The Man Who Wrote the West


elizname2smallHow did I first become interested in Western romance?   I could answer that question in two words—but first let me give you some background.  In my growing up years, my dad subscribed to some great men’s magazines, like TRUE and SPORTS AFIELD.  They were filled with action and adventure, and I read them from cover to cover.  I even enjoyed the ads, especially the ad that showed a long line of books with titles like RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE and LIGHT OF THE WESTERN STARS and a banner that read: “GET THE ENTIRE THE ZANE GREY COLLECTION!” 

By the time I fell under Zane Grey’s spell, that author had long since ridden into life’s sunset.  But his zane-greybooks were still bestsellers, and our local library had an entire shelf of them.  I was in sixth grade when I started reading them.  Not sure how many I got through, but I do remember how they fired my young imagination with vistas of raw beauty and rugged characters who were bigger than life. 

Pearl Zane Grey was born in 1872 in Zanesville, Ohio,  where he grew up reading adventure stories and dime novels.  He wanted to be a writer, but his father, a dentist with a violent temper, had other ideas.  When Zane wrote his first story at fifteen, his father tore it up and beat him.   Eventually the young man bowed to his father’s wishes, became a dentist and married a girl from a wealthy family.  At night, to relieve the tedium of his day job, he wrote stories.  His first efforts were awkward, but with the help of his wife Dolly, who edited his work and most likely financed the publication of his first novel, he slowly began to find success. 

Grey had inherited his father’s turbulent nature.  He was given to spells of anger and sank into despair when his work was rejected.  Restless to a fault, he was a deplorable husband and father, often staying away for months, traveling, hunting and fishing, and spending time with mistresses, while Dolly managed the household and raised their three children.  Dolly tolerated her husband’s lifestyle as she proofed his work and handled the business end of his growing literary career.  Their letters indicate that there was genuine love and respect between them.  

zane-grey-book-coverGrey’s early books were about the American Revolution.  After a hunting trip to Arizona he began to write the Westerns that would make him famous.  On his wilderness trips he took photographs and wrote copious notes.  Treacherous river crossings, unpredictable beasts, bone-chilling cold, searing heat, parching thirst, bad water, irascible tempers, and heroic cooperation all became real to him.   From the beginning, vivid description was the strongest aspect of his writing.  Grey’s first Western, THE HERITAGE OF THE DESERT, became a bestseller.  Two years later he produced his best known book, RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE, his all-time best seller and one of the most successful Western novels ever.  After that he became a household name.  In 1918 he moved his family from Pennsylvania to California, where he started his own movie production company.  He lived there on and off until his death in 1939 at the age of 67. 

Grey became one of the first millionaire authors. He connected with millions of readers worldwide and inspired many Western writers who followed him. Zane Grey was a major force in shaping the myths of the Old West and he helped transition the written Western into other media. He was the author of over 90 books, some published posthumously and/or based on serials originally published in magazines. His total book sales exceed 40 million  From 1917–1926, Grey was in the top ten best-seller list nine times, which required sales of over 100,000 copies each time.  Even after his death, his publisher had a stockpile of manuscripts and continued to publish a new title each year until 1963. 

Another great writer, Erle Stanley Gardner, would say that Grey  “had the knack of tying his characters into the land, and the land into the story…Somehow you got the impression that the bigness of the country generated a bigness of character.” 

What sparked your early interest in the West?  Do you have a favorite author?  A favorite story or film? 

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Hunting for Gold in The Lone Star State





“A gold mine is a hole in the ground with a liar at the top.” – Mark Twain

When I began doing research for my debut novel, Touch of Texas, I knew I was searching for a special type of location. It needed to be isolated, with a means of support for those who settled in the town. I didn’t want the town to be too prosperous – that eliminates some of the available conflict for a story. Also, the area had to be right for the nefarious to operate – cattle rustling, horse stealing, etc. – and have numerous places for them to hide.


The hero of the book was a Texas Ranger, the tall, dark and dangerous type, who preferred taking on assignments that sent him out alone, far from civilization. My mental picture of the heroine was his total opposite, a fragile-looking woman with golden hair…

Golden? Aha! A gold mining town. But was gold ever mined in Texas in the 1800’s? I don’t mind making stuff up in the name of my art, but I believe fiction needs to have a basis in the credible.

Silver mining has been going on in Texas since the Franciscans Friars discovered the precious ore near El Paso in 1680. These mines were hidden by the good Friars from the Jesuit brothers and the locations lost for many years. One mine was rediscovered in 1793, then lost again, then found again thanks to church records in 1872. In 1880 the Presidio Mine was discovered. In the ensuing years, strikes were made in all over the western half of the state, and even in the Hill Country.

From The Handbook of Texas Online: “In 1905, 387,576 ounces of silver were produced in the state, and in 1908 the Bonanza and Alice Ray Mines in the Quitman Mountains in Hudspeth County were producing ore valued at $60 to $65 per ton. In 1918 the Chinati and Montezuma mines closed. The Presidio Mine was one of the most consistent producers of silver in the country; from 1880 until it closed in 1942 it had produced 2,000,000 tons of ore from which 30,293,606 ounces of silver, about nine-tenths of the total output of the state, had been extracted, along with a small value in gold and lead.”

There it is. The answer to whether anyone ever mined for gold in Texas. The operations weren’t profitable, but there have been gold mines in Texas since the 1800’s. In fact, there has been a gold mining operation going on in the Hill Country continuously since the expeditioBig Bend National Parkn of Bernardo de Miranda y Flores left San Antonio in February, 1756.

Most gold mining took place in the far southwestern part of the state, in the area called Big Bend. (That’s a picture of Big Bend National Park to the right. Gorgeous, isn’t it?)

There was some mining around Fort Davis and in the Davis Mountains, and also in Presidio County.

 While reseFort Davis, Texasarching the history of Fort Davis, a United States Army post in operation from 1854-1891, I found mention of a wave of gold seekers coming through on their way to California from San Antonio. The need to protect these adventurers and pioneer was part of what helped drive the placement of the fort.

Amateur prospectors have discovered arrastre, granite bedrock milling stones, abandoned by the Mexicans and Spanish in and on the banks of the creeks where they searched in vain for gold.

But since when has gold fever been cured by the words “you aren’t going to find it panhandlerhere”.  To this day, the persistent legends of large veins scattered through the state are enough to keep hopeful panhandlers searching.
Panning still turns up small amounts of gold around the ruins of Fort Davis, as well as in the Hill Country around Llano and Mason Counties, where there were mostly placer mines—that’s the mining of alluvial or sediment deposits for minerals. Despite the odds against finding anything, they’re still mining for gold in the Lone Star State.

While no one person or mining company ever got wealthy digging or panning for gold in Texas—the total recorded value of the gold dug out of the ground is less than $250,000—they did and still do hunt for the precious metal. And for a fiction writer, that’s all I needed to create my own little piece of the past.

Maybe Mark Twain had it right – although I’d rather consider myself a weaver of a tall tale rather than a liar.

Victoria Bylin: City Girl on Horseback


 “Hold on!’ shouted the trail guide.

As I grabbed the saddle horn, the horse I was riding (sitting on would be more accurate) jumped over a narrow creek. Judging by the way my stomach lurched, you’d have thought we’d taken a five-foot fence. Far from it . . . I was on a trail ride in the San Emidio Mountains in southern California, doing a news story for a local newspaper.

For a western writer, I have appallingly little experience with horses. I’m not someone who grew up in the saddle.  My first horse was made of plastic and attached to sprspring-rocking-horseings.  Does anyone else remember “The Wonder Horse?”  They were made in the 1960s and graced living rooms throughout America. I rode my Wonder Horse for hours, but it was my brother who tested the limits. He managed to bounce it into the wall.

Hobby horses have been around for ages. They became popular in 17th century England, but they’re believed to have originated in ancient Egypt. Carved horses would be placed on four-wheel carts and children would take rides. A few of these toys have been found in ancient pyramids. With a son living in Cairo, I’m fascinated by the Egypt connection.

The hobbhobby-horsey horse (or broomstick horse) became popular in medieval times. A hobby horse consisted of a stick, a fake horse head and a child’s imagination. Can’t you just see a little girl naming her horse “Star” and dreaming of adventure? For a boy in medieval times, a hobby horse was more than a toy.  Pretending to ride imitated adult behavior and prepared him for a life of battle. Boys also practiced jousting with horses on wheels.


 Hobby horses eventually morphed from sticks into barrel horses. A barrel horse was made from a log mounted on four legs and had a crudely made head. They didn’t move or rock, but they gave a child the feel of sitting on a horse. As cabinet-making and carpentry skills advanced, the legs of these barrel horses became more elaborate.

The rocking horse as we picture it now came into being in the 17th century. Someone figured out that mounting a toy horse on a half barrel would create a rocking motion. Later the barrel evolved into the wide rockers we picture today. The earliest example belonged the boy who’d become King Charles I of England.  Antique Hobby Horse on wheels

It was only a matter of time before the rocking horse exploded in popularity. In the 18th century, some were elaborate works of art made by masters of the trade. Only the wealthiest of family could afford them. When the Industrial Revolution took hold, what had been a cottage industry turned into mass production and rocking horses were accessible to the general public. The dappled gray became the most popular model when Queen Victoria presented that style to her children.

Child on Hobby Horse c. 1860

 The rocking horse underwent another evolution in 1880 when J.P. Marqua, an American from Ohio, patented a safety stand. Instead of moving on rockers, the horse was mounted on springs in a frame. The safety base made rocking horses more stable than their ancestors, and the toy took up less room as a child played. They were also considered safer. Fingers and toes couldn’t be pinched under the rockers, and the horse was less likely to tip over.  (I can vouch for this. My Wonder Horse made some wild leaps in my imagination, but he never threw me off.)

Up until World War I, rocking horses grew in popularity. Unfortunately, the start of the war led to a shortage of materials and skilled craftsman. The Great Depression further lessened the interest in such toys. They never did make a strong comeback, possibly because of the advent of the automobile.  Instead of imitating their parents on horseback, children wanted toy cars they could pretend to drive.  

Even though interest has faded, rocking horses aren’t gone forever. They’re still made by artisans and loved by children with vivid imaginations.


What about you? Did you ever have a rocking horse?  Do you remember Wonder Horses and stick ponies? Or maybe you were the girl I envied . . . Maybe you had a real horse of your own.  Memory lane, here we come at a gallop!


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And the Horse You Rode In On

In my soon-to-be released novel Montana Rose, a side character, who will soon have his own book, has this stunning black stallion and he’s making money on stud fees. I have fun with this guy because his horse won’t let anyone near him except the owner…and barely him. And the owner is so cranky that man and horse, are two peas in a pod. Giving this man, Tom, a horse turned into research of course and that led me to today’s blog. Horse Breeds.
I’ll give you a quick run-down of Montana Rose before I start the very sane and lovely talk I have planned about Horse Breeds.

Left pregnant and widowed in the unforgiving west, Cassie is forced into an unwanted marriage to rancher Red Dawson.

No decent man could turn away from Cassie and leave her to the rough men in Divide, Montana. Red Dawson knows Cassie is beautiful and he’s interested in her, has been even when she was a married woman, but she’d spoiled and snooty and he’s purely afraid marrying her is a bad idea. But he’s too decent to leave her to a terrible fate.

He finds out real fast that Cassie’s not cut out to be a rancher’s wife. She keeps trying to help and Red has his hands full keeping her from killing herself with her efforts, and preventing her–in her attempts to be a good wife–from leaving his ranch in ruins.

While Red struggles with his overly obedient but badly incompetent wife, an obsessed man plots to make Cassie his own, something he can’t do as long as Red lives.

Now back to horses: The more I researched horse breeds for that small character, Tom Linscott, the more I wished I’d never started. There are over 300 breeds of horses. And I kept reading about ‘types’ and ‘breeds’. Those are different things. I think. I did find a few really interesting tidbits about some horse breeds we’d all recognize (by name if not by sight.)

Three foundation studs: Byerly Turk-from around 1690, Eclipse from around 1709, and Godolphin Arabian from around 1720. The Thoroughbred line was rooted in horses from the east, Arabians for example and they grew out of a desire to move away from the massive, powerful war horses bred to carry a knight wearing full armor.
Foundation studs? Does that strike anyone else as weird? That they can trace an entire breed of horses to three imported stallions? What about inbreeding? Didn’t anyone bring in a horse and just not mention it? How rare were horses? I’ll bet there are 400 foundation studs but only three guys bragged about their snazzy imported horses. The rest of the men probably had a farm to run.
Thorougbreds were lighter and faster but with great endurance. The main focus was on race horses and almost all thoroughbreds can trace their line to these original three horses.
This is a portrait of Darley’s Arabian, one of the Foundation studs but note that of course he is an Arabian, not a thoroughbred. A thoroughbred is what grew out of the cross breeding with Arabians and English horses.
The thoroughbreds came to America from the very beginning with the earliest pilgrims.
Is it just me or does the thoroughbred in the first picture, the portrait of Darley’s Arabian in the second picture and the white quarter horse below…all look a lot alike.
I don’t really understand horse breeds. I mean sure, I get Clydesdales. I get Shetlands, they’re different, Welsh, zebras…I get that. But the rest…pretty darned nit picky, I think.
That’s why I studied them. So would my hero have a thoroughbred? 
I still can’t decide and his book is half written. Maybe I’ll make that stallion a pure bred Arabian. That would be a little rare in America back then…right? The whole point is, he’s got this great horse and he’s making money on it. Well, that’s not the WHOLE point, but it’s important.
The other main choice is a Quarter Horse. They trace their roots to 1600.
The horses in America at this time were mostly of Spanish origin, with the greatest amounts of blood from Arabian Barbs (Barbs? I’ve got no idea what that means, must be a kind of horse breed though) and Turk lines. In 1611 the first significant import of English horses was made to Virginia. These English horses were of native, eastern and Spanish blood.
When the new English horses were bred to the native stock, a compact horse with heavily muscled hindquarters began to develop. But the horse owners also liked to race. Quarter horses were strong enough and fast enough to do both field work and win a race.
Another main kind of horse is the draft horse..such as Clysdale, Belgians, Morgan. Draft horses predate recorded history. Big strong horses were the earliest domesticated kinds because they could pull loads and work in the fields. In America, throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, horses in America were used primarily for riding and pulling light vehicles. Oxen were the preferred because they: cost half as much as horses, required half the feed and OOPS and could be eaten when they died or were no longer useful. Oxen, however, were slow. So there were many who preferred draft horses.
An interesting and tragic detail I found. In the five years surrounding WWI, Europe imported from America over one million draft horses to be used in the fighting of that conflict. Two hundred came home. Many of course remained in Europe but the death and injuries to horses were staggering. British veterinarians in French hospitals are reported to have treated 2,564,549 for war related inflicted injuries.
Mustang- The Mustang is a wild horse that descended from Spanish horses. The name Mustang comes from the Spanish word mesteño or monstenco meaning wild or stray. They don’t have a real breed because over the years they became a mix of numerous breeds. These were the horses which changed the lives of the Native Americans living in or near the Great Plains.
Catching and taming wild horses was a good source of income for ranchers. To sell them or to save the money needed to buy horses for their ranch.
I heard a theory once about why Native Americans didn’t make scientific progress, didn’t invent the wheel, didn’t becomes more settled and build cities. Didn’t learn to work with metals or invent guns.
It might have been because they didn’t have pack animals that could be domesticated. In Asia and Europe they had horses and cattle. But the only suitable animal of that type in American was the buffalo and it was just too unpredictable to ever make a good domesticated animal. Pack animals made life so much easier for people who had them, they had more time for pursuits including inventions.
I’ll make one more comment about Montana Rose. Have any of you ever read Janette Oke’s beautiful classic romance, Love Comes Softly? That novel inspired mine in the sense that my novel begins with a widow, pregnant, penniless and alone in the west, who must marry to survive.  And the man who marries her because she needs someone and all the other choices are unsavory. (that’s not in Love Comes Softly I don’t think. I don’t remember unsavory?) Both novels are classic marriage of convenience stories. (okay, maybe CLASSIC isn’t quite applicable to Montana Rose…YET!)
Unlike Oke’s lovely, sweet, gentle-hearted novel though, mine veers almost immediately to mayhem, gunfire and comedy. So I think of it as
Love Comes … Hardly.
Or maybe-
Love Comes…Loudly.
Or possibly-
Love Comes Barely…except that sounds kinda dirty. 🙂
So, any horse lovers? Anyone have a horse? Anyone fallen off a horse? I got a story there.  Or two. And the x-rays to prove it.

What Makes a Western a Western?


Tracy Garrett

Last month, while attending the Romantic Times BookLovers Convention to promote my latest release, TOUCHED BY LOVE, I had the pleasure of participating as part of a panel on “Historical Romance Through the Ages.” The writers, five in all, covered the gamut of settings, from 1100s Scotland, through Georgian, Regency and Victorian England, and across “the pond” to the American West.

Our discussion concerned what set apart a romance in our chosen time period. In my case, what makes a western a western.

Victorian HatsI enjoyed listening as those who wrote European-set stories discussed social mores, etiquette, keeping Mama happy, and buying just the right hat at the right store for that party that all the right people will attend.

In a western, in my opinion, the environment has more influence on stories than most other factors. Think pioneers, survival, and hardship; taking care of yourself and looking out for your neighbors because that’s what a good person does. Hats and parties were important, especially to young ladies of a “certain age,” but, for the most part, people concerned about survival don’t care if their clothes are the latest fashion – they’re just glad to have clothes to wear.

As to social etiquette, the proprieties were certainly observed, but I imagine they were often tossed off the wagon in deference to survival. Of course, the backlash of ignoring them makes for great conflict in our stories.

Covered Wagon

When a family moved west, they took what they could carry and left everything and everyone else behind. Letters moved slowly, if at all, leaving these westward pioneers isolated from everything familiar. They had to suck it up and create their own “familiar”, their own new lives, friends and routines. They even had to build their own surroundings. Young men suddenly had to provide for their families. Women learned to create a home wherever they decided to put down roots. It took real grit to make it when nothing was familiar. And if the crops failed, or a fire destroyed the house, or their livestock were rustled, they brushed themselves off and started over.

Westerns are about hope and opportunity. That’s a big part of why I love writing them. There was a chance for those who had “fallen” to redeem themselves or turn their backs on the past and begin again. No matter the hardships, they had an opportunity to make a happy-ever-after for themselves and the generations to follow.


How about you? What makes a western a western for you?


The History Of Memorial Day


As I was pondering what my topic for this blog would be it hit me that this particular post would be going up on Memorial Day.  So I decided that a fitting observance would be to discuss a little about origins and history of this special day.

wellesIn 1866, as the country was trying to heal from the long and bloody Civil War, a drugstore owner in Waterloo, NY by the name of Henry Welles, watched the surviving soldiers come home, some with horrendous injuries and missing limbs, most with nightmarish stories to tell, and decided to do something to recognize the sacrifices that had been made.  He discussed his idea with General John Murray, a war hero and intensely patriotic man.  General Murray supported the idea and helped rally the local veterans’ murraysupport.  Welles’ and Murray’s suggestion that the businesses in town close up shop for one day to remember and honor who had given their lives in the war and were buried in the town cemetery was met with community-wide approval.  On May 5th of that year the shops did indeed close.  The village was draped in evergreens and mourning black, flags were flown at half mast and the townspeople marched to the three town cemeteries to the sound of martial music.  Solemn ceremonies were held and the graves were decorated with wreaths, flowers and crosses.

The ceremony became an annual event.

On May 30th, 1868 General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of an organization of veteran soldiers and sailors called the Grand Army of the Republic, established Decoration Day with this declaration in his General Order 11:

The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

May 30th was chosen as the date in part because it was not the anniversary of any given battle and so could stand on its own. 

garfieldThat first year, General James Garfield, who would later become the 20th president of the United States, gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery.  Afterwards, an estimated 5,000 people pitched in to adorn the graves of the more than 20,000 Civil War soldiers, both Union and Confederate, who were buried there.

In 1882 the name was changed to Memorial Day and by the end of the nineteenth century, towns and communities across the nation were observing the day in some way.  After World War I, the observances expanded to recognize and honor those Americans who had died in any war in service to their country.

Of course those early observances in Waterloo, NY were not the sole or even the first such ceremonies.  Local observances of this type had been undertaken in many towns across the country since the end of the Civil War.  In fact, even though President Lyndon Johnson in May of 1966 declared Waterloo NY to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, over two dozen cities, both in the North and the South, still claim to hold that honor.  Among them are Macon GA, Richmond VA, Carbondale IL and Columbus MS.  It is said Waterloo NY received the official nod from President Johnson because it was the one town that had made Memorial Day an annual event, one the entire community supported by shutting down businesses for the day and showing up in large numbers to honor the fallen.

In 1971 that Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be arlington-02celebrated on the last Monday in May.  On the national front, Memorial Day is observed at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia with special reverence.  In the early hours of the Friday before Memorial Day, soldiers of the Third US Infantry walk along the rows of over 200,000 grave markers, pauses before each and places the shaft of a small flag into the ground before it.  These soldiers are members of the Old Guard, a special regiment, and it is considered an honor to be selected for this duty.  As one soldier said “They have done their job and now it is time to do mine.”

On Memorial Day itself, it is customary for the president or vice-president to give a speech honoring the contributions of these fallen heroes and to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Members of the armed forces shoot a rifle salute in the air.  About 5,000 people attend the ceremony each year (the same number who attended that first ceremony with General Garfield presiding).


I hope that today, whatever your plans, you will take some time to remember and honor those who have given their lives to protect the freedom and quality of life that we Americans enjoy.