A Time to Remember . . .

I loved Mary’s pictures yesterday and her blog about Memorial Day yesterday.   I wanted to add a few thoughts.
I can’t tell you how many people this weekend said, ‘Happy Memorial Day.’
And I wondered each time why.  “Happy” doesn’t seem to fit what the day is meant to be.

I,  like everyone else, plan to take advantage of the three day ‘holiday.’ I’m having my family over for barbecue. But as I watched –as I do every year — the PBS Memorial Day Concert (and shed tears as I also do every year), I also worry we are losing the meaning of the day when someone says, “Have a Happy Memorial day.”

I remember as a child and even as a young adult buying the artificial red poppies on or about Memorial Day from VFW members to benefit veterans and their families.   I miss those poppies worn so proudly by almost everyone.  I miss the parades of proud veterans and military bands.

And so, as always, I ran to the internet to pick up a little history. Mary gave you some. I’ll add a little bit.

As you known, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. There are many stories as to its actual beginning with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day.

Ironically, it might well have evolved from organized groups of women in the south who decorated the graves of their Civil War dead. A hymn, published in 1867,”Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping,” is dedicated “to the Ladies of the South who are decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead.”

Whether or not that inspired women in other towns and states is not known but, according to one history, “it is most likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860’s tapped into the general human need to honor our dead.”

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and it was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington Cemetery. What was important about the observance was that it was not about division. It was about coming together to honor those who gave their all.

New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all the northern states. The south refused to recognize the day until after World War I when the holiday was changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.

In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own poem.

“We cherish too, the Poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.”

It was Moina Michael who conceived of the idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. The practice spread to other countries. In the United States, the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies. I know some of you mentioned them in comments in Mary’s blog. I haven’t seen those poppies in many a year.

I’ve watched as  the traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades.

To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, Congress passed the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution in 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time , for all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.”

So today, Memorial Day, I plan to watch the President place a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and later I’ll pause with my family at 3 p.m. to thank those who have paid such a large price to protect our country.

I just wish I could buy those poppies again.

There’s Facts, Or Maybe Not



I recently read an article about saving the Civil War Battlefield at Glorietta Pass in New Mexico. It rang a very familiar bell.

It was that battle that started my career as a romance writer. And nearly everything that sparked that first “what if” in me turned out to be untrue, but I didn’t  realize that until years later.

And what is Glorietta Pass, you might ask.

I learned about it more than twenty years ago when I was reading one of the many military history magazines. I can’t name which one now, but I usually found little tidbits that illuminated history in some way. I had majored in journalism and minored in American history, and had I not gone into newspapering, I would have taught history. My interest in history, especially American history, has never dimmed.

One reason is my favorite history professor at the University of Alabama. His name was Dr. Pancake (how can you not love a professor named Pancake?) and he used real and compelling personal stories to get across his points. Novels can never really compete with historical fact. Few novelists can write more compelling people – good and bad – than those who actually made our history.

When I read the magazine article on Glorietta Pass, I found a story that churned my imagination and inspired me to write my first novel, based very, very loosely on that particular page of the Civil War.

The basic facts: General Henry Sibley, a graduate of West Point, resigned his commission at the onset of the Civil war and was commissioned as a Confederate officer. He was sent to Texas to put together a brigade (approximately 2,500 men) to go into New Mexico. The immediate objective was to take Fort Craig, the territory’s capital at Santa Fe. The greater objective was to capture Union rifles and supplies, march to Colorado and take the gold fields, then move on to California.

The opposing forces were commanded by a Colonel Edward Canby. In February of 1862, Sibley neared Fort Craig which was commanded by Canby. The colonel, unsure how many men the Confederates force included, employed several ruses, including the use of wooden “Quaker guns,” to make the fort look stronger. 

To make a long story short, the ruse worked and the Confederates didn’t try to take the fort. Instead they forced the Union forces to attack by cutting off the Union communications. The battle took place at Valverde and Glorietta Pass. Although the Union forces lost the battle and retreated, Canby was able to destroy the Confederate supply lines which had been inadequate from the beginning of the venture. Although Sibley won one battle, he lost the greater one. Short on supplies, he had to withdraw back to Texas with the Union forces nipping at his tail.

Even some of these details are open to debate, depending on the perspective. What was important, however, the battle ended any hope of the Confederacy to move farther west..

Okay, those are some of the mostly accepted facts.

What caught my interest, however, was the relationship between Sibley and Canby. According to the article, they were West Pointers together. The article said Canby was one year behind Sibley and had married Sibley’s sister. The article further said that Canby had been reprimanded and charged by some to have let Sibley escape because of the close relationship.

Those latter details are what inspired my first book. “Between the Thunder.”

In the book, my hero is a Union officer sent to stop Confederate forces from taking Colorado’s gold fields. The Confederate leader was his West Point roommate, and the heroine the Confederate officer’s younger sister who was riding with him. (Yes, there was a good reason).  I particularly liked it because it offered a three way conflict rather than only that between the hero and heroine.

But then several years after writing the book, I found another account of the relationship or non-relationship between Sibley and Canby. This time they were roommates, and Canby had married Sibley’s distant cousin. A third account said yes, they were at West Point together, but there was no sister or cousin or any other formal relationship. By then, my head was spinning. Despite exhaustive attempts, I couldn’t find any more definitive information on the supposed relationship. I finally, reluctantly, sadly decided it never existed.

“Between the Thunder” will always be one of my favorite books. I loved my characters, and I’ve just gotta thank the writer of that first article who apparently got a lot of things wrong but who is responsible for one writer’s career. I probably wouldn’t started writing if the story hadn’t haunted me.

I didn’t use any of the actual facts of the battle, only the inspiration, the “what if” writers talk about, so I didn’t have to worry about misleading anyone. But I did have an author’s note about it. It definitely taught me to try to get at least three sources for anything I use as fact in my novels, and even then I often find accounts contradictory. How many versions are there of the gunfight at the OK Corral? Or the Jesse James legend?

So what is a writer to do? Have any of my fellow writers encountered the same problem with facts which turn out, after all, not to be facts?

If Only There Was Time Travel . . .

Every time I send an email to friends, or a manuscript via internet  to my editor, I realize how very lucky I am to live in today’s world rather than in period we write about. I still can’t even imagine how so many words fly between so many people in so many countries today.

So I decided to look back on how they communicated before the railroads brought the country together. It was with a great deal of difficulty.

Mail didn’t just mean letters from home for forty niners marooned in the gold country or emigrants in the Oregon wilderness. Telegraph lines hadn’t reached them in the early 1850’s, and newspapers was the only form of communication for the westerners.

The delivery of mail was the government’s obligation but in practice much of it was contracted to private carriers. Congress would decide on a route, and the Postmaster General would choose a contractor. If the contractor failed to deliver, the contract could be annulled and the contractor’s costs never recouped. They usually went to great lengths not to let that happen, often being killed in doing so.

For instance, the first contractors for a trek of 900 miles between St, Lake City and Sacramento was a two man outfit. They decided that one would start from Sacramento and the other from Salt Lake City. But within six months one was killed by the Indians on his trek, and the other barely survived when on one trip, all the firm’s stock – 13 mules and a horse – froze to death in a single night in northern Nevada. The survivor partner and his helpers loaded the mail on their backs and slogged 200 miles through deep snow to Salt Lake City.

These conditions produced some other stalwart characters. One was Snowshoe Thompson. An express service had been inaugurated in the mining town of Placerville, California. In 1856, a severe blizzard closed the road to the hamlet of Genoa some 90 miles away. John Thompson, a Norwegian despite the name, told the Placerville postmaster he could get the mail through. No one believed him. Then he produced a pair of long skies, an item no miner had ever seen before. The postmaster was dubious but had little to lose. He agreed, and our Mr. Thompson skied 90 miles across the Sierra Mountains, navigating by the sun during the day and stars at night. He had a 75-pound sack of mail on his back and made the run in three day. He made the return trip – mostly down hill – in two days, again carrying this time a pack back.

The skiing mailman, according to Time Life’s “The Expressmen,” was mobbed by grateful miners on his return and he was given a regular run through the winter months. It was said he could outpace and out howl wolves.

And then there was an ambitious Californian named Fenton Whiting who decided to use dogs to pull sledges to transport up to 600 pounds of packages and mail to miners on each trip over the mountains during winter time. It was successful for nearly seven years until a snowshoe for horses was introduced. Then he used horses.

So there we had what was probably the first mountain skier in the west and the first working dog sled. Western ingenuity was, it seemed, was limitless.

So today, when you turn on the computer or your cell or Ipad, you might give a thought to how wondrous they truly are. I would love for Mr. Thompson or Mr. Whiting to time travel to today. Can you imagine their expressions?

A Treasure Found

One of the reasons I started writing westerns was being thoroughly addicted to television westerns in the fifties and sixties and seventies. I loved them all, but I certainly had my favorites: “The Virginian”, “Rawhide”, “Wagon Train,” “Cimarron Strip,” “Have Gun, Will Travel,” and on and on. Of course I also liked “Bonanza” and “The Big Valley” and other family oriented westerns, but the ones that really appealed to me featured the lone tough hero with a well-concealed heart of gold. He’s the hero I wrote in my westerns, including the one published in September, “The Lawman.” He’s the hero I truly love.

One trivia answer: the most popular genre on television during the 1950’s and 1960’s was westerns. There were several hundred western series during those decades. In checking a list of series for this blog, I found some that entirely escaped me. “Bordertown,” for one. “Brave Eagle” for another. And then “The Californians.”

I have mourned their loss. Oh, a few producers have tried. There was the “Magnificent Seven” that had a brief run. And the “Young Riders”. But none had the impact and staying power of their predecessors. I fumed and fussed, and finally had to be satisfied with Encore’s Western Channel where I’ve happily indulged in the nostalgia of “The Virginian”, “Gunsmoke”, and the enigmatic Paladin.

 I was going to blog about something else today, but then on Saturday, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Cracker Barrel (I go only once a year to get country ham and their wonderful cheesy hashbrowns because that’s about all my body should have in one year). Now Saturday is not a good day to go. Everyone in Memphis goes on Saturday morning, and there’s always a waiting time. Waiting times mean browsing. Browsing means sales. It always does for me, anyway, because it’s a great place to find some oddity that’s great for a gift basket or dirty Santa gift or little token of appreciation to someone.

I found the mother lode this time: an entire rack of collections of old western television series. Among them was a CD with the first season of “Wanted: Dead or Alive” with Steve McQueen. All 36 episodes. My fingers itched to grab all the series, but I disciplined my self and only took the McQueen series. Now if “Rawhide” had been there, I would have been in real trouble. Still, I might have to check back next week. Minus the country ham.

In any event, I don’t know if you all remember “Wanted: Dead and Alive.” Steve McQueen played Josh Randall, a moody bounty hunter who used a Winchester sawed-off shotgun. He was a man of few words who gave half – or even all – of his reward money to charity, then disappeared. I remember him as being absolutely relentless in pursuit of a wanted man but protective of children and women. I’m sure he had a secret somewhere, but I’ll have to listen to the series to discover it. I might add I was/am a huge Steve McQueen fan. Maybe it was the smoldering blue eyes.   Or the quirky grin. Or the laconic aloneness.

 Now I look forward to hosting a “Wanted” Dead or Alive” marathon and inviting my niece and grandnieces, all of whom I’ve addicted to westerns as well.

And I had to share my find with you, just in case you share my obsession and have a Cracker Barrel nearby.    Thirty six episodes for $12.99. There were also seasons of “The Virginian,” “Wagon Train,” “Bonanza” and “The Rifleman.” And then there was a three-CD library of episodes from a variety of western series.

 What is your favorite western from the past? And why? And do you mourn, as I do, their absence from the small – or maybe not quite so small  – screen today?

“The Richest Square Mile On Earth


Okay, I admit it. I’m a sucker for brochures, booklets, diaries, etc. when I’m traveling. That’s why I like to drive. The trunk is always way, way lower on my return trip.

This, unfortunately, remained true even after I discovered the internet where so much information is at my fingertips. There’s still nothing like glancing through all my shelves when it’s time to blog. I always find such neat little tidbits that might well escape me when I’m searching a particular subject on the internet.

This time, my eyes rested on a booklet, “Central City, the Richest Square Mile on Earth and the History of Gilpin Count” by Darlene Leslie, Keller Rankin-Sunter and Deborah Wightman.

Or course, the title caught my interest first. I knew immediately it had to do with gold mining, which is one of my favorite subjects. I think it’s the gambling blood in me but also because it was so responsible for the growth of the west. I’ve always been fascinated that the gold rush not only lured gold seekers from throughout the United Sates but also hopefuls from throughout Europe and Asia. A dozen languages were often spoken in mining camps. Talk about your melting pot.

The “Richest Square Mile on Earth” has details I’d not read before or didn’t recall.   I remember exactly when I bought it. I was to attend a RWA board meeting in Denver and had decided to go several days early and drive up to one of the old gold towns. I wasn’t deterred by what turned out to be a driving snow storm and had a marvelous time.  As for the book, it  must have been the few paragraphs that attracted my attention to this particular publication. “In May of 1859, the Little Kingdom of Gilpin (County)” was born as the cradle of Colorado history and the cultural and economic center of the west.” It covers Black Hawk, Central City, Navadaville, Rollinsville and Russell Gulch.

Annual production of precious metals grew rapidly after gold was found and in 1870 it was estimated at $1 million dollars. By 1880 it rose to more than $2 million annually, by 1890 to $3 million and by the early 1900s production topped out at more than $4 million dollars annually.

That doesn’t seem so much today. But look at the wages of that day. But first, this admonition from the time. “Coloradoans, as a class, are working people, always busy. It is no place for drones. There is always work of some kind for those who honestly seek it. Make a name for honesty, sobriety and reliability, and you can soon attain any position and salary that your abilities will warrant. If you are not such a person, stay away from Colorado, and let your friends, if you have any, support you in idleness.”

After that pithy warning from the past, the authors list the wages paid in 1881: Railroad laborers, $1.50 – 2.25 per day; blacksmiths and roofers, $2.00 – 3.00 per day; coal miners, $.75 to $1 per ton; clerks, $1 to 5 per day by ability; sawmill men, $1.50 – 3.50 per month with board; harness makers, $2.00- 2.25 a day; dining room girls, $20-30 per month & board (cooks and girls for private families are in great demand); Laundresses, $20 – 30 a month; farm boys, $10 to 15 per month.

Another admonition is at the end of the list: “Above all things, don’t come to Colorado unless you are determined to make a good honest record. Keep away from the gambling houses, bar-rooms and bagnios and you are all right. Visit them and you are lost, maybe, with your ‘boots on.’”

Prices for goods were in line in the salaries. Overalls were $.75 each while drawers went for $.50 and fine white shirts for $1.25. A “tonsorialist” (barber) charged $.75 for a shave and haircut. A lecture on Darwinian Theory was $1.00.

To protect the honest citizens of a mining community, a Miners’ Court was formed and developed a “criminal code.” The first section of the code declared that anyone convicted of willful murder, “shall be hung by the neck until he is dead.” The second section proclaimed that any person guilty of manslaughter, or homicide, shall be punished as a jury directed.

The third section said any person “shooting or threatening to shoot another, using or threatening to use any deadly weapons, except in self defense, shall be fined a sum not less than fifty nor more than five hundred dollars, and receive, in addition, as many stripes on his bare back as a jury of six men may direct, and be banished from the district.”

There were more sections, but you get the idea. Justice was sure and harsh. The local newspapers often reported it as such. “Load up your shotguns. There have been three attempted robberies,” according to the Daily Register.

Also reported by the Register, “Tramps are becoming numerous. A little cold lead would do them good.”

And how could you have an old mining town without ghosts? Gilpin County has a number of them, including the spirit of a Buddhist monk who inhabits a house originally built as a Buddhist Temple. The current owners of the house say he resides in a corner behind a large mirror and, when he appears, has a pleasant smile. The same house is also inhabited by the ghost of a young girl who was killed by accident in the same house. Her mother and father were arguing in the front yard. Her mother was holding a cast iron frying hand and threw it at her husband. It went through the French windows are struck the child in the head. The theory is that the monk stays behind to look after her. Or it could be that, since the Buddhist temple was used for years as a parlour house, the monk is there to protect some lost souls.

These are the kind of details that a writer relishes, that puts authenticity in the story she, or he, tells. It’s why I keep returning to those wonderful little booklets, to the diaries you can only find only in the towns they celebrate. The internet is a wonderful tool, but nothing can really replace all those treasures that weighed down my trunk.

A New Adventure

I apologize deeply today for being late in writing today’s blog and I am getting a little off-track in subject matter/

I just returned from a fifteen day (exhausting) trip to the Croatia Coast, and my mind apparently is still there, instead of here where it should be. It was full of wonders and I gained a new appreciation of European history.

I went on the trip because of a friend who had wanted to go for years. Croatia, she’s said, is beautiful. Croatia? Why, I replied, would I want to go there?  Weren’t they just involved in a war? Wasn’t their president wanted as a war criminal? Yes, she said while searching for a reason that would appeal to me,, but it’s a cruise in a small boat. She knows how much I love boats.

And Lynn is a very good friend and knew 2010 had been a very bad year for me: my mom’s long illness and death, some medical problems of my own, and several other personal losses. Any getaway sounded good. Even Croatia.

I discovered a coast of wonders. The Croatia coast is vast. It lies across the Adriatic Sea from Italy and up the coast from Greece. During the Middle Ages, its coastal cities were among the wealthiest and most democratic of any in Europe. Although some were bombed during the “Homeland” War during the 1990’s, the coastal walled cities stand as they have for many centuries, and residents live in homes dating back to the 13th Century. One, Split, is built on the remains of the retirement home of one of the last Roman emperors. Constructed in 300 AD, parts of the palace, including the walls, still exist.

The history of these cities is rife with violence. Always threatened by outsider, they were plundered by pirates, the Venetians, the Turkmen, then their neighbors. And yet many of their physical structures, particularly the city walls, remain much as they were in the Middle Ages. The houses and walls were built with limestone blocks with no sealing agent, just a workmanship that keeps them standing thousands of years later. The churches are exquisite. And government? One had a government that elected a new mayor every month so he wouldn’t become a dictator or by swayed by special interests. Hummmm? Maybe they had something there.

Although my college minor was history (my major was journalism), the emphasis was almost entirely on American History. I gained a new appreciation for world history on his trip, although my first love will remain American history, especially the west.

The Adriatic, or Dalmatian, Coast, has been ignored for years because of the violence, but now apparently is has been rediscovered. Hundreds of thousands now visit these gems during the summer, but few in the winter, and that was my good luck. Just as I loved wandering ghost towns here in the west, I wandered these old walled cities listening to the voices of the past.    

 The people were welcoming and ever so proud of their ancient cities and their history.   There were a joy and I had to share the discovery with you.

Vigilantes — The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

When I was researching a proposed book, I became interested in vigilante justice – or lack of  justice part  – in Montana. But I started wandering elsewhere when I found a great website called “Legends of America,” a treasure lode of information about vigilante groups throughout the old west.

As in Montana, such groups were usually formed to protect honest citizens in areas where law was non-existent, or in places were the law itself was corrupt. But in many instances the groups became what they once hunted. The classic film, “The Oxbow Incident,” is a vivid example of what sometimes happened.

The term vigilante stems from its Spanish equivalent, meaning private security agent. They were most common in mining communities but were also known to exist in cow towns and farming settlements. They range from the Anti Horse Thief Association (A.H.T.A.), which still exists today as a fraternal organization, to the Bald Knobbers which had a brief run in Missouri.

One of the first groups was the San Francisco Vigilantes of 1851. The Gold Rush had transformed the small Spanish settlement into a boom town as thousands of men flocked to California to make their fortunes. The town grew from approximately 800 residents in 1848 to nearly 25,000 three years later, “including murderers, swindlers, thieves, sporting girls and carpetbagger politicians.”

When the city was incapable of handling the lawlessness, the city’s merchants established the “Committee of Vigilance” in 1851. Some 700 members met in secret and drew up bylaws and announced that the elected government was incapable of protecting the lire and property of the city’s citizens and claimed that role for itself.

The committee believed that Australian immigrants were mostly responsible for the city’s crime and immediately began to prevent them from landing in San Francisco and deporting several dozen men. Their justice was swift and certain, hanging four men accused of murder. Word of lynching and exiling criminals had the desired effect. Crime dropped swiftly, and the committee’s success spurred the establishment of other vigilante groups throughout the west. Having accomplished its purpose, the San Francisco group disbanded in 1852 and turned to city back over to the elected officials.

A new group, however, was formed in San Francisco in 1856 when the city was taken over by a gang of “organized political plunderers,” according to “Legends of the West.” Some of the worst elements of San Francisco had taken control of the city government, stuffing ballot boxes, bribing voters, intimidating those that couldn’t be paid off and electing their own judges. When the editor of one of the city’s papers exposed the graft, he was murdered “by a low life politician and known ballot box stuffer named James Casey.” Thinking he would be protected by his friends, he turned himself in.

The response was immediate. A new vigilante group was formed, including one of leaders of the first group. The group took over a commercial warehouse which was converted into an armory and drill hall. The crooked politicians appealed to the governor and federal authorities who refused to help, and the committee “purified” the government by exiling politicians, and criminals. It then disbanded for a second time.

Then there was the longer lasting Anti Horse Thief Association (A.H.T.A.) that was organized in 1859 to provide protection for Kansas stock owners during the days of the Kansas-Missouri border war. The group was so successful in catching horse thieves that it soon expanded into stopping other illegal activities as well, and additional branches were formed throughout Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, and the Indian Territory which was particularly rife with crime. Before long, courts were recognizing their value and gave them approval.

In 1905, a spokesman for the organization stated the A.H.T.A. “uses only strictly honorable, legal methods. It opposes lawlessness in any and all forms, yet does its work so systematically and efficiently that few criminals are able to escape when it takes the trial.” At this time, the national organization numbered over 30,000 members.

Once the outlaw days had come to an end, the organization continued to exist as a fraternal organization, eventually having groups in 16 states. It still exists today.

A third group was the Dodge City Vigilantes (1873). Dodge City, established in 1872, was teeming with buffalo hunters, railroad men, soldiers and desperadoes. In its first year as a town, fifteen men were buried in Boot Hill. 

Local businessmen hired a gunfighter named Billy Brooks to tame the town, but when he did little to stop the violence they formed a vigilante committee. The committee warned the six most violent offenders to leave town immediately. Four went. Two stayed and were hunted down and killed.

However this group did not disband and, as often happened with vigilante groups, became the main source of violence. One of its members, a dance hall owner, chased a man out of his establishment and shot him. As the victim lay writhing in the street, the proprietor walked up to him and shot him again.

Several months later, two vigilante members killed a man named William Taylor. Not a good move. Taylor was employed by the commanding officer of Ft. Dodge who entered the city and arrested six of the vigilantes.

The Montana vigilantes also had a controversial life. During Montana’s gold rush days, the law was mostly absent in what was then the Territory of Idaho. After a young miner was murdered in Virginia City, and two of his suspected murderers were set free, outraged citizens decided justice was too slow. Five men were sworn in as the Vigilance Committee, patterned after the San Francisco Vigilantes. In the next few years, 22 men were lynched, some of which were probably not guilty. Some researchers believe the entire affair was a cover up for the so called vigilantes who were actually committing the crimes. Random lynchings continued in Montana Territory throughout the 1860s until a backlash against extralegal justice took hold around 1870.

More about vigilante committees in my next blog.

On a more cheerful note, I wish you a magical holiday season. Thank you all for being a part of this community.

Wyoming and the Vote

With the election tomorrow, I just had to blog about women’s suffrage, especially since it was the western states that first allowed women to vote in America, a fact that always intrigued me. Other Fillies have previously blogged about this, but a reminder never hurts.

Efforts to give women the vote started back in 18th century France, but it wasn’t until 1906 that Finland became the first nation in the world to give full suffrage (the right to vote and run for office) to all citizens.

Lawmakers in the United States weren’t that receptive. Most men in the east insisted that women would be unable to properly fulfill their societal domestic roles if granted equal rights.

But the people in Wyoming weren’t going to wait. Frontier women in Wyoming were pulling their weight, working side by side. Wyoming was still a territory when its legislature in 1869 approved a revolutionary measure stating: “That every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this Territory, may at every election to be holden under the law thereof, cast her vote.” William Bright, the bill’s sponsor, had come to share his wife, Julia’s, belief that suffrage was a basic right of American citizenship.  Women could vote in local and state elections.

It became the first government in the world to extend voting rights to its citizens.

According to WOW Museum, “tourists and journalists made regular pilgrimages to the territory, like anthropologists observing an exotic tribe. Some were on the lookout for the ‘pestiferous free-love doctrine,’ which eastern critics of women’s suffrage feared so heartily. But they were hard-pressed to find anything that shocking in Wyoming .” Twenty years later, Harper’s Magazine ran a story describing Cheyenne women in their Sunday bet, “politely registering voters door to door as if promenading through Central Park.”

Soon after the bill passed, one of Wyoming’s most acclaimed women, Esther Hobart Morris, who had once been victimized by laws favoring men, was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1870, and her success paved the way for more women to succeed in government. Within a year of her judicial term, women sat on a Wyoming jury for the first time. Wyoming’s pioneering gains prompted Susan B. Anthony to call for Eastern women to emigrate en mass to the Cowboy State.

In 1893, voters of Colorado made that state the second state to pass women suffrage states. Utah (it had been granted earlier and rescinded) and Idaho granted the right in the mid 1890’s while the eastern states stood strong against such destructive policies.

The United States did not pass the 19th amendment giving voting rights to women until 1920.

Now why would a western backwater like Wyoming, where there were more antelope than people, challenge the status quo?

There were reasons given by outsiders.   It was an attempt to bring more women to an area short of them.   Maybe a publicity stunt to attract more settlers?

I like to think it’s because the challenges of the west gave women unique opportunities. They were often forced into untraditional roles: ranch owners, horse wrangler and business owners. Many could shoot as well as their husbands, fathers, brothers. They fought off Indians, raised cattle on dry windy prairies or in the snowy Rocky Mountains. Horsewomen rode astride in trousers, tracking and shooting elk, bobcat and pronghorn. Families crowded into dusty sod houses for shelter during blizzards. Again, according to WOW Museum, for most women, the right to participate fully in the community’s politics became a fact of life as necessary as working, eating or breathing

My grandmother did not live in a western state.   She didn’t get the right to vote until 1920 and when that day came she very carefully dressed and cast her very first vote. She was supposed to move with her husband to another city days earlier, but she refused to go until she voted. She never missed an election and neither did my mother.

And perhaps because of that memory repeated over and over,  I haven’t missed one either.

Do you have any election or voting tales??

The U.S. Marshal Yesterday and Today

Before I started writing The Lawman, my September Blaze, I decided to take a look at the history of the U. S. Marshals. My hero, Jared, was a marshal and I wanted to be absolutely accurate when I wrote about his jurisdiction.

I knew about Matt Dillon, of course. And I knew that Wyatt Earp had been a marshal. But what, exactly, were their duties and how were they appointed?.

Every time I embark on a researching adventure, I’m ever so grateful to the internet. I remember pouring through hundreds of books to find answers to my questions. Now a touch of a few keys magically brings all my answers within seconds.

 I did learn that I was absolutely right in giving him a large jurisdiction. Sheriffs were generally elected by the towns they served. Marshals, on the other hand, often had large territories. They were usually assigned to a judicial circuit where they were responsible for paying all the fees and expenses of the court clerks, U.S. attorneys, jurors and witnesses. They rented the courtrooms and jail space and hired the bailiffs, criers and janitors. They made sure the prisoners were present, the jurors were available and the witnesses were on time.

The office of the U. S. Marshal and Deputy Marshals was, in fact, the first national law enforcement agency in the country. The service was created by the first Congress in the Judiciary Act of 1789, the same legislation that established the federal judicial system. The marshals were given extensive authority to support the federal courts within their judicial districts and “to carry out all lawful orders issued by judges, Congress and the President.”   Over the years, that directive included distributing Presidential proclamations, collecting a variety of statistical information on commerce and manufacturing, and conducting the census. They have  been called upon to capture fugitive slaves, sealing the American border against armed expeditions from foreign countries and swapping spies with the former Soviet Union. They were also heavily involved in enforcing the prohibition laws and were even involved in retrieving North Carolina’s copy of the Bill of Rights.

From the earliest days of the nation, a deputy Marshal was selected to be responsible for each of the original 13 judician circuits (there are now 94) and those marshals were permitted to recruit Special Deputies as local hires or as temporary transfers to the Marshals Service from other federal law enforcement agencies. Marshals were also authorized to swear in a posse to assist them in manhunts and other duties on an ad hock basis.

 In the second half of the 19th century, the U.S. Marshals became synonymous with the west and its many lawless frontier towns. In many of those places, the marshals were the only kind of law available, In “wicked places” like Deadwood, South Dakota, Tombstone, Arizona and the plains of Indian Territory, U. S. Deputy Marshals became famous as they pursued such notorious outlaws as Billy the Kid, Bill Doolin, the Dalton Gang, Butch Cassidy and Belle Star.   Their motto then, and now, is “Justice, Integrity and Service.”

 It was a dangerous job. In Indian country (which later became Oklahoma)) alone, 103 deputy marshals were killed between 1872 and 1896. That was roughly a quarter of the number of marshals slain throughout their history. It was the marshals who arrested the infamous Dalton Gang.

Among the early marshals who made a name for themselves were Bat Masterson in Kansas; Joseph Meek in Oregon, William Wheeler in Montana. Wyatt Earp and Will Bill Hickok also served as deputy marshals, but many believe their reputations rest on their own exaggerations and film depictions rather than the courageous acts shown by many more deputy marshals.

I particularly wanted to know who appointed the U.S. marshals. Well, I couldn’t quite do that. According to everything I read, the U.S. Marshal in Washington, himself a political appointment, chose deputy marshals in each judicial circuit and that man could appoint more deputies. And yet Wyatt Earp was appointed by the Arizona Territorial governor and, in some films, the infamous Judge Isaac Parker in Fort Smith was said to appoint deputy marshals. It might well be that the political appointee in Washington took local advice.

Once the west was tamed, the U. S. Marshal service began to suffer as their star faded and the FBI flourished. They were relegated mainly to acting as bailiffs for the federal courts and requesting background checks. However, ironically in view of their past as slave catchers, their importance again rose as they enforced court-ordered racial desegregation in the 1960’s.   The Witness Protection Program  established in the 1970’s also enhanced their reputation.   They are now involved in terrorist events, hostage situations and numerous other duties, including the capture of wanted fugitives..

 Over the years, some 400 marshals have been killed in the line of duty. To celebrate their courage, the U.S. Marshals Service national Museum is currently being established in Fort Smith, Arkansas with the anticipated opening in 2011.

Bunkhouse Stew


I call this dish Bunkhouse Stew because it will feed a bunkhouse full of hungry hands.

It’s really a version of Brunswick Stew, a southern/southwest delicacy. Its origins go back to early frontier hunting. Those returning with game would throw their bounty in a large pot along with any available vegetables. I’ve seen photos with huge pots prepared for community gatherings.

There are many versions throughout Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas. Some are more soup than stew, others more stew than soup. I’ve taken parts of different recipes for my own version and always serve it at large family gatherings. It makes a great dish with Texas toast or hot loaves of bread.

A warning: I cook to taste rather than by recipe. In other words, I keep tasting until I find the right mix, especially with spices. I also always make a large recipe because I freeze what is left in individual portions and enjoy it all fall. For a smaller stew, you can halve the ingredients.

 Two packages of double chicken breasts and a package of chicken thighs/ or one whole chicken. Buy the kind with skin.

Two-third pound of ground chuck or ground round.

One-third pound of ground pork

One large onion (chopped)

Four ears of corn (shave kernels from cob. Better than canned corn).

Three large baked potatoes

Eight or nine large fresh tomatoes or four cans of stewed tomatoes. Optional: other vegetables such as lima beans and carrots

Spices: two tablespoons of garlic powder/Cajun seasoning to taste/a pinch of basil and oregano. I also use one jalapeno pepper (optional).

Chicken broth.

I use a large crock pot. Wash the chicken, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook on medium heat until meat is falling from bones and there’s several inches of broth. Debone the chicken while leaving the broth in pot. Cut the chicken in small pieces and replace in pot. While potatoes bake, brown ground beef, pork and onions with a little garlic and seasoning in frying pan and add to crock pot.

Add the tomatoes/stewed tomatoes, other vegetables, garlic, salt and pepper, basil, oregano and Cajun seasoning to taste. When potatoes are baked, cut them up and add to crock pot. Allow to simmer for several hours. Add chicken broth as needed.

If my company is coming early in the afternoon, I often cook the chicken the evening before and reserve both it and the broth in the fridge. I then heat both up in the crock pot in the morning before adding the other ingredients. I add chicken broth if the stew gets too thick.

To comment on Cheryl Pierson’s, recipe, click here.