Haunted Winchester Mystery House


The Winchester Mystery House —Some legends say it is haunted by every person killed with a Winchester Rifle.

sarah-winchesterDeeply saddened by the deaths of her daughter Annie in 1866 and her young husband in 1881, and seeking solace, Winchester consulted a medium on the advice of a psychic. According to popular history, during a séance, the medium told Winchester there was a curse on the Winchester family because the guns had killed so many. The psychic told Winchester her husband and child died because of vengeful spirits and she was next.”

The Boston Medium told Winchester that she must “build a home for the spirits who have fallen from this terrible weapon. You must never stop building the house. If you stop, you will die.”

Sarah Winchester inherited more than $20.5 million upon her husband’s death. She also received nearly 50 percent ownership of the Winchester Rifle Company. Giving her an income of roughly $1,000 per day. This amount today is roughly equivalent to $21,000 a day so she was well able to fund the mansion she began building.

In 1884, Sarah began a construction project that lasted thirty-eight years. The Victorian mansion is filled with so mstrwyldingnowhreany unexplained oddities, that it has come to be known as the Winchester Mystery House.

For the next 36 years, they built and rebuilt, altered and changed and constructed and demolished one section of the house after another. She kept 22 carpenters at work, year around, 24 hours each day.  The sounds of hammers and saws sounded throughout the day and night.

There were countless staircases which led nowhere; a blind chimney that stops short of the ceiling; closets that opened to blank walls; trap doors; double-back hallways; skylights that were located one above another; doors that opened to steep drops to the lawn below; and dozens of other oddities.

Nearly all of the windows contained 13 panes of glass; the walls had 13 panels; the greenhouse had 13 cupolas; many of the wooden floors contained 13 sections; some of the rooms had 13 windows and every staircase but one had 13 steps. This exception is unique in its own right…. it is a winding staircase with 42 steps, which would normally be enough to take a climber up three stories. In this case, however, the steps only rise nine feet because each step is only two inches high. Only 2 mirrors were installed in the house…. Sarah believed that ghosts were afraid of their own reflection.

When the great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 struck the fireplace in the Daisy Room (where Mrs. Winchester was sleeping on the night of the earthquake) collapsed, shifting the room and trapping Sarah inside. She became convinced that the earthquake had been a sign from the spirits who were furious that she had nearly completed the house. Sarah never slept in the same bedroom two nights in a row and she spent from midnight to two a.m. conversing with spirits. On September 4, 1922, after a conference session with the spirits in the seance room, Sarah went to her bedroom for the night. At some point in the early morning hours, she died in her sleep at the age of 83. The building stopped the next day.

winchester_mystery_house-b4-earthquakeSarah had managed to spend nearly every penny of her wealth. Rumor had it that somewhere in the house was hidden a safe containing a fortune in jewelry and a solid-gold dinner service with which Sarah had entertained her ghostly guests. Her relatives forced open a number of safes but found only old fishlines, socks, newspaper clippings about her daughter’s and her husband’s deaths, a lock of baby hair, and a suit of woolen underwear. No solid gold dinner service was ever discovered.

One of the first to see the place when it opened to the public was Robert L. Ripley, who featured the house in his popular column, “Believe it or Not.”

In the years that the house has been open to the public, employees and visitors alike have had unusual encounters here. There have been footsteps; banging doors; mysterious voices; windows that bang so hard they shatter; cold spots; strange moving lights; doorknobs that turn by themselves. Some special events include flashlight tours every Friday the 13th and at Halloween.  


Farewell GGG

mcville-main-streetMcVille, North Dakota was settled in the 1880s on the open plains of this beautiful state. Among the oldest settled parts of the state outside of the Red River Valley, the small community was relocated in 1906 to meet up with the Great Northern Railway. 

And in the winter of 1913, it became the birthplace of my maternal grandmother, Grace Moen Thrailkill. Born of Norwegian parents, the headstrong girl thrived among the hands that worked her father’s wheat ranch. She loved horses, wide open spaces and growing things. It was from her I learned to garden and crochet–and along with my mother, she nurturmcville-schooled my love of story.

I grew up on the history of her town, the school she attended, one uncle’s general store and another uncle’s bank; her father’s work with agricultural scientists to develop and grow a new strain of amber durham wheat. I heard all about the first horse she rode bareback, the occasional visitor from the nearby Sioux reservation, and how her mother cooked for a dozen ranch hands three times a day and served them on fine bone china. Great-Grandmother Julia felt the men’s manners would be better if they ate off nice dishes. Her “everyday” sugar and creamer set hold a place of honor in my office.

My very firslutheran_church_of_mcvillet western romance was written in honor of my grandmother, shaped by the stories she shared; in fact, the heroine was her. And Grandmother and her personal history still influence my writing.

The mother of three, grandmother of six, great-grandmother of four, and great-great-grandmother of one, Grace dubbed herself GGG, for great-grandmother-Grace, when my brother’s oldest son was born. From that day on, she signed cards and letters, even the Christmas ornaments she painted as gifts for all of us, with GGG.

Grace left this life a few days ago, after more than 96 years on this earth. I’ll miss her wit, her temper, and her zest for life and learning. 

Goodbye, Grandmother. Rest in peace. I’ll see you again someday.


Victoria Bylin: My New Neighbors

Vicki Logo“This house backs to a farm for retired thoroughbreds,” said our realtor.

My eyes popped wide. “Really?”

“Absolutely.” beloved-horses

Sure enough, if you walk up the incline and shove through some bushes, you can see horses in the distance.  I don’t want anyone to get confused.  This is a small tract house in a Lexington, Kentucky suburb. Our new yard is big enough for our dog and a barbecue, but it’s not nearly big enough for a horse.

Nonetheless, I can see horses in the distance. I don’t know which part of me was more excited: the little girl who grew up reading all the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley, or the western writer who instantly had visions of putting a horse race in her next book. Then again, it might have been the weary traveler–the woman who just moved her whole house into a Pod–who nearly melted with relief at the thought of having a real roof again.

house-outsideEither way, the writer in me got to thinking about horse races. It doesn’t take much for the set-up.  As long as there have been men and horses, racing has been part of our history. Records show both chariot races and mounted races in the Greek Olympics in 638 BC. Ancient Rome had its share of horseracing as well. The sport as we know it now got a boost in the 12th century when knights returned from the Crusades with Arabian stallions and bred them with English mares. Two-horse races–with bets riding on the winner–no doubt provided chills and thrills. house-with-me

That’s the kind of race I’ll use in that future book. Just two men (or maybe a woman) and two horses pitted against each other, maybe at a county fair or a Fourth of July celebration.


Those two-horse races eventually evolved into the “Sport of Kings” and horseracing as we know it today. It came to America with British settlers and first took root on Long Island around 1665. Not until the Civil War, though, did it become an organized sport. With that growth came gambling, and with gambling came a criminal element. 

horses-in-mistThe writer in me is seeing a plot-twist in the making. When I write the book with the horse race, there’s going to be more at stake than just the winner’s purse. Anyone else envisioning Snidley Whiplash in a shadowy corner? When the time comes, I’m going to have fun with this story!            

Sunday’s Guest: Kate Lyon

destinys-captiveHello Darlings,

Miss Kate Lyon has boarded the train and it’ll pull into the station Sunday morning bright and early. The Fillies would like for you all to turn out to welcome the dear lady.

Miss Kate knows how to write sexy cowboys and that’s no joke.

And just get a gander of the cover of her new book called Destiny’s Captive. Oh my Lord! I about swallowed my teeth when I got a glimpse of that handsome devil on horseback.  Sure would like to rope me some of that! He makes this old heart nearly jump out of my chest.

So pull up a chair and join us on Sunday. Miss Kate has stories about Texas to tell that will keep us all entertained. 

Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Youth

picture-of-idiotic-youth-houseMassachusetts School for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Children, South Boston (moved to Waltham in 1887) — Massachusetts State Reform School, Westbrorough (later “Lyman School for Boys”)

Okay, why can’t I quit laughing about this having it’s name changed to School for Boys? It’s my own male bashing reflex no doubt.

When we’re doing research we just stumble on the weirdest things and one of them is the use of language. How it’s changed.

Surely whoever created the Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Youth, the first such educational institute in the nation, was absolutely ground breaking. A forward thinker, a mover and shaker, a compassionate advocate for. . .idiotic and feeble-minded youth.

Here’s how they rated their children by IQ:

50-69 = Moronjane-eyre1
20-49 = Imbecile
Below 20 = Idiot

There’s some speculation that the majority of those children were just orphans and needed a place to stay. Some say they weren’t treated very nicely. Others say it was a huge improvement in their lives. Probably the truth depended on the place.

Here’s another one that earned a headline. 1836 Three Massachusetts counties establish facilities for “idiots and lunatics furiously mad”

This is in a website I found that boasts: Development of public responsibility for persons with disabilities in Massachusetts

The first sentence sounds awful-furiously mad! The second sounds nice doesn’t it? I suspect it was more nice than awful. It was probably ground breaking to try and care for crazy people. We look at words like idiot and imbecile and think it’s so heartless. But this is in a day when a family might deal with a handicapped child by keeping them hidden away in some attic for their whole lives. Puts me in mind of Jane Eyre, huh? And maybe The Secret Garden?

hastings-regional-centerThe State Asylum for the Incurably Insane in Hastings Nebraska (pictured above) had a cemetary with graves bearing a number rather than a name, so deep was the shame of having a mentally ill family member. Years of lawsuits were required to get the identities of those buried there and only last May did the Nebraska Supreme Court finally rule that medical privacy laws didn’t cover death records.

From 1909 to 1959 there were approximately 751 patients buried there. A second listing abstracted from the medical ledger books between 1889 and 1918 for 399 patients was also provided.


Handicapped family member lived and died and were buried there and the families asked for complete confidentiality.

We hear a thing like this and feel distaste for people ashamed of their mentally ill family members. But it was a different time. It was a time that led people to do things like Joseph Kennedy giving his handicapped daughter a lobotomy. Turning a young woman who was fairly functional into a badly disabled woman who lived her life behind closed doors. Her very existence was shrouded in secrecy for most of her life until her sister Eunice Shriver found the courage to admit she had a handicapped sister. It was part of why she founded the Special Olympics.

Were all these places decent to their charges? It all probably came down to who was in charge. Were they kind or cruel?


How about this one? 1846 Two committees, headed by Samuel Gridley Howe, are appointed to investigate the need for facilities for “idiots” and juvenile offenders—


My question? Are those two things the same? Idiots and juvenile offenders? I thought we only invented Teenagers in the 20th Century. . at which time we declared ALL juveniles idiots.


1829 – The New England Asylum for the Blind opens in Massachusetts, becoming the first school in the U.S. for children with visual disabilities.

Asylum? Not what we think when we hear the word asylum, huh? Offensive, like just because you’re blind you’re crazy. But that’s modern thinking. Remember this was first. This was forward thinking, progressive, gentle and kind hearted people trying to do the right thing.

It’s one of those things that jumped out at me when I was doing research and it was a reminder to me.

We do history a disservice when we judge the past through modern eyes without really understanding how things were back then.

We spend too much time disrespecting the past. Instead we should try to understanding it. And maybe, on occasion, laugh at it. 


Click on the covers to buy on Amazon
Mary Connealy


America the Beautiful/or what I’ve learned from cross country trips

horseheader1.jpeGood Morning!

I’ve been out of town for about 1 1/2 weeks — again, I’m in Florida, but this time only for 2-3 weeks hopefully — much shorter than last time, when I was away from home for a total of about 16 months.  Whew!

page2d.jpeWell, although it’s not true that I travel by horseback when I go out of town, it is true that I would rather drive than fly or take a train.  Why?  The answer is easy:  The countryside.  There are so many things to see and places to visit and history to learn — all conveniently advertised along the roadside.  On my trips across country (and I’ve probably driven across country now more than a dozen times) I’ve seen canyons that stretch on forever (the Grand Canyon comes to mind); I’ve seen caves — two enormous different ones — and have learned that the rocks in these caves are alive.  Did you know that?  They grow like any life thing and they can die if you touch them — thus, there are many, many signs in these caves not to touch the rocks.hubby.jpe

As part of these trips, I’ve been to pow-wows in Montana, climbed mountains in Vermont, swept down raging water streams in Nebraska — have witnessed glaciers in Montana and have visited Pueblo villages — in the southwest, and have visited and have lingered at battlefields — ones that took place between the cavalry and Indians.  When we were in Crow country in Montana, my husband and I visited Little Bighorn of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull fame.  For one book, War Clouds’ Passion, I visited the battlefield that took place — goodness, I can’t recall the name of that battle off the top of my head — but it took place in Kansas.  Also discovered in Kansas was a former Cavalry outpost, and again, forgive me for the name escapes me.  picturesforblog.jpg 

On one particular trip, I visited a waterfall, where George Washington carved his initals in a rock — there was also an Indian village there, which I went to visit, also.  There I learned how the Indians made flour and cakes from acorns — a very involved process, I must admit.  Sometimes I get lost.  But sometimes this is very good.   On one trip just last year at this very time of year, I was traveling to Vermont to attend my daughter’s wedding. 

img_6598Actually  I didn’t lose my way on this trip until I was well into Vermont, and then I took a wrong turn and ended up at the scene of a very beautiful statue of Ethan Allen.  Although I was very lost, I had driven into a spot where the trees were alive with autumn color and I really do mean live.  They were bright, bright yellow and gold.  So bright that an overcast day looked sunny.  And the trees were overlooking the road as I drove by them.  I’m not certain I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful in Nature.  The only thing that might even come close would be perhaps the Grand Teton area in Wyoming — and of course the Glacier Mountains in Montana.

phot0110The picture here was taken in Montana in the Glacier Mountains which set up against the Blackfeet reservation.  Once another author and myself visited a deserted train station — trying to envision the people who had once used it.  Another time we searched out a town in Louisana called Transylvania.  Nancy Richards Akers and I once skirted along the Choctaw trail and another author and I learned of a legend of a young Indian princess who threw herself off a mountain to avoid marrying a man she didn’t love.  (Her true lover followed her over the cliff, by the way).  And another time, fellow author, Heather Cullman, and I visited Sky City — I’m only calling it that because I can’t recall exactly the name of the town.  Here we were taken on a tour, learned the history of the town and learned that the town was used as a safe refuge in a time of uncertainty.phot0166

We also visited an old church which was again fascinating.  Indeed, there is much to see and visit here in America.  When I was very, very young, I seem to remember a commerical that went like this “See the USA, in your Cheverolet — American is asking you to call” — powwowend21.jpePerhaps I took tha invitation to heart.

Another time, when my husband and I were attending yet another pow-wow in Montana, we visited  America’s edition of Stonehedge — the Medicine Wheel atop a 10,000 foot mountain in the Bighorn Mountains in Northern Wyoming.  Lone Arrow’s Pride goes into my experience atop this mountain at this particular spot.

51obnqdgasl_sl500_aa240_1I guess we Americans — or maybe I should just say we humans — love to travel.  And whatever the cause, I do enjoy my trips — even though it might take me longer to go from here to there.  I bet you’ve had some incredible adventures here in the heartland of America.  And I’d love to hear about your own trips.  So please come on in and let’s chat.  And don’t forget to pick up your copy of Black Eagle today.

Early capital of Texas located in Louisiana

Most of you undoubtedly know that, over time, the capital of  Texas has moved about from place to place.  But did you know one of the earliest capitals was situated about thirty miles east of the Sabine River in northwest Louisiana?  It’s true.  From 1729 to 1770 the first official capital of the Spanish province of Tejas was Los Adaes.  In fact, fourteen territorial governors ruled over Tejas from this location during that period.  Over the five decades it served as an active settlement, Los Adaes anchored what was quite literally the end of the road for the Spanish territory.  It was the easternmost point on the trail titled El Camino Real de los Tejas (the Royal Road of the Tejas Indians).  This road, more of a glorified trail really, linked Los Adaes in the east with Mexico City, the seat of Spanish royal authority in New Spain.

Both a fort and a mission, the Spanish built this outpost to bring Christianity to the Caddo Indians and to keep the French out of New Spain.  Ultimately, it didn’t really succeed in either endeavor.

All during those forty years, the border separating Louisiana and Texas was vigorously debated with both France and Spain continually claiming sections of each other’s territory as their own.  The French established Fort St. Jean-Baptiste at Natchitoches, Louisiana in 1714.  (This is the basis of Natchitoches’ claim to be the oldest permanent settlement in the entire Louisiana Purchase).    Eight years later, the Spanish constructed Los Adaes thirteen miles away to protect their claim to the land and to keep the aggressively expanding French from encroaching further. 

Officially named the Presidio Nuestra Senora del Pilar Los Adaes (Fort of Our Lady of Pilar at the Adaes), the structure was a hexagonal fortress measuring 115 feet on each side.  Each of threelosadaessketch alternating corners were fortified and defended by two cannons.  The whole structure was surrounded by a moat.  Nearby the mission of San Miguel de Cuellar de Los Adaes was erected.

Almost immediately, Spain designated Los Adaes the capital of the province of Texas.  The governor’s official residence was built there and it remained the administrative seat of government for the entire province for the next 44 years.  The remote provincial capital eventually grew to become the home for over 400 Spanish citizens.  Among these were families, soldiers, priests, French traders, converted Indians, escaped slaves and an assortment of other settlers of the frontier.

Yes, Los Adaes was built to counter the French incursion into Spanish territory, but as it happens, if it had not been for their proximity to the French supply center, Los Adaes might not have survived.  This presidio was no plush capital city.  Life at Los Adaes was harsh and unforgiving.  Frontier posts were expected to be self-sufficient so the soldiers stationed there also worked as farmers and ranchers.  But the land was poor and crop failures were a common happenstance.  The nearest Spanish supply post, Saltillo, was 800 miles away and the humid, rainy climate meant supplies brought in were often spoiled by the time they reached their destination.   Without the ability to trade with the French at the Natchitoches settlement, those at Los Adaes would most likely have starved.

This set the stage for Los Adaes to become the site of a unique cooperation among the Spanish, the French and the Caddoans.   Though Fort St. Jean-Baptiste and Los Adaes were located near one another and were established primarily to protect their respective nations’ interests from aggression by the other, their inhabitants got along surprisingly well.  In fact, when the French fort was attacked in 1730 by about 400 Indians who kept them under siege for 22 days, it was the soldiers from Los Adaes who eventually came to their rescue.

The French capitalized on the shortages of supplies in the Spanish camp to set up a flourishing, if illicit, trade.  The Caddo Indians traded with both sides.  Though the Spanish Crown banned this commerce, the Spanish settlers eventually took on the role of go between the Indians and the French.   No battles were ever fought at Los Adaes during the years it served as the Spanish provincial capital.  Instead a stalemate, reminiscent of a cold war, existed between the opposing forces.

In 1763 France ceded Louisiana to Spain.  Finally, in 1772, Spain transferred the capital of the Tejas province to San Antonio and most of the 500 plus settlers relocated.  By the 1780s the center of Spanish life in East Texas had shifted to Nacogdoches.  In 1800 the Louisiana territory was transferred back to the French who sold it three years later to the United States.  Interestingly, in 1806 Los Adaes was reoccupied by the Spanish for a short time but the Americans quickly drove them back.  Both the United States and Spain continued to lay claim to Los Adaes until the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 finally settled the matter and Los Adaes, once the capital of Texas, ended up firmly within the boundaries of the state of Louisiana.

Los Adaes is very likely the only Colonial Spanish provincial capital that is still intact from an archeological perspective.  Admittedly, other capitals such as Sante Fe, San Antonio and Saltillo are still population centers today.  But most traces of their provincial origins have been erased – either built up, dug up or obliterated in some other manner.  What parts do survive are but remnants of the original settlements.  Los Adaes, on the other hand, is an archeologist dream.  While the standing architecture, made entirely of wood, disintegrated over time, beneath the ground the patterns and substantial material evidence of the presidio remain, traces that archeologists are still exploring today.  The state of Louisiana now owns the property so this very special site will be preserved and available for study for many years to come.


We Have Winners!

Wasn’t Bobbi Smith a sweetheart to give away not one but two books? The names were tossed in the cowgirl hat and shaken up.

Jackie Wisherd wins RUNAWAY

Melissa D. gets THE GUNFIGHTER

Congratulations, ladies!! Woo-Hoo!

Email your mailing address to me at I’ll forward the information on to Bobbi and she’ll get your book to you.

Thanks, everyone, for making Bobbi’s weekend a really special one!

Welcome Bobbi Smith!

smith_bobbi.jpgHi everybody!  I’m thrilled to be back blogging at Petticoats and Pistols.  It’s an honor. 

This weekend I’m in Texas for the Golden Triangle Writers’ Conference.  Robert Vaughan and Greg Tobin are here, too, so it’s going to be wonderful – as always!  I do love Texas!Runaway

My latest new release is Runaway.  It came out this summer from Leisure.  I’m really fond of this book.  I have so much fun writing about hidden identities.  It’s exciting when the hero and heroine have secrets they can’t reveal to each other. 

In Runaway, Texas Ranger Lane Madison is tracking an outlaw gang.  Lane learns from a saloon girl in a small town that the leader of the gang won a ranch in a card game and plans to make it their hideout.  Lane goes after them, hoping to catch up with them before they reach the ranch.  As it turns out, only one of the outlaws heads directly for the ranch.  Lane decides to go after the rest of the gang, but loses their trail after a bad storm.  Frustrated, he heads back after the lone gunman and manages to catch up with him.  There is a shootout and Lane wins. 

Knowing the gang will eventually show up at the ranch, he decides to assume the dead outlaw’s identity and go there to await their arrival.  What Lane doesn’t know is that the gunman Seth Rawlins sent for a mail-order bride, thinking being married would make him look more like a rancher instead of an outlaw.

Our heroine, Destiny Sterling, is on the run.  She thinks she killed her evil stepfather when he tried to attack her after her mother’s death, so she flees her home and assumes the identity of a girl who had backed out of being a mail-order bride.  Destiny heads to Texas as Rebecca Lawrence to marry Seth Rawlins.  She’s scared, but believes she has no other choice.

It was so much fun writing the scene when she arrives at the ranch and meets ‘Seth’ for the first time. 

I asked a few guys what they thought the hero would say in this situation.  The funniest quip was from my son who said, “Wait a minute — I thought it was two for the price of one!”

RelentlessCoverI just finished my next book – Relentless.  It is coming out next March.  Dusty Martin is our heroine.  After her mother passes away, Dusty has only her father, who is a stage driver.   She’s always been a tomboy, so he decides to have her ride shotgun on the stage with him to keep her safe.  When an outlaw gang robs the stage and takes her hostage, it’s up to our hero, Texas Ranger Grant Spencer, to save her.  

Relentless is an action-packed story.  I hope everybody enjoys it.

This year, Zebra has released some of my older books again. Yeah!  The Gunfighter – originally Beneath Passion’s Skies – is back out now, and last spring they re-released Desert Heart.

In 2010, Zebra is bringing out some of my oldies.  Captive Pride a story about the American Revolution will be rereleased in June and Passion, my Viking story, will be back out in October.  What fun!  It’s neat to see them back on the shelves again!



Bobbi is giving away TWO BOOKS this visit ~ one copy of Runaway & one copy of Gunfighter! All you have to do is join in the fun and you could be a winner.

Follow the Fillies on Twitter @Felicia_Filly


The Lone Texan Winner!

the-lone-texanAh apologize for being slow to announce the winner of Jodi Thomas’s autographed book. Ah’ve been chasing my durn mule, trying to catch the fool animal. Ah’m plumb out of breath.

Miss Jodi put all the names in her cowboy hat…..

The winner is…..JOYE

Congratulations! Someone will contact you for your mailing address and Miss Jodi will get the book on the next stage out.

Miss Jodi thanks everyone who came by to read her blog and post comments.