Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy?

Rodeo Cowboy

Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy?

 Chris Amundson, the editor of Nebraska Life, spoke at a Nebraska Press Women’s conference I attended and I loved listening to Chris talk about the great things to be found in Nebraska.

However it was a little distracting to have this picture blown up into a poster right behind his back. It was the cover for an article they did on small town rodeo.

Here’s a link to a lot more great rodeo pictures.


It hits close for me because we have a rodeo in the next town down the road called the Hoot Gibson Memorial Rodeo in Tekamah, Nebraska. And we’ve got neighbors who are big time into rodeo, entering and competing when the rodeo is in the area, although they don’t follow the circuit.

So today I’m including a little history, a quick look at events and some great, great pictures all about rodeo.Chris Ledoux

 Fun Fact: Rodeo is the official state sport of Wyoming and Texas, and the iconic silhouette image of a Bucking Horse and Rider is a federal and state registered trademark of the State of Wyoming.

 Rodeo Quote: I can remember sittin’ in a cafe when I first started in rodeo, and waitin’ until somebody got done so I could finish what they left.
Chris LeDoux(1948-2005) Real  life cowboy and Country western singer of Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy among many great hits.

Barrel Racing




Main Rodeo Events

Barrel Racing

Barrel racing is an exclusively women’s sport. In a barrel race, horse and rider gallop around a cloverleaf pattern of barrels, making agile turns without knocking the barrels over. Look at that picture on the left. Really notice how low the horse is, almost on it’s side.


A calf is roped around the neck by a lariat, the horse stops and sets back on the rope while the cowboy dismounts, runs to the calf, throws it to the ground and ties three feet together. (If the horse throws the calf, the cowboy must lose time waiting for the calf to get back to its feet so that the cowboy can do the work. The job of the horse is to hold the calf steady on the rope) This activity is still practiced on modern working ranches for branding, medical treatment, and so on.

 In spite of popular myth, most modern “broncs” are not in fact wild horses, but are more commonly spoiled riding Bronc Ridinghorses or horses bred specifically as bucking stock. Rough stock events also use well-trained riding horses ridden by “pick up men” (or women), of whom there are usually at least two, tasked with assisting fallen riders and helping successful riders get safely off the bucking animal.

Bronc riding

There are two divisions in rodeo, bareback bronc riding, where the rider is only allowed to hang onto a bucking horse with a type of surcingle called a “rigging,” and saddle bronc riding, where the rider is allowed a specialized western saddle without a horn (for safety) and may hang onto a heavy lead rope, called a bronc rein, which is attached to a halter on the horse.

Bull riding Rodeo Bullriding

An event where the cowboys ride full-grown bulls instead of horses. Although skills and equipment similar to those needed for bareback bronc riding are required, the event differs considerably from horse riding competition due to the danger involved. Because bulls are unpredictable and may attack a fallen rider, Rodeo clowns, now known as Bullfighters, work during bull riding competition to help prevent injury to competitors. 

VaquerosSome interesting rodeo facts: Rodeo stresses its western folk hero image and its being a genuinely American creation. But in fact it grew out of the practices of Spanish ranchers and their Mexican ranch hands (vaqueros), a mixture of cattle wrangling and bull fighting that dates back to the sixteenth-century conquistadors. But you know…what does American mean if not a melting pot from all over the world? Bill Pickett

 There would probably be no steer wrestling at all in American rodeo were it not for a black cowboy from Texas named Bill Pickettwho devised his own unique method of bulldogging steers. He jumped from his horse to a steer’s back, bit its upper lip, and threw it to the ground by grabbing its horns. He performed at local central Texas fairs and rodeos and was discovered by an agent, who signed him on a tour of the West with his brothers. He received sensational national publicity with his bulldogging exhibition at the 1904 Cheyenne Frontier Days. This brought him a contract with the famous 101 Ranch in Oklahoma and its traveling Wild West exhibitions, where he spent many years performing in the United States and abroad. I’ve seen bull riding competitions and it’s a mean sport. I don’t care for it. But the crowd goes wild.

 I remember a few years ago some company was selling ‘Great Rodeo Moments’ on TV and they’d run these awful clips, over and over, of riders getting gored by a bull or trampled by a horse. I went and looked at YouTube but honestly the clips there are pretty hard to watch. So I’m not sending you there. Go at your own risk.

Some Great Rodeo Movies—it seems like they always have them riding the bulls.

8 Seconds-starring Luke Perry

Electric Horseman – starring Robert Redford

Pure Country – Starring George StraitPetticoat Ranch

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys – Starring Scott Glenn.

 If you want to see some more really cool rodeo photos by Erik Stenbakken who took the picture at the top of this that I’m calling Mud Soaked Cowboy go here: http://www.stenbakken.com/ Click on Portfolios and then Rodeos. Very talented guy.

Any rodeo fans here today?

Seriously, have you ever been to the rodeo?

Have you got a favorite rodeo movie or rodeo cowboy I didn’t mention? What’s a cowboy got in him that makes him climb on that bull? There are cowgirls out there, too, and they’re pretty tough. Let’s hear rodeo memories, opinions or just tell me Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy……

History of the Gun is the story of America

The history of the gun tells the story of America.  At it’s most fundamental, the history of the gun is the history of freedom. And it illustrates why freedom is a thirst within each man and woman’s soul. Being set free unleashes the best in all of us. The story of freedom isn’t reflected by the gun itself, but by the ingeniuty behind it, the wealth to be made through it. This is why being allowed to work for our own best interests makes a better world for everyone.

All great inventions expand fastest under freedom and it’s partner capitalism. I could tell this same story about the car, the airplane, freeze dried food, oleo, Hamburger Helper, the computer, Starbucks. If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. And that goes for everything a market can produce. There is great wealth to be made by hard work and creativity. And those are unleashed to their fullest with freedom.

1364: First recorded use of a firearm – shooter lit wicks by hand that ignited gunpowder that was loaded into the gun barrel. huochong gun

Contrary to popular belief, the Chinese did not use gunpowder only for fireworks. In fact, the earliest surviving recipes for gunpowder can be found in the Chinese military treatise Wujing zongyao of 1044 AD, which contains three: two for use in incendiary bombs to be thrown by siege engines and one intended as fuel for smoke bombs.

14th century China: The matchlock firearms were first mentioned. The matchlock appeared in Europe some time in the mid-1400s, although the idea of the serpentine appears some 40 years previously in an Austrian manuscript. The first dated illustration of a matchlock mechanism dates to 1475, and by the 1500s they were universally used.

The Matchlock secured a lighted wick in a moveable arm which, when the trigger was depressed, was brought down against the flash pan to ignite the powder. This allowed the musketeer to keep both hands on the gun, improving his aim drastically.


1630: Flintlock guns – the flintlock did two things mechanically, it opened the lid of the flash pan and provided an igniting spark. Flintlock is the general term for any firearm based on the flintlock mechanism. Introduced about 1630, the flintlock rapidly replaced earlier firearm-ignition technologies, such as the matchlock and wheellock mechanisms. It continued to be in common use for over two centuries, replaced by percussion cap


percussion gun1825: Percussion-cap guns invented by Reverend John Forsyth – firing mechanism no longer uses flash pan, a tube lead straight into the gun barrel, the tupe had an exposive cap on it that exploded when struck  The percussion cap, introduced around 1830, was the crucial invention that enabled muzzle-loading firearms to fire reliably in any weather.

The percussion cap system was made obsolete by:


1835: Colt revolver – first mass-produced, multi-shot, revolving firearms

Samuel Colt invented the first revolver, a gun named after its inventor “Colt”, and after its revolving cylinder “revolver”. In 1836, Samuel Colt was granted a U.S. patent for the Colt revolver, which was equipped with a revolving cylinder containing five or six bullets and an innovative cocking device.

Before the Colt revolver only one and two-barrel flintlock pistols had been invented for hand held use. Colt revolvers were all based on cap-and-ball technology until the Smith and Wesson license on the bored-through cylinder (bought from Rollin White) expired around 1869.

“Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal.”


1873: Winchester rifle – One of the most successful, and certainly one of the most famous Winchester rifles was the Winchester Model 1873. The Winchester ‘73 was produced in such quantities that they became a common sight in the American West, leading to the rifle being nicknamed:

“The Gun that Won the West.”

We’ve talked about inventions before, but Memorial Day has given me a desire to talk about Freedom. I sometimes wonder if people today even know what Freedom truly is.

I listened to Bill Maher, long ago, I don’t listen anymore, mocking America and extolling the virtues of Cuba.

Never mind that, in Cuba, if he called the leaders horrible, denigrating names, he’d be arrested and shot. Never mind that he makes his LIVING with Freedom of Speech. To me, he was a man who didn’t know what Freedom was. He didn’t get that people, for over 225 years have died for his right to say anything, while people are imprisoned and executed in half the countries of the world for daring to oppose their leaders.

What does Freedom mean to you? Where is the balance between guns and safety and crime and Freedom?

Ben Franklin once said:

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety,

deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

I know this:

America is the land of the Free and the home of the brave. But if we don’t start being a lot more brave we’re going to be a lot less Free.

Tell me, in the shadow of the just passed Memorial Day, the day to remember our deceased loved ones, but also to remember the price America has paid for Freedom, what Freedom means to YOU.



How Do I Reload This !@#*! Thing

cover_petticoatranch_sm.jpgA Marriage of Convenience—a classic device in romance writing because you need to stick your hero and heroine together, then find a way to give them a conflict big enough to keep them apart, while they’re stuck together. So, a marriage between two people who aren’t in love (yet) works perfectly. My novel Petticoat Ranch contains a marriage of convenience. The sequel, Calico Canyon has a forced marriage and that’s a different and also time honored Calico Canyon Coverdevice. My characters in Calico Canyon have to marry for reasons of propriety. They spent the night together, in perfect innocence, now, if they don’t marry, the heroine’s reputation is ruined.

We think of a marriage of convenience as wholly fictional. They don’t really happen. But my grandparents had a real life marriage of convenience. My grandfather’s first wife died giving birth to their second child, that child died, too. As his wife lay there, knowing she was dying, she told my grandfather she wanted him to marry her old college roommate, Latta Snyder. She wanted Latta to raise their older child. Well, trying to imagine that scene is pretty horrifying, especially to a writer, being blessed with both an extremely vivid imagination and an ability to fictionalize almost anything and make it even more angst laden. Grandpa obeyed. He married my grandmother.

Marriage of ConvenienceHere’s the deal though, and where this coincides with Petticoat Ranch. Grandma and Grandpa had their first child about 15 months after they got married. So let’s face it, it was a real marriage in all ways. This picture is of my mother and her siblings. The oldest child is the first born, the others are stairsteps, four kids in less than eight years. My mom is the littlest one, on the far right. IF you click on the picture it’ll get bigger. My grandparents got married, they knew what that meant. In Petticoat Ranch, I didn’t dwell on the wedding night at all. So later, when she’s pregnant, I had a lot of letters asking, ‘When did this happen?’

My answer? The first night, people. They were married. They knew what that meant.

Which got me thinking about modern marriages of convenience. Don’t you think Bill and Hillary Clintonthese qualify? Bill and Hillary Clinton in their now famous, “Stand By Your Man” 60 Minutes interview that saved Clinton’s candidacy in 1992.

James McGreeveyGov. James McGreevey, with his wife at his side as he confesses to the people of New Jersey that he was having an affair with his male employee.

 Eliot Spitzer

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, with his very frazzled wife, talking about his Call Girl compulsion.

Larry CraigSen. Larry Craig, with his wife, who has got to be hiding behind those sunglasses, explaining how he was arrested in a restroom while trying to ‘arrange’ a tryst with a man.

My favorite line on this type of very public mess was from Texas Congressman Dick Armey during the Monica Lewinsky flap.

He said, If I were in the President’s place I would not have gotten a chance to resign. I would be lying in a pool of my own blood, hearing Mrs. Armey standing over me saying, ‘How do I reload this !@#! thing?'”   

Would you Stand By Your Man?

Do these woman even care about these men, or are they political animals like their husbands and their only emotion is humiliation, not a broken heart?

Do these count as modern day marriages of convenience?

Do you know anyone with a marriage of convenience?

img_6416.jpgAnd isn’t that picture with my mom and her big brother and sisters a beautiful marriage of convenience, so much better than these others?

Mary Connealy, proud granddaughter of a very successful and happy Marriage of Convenience and author of Petticoat Ranch and soon to be released Calico Canyon.

When An Old Man Dies, A Library Burns Down

petticoat-ranch-cover-small.bmpCivil War Widows 

In Petticoat Ranch, my hero Clay fought in the Civil War as did Sophie’s first husband. Research can really lead you into fascinating areas. I saw this head line on a story the other day.

Gertrude Janeway, 93, Is Dead; Last Widow of a Union Soldier

Gertrude Grubb Janeway, age 93, died Friday Jan. 19, 2003, at her home in Blaine, Tenn. She lived in a three-room log cabin bought for her by her husband in 1927. She was the last surviving widow of a Union soldier. Her husband, John Janeway, died in 1937 at age 91.Gertrude Janeway Civil War Widow She married her husband in 1927 when she was 18 and he was 81. In an interview in 1998 she said they sparked for three years because her mother would not sign for her to marry. As a Union widow pensioner Janeway received $70 per month from the Veterans Administration until the day she died. Gertrude never remarried and talked all her life about how much she loved John. So that article led me to this one:

Alberta Martin, 97, Confederate Widow, DiesCivil War Widow Alberta Janeway

The person thought to be the last-known Confederate widow, Alberta Martin, was born Dec, 4, 1906, and died at age 97 in Alabama on May 31, 2004. In 1927, at age 21, she married William Jasper Martin, then 81. William and Alberta had one son. Mrs. Martin died nearly 140 years after the Civil War ended.Her marriage in the 1920s to Civil War veteran William Jasper Martin and her longevity made her a celebrated final link to the old Confederacy.And, do you think we’re done yet? No!

Widow recalls marrying Civil War veteran

Maudie Hopkins Civil War WidowThe publicity surrounding Alberta Martin’s death prompted relatives of Maudie Celia Hopkins of Arkansas to reveal that the 89-year-old was in fact the last civil war widow.

Hopkins married 86-year-old William Cantrell on Feb. 2, 1934, when she was 19.To me this is almost staggering…isn’t it? C’mon! It’s history come to life. Our links to the past seem so distant and, as I sit here typing on my computer, and click around on the World Wide Web–sometimes annoyed because it takes WEBSITES too long to open–I get hit with this. Someone is still alive today who was married to a Civil War veteran. In the historical western novels the Petticoats and Pistols fillies write we have to capture that long ago time. But as long as Maudie Celia Hopkins is still alive, that history is now.Who is the oldest person you know?

Any veterans in your past?

My father, Jack Moore—who never did much traveling at all until he retired, spent a year and a half in Korea. There’s traveling for you. Can your parents remember when the lights went on? My mom and mother-in-law can. Ask them about it. You can see the amazement in their eyes at the miracle of an electric light bulb. At church one day someone mentioned WWII and I asked the lady who brought it up, ‘Did your husband go to war?’ She said, “Everybody went.”

I remember someone saying Laura Ingalls Wilder came west on a wagon train and lived to see a rocket launched into space. It’s just not that long ago.

Tell me what the oldest person you know lived through. World War II? The Dust Bowl? The Depression? And if you don’t know the answer to that, go talk to them. Have you ever heard the saying,

“When an old man dies, a library burns down.”

There is a book in everybody’s story, and a library in an old person’s story.

Who’s the oldest person you know? Tell me about your own living history.

Mary Connealy Signature Icon

Hatch, Match and Dispatch

Calico Canyon CoverI’m on research again. It’s helped me to get a really interesting conception of the wild west. 

I want one of my characters, the hero in Montana Rose, (these aren’t out yet) to perform a marriage ceremony in Wildflower Bride, Book #3. My hero fills in for the circuit riding pastor and does the work of a minister in this small frontier town. Now these days, you can get a license and call yourself a preacher over the internet. It’s wide open. I mean, sure it’s a huge commitment if you want to be a Catholic priest, but you wanta be a pastor in the church of Elvis Presley?

No problem.

I Googled ‘Minister License Free’ for the purposes of this post and holy moley, it’s easy. 

Become an ordained minister legally by our online Christian ministry for free. within the 50

United States ordination by mail Words and phrases that define this website: Minister license, legal authority as become ordained online, free ordained minister credentials… There were 1,980,000 hits. Try ordain.org. J   

Or maybe DON’T.

No idea what’s on these sites but it sure looks easy to legally do baptisms, weddings and funerals: Hatch, Match and Dispatch. You know the baptisms and funerals, sure, I can see that anyone can do that. But marriages? That’s a legal, binding contract, registered with the state. It seems like it’s be harder to be able to do those…but nope…not these days! 

Back then, there are references to people ‘marrying’ and having a parson come along and bless the marriage when one was in the area, often after several children had been born. Why not? It’s a promise made before God and man, right? I heard that the Pilgrims did this, once they’d spread from their original settlements. We think of them as seriously conservative, right? But they’d take their vows before their parents or whatever witnesses they could dig up and they were married. Everyone accepted it. And when a circuit rider came along, he’d bless whatever marriages had begun, however long ago that was…and maybe baptize their children while he was handy. Bozeman Montana ChurchSo that’s fine, I just think–for my book–I’d better come up with a real marriage. 

The thing that makes this especially hard is how much information I DID find. I found a site that listed every church in every town and in many cases the number of members, the day the church was opened, the church building, sometimes photos, the name of the pastor and where he went to school, Princeton, Harvard, there weren’t that many colleges back then. I mean I found serious DETAILS. This picture is of, they believe, the original church built in Bozeman, Montana in 1888. The picture was taken much later, but the records exist and are in pretty good order.   

But my original statement about a new conception…what really struck me is how few churches there were. How few pastors, how few towns, how few people. Guess what else? How few women! You know…the west was really empty. The boom towns created by a gold strike, were very often abandoned and while they existed they were few and far between and full of men. 

The population in Montana in 1880 was 39,000. Actually 39,129, yes they took a census. Hard to believe, what a job that would have been, huh? Anyway, I’m finding small details here and there that are helping…a little, giving me jumping off spots for my fiction writing. J  img_6416.jpgThink about the pioneers, going days and days and weeks and weeks without seeing another person, living on their Little Houses on the Prairie, having the nearest neighbor be a ten mile ride on a horse away.  The nearest town 40 miles and you’d go in once a year.  We like to romanticize the wide open spaces and the privacy but could you make it? Could you live that alone? 

The Kid in All of Us

TootleI just attended a baby shower and, being a writer, I came up with books as gifts. So they’re in my head right now. I gave her the mother-to-be four favorite books that I read to my daughters when they were little.


I think Tootle is THE book for a young mom to read to her children. It’s a Little Golden Book. The moral of the story is: There are nothing but red flags for little trains who get off the tracks. 

Now it might take a bit of considering because that moral is pretty well buried in the silliness of little Tootle frolicking in a field of wildflowers when he’s supposed to be practicing being a locomotive. But this is a deep truth. There truly are nothing but red flags for little trains who get off the tracks. 

I have a day job working with people who are off the tracks in a major way. And there are NOTHING but red flags in these people’s lives. Read your babies and grandbabies Tootle and make sure they get the point. 

The Big Orange Splot

The Big Orange SplotTo go with Tootle I loved The Big Orange Splot by D. Manus Pinkwater. Some people mistake Tootle as a call to live a life of conformity. But there is a difference between following your dreams and being off the tracks. The Big Orange Splot is all about loving what is special about you. Plus, it’s a book long poem and it’s a joy to read. 

My house is me

And I am it

And it looks like all my dreams. 

A Child’s Garden of Verses

Next is ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. This is the classic best book for children in my humble opinion. 

The Swing

 How do you like to go up in a swing?

Up in the air so blue?

Oh, I do think it’s the pleasantest thing,

Ever a child can do. 

A Child’s Garden of VersesThere are a whole collect of these beautiful, child centered classic poems. I used to recite that poem while I’d push my daughters on the swing and they learned to say it along with me. 

I think this one is hilarious, so how far have we come from this?

The Whole Duty of Children

A child should always say what’s true

And speak when he is spoken to

And behave mannerly at table

At least as far as he is able.

Maude and Claude Go AbroadMaude and Claude Go Abroad

The final one is “Maude and Claude Go Abroad” by Susan Meddaugh. This again is a book length poem. Susan Meddaugh is simply a genius. The way she twists the word to create her poem full of humor and whimsy is just a delight.

My favorite of many lines:

And then we laid eyes on

Land on the horizon. 

I just love that the woman rhymed ‘eyes on’ with ‘horizon’. That’s just creative and funny and the book is full of smart, sharp language like this.

So what’s your favorite book from childhood? Yours and/or your childrens’? Do you read books to children? Do you read for fun, to teach, to quiet the little monsters down so they’ll go to sleep?Let’s talk about books that bring out the kid in us. 

Be My Valentine – Times Four!

Valentine’s Day for the Girls

Not a great picture-fuzzy-but I’ve talked about how Clay in Petticoat Ranch wasn’t used to being around women and I modeled Clay just a bit after my husband, from a family of seven boys and now we’ve got four daughters.

This is the Valentine’s Day of 1984. My three oldest daughters–Josie 5, Wendy 3, Shelly 3 months. My husband would bring me and each of the girls flowers. I’d get three roses and they’d each get one or I’d get a floral arrangement and they’d each get a tiny one, like in this picture.

One year he went to pick the girls up from a neighbor who was babysitting them and he took the BABYSITTER a single rose.

That wasn’t so good though as she told me later that her brat husband hadn’t given her anything so my husband’s Valentine was the best she got. Not exactly good news for her husband!

Anyway, though my husband sometimes struggles to understand women, he did okay a lot of the time. 🙂

MySpace for Dummies

MySpaceFirst let me preface this by saying: Everything is all right NOW! 

But—I read an article in RWR magazine a while back about how you cannot miss out on MySpace if you want to promote your work. Well, I’m on MySpace and all 759 of my close personal friends are no doubt reading Petticoat Ranch right this second.The page is up and running now, but it wasn’t always so easy.

RWR didn’t tell me the dark side of MySpace—and no, I’m not talking about the vampires who have their own pages. That is the subject of another column. Far darker than the blood-sucking living dead is me trying to create my own page. I’ve spent, oh, I’m sure it just seems like a decade trying to figure out MySpace.Finally, my 17-year-old daughter Katy took pity on me and showed me how to invite people to be my friends and how to—forgive me—pimp my page. Where do kids come up with these things?

And why do they have the nerve to say them to their mothers?! 

Anyway, I invited a bunch of people to be my friends. It felt kind of, well, nervy, you might say; like a bad high school party you go to and everyone gives you the “Who invited you?” look. But Katy pep-talked me into it, so I did it.Then after all the invites went out, I tried to, umm, you know to my page and—forgive me again—somehow ended up with a stripper as my background picture.

She was not there when I selected from among the 1,000,000 background choices. And sure, they can’t show you everything on the background, but c’mon! You’d think they’d include it if there was a stripper!! And she was moving—there were shots of her wearing less and less. It was very high-tech in a triple-X kind of way. Did I mention I did this after I invited all these friends? Excellent. Nice surprise if they come and check things out, huh? I invite you to MySpace and a stripper opens the door. Just the impression I want to make!So, of course, on the very day someone might actually agree to be my friend—“hello 38 Double D.”Calico Canyon Cover
And the only way I could get rid of g-string girl was to get rid of everything, including a bunch of scary-looking lines of code.  Think “Nightmare on Elm Street” with a computer monitor. 

 I don’t even really know what code means, except it’s numbers and symbols and letters that mean nothing to me. I hated to erase it because once it’s gone, there’s no getting it back—not with my computer skills. But either the code went or the stripper stayed and honestly, there was just no chance the clothing challenged girl could stay, what with my friends coming over soon, so I had to delete it all.

So, I lost the stripper and everything else too, except my book cover and a blurb about the book, and of course this nice, growing list of friends. Did you know I’m now friends with Tim McGraw? Yeah, right! Me and Tim! BFFs.  

I now have many friends, most of whom I have stolen from other author acquaintances’ sites and, well, I’m worried. I mean, honestly, do my friends love me for myself? I think not. I’m guessing I’m not going on Tim McGraw’s Christmas card list. And how badly can we abuse the word friend, huh? And why, oh why, did Faith Hill dye her hair brunette—what was she thinking?

So that’s my adventure into cyberspace. If you want to invite me to be your friend (and you’re not afraid), I’m completely open to it (http://www.myspace.com/petticoatranch). Just remember the more I drag you inside my head the more you’re going to need a GPS tracking system so when you call for help—and believe me, you will—the police can find you and save you. And just one more point: I wouldn’t be able to help you run the GPS tracker so you’d be on your own there, too. 

Next up? Facebook. If I survive, I’ll report back.


So how are you with technology? Ever accidentally logged onto some site you were afraid would make Homeland Security kick down your door? And what about research? Authors are always looking for a way to kill someone in a fresh and entertaining way…good luck running for President and not having the, “Seventy-five Fastest Acting Poison’s” website show up in the opposition research. Or the fact that you’ve checked out, “Severing A Human Head” from the library…six times.

Tell me about you and technology. The wonder…and the terror!

Black Gold, Texas Tea, Y’all Come Back Now, Here?

BootsIn my research for Gingham Mountain’s oil story angle I found out so many interesting things that I could have written the whole book about it. First how come my bad guy recognizes the oil seeping up out of the ground as valuable while the guy who owns the land just thinks whatever it is fouls his water? It’s because oil was still in it’s infancy in 1880. There wasn’t much market for kerosene because coal oil was inexpensive and wood and candles provided heat and light so simply, why consider another source. It reminds me just a little bit of us, now in American…well all over the world. These days oil seems simple and other sources of power seem complicated and expensive, like solar power and nuclear power. So we don’t make much use of them.

Here’s why my bad guy knew and my cowboy hero didn’t. He was from Pennsylvania. In the early 1850s, a Pittsburgh druggist named Samuel Kier began selling bottled oil from his father’s brine wells as “Pennsylvania Rock Oil”, but met with little success. One day a whale oil dealer, processed a small amount of Kier’s “tonic” to make a lighter oil that burned well in a lamp. When Kier heard about this, he began using a one-barrel whiskey still of his own to convert his rock oil into lamp oil. After Kier upgraded his still to five-barrel capacity, Pittsburgh forced him to move his operation to a suburb out of fear of an explosion. In or around 1854, Benjamin Silliman of Yale University successfully distilled oil into several fractions, including an illuminating oil – kerosene.

cover_petticoatranch_sm.jpgI thought this was really interesting. One barrel. Get that? His ‘refinery’ was one whiskey barrel in which he converted rock oil into lamp oil. So in Gingham Mountain, the third book in my series that begins with Petticoat Ranch, I felt like it was safe to have a small time refinery. But I didn’t want my bad guy to set up the refinery himself because he needed to sneak in and out of the oil seep to steal the oil and he wouldn’t want to leave a trail. So he hauls his stolen oil to the nearest town and ships it to someone who refines it.

For years they ‘harvested’ the oil by skimming it off a creek, producing at the peak, six to ten gallons a day, so this is how my bad guy is harvesting his oil. But the twist that came after the skimming was drilling. In the summer of 1859 the experiment with drilling began. Although progress was slow, usually three feet a day in shale bedrock, they reached a depth of 69½ feet by August 27. When the drilling tools were pulled from the well one morning, they noticed oil rising in the hole. After installing a hand-operated lever pump borrowed from a local kitchen, the first day’s production was about twenty-five barrels. Production soon dropped off to a steady ten barrels or so a day, and the well is said to have continued at that rate for a year or more. Although this well was no gusher, it was the beginning of an idea. Titusville transformed almost overnight from a quiet farm town to an oil boom town of muddy roads, hastily constructed wooden derricks, and noisy steam engines. The Pennsylvania oil boom was on! This was in 1859, two years later the first oil well was drilled in Calfornia. Sites continued to be discovered steadily through 1878, the year Thomas Edison invented the light bulb and overnight the demand for kerosene plummeted as electric lights caught on. The oil industry entered a recession that didn’t fully recover until the invention of the first practical gas powered automobile in 1886—I could write a whole blog about this too. Fascinating. Horse and CarEven with the car appearing, it wouldn’t be affordable until they began rolling off the assembly line. The first to do this was Ransome Eli Olds in 1901, followed quickly by Henry Ford.

And also in 1901, the Spindletop gusher came in near Beaumont, Texas. Spindletop was not the first nor the biggest, but  it was one of the great gushers of all time, and, most important, it heralded the birth of the Texas oil industry. spindletop1.jpg

Spindletop blew in when Anthony Lucas, a Louisiana mining engineer, drilled a well to 1,020 feet on a lease owned by Texas businessman and amateur geologist Patillo “Bud Higgins”. Lucas placed his well on a low hill that he and Higgins thought might be a salt dome, and when the ground began to tremble on that fateful day in January and a great spout of oil exploded into the air, it confirmed their belief that oil accumulated around salt domes. The well produced an astounding 800,000 barrels of oil in just 8 days.

By September, there were at least six wells producing from the crest of Spindletop, with many more on the way. Total production from the field in 1985 stood at 153 million barrels.

One of the reasons the oil and the cars is so interesting is because of the innovation of it all. I read on one of the research sites that there are over 100,000 patents that led to the invention of the first automobile. There was a fortune to be made if you were first, if you made a tiny improvement in an old patent.

flintlock.jpgWatch the History of the Gun sometime on the History Channel. It’s like the story of America. The race to patent improvements, cars are like that, and oil…finding uses for it made people rich. Thomas Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, had an INVENTION FACTORY. People would come in and say, “Can you make this egg beater electric?” And he’d do it.

Think about the way we’re surrounded with technology now and think back to…smoke signals…the pony express…telegraph lines…airmail…the phones with cranks and operators with wires to plug in to connect people. Now, we can’t make cell phones small enough. iphone.jpg

Could any of us really survive in the rugged west or are we too soft and too far removed from the chicken coop to the cut up chicken on the styrofoam plate in your grocer’s freezer.

What’s the most amazing invention to you? What’s your favorite?


I kind of wrote myself into a corner with Gingham Mountain Book #3 in the Lassoed in Texas series. Petticoat Ranch is book #1.

So I’ve got all these ELEMENTS I need to deal with from books #1 and #2, plus the new ones for this book.

 spindletop.jpgELEMENT #1 oil. Honestly before kerosene was widely used no one cared about oil. It was just this awful smelling stuff that polluted ground water and, although people knew it would burn if refined, refining was a lot of trouble and no one did it much because there was no money in it.

Oil wasn’t my biggest problem, it was a little one. What’s an oil refinery look like in 1880? Was there one in Texas? Can you build your own small one?

Before long I was wishing I’d never even thought of oil. But it was so interesting and I’ll write a whole blog about it sometime.

The next ELEMENT was the Civil War. The war is over, but it can’t be too long over because my characters were named and set in time by the earlier books. The Civil War caused me all sorts of trouble because of the next ELEMENT, trains.

I needed a train.

Old Train Engine

Well, was there a train in Texas after the Civil War? How soon did train travel resume? Did it ever end? Did it end north and south but not east and west. You’ve got to figure there were no trains coming from New York, across the Mason/Dixon Line during the war.

And I needed a train because of the next ELEMENT Orphan Trains. Orphan Trains came to Texas but the dates were really vague. Orphan Trains traveled from 1850 to 1920. So the dates are so wide…YES the Orphan Trains came, but when exactly and to where?

And … here’s an odd ELEMENT that took me a surprising amount of work to track down.

I needed a mountain.

So, Beaumont, Texas seemed to be the center of early oil activity and I wrote the book, placing it in a fictional town but they’d travel to nearby Beaumont. Except, I was sure I’d found evidence of some rugged ground in the general Beaumont area, but I couldn’t find it again. In fact just the opposite. Beaumont is in the Texas Coastal Plain. I could include some info here for you about the Texas Coastal Plain but trust me, the main sticking point for me as I researched was the constant references to low-swampy ground…for (I’m estimating) one zillion square miles.


Anyway, by now I’m juggling balls in the air. We talk a lot on this blog about loving research. You know what? I hate research.

Oh, I enjoy the reading, honestly the stuff I read about the Spindletop oil well–that’s an actual picture of it above–coming in is just the stuff dreams are made of. Thrilling. It’s the story of American ingenuity and a new era in this country. I loved reading about the Orphan Trains and even trains in general. Heck I even liked studying Texas geography on Google Earth.

But I’m typing along and suddenly I’m not sure if there was train travel … I had someone from Book #1 Petticoat Ranch and #2 Calico Canyon coming in on the train to visit the characters of Book #3 Gingham Mountain so there’d better have been trains.Petticoat Ranch Cover

So I’m having fun, my couple is snipping and dancing around each other, bad guys are closing in and and I’ve got to quit to find out if I can produce a mountain. You know, the mountain that is tucked up behind the cabin…the mountain Gingham Mountain is named for and which one of the characters falls off of and where the treacherous stand of trees that really is completely integral to his home and why did I ….oh forget it.

Trust me when I tell you, it’s way easier if you the reader just suspend disbelieve and go along for the ride. I mean if I need a mountain, a train, a historical date, Texas, oil and orphans, what am I supposed to do? Somewhere in that state I can have it all but it can be hard work and it’s way more fun to dwell on how hunky the hero is and how feisty my heroine is. I wish I could just make it all up, you know?


So have you read books that get it wrong? Does that make you crazy? If I’ve got a mountain on a low-swampy coastal plain am I gonna hear about it?

I wish no one would confuse me with the facts.