Early Day Blacksmiths

“All Randall Humphrey wanted for Christmas was to be left alone and to celebrate in the only way he knew how – in solitude.  He wasn’t sure who thought up all the new fandangled Christmas festivities in Kasota Spring, Texas, but for him it only served as a reminder of the worst day of his life.”

This is the opening to my newest novella “Away in the Manager” in the anthology “A Texas Christmas” with fellow Filly, Linda Broday, along with Jodi Thomas and DeWanna Pace.  This is the fifth anthology I’ve written with these writing partners; and, found even more difficult to write about Christmas in September as it was to write the story when it was over one hundred degrees outside!

As a group, we made the decision to revisit Kasota Springs, Texas, where “Give Me a Cowboy” was set. And, yes, some of our characters from that book reappear in the new novellas. All of our Christmas stories take place during one of the big blizzards of 1887.

I immediately knew that my hero Rand would be the town’s blacksmith, since he was a second generation iron worker who had built the famous Waco Suspension Bridge that opened in 1869 in Waco, Texas. My first paragraph pretty much said it all … he wanted nothing but to be left alone to wallow in his gut-wrenching memories. But that wasn’t the way it turned out when a pretty woman and a set of four year old twins turn up at his door in the midst of the blizzard.

But, before I could write Rand, I needed to know more about the craft of blacksmithery, so a little history was at the top of my list.

Blacksmithing as a craft began with the Iron Age, when primitive man first began making tools from iron. The Iron Age began when some primitive person noticed that a certain type of rock yielded iron when heated by the coals of a very hot campfire. In short, we can say that blacksmithing, the art of crafting that crude metal into a useable implement has been around for longer than anyone can pinpoint.

The blacksmith who made suits of armor was an Armorer. The blacksmith who made knives and swords was a Bladesmith. The blacksmith who made locks was a Locksmith. The blacksmith who made gun barrels and triggers was a Gunsmith. Generally, the blacksmith we all relate to was a man who possessed all of these skills. Call him the “village smithy”. The differentiation lies mainly in that his shop was not geared for making one particular type of product. The blacksmith shop was generally the heart of the community.

The next thing I had to become familiar with was exactly how he went about his daily duties and the tools he used.  Tools were easy. They mainly consisted of an anvil, hammer, tongs, vise, files and a forge.

The forge was a raised brick hearth outfitted with bellows to feed its soft-coal fire and a hood to carry away the smoke.  The forge heated bars of iron yellow-hot. The color of the heated bars dictated at what stage it could be transformed on an anvil under the incessant beat of the blacksmith’s hammer, sometimes with the assistance of an apprentice or journeyman.  Randall used a sledge weighing around twelve pounds to hammer the heated bars into various shapes, reheat them, then pound and bend them into the desired shapes.

I thought blacksmiths basically made horseshoes, repaired carriages and made a few household items.  What a surprise I got when I found out about all the various items they produced such as agricultural implements for farmers, fireplace racks, pothooks, locks, gates, grilles, railings, light fixtures, furniture, sculpture, decorative and religious items, cooking utensils, and weapons.  They made hammerheads, axheads, shovelheads and other hand tools.

As you can imagine, in colonial America the village blacksmith was called upon to do many things. I read that some blacksmiths pulled teeth, no doubt meaning that a village without a dentist had to rely on the one man with a set of pliers!  Let’s just leave it at this. My hero wasn’t a dentist!

Despite common definitions, the person who shoes horses is a farrier rather than a blacksmith. The blacksmith makes the horseshoes. Many farriers have carried out both trades, but most modern day smithies do not.

What utensil or goods do you have around your house that would have been made by a blacksmith if we were living in the Texas Panhandle in 1889?

For one lucky commenter, I will give away a copy of “A Texas Christmas” which is scheduled to be released in October; but in the meantime, I’ll send the winner a $10.00 Gift Card to Bath and Body Works to tide them over until the book can be shipped.

Phyliss
A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

Visit her at phylissmiranda.com
Updated: September 12, 2011 — 9:26 pm

43 Comments

  1. Hmm. Well, the cooking utensils, at least.

  2. Interesting blog, Phyliss. I never realized how much a blacksmith produced. I guess I’m used to the blacksmiths from old westerns who stood over an anvil pounding out horseshoes or fixing a wagon axle. :o)

    Thinking about what’s around my house, I would have been at the blacksmiths quite often for tools, iron decorations, cooking utensils, pothooks and light fixtures. I could only hope he’d be a blacksmith like your Rand. :o)

    –Kirsten

  3. Maybe cooking utensils. Do iron skillets count? I’ll have to research how iron cookware came to be.

    I enjoy reading books set in older time periods. I know this one is going to be great. And who doesn’t love a Christmas story.

  4. I love Christmas books, but maybe it is just because I was born on Christmas.

    Those blacksmiths sure had a hot job. Just thinking how hot it has been in Texas this year. I am sure with that job you didn’t need to go out and exercise at the end of the day.

    -Linda

  5. Since I love to cook and collect cookware, I would definitely have a house filled with cast iron pots, pans, skillets, and utensils. Heavy metal doorstops in a variety of decorative shapes are also quite handy. However, a Texas household of the late 1800’s would not be complete without at least one boot jack.

    “Jack was a common 18th century name for boys who waited on their masters, according to Isaac Watts’ 1724 book “Logic” and noted by the website Classic Encyclopedia. These boys would help their masters with everything from cooking to pulling off the masters’ boots. When a device came along that pulled off the boots without the help of the boy, the name “Jack” stuck and the term “boot jack” was born. Boot jacks help you take off a pair of boots without struggling, twisting or using your hands. They are especially ideal for a pair of muddy or dirty boots since you don’t have to use your hands to pull off your filthy footwear. They are also incredibly useful for tall boots lacking zippers or laces that are otherwise difficult to wrench from your feet without someone helping you pull them off. Decorative boot jacks feature engravings, scrolls, brass plating and other ornamental designs. Still others have novelty shapes, like a beetle, a lobster or a pair of pistols lined up back-to-back. (http://www.ehow.com/about_6677140_boot-jack_.html)”

  6. I added this to my must read list. I love anything Christmas. I can’t imagine being a blacksmith. I sweat now at 70. I’d love to win this as an early Birthday gift.

  7. Gotta love those blacksmiths, Phyliss. So strong and manly! Yet they had to be so gentle with the horses. Your anthology sounds like a winner.
    What a great extra prize. Some lucky reader will enjoy those B & B goodies!
    🙂

  8. Love this post,Christmas books are my favorite,I read them all year long to keep that special feeling,thanks for a great post that book looks so good
    Vickie

  9. Hi Jodi. I love a book with a hero who is a blacksmith. I would say cooking utensils, cast iron, fireplace grates and tools are some items that a blacksmith could have made at my house.

  10. Your cover is beautiful!

  11. Phyliss, I LOVED your Christmas story! Your blacksmith stole my heart. He was struggling with such pain. And those darling twins brought lots of laughter. You did good with it.

    I think one of my early early relatives way back there was a blacksmith because my maiden name was Smith. I heard that people’s last names originated from their profession. I’d sure like to know. And I’ve tried to find out but there are simply too many Smiths in the world and it would take years and years to narrow it down to the right Smith. Maybe one day I’ll know.

    I do know that blacksmiths played a huge role in the settlement of our country and especially the West.

    Good job with the blog!

  12. I have an iron skillet I use all the time which could have been made by a blacksmith. I have other skillets but I really love that iron skillet.

  13. The Christmas book sounds great! We probably have quite a lot in our house and shed like cooking utensils or shovels that could habe been made by a blacksmith. They were obviously quite busy. 🙂

  14. I have a cast iron skillet, too. Did a blacksmith make that? And what’s a tin smith? And did a blacksmith get bars of iron or chunks of iron and melt and hammer them into shape? I’ve never thought much about the details of being a blacksmith. Very interesting.
    The book sounds great, too. I love the solitary man who we know some sassy woman is going to drag back into being sociable.

  15. Andirons and trivets.

    There were, in fact, several blacksmiths near me until the horse farms were developed. I wish they were still around, for many reasons, not least of which is the need to have the andirons repaired.

  16. A fascinating post. A blacksmith was a necessity and very creative in his work. Yourbook sounds wonderful.

  17. Interesting post! I would say a blacksmiths job would be very hard and hot work. I think an iron skillet would have been made by a blacksmith and I have those in the house. I love Christmas books so I will have to have this one. It sounds like a fabulous read. Love your books.

  18. Your book sounds really great.
    I am thinkng maybe the hinges on my garden gate would have come from the blacksmith along with the boot scraper.
    Interesting article.

  19. Mina, cooking utensils was the first thing that came to mind for me, too, after horseshoes. Like so many of you I was raised with iron skillets, Dutch ovens, and cornbread pans (I guess for those of us from this part of the country LOL).

    Kirsten,iron decorations is a great add to our list. And, we can all pretend that every iron item in our house was made by a hunky blacksmith of days gone by. Thanks for dropping by. Hugs, Phyliss

  20. Your book sounds like a must for me. My husband, in his younger days, did hot-shoeing for horses. This is a modern version of a blacksmith—but only in the line of horses. My youngest son does hot-shoeing on horses, also. My son-in-law has taken up black smithing to make ornamental items. (He’s very artistic). There are many elements of the original blacksmith. Now, the cast iron skillets are made in a press. (Sorry). That is why they are all exactly 8 inches or 10 inches. And they have to be seasoned. I would love to have a skillet made by a blacksmith. Irregular, but you know it was hand made. It is incredible how many items were made by these men. Also all the improvements to age old items that we now have, that they started.

  21. Patsy, thanks for stopping by. I did find some research on the difference between skillets a blacksmith would make and cast iron, so there is a difference. And, Linda, hot men for a hot job, huh? And to be born on Christmas is a special gift. Thanks for dropping by. I hope you both enjoy our Christmas anthology as much as we enjoyed writing them.

  22. HI Phyliss, great post. I can’t wait to start the antho. I love all the others. I too once had to write a Christmas story for an antho in the summer, and it is hard. Although it’s never that hot where i live at the coast and we never get snow, still.

    I love the info in this post. I had a teaching colleague. a very talented equestrienne, whose husband was a farrier.

    When I did a post on Dutch ovens, after our wagon train trip, I learned that originally they were cast in sand.

    I learn so much here at P and P. oxoxox

  23. Oh I am looking forward to some holiday reads! 😀
    Blacksmiths… can you imagine standing and working by that heat all of the time… I do not know how they did it!

  24. Virginia, a boot jack … of course. What a great item to add to our list! There were way too many things to go into this post, but I didn’t see anything about a boot jack! And, thank you so much for the information you posted on the subject. So very interesting. Thanks for sharing. Hugs, Phyliss

  25. I have a couple of old railroad spikes and I do
    believe items like these fell within the purview
    of the blacksmith of old.

    Pat Cochran

  26. Christmas is right around the corner…
    I have some home tools that I am sure would have been made by a blacksmit such as the hammer. Also the fireplace poker. In the kitchen I can imagine the meat tenderizier (pounder) being made by one. It makes me appreciate all that I have more.

  27. October is the perfect time to start reading Christmas themed books! I can’t think of anything original but I do have that cast iron skillet and my husband has some very old tools that were his grandfather’s – crow bar, hammers, axes and the like.

  28. My corn muffin pans. They are so old and sturdy.
    It is hard to believe it is time for Christmas. I am ready for a good Christmas story.

  29. Cathy, I hope you win, too. Happy early birthday. I think most readers enjoy a Christmas story, something light and enjoyable for the season. Thanks, Elizabeth, blacksmiths are always depicked as strong as an ox. Rand starts off gruff and unshaven, but the little twins give him cause for pause. They think he must be a bear since he’s so big and wooly.

    And, Vickie and Chrystal thanks for dropping by. There were a lot of things a blacksmith did. I was taken aside by the pulling teeth comment, but I thought it was fun to add. Hugs, Phyliss

  30. A most interesting and uique post. A blacksmith was a busy and inventive man of his time.

  31. Some horseshoes, iron skillets and fireplace grates.

  32. Phyliss,
    I enjoyed this post very much! I didn’t know a lot of this. Very interesting! There was a blacksmith’s shop in the old town part of the National Cowboy Museum here in OK City where I worked for a while several years ago. For some reason, I could not ever stand beside that display very long (it was very realistic, with “fir” and everything inside, but was really dark in there, too.) One day while I was standing there, I looked behind me and there was an old man who was sitting on one of the old pieces of machinery on display. I was supposed to tell him not to sit there, but I didn’t for whatever reason. I just had a very odd feeling about him. There was a long hallway, the only way out, without him having to walk by me. I turned around 2 seconds later, and he was gone. Completely gone. I went to look down the hallway, and he was no where in sight, but he had not come back by me, either. From that time on, I steered very clear of that blacksmith’s display unless I just HAD to be there for some reason. I love the fact that your hero is going to be a blacksmith. I remember that poem about “the village smithy”–need to look that up. We had to memorize that one.
    Cheryl P.

  33. I have some fireplace tools and an old iron of my great grandmother’s.

    Your story sounds wonderful. I really enjoy reading heartwarming and historical Christmas stories. It is hard to believe, though, that Christmas is not that far off.

  34. Oh Cheryl P, what a wonderful memory! That is so interesting, and I know you’ve thought about the encounter ever since. Wow, I’d love to know why he was there ….I love your story.

    Anon101, thanks. We all wanted a cover that didn’t scream Christmas, hopefully, so it’ll stay on the shelves a little longer. The title, however, says it all!!!!

    Thanks, Linda B, fellow Filly (two of you on this comment). I really loved the story and how Rand is forced out of his shell because of the children. I can hardly wait until you write a blog about your story and the “Christmas Bell”. It’s wonderful! Hugs to all three of you, P

  35. Goldie, I love a good ol’ iron skillet. I bet many cooks today don’t know not to wash an iron skillet and how to season one. Another lost art. Claudia, you’re like me, I have some cast iron I use but many are stored. I inherited my mother’s, my aunt’s, and my mother-in-law’s cast iron, so I have duplicates. thanks for stopping me, friends. Hugs, P

  36. I really enjoyed reading about the blacksmith. We have several old farm implements around here that were made or repaired by the local blacksmith a number of years ago. There is a younger blacksmith around here who does a lot of metal decorative work now as well as metal repairs.

    Looking forward to this book and will add it to my wish list as I am very fond of Christmas stories.

  37. Runner10, I love muffin pans, too. Catslady, I know your hubby cherishes his father’s tools. And, Estella, I bet about everyone in these neck of the woods have horseshoes around somewhere. I owned a small business, as a second job LOL, and we had one over the door. I think, but don’t know for a fact, that a horseshoe above the door is a good luck charm. Anyone else know?

  38. We have quite a few items made by blacksmiths in our house. Both my husband and my son are blacksmiths. My husband just plays with it, but my son is a developing craftsman. He makes knives, tomahawks, camping gear, ornamental iron work, furniture, whatever is needed. I have pieces made by several other members of our blacksmithing group. We attend several conferences a year with classes, demonstrations, and competitions. You would not believe the delicate work some of these people do. At one of our conferences, a smith displayed a suit of armor made to fit a hummingbird. Yes, it was fine and small enough to fit one. He had some other equally delicate and fanciful works.
    If any of you get the opportunity to attend or visit a meet, please do. You will be amazed at the wide variety of work smiths do: from jewelry & hummingbird armor to pipe tomahawks & damascus blades to horses & dragons.

    I look forward to reading A TEXAS CHRISTMAS. I have really enjoyed these anthologies.

  39. Wow, today was one of those days where I learned more from the readers than I learned from my researching! Thank each and every one of you for stopping by. Patricia B., how interesting. I hope I did right by my explanations of the craft, and I certainly hope you enjoy Rand. I tried to use a lot of the trade as tags in dialogue. After all he’s snowed in with a pretty woman and two four year olds so he had to do what he knew best … grumble and be a blacksmith. I’m very eager to see what you think about the Christmas tree he makes for the children!

    Good night to everyone, and I’m sorry that I didn’t get to answer every post personally. I was asked to speak to our local college’s creative writing class, so that put me a little behind. Big hugs to each of you, and may God bless and keep you safe. Phyliss

  40. Interesting post and fasination too Phyliss. So sorry I came so late to the party. I had a busy day and just getting around to my fav blogs today…

    I am looking forward to this book for sure.

  41. Hi Phyliss — You are blessed with the most gorgeous covers. What a hunk!! Thanks for a great blog today!!

  42. I am curious about the Christmas Tree too. One year the conference contest was making a hall tree. Our son took it literally, and made a tree, a twisted trunk, roots, and a crown of branches. We called it our Hobbit Hall Tree.
    As delicate as some of the work is, I can see some nice tree ornaments. I look forward to seeing what Rand does.

  43. Very interesting post!

    Andirons, Fireplace accessories, cast iron skillet…

    Cher

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