Bringing Annie Oakley to Texas

When we were first brainstorming ideas for what would become the Pink Pistol Sisterhood series, it seemed only natural to look to a 19th century woman famous for both her marksmanship and her femininity as inspiration. When we learned of Annie Oakley’s passion for teaching other ladies how to defend themselves, we knew we had a foundation upon which to build.

It is estimated that Annie Oakley taught more that 15,000 women how to shoot over the course of her lifetime!

My heroine, Tessa James, seeks lessons from the great Annie Oakley, and I have to tell you that writing such a legend into my story was both daunting and incredibly fun.
Since my heroine lives in Caldwell, Texas, I needed to find a way to bring Annie to the Lone Star State. The 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago had just concluded. Annie had performed alongside the World’s Fair with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. This had been a long engagement, so I thought it possible that Annie and her husband Frank Butler might be in the mood for a change of scenery. Why not bring them to the south, and to Texas in particular? I found documentation that Buffalo Bill brought his western extravaganza to Texas in 1900, so perhaps this could have been an early scouting trip by one of his headliners.
Annie and Frank made their living through their own shooting exhibitions when they weren’t traveling with Buffalo Bill. So as all fiction authors do, I began asking What if? What if Annie and Frank decided to visit the Texas state capital and put on an exhibition while there? What if Annie agreed to give shooting lessons to any females who stayed after the performance?
Now that I had Annie coming to Texas, I needed to find a place for her to perform. My research led me to the perfect place–Hyde Park Pavilion.
Hyde Park was the first suburban development in Austin. Streetcar service made it possible for people to settle in this quiet, rural area. Before the area was developed with Craftsman houses and shady lanes, though, it was an area famous for recreation. The Texas State Fair used the area as its fairgrounds from 1875-1884. The flat terrain made it ideal for racing, so the Capital Jockey Association set up a racecourse there that became known as “the finest in the South.” The state militia used the area for training and drills during its summer encampments and drew crowds numbering in the thousands.
The State Lunatic Asylum had been built on these grounds in 1861, and during the 1870’s, they embarked on a beautification project that created 600 yards of scenic drives and a chain of lakes and lily ponds. Following this beautification, the asylum grounds became a favorite place for courting couples. Buggy drives and picturesque strolls became the norm. And when a large pavilion was constructed by Gem Lake in 1892, this became one of the most popular resorts in Austin.
The pavilion played host to concerts, plays, dances, and hosts of other entertainment. It seemed the perfect location for Annie Oakley to perform. I found a great photograph to help me picture what a turn-of-the-century crowd might have looked like at the Hyde Park Pavilion.
I had Annie perform inside the pavilion, where a crowd could watch in comfort, but the lessons she gave to Tessa and the other ladies happened on the lawn area that stretched wide on the side opposite the lake.
Who knew that the grounds of a lunatic asylum would provide the perfect setting for Annie Oakley to meet my heroine?

Click on cover to preorder.

In Her Sights is now available for preorder and early reviews are coming in. Here is what some readers are saying on Goodreads:

This book hits all of the right notes. It was sweet, it was funny, it had likeable characters who were easy to root for, and I was grinning like an idiot almost the whole time I was reading it.
Tessa and Jackson are delightfully perfect for one another . . . Tessa’s plan to catch Jackson’s attention is priceless and I laughed at the whole scene behind the old school.
I loved Every. Single. Thing. about this novella! As usual, Karen Witemeyer hooks you from the beginning with memorable characters and a enduring storyline.
Hilarious! What a delightful, comic, and inspirational love story! Ms. Witemeyer has delivered a great story with characters I would like to know. . . Can’t wait for the next book!
If you lived in Austin, Texas at the turn-of-the-century,
would you have wanted to go courting on the grounds of a lunatic asylum?

Sneak Peek

Starting a new project is always fun. Yet, there is something special about honoring characters from the past and evolving them into something new that excites me even more than starting completely from scratch. My next project has that exact element of excitement, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

When an opportunity arose for me to participate in a “secret” project with a group of western romance writers I’ve long counted as friends, I was eager to join in the fun. I can’t give away too many details yet because the project is still in the preliminary stages, but I can reveal, that I will be writing a novella to kick off this new series.

At first, all I really knew about my story was that it would take place in 1893 and that my heroine would have an encounter with the amazing Annie Oakley following her run with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show that took place in conjunction with the World’s Fair in Chicago. Annie Oakley had a passion for teaching women how to defend themselves, so I knew my heroine would seek out a lesson from the legendary markswoman, but I didn’t yet know who my heroine would be.

Then one of the authors in our group mentioned how much reader’s love reading stories about secondary characters, and she got my mind swirling with possibilities. Most of my adult secondary characters had already had their own stories written, but what if I went back and pulled out children from my previous stories?

I started calculating dates to see which, if any, of my juvenile secondary characters might work for a romance taking place in 1893. I came up with two likely candidates:

  • Tessa James – She was the young girl of a widowed mother who became a dressmaking assistant to Hannah Richards in my debut novel, A Tailor-Made Bride. Tessa was 8 years old in that book (set in 1881), so she would be 20 in 1893.
  • Jackson Spivey – He was 12 years old and the son of a negligent father in Stealing the Preacher (1885). Joanna Robbins took him under her wing despite the fact that Jackson had a massive crush on her. When Crockett Archer came into the picture, he won Jackson over with respect, straight talk, and his skill with a rifle. Jackson would also be 20 in 1893.

So which one should I use? Both have potential. Both are interesting characters in their own right. And both provide a level of emotional attachment to me and to readers.

Then it hit me. Why not use both Tessa and Jackson? So that’s what I did!

This will be my first time featuring such a young hero at only 20 years of age, but Jackson’s rough upbringing forced him to grow up fast, so I think it will work. My son and his new wife were both the same age when they married at 22, so the more I thought about pairing Tessa and Jackson, the more the idea grew on me.
I decided not set the story in either Coventry (A Tailor-Made Bride) or Deanville (Stealing the Preacher) but chose to give both characters a fresh start in a different location. They are both starting out as young professionals, struggling to find where they fit in a world wider than their hometowns. Tessa is working as a seamstress in a new shop in Caldwell, Texas, and Jackson works in a gun shop off the courthouse square. Not only did I want to move these characters out from under the shadows of the heroes and heroines who preceded them, but I wanted to make sure new readers could follow the story without being familiar with my previous books.
I’m about 2/3 of the way done writing Tessa and Jackson’s story, and I’m really enjoying the pairing. After Jackson lost his first love (Joanna) to the man who become his mentor and best friend (Crockett), I’m excited to bring him his own special woman to love. Even if she has to chase him down to convince him he’s worth loving.
Do you enjoy reading stories about characters who were children in previous books?

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Happy National Go Caroling Day!

I adore Christmas music. All kinds. From fun kids’ songs like I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas to nostalgic tunes like I’ll Be Home for Christmas to haunting melodies like I Wonder as I Wander.

My favorites, however, are the carols that bring the nativity to life and celebrate the birth of our Savior.

O Little Town of Bethlehem is a traditional carol with a fascinating history. The lyrics were penned by an Episcopal priest named Phillips Brooks in 1868, but the story that inspired it began three years earlier.

Brooks, a young minister and staunch abolitionist, was asked to give a eulogy address at President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. Yet following that service, the weariness of war caught up to Brooks. Craving rest and renewal, he took a sabbatical from preaching and visited the Holy Lands, seeking a measure of peace. Gazing out over the unassuming Bethlehem, the first lines of a poem sprouted in his mind. O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, a silent star goes by.

A couple years later he came back to that poem and completed it, intending to use it as part of the Christmas service at his church in 1868. He gave the poem to his organist Lewis Redner and asked him to set it to music. Render recalled the rush to find a melody this way:

“As Christmas of 1868 approached, Mr. Brooks told me that he had written a simple little carol for the Christmas Sunday-school service, and he asked me to write the tune to it. The simple music was written in great haste and under great pressure. We were to practice it on the following Sunday. Mr. Brooks came to me on Friday, and said, “Redner, have you ground out that music yet to ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’?” I replied, “No”, but that he should have it by Sunday. On the Saturday night previous my brain was all confused about the tune. I thought more about my Sunday-school lesson than I did about the music. But I was roused from sleep late in the night hearing an angel-strain whispering in my ear, and seizing a piece of music paper I jotted down the treble of the tune as we now have it, and on Sunday morning before going to church I filled in the harmony. Neither Mr. Brooks nor I ever thought the carol or the music to it would live beyond that Christmas of 1868.”

But it lived well beyond that single Christmas service. In fact, one of the verses seemed strangely prophetic. Take note of verse three.

Late in life, Phillips Brooks met a young girl named Helen Keller. He was the first person to help her understand the existence and love of God. Brooks did not have any offspring of his own, but he loved children and when he met Helen during a visit she made to Boston at age 11, the two bonded. He longed to help her understand God, but how does one explain a spiritual concept to a child who needs to touch in order to understand? His persistence paid off, and the deaf and blind girl came to comprehend that the presence she’d always sensed but never understood had a name – God. How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is giv’n! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heav’n. The two exchanged letters and became so close that when Helen’s younger brother was born, she encouraged her parents to name him Phillips in honor of her dear friend, Mr. Brooks.

I hoped you enjoyed learning a bit of the history behind this classic song. I’ll leave you with a recording by the talented Sarah McLachlan. Merry Christmas!

Karen’s Big Christmas Giveaway

The Christmas season is here, and if you’re anything like me, you’re directly in the middle of all the hustle and bustle. Shopping, baking, decorating the house, wrapping gifts, getting packages in the mail . . . It seems like every time I scratch one thing off the to-do list, three more appear to take its place.

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone sent you a big care package to help you relax and escape the madness? Wouldn’t you love to curl up with a good book, some cozy socks on your feet and a cup of tea in your hand?

Well, call me Mrs. Santa, because I aim to make one book-lover’s secret wish come true this week.

Look at all the goodies you could win!

  • An autographed copy of Under the Texas Mistletoe which includes the Christy and Carol Award winning novella, A Texas Christmas Carol.
  • An audiobook copy of In Honor’s Defense

  • A mug made for book-lovers
  • A package of literary tea
  • A selection of 6 additional books by some of the top names in Christian fiction
  • Fun bookish socks
  • An adorable book nerd snowman for your tree

Click Here to Enter Giveaway

Contest runs through 12/19/22. Open to US entries only. Winner will be announced via email.

What are some favorite bookish gifts you’ve received in Christmases past?

Some of my favorite bookish items are socks, t-shirts, and puzzles. How about you?

Cowboys & Mistletoe – Day 4 – Karen Witemeyer


The two most powerful words in a writer’s vocabulary are: What if? When it came time for me to brainstorm a new Christmas novella idea, my mind turned to the classics and those powerful two words – what if . . .

What if . . . the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol took place in 1890’s Texas instead of early 1800’s London?

What if . . . Scrooge’s transformation story was a romance?

What if . . . there was a London, TX? Oh, wait. There is!

What happened next was a whirlwind of fun that is now available as A Texas Christmas Carol.

I had so much fun with giving names to all my characters, paying homage to the classic tale. Evan Beazer is our hero, playing opposite the joyfully optimistic Felicity Wiggins (named in honor of the cheerful Fezziwig). There’s even a dog named Humbug!

This story was previously released in the novella collection Under the Texas Mistletoe but is now available as an e-single with a fun new cover that pays homage to books from the Dickens era.

This story was so much fun to write, and it seems to really resonate with readers. It won both the ACFW Carol Award and the prestigious Christy Award!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | ChristianBook

**** Game Time ****

Since my story blends cowboys and carols, I thought it would be fun for my ornament prize to mimic that same theme. A rustic, wooden ornament with a Victorian Christmas carol message. And I couldn’t resist throwing in one of my favorite Christmas movies as well – the story of how Dickens wrote one of the greatest Christmas classics of all time.

One winner will receive both the ornament and the movie pictured above.
To enter, play the acrostic game below and place your entry in the comments.

Pick one of the words highlighted in the graphic above and create a complete sentence where each word in the sentence starts with the letters in the chosen word.
Here’s an example I whipped up for the word Dickens:
D – Delightfully
I – Icy
C – Christmas
K – Kisses
E – Enliven
N – Nippy
S – Santas
If you wish to enter more than once, leave a separate comment with acrostics formed from each different word. A maximum of four entries can be made, since there are four source words. My favorite acrostic will win!

Up next this afternoon – Cheryl Pierson!

Recipe: Cowboy Dip

Now that temperatures are starting to cool off, I’m starting to crave warm, hearty soups, stews, and dips. I wouldn’t call my husband a chef, but he has a handful of specialties that are definitely Dad Dishes. This recipe for Cowboy Dip is one of our family favorites. Anything with Cowboy in the name has got to be good, right?

I have to apologize for the less than glamorous photo. I was so eager to dive in and eat the last time we made this, I forgot to take the photo until we were packing away the leftovers. Ha!

Dad’s Cowboy Dip


  • 6.9 oz Spanish rice mix, prepared
  • 2 lbs Ground hamburger browned
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 lbs Velveta cubed (We prefer the white queso flavor.)
  • 10 oz Rotel diced tomatoes and peppers, drained
  • Corn chips


  • Prepare the Spanish rice according to box directions.
  • Cook hamburger. Season with salt and pepper. Drain grease.
  • In a Crock Pot, place cubed cheese, hamburger, rice, and Rotel. Set on high, stirring occasionally until melted and heated through (about 30-45 minutes).
  • Serve by the bowlful with chips for a meal, or use as a warm party dip. Serves 4-6.

What are some of your favorite cowboy foods?

Get Out of Jail Free

Last summer, my husband took me on a marvelous trip to Colorado to celebrate our 30th anniversary. One of the things we did on this trip was to drive up to this historic town of Silverton. I love communities that take preservation seriously, and walking through Silverton was like walking back in time.

One of the most interesting places we visited was the old jailhouse. They turned this building into a wonderful museum, and I learned some fascinating history that I found quite surprising.

From 1874-1902, five jails were constructed in Silverton as the mining town grew and evolved. The first one-room cell was built of logs from native timber, the second was made from mortared stone. During the 1880’s wooden jails were constructed in other small mining communities throughout San Juan County. They were mainly used as holding cells until the prisoners could be transported to the county jail in nearby Silverton. Many of these smaller jails had no on-site supervision. The prisoners were checked on only at meal times and at “lights out,” making it easy for them to plan and implement escapes. Escapes became such a problem, that the county invested over $12,000 in 1902 to build a state-of-the-art escape and fire proof brick and limestone jail. This building is still standing today, and is the one I had the pleasure of touring.

The first room we entered was the Jail office. The office was strategically placed to provide both maximum security and efficient daily monitoring. The metal staircase to the left leads to the second floor where the cell block was located. The photo shows the family of Alvin and Ida Kramer. Alvin was the sheriff from 1905-1912.

One of the most surprising things about this jail to me was the fact that it was basically a home on the bottom floor. The sheriff’s family didn’t actually live here, but they spent the majority of their daytime hours here. The wife would cook meals in the kitchen for the prisoners as well as her family. There was even a parlor for relaxation and for the younger children to play in.

Directly to the left of the jailor’s office was a special cell separated from the mail block upstairs. This cell was for insane inmates . . . or women. Notice the pass-through in the wall where food could be delivered from the kitchen. It is currently decorated more as a typical Victorian era bedroom, so I imagine it was much sparser in its heyday. However, remember Ida Kramer from the photo above? She actually gave birth to her fourth child in the women’s cell.

As we moved through the downstairs room, we came to the family room followed by the parlor.

These family rooms are probably dressed up a little more than they would have been back in 1902. Yet the furniture was typical of that time period.

See the beautiful crystal in the display case? There is a scandalous story behind that set. The collection of fine crystal originally belonged to Mrs. Johnson of Silverton. She worked as a prostitute in one of the houses of ill-repute on the infamous Blair Street. Many of her clients knew that she loved cut crystal, so they purchased individual pieces as gifts for her, which explains why this is not a matched set. Then she died in 1930, her collection was packed into three oak barrels containing sawdust for shipping to her relatives in Boston. However, her family could not afford the $25 for shipping. The barrels were purchased sight unseen by William A. Way, the town attorney, so that the collection could remain in Silverton.

Next came the kitchen. Prisoners of the county jail were served three meals a day, prepared by the jailor’s in a kitchen built with all the modern amenities including running water, icebox, and large wood cookstove with bread warmer.

Finally, we moved upstairs to the main cell block. This was created as a free-standing steel unit and was centered in the room to provide a corridor on all sides. There are four six-foot square cells facing a common area that contained a toilet an sink. The jailor controlled the doors with mechanical levers, allowing prisoners to use the toilet facilities one at a time while keeping other doors locked. All the cells could hold as many as 6 canvas hammocks, making for close quarters when the jail was filled to capacity.

My husband gave me the sad puppy eyes, so I decided to help him escape.

How would you feel about being married to the sheriff and being responsible for feeding the prisoners and raising your children in a criminal environment?

Gateway to the West (and a Giveaway)

I had the pleasure of visiting St. Louis, MO last week for the American Christian Fiction Writers national conference in conjunction with a reader’s retreat called StoryFest. It was so much fun! However, I wish I would’ve had more time to visit museums and experience the history of this place that opened the West.

Since the hotel was at the heart of downtown, I did see a few things.

The Old Courthouse was built c. 1864 and is still proudly standing and serving. Then we saw a horse and carriage pass us on the street!
The first view is of the Arch from the 18th floor of the hotel where I attended a reception. The second is an evening view from the ground as we walked back to the hotel from dinner. Love how the sunlight glistens on it!

Even though I didn’t get a chance to visit any museums, I still took some time to collect some fun historical trivia.

? Lewis and Clark began their famous westward explorations in 1804 and positioned St. Louis as the “Gateway to the West.”

? Reverend John Berry Meachum, a 19th century preacher, cooper and carpenter, founded the Freedom School aboard a steamboat anchored in the middle of the Mississippi River at St. Louis, in answer to the 1847 state law which prohibited blacks from being educated on Missouri soil. The floating institution was then under federal jurisdiction and exempt from Missouri laws.

? Elizabeth Keckley, one of the Freedom School teachers, later went on to fame as seamstress and confidant to Mary Todd Lincoln at the White House.

? Susan Blow started the first kindergarten in the United States in St. Louis in 1873.

? The Eads Bridge over the Mississippi River was the first arched steel truss bridge in the world. When it was first proposed, it was scoffed at as impossible to build. Completed in 1874, it is still in use today.

? The Wainwright Building, located on Seventh Street in downtown St. Louis, was the world’s first skyscraper. It was designed by architect Louis Sullivan and completed in 1891.

? Formally called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, the 1904 World’s Fair commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Lewis & Clark expedition. The Fair was further immortalized by the movie, “Meet Me in St. Louis,” which was based on the memoirs of writer Sally Benson.

? In 1904, the first Olympiad in the U.S. was held in St. Louis at Washington University’s Francis Field, and gold, silver and bronze medals were first introduced. It was the first Olympiad with female participants, and runner George Coleman Poage was the first African-American athlete to participate in the Olympic games.

? St. Louis is the hometown of Damaris Baxter from In Honor’s Defense. ? OK – this one’s historical fiction, not fact. Ha!
One other fun thing happened while I was in St. Louis . . . I won a CAROL Award!!!
My novella, A Texas Christmas Carol, which was part of the Christmas collection I released last year (Under the Texas Mistletoe) won for best novella. This is one of the most prestigious awards given for Christian fiction, so I was absolutely thrilled!
If you haven’t read this story yet, the e-single version just released yesterday! It has a new cover, but it is still the same story that appeared in the collection.

Which St. Louis historical trivia item did you found most interesting?

Leave a comment for a chance to win a Kindle e-single copy of A Texas Christmas Carol.

Bar D Chuckwagon

Back in June, my husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. To commemorate this milestone, my hubby planned a great trip for us to visit Durango, CO. Knowing how much I love the history of the west, we visited several museums, rode a steam train to Silverton, and even stayed one night in an 1800’s hotel.

One of the highlights of the trip for me happened at the very beginning of our trip. We spent an evening at the Bar D Ranch for their Chuckwagon Supper and Old West Cowboy Music Show. It was FANTASTIC!

The Bar D is more than just a ranch. It’s a western village complete with chapel, blacksmith shop, mercantile, chocolate shop, art gallery, and even a train depot. We made sure to get there early to have lots of time to explore.

This adorable little chapel is rented out for weddings. It contains lovely stained glass, and on the night we visited, a couple of cowboys were using for a cowboy poetry reading. The well was right outside the chapel, and since I’m currently working on a westernized Snow White tale, I couldn’t resist a photo by the wishing well.

They also had a large smithy where a local blacksmith was busy plying his trade.

We took advantage of photo ops by the covered wagon and cowboy cut out as well.

I bought a few souvenirs, perused the art gallery, and we even dared spoil our dinner with a sweet appetizer from the chocolate shop. So good!

Then it was time for dinner and a show.

This gorgeous mural was on display as we lined up for our grub. In true cowboy fashion, they served us on tin plates and filled our water/tea/lemonade cups with giant galvanized coffee pots. All the shops close down winner starts, and the staff become our servers. Even the cowboy performers we’d soon see on stage. Everyone wore period western costumes to add to the experience. The costumes were more 1950’s TV western than actual 1800’s western, but I didn’t care. It was too much fun!

The food was delicious! You could choose chicken, roast beef, combo plate, or pay extra for a rib eye steak. Several of the people at our table ordered the rib eye, and it looked amazing. I had chicken and loved it. Wes went for the combo plate. We both ate every bite. Meat, baked potato, biscuits, homemade applesauce, and a slice of spice cake.

As we finished eating, the Bar D Wranglers made their way onto the stage. This was the true highlight of the evening. Fiddle, string bass, and two guitars with four-part cowboy harmony. Everything from Tumbling Tumbleweeds to The Devil Went Down to Georgia. We even had an instrumental version of the 1812 Overture highlighting Gary Cook, one of the Wranglers who is a 2-time National Flat Pick Champion on the guitar. So impressive!

There was comedy too. One of the songs they did was Old MacDonald’s Dysfunctional Farm. It included a lisping snake, an asthmatic cow, and a foul-mouthed chicken just to name a few. We were all in stitches.

A fifth wrangler joined the show for about four or five songs. He was a yodeling cowboy who held us all spellbound. Wow! He flipped between registers with the agility of a a concert pianist. So fast and so clear. I loved it!

What a great way to kick off our vacation! We were grinning the entire night.

If you were going to eat a chuckwagon dinner, what is the one cowboy dish that would be a must to include?

Don’t forget about the P&P Birthday Party on Thursday. It’s going to be so much fun with some great prizes!