HOW THE WEST WAS FUN!

MargaretBrownley-headerThe only good reason to ride a bull is to meet a nurse

Recently I read that the American cowboy wouldn’t have survived “lonesome” had it not been for his ihorse“guts and his hoss.” The author got it only partly right. For the cowboy had one more weapon of survival under his Stetson: his sense of humor.

Seeing the funny side of life in the Old West was just as vital, if not more so, than a cowboy’s horse or six-gun. Those early buckaroos survived long hours in the saddle under the most difficult conditions with jokes, horseplay and cock and bull stories.

fireNo campsite was complete without a tall tale or two. Cowboys didn’t experience weather like the rest of us. No sirree. One cowpuncher told about winter being so cold they couldn’t hear the foreman’s orders. “The words froze as they came outta his mouth. We had to break them off one by one so we could tell what he was sayin’.”

The wind was a popular subject. “You think this wind is bad? You ain’t seen nothin’.” Cowboys talked about feeding their chickens buckshot so they wouldn’t blow away in the wind. Not to be outdone some claimed it was so windy a chicken laid the same egg five times.

Don’t dig for water under the outhouse.

California’s current drought is nothing compared to what those cowboys of yesteryear experienced. “One teethdrought was so bad the cactus took to a-chasing after dogs.”

Texas was reportedly the healthiest state. So healthy, in fact, no one ever died there naturally. They needed the assistance of a bullet to accomplish that feat. More than one Texan was caught crossing the border just so he could “ride to the great beyond.”

Perhaps the most amusing rivalries in the Old West pitted cowboys against railroaders. Cowboys had little patience with the “bullheaded Irishmen” who stampeded their cattle. In turn, railroaders thought cowboys a bunch of troublemakers—and for good reason.

One railcar filled with smoke when a cowboy attempted to cook a steak on the train’s coal stove. Another cowpoke, on the way to meeting his best gal, shocked women passengers by stripping down to his long johns so he could don his new suit.

When a cowboy’s too old to set a bad example,

he hands out good advice.

One foreman befuddled railroad officials by sending a wire requesting cars to ship 2,500 sea lions. The foremen figured his cattle had swum across so many streams that “sea lions” aptly described his sirloins.

Railroaders dished out as good as they got. One cowboy learned the hard way not to travel without a ticket when the train he was riding came to a screeching stop and left him stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Another cowboy boarded a train and when asked for his ticket pulled out his six-gun, declaring it the only ticket he needed. The conductor convinced him otherwise by returning with a rifle and sticking it under the cowboy’s nose.

Cowboys didn’t just laugh at these antics like regular folks. Oh, no. They’d sit ’round a campfire “grinnin’ like a weasel peekin’ in a henhouse.”

So when is the last time you grinned like a weasel? What tall tale, anecdote or family memory would you share around a campfire?

What they’re saying about Undercover Bride

Expect some fun reading while the detective team attempts to unmask a pair of train robbers and murderers. That’s how Margaret Brownley writes. Western mystery with humor rolling throughout, like tumbleweeds on Main Street.-Harold Wolf, Amazon

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Taking a Chance—a Big Chance—on Love & Book Giveaway

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“Did you ever wonder why we use the word engagement
to describe both a promise of marriage and a war battle?”-Undercover Bride

My June release Undercover Bride is a mail order bride story with a twist. Maggie Michaels is a Pinkerton detective working undercover to nab the Whistle-Stop Bandit. To do this she is posing as his mail order bride. The clock is ticking; if she doesn’t find the proof she needs to put him in jail, she could end up as his wife!

My heroine has a good reason for doing what she’s doing, but what about the thousands of other women during the 1800s who left family and friends to travel west and into the arms of strangers?

Shortage of Men

mailThe original mail order bride business grew out of necessity. The lack of marriageable women in the west was partly responsible, but so was the Civil War. The war created thousands of widows and a shortage of men.

As a result, marriage brokers and “Heart and Hand” catalogues popped up all around the country. Ads averaged five to fifteen cents and letters were exchanged along with photographs. It took ten days for a letter to travel by Pony Express and often the wax seals would melt in the desert heat, causing letters to be thrown away before reaching their destinations.

According to an article in the Toledo Blade a lonely men even wrote to the Sears catalogue company asking for brides (the latest such letter received was from a lonely Marine during the Vietnam War).

                                      Cultural Attitudes

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Marriage was thought to be the only path to female respectability. Anyone not conforming to society’s expectations was often subjected to public scorn. Women who had reached the “age” of spinsterhood with no promising prospects were more likely to take a chance on answering a mail order bride ad than younger women.

Not Always Love at First Sight

For some mail-order couples, it was love (or lust) at first sight. In 1886, one man and his mail order bride were so enamored with each other they scandalized fellow passengers on the Union Pacific Railroad during their honeymoon.

Not every bride was so lucky. In her book Hearts West, Christ Enss tells the story of mail order bride Eleanor Berry. En route to her wedding her stage was held up at gunpoint by four masked men. Shortly after saying “I do,” and while signing the marriage license, she suddenly realized that her husband was one of the outlaws who had robbed her. The marriage lasted less than an hour.

Men: Do Not Be Deceivedmail2

Women weren’t the only ones who could be duped. Ads popped up warning men not to be seduced by artificial bosoms, bolstered hips, padded limbs, cosmetic paints and false hair.

Despite occasional pitfalls, historians say that most matches were successful. That’s because the ads were generally honest, painfully so in some cases. If a woman was fat and ugly she often said so. If not, photographs didn’t lie (at least not before Photoshop came along).

There may have been another reason for so much married bliss. A groom often signed a paper in front of three upstanding citizens promising not to abuse or mistreat his bride. She in turn promised not to nag or try to change him.

No one seems to know how many mail order brides there were during the 1800s, but the most successful matchmaker of all appears to be Fred Harvey who, by the turn of the century, had married off 5000 Harvey girls.

Okay, since it’s almost June and I’ve got brides on my mind how about sharing a wedding memory, either your own or someone else’s?  It can be funny, sweet, nightmarish or just plain special.  Fair warning: anything you say could be used in a book!  If all else fails just stop by and say hello and I’ll put your name in the old Stetson.

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Wild West Guns and Grins or How the West Was Fun

 Another Pinkerton Lady Detective is on the case. This time the female operative masquerades as a mail-order bride. Pretty funny overall plot to begin with, so expect some fun reading while the detective team attempts to unmask a pair of train robbers and murderers. That’s how Margaret Brownley writes. Western mystery with humor rolling throughout, like tumbleweeds on Main Street.

                                                           -Harold Wolf on Amazon

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How Wild Was the Old West—Really?

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I heard a TV commentator liken the violence of Baltimore back to the Old West. Is that a fair comparison? Some historians would probably disagree. Some have even gone as far as to describe the Old West as “a quiet, peaceful and law-abiding place.” Hard as that is to believe they may be on to something for the following reasons:

The Old West Practiced Gun Control

dodge-gunsYep, that’s right. In fact, the very first law passed in Dodge City was a gun control law. Many towns including Tombstone had similar strict laws barring guns. Visitors were required to turn guns over to the stable owner or sheriff. Checks or receipts were issued much like they are today when checking coats at a restaurant. Gun owners could reclaim their weapons upon leaving town.

Not everyone followed the law, of course. Drunkenness and disorderly conduct would get you a free pass to the hoosegow, but so would toting a gun. The gunfight of OK corral was actually sparked by an effort to enforce the “no gun” law.

Gun control made economical sense. Towns wishing to attract businesses and commerce or even the railroad couldn’t afford to let crime run amok.

The Law of Wagon Trainswagon
Some wagon trains reportedly contained more than a hundred wagons and as many as 800 people, so keeping law and order was of primary concern. Many of these trains had their own constitutions which spelled out a judicial system. Ostracism and threats of banishment kept most travelers in line and there are few reported instances of violence on these trains. That’s pretty amazing considering the conditions and long months on the trail.

What About All That Cattle Rustling?

cowsIf we believed all those old time Western movies there wasn’t a steer in the land that hadn’t been rustled at least once. No question; Cattle rustling was a problem. That is until ranch owners got together and formed cattlemen associations. These groups hired private protection agencies, which pretty much put cattle rustlers out of business.

Bank Robbers Ruled, Right?

Wrong again. According to the book Banking in the American West from the Gold Rush to Deregulation by bankLynne Pierson and Larry Schweikart, only eight actual bank heists occurred in the 15 states that made up the frontier west during the forty year period between 1859-1900. (Holy Toledo! My little hometown has had more bank robberies than that just in the last decade.)

Why so few bank robberies in the Old West? The answer is simple; Banks were hard to rob. Banks were located downtown often next the sheriff’s office. People slept above shops so the town was far from deserted. The bank’s walls were often doubly-reinforced. Blasting through the walls would wake everyone in town including the sheriff.

Some, like Butch Cassidy simply walked in the front door, but even that type of bank holdup was rare. Robbing stagecoaches was easier. But transporting money by stage fell out of favor when trains came along. Robbers who shifted attention to trains soon had to contend with Pinkerton detectives.

What About All Those Gunslingers?

gunDime novels, old newspapers and movies would have us believe that shooting from the hip and quick draw duels were the norm. In reality, gunfights were few and far between.

Some well-known shootists (the word gunslinger didn’t come into play until the 1920s) deserved their reputations but, by today’s standards, most would be considered lousy shots. Some, like Wyatt Earp, killed nowhere near as many men as they were given credit for. A gunslinger’s reputation, however exaggerated, was sometimes more valuable than his skills.

Peter Hill, co-author of  the Not so Wild, Wild, West wrote “If one wants to see the “Wild, Wild West” in action one should turn to congressional hearings, political demonstrations and arguments over recreational and consumptive vs. non-consumptive uses of forest lands.”  Now there’s a thought…It kind of makes you wonder what those old cowpokes would have thought about the recent riots.

So what do you think? Was the Old West a quiet, peaceful and law-abiding place or wasn’t it?

Speaking of Wild:

Maggie Michaels is sent to Arizona Territory as an undercover mail order bride to track down the notorious Whistle-Stop Bandit. If she doesn’t prove the suspect guilty before the wedding—she could end up as his wife!

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Available in print, eBook or Audio

Get Outta Dodge; it’s April Fools (and Egg…uh…Book Giveaway Day)

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The popular TV show Gunsmoke is credited for the term “get out of Dodge,” but the phrase actually has a more colorful and interesting history.

It all started in the little town of  Sidney, Nebraska. The town once had such a bad reputation it was called Sinful Sidney and the Wickedest Town in the West. Is there small wonder that they buried their dead in what was called the “Bad Man’s Cemetery?”

sidney

200 murderers, robbers and the like were buried there and those were just the ones who got caught. There were numerous lynchings, including one cowboy who somehow managed to get lynched twice. Sidney created so much news it had three newspapers.

In 1880, a robbery to end all robberies occurred and what today would amount to five million dollars was

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stolen. Things were so bad that the Union Pacific railroad threatened to pull out stakes if something wasn’t done to curb crime. In an attempt to clean up the town, an edict was issued which told the bad guys to “Get out of Sidney, forever.”

aprilSince the edict was issued on April 1, some outlaws thought it was an April Fools joke. A hanging from the tree in front of the courthouse soon relieved them of that notion.

Reportedly over 200 thugs fled town. Word spread and soon other towns, including Dodge City, used Sidney’s crime-ridding blueprint to clear out their own criminals. Now you know the true story of “Get out of Dodge” and that’s no joke.

 

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   To celebrate Easter I’m giving away a copy of

Petticoat Detective.

All you have to do is share an April Fool or Easter memory and you could be a winner!