Tag: Pam Crooks

A Lake, a Resort–and a Massacre!

For those of us living in the Midwest, we are  hopelessly landlocked.  No oceans within easy reach for us.  We do, however, have some breathtaking lakes, and among some of the most beautiful are in northeast Iowa–West Okoboji, East Okoboji and Spirit Lake in the Great Lakes Region.

This summer, my family–all 19 of us–had a memorable vacation in Okoboji.  We stayed in Arnold’s Park, specifically Fillenwarth Beach.  Honestly, if you have a chance to go there and stay for even a few days, GO!  It’s the perfect family getaway.

While there, my husband and I went on a History Cruise, narrated by the widowed husband of Julie Fillenwarth, whose grandparents developed the resort in 1918.  (Yes, this year is Fillenwarth Beach’s 100th birthday.)  On the cruise, the narrator told of a museum within walking distance of the beach–an 1850s cabin that belonged to a family that had been massacred by Sioux Indians.

He explained how bitter cold winters forced bands of Sioux to find food and warmth.  On March 8, 1857, they attacked pioneer settlers who were trying hard to survive, just like they were.  In all, 33 settlers were killed and four females kidnapped, three of them married women and the youngest, a girl barely fourteen.

That girl was Abbie Gardner.  After her family’s murder, she endured 84 days with the Sioux where she witnessed the murders of two of the women until finally, she was ransomed and freed.  She married shortly thereafter at the (shockingly) young age of 14.  Though she struggled with what we now know is PTSD, she went on to live a relatively happy life with her husband and three children.  During that time, she wrote a book of her ordeal, The Spirit Lake Massacre and Captivity of Abbie Gardner.  The book earned seven printings and Abbie enough money to return to Spirit Lake and buy back the cabin her father built.  For many years, she worked at the cabin museum, selling her book and sharing her story.

I could not put this book down, it was so riveting.

(Buy the book on Amazon.)

There was even a movie made of her experience in 1927.

Abbie’s story reminded me of my newest book–without the massacre of course.  My first contemporary western romance will be released in January, 2019, by Tule Publishing.  Ava Howell comes to the Blackstone Ranch to develop a resort on the Paxton family’s ranch.  The resort has a beautiful lake, too, and a hero, Beau Paxton, who resists her efforts but can’t fight the love that grows between them.

I’ll tell you more about Ava and Beau’s story as details are finalized.  We’re working on the cover now–and Tule has some of the best!  Can’t wait!

Until then, tell me about your favorite family vacations!  Do they include a beach, too, like mine do?

A Prison for a Hero

I’ve always had a macabre fascination with prisons, and when I was formulating the story for HANNAH’S VOW, I knew I wanted a bad one for my hero.  It took some digging, but with the help of a family friend who worked in a local university library, I found the perfect prison in which Quinn Landry would suffer.

You see, he shouldn’t have been in prison in the first place, but his older brother accused him of murder and did some conniving with the local law, and before Quinn could defend himself, he was whisked across Texas state lines and thrown into a notorious prison in New Mexico Territory.

This penitentiary was based on the Maine State Prison in the early 1830s.  The convicts were housed in underground cells and sounded just awful.  The dungeons were one story high with no way in or out except for a two feet square opening above them, secured with an iron grate.  The convicts descended into the pits by a ladder, which was removed, of course, once they were down.

The pits were eight feet long, four feet wide, and nine feet high.  Sometimes, the prisoner was in solitary, sometimes he shared the cell.   There was no lighting, and at the bottom of the pit, only a small hole, one and a half inch in diameter, which allowed heated air in from the penitentiary’s furnace.   No privies, either, but a tub was provided at night so they could do their business.

During the day, the convicts toiled in workshops as blacksmiths, wagon-makers, shoe-makers, wood-cutters and tailors.  Some of the hardest criminals worked in a stone quarry.  The female prisoners spent their time in wash-houses under the strict eye of a female officer.

In reality, this particular penitentiary sold the fruits of the convicts’ labors at full market price, and convicts were fed well.  Their daily rations of beef or pork, bread, potatoes, and mush and molasses (breakfast) were surprisingly generous, as was their allowance for tobacco.   They were allowed visitors and attended religious services on Sunday afternoons.  For their care, the prisoners rarely died and hardly got sick.

But in fiction, Quinn had it much worse.  He lives for revenge.  It’s the only thing keeping him alive.  When he learns of drug experiments on the prisoners, he knows he could die next.  To right the wrongs dealt against him, he must risk his life and escape.   And Hannah, of course, is there as his very unwilling ticket to freedom.

Drug experiments on the incarcerated is not a new practice, and there are distinct advantages, if you will.  In modern times, the inmates are in a controlled environment, are available and usually healthy.  In addition, they have a choice whether to volunteer.  They’re informed and often paid for their trouble.  The reasons they volunteer are varied, and while that could be fodder for a whole ‘nother blog, suffice to say, Quinn didn’t have a choice.  🙂  And doesn’t that make for much more interesting reading–especially when Hannah is there to stir up a little romance between them?

HANNAH’S VOW is now available as an e-book, and for a limited time, only 99 cents!

Click here to buy a copy for your Kindle!

Click here to buy a copy for your Nook!

So . . . have you ever visited a prison or jail before?  What were your impressions?

How do you feel about drug experiments on humans, incarcerated or otherwise?

Let’s talk!  I’ll draw a winner for a book of her choosing from my backlist!

Knee-Slappin’ Barbecue!

It all depends where you’re from.

With Memorial Day coming up in a few days, and May being National Barbecue Month, folks all over the country are going to be firing up their grills, smokers and ovens, stirring their spices and mixing their sauces for that first big weekend to kick off summer.

Barbecue will be the name of the game.

How you do the meat will reflect which region you live in.  Barbecue experts have narrowed these regions down to four distinct ‘cue styles. 

Carolina Style:

Dates back to colonial times.  Wild pigs were plentiful, and most folks were missing their teeth, so they cooked those hogs over a wood fire to get them good and tender–and easier to chew.  Meat was pulled right off the bone; hence, the term ‘pulled pork.’  Popular seasonings include a thin vinegar sauce, salt, pepper and flakes of red dried chili pepper. 

Memphis Style:

Known for its dry rub seasonings.  Barbecue sauce is served on the side.  Pork ribs are rubbed with a mixture of salt, pepper and paprika, and depending on taste, onion power, garlic powder, sugar, mustard, sage and ginger are added.  The sauce–tomato-based and thick, with mustard, brown sugar and vinegar.

Memphis lays claim to the famous Rendezvous restaurant, located in a basement and accessible via a dumpster-filled alley. 

 Kansas City Style: 

Now, this is my kind of ‘cue.  Sweet, sour and spicy.  Tomato-based, too.  Cooks will usually brush the sauce over the meat just before it comes off the grill.  The meat is cooked over a slow-burning fire of hickory and oak wood chips for that sweet-smoky flavor.  Be sure to have plenty of napkins near-by!

Texas Style:

When you think of Texas, do you think of beef brisket?  Or maybe pork ribs.  Either way, the meat is rubbed with blended salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder, then grilled slowly over a wood fire, often of mesquite.  Texas seasonings tend to be hotter, spicier.  Not so sweet and sour as the Kansas City style, and with more Worcestershire sauce.

Here’s a couple of easy barbecue sauce recipes:

1 part of Heinz 57 sauce

1 part honey

Blend.  Make as much or as little as you like!


My favorite fast food sandwich place is Arby’s, and their barbecue sauce is the best.  Here’s a recipe:

1 cup ketchup

2 tsp. water

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. Tabasco pepper sauce


Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sauce begins to boil, about 5 – 10 minutes.  Let cool.  Store in covered container in refrigerator.


Being in a ‘cue frame of mind, and in um, research for this blog, Doug and I went out to eat at an Omaha icon known for its barbecue–The Smoke Pit.  I visited with the wife of the owner, who first met her husband when she went to work at the restaurant.  Thirty-two years later, she’s still cooking for him and their customers, six days a week.  They cook their meat in big smoker ovens and are known for their trademark ribs.  I ordered chicken, and the meat literally falls off the bone.  She makes their barbecue sauce, which I found thinner and sweeter than most.

So, do tell.  What are you doing this Memorial Weekend?  Serving barbecue?  What’s your favorite?  Any stories to share?  Any recipes?

Let us know, and I’ll draw one lucky name who will win a bottle of barbecue sauce from Omaha’s own The Smoke Pit!

Updated: May 21, 2008 — 7:27 am
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