Tag: Oak Grove Series

Behind the Book ~ A look at Cattle

All of a sudden, I realized that Harlequin is releasing my Christmas novella TODAY!
I am not ready for Christmas. NOT. ONE. BIT. Autumn hasn’t even officially arrived here!

So…at the end of this post I will share a blurb about A Western Christmas Homecoming,
which is the last book in the Oak Grove Series that I have been writing with Lauri Robinson. 

Texas Longhorns

Recently, I had to research different types of cattle here in America for my story, Wedding at Rocking S Ranch that takes place on a ranch. Oak Grove was a railroad town that blossomed as a result of its location and the cattle drives from Texas. Sure, Longhorns came from Texas, but was that the kind of cattle that would be found on a ranch in Kansas? My grandfather and uncle raised Black Angus cattle here in the Midwest their entire lives and I have yet to see a Texas Longhorn this far north. So when, and where, did the switch occur? I also had to check the history of barbed wire.

1870 marked the start of the big cattle drives into Kansas. 300,00 arrived that year. The next year that amount doubled. Three-fifths of the cattle were “stock cattle” which means they were yearlings, heifers, cows and steers younger than four years old. Abilene, Kansas, Wichita and Dodge City became the towns (and later cities) that truly boomed with the transporting of cattle to market.

Many of the Longhorns didn’t immediately board the train and head to points farther east, but wintered in Kansas, existing on the buffalo-grass prairie. Although barbed wire had been invented and was in use, the sectioning off of large parcels of land hadn’t happened yet in Kansas in 1879 at the time my story takes place. Cattle still roamed free and had to be watched over by cowboys. At the Rocking S Ranch, the ranch-house and the crops had fences around them to keep the cattle out of the corn and alfalfa and off the porch. This was known as “fenced out.” Further east, a farmer would use wood and barbed wire to enclose a pasture, which was known as “fenced in.”

In my story, I have the owner of the ranch looking into crossbreeding his longhorns with another breed of cattle to make a healthier, more profitable herd. He has brought in Black Angus to give this a try. Black Angus first came to Kansas in 1873 when George Grant transported them from Scotland. Where the longhorns were hardy, they were a tougher meat and had a wild-streak and could be difficult to manage. Angus had a gentle nature but were more susceptible to extremes in weather. Their meat is more tender and has a better flavor that the longhorns. Angus weigh between 850 and 1000 pounds when mature.

When Grant took his four Angus bulls to the fair at the Kansas City Livestock Exposition that year, the local people didn’t know what to think of them. These cattle had no horns! (Called polled, which means naturally hornless.) But Grant had the last laugh when he successfully crossed his bulls with native Texas longhorns. The calves were hardier, hornless, and weighed more. They were also a bit more docile. Between 1878 and 1883, twelve hundred Angus cattle were imported to the Midwest. Cross-breeding has steadily improved the hardiness of the Angus here in America.

And there are Red Angus! Red Angus occur as the result of a recessive gene. They are the same as their black relatives except they are actually more tolerant of the hot weather. At one time, The Angus Association barred the registration of Red Angus in an attempt to promote a solid black breed. Likely that is one of the reasons they are fewer in number. Eventually, The Red Angus Association of America formed when breeders searched out and collected the Red Angus from the black herds.

Although I used a lot of this information in Wedding at Rocking S Ranch, it was sprinkled in with a light touch. After all, in historical romance it is the relationship between the two protagonists that carry the story!

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And now for my New Release!      

Three festive stories ~ Christmas in the Wild West!

A Western Christmas Homecoming

CHRISTMAS WITH THE OUTLAW by Kathryn Albright
SNOWBOUND IN BIG SPRINGS by Lauri Robinson
CHRISTMAS DAY WEDDING BELLS by Lynna Banning

In Christmas Day Wedding Bells by Lynna Banning, buttoned-up librarian Alice is swept away by US marshal Rand Logan on a new adventure.
Then, Welles is Snowbound in Big Springs in this novella by Lauri Robinson, where he must confront Sophie and their undeclared feelings…
Finally, rugged outlaw Russ rescues Abigail from spending the festive season alone in Christmas with the Outlaw by Kathryn Albright!

Available at HarlequinAmazonBarnes and Noble

Visit my website for excerpts and more information on all my books!

The Oak Grove Series ~ A Look at the Making of a Series

When author, Lauri Robinson, surprised me by asking if I’d be interested in writing a book with her, I had just finished my San Diego Heroes Series and really hadn’t expected to write any more stories set in the Old West. However, her enthusiasm spurred me (please forgive the pun) to accept her request. The process of collaborating has been a learning experience and also a joy. With Mail-Order Brides of Oak Grove, we fell in love with the inhabitants of our fictional town and that first book propagated a series. Between Lauri and me there will be seven books by the time we are finished. You can view them all, along with a brief description, here: http://kathrynalbright.com/books/oak-grove-series

Throughout the series, I’ve gotten to know the town-folk with their secrets, idiosyncrasies, heart-aches, and joys from the moment Mary and Maggie, twin mail-order brides, stepped off the Kansas-Pacific train platform. As I type this, I just realized that the final book in the series ends with a scene on that same platform. Talk about ‘book-ends’!

I sketched out a town with buildings and stockyards, but, as I am no artist, I quickly gave up on that idea. Sketching did help me to visualize things better, but initially, I had to have a basic idea where buildings were situated so that both Lauri and I could mention them in their correct perspective without mistakes. (The smallest mistake can pull a reader out of the story.) Even shadows had to be falling the proper direction for the time of day. The Smoky Hill River had to run south of town and be within walking distance for a fishing scene (first book) and also because in the Spring (fourth book) it overflowed its banks, causing a horrific flood. (That is according to the real history of the river in 1879!) Here is the first map I made on my dining room table…

Original Map Cedar Grove

And here are some of my computer scribblings…

 

And then I stumbled across a picture of a real town’s Main Street that was so very close to what was in my head… it’s missing the school down by the church and Oak Grove doesn’t have a Fire Station yet. Instead, the Fire Station would actually be either the bath house or the Saloon. Still…it looks fairly close to my vision. Oak Grove…being a newly built town…would also be a bit spiffier.

Oak Grove town in real life picture

What’s next for the series?

CHRISTMAS WITH THE OUTLAW is coming out NOVEMEBER 1st! This story will be the last in the Oak Grove Series and I am already sad to leave this wonderful community. It’s funny how fictional worlds and characters can become so ‘real.’ I would enjoy going to this town and meeting everyone there! I hear that from many of my readers about the Oak Grove Series and about other story “worlds.” I think that must say something about humanity. Despite the outliers – those ‘lone wolf’ independents, despite introverts and extroverts, we are all made for connection and for community to varying degrees.

What about you?

If you could travel to any fictional book world or setting, where would you like to visit?
(Does not have to be a historical western setting necessarily!)

Answer for a chance in my giveaway and your name might be drawn to win a copy (print or ebook)
of my newest release ~ Wedding at Rocking S Ranch!
(See Giveaway Guidelines at the top of this page)

Wedding at Rocking S Ranch cover picture

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Homesteading on the Prairie

 

Homesteading on the Prairie

By Kathryn Albright
Tales of Courage & Hope

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I have scurried down many rabbit holes in my research so that my books set in western Kansas are historically accurate. Rivers, native fish, agriculture, Native Americans, sod houses, native birds and wildlife, cattle drives and cattle breeding are a handful of these “holes.” The internet is a big help in fact-finding, but my-oh-my do I get lost at times and surface just before it is time to prepare supper for my family!

For my next book in the Oak Grove Series, I’ve had to do some research into homesteading on the prairie.

The early inhabitants of Oak Grove, a fictional town set along the Smoky Hill River, lived in tents made from the canvas of their prairie schooners, but with the Kansas-Pacific Railroad now established all the way to Denver (1878), the small town was growing and wooden structures were springing up as the train brought supplies from the east and wood from the Rocky Mountains. The town prospered with the nearby stockyards that shipped cattle (up from the drives in Texas) to the miners in Colorado and to Chicago.

Railroad land grant Kansas

Homestead Act of 1862

However, some who lived out of town on 160 acres of their own, were farmers who’d come west with nothing but a dream to take advantage of the government’s Homestead Act of 1862. Requirements to own a plot of land by this means included:

  1. Must be at least 21 years of age.
  2. Must be a citizen or an immigrant with the intention of becoming a citizen.
  3. Must pay a filing fee (usually at the Land Office in the nearest town where it was also determined that no one else had claimed that particular parcel of land.)
  4. Must farm the land and live on it for five years before gaining the official deed to the property.
  5. Must build a home within six months. (Requirements in some states included the minimum dimensions of the home, one glass window, and also building a well.)

Homesteading on the Prairie

On the open prairie, it seemed that all weather was extreme. On arriving, many of the “sod busters” began by building a small dugout into the side of hill, just to escape the relentless wind, sun, snow and rain. Since there were no trees or large stones for construction material, the settlers would use their mules, oxen, or horses, and a special plow to cut rectangles of sod, 18” x 24” (weight = 50 pounds) to use as “bricks” for their home. These would be set so that the roots could grow and intermingle into the next row of sod, creating a very strong wall.

The base of a soddie was wide and the walls would then taper inward slightly to allow for settling. Most had a dirt floor, but later a puncheon or plank flooring might be used. On the inside, the walls would be plastered with mud to create a smooth appearance. Open windows were covered with oil cloth. A fireplace for cooking would take up one wall of the house.

The roof caused the most concern in the building process. Wooden poles, laid across the rim of the sod house, were then overlaid with bundles of brush. On top of the brush, more sod blocks were placed. Dirt clods dropping form the roof was a problem as well as other insects and an occasional snake. If the sod became too wet after a hard rain it could cave in. Every few years, depending on the severity of the weather, the roof would have to be replaced. Structures had one to three rooms and were surprisingly very snug and warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Homesteading on the Prairie

With all the difficulties they had to face, the years of too much or too little rain for their crops, less than 50 percent of homesteaders achieved the five-year requirement and acquired the deed to their land. Those who did not, went back home or traveled further west. Although most homesteaders consisted of a husband and wife and often children, a single woman or widow could also homestead and work to own the land. Once source reported that single and widowed women made up to 12 percent of the men and women homesteading in the Rocky Mountain area.

From 1862 to 1900 over 600,000 claims to homestead were filed. The Homestead Act ended in 1976 for the contiguous 48 states and in 1986 for Alaska.

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Learning these facts helped me form the basis of my fictional character’s life on the prairie. I was worried that the land would not be hers after her husband died, but was gratified to know she could hold on to it and it would be there for her son, and her son’s son if he chose that same life. That is why she fights for it so fiercely. The Prairie Doctor’s Bride, a western historical romance, won’t be available for a few more months, but it is available for pre-order here ~ [  Amazon  ]

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I doubt that I would have lasted six months living in a sod house! The bugs falling from the roof would have been too much for me! What, for you, would have been the most difficult part of life in a soddie?

Comment to be entered into a drawing to receive my latest release ~ Mail-Order Brides of Oak Grove!

Homesteading on the Prairie

 

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