Last year, I had the opportunity to go to the location my first series was set in, Castle Town, Montana. It’s a ghost town now, although it is inhabited by cattle rather than ghosts. Even so, it was fun to see it. And now I feel like I need to rewrite my series. But I won’t.
Castle Town was a small mining town back in the late 1800s. There are lots of rocks, pine trees, and hills all around it. The only buildings left standing are the foundation of the general store and another building that is actually mostly standing yet.
I loved going there to see where my characters lived, even if it wasn’t quite the way I had imagined it. It had been a dream of mine for a few years to go to Montana mainly because of my books, and I was blessed to have a husband who willingly let me fulfill that dream.
I’m sharing a few pictures with some explanations from the area around Castle Town as well as Castle Town itself.
This sign guided us to the direction we were headed. But first we went to the right because there was a cute little church over there that we couldn’t resist looking at.
This sign was outside of the town. The bottom half says, “This road was the main street of Castle, Incorporated in 1891 with a population of about 1,500 people. The first mine registered was the North Carolina Mine in 1884. In the next 7 years, 991 claims were located. The rock basement is the remains of Baker’s General Store and Post Office. Berg’s Meat Market and Kidd’s Furniture Store were across the street. On the far hillside was Minnie’s Sporting House. The silver panic of 1893 caused the town to die a rapid death.
A panorama of the town.
A closeup of the foundation.
Obviously, there are some recent updates to the church, but doesn’t this look like something from a western?
This is the road leading to Castle Town. It is a one-lane road and you can only hope no one comes barrelling around the corner toward you. It definitely fit the rustic feel of the area.
These rocks lined the road. I don’t know if they were original to the area or put there from somewhere else.
It was so peaceful out there. The only creatures around were the cattle and the only sounds were of the cattle moving and the wind in the trees. I think I need to stop talking about it before I start wanting to back again.
If you ever find yourself near Bozeman, Montana, it’s only a two-hour drive north and a little east to get there. It’s a slow drive there, but fun.
What was your favorite vacation? Why was it your favorite?
Today, I am giving away one free ebook of my book that spends the most time in Castle Town, Montana, Lily of the Valley. It is the fourth in the series, but it can be read as a standalone.
One reason I enjoy writing stories set in small western towns is the sense of community. In one book I joked if someone sneezed, half the town would be at the door with chicken soup before day’s end. From the small towns I’ve known, this isn’t too far from the truth.
Life is hard. In the city I’ve become so accustomed to the polite and well-meaning “hello, how are you today” greetings everywhere, I can respond on auto-pilot. No matter how hard life is knocking me around, I can plaster a smile on my face and reply I’m fine. But in small towns, that’s harder to pull off because people know each other. They’re more likely to see past an overly bright smile and notice something is off. More importantly, they’re likely to ask and care about the answer. Not that this doesn’t happen in the city. It does. I just find it harder to create those mini-communities of support in the city.
Another difference I’ve discovered, is to receive help in the city, I am more likely to have to ask for it friends in my mini-community. My grandparents lived on a farm outside Decorah, Iowa, a town of eight thousand. If someone was struggling financially, if a death occurred in the family, or someone was sick, most of the town knew. For example, my dear friend Lori Turner Halligan shared a story about her father’s death during prime planting time in Iowa twenty-three years ago on April 28. Farmers arrived with equipment and planted her family’s fields before planting their own. Other families brought food to feed those working the fields. Her mother didn’t have to ask. The Turners needed help, and the community turned out. This is the sense of community I tried to create in both my Estes Park Series and my Wishing Texas Series.
Western women are known for their strength. In the old west, they helped carve a life out of the wilderness. While many of my heroines start out as “Eastern city women,” they possess a western soul. One that refuses to let them give up or give in. When fate lobs lemons at my heroines like hand grenades, they put on a hard hat and make lemonade,but sometimes even the strongest of women get weary.
Take Cassie in To Love A Texas Cowboy. When her niece is orphaned, Cassie moves from New York to Texas because that’s what’s best for Ella. Without family to count on, she’s learned to rely on herself, but keeping her art career going, raising a child and keeping a roof over their heads would shake Wonder Woman’s confidence. Like so many of us, Cassie realizes she can’t do it all alone. For her, help comes from the most unexpected place–Ty, a cowboy who at first glance appears to be on the opposite side of every issue and a small Texas town.
Whether we live in the city, small town or a ranch, whether our support comes from those related to us by blood, or a family we create in less traditional ways, we need people we can count on when life gets rough.
And a special thank you to my BFF Lori for help with this blog and life in general. Everyone should be blessed with a friend like you.
Take a moment to leave a comment and be entered to win the dish towel, wine glass and a copy of Colorado Rescue.
To read an excerpt of To Love A Texas Cowboy, click here.
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?
Nothing is more fascinating than the temporary towns that sprang up as the intercontinental railroad worked its way across the United States. For the most part, they were dirty and contained the dregs of society. But the fascination lies in how much people could tolerate in the way of creature comforts for some pretty good money. The buildings were comprised of nothing but canvas or sod and provided temporary homes for the workers and as the tracks progressed, so did the town. The businesses just pulled up stakes and moved, following the iron ribbon cutting across the prairie.
These places had just about everything—dentistry, hardware supplies, saloons, mercantiles, cafes. And of course, dance halls and prostitutes.
Most of the workers were single and veterans of the Civil War. They needed a job and the railroad needed men. All nationalities worked together.
The town of Benton, Wyoming was one such temporary town. It only existed for three months but it had a population of over 3,000. It had twenty-five saloons. I can’t even imagine this many people.
But many of the merchants were visionaries and saw great opportunity, therefore built sturdy structures. They stayed put when the temporary establishments moved on. They had faith that as long as the tracks remained, the people would come. It was also an exciting time for land developers, but such an atmosphere also planted seeds for the unscrupulous who cheated people out of their hard-earned money. They’d sell them land they didn’t own or they’d sell the same land to several different people which resulted in a nightmare.
Everyone wanted to cash in on the wealth that the railroad created.
A few of the cities that got temporary starts were: Billings, Laramie, Cheyenne, Reno, Tacoma, Fresno, and North Platte, Nebraska. There were hundreds more.
The historical western series Hell on Wheels was set in temporary towns as the Union Pacific laid down tracks in the race to Promontory Point where they drove the golden spike.
Fortunes were made and lost in creating the transcontinental railroad.
The human toll was staggering. Fifteen thousand men worked to build it. 1,500 died. White men earned $35 a month and that included room and board. The rest made $25 plus room and board. Using today’s inflation rate, that $35 amounts to $657.32. Not much at all for the amount of backbreaking, dangerous work those guys did. The conditions were deplorable.
In which sector do you think the new boom will come from? Oil? Land? Technology? Maybe colonizing Mars or other planets?
Margaret Brownley and I have Christmas in a Cowboy’s Arms releasing on October 3rd. Six stories that will warm your heart and put you in the Christmas spirit. I’ll offer several in giveaways next month so be watching!
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?
Lately I’ve wondered how an Iowa city girl ended up writing romances with cowboy heroes. Or, I’ve wondered about the reasons other than the obvious—that cowboys are incredibly sexy. For my first official blog as a filly at Petticoats and Pistols, I’m sharing what fascinates me about cowboys.
For me, a cowboy isn’t as much about the occupation as the state of mind and attitude. Sure when I think of a cowboy, I see a man in form fitting Levi’s or Wranglers. I see dusty, worn cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, but it’s more than that, too. There’s something about the way he moves in a slow, yet deliberate way, that says he’ll take his time with what matters in life. If you’ve seen Scott Eastwood in The Longest Ride, you know what I mean. If not, watch it now. I’ll wait.
Now that we’re done drooling over Scott, back to the topic at hand. Cowboys have a connection to the land that goes deeper than most people’s. That taps into my love of my grandparents’ farm in Decorah, Iowa. I spent hours wandering over that land spinning stories and imaging my life living on a similar place. Writing about my heroes and heroines strolling over their land or walking along Wishing’s streets fill me with the same warm affection. That intense bond with the ZSAER%^land was a big inspiration behind my Wishing, Texas series. For those heroes, their link Ty Barnett’s ranch, The Bar 7 and each other anchor their lives.
As to a cowboy’s attitude and mind-set—people see him as a loner, and he is, but I also see his strong tie to family. Family, however he defines it, is allowed past his guard. When I wrote my first novel for Harlequin, I wanted my hero so desperate for money he’d model in New York. But I wanted something different. What does a cowboy love more than his ranch and horse? His mama. That one detail told me everything I needed to know about my hero.
A cowboy has a sense of honor that factors into every decision. In my first Wishing, Texas book, To Love A Texas Cowboy, Ty Barnett’s world is turned upside down because of a promise to a friend. One he’ll keep even if it means dealing with Cassie Reynolds. This unwavering honor paired with a good dose of Alpha male, makes writing stories with cowboy heroes fun when I turn the tables on them. In To Catch A Texas Cowboy, AJ Quinn’s sick of hearing “let’s just be friends” from women. Poor cowboy. I had a blast torturing AJ giving him what he asked, but not what he bargained for, in New Yorker Grace Henry.
For me, these characteristics make cowboys fascinating, and oh so hero-worthy. Now it’s your turn. Tell me what it about cowboys makes you swoon or say that’s a hero?
I’m giving away a copy of To Catch A Texas Cowboy and a wine glass. Post a comment to enter.
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 [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.
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.
Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, built 1869
I’m not sure what it is in a person’s makeup that draws them to certain things, but I’ve always loved the art and architecture of the Southwest. Adobe homes, Spanish tiles, turquoise doors, Native American art and jewelry and pottery. I used to flip through the pages of home magazines to appreciate the various layouts and decor. I’d imagine having an adobe home with an interior courtyard complete with cobalt blue tiles as accents and a fountain. I think part of this may have come from some long-ago historical romance I read that had something to do with Pancho Villa and had a hacienda with such a courtyard described. Alas, I don’t remember the book or the author.
Palace of the Governors, built 1610
Back in the 1990s, I went to a conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico for my day job. I had one afternoon where I could just wander around the city and loved every minute of it. I visited the old churches such as the Loretto Chapel and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi; took a trolley tour around the area; admired the bright and beautiful art at the city’s many, many art galleries; appreciated the public art that was seemingly everywhere; and perused the wonderful works of craftsmanship by residents of the nearby pueblos — art, jewelry and pottery that they offered for sale outside the Palace of the Governors. The Palace sits on the city’s plaza in the middle of town. It was built in 1610 and is the oldest continuously occupied building in the United States.
It really is amazing how incredibly different even sections of the West can be from each other. Texas is different from New Mexico is different from Montana. They are all beautiful in their own ways and have their own distinctive styles and cultures. But the Southwest is perhaps the most distinctive because of its Native American and Spanish/Mexican influences. It takes on the brown and red earthy hues of the rugged Southwestern landscape and adds in incredibly eye-popping colors — blues, reds, oranges and purples. Adobes pots and trellises overflow with tons of vibrant pink bougainvillea.
I’d really like to visit Santa Fe again sometime when I have more than an afternoon to explore. There are things I missed and even more that have been added in the years since I visited.
Are you a fan of Southwestern architecture and art? What are your favorite styles? Let me know what you think for a chance to win an autographed copy of my book, The Rancher’s Surprise Baby, which releases next week. It’s the latest in my Blue Falls, Texas series from Harlequin Western Romance and the second book featuring the five siblings of the Hartley family. Yes, it’s my birthday today, but I’m giving away a present instead. 🙂
Shops and businesses on the streets away from the center of town were laid out willy-nilly; some with entries facing alleyways. Boarding houses and private homes were seemingly dropped at random, as if tossed like dice from a gambler’s hand. –from my WIP, Stop the Wedding (book #1 Shotgun Brides)
I’m working on a new 3-book series that takes place in the fictional town of Haywire, Texas. Before I could begin writing, it was necessary to map out my town. Fans of western movies might think that’s a bit strange. When a town is only one street wide and a block long, what’s to map out? Well, for one thing, western movie sets are generally much smaller than a real town ever was, and less spread out.
Gold Hills, Nevada
The town in my book was built prior to the Civil War. That’s important to know, because towns founded before the war generally sprang-up along wandering cow paths. If you ever got lost in parts of Boston, as I once did, you’d know how confusing such towns can be.
Fortunately, after the war, town founders hired surveyors to plat grids oriented to railroad specifications. This practice came too late to help the poor residents of Haywire—or my hero who gets lost while chasing a bad guy through town.
Since business taxes in the Old West were calculated on width, shops and saloons were built long and narrow. What was generally called Outhouse Alley ran behind the buildings, parallel to the main thoroughfare.
Some buildings did double-duty. Schools often shared space with the Oddfellows or Masons, and shopkeepers lived over shops.
My town’s main street is T-shaped which runs into the railroad. On the other end of Main, the town is split in two by a hundred-foot wide cross street. A street like this was known in many western towns as the Dead Line, the purpose of which was to separate moral businesses from those beyond the pale.
Dead Line streets were wide enough so that anyone who accidentally ventured into the wrong side of town, occupied by saloons, bordellos and in Haywire’s case, the barbershop, could easily turn horse and wagon around. Thus delicate constitutions were saved and reputations left intact.
Typically, the bank would be built next to the sheriff or marshal’s office, which explains why bank robberies in the Old West were rare. Only the most daring outlaw would attempt a bank robbery. It was much easier to rob stages—and a whole lot healthier.
Movies do get some things right. For example, buildings in many towns were mostly wood with false fronts. These fake facades were added to make hastily-built buildings look more impressive and provide a place for signage. Some towns, especially in the south-west where few trees could be found, were built mostly from adobe.
Speaking of movies, what western would be complete without having the hero barge through a saloon’s bat-wing doors? In reality, not every saloon had such doors. In some parts of the country, it was too cold or windy and too much dust would blow inside. Saloons that did have café doors also had standard doors that could be shut and locked when necessary. A tour guide at Universal Studios explained that movie sets had saloon doors of different sizes: an extra-large one to make the heroine appear small and demure, and an extra-small door to make the hero appear taller and more imposing.
Another thing that frontier towns had that you won’t see in most western movies is a sign telling visitors to check their guns. Now that’s one area where Hollywood and Haywire can agree.
Have you ever visited a western ghost town or movie lot?
Welcome to Two-Time, Texas
There’s a new sheriff in town and she almost always gets her man!
I’ve always loved spring despite the fact that seasonal allergies have been the bane of my existence in recent years. But we moved away from pollen-ladden Nashville (a great city full of great people but also full of copious amounts of pollen that staged attacks on my sinuses) to the Gulf Coast of Florida. This past winter was the first one in my entire life where I never saw frost or a single snowflake, and I’m not complaining. 🙂 Even so, there’s still a different feel to spring here versus an admittedly more pleasant winter. It’s warmer, the sun is stronger, and people are flooding to the beach during their spring breaks from school. There’s the scent of sunscreen in the air, and when my husband and I went to the zoo yesterday I saw a lot of unfortunate sunburns.
I’ve always loved the sense of renewal that comes with spring. Gray, cold days giving way to warmth and sun. Dead grass giving way to green. Flowers popping up everywhere. So it’s extra exciting that this spring is also giving birth to the latest book in my Blue Falls, Texas series, In the Rancher’s Arms. I really like this story because the heroine has a similar background to me — as a journalist. Although she was an international reporter covering really important stories that were often dangerous, the latest of which led to her being kidnapped by human traffickers. I never had the nerve to go that route in my work, although I greatly admire those who do. After being saved, Arden comes back to her hometown of Blue Falls, Texas to heal and, this being a romance, finds love.
I’m also excited to be working on an independent project that’s connected to Blue Falls. I’ve created a new small town (Poppy) nearby and am going to be self-publishing a series of novellas set there. (You’ll also see Poppy appear in my Blue Falls book that will be out this fall.) I’ve only just started on the first one, so it’ll be a while before I’m ready to reveal that story to the world. However, I thought it would be fun to have a giveaway today that’s a little different than normal.
My heroine’s best friend, who I plan to be a heroine of a future story, helps run an antique store with her parents in this little town. I’d like her to have a fun, unique, perhaps even quirky name. So I’m asking for suggestions. I’ll pick my favorite and the winner will receive a packet of books from me as well as acknowledgment in that novella for your contribution. (Legal Note: The winner won’t receive any monetary remuneration or have any claim to the character and/or her name. This is just a fun way to engage with my readers that I thought everyone might enjoy.)