Research Nugget: St. Elmo’s Fire

Some authors hate research and find it tedious, but I love it. I’m always surprised by something I find and it’s a little gift to me when I run across tidbits that deepen my story. They don’t have to be earth-shattering either. Small details can add another layer of realism.

In THE HEART OF A TEXAS COWBOY it was St. Elmo’s Fire. I’d heard about it for a long time but never knew exactly what it was. This is a weather phenomenon that occurs during thunderstorms. It’s a plasma discharge similar to lightning and forms a blue or purple glow that attaches and hangs onto the tip of sharp objects. Even blades of grass have been known to attract this strange glow. Often, but not always, a hissing sound can be heard.

The occurrence was recorded as far back as the 14th century when an eerie glow formed on the tall masts of ships. It’s the patron saint of sailors and to see the phenomenon is viewed as a good omen.

Cattleman Charles Goodnight wrote about the experience during one of his cattle drives and how the glow formed on the tips of the long horns and jumped from animal to animal. It never hurt the cows one bit.

The Heart of a Texas Cowboy that came out on May 2nd takes place during a cattle drive up the Great Western Trail. Houston Legend is trying to save the Lone Star Ranch by selling off two thousand of his herd. But first he has to get them to Dodge City. The woman he marries in order to give her child a name, Lara Boone, volunteers to come along as cook. Two days out, he sees riders trailing them. He doesn’t know what they want but he’s determined to protect his wife and child, his drovers, and his herd. It soon turns into an all-out fight with love blossoming along the way in this marriage of convenience story.

One night, during a huge thunderstorm, Houston sees St. Elmo’s Fire jumping from tip to tip of the cows’ long horns. He doesn’t know exactly what to call it and is amazed that it doesn’t affect the animals.

Here’s a short excerpt of that scene:

Lightning flashed around Houston as he moved amongst the herd around midnight. An eerie glow danced along the six to nine foot horns of the frightened animals leaping from one to another. It was strange how it never hurt the cows. Or didn’t seem to anyway.

In the midst of the summer rain, he scanned the herd, looking for signs of a possible stampede. So far, they were just restless. The biggest threat for a stampede was at the beginning of trail drive. After a few weeks, the jumpy cattle settled into the routine and became acclimated to the noises. Thank goodness for that or this storm would send them into a panic.

His thoughts tried to return to Lara and he kept reeling them back in. Lives depended on him focusing on this right now. Everything else would have to wait. He rode around the fringes speaking soothing words, keeping the animals in a tight bunch.

Harmonica music drifted in the air as Joe rode alongside him. The song, Beautiful Dreamer, had a calming effect on the herd. One by one they laid down, lulled by the music. Houston breathed a sigh of relief that the danger had passed. He watched the steady drip of water off his hat brim onto his oilskin slicker, wishing he was in a Dodge hotel. After a hot bath with his lady, Lara would curl up next to him with nothing between them but skin.

With what had happened tonight, he had high hopes that they would in the near future. He still felt her hand brushing his chest and sneaking up under his jacket. She seemed to like touching him and he certainly didn’t mind a bit. Whatever she fancied to do was fine with him.

But teach her how to love?

Not a chance. What did he know? He was raised with little softness. Stoker was a hard man and he’d instilled that sharp-edged toughness into his sons that had squeezed out affection and sentiment. Still, he’d try. He wanted more than anything for Lara to know a true husband’s love.

* * *

The book released on May 2. This is #2 Men of Legend series and will be followed by #3 (To Marry a Texas Outlaw) in November this year.

Come along and take this journey with me. Meet the Legend family—the tough father and his three sons—and help them tame the West.

As far as I know I’ve never seen St. Elmo’s Fire but maybe you have. If not, tell me about the scariest thunderstorm you’ve ever witnessed. Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for one of two copies (print or ebook) of this.

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

30 thoughts on “Research Nugget: St. Elmo’s Fire”

  1. Good morning, Linda! Thank you for your very interesting post . I am not a fan of storms and get very unnerved when I happen to be in a vehicle during such. I have never seen St Elmo’s Fire but we were traveling through Amarillo once and I have never seen clouds boil and roll like I did. The sky turned dark, the clouds appeared dark green and we passed through that city as quickly as we could.

    • Hi Melanie…….I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. Storms freak me out a bit after going through that tornado in 1969. We barely survived but it left my kids traumatized for a year or more. Yes, the storms here get pretty intense. I’ve seen times when the clouds are like as you described.

      Good luck in the drawing!

  2. I have heard about this!! Crazy! I wish I could see something like that. My mom said she has seen a fireball during a thunderstorm. Said it was the weirdest thing ever. My family adores severe weather and so we watch storms come and go. Some are so beautiful the way the lightning goes across the sky! Also, it is a crazy feeling to see the green sky when a sever storm is rolling in or it is tornado weather. It is so quiet and you can feel the hairs on your arm stand up from the electricity in the air!!

    • Hi Susan……According to what I read, St. Elmo’s Fire is like a fireball. What your mom saw might’ve been this. Some people love severe storms but not me ever since I went through a bad tornado and almost lost my life. Now I’m a big weenie. I know the kind of storms you’re talking about. Yes, ma’am.

      Good luck in the drawing!

  3. This was a long time ago but my husband was stationed in Gulfport, MS for almost a year and we moved into a trailer park (I’m a PA girl). He had to go to for training in another state for 3 months before going to Vietnam. I didn’t drive back then so was pretty isolated. We got some pretty bad storms and a lightning strike came in through our cable and blew the TV out. They had already had a horrible hurricane a few years past and another one was coming our way and a lot of people evacuated. Luckily, that one didn’t do the same kind of damage but it’s not something I ever had come in contact before.

    • Hi Catslady……Thank you for stopping by. That storm sounds scary and being alone probably made it even more so. You were probably ready to go back to PA! Glad you came through okay.

      Good luck in the drawing!

  4. That is truly interesting… I would be a bit weary being out in a storm, but I do enjoy watching them… never saw things glow though.

    • Hi Colleen…..The only storms I like to watch are through a window. I’m not very brave. If I had seen St. Elmo’s Fire jumping across those cow’s longhorns I’d have hidden under something.

      Good luck in the drawing!

  5. The scariest was when we had a tornado come through town. Right before it hit we noticed how everything went from huge gusts of winds bending trees over, our ears popping to udder silence and calm. My little dog was shaking as we went to the basement. Thank goodness for that, but I’ll never forget the eerie feeling I had. When I worked out at the pig farms and was mikes away from anywhere I got caught out in a huge lightening and hail storm and the rolling clouds were very omninious and no where to go. That is a feeling I never want to experience. We are under the radar for bad thunderstorms tonight, I pray they aren’t as bad as they predict. I’d love to see St. Elmo’s fire, you have a blessed day today, I do believe someone special has a birthday tomorrow. Love you my sister friend.

    • Hi Tonya…….I’m sure you terrified when that tornado came through. Their power can strike fear in the bravest person. I’ll cross my fingers the storms aren’t bad tonight up there. Birthday?? I don’t know of anyone. Nope, not a soul.

      Love you and thanks for coming!

  6. Good morning Linda! What an interesting thing to learn. I to had heard about the fire but never knew what it was referring too. I’m one of very few I know who don’t like storms, but I would love to see that glow on the high peeks!

    • Hi Cori……Thank you for coming. Hey, I think a lot of people are afraid storms. Me included. I’d like to see that blue glow…as long as I’m not too close..

      Good luck in the drawing!

  7. Hi Linda, I’ve heard of St. Elmo’s Fire, but never knew what it was or what caused it. When I was little, growing up in a small town in Oklahoma, we DID have a couple of tornado alarms in that small town and one was right across the street and catty-cornered from our house, so when it sounded, we could hear it just fine. But there was little warning due to the times and not having all the radar we do now. So my dad would go out and “observe” and he’d take me outside with him. I remember us standing on the front porch and the lightning, thunder, wind, and of course, then the rain–and my mom in the living room saying, “Fred. FRED. Y’all come inside!” LOL I do have a very small tornado shelter now–just barely big enough for me, Gary and the big white dog. Makes me feel better to have it, but I’m not sure we could get the dog in there if he didn’t want to go.

    Great post! Congratulations on your latest book, dear friend! XOXO

    • Hi Cheryl…….You’re a lot braver than I am. I have a healthy respect for lightning and want to be inside where it has a harder time of zapping me. I’ve never had a storm shelter so I don’t know if I’d go down in one. However, if I saw a tornado coming I wouldn’t waste any time.


  8. Hi Linda,

    I remember researching St. Elmo’s fire for one of my books too. Fascinating and eerie, isn’t it? The scariest storm that I endured was while I was in my minivan on a country road heading home. No one ever mentioned that there was a tornado, but the news called it “micro-bursts” of high wind. All I know is that I thought the minivan was going to lift off and fly at any moment. Power lines and a tree came down in front of me, making me have to turn around and head home a different way. It was still daytime, but I could hardly see anything. The next day, I drove that route after crews had cleaned things up, and I saw areas in the tall cornfields that had been totally flattened, as if a tornado had bounced down to earth than bounced up and then back down again over and over. Hope I never have to go through something like that again. I believe I have a guardian angel working overtime for me!

    • Hi Kathryn…….I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. Wow, that storm sounds scary! You must’ve been so scared. I would’ve been. Yes, you definitely have a guardian angel…maybe a bunch of them.


  9. Wow, Linda, I’d sure like to see that fire slipping from one horn to another! I had vaguely heard of St. Elmo’s but never knew exactly what it is. Thanks for the info and for another great story!

    • Hi Tanya……Glad you enjoyed my blog. Before I read up on this all I knew about was the movie named St. Elmo’s Fire. Charles Goodnight described the sight in a journal while on a cattle drive. Blue fire jumping from one cow’s horns to the next. What a sight to see.


  10. Hi Linda,

    I am a close friend of Eliza’s, who posted on Petticoats and Pistols almost daily–she loved this site! And some of you may have noticed her absence the last two weeks. So it with sad regret to say that Eliza is in the hospital, fighting for her life. I am sorry to use your particular blog, Linda, to post this sad news. But her son, who is a private person, decided that’s he and his Mom need all the prayers and well wishes they can get.

    I humbly ask that P&P, its posters and guest writers take a moment to send a silent prayer for Eliza’s recovery.

    You can contact me directly with the email I provide (when I submit) for updates to Eliza’s precarious health crisis which, the doctors have said, is a 50/50 chance of survival.


    • Hi Suzanne…….I’m so very sorry to hear this. Eliza has become quite a fixture on here. She loves history and has so much of her own that she shares with us. Our thoughts and prayers are with her, her family and her friends. I’ll keep in touch with you and get the updates.

      Thank you so much for telling us.

      • Thanks Linda,

        Your well wishes mean a lot to her son, and to me, although I ( as a Canadian) have trouble undestanding the American health care system—which is another topic since “45” took office.

        But Gosh, yes, Eliza loves history, and has had quite a unique one herself.

        And my thanks for P& P’s and its posters for well wishers.

        God bless


    • Suzanne — I love it when Eliza stops by here and chats with us. Please know that i will keep her and her family in my prayers. Thank you for letting us know here on Petticoats and Pistols.

      • Hii Kathryn,

        Thanks for your well wishes; this news comes on the tail of my mother’s passing only a month ago. Eliza was a great support to me during that trying time, and I hope that the on-line romance community will rally round and send (cyber) wishes Eliza’s way.



    • Hi Debra…..Thanks for coming. I’m sure the videos of St. Elmo’s Fire are pretty awesome. I’d like to see it just one time in person. I’ve entered you in the drawing. Good Luck

  11. I believe the scariest I’ve been was during an ice storm when you could stand still and just hear trees falling all around you.

    • Hi Sherry…..Those ice storms are scary. I hate that horrible cracking as things break and there’s nothing you can do about any of it. You just have to get out of the way.

      Good luck in the drawing!

  12. I have not seen St. Elmo’s fire myself, but my husband has. He was an Air Force navigator and did see it on the planes several times while in flight.
    When we lived in Colorado Springs, CO the thunderstorms that formed on the Front Range most afternoons could be awesome. The worst lightening storm we ever experienced was in Orlando Florida. It was constant thunder and lightening, pouring rain, wind, and shook the house.
    The prettiest storm I have seen was when we were flying from Denver, CO to Knoxville, TN. We were above the clouds, but over most of the Mid-Westto the North of us there were high cumulous clouds and constant flashes of lightening in the clouds for as far as we could see. This went on for most of the flight.
    I love watching the storms as do our oldest daughter and son. We had a small tornado come close to the house a few years ago and the accompanying storm was pretty bad. Our middle daughter lives just u the road and now no longer likes storms. (Our children are not kids, they are in their 40-s and 30’s).
    No need to enter my name in the draw. I have already read THE HEART OF A TEXAS COWBOY and started right in rereading it. Loved it.

  13. Just read Kathryn Albright’s post. Reminded me of when we were in St.Paul, MN. No lightening, but there was a terrible rainstorm. I haven’t seen it rain that hard even in a hurricane. The roads flooded and it took us forever to find a way back to our hotel. We heard the next morning that they had a small tornado south of town that night.

    Eliza will be in my thoughts. Suzanne, you aren’t the only one baffled by our health care system. It is fixable, but there doesn’t seem to be enough cooperation to get it done, hasn’t been for 7 years. (Not really a political statement, folks, just an observation.)

  14. I have never seen St. Elmo’s fire, but I have seen a ball lightning. And it’s not an experience I’d care to repeat. Years ago I was sitting in a living room during a thunderstorm and suddenly I saw this white light right in front of me. It hovered there for a few seconds. Then I heard this sound, like a balloon would have been popped with a needle and moment later it just vanished.

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