Texas Time Machine

I love stepping back in time. Through the pages of a book, the visual delight of a period movie or television series, looking at old pictures, digging into research, or even working on a craft that has been practiced for hundreds of years. There is something about the past that is just so romantic and enticing to me.

It probably comes as no surprise, then, that when my daughter and I met up in Waco for a girl’s weekend a few months ago, we spent our time stepping through as many time portals as we could. In a previous post I shared about the Waco Suspension Bridge that was built to allow cattle to be driven over the Brazos (you can find that post here), but today, I’d like to share some photos from my favorite visit of the the day – The East Terrace House Museum.

The house was built in 1872 on the east bank of the Brazos River. J.W. Mann built the house for his wife Cemira in the style of an Italianate Villa to please her eastern sensibilities.

The tour started off in perfect style when the door was opened by our docent who was dressed in period costume. She is a history student from Baylor working on her master’s degree, and she was the perfect hostess.

This was Mr. Mann’s study/library and was situated immediately to the left of the front door.

The first room we toured was the library, which of course became one of my favorites. Reading by a fire with plenty of natural light in what was probably the quietest room of the house.

Passing through the doorway with our guide, we came to the ladies sitting room. A larger space with more furniture to allow one to sit with friends and family while plying a needle or writing some letters. It is hard to tell from this photograph, but the desk and chair in the corner that belonged to Mrs. Mann seemed better suited to a child. She was such a tiny woman, that even with the full skirts of her day, her chairs were more comparable to those for children than adults.

Next we came to the elaborate dining room. The table is set with the family china, and each place setting has its own salt cellar. They preserved so many family heirlooms in this marvelous home.

The next set of rooms we came to were large, open double parlors that could be used for all manner of entertaining. These were matched on the second story with a long ballroom. But on the main floor, the highlight was the nook on the far end that created a music room with Cemira’s harp and piano.

I mentioned earlier how small Mrs. Mann was. Do you see the open window in this picture? She was small enough to use these openings as doors and would simply walk through them whenever she chose to go outside.

At the back of the house was the kitchen. When the home was originally built, the kitchen would have been detached from the house, but as time passed and things were modernized, it joined with the main house.

At the back of the kitchen were a set of stairs, and at the top of these stairs was the bathroom that would serve the family whose bedrooms were situated on this second floor. The Mann home was the first to have running water in Waco, although initially, the water only ran one direction–out. Water would still have to be heated on the kitchen stove and carted upstairs, but when the bath was over, the water would drain out. Not too much longer, the Waco Waterworks were built right across the street from East Terrace, allowing full-service plumbing.

This bedroom was a guest suite situated off of the ballroom. Ladies could use it as a retiring room to rest or repair their hair or dress. Or if the party lasted long into the night, it could serve as an overnight respite. It is not visible in this photo, but there was also a Murphey bed along the wall on the left. When put up, it looked like a fancy wood panel with a full-length mirror attached. But if called upon, it could be lowered to allow more space for guests to sleep.

There was another bedroom through the doorway.

I saved my favorite place in the house for last. This staircase let up to the tower room that offered magnificent views of the Brazos and surrounding areas. But it is this nook tucked beneath the staircase that captured my heart. A small little sewing nook with natural lighting and trunk to hold supplies. I would love to convert this into a cozy reading nook with shelves full of my favorite historical novels close at hand. I think I’ll keep the sewing machine, though, for ambiance.

Do you enjoy touring historic homes or perhaps collecting antiques?
Which room shown above would you choose to incorporate into your own home?

Bookish Crafts

One of my favorite crafts is cross stitching. I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager, and I find it to be very similar to writing. You start with a blank canvas, follow some guidelines, add color and creativity, and eventually a piece of art takes shape.

I make small projects like Christmas ornaments as gifts, and my larger projects that often take years to complete become decorations for my home. Recently, I finished a matched pair of medieval maidens – The Reader and The Musician. I gave these to my daughter for her 23rd birthday. She will be moving into a new apartment in August, and they are something of a housewarming gift. The first one was finished in 2017, and I didn’t get around to finishing the second one until this year. These are special because both my daughter and I love reading, we both played the flute, and we both love historical things. It was the perfect trifecta!

Cross stitching is very easy, and I find it quite relaxing. I often have a project going while my hubby and I watch TV, or it can be great to do while listening to an audiobook. It’s like paint by numbers but with colored thread (floss) instead of paint. If you can follow directions and make tiny Xs, you can cross stitch.

I get especially excited about patterns that allow me to mix my love of reading with my love of stitching. So today, I’m giving away a pair of prizes.

First – A hand-crafted (by me!) bookmark that combines my two favorite past times – reading and stitching.

Second – An easy, beginner-level kit to let you try your hand at your own cross-stitch creation.

Giveaway!

For a chance to win my handmade bookmark
along with the nostalgic and adorable honey bear kit,
leave a comment about your favorite craft.

And if you are a fellow stitcher, let me know!

The Heart’s Charge – My Favorite Scene

Want a pair of ruggedly handsome Horsemen to charge into your life for a few hours and get your heart pumping with adventure and swoon-worthy romance? Let me introduce you to Mark Wallace and Jonah Brooks – the heroes of The Heart’s Charge, my latest release. These men are seasoned ex-cavalry officers with a calling to help those in need. Even if those who need them are homeless children society deems beneath their notice. And when they team up with a pair of passionate women who run the local foundling home, more than one heart will be charging into the fray.

When I first starting researching this story, I knew I wanted it to be set in a small town that was relatively secluded. Enter Kingsland, TX – a town surrounded on three sides by water. Kingsland was founded at the place where the Colorado and Llano Rivers meet, and during the time period for my story, the only way to get into town from the east was to cross a bridge built for the railroad.

I love to study old town maps when I am setting a story in a real place, but Kingsland, TX was never incorporated, so I had a difficult time finding any historic maps of the area. I reached out to the Chamber of Commerce, and they were kind enough to point me in the direction of local historical John Hallowell. Mr. Hallowell generously shared his research with me, including some photographs and personal recollections of that railroad bridge being used for pedestrian traffic. School children crossed it to get to school. People traveling from Burnet County would leave their horses or wagons on the Burnet side then cross the bridge to conduct their business in Kingsland. All of these facts fueled my imagination as I plotted.

However, the most colorful piece of history I uncovered was the fact that people vividly remembered mistiming their crossing on this bridge, and having to make dramatic climbs onto the support piers in order to avoid being hit by a train. I knew I had to use this tidbit at some point in my novel.

Railroad Bridge from the Kingsland Side. The stone pillars are from the original bridge that was built in 1892.

I visited Kingsland during the course of writing the book, and I saw the bridge in question. It still stands today, though a few additional concrete pillars have been added over the years for extra support. Note how there is no railing or trestles or anything to add stability for the people who crossed this bridge. And the Colorado River is no trickling stream. Falling in would spell disaster. Yet school children crossed it every day! I was brave enough to walk out on the bridge to the edge of of the shore, but that was as far as I dared. I had no desire to act out the scene I was plotting in my head, especially since I had no idea if the tracks were still in use.

Bridge from the Burnet Side. I walked a few feet out on the bridge from this side.

Here is the start of the scene that was inspired by this bridge research, a scene that would become one of my favorites in the entire novel.

Katherine clutched Mark’s arm. It didn’t matter if Alice could recognize the man or not. She was putting herself in his path, and if he spotted her, she could be taken, just like the others.

“We’ve got to get to her. Now!”

Mark nodded but took the time to shake the porter’s hand in thanks. Katherine didn’t. Leaving the men behind, she hoisted her skirt above her ankles and sprinted across the platform and down into the street. People turned to stare as she raced past, but she paid them no mind. Her only thought was to follow the railroad tracks and get to the bridge.

Mark called out to her, but she didn’t look back. He’d catch up soon enough. Nor did she hesitate to mount the tracks and start across the bridge. People crossed this bridge on foot every day. Heavens, children from Hoover’s Valley walked across it every morning to come to school in Kingsland.

Once on the bridge, she hiked her skirt up a bit more and watched the placement of each hurried step. There were no railings and no trestles to protect her from falling into the Colorado River below should she lose her balance.

“Kate!” Mark called, much nearer now. “Stop!”

She lifted her head to judge how far she’d come. Almost halfway. And there, across the river, she spied a pair of horses at the end of the bridge. A small child in boy’s clothing moved between them. Alice! Katherine’s heart soared.

“I see her!” She halted momentarily and glanced over her shoulder, her excitement building.

Mark stood on the tracks at the edge of the bridge, waving her toward him. “Come back!” he yelled.

Go back? No. They had to go forward. Get to Alice before she was lost to them again. She shook her head and resumed picking her way across the bridge. Faster now. Nearly at a run. Alice was on the other side. In danger. Nothing else mattered.

But two-thirds of the way across, she realized she was wrong. Something else did matter. Something barreling toward her with such speed that the tracks convulsed beneath her feet. The deep, haunting moan of a train whistle pierced her ears and her heart.

The 6:50 from Burnet. Heading straight for her.

Giveaway!

I’ll be giving away 2 copies of The Heart’s Charge today.

For a chance to win, leave a comment about a favorite bridge-related memory
or about a bridge you would love to visit one day.

 

 

Texas Ranger Museum

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Waco with my daughter was visiting the Texas Ranger Museum. If you love westerns, this is the place to go. The guns alone were spectacular. I don’t own guns, nor do I like them outside of my stories, but seeing these centuries-old weapons in pristine condition was a researcher’s dream. I especially loved seeing the guns I’ve described in my stories close-up.
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Reading the stories of the early Rangers and their amazing bravery and skill made me feel like Matthew Hanger and his Horsemen would’ve felt right at home.
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The most interesting tidbit I learned was that most 19th century Rangers did not wear badges. The state did not provide them, so a Ranger would have to purchase his own. Instead, a Ranger carried his credentials in paper form – A Warrant of Authority and Descriptive List. It provided proof of his authority along with a physical description. I couldn’t help but wonder what could have happened if a Ranger’s credentials were stolen. Especially if he were killed and unable to report it. Could make for an interesting plot twist in a book someday.
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Scattered throughout the museum were a collection of small bronze statues depicting western scenes and lawmen. I loved these! I snapped pictures of three of my favorites. The first is a Texas Ranger standing proud and ready to do battle. The second made me smile. It’s titled Free Legal Advice and it shows a man on horseback stopping to jaw with a professional man in a buggy. The third is my favorite. Nothing touches my heart more than a tough man holding a baby. In this statue titles Compassion, a man in buckskin cradles an infant. It makes my mind whirl with story possibilities. And reminds me a bit of my upcoming story The Heart’s Charge, where two of my Horsemen find a newborn and have to deliver her on horseback to a foundling home several miles away.
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Me with my dangerous finger pistols posing with a hero of the west.

There were more modern displays in the museum as well, starting with Frank Hamer, the Texas Ranger who tracked down and killed Bonnie and Clyde in the 1930s, and moving into contemporary times.

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Visiting this hall of fame made me think of all the old westerns I would watch growing up. Especially shows like the Rifleman. But it also made me think of the two most famous fictional ranger heroes.
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If you had to pick one favorite fictional ranger, which would you choose?
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A Bridge for 1000 Hooves

I love learning historical tidbits, and getting to see pieces of history still standing is even better. Last month, my daughter and I met in Waco for a girls getaway weekend. Now that Bethany is working on her PhD at Texas A&M, I don’t get to see her very often, so we started a tradition of getting together for a weekend each semester.

She loves history as much as I do, so we skipped the shopping at the Magnolia Silos in favor of touring historic homes and walking along the Brazos River to visit the Waco Suspension Bridge. Unfortunately, the bridge was closed to the public for refurbishment, but we still managed to get a few pictures.

What is really fascinating about this bridge, however, is it’s history. It wasn’t built for man, you see. It was built for cattle.

In the mid-1800s, cattle was king in Texas, and cattle drives along the Chisholm Trail were essential for bringing those cattle to market. However, crossing the Brazos River was a difficult endeavor. No bridges spanned this river across central Texas, so trail bosses had to find shallow places to cross. With the unpredictability of Texas weather, those places became moving targets. One of the most stable locations to ford was Waco.

At the Civil War, Texas granted a charter to a private company called the Waco Bridge Company and promised them a monopoly on transportation across the river for 25 years if they would build a bridge. No other bridge could be built within five miles. The company hired New York civil engineer Thomas M Giffith to begin plans for the bridge in 1868. Griffith was a skilled engineer, having designed the first bridge to span the Mississippi in 1854. Griffith opted to build a suspension bridge and brought parts in by oxcart. His bridge was completed in 1870, and at the time was the longest suspension bridge west of the Mississippi.

The Waco Suspension Bridge wasn’t only used for cattle drives, of course. It became the main crossing point for travelers of all sorts and allowed Waco to become an economic capital for central Texas. Not only did the bridge bring merchants, farmers, and ranchers into Waco, but the bridge itself became an economic boom. The charter granted the Waco Bridge Company permission to charge a toll. Pedestrians paid five cents, and those on horseback or in carriages were charged ten cents. Any loose cattle or livestock cost five cents per head. The Waco Bridge Company reported that it made approximately $25,000 each year in collected tolls and paid off its mortgage in the first year of operation.

Tolls were collected from a bucket that would be lowered from one of its towers. If you look at the bottom right of the above photograph, the brick section with steps leading outside was where the toll keeper and his family  lived. As one would expect, this toll quickly became unpopular. The county eventually bought the bridge for $75,000 and then sold it to the city for $1 with an agreement in place that the city would eliminate the toll and maintain the structure.

Eventually, the monopoly time frame expired and other bridges sprang up. Bethany and I saw remnants of a railroad bridge platform as well as a trestle bridge that was built in 1901. The trestle bridge had a section open to foot traffic, so we walked across that bridge and got some lovely shots of the river.

With all the traffic coming across the suspension bridge, enterprising local merchants figured out how to take advantage of this prime real estate. As you can see in the picture below, large advertisements hung from the the brick walls.

In 1913, citizens decided they no longer cared for the unattractive bridge since other options were available and asked for it to be torn down. Thankfully, the city preserved this historic bridge, choosing to beautify it by stuccoing over the brick and replacing the wooden trusses with steel. Cars were permitted over the bridge until 1971. Since then, it’s been open to pedestrian traffic only.

In 2010, however, cattle once again made their way across the Waco Suspension Bridge. During the Chisholm Trail Festival, cowboys herded 40 longhorns across the bridge to commemorate this fascinating piece of Texas history.

Do you find old bridges romantic or nerve-wracking?

Do you have any historic bridges in your area?

March Game Day Winners

We have our winners!

What clever readers we have at Petticoats & Pistols! I loved reading through the acrostic poems everyone entered. So many lovely spring images.

In fact, the entries were so fabulous, that I couldn’t pick just one. So I selected two winners:

rkkoppen (Rachael) wins her choice of book along with the book nerd socks.

Cheryl C also wins her choice of book.

Here are the two winning acrostics:

#1 – This one just made me grin. So cute!

Somewhere, probably Rhode Island, new gardeners read every anthology describing seedlings. – Rachael

#2 – This one I could really relate to emotionally.

Surviving
Pandemic
Really
Inspires
New
Gratitude

so I can now…

Read
Enthusiastically
Amidst
Delightful
Sunshine

from Cheryl C.

May you all enjoy a plethora of marvelous spring reads!

Game Day – March

I’m a Word Nerd, and as such, I love playing word games. Words with Friends, Boggle with Friends, UpWords, Taboo, Scattegories, Bananagrams, Scrabble. I even keep a crossword puzzle by my place at the table, so I always have some word fun to work on.

So for our Game Day today, I thought we could stretch our Word Nerd muscles and with some acrostics.

To play, create a poem or sentence where each word starts with the first letters of the two words below.

SPRING READS

You can use both words or just one. This is for fun, so we’re going light on the rules. Your sentence or poem should explore a place or experience that fits the theme of Spring Reads.

For example, I pictured taking a walk through beautiful spring blossoms.

Sunny
Park
Road
In
Nature
Going
Round
Enjoying
Audiobook
Delivered
Sound.

Enter your acrostic in the comments to be entered to win a Spring Reads Prize of fun reader socks and the winner’s choice of one of my three most recent books.
Have fun!

What Do You Like in a Series?

Recently in my Facebook group, The Posse, a reader asked me this question:

“When do you begin planning a new series? What is that process like?”

Unlike some authors who have a constant fount of ideas bubbling through their creative centers, I tend to have tunnel vision. I focus on one idea at a time. So I always feel a bit anxious when a current series is coming to a close and I’m faced with the prospect of coming up with a new idea. In fact, that is exactly where I am right now. I’m writing the last Horseman book, and I need to have a new series idea ready to pitch to my editors in April.
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My goal is to keep my stories and series ideas as fresh as possible. So I start with the very basic element of deciding what will connect my stories. The idea behind Hanger’s Horsemen was the A-Team meets the Magnificent Seven. The four Horsemen are former cavalry officers who are bonded by war and their desire for redemption.
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The Archer Brothers series had a family connection. The Ladies of Harper’s Station series had books that were all set in the same place, the women’s colony of Harper’s Station. My Patchwork Family series was linked through a group of orphans who bonded after surviving a traumatic experience.
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Once I know what core bond the series will be built upon, I can start brainstorming the individual characters and stories. And since my books don’t release in rapid succession, I steer away from series that utilize cliffhangers at the end of each book. All of my series books can be read as stand-alone novels, each complete with an adventure, romance, and happily ever after. However, I do have fun bringing characters back from previous books for cameo appearances in subsequent stories for readers to enjoy.
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As I brainstorm ideas for my next series, I’m leaning toward having the bond be a theme instead of a particular group of characters. I’m toying with giving some classic fairy tales a Texas twist. We’ll see what happens with that.
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What kind of series do you like best?
Do you have any ideas for a western romance series that you’d like to read?