Tag: Kathleen Rice Adams

With Love, from the Battlefield: Songs of the Civil War

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

Americans didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day as we know it until the mid-1800s. By 1856, the practice of sending somewhat sappy cards had become so widespread that newspapers began to call the blossoming tradition a “social disease.” Conservative elements in society tried to stamp out the celebration because they considered such unvarnished expression of fondness evidence of “moral deterioration.” The February 1856 edition of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine included a cartoon depicting card-giving as crass and self-indulgent.

window valentine, ca. 1864

A “window” valentine, ca. 1864. Such cards were called window valentines because front flaps opened to reveal a hidden message or image.

A scant five years later, as the Civil War began, Valentine’s Day took on new significance. Cards often depicted sweethearts parting. Many incorporated flaps that opened to reveal soldiers standing in tents or couples at the altar. Some included a lock of the giver’s hair.

In addition to cards, songs of love and loss became popular with Civil War soldiers on the battlefields. At night, encamped on opposite sides of imaginary lines only hundreds of yards apart, men wearing blue and men wearing gray sang as one. Some of the songs were meant to keep sweet memories alive; many mourned happiness never to be.

The following are a few of the most popular love songs of the Civil War.

The Yellow Rose of Texas

A popular marching tune all over the Confederacy, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” dates to the state’s early colonial period. The first known transcribed version — handwritten on a piece of plain paper — appeared around the time of the Texian victory at San Jacinto in April 1836. In its original form, the song tells the story of a black man who has been separated from his sweetheart and longs to reunite with her. This YouTube video contains the modified version Texas troops actually sang during the Civil War, complete with references to “Bobby Lee” and Hood’s Texas Brigade…with one exception. By the time of the war, the phrase “sweetest rose of color” had been replaced with “little flower” in order not to imply white soldiers were pining for a mulatto woman.

 

“Aura Lea” (also spelled “Aura Lee”)

Most people today recognize the melody to “Aura Lea” as “Love Me Tender,” which became an instant hit when Elvis Presley sang the song during his first appearance on the big screen in the 1956 movie of the same name. The original, composed in 1861 by W. W. Fosdick (words) and George R. Poulton (music), is one of the happier songs of the era. Nevertheless, this song and “Lorena” (below) were banned in some camps because they tended to provoke desertion, especially among Confederates from 1863 forward.

 

Lorena

The Rev. Henry D. L. Webster wrote the words to one of the most popular love songs of the Civil War in 1856 after his intended broke off their engagement. His friend Joseph Philbrick Webster composed the music. Western Writers of America listed “Lorena” as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time; an instrumental version appears in the iconic film Gone with the Wind.

 

Somebody’s Darling

Credit for the lyrics has been given to Marie Ravenal de la Costa and the melody to John Hill Hewett, though the story behind the song may be apocryphal. The version most generally accepted is that, in 1862, Miss de la Costa penned the words in the Atlanta church where she had gone to pray after receiving word of her fiancé’s death on the battlefield. She left the handwritten lyrics behind. One of the saddest songs of the period, “Somebody’s Darling” was as popular in the North as it was in its native South.

 

When I Saw Sweet Nellie Home

Also known as “Seeing Nellie Home” and “Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party,” the original was composed by John Fletcher (music) and Frances Kyle (words) in 1859. In 1861, Otto W. Ludwig changed the words to create the strident Union ballad “Courage, Mother, I Am Going,” about a young man who believes he won’t return from a war he is morally obligated to fight. Needless to say, Confederates sang the original. The Union version faded into obscurity after the war.

 

Oh! Susanna

Published by Stephen Foster in 1848, “Oh! Susanna” was popular with both bluebellies and graybacks, who viewed the words through entirely different cultural lenses. This version contains the original second verse, which is controversial (and potentially offensive) because of the language.

 

My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night

Published by Stephen Foster in 1853, “My Old Kentucky Home” speaks of love for home and family. The song became enormously popular with both armies during the Civil War—which was odd in the case of the Confederacy, because Foster’s notes on the original handwritten sheet music clearly indicate he intended the song to be an abolitionist anthem inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (Foster was a staunch abolitionist.)

 

Just Before the Battle, Mother

One of the saddest Civil War favorites speaks of love not for a sweetheart, but for a young’s man’s mother. With words and music (1862) by George F. Root, “Just Before the Battle, Mother” was strictly a Union song. (The lead-in on this version, performed by the 97th Regimental String Band, is long. The words start just before the one-minute mark.)

 

The Picture on the Wall

A sad song more popular among the folks at home than soldiers on the battlefield (for obvious reasons), Henry Clay Work’s “The Picture on the Wall” (1864) is almost unknown today. During the Civil War, it expressed tremendous grief about the loss of both sweethearts and sons.

 

Annie Laurie (also spelled “Annie Lawry”)

Brought to America from Scotland around 1832, authorship of the song is unknown. By the time of the Civil War, the words had changed from the original Scottish. Because the song was so well known, it was one of the most often sung across the lines, despite — or perhaps because of — the haunting chorus: “For bonnie Annie Laurie, I’d lay me down and die.”

 

Sweet Evalina

Composed in 1863 by Mrs. Parkhurst, the tune to “Sweet Evelina” is spritely even though the words come from the point of view of a young man fated never to marry the beautiful girl he loves. The song was incredibly popular among soldiers on both sides during the war but had all but disappeared by 1900.

 

Listen to the Mockingbird

Septimus Winner, using the name Alice Hawthorne, wrote the words to “Listen to the Mockingbird” in 1855 and set them to music composed by a guitarist friend. Despite the upbeat melody, the song tells the story of a man’s love for a young woman who has died. The tune was popular with both Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs. As an aside: In 1862, Winner was arrested and charged with treason after he published “Give Us Back Our Old Commander: Little Mac, the People’s Pride.” The song protested Lincoln’s firing of Gen. George B. McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Federal authorities released Winner only after he promised to destroy all remaining copies of the sheet music…but calling back the 80,000 copies that sold in the first two days after the song’s publication proved impossible. (McClellan was an exceptionally popular man.)

 

An excellent album called Songs of the Civil War contains renditions of some of these songs by artists including The United States Military Academy Band, Waylon Jennings, Richie Havens, Hoyt Axton, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Kathy Mattea, and Jay Ungar and Molly Mason (of “Ashokan Farewell” fame). It’s available from Amazon on CD and audiocassette, as well as in MP3 format and via Amazon’s PrimeMusic.

 

Powerful emotion breeds enduring art of all kinds. As heart-stirring as some of the music, poetry, paintings, fiction, and other art forms of the mid-1800s, let’s hope we don’t see another such prolific period for a similar reason ever again.

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And speaking of Valentine’s Day…

Prairie Rose Publications Valentine's Day ExtravaganzaPrairie Rose Publications is offering a token of its love to readers all week: Fourteen free novels, anthologies, and boxed sets. Who doesn’t love free? Let me tell you something: There are a passel of hunky heroes in that herd I’d love to snuggle up to on Valentine’s Day or any other day. Fourteen more novels, boxed sets, and anthologies have been discounted to 99 cents.

Y’all can find a list of the books here. Go take look if you’re of a mind to spend some time lost in love with sigh-worthy heroes and feisty heroines.

 

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Wild West Words: Grub and Hooch

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

The final three decades of the 19th Century — 1870 to 1900 — compose the period most people think of when they hear the term “Wild West.” Prior to the Civil War, westward expansion in the U.S. was a pioneering movement, and the period around the turn of the 20th Century was dominated by the Industrial Revolution. But in a scant thirty years, the American cowboy raised enough hell to leave a permanent mark on history.

Round Up on the Musselshell, Charles M. Russell, 1919

Round Up on the Musselshell, Charles M. Russell, 1919

Cowboys also left a permanent mark on American English. A whole lexicon of new words and phrases entered the language. Some were borrowed from other cultures. Others embodied inventive new uses for words that once meant something else. Still others slid into the vernacular sideways from Lord only knows where.

One of the best ways to imbue a western with a sense of authenticity is to toss in a few bits of period-appropriate jargon or dialect. That’s more difficult than one might imagine. I’m constantly surprised to discover words and phrases are either much younger or much older than I expected. Sometimes the stories behind the terms are even better than the terms themselves.

In case you ever find yourself in the midst of a herd of hunky 19th Century cowboys, here are some terms with which they be familiar. All arose in the U.S. during the 1800s.

Ball: a shot of liquor. Originated in the American West c. 1821; most commonly heard in the phrase “a beer and a ball,” used in saloons to order a beer and a shot of whiskey. “Ball of fire” meant a glass of brandy.

Barrelhouse: cheap saloon, often attached to a brothel. American English; arose c. 1875 as a reference to the barrels of beer or booze typically stacked along the walls.

Bear sign: donuts. Origin obscure, but the word was common on trail drives. Any chuckwagon cook who could — and would — make bear sign was a keeper.

Laugh Kills Lonesome, Charles M. Russell

Laugh Kills Lonesome, Charles M. Russell

Bend an elbow: have a drink.

Benzene: cheap liquor, so called because it set a man’s innards on fire from his gullet to his gut.

Booze: liquor. Prior to 1821, the word was used as a verb meaning “to drink heavily.” The change in usage may have had something to do with clever marketing on the part of Philadelphia distiller E.G. Booz.

Bottom of the barrel: of very low quality. Cicero is credited with coining the phrase, which he used as a metaphor comparing the basest elements of Roman society to the sediment left by wine.

Budge: liquor. Origin unknown, but in common use by the latter half of the 1800s. A related term, budgy, meant drunk.

Cantina: barroom or saloon. Texas and southwestern U.S. dialect from 1892; borrowed from Spanish canteen.

Chuck: food. Arose 1840-50 in the American West; antecedents uncertain.

Dead soldier: empty liquor bottle. Although the term first appeared in print in 1913, common usage is much older. Both “dead man” and “dead marine” were recorded in the context before 1892. All of the phrases most likely arose as a pun: “the spirits have departed.”

Dive: disreputable bar. American English c. 1871, probably as a figurative and literal reference to the location of the worst: beneath more reputable, mainstream establishments.

Goobers or goober peas: peanuts. American English c. 1833, likely of African origin.

Camp Cook's Troubles, Charles M. Russell

Camp Cook’s Troubles, Charles M. Russell

Grub up: eat. The word “grub” became slang for food in the 1650s, possibly as a reference to birds eating grubs or perhaps as a rhyme for “bub,” which was slang for drink during the period. 19th Century American cowboys added “up” to any number of slang nouns and verbs to create corresponding vernacular terms (i.e., “heeled up” meant armed, c. 1866 from the 1560s usage of “heel” to mean attaching spurs to a gamecock’s feet).

Gun wadding: white bread. Origin unknown, although visual similarity to the cloth or paper wrapped around the ball in muzzle-loaded weapons is likely.

Hooch: cheap whiskey, c. 1897. From Hoochinoo, the name of an Alaskan native tribe whose distilled liquor was a favorite with miners during the Klondike gold rush.

Jigger: 1.5-ounce shot glass; also, the volume of liquor itself. American English, 1836, from the earlier (1824) use of jigger to mean an illicit distillery. Origin unknown, but may be an alteration of “chigger” (c. 1756), a tiny mite or flea.

Kerosene: cheap liquor. (See benzene.)

Mescal: a member of the agave family found in the deserts of Mexico and the southwestern U.S., as well as an intoxicating liquor fermented from its juice. The word migrated to English from Aztec via Mexican Spanish before 1828. From 1885, mescal also referred to the peyote cactus found in northern Mexico and southern Texas. Dried disks containing psychoactive ingredients, often used in Native American spiritual rituals, were called “mescal buttons.”

Mexican strawberries: dried beans.

The Herd Quitter, Charles M. Russell

The Herd Quitter, Charles M. Russell

Red-eye: inferior whiskey. American slang; arose c. 1819, most likely as a reference to the physical appearance of people who drank the stuff. The meaning “overnight commercial airline flight that arrives early in the morning” arose 1965-70.

Roostered: drunk, apparently from an over-imbiber’s tendency to get his tail feathers in an uproar over little to nothing, much like a male chicken guarding a henhouse. The word “rooster” is an Americanism from 1772, derived from “roost cock.” Colonial Puritans took offense when “cock” became vulgar slang for a part of the human male anatomy, so they shortened the phrase.

Sop: gravy. Another trail-drive word, probably carried over from Old English “sopp,” or bread soaked in liquid. Among cowboys, using the word “gravy” marked the speaker as a tenderfoot.

Stodgy: of a thick, semi-solid consistency; primarily applied to food. Arose c. 1823-1825 from stodge (“to stuff,” 1670s). The noun form, meaning “dull or heavy,” arose c. 1874.

Tiswin (also tizwin): a fermented beverage made by the Apache. The original term probably was Aztecan for “pounding heart,” filtered through Spanish before entering American English c. 1875-80.

Tonsil varnish: whiskey.

Tornado juice: whiskey.

 

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How to Speak Texan

Kathleen Rice Adams

Don't mess with TexasTexans speak a language all our own, leading non-Texans to look at us like we don’t have good sense. We’re not illiterate hicks, you know … well, not all of us, anyway. Truth be told, even the most educated, most cosmopolitan Texans converse in Texas-speak when we’re around other Texans.

Honestly, folks who can speak both English and Texan ought to be considered bilingual.

In an attempt to assist the unfortunate souls who’ve not had the pleasure of hearing our lyrical language — and to educate those of y’all who insist on embarrassing yourselves with really bad Texas drawls — I herewith present a few Texas-isms. This list is by no means exhaustive.

Ahmoan: I’m going to. “Need anythin’ else? Ahmoan head on out here in a bit.”

Ahohno: I don’t know.

Ahuz: I was. “You hungry? Ahuz just about to put supper on the table.” (Note: Whether or not Texans are happy to see you, if it’s mealtime they’ll invite you to eat with them.)

Aint: aunt. “Ant” is acceptable. “Awnt” is unforgivable.

All y’all: y’all, but aimed at a bigger group.

Arya: are you.

Awl: oil. Still the lifeblood of Texas’s economy.

Pumpjack in Hockley County, Texas (click image to see it in action)

Awl patch: oilfield; petrochemical industry. Every Texan has at least one relative or ancestor with some connection to the oil business.

Bar ditch: a water-diversion channel running alongside a roadway. Except after a rain, they’re usually dry.

Bidness: business. “That ain’t none of your bidness.”

Bless yore heart: This phrase isn’t exclusive to Texas, but it gets used an awful lot in the Lone Star State. The meaning depends upon the context, and there are too many possibilities to list. Among the most common are “I’m so sorry,” “you are just the sweetest thing,” “you just said the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” and “You’d best get out of my sight before I need bail money.”

Caint: can’t.

C’moanin: come on in. “I’ve been expecting y’all. C’moanin.”

Cocola: Coca Cola. If you want the brown, fizzy beverage that comes in a red can, order this.

Coke: any carbonated beverage, regardless the color, flavor, or name on the bottle.

Coon’s age: a long time. “Where you been? I ain’t seen you in a coon’s age.”

Texas Rangers monument

Monument to the Texas Rangers at the state capitol in Austin

Cotton to: like, accept, or be unoffended by. Usually used in the negative. “We don’t much cotton to folks tellin’ us barbecue from anywhere else is better’n Texas barbecue.”

Daaaaayum: the longest word in the Texas language. Foreigners just say “damn.”

Didden; dudden: didn’t; doesn’t. “My family didden want me to marry Jim Bob. Daddy still dudden like him.”

Do whut now?: Could you repeat that? Used as both an indication the speaker wasn’t paying attention and disbelief. “Somebody paid Jake $5,000 for that old pickup out in the barn.” “Do whut now?”

Fixinta: about to. “I’m fixinta run down to the store. Need anything?”

Flahrs: flowers. “Better take her some flahrs or throw your hat in first.”

Foggiest notion: clue or idea; always used in the negative. “I don’t have the foggiest notion what you’re talking about.”

Furiners: foreigners. Anybody who’s not from Texas.

God love ’im/her/’em: Like “bless your heart,” this phrase can be used in a variety of ways. The most common meaning is he/she/they need looking after, because they’re too stupid to live. “God love ’im. He ain’t never had a lick of sense.”

Growshree, growshrees: grocery, groceries. “I’d better run down to the growshree store and pick up some growshrees, or we’re gonna starve.”

Hun’ert: one hundred.

Idden: isn’t. “That idden broke so bad duck tape caint fix it.”

Isetee: iced tea, the national beverage of Texas. If you don’t want sugar in it, you’d best ask for “unsweet” and be prepared to face a scowl.

Texas longhorn

Texas longhorn with attitude

My cow: an expression of disbelief or concern. “My cow. Doesn’t he know better than to tease a rattlesnake?”

My hind leg: I don’t believe you. “You were working late, my hind leg.”

Nessary: necessary. Texans frequently omit syllables they don’t find absolutely nessary.

Ohnover: on over. “Y’all come ohnover. We’ll play cards or something.”

Pert near: almost. “That boy’s pert near as big as his daddy, idden he?”

Probly: probably. “He’s probly just confused.”

Proud of: typically indicates something is priced way too high. “A hun’ert dollars for a pair of jeans? They sure are proud of those, ain’t they?”

Rainch: ranch; used as both noun and verb. “Yep, I come from rainch stock: My granddaddy was a raincher. Some of my uncles still rainch.”

Ratback, ratnow, ratquick: right back, right now, right quick. “Ahohno what you think you’re doing with that horse, but put him ratback where you found him, ratnow, or I’ll call the law ratquick.”

Ratcheer: right here. “Clara, where’d you get off to?” “I’m ratcheer.”

Rouneer: around here. “Y’all got any duck tape rouneer?”

Spoze: suppose; supposed. “I spoze you expect me to mow the grass.” “You were spoze to mow it yesterday.”

Tuhmahruh: tomorrow. “See you tuhmahruh.”

These parts: the general vicinity, which might be the neighborhood, the state, or the entire southern U.S. “’Round these parts, we don’t cotton to folks who can’t keep their noses in their own bidness.”

Texas anole

Texas anole (NOT a gecko; NOT a chameleon)

Tickled to death: very happy. “I’m just tickled to death y’all stopped by.”

Uh-huh: although used nationwide as a general term of agreement, in Texas “uh-huh” also is an appropriate response to “thank you.”

Urmomanem: your extended family; literally, your mom and them. “How’s urmomanem?” (Warning to the unwary: Never ask a Texan about his or her mother unless you’re prepared to hear an extensive report about everybody in the family. “How’s your momma?” “Oh, she’s fine. Grandma’s rheumatism’s acting up again. Uncle Billy and Aint Leta sold the house in Boerne and moved over to Seguin to be closer to the kids. Mark ran his truck off into the bar ditch again, and Dub had to take the tractor out yonder to pull him out. Cousin Lucille’s getting married in November. Ahohno how that girl can have the nerve to wear white, but…”)

Viztin: having a conversation with; literally, visiting. “Ahuz viztin with Mable just the other day. That woman can talk the bark off a tree.”

Wooden: wouldn’t. “I wooden touch that with somebody’s else’s ten-foot pole.”

Yaint: you aren’t. “Yaint too bright, arya?”

Yawna: you want to. “Yawna go to the football game Friday night?” (Word to the wise: Football is a religion in Texas. Whatever you do, don’t admit to being an Okie — or even once having seen an Okie — during college football season. You’re liable to wind up in a crossfire during the annual Red River Shootout on the gridiron. For the record, the official tally of wins stands at UT Longhorns 61, OU Sooners 45.)

Yole: you old. “Ain’t seen you in a coon’s age, yole hound dog.”

 

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Ed Picked Winners!

A big Texas thanks to everyone who stopped by to put in a good word for Ed with Santa. He scoffed when I told him he would be getting a lump of coal this year, but the cute factor evidently saved him.

As a small token of his appreciation, he plucked two names from my Stetson (before shredding the hat).

Susan P and Kathleen O,

Ed drew your names! He’s sending each of you a Wishing for a Cowboy ebook. The Christmas anthology from Prairie Rose Publications contains not only heartwarming tales from eight popular authors, but also recipes for all kinds of Christmas goodies. He’ll be in touch shortly, ladies.

Ed, Miss Li’l Ol’ Biddy, Dog, Underdog, and I wish everyone the merriest of Christmases and much health, love, and laughter in the new year.

 

Miss Li'l Ol' Biddy

Miss Li’l Ol’ Biddy

Dog

Dog

Underdog

Underdog

Ed Christmas 2016

Ed

 

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Dear Santa: I Can Explain

Kathleen Rice Adams

 

Dear Santa,

Ed's teethI was framed.

You’ve probably heard by now that I’ve been bad this year. All those things? I didn’t do them.

For example, I did not snap at my brother, repeatedly. I was showing him what good dental hygiene looks like. And anyway, if he hadn’t tried to usurp my spot in Mom’s lap, somebody who wasn’t me never would’ve snapped.

I also didn’t hop onto the kitchen counter. I climbed up there using a stool. If Mom hadn’t left the stool in such a convenient spot, that wouldn’t have happened, either.

The trash bag incident was the fault of a marauding pack of wild Chihuahuas who broke into the house while I was occupied trying to remove a squirrel from the premises. Have you ever seen the mess marauding Chihuahuas make? It isn’t pretty.

As for the bathroom trashcan… That was my brother. He’s always committing crimes and then pointing the paw at me. Let me tell you, Santa, he’s no angel. I was just trying to clean up the disaster.

Ed cuteWhen I dragged the roast out of the shopping bag, I was trying to help Mom put away the groceries. Do you realize how flimsy the packaging is on meat? Someone at the grocery store needs to address that.

Likewise, I did not rip open the bag of dog food. “Ripping” is too strong a word. I carefully chewed off a corner—and I only did that so Mom wouldn’t have to wrestle the bag open on her own.

As for peeing in the house… That rule simply isn’t fair. Mom pees in the house. I’ve tried to teach her to go outside, but she’s stubborn. And besides, there’s no DNA evidence to support her claim that she caught me in the act.

I did not drag the clean sheets out of the laundry basket, scruff them into a pile, and lie on them. Everybody knows sheets are much more comfortable on the bed.

Neither did I hide Mom’s shoe. I was redecorating, and Mom left her shoes in a spot that completely destroyed the aesthetic. One shoe created a pleasing avant-garde effect. Two shoes was one too many.

Ed's earsMom was also to blame when someone bit her nose. She shouldn’t have tried to trim my toenails. I go to great trouble to grow my nails to the precise length required for gardening (which, by the way, isn’t being bad, despite Mom’s insistence she hadn’t planned to put a plant in that spot). It was just a tiny little nip, anyway.

I did not leave teeth marks on the corner of a book. I was checking to make sure Mom’s editor hadn’t missed anything embarrassing. (Mom is notorious for mixing up words like “desert” and “dessert,” you know.) I had to turn the page somehow.

And speaking of her editor… I admit I typed a message into a chatroom where Mom was conversing with the Prairie Rose honchos. I can explain that, though: The minute Mom stepped away from her desk, I could tell gossip was about to erupt. Was I supposed to sit quietly and let them savage Mom while her back was turned?

Ed's profileThe accusation that I ate the tamale Mom was going to have for lunch is nothing more than a vicious rumor. There is not the slightest bit of evidence a tamale was ever on that plate.

I also did not find a chicken bone in the yard and attempt to run off and gnaw on it. That was another case of me trying to tidy up the place. Indoors isn’t the only part of the environment around here that could use a good cleaning.

In my defense, I should mention that I try to atone for all the bad things I don’t do by being a fierce watchdog. Nobody gets into my house—not burglars, rapists, ax-murderers, or Mom’s family. (You can’t be too careful, and some of Mom’s relatives look pretty sketchy.)

Ed on Santa's listI hope you will keep all of this in mind when you decide who’s been naughty and nice this year. Just to be sure there’s no mistake, I belong on the “nice” list. If you have to put someone around here on the naughty list, I think it should be pretty clear by now that Mom’s the real troublemaker.

Love,
Ed

P.S.
I hope you will bring me my own treats. Otherwise, my brothers and sister will just claim I stole theirs. I would never, ever, contemplate snatching a treat out of someone else’s mouth, no matter what the others say.

P.S.S.
If the cookies and milk are gone when you get here, it’s because there’s a marauding cat in the neighborhood, too.

 

(Ed would like to convince someone to vouch for him to Santa, and he’s willing to stoop to bribery to do so. Leave a comment telling him what you want for Christmas. He’ll pick two commenters and send each an ebook version of the Christmas anthology Wishing for a Cowboy.)

 

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CHRISTMAS READS–DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE? by Cheryl Pierson

Cheryl2041web

Do you have a favorite romance story that takes place at Christmas? One that really stands out and makes you smile to remember it?

 

 

 

You would think a Christmas romance would be one of the easiest tales to tell, wouldn’t you? I mean, what could be better than a backdrop of snow and mistletoe, the warmth of a fire in a great room, a twinkling Christmas tree…but what about creating a little excitement?

As romance readers, we want something that’s going to keep us turning the pages, no matter what time of year it might be—and let’s face it, sitting in front of a fire, half-asleep, with a book on our laps and a full stomach is not all that exciting—or romantic, either.

prpa-cowboy-under-the-mistletoe-webfinal

But sometimes, it can be a little tough to create a full length novel around a short time span—with the entire story being told in a month’s (or less) time. And for me…I’m not ever sure if my characters are going to decide if a short story is going to do their tale justice—or if they’re going to want MORE.

I’ve written quite a few WHR novellas for Christmas boxed sets and anthologies, with some single-author collections of my own that take place for the most part during the Christmas season. But as for full-length novels that take place a Christmas, I haven’t tackled that yet, though I’d love to write one someday.

 

Here’s a wonderful boxed set of western historical romance stories from Prairie Rose Publications that is available in print and e-book. It also features a wonderful story by fellow filly TANYA HANSON, among others! 

 

https://www.amazon.com/Cowboy-under-Mistletoe-Stacey-Coverstone-ebook/dp/B01M5J1BWQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1481249095&sr=1-1&keywords=a+cowboy+under+the+mistletoe&tag=pettpist-20

 

a-wallflower-christmas

What are your favorite romance stories that take place at Christmas? Got some to share? I always love holiday Regency stories—and it seems there are more of those that are full-length novels than other genres. Lisa Kleypas is a favorite of mine with her older Wallflower series.

 

Each takes place in a different season, but there is the Christmas installment, A WALLFLOWER CHRISTMAS. It’s not a western, but this is a wonderful series, and I especially loved the Christmas tale.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Wallflower-Christmas-Novel-Wallflowers-Book-ebook/dp/B0017SWS8G/ref=sr_1_6?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1481239431&sr=1-6&keywords=wallflowers+series+kleypas&tag=pettpist-20

 

Here are some heartwarming tales that make for some good holiday reading for yourself and for others!

prp-a-hero-for-christmas-web

 

A HERO FOR CHRISTMAS is a collection of four stories that take place at Christmas, each with a little “something extra” that happens within the story. It’s available in print and also in Kindle format. I will be giving away an e-copy of A HERO FOR CHRISTMAS today to one commenter!

 

 

https://www.amazon.com/Hero-Christmas-Cheryl-Pierson-ebook/dp/B00M282L7S/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid&sr&tag=pettpist-20

 

Fellow filly Tracy Garrett penned this heart-wrenching tale of lost love found again. You won’t want to miss this one!

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https://www.amazon.com/Her-Christmas-Wish-Tracy-Garrett-ebook/dp/B00M2829GQ/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8&tag=pettpist-20

 

WILD TEXAS CHRISTMAS is an anthology that I’m proud to have a story in along with Kaye Spencer, Jacquie Rogers, C. Marie Bowen, and fellow filly “sister” Kathleen Rice Adams.

prpwild-texas-christmas-web

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PZ9EV38?tag=pettpist-20

 

 

And here’s my latest Christmas short single sell, A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE. I will be giving away an e-copy of this short story today as well! Be sure to leave a comment!

 

 

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https://www.amazon.com/Marriage-Convenience-Mail-Order-Bride-ebook/dp/B01JY2IJAW/ref=sr_1_8?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1481250790&sr=1-8&keywords=A+Marriage+of+Convenience&tag=pettpist-20

 

Now, let’s hear from you! What are some of YOUR favorite holiday romance tales?

How to Talk Like a Texan, Place Names Edition

Kathleen Rice Adams header

 

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
How Texans pronounce place names ’round here.

Southeast Texas mapIn case y’all haven’t noticed, Texans do things our own way. Pronunciation, for example, is always a crapshoot when you’re from out of state. If you ever get lost in Texas, place names are good to know. Depending upon where you are in the state when you ask for directions using a mispronounced name, at best you’ll get a blank look. At worst, you’ll be laughed out of town.

 

First, a few universal basics:

Any name ending in “-boro” is pronounced “[name]buh-ruh”
Any name ending in “-shire” is pronounced “[name]shur.”
Most names ending in “-ville” are pronounced “[name]vuhl.”
Most names ending “-land” are pronounced “[name]lund.”
In Texas, “bayou” most often is pronounced “BI-oh,” not “BI-yoo.”

 

Mispronouncing any of the following is a dead giveaway you ain’t from around here:

Bexar: Bear

Blanco: BLANK-oh

Boerne: BUR-nee

Bosque: BAHS-key

Bowie: BOO-ee (C’mon, folks. Jim Bowie was one of the heroes of the Alamo. The least we can do is say his name right.)

Texas bayou

Texas bayou

Brazos: BRA-zuhs (short A, as in “gas”)

Eldorado: ell-duh-RAY-doh

Gruene: Green

Guadalupe: GWAH-dah-loop

Humble: UHM-buhl (Leave out the H, people!)

Luckenbach: LEW-ken-bahk (There is absolutely no excuse for getting this one wrong. Merle Haggard sang a number-one country hit about the town, for heaven’s sake.)

Manchaca: MAN-shack

Mexia: Muh-HAY-uh

Palacios: puh-LASH-us

Pecos: PAY-cuss

San Marcos: San MAR-cuss

Seguin: Seh-GEEN

Waxahachie: Wawks-uh-HATCH-ee

 

The following are more obscure.

We’ll forgive you for mispronouncing these. Many are spoken nothing like they’re spelled. Some are Texan-ized Spanish, German, or American Indian. Some are settlers’ surnames. The rest came from Lord only knows where.

Alvarado: Al-vuh-RAY-doh

Agua Dulce: Ah-wah DULE-sih

Anahuac: ANN-uh-wack

Aquilla: Uh-KWILL-uh

Balmorhea: Bal-muh-RAY

Banquete: Ban-KETT-ee

Bedias: BEE-dice

Bogata: Buh-GO-duh

Bolivar: BAHL-iv-er

Bronte: Brahnt

Brookshire: BROOK-shur

Buda: BYOO-duh

Bula: BYOO-luh

Buna: BYOO-nuh

Burnet: BURN-it

Texas bluebonnets at sunset

Texas bluebonnets at sunset

Carmine: Kar-MEEN

Celina: Suh-LIE-nuh

Christoval: Chris-TOE-vuhl

Cibolo: SEE-oh-low

Coahoma: Kuh-HO-muh

Colmesneil: COLE-mess-neel

Comal: KOH-muhl

Del Valle: Del VA-lee (like valley)

Erath: EE-rath

Falfurrias: Fal-FURY-us

Farrar: FAR-uh

Flatonia: Flat-TONE-yuh

Floresville: FLOORS-vuhl

Floydada: Floy-DAY-duh

Fredonia: Free-DOHN-yuh

Fulshear: FULL-shur

Grand Saline: Gran Suh-LEEN

Helotes: Hell-OH-tiss

Hico: HIGH-koh

Hochheim: HO-hime

Iraan: EYE-ruh-ANN

Jardin: JAR-duhn

Jermyn: JER-muhn (like German)

Jiba: HEE-buh

Jourdanton: JERD-n-tuhn

Juliff: JEW-liff

Kleberg: CLAY-berg

Knippa: Kuh-NIP-uh

Kountz: KOONTS

Kosciusko: Kuh-SHOOS-koh

Kuykendal: KIRK-en-doll

Lake Buchanan: Lake Buh-CAN-uhn

Lamarque: Luh-MARK

Lamesa: Luh-MEE-suh

Lampasas: Lam-PASS-us

Latexo: Luh-TEX-oh

Leakey: LAY-key

Levita: Luh-VIE-tuh

Lillian: LILL-yun

horses in pasture near Llano, Texas

horses in pasture near Llano, Texas

Llano: LAN-oh

Lorena: Low-REE-nuh

Manor: MAIN-er

Marathon: MARE-uh-thun

Marquez: mar-KAY

Miami: My-AM-uh (Texas ain’t Florida, after all.)

Medina: Muh-DEE-nuh

Montague: Mahn-TAG

Navarro: Nuh-VARE-uh

Nacogdoches: Nack-uh-DOH-chess

New Berlin: Noo BUR-lin

New Braunfels: New BRAWN-fuls

Nocona: Nuh-KOH-nuh

Olney: ALL-nee

Opelika: OPE-uh-LIKE-uh

Palestine: PAL-uh-steen (Nobody gets that one right unless they’re from Texas.)

Pedernales: Purr-den-AL-ess (Yes, the letters and sounds are all scrambled up. Just go with it.)

Pflugerville: FLOO-ger-ville (One exception to the “-vuhl” rule.)

Poth: POE-th

Quemado: Kuh-MAH-doh

Quitaque: KITTY-qway

Refugio: Reh-FURY-oh

Salado: Suh-LAY-doh

Salinero: Suh-LEEN-yo

Santa Elena: San-tuh LEE-na

Study Butte: STEW-dee BYOOT

Tawakoni: Tuh-WOK-uh-nee

Tivoli: Tih-VOH-luh

Tulia: TOOL-yuh

Uvalde: Yoo-VAL-dee

Weesatche: WEE-sash

Weslaco: WESS-luh-koh

 

Texans, what names aren’t on this list? The rest of y’all: What odd place names occur in your state? Leave a comment and let us know! I’ll give two commenters their choice of the Christmas ebooks Peaches or The Last Three Miles.

 

Peaches, by Kathleen Rice AdamsRunning a ranch and fending off three meddlesome aunts leaves Whit McCandless no time, and even less patience, for the prickly new schoolmarm’s greenhorn carelessness. The teacher needs educating before somebody gets hurt.

Ruth Avery can manage her children and her school just fine without interference from some philistine of a rancher. If he’d pay more attention to his cattle and less to her affairs, they’d both prosper.

He didn’t expect to need rescuing. She never intended to fall in love.

The Last Three Miles, by Kathleen Rice AdamsWhen an accident leaves Hamilton Hollister convinced he’ll never be more than half a man, he abandons construction of a railway spur his lumber mill needs to survive.

Believing no woman shackled by social convention can be complete, railroad heiress Katherine Brashear refuses to let the nearly finished track die.

The magic of Christmas in a small Texas town may help them bridge the distance…if they follow their hearts down The Last Three Miles. (spicy)

 

 

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The 19th Century Table: Parker House Rolls (including recipe)

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Harvey D. Parker, father of Parker House Rolls

Harvey D. Parker (sculptor John D. Perry, 1874), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

When 20-year-old Harvey D. Parker arrived in Boston on a packet from Maine, the young man had only $1 in his pocket. Even in 1825, $1 wasn’t enough to sustain him for more than a day, so Parker took the first job he could find: caring for a horse and a cow at a salary of $8 per month. A series of other subsistence jobs followed, until he found one that set him on a career path from which he’d earn a fortune.

While working as a coachman for a wealthy socialite, Parker frequently ate his noon meal in a dingy basement tavern. In 1832, he bought the tavern for $432 and renamed it Parker’s Restaurant. Excellent food served by an attentive staff soon made the place a popular dining spot for the city’s newspapermen, lawyers, and businessmen. By 1847, the restaurant was one of the busiest and most well-regarded in the city.

In 1854, Parker and a partner bought a boarding house that once had been a grand mansion. They razed the structure and built an ornate, five-story brick-and-stone hotel on the site. The elegant hotel, named simply Parker’s, opened with great fanfare on April 22, 1854, and quickly became the establishment for upper-crust travelers. Notable guests included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., and Charles Dickens. John Wilkes Booth stayed at Parker’s only days before he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

Parker's hotel, where Parker House Rolls were born.

Parker’s (19th century photo by Leander Baker)

At the time, the few existing hotels (most travelers took lodging in taverns or boarding houses) operated on “the European plan,” which included meals in the cost of a room. Meals were served family-style at given hours; if a lodger missed the hour, he went without food.

Parker’s hotel introduced a new concept: Rooms and meals were priced separately. Guests were offered menus appropriate to the time of day and ate virtually anytime they pleased. The upscale food was prepared by a kitchen staff and served in a grand dining room, where members of the public were invited to dine at their convenience, too.

The restaurant introduced dishes that remain popular today, including Parker House rolls and Massachusetts’s state dessert, Boston cream pie. According to legend, the rolls resulted when an angry chef tossed unfinished dough into the oven, accidentally creating a bread diners demanded ever after.

Parker's dining room, where diners demanded Parker House Rolls

Parker’s dining room, ca. 1910

Today, the Parker House is part of the Omni Hotels chain of high-end lodging establishments. Omni chose to maintain the original property’s lux décor, for the most part. The walls remain burnished American oak; lobbies, bars, and the restaurant resonate with the deep colors of yesteryear; massive crystal chandeliers sparkle in the public areas, and elevator doors are overlaid with a patina of burnished bronze.

Recipes for the hotel’s signature dishes reportedly remain unchanged, as well. Understandably, Omni Parker House doesn’t reveal its culinary secrets, but intrepid cooks and bakers take that as a challenge. Recipes for Parker House rolls began appearing in cookbooks in the 1880s. Fanny Farmer revealed what she claimed to be the original in her 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

Here it is, with baking instructions for modern kitchens.

Parker House Rolls

Parker House Rolls

Parker House rolls, courtesy King Arthur Flour

1¾ cup scalded milk

¼ cup lukewarm water

2 Tbsps. active dry yeast

1 cup butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 large egg

6 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions

1. Dissolve yeast in water.

2. In large bowl, combine 1/2 cup butter, sugar, and salt.

3. Stir in water/yeast mixture, milk, and egg.

4. Add 3 cups flour and beat thoroughly. The mixture should resemble a thick batter. Cover and let rise until at least double.

5. Stir down sponge, then stir in enough flour to make a soft dough (about another 2½ cups).

6. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, working in more flour (about ½ cup) while kneading.

7. Shape dough into a ball and place in large, lightly greased bowl, turning so that top of dough is greased. Cover with towel; let rise in warm place (80 to 85 degrees F.) until doubled, about 1½ hours. (Dough is doubled when 2 fingers pressed into dough leave a dent.)

8. Punch down dough by pushing the center of dough with fist, then pushing edges of dough into center. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead lightly to make smooth ball, cover with bowl for 15 minutes to let dough rest.

9. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

10. In 17¼-inch by 11½-inch roasting pan, melt remaining ½ cup butter over low heat; tilt pan so melted butter coats entire bottom.

11. On lightly floured surface with floured rolling pin, roll dough ½ inch thick.

12. Cut dough into circles with floured 2¾-inch round cutter. (Note: The dough may be cut into rectangles instead of circles.) Holding dough circle by the edge, dip both sides into melted butter pan; fold in half.

13. Arrange folded dough in rows in pan used to melt the butter. Each roll should nearly touch its neighbors. Cover pan with towel; let dough rise in warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.

14. Bake rolls for 15 to 18 minutes until browned.

 

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Lady Killers

Kathleen Rice Adams header

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

Belle Gunness

Belle Gunness and her children

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

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

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

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

Delphine Lalaurie

Delphine Lalaurie

Delphine LaLaurie

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

Mary Jane Jackson

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

Kate Bender

Kate Bender

Kate Bender

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

 

Ellen Etheridge

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

Linda Burfield Hazzard

Linda Burfield Hazzard

Linda Burfield Hazzard

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

Della Sorenson

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

Lyda Southard

Lyda Southard

Lyda Southard

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

 

Bertha Gifford and a six-year-old victim

Bertha Gifford and a six-year-old victim

Bertha Gifford

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

 

 

 

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El Muerto: The Headless Horseman of Texas

Kathleen Rice Adams header

First published in 1820, Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has been terrifying children for almost 200 years. Though the tale of a hapless schoolmaster’s midnight gallop through the New York woods made the phrase “headless horseman” a household term in America, by the time Irving’s story appeared headless horsemen had been staples of European folklore for centuries. German, Irish, Scandinavian, and English legends all offered versions of the ghoulish phantoms, who usually were said to appear to proud, arrogant people as a warning.

headless horsemanTexas has its own gruesome headless horseman legend. Unlike Irving’s unforgettable spook, though, Texas’s headless horseman rode among the living once upon a time.

Some say he still does.

In the summer of 1850, a Mexican bandido by the name of Vidal made an egregious error: He and several compadres rustled a sizable herd of horses from several ranches south of San Antonio. One of the ranches belonged to Texas Ranger Creed Taylor, a veteran of the Texas War for Independence and a man not inclined to forgive his enemies. (Taylor later would be one of the participants in the Sutton-Taylor Feud, a bloody, years-long running gun battle that resulted in four times as many deaths as the better-known fracas between the Hatfields and McCoys.)

Rustling cattle already had earned Vidal’s head a dead-or-alive bounty. Stealing a Texas Ranger’s horses was the proverbial last straw. Together with fellow Ranger William A.A. “Big Foot” Wallace and another local rancher, Taylor set out to put a stop to Vidal’s unbearable insolence.

The Headless Horseman: A Strange Tale of Texas, 1865

Capt. Mayne Reid’s version of a Texas Legend, published in 1865, received a mention in Charles Dickens’s final novel, Our Mutual Friend.

As a group, the early Texas Rangers were hard men. Tasked with protecting an enormous patch of land rife with outlaws and Indians, the early Rangers were expert trackers, accomplished gunmen, and not opposed to meting out immediate — and often brutal — “frontier justice.” Vidal was about to discover that in a very personal way.

After tracking the bandidos to their camp, Taylor, Wallace, and the third man mounted a surprise attack while the outlaws were asleep. Killing the desperados was not enough for Taylor and Wallace, though. The entire Ranger force was fed up with the rash of rustling plaguing Texas at the time. Not even leaving bodies hanging from trees or hacking them to pieces and using the bits for predator bait had made a strong enough statement.

So, Wallace got creative. After beheading Vidal, he secured the corpse upright on the back of the wildest of the rustled horses, lashed the bandido’s hands to the saddle horn and his feet to the stirrups, and tied the stirrups beneath the animal’s belly. Just to make sure anyone who saw the ghoulish specter got the message, he looped a rawhide thong through the head’s jaws and around Vidal’s sombrero, and slung the bloody bundle from the saddle’s pommel. Then Wallace and his friends sent the terrified mustang galloping off into the night.

William A.A. "Big Foot" Wallace, ca. 1872

Big Foot Wallace, ca. 1872

Not long thereafter, vaqueros began to report seeing a headless horseman rampaging through the scrub on a dark, wild horse. As sightings spread, some claimed flames shot from the animal’s nostrils and lightning bolts from its hooves. Bullets seemed to have no effect on the grisly marauder. They dubbed the apparition el Muerto — the dead man — and attributed all sorts of evil and misfortune to the mysterious rider.

Eventually, a posse of cowboys brought down the horse at a watering hole near Ben Bolt, Texas. By then the dried-up body had been riddled with bullets and arrows, and the head had shriveled in the sun. The posse laid Vidal’s remains to rest in an unmarked grave on the La Trinidad Ranch. Only then did Wallace and Taylor take public credit for the deed. The episode contributed to Wallace’s reputation and had the intended effect on rustling.

Even the revelation of the truth behind the legend did not end el Muerto’s reign of terror. Until nearby Fort Inge was decommissioned in 1869, soldiers reported seeing a headless rider roaming the countryside around Uvalde, near Taylor’s ranch. Thirty years later, a rise in the ground 250 miles to the southeast, near San Patricio, Texas, was christened Headless Horseman Hill after a wagon train reported an encounter with el Muerto. A sighting occurred in 1917 outside San Diego, Texas, and another near Freer in 1969.

El Muerto reportedly still roams the mesquite-covered range in Duval, Jim Wells, and Live Oak counties — still fearsome, still headless, and still reminding those who see him that Texas Rangers didn’t come by their tough-hombre reputation by accident.

bat flourish

Robbing Banks Stealing HeartsI haven’t written any tales about headless horsemen — yet — but ghosts play a significant role in one of my short novellas. Family Tradition is one of two stories that compose Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts.

Everyone should have career at which they excel. At failing to commit crimes, nobody is better than Laredo and Tombstone Hawkins. Maybe they can bumble their way into love.

Family Tradition
Haunted by his kin’s tradition of spectacular failure, bank robber Tombstone Hawkins is honor-bound to prove his family tree produced at least one bad apple. When carnival fortuneteller Pansy Gilchrist tries to help, she accidentally summons a pair of dishonest-to-goodness ghosts. Getting into the spirit of a crime is one thing…but how do you get the spirits out?

 

Here’s a brief excerpt:

Stone blinked at the apparitions. If not for Madame Minerva’s confirmation, he’d have sworn he was seeing things—and he hadn’t touched a drop of whiskey in weeks.

He eased backward a step.

So did she, sidling up next to him until her hipbone collided with his leg.

The two ghosts floated around the table, one on each side, and planted themselves close enough for Stone to poke a hand through either misty shape. Forcing a swallow down his throat, he squinted at the nearest. He’d been on the receiving end of that old man’s irritated glare far too often.

Heart racing fast enough to outrun a mule with a butt full of buckshot, Stone faded back another step.

The fake gypsy stayed with him, as though she were glued to his side.

The gauzy forms kept pace.

“Emile?” Madame Minerva’s voice squeaked like a schoolgirl’s.

Even on a ghost, disappointment was easy to spot. A pained frown gripped one apparition’s face. “I’m not part of the con any longer, Pansy. You can’t call me father just once?”

Stone ducked his head and tossed the woman a sidelong glance. “Pansy?”

“Said Tombstone,” she hissed.

The second ghost spoke up, his voice strangely hollow but recognizable. “Boy, you got nothin’ to say to your ol’ pop?”

“I uh… I…” Stone’s tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.

Thank God, Emile picked up the conversation. “I see my little girl is keeping the family tradition alive.”

“I am.” Pansy’s breathy whisper carried a hint of tears. “Oh, Emile, I wish you had stayed.”

“I’ve been here all along. You just haven’t looked for me before.” Emile’s specter extended a hand to cup his daughter’s cheek. Pansy leaned into the phantom caress.

Stone snatched her before she toppled over. Too late, he discovered she weighed little more than a ghost herself. His grab yanked her off her feet and slammed her into his chest.

He exercised quite a bit more care setting her back on the dirt floor.

 

 

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