 90s.
My heart broke to see the numerous tombstones of children who’d not lived to see their first birthday, a somber reminder of how difficult life was back in the 1800’s.
And then, I found this pair . . .
My favorite find in the cemetery was this pair of grave markers. They instantly made my romantic imagination run wild. This hand-carved tombstone seemed so precious and personal. Carved, my imagination wants to believe, by the grief-stricken physician husband who’d not been able to save his beloved wife. In fact, his grief was so great, he left the “c” out of their surname – McPherson – and had to add it to the left of the name as an afterthought. No date is visible on the wife’s grave stone, but the doctor was buried beside her in 1905 at the age of 87.
Do you ever walk through old cemeteries and imagine the lives of the people who lay there?
What are some of your favorite history-related finds that you’ve come across either on vacation or just a random encounter?
The Panhandle was the last area of Texas to be settled and there are a million stories right here. In fact, the railroad takes the credit for taming this last wild part. Along the rails, towns sprang up which pushed out the outlaws and other undesirables thereby bringing law and order.
Amarillo, the largest town in the Panhandle, wasn’t settled until Oct. 1887. Before that, was Tascosa, which is a ghost town now, only 36 miles from here.
Tascosa loosely became a town in 1876. I say that because I don’t think it was ever incorporated. It was a wild and wooly place and occupied mostly by men on the run. Saloons and dancehalls sprang up and gunfights were a regular occurrence. It became known as the Cowboy Capital of the Plains. Temple Houston, son of Sam Houston, served as a district attorney in Tascosa from 1882 to 1884. He was a brilliant attorney by the way.
At the time Frenchy McCormick arrived, there were only three other white women in the whole Panhandle and they had to be as tough as shoe leather. Frenchy would be classified as that. The twenty-four-year-old worked in the saloons dealing Monte at the gaming tables and played cards with many old West legends.
No one really knows her real name. Some say Elizabeth McGraw. She was Irish and well-educated. It’s hard to understand why a well-educated woman chose this life. She could’ve done so many other things, but I suppose her heart led her to Tascosa. A cowboy gave her the name Frenchy because she spoke fluent French and came from Louisiana.
Around 1880, she fell in love with Mickey McCormick, an Irish gambler and livery stable owner. He always claimed as long as she was at his side at the gaming tables he never lost.
They were married in 1881.
When the railroad bypassed Tascosa a few years after, the town began to steadily decline. But Frenchy and Mickey kept living in their small adobe house, their devotion to each other evident by all.
Mickey died suddenly in 1912 at 64 years old, but Frenchy refused to leave Tascosa which had become a ghost town. She occupied their adobe house on Atascosa Creek and visited his grave every day. (The town is now on the property of the Cal Farley’s Boy’s Ranch and they have become diligent caretakers.)
She lived alone in the ghost town for 27 years without electricity or running water, tending Mickey’s grave. She died on January 12, 1941 at the age of 89 and was buried next to Mickey. True to the end. That was true love.
I have plans to go out there to the ghost town and visit their graves soon and I can’t wait. I wonder how many of us would show such devotion.
Do you know of other love stories? Maybe in your family or in books or movies.
Christmas in a Cowboy’s Arm will be released on October 3rd. Don’t you just love that title? I’m so excited to be part of the collection, which also includes stories by Leigh Greenwood and our very own Linda Broday!
My story is titled A Texas Ranger for Christmas and I’m giving away a copy (giveaway guidelines apply). So be sure to leave a comment.Here’s a sneak peek:
Sadie had just put Adam down for his afternoon nap that second week in December when a hammering sound drew her to the kitchen window.
“Dang that man!” Now the ranger was on the barn roof hammering down shingles. Last week, after he’d spent the day repairing the fence, he’d run a fever and had to spend two days in bed.
Now here he was at it again, overdoing it.
She pulled a woolen shawl from a peg by the back door and stepped outside. The wind was cold and angry clouds crowded in from the north like a bunch of wooly sheep.
Upon reaching the barn, she yelled up to him. “If you fall and break your neck, don’t come runnin’ to me!”
He peered over the edge of the roof. His nose was red from the cold and his hair tossed about like sails in the wind, but he sure was a sight for sore eyes. “I guess I’d just have to wait ‘till your friend Scooter comes.”
She balled her hands at her side. “I’d think you’d have a little consideration for my reputation.”
His eyebrows quirked upward. “I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”
“How do you think it looks for a woman to entertain a man that’s not her husband?”
She’d not yet told anyone of Richard’s death. She didn’t want friends and neighbors coming to her door to express condolences until after the ranger was long gone.
He shrugged. “Isn’t it a little late to worry about that? Some of your neighbors already know I’m here.”
“I told them my husband sent you here to recover from your bullet wound.”
“Your husband sent me? That might be hard to explain when the truth comes out that he’s dead.”
“That’s my problem.” She tossed her head. “I mean, it Captain.” She grabbed hold of the ladder and gave it a good shaking. “If you don’t come down, I’ll see that you’re stuck up there for good!”
“Why, Mrs. Carnes, is that a threat?”
She glared up at him. “You’ve already had one relapse and I’m not about to take care of you for another. So what’s it gonna be?”
“Okay, okay, I’ll come down, but only on one condition.”
She straightened, hands at her waist. “What?” “You stop calling me captain. My name is Cole.”
“Not gonna happen,” she said. Calling him by his given name would only strengthen the bond between them, and she couldn’t let that happen. It was hard enough trying not to like the man more than was absolutely necessary.
“Why not?” he asked.
“I never name an animal I plan on eating, and I sure don’t aim on naming a man who’ll soon be gone.”
“All right, Mrs. Carnes. Have it your way. But could you at least tell me what your Christian name is? I promise not to use it unless you say it’s okay.”
She chewed on a bottom lip. “Sadie,” she said. “And I don’t want you calling me that, you hear?”
“Nice name,” he said. “It suits you.”
She didn’t know what he meant by that and she wasn’t about to ask. “So what’s it gonna be, Captain?” She grabbed hold of the ladder and rattled it. “You coming down or ain’t you?”
“Oh, I’ll come down, Mrs. Carnes. But only because I don’t want you complaining about me to your dead husband.”
Short stories and novellas are popular around the holidays. I don’t mind writing short, but I prefer reading full-length novels. Which do you prefer? Also, has a short story ever inspired you to check out the author’s novels?
What do you call Christmas in a Cowboy’s Arms?
The West is full of old towns left over from the glory days and each one is filled with interesting stories. An hour and half from where I live is a place once called Hidetown. It was originally a camp on Sweetwater Creek set up by buffalo hunters in 1874. By all accounts, it was a rough and wooly place.
The following year, the U.S. government established Fort Cantonment (later called Fort Elliott) two miles away to keep law and order and make sure the Indians stayed on reservations in Indian Territory. I think they had their job cut out for them. Those buffalo hunters were used to doing things their own way.
Three businessmen came down from Dodge City around that time to open a trading post and the population in Hidetown grew to 150. They soon boasted a laundry, a restaurant, a dance hall, and several saloons. The buildings were crude at best. Some no more than tents. Hardened outlaws, bullwhackers, buffalo hunters, and gamblers made up the majority.
Of the population, only fifteen were women. Of those only one was a virtuous woman. That was a recipe for disaster right there.
Bat Masterson arrived in 1875 and worked as a faro dealer in one of the saloons. He became embroiled in a fight over dance hall beauty Mollie Brennan with a sergeant from the fort. Guns erupted and the sergeant was killed—only the bullet passed through him and struck Mollie killing her also. The sergeant’s bullet struck Bat in the pelvis and he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. He returned to Dodge City and took a lawman job.
In 1878, Hidetown became the organized, lawless town of Mobeetie and Pat Garrett visited.
This picture on the right was taken in 1900 and it’s interesting to see the windmill and businesses.
Charles Goodnight said, “Mobeetie was patronized by outlaws, thieves, cut-throats, and buffalo hunters, with a large percent of prostitutes. Taking it all, I think it was the hardest place I ever saw on the frontier except Cheyenne, Wyoming.”
Mobeetie was a Comanche word that meant “buffalo dung.” But the town thrived and throughout the 1880s it was a commercial center for much of the Texas Panhandle.
In 1880 the first courthouse of the panhandle was built by Irish stonemasons and Texas Ranger George Arrington became sheriff. Lawyers arrived as well. One was Sam Houston’s son, Temple. He served a term as district attorney before being elected to the Senate. He proved a very able attorney and one of his courtroom arguments is still being taught in law schools today.
When the army closed Fort Elliott, the town boasted a population of 400. That was the most it would ever be. In 1898, it was struck by a tornado that destroyed most of the buildings and took seven lives. People began to move away and left its notoriety and brief glory to crumble in the dust. Today it’s a ghost town.
I always enjoy a trip up there and each time try to imagine the way it once was, to picture Bat Masterson, Pat Garrett, and George Arrington strolling down the dirt street. When I go, I love to visit Mollie Brennan’s grave and try to imagine what her hopes and dreams were.
I mention Mobeetie in Book #3 Men of Legend—To Marry a Texas Outlaw. So I’ll be saying more about this later on when that book releases.
There’s something really sad about ghost towns though, reclaimed by the earth as though they were never there. Have you ever visited one? Or is there one you’d like to visit that you haven’t?
Please welcome Lynnette Austin. Lynnette is filling in for Margaret Brownley, who is attending the Romance Writers of America conference. Lynnette is giving away a copy of Can’t Stop Lovin’ You. The winner will be announced on Sunday and can choose either print or eBook. (Contest guidelines apply). The book is available now both in stores and digitally.
Thanks for having me on Petticoats and Pistols today! I’m thrilled to be here and am celebrating the release of Can’t Stop Lovin’ You, the third in my Maverick Junction series. (BTW, while it’s fun to read the whole series, each book can stand alone.) Entering the drawing is as simple as leaving a comment. So pour yourself a tall, ice-cold glass of sweet tea and let’s chat.
Who doesn’t want to go home? Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey, even Luath, Bodger, and Tao, the three lovable fur-friends in The Incredible Journey fought against heavy odds to make that trip. It’s no different with Brawley O’Dell in Can’t Stop Lovin’ You.
When I started the first book of the Maverick Junction series, Annelise Montjoy, in Somebody Like You, was a sheltered heiress living in Boston. Where did her money come from? Texas oil wells! In a last-ditch effort to save her grandfather’s life, Annelise was forced to return to her Texas roots. She needed to return to the home of her ancestors. Once she did? She fell madly in love with those fields of Texas bluebonnets, the cowboy boots and the men who wore them—especially one very special cowboy.
The characters in our books all have back stories, things that have happened to them and shaped who they are long before we meet them on page one. The same goes for our settings. As I developed the town of Maverick Junction, Texas, I dug deeper into the roots of the oil finds there. Oil and Texas. Inexorably tied together. Yet until January 10, 1901, when the Lucas No. 1 well at Spindletop came in near Beaumont, Texas, the state of Pennsylvania was at the heart of the oil industry. Throughout the second half of the 1800s, it held the title as the leading oil producing state.
Having grown up in the Keystone state and later lived in Wyoming, I’m very familiar with the oil industry. In fact, in the mid-1800s Edwin Drake, the inventor of the process used to extract oil from deep in the ground, hit the first Pennsylvania gusher in Titusville, not far from my small hometown of Kane. This photo shows the early oil wells that sprang up in the fields around Kane in the 1800s. I can’t believe how many there were—and they’re taller than the trees. A veritable oil rig forest.
Even before the Beaumont find really kick-started Texas’ oil industry, it was no secret there was plenty of the black gold there. Native Americans in the area sometimes drank it for medicinal purposes, mainly to cure digestive problems. I wonder how that worked for them! The Spaniards, while they didn’t drink it, put it to good use both as waterproofing for their boots and caulking for their ships in the 1500s.
Until Spindletop, the oil finds in Texas were small and low-producing. With the coming of the big oil fields and refineries, cities like Houston grew from small commercial centers to some of the USA’s largest cities. Oil barrons, Annelise’s great-grandfather among them, became some of the wealthiest and most politically influential men in the country.
When the early settlers made the arduous trip out West, they often could never go home again. They literally gave up everything—and everyone—to go West, even as late as the early 1900s when men travelled there to work the oil fields. In my new release, Can’t Stop Lovin’ You, Brawley Odell moved away from small town Maverick Junction to live in Dallas, the big city. In doing so, he gave up the girl he loved. Now? He wants it all back—the small town, the life, and, most importantly, the girl. But has he stayed away too long?
When you think of Texas, what makes you keep
coming back for more stories set there?
Thanks so much for stopping by today! Hope to see you in Maverick Junction. I think you’ll like it there!
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Maggie Sullivan can’t wait to get out of Texas. Luckily, she just got the break she needed to make her big-city dreams a reality. But then Brawley Odell swaggers back into Maverick Junction, looking hotter than ever in his dusty cowboy boots and well-worn jeans. He’s the guy she still dreams of at night. The guy who broke her heart when he left her behind.
Fed up with city life, Brawley jumps at the chance to return home and take over the local vet’s practice—and get back to the smart, sassy woman he’s never been able forget. He couldn’t be prouder of Maggie’s new wedding-dress business . . . until he realizes it may mean losing her all over again. Determined to win her back, Brawley must find a way to convince Maggie that their one true home is with each other.
Brawley Odell figured his life wouldn’t be worth one plug-nickel the second he stepped foot inside Maggie’s shop. Too damn bad. He hadn’t driven the thirty miles from Maverick Junction to back out now. He was goin’ in.
After all this time, he’d come home…and she was leaving.
He grasped the brass knob and shoulder-butted the oak door. It flew open, the bell overhead jangling. Maggie Sullivan, all that gorgeous red hair scooped into a jumbled mass, stood dead-center in the room. Dressed in a skirt and top the color of a forest at twilight, she held a fuzzy sweater up in front of her like a shield. Those amazing green eyes widened as he stormed in.
“We need to talk.” He ignored the woman at the back of the store who flipped through a rack of tops.
He held up a hand. “Don’t speak. Not yet.”
Her mouth opened, then closed.
Anger boiled in him, but he needed to find some modicum of control. Taking a deep breath, he held it for the count of ten, then slowly released it. “Did you plan on telling me?”
Her eyes narrowed, but she said nothing.
“You’re invited to New York City for a showing of your new line, and you don’t share that with me? I have to learn about it secondhand?”
“Last I heard this wasn’t about you, Brawley. In fact, my life, my business has absolutely nothing to do with you.”
His jaw clenched. “Anything that affects you is my business, Mags.”
She snorted. “Get real, Odell. You gave up any and all rights years ago.” Her head tilted. “Why are you even interested? You want to attend so you can show off your latest Dallas Cowboy cheerleader? Maybe order her trousseau?”
He shot her a deadly look, one that had made grown men back away.
Not Maggie. She actually took a couple steps toward him. The woman had no survival instincts. Another reason she had no business heading off to New York alone.
She tapped a scarlet-tipped finger on her chin. “Oh, that’s right. There’d be no trousseau for your honey, would there? Maybe a weekend-fling outfit for your date du jour? A one-night-stand set of lacy lingerie.”
“Shut up, Maggie.”
“Make me.” Her eyes flashed.
This time the look in his eyes must have warned her she’d treaded too close to the edge. She stepped back.
“You challenging me, Maggie?”
When she wet her lips, his gaze dropped to her mouth, followed the tip of her pink tongue as it darted out.
“Only one way I could ever get you quiet,” he said.
Her hand shot up. “Don’t even think about it.”
“No thought required. Been wanting to do this a long time now.” He closed the distance between them and dropped his mouth to hers. Fire. Smoke. Hell, a full-out volcanic eruption.
LYNNETTE AUSTIN, a recovering middle school teacher, loves long rides with the top down and the music cranked up, the Gulf of Mexico when a storm is brewing, chocolate frozen custard, anything by Blake Shelton, Chris Young, and Thomas Rhett, and sitting in her local coffee shop reading and enjoying an iced coffee. She and her husband divide their time between Southwest Florida’s beaches and Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Having grown up in a small town, that’s where her heart takes her—to those quirky small towns where everybody knows everybody…and all their business, for better or worse. Writing for Grand Central and Sourcebooks, she’s published twelve novels and is at work on a new series.
If you’ve ever done any traveling in Central Texas, roughly from the coastal plains near Houston over to San Antonio and Austin and up through the Hill Country, chances are you’ve at least seen a sign for a German bakery. Texas might seem an odd place to find so many German bakeries, but there’s a historical reason for their existence.
German migration to Stephen Austin’s colony of Texas began in the 1830s, following in the footsteps of Friedrich Dierks, who became known in Texas as Johanna Friedrich Ernst. He’d come to America planning to settle in Missouri but changed his mind when he heard about large land grants in Texas. He applied for and received a grant of some 4,000 acres in what is now Austin County, west of Houston. This became the heart of the German Belt in the years to come. Ernst wrote back to friends about Texas, and his letters became widely publicized. In the years following Ernst’s arrival, thousands more Germans immigrated to Texas. During the 1850s, the population of German-born Texans reached then passed 20,000. After the Civil War — and thus the Union blockade of Confederate ports — ended, ships loaded with Germans started arriving again.
German culture in Texas took a hit because of anti-German sentiment brought about by the World Wars and continued to decline afterward from its peak in the 1890s. However, the rich history of German immigration can still be seen throughout Central Texas in particular. Towns with names such as Fredericksburg, Gruene (pronounced “Green”), New Braunfels and Weimar; the King William Historic District in San Antonio, named after Wilhelm I, King of Prussia; enthusiastic celebrations of Oktoberfest; and the aforementioned German bakeries all stand as testament to the rich German heritage that has German still identified as the third-largest national-origin group in the state behind Hispanic per the 1990 Census.
It’s because of this German history and the fact that my fictional Hill Country town of Blue Falls, Texas needed a bakery that I created the Mehlerhaus Bakery, operated by Keri Mehler Teague. Characters in every book seem to end up at the bakery for delicious treats such as cookies, cakes and German sweets such as strudel. I even throw in some kolaches, Czech pastries, since Central Texas has a history of immigration from what is now the Czech Republic as well. The Mehlerhaus Bakery is part of the Main Street shopping district that is popular with locals and the growing tourist business as well. Keri and the bakery really came on the scene in The Cowboy Sheriff, the third book in my Teagues of Texas trilogy, which introduced the town of Blue Falls. But her business is so integral to the town that she and her sweet treats have continued to appear in the 12 Blue Falls stories that have come out since then and will continue to appear in the books to come.
Last Thursday, I had the honor of being the featured speaker at the annual Author’s Luncheon in Post, TX. Post is small town off Hwy 84 on the route between by hometown of Abilene and the city of Lubbock. I’ve driven through it many times, but this was the first time I actually got off the highway and explored a bit of the town itself.
Post, TX has a fun history. It was founded in 1907 by cereal manufacturer Charles William “C.W.” Post. Anyone eaten a bowl of Grape-Nuts ( first produced in 1897) lately? I usually have a box in my pantry.
C. W. Post purchased 200,000 acres of ranchland and established the Double U. Company to manage Post City’s construction. The company built trim houses and numerous structures. They planted trees along every street and prohibited alcoholic beverages and brothels. The Double U. Company rented and sold farms and houses to settlers. A post office began in a tent during the year of Post City’s founding. Two years later the town had a school, a bank, and a newspaper, the Post City Post. (Because what else would you call it? Ha!) The railroad reached the town in 1910. The town changed its name to Post when it incorporated in 1914, the year of C. W. Post’s death. (Source: Handbook Of Texas Online)
Well, one the buildings Mr. Post paid to construct was a hospital. This gorgeous brick building with tall, white columns is now the local history museum and the building next door to where I spoke at the author luncheon. The building where I spoke was originally constructed in 1911 as a boarding house for the nurses who worked at the hospital. It has been renovated and turned into a wonderful community center. The perfect place for me to give my talk on the subject of Plotting with History.
Boarding House on left, Hospital on right.
Here is the beautiful entry hall and part of the cute bathroom. I just had to take a picture.
And I was blessed with a wonderful turnout. We talked history and reading, and I learn wonderful details about the marvelous town of Post that makes me want to come back for another visit when I can stay longer and explore.
What hidden gems have you uncovered in your travels?
What are some fascinating historical tidbits or trivia people would be surprised to learn about your own hometown?
When you picture a western fort from the nineteenth century, do you envision small, perhaps even dilapidated wooden buildings surrounded by a wooden stockade? I did until I visited Fort Laramie. It was the summer of 2004, only a few months after my husband and I had moved from the East Coast to Cheyenne. We needed a break from the unpacking, picture hanging, and other tasks associated with moving into a new house, so we headed for the Fort Laramie National Historic Site.
Foreground: foundation of barracks; background: part of officer’s row, including the post trader’s store (the one-story building in the center back)
It was not what I expected. There was no stockade, the buildings were far from primitive, and the way they flanked the central parade ground made it reminiscent of a New England village, not one of the military forts those old Westerns made popular.
Nothing primitive about this dining room.
An in-ground birdbath.
As we entered the Visitor Center, the surprises continued, and I found myself fascinated by the elegant lifestyle the officers and their wives experienced during the last decade of the fort’s existence (the 1880s).Houses were surrounded by picket fences, many yards had flower gardens, and women strolled along the boardwalks carrying parasols. There were even birdbaths. Of course, since this was Wyoming with its famous winds, the birdbaths weren’t the typical basin-on-a-pedestal style that you might expect. Instead, they were circular depressions in the ground. As I said, it was not at all what I had expected, but what I saw started my brain whirling, and I knew this would not be my only visit to the fort.
Partially reconstructed officers’ housing and Old Bedlam (the two-story white frame building)
Andrew and Elizabeth Burt’s home. The red SUV in the background was definitely not there when they lived at the fort!
There’s a lot to see. While many of the buildings have been destroyed, a number have been restored to their former glory to give visitors a sense of what life was like at the fort that was a major landmark on the Oregon Trail. The most famous of those buildings is Old Bedlam, the oldest military structure in Wyoming. Curious about the nickname? It was originally constructed for bachelor officers’ housing, and those officers were a little … shall we say rowdy? Later in its existence, it was used as post headquarters, and only a few years ago it was the site of a wedding. I suspect the guests were better behaved than those bachelor officers of 150 years ago.One of the restored houses is the one where Lt. Col. Andrew Burt and his wife Elizabeth lived during their two tours of duty at the fort. If you’ve never heard of the Burts, their story is told in Indians, Infants and Infantry: Andrew and Elizabeth Burt on the Frontier by Merrill J. Mattes, a book I highly recommend to anyone who wants an authentic view of life at nineteenth century forts. The author used Elizabeth’s Burt’s diaries and letters to create a story filled with fascinating details of real life.
What does all this have to do with my current release? Absolutely nothing. A Stolen Heart is set in a charming town in the Texas Hill Country, not on a military fort. Its hero is a sheriff, not a soldier. Its heroine is a schoolteacher who becomes a confectioner, not a woman dealing with tasteless dried potatoes. But Fort Laramie is such a wonderful place that I couldn’t resist taking this opportunity to tell you more about it. If you visit Wyoming, I hope you’ll consider spending a day at Fort Laramie. It’s well worth the detour.
And now to the highlight of the post: the giveaway. I’m offering a signed copy of either Summer of Promise, which takes place at Fort Laramie during its elegant decade, or my new release, A Stolen Heart, to one commenter.
A stolen Heart
The future she dreamed of is gone. But perhaps a better one awaits . . .
From afar, Cimarron Creek seems like an idyllic town tucked in the Texas Hill Country. But when former schoolteacher Lydia Crawford steps onto its dusty streets in 1880, she finds a town with a deep-seated resentment of Northerners—like her. Lydia won’t let that get her down, though. All will be well when she’s reunited with her fiancé.
But when she discovers he has disappeared—and that he left behind a pregnant wife—Lydia is at a loss about what to do next. The handsome sheriff urges her to trust him, but can she trust anyone in this town where secrets are as prevalent as bluebonnets in spring?
Bestselling author Amanda Cabot invites you into Texas’s storied past to experience adventure, mystery—and love. She more than thirty novels including the Texas Dreams trilogy, the Westward Winds series, the Texas Crossroad trilogy, and Christmas Roses. A former director of Information Technology, she has written everything from technical books and articles for IT professionals to mysteries for teenagers and romances for all ages. Amanda is delighted to now be a fulltime writer of Christian romances, living happily ever after with her husband in Wyoming.