Nothing changed America as much as the iron horse. People were finally able to travel across country in relative comfort and not have to worry about the weather, Indians, or some of the other mishaps that plagued early travelers. A train passenger’s greatest fear was food poisoning. That’s how bad meals were along the rails.
It took one enterprising Englishman to change the way travelers ate. His name was Fred Harvey and his Harvey House restaurants eventually stretched along the Santa Fe railroad tracks from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles and San Francisco—one every hundred miles.
Hear That Whistle Blow
Fred Harvey invented the “fast-food” concept long before Ray Kroc. Passengers were allowed only thirty minutes to get off the train, eat and board again, so time was of the essence. He devised a system in which train conductors would telegraph passenger food orders to the restaurant in advance. This allowed the restaurant staff to prepare the food before the train pulled into the station.
From Dishwasher to Household Name
Harvey learned the business the hard way. After traveling to America at the age of seventeen, he landed a job as a dishwasher at a famed New York restaurant, working his way through the ranks from dishwasher to line-cook. He eventually landed in St. Louis where he took over the Merchants Dining Room Saloon. His success lasted only a short time. The winds of war could not be ignored and after his partner joined the secessionist army, taking all the money the two men had saved, Harvey’s restaurant was doomed.
After a series of jobs and personal losses, he eventually took over an eating house at the Santa Fe depot in Topeka. He arranged for fresh fruit and meat to be railed in from Chicago and other states. His food was so good that railroad officials worried that no one would want to travel past Topeka.
First Female Workforce
As the number of his depot restaurants increased, so did his troubles. Black men were hired as waiters, but this often created conflict with cowboys. After one unpleasant midnight brawl at the Raton Harvey eating house, Harvey’s friend Tom Gables suggested a radical idea; why not replace black male waiters with women? Harvey decided to give Tom’s idea a try.
Harvey ran ads in newspapers for “young women of good character, attractive and intelligent, 18 to 30, to work in the Harvey Eating Houses.” He offered a salary of $17.50 a month, a tidy sum for a young woman. Soon he had all the help he needed.
The women lived in dormitories above the restaurants under the watchful eye of a house mother. Their uniforms consisted of a black dress, black shoes and stockings, and a crisp white apron. The women had to adhere to strict rules and were not allowed to marry for six months.
His new female staff was a great success and helped ease racial tensions. Even the roughest of cowboys and railroad workers were willing to don the required (and dreaded) dinner jacket just for the pleasure of being served a good steak by a pretty girl.
He Kept the West in Food—and Wives
That quote from Will Rogers says it all; Among his other talents, Fred Harvey not only “civilized the west” he was indirectly responsible for more than 5000 marriages. That’s enough to make you want to forgive him for inventing fast-food. Almost….
What’s the best or worse meal you had while traveling?
Someone is killing off the Harvey Girls. Undercover Pinkerton detective Katie Madison hopes to find the killer before the killer finds her—or before she burns down the restaurant trying.
Once upon a time in a farmhouse in Hydesville, New York, there lived two sisters who loved to scare family and friends with their vivid imaginations. One day in late March 1848, the girls told a neighbor about spooky happenings in their bedroom. Eager to disprove the girls’ claims that the ghost of a murdered traveling salesman inhabited their home — a tale with which they’d already terrified their mother — the neighbor accompanied fourteen-year-old Maggie Fox and her eleven-year-old sister Kate into their bedroom … where the neighbor, too, was dutifully terrified by the apparently sentient wall-rapping in response to the girls’ questions.
Thus began a religion known as Modern Spiritualism, which is still practiced today.
After having their worst fears seemingly confirmed, the Fox family abandoned the farmhouse, sending Maggie and Kate to live with their older sister, Leah Fox Fish, in Rochester, New York. That may not have been the wisest decision. Rochester was a hotbed of religious activity. Mormonism and the movement that later became Seventh Day Adventism both saw their genesis in the Rochester area.
Upon hearing the tale of the murdered salesman and the unearthly sounds, a group of Rochester residents examined the Fox homestead and found strands of hair and bits of bone in the basement. At a subsequent community meeting, the girls were put to the test: Could they communicate with the dead in Rochester, too?
The girls proved they could by summoning raps on the floor. In addition, Leah seemed to communicate with one community leader’s deceased daughter. All three Foxes were escorted into a private room after the demonstration, where they disrobed and were examined for any hints of duplicity. None were found.
Word of the sisters’ uncommon abilities reached Andrew Jackson Davis, later to become known as “John the Baptist of Modern Spiritualism.” Davis claimed to have received a Divine message on the very day the Fox sisters first channeled spirits on the family farm. In response to the dreary Calvinist teachings of the day, people could not wait to adopt a new spiritualism that taught each individual was the master of his own salvation. The spirits of those who had passed on were there to guide them to their ultimate fate, as they, in turn, would guide those who came after them.
The Fox Sisters embarked on a tour of New England and the Midwest, demonstrating their abilities to notables including newspaperman Horace Greeley, author James Fennimore Cooper, and abolitionist William Cullen Bryant. Many accused the girls of perpetrating a hoax, but a growing number of people, convinced by the knocking and apparent communication with dead relatives, embraced the Spiritualist movement.
In 1857, Maggie married explorer Elisha Kent Kane, a man thirteen years her senior who, though he reportedly loved her to distraction, insisted she was a fraud. He died an untimely death shortly after the wedding. Maggie began drinking heavily and abandoned Spiritualism to honor his memory. Kate married a devout Spiritualist leader and continued to develop her skills as a medium, including the use of blank cards upon which messages from the Beyond seemed to appear magically. Among the hazy apparitions she allegedly summoned was Benjamin Franklin’s.
By the end of the Civil War, more than two million believers had converted to Spiritualism; by 1880, adherents grew to more than eight million.
In 1888, Maggie received $1,500 to tell her story in front of a large audience at the New York Academy of Music. By then doing her best to live a life of sobriety, Maggie confessed to the hoax that started the mass hysteria.
“My sister Katie and myself were very young children when this horrible deception began,” the New York World reported. “At night when we went to bed, we used to tie an apple on a string and move the string up and down, causing the apple to bump on the floor, or we would drop the apple on the floor, making a strange noise every time it would rebound.”
The sisters soon discovered they could manipulate their knuckles, toes, and other joints to make a variety of unusual sounds. Maggie demonstrated by removing her shoe, placing her foot on a small stool, and producing “rapping” noises
“A great many people when they hear the rapping imagine at once that the spirits are touching them,” Maggie said. “It is a very common delusion. Some very wealthy people came to see me some years ago when I lived in Forty-second Street, and I did some rappings for them. I made the spirit rap on the chair and one of the ladies cried out: ‘I feel the spirit tapping me on the shoulder.’ Of course that was pure imagination.”
Spiritualists quickly split on the matter, one camp saying Maggie was a true medium who had been consumed by spirits intent on deceiving humanity, and the other claiming she had sold out her religion because, as a poor widow, she needed the money.
Leah, a popular medium in New York City, disowned her younger sister. Kate hit the bottle with increasing frequency and enthusiasm. The sisters never reconciled, even after Maggie recanted her confession a scant year after she embarrassed the family.
Leah, embittered by her sister’s betrayal, died in 1890. Kate died two years later while on a drinking binge. Maggie followed eight months later, in March 1893. Later that year, the diverse Spiritualist groups came together to found the National Spiritualist Association, the forerunner of the National Spiritualist Association of Churches, which exists today.
Postscript: In 1904, a group of children discovered what appeared to be a skeleton among the ruins of the abandoned and crumbling Fox homestead. A doctor who examined the bones estimated they had been in the basement for about fifty years. Although the find lent some credence to the Fox sisters’ tale about the murdered salesman, the media and society at large continued to scoff at Spiritualists.
Five years later, another doctor examined the bones and pronounced them a clear attempt to defraud. The alleged skeleton was composed of bits and pieces from several bodies, including those belonging to chickens and other animals.
The Fox homestead burned to the ground in September 1955. A marker now stands on the spot where Modern Spiritualism was born:
Upon this site stood the Hydesville Cottage
The home of the Fox Sisters
Through whose mediumship communication
with the Spirit World was established
March 31, 1848
THERE IS NO DEATH
THERE ARE NO DEAD
Everyone should have career at which they excel. At failing to commit crimes, nobody is better than Laredo and Tombstone Hawkins. Maybe they can bumble their way into love.
The Worst Outlaw in the West
Laredo Hawkins has one ambition: to redeem his family’s honor by pulling the first successful bank robbery in the Hawkins clan’s long, disappointing history. Spinster Prudence Barrett is desperate to save her family’s bank from her brother’s reckless investments. A chance encounter between the dime-novel bandit and the old maid may set the pair on a path to infamy…if either can find a map.
Haunted by his kin’s tradition of spectacular failure, bank robber Tombstone Hawkins is honor-bound to prove his family tree produced at least one bad apple. When carnival fortuneteller Pansy Gilchrist tries to help, she accidentally summons a pair of dishonest-to-goodness ghosts. Getting into the spirit of a crime is one thing…but how do you get the spirits out?
Have you ever encountered a ghost? Tell us about it in the comments! I’ll give an E-BOOK of Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts to one of today’s commenters.
The Three R’s: Ridin’, Ropin’, and Romance (of course!)
The leading lady of my first book, The Angel and the Outlaw, was a schoolteacher in the “wild, wild, West” of 1873 and so I thought I’d give a small glimpse into the life of a teacher in that day and age. I am also working on a new story in which the heroine is a teacher in Southern California’s back country.
Prior to the Civil War, schoolteachers were mostly men because the prevailing belief was that women could not maintain discipline in the classroom. When the men left for the war, women moved in and filled positions at 60% less salary. When the men returned, they refused to work at the reduced wages (even though they did make more than the women teachers) and most left the profession.
Women teachers were required to be single. They could “sit” for their teaching certificate as long as they had graduated. Some were as young as fifteen. If they married, they had to give up their job. They were not allowed to attend public performances or dances. Male teachers were permitted to date one night a week or two if they attended church regularly. Because women were so few in number compared to men in the West, the turn-over rate for teachers was fairly high as women married and started their own families.
Children from the age of five would go to school daily through the week and then on weekends, would be expected to come back and help clean the schoolhouse. A teacher might have anywhere from three to forty-five students in the first through eighth grade. Discipline could be difficult at times, especially when some of the older boys towered over the teacher.
The typical school house was a one-room building. A male teacher and his family often lived in a home next door or attached to the school house—a teacherage. Women teachers would be housed with one of the families whose children attended the school so that they could be supervised. (Now that would make it hard to “leave your day job” at the end of the day!)
Teachers had to be creative and work with whatever supplies they had. They used memorizing, reciting, and oral testing to teach reading, spelling, arithmetic and history. For many years, the main textbook was the McGuffey Reader. A staggering amount, approximately 120 million copies of McGuffey Readers were sold between 1836 and 1960. Many parents could not afford textbooks and so they sent their children to school with any book from home—usually the Bible—for instruction in reading. Eliza Mott was a teacher who taught the alphabet using the inscriptions on tombstones!
In doing research about the school in La Playa where The Angel and the Outlaw is set, I learned that the main difficulty for the teacher there was a horse track in Old Town San Diego that enticed the children to play hooky and also let them wager on the horses. When the school in La Playa had a teacher vacancy, the children rowed boats to the school in Old Town and attended there.
Some very important and influential people have “graduated” from one-room schools. To name a few ~ Abraham Lincoln (President), Herbert Hoover (President), Joyce Carol Oates (Pulitzer Prize), Laura Ingalls Wilder (author), and my father.
My father and his brothers attended a one-room school house that was built on land his father donated for the school. It still stands (and is now a private home), down a winding country road in central Illinois. It feels like stepping back in time a hundred years when I go back for a visit. My grandparents farmhouse is just around the corner ~ a country mile…
One of my memories is that my Junior High School was situated right up against the back of the San Diego Zoo next to the wallaby and kangaroo enclosures. When the tour bus would drive by loaded with people, the bus driver would often comment on the “animals” on the other side of the fence– meaning the children on the gym field. It was all in good-natured fun (I think…)
What about you?
Do you have any unusual or fond memories of school?
Comment for a chance to win a copy of my newest release ~ The Gunslinger and the Heiress ~ (which does not have a schoolteacher in it!) along with Playing the Rake’s Game by Bronwyn Scott. (Continental U.S. only)
Some men are born to infamy; others have infamy thrust upon them.
And then there are those like Elmer McCurdy who slip into infamy sideways…sixty-five years after they should have faded into obscurity.
Except for his out-of-wedlock birth in Washington, Maine, in January 1880, McCurdy seems to have enjoyed an uneventful childhood as the adopted son of his 17-year-old biological mother’s older, married sister. When McCurdy was ten, the man he believed to be his father died, and the truth of his parentage came out. At fifteen, he ran away from home and drifted through the Midwest, developing a fondness for alcohol and working odd jobs until he joined the army. Trained in demolition, he left the service in early 1911 with an honorable discharge and a professional familiarity with nitroglycerin.
That’s when things took a turn for the worse. Unable to find a civilian job, McCurdy resolved to gain fame and fortune the old-fashioned way: by stealing it—specifically, by robbing trains. The career choice didn’t work out well for him. On his first job, he overdid the nitro and not only nearly blew the train’s safe through the wall, but also melted $4,000 in silver coins to the floor. McCurdy and three accomplices pried up about $450 in silver lumps before scramming barely ahead of the law.
After that, McCurdy backed off on the explosives, producing less than stellar results when trains’ safes failed to open. Apparently deciding a stationary target might prove less vexing, McCurdy aimed his demolition skills at a bank vault in the middle of the night. The resulting blast woke up the entire town, and the gang made off with about $150.
They went back to robbing trains.
On Oct. 4, 1911, despite careful planning, the outlaws held up the wrong train, netting a haul of about $90 and some whiskey. Evidently disgruntled, McCurdy’s cohorts abandoned him.
Undaunted, he quickly put together a new gang and three days later—on Oct. 7, 1911—held up a Missouri, Kansas, and Texas passenger train near Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The take was an unimpressive $46, two jugs of whiskey…and a posse.
Mere hours later, during an armed standoff on an Oklahoma farm, a drunken McCurdy announced from a hayloft that the posse would never take him alive. Foregoing the $2,000 bounty for bringing the bandit in alive, the lawmen obliged by killing him.
When no one claimed the hapless train-robber’s remains, the mortician put McCurdy’s body on display as a somewhat gruesome promotional gimmick. For the next four years, the embalmed corpse, in a pine box bearing a sign that read “The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up,” adorned the front window of the mortuary.
In 1915, two men claiming to be McCurdy’s brothers took possession of the body, ostensibly to provide a proper burial. Instead, they exhibited “A Famous Oklahoma Outlaw” as part of the Great Patterson Shows traveling carnival.
McCurdy’s corpse changed hands several times over the next two decades, popping up in all sorts of places: at an amusement park near Mount Rushmore, in several freak shows, and even in the lobby of a theater during a screening of the 1933 film Narcotic. For much of the 1930s and ’40s, McCurdy’s mummified remains, thought to be a mannequin, held a place of honor in the Sonney Amusement Museum of Crime in Los Angeles.
In 1971, an L.A. wax museum bought the by-then-unidentified “mannequin.” Until 1976, McCurdy was part of the museum’s display about Bill Doolin, an Oklahoma outlaw who actually achieved a good deal of criminal notoriety while he was alive.
More than sixty-five years after his death, McCurdy would achieve notoriety, too, though not in quite the way he may have hoped. The failed outlaw, painted fluorescent orange, made one final public appearance in December 1976, as a prop inside the Laff in the Dark funhouse at the Nu-Pike amusement park in Long Beach, California. While filming an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man inside the building, a crew member accidentally broke an arm off what he thought was a wax dummy hanging from a gallows. A protruding bone revealed the truth. Forensic anthropologists and the Los Angeles County Coroner identified the body.
On April 22, 1977, Elmer McCurdy’s well-traveled remains were interred in the Boot Hill section of the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma—ironically, alongside the final resting place of Bill Doolin. As a precautionary measure, the state medical examiner ordered two cubic yards of concrete poured over the casket before the grave was closed.
So far, at least, it appears “The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up” finally did.
Not that my latest release has anything to do with Elmer McCurdy, inept outlaws, or traveling corpses, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. Besides, the cover is much prettier than poor Elmer, isn’t it?
Released July 24 along with twenty-one others published by Prairie Rose Publications, The Last Three Miles features a hero and heroine who are outside the norm in their own inimitable ways. A video trailer is here, and you can read an excerpt here.
The Last Three Miles
When an accident leaves Hamilton Hollister convinced he’ll never be more than half a man, he abandons construction of a railway spur his lumber mill needs to survive. Believing no woman shackled by social convention can be complete, railroad heiress Katherine Brashear refuses to let the nearly finished track die.
The magic of Christmas in a small Texas town may help them bridge the distance…if they follow their hearts down The Last Three Miles.
The success of a rain dance has a lot to do with timing
As you may have heard California is going through a terrible drought. Most of my neighbors have either let their lawns die or replaced them with artificial turf. Others have simply come up with a way of stealing water. Yep, that’s right; we now have water thieves to contend with.
My husband came up with yet another solution; he simply painted our grass green (see before and after photo). Yep, there’s actually grass paint that you can spray on and it works!
Watching all this craziness around me made me wonder about droughts in the past. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have grass paint back in the 1800s.
For many years people believed that cloudbursts were caused by noise. Plutarch was the first to note that a rainstorm followed every great battle. He thought it was nature’s way of purifying the ground after bloodshed.
He wasn’t the only one who believed in the “concussion theory of rainmaking;” Napoleon was among the many military leaders convinced that artillery fire caused rain. After losing the battle of Waterloo due to the muddy battleground, he came up with the strategy of firing weapons in the air in hopes that a deluge would disable the enemy.
Amazingly, more than 150 major civil war battles were followed by rainstorms. Witnessing the rain that fell after the battle of Bull Run, J.C. Lewis blamed it on the “discharge of heavy artillery.”
Not everybody agreed that rain was generated by blasts. Meteorologist James Pollard Espy, known as the Storm King, insisted it wasn’t the noise, but rather the heat of battle that opened the clouds. To prove his theory he asked that he be allowed to set a 600 mile stretch of land on fire. Congress turned down his request.
Heat or noise, no one really knew for sure. Brigadier General Robert Dyrenforth decided to settle the matter once and for all by conducting a series of rain-making experiments in Texas. He used artillery and balloon-carrying explosives. Instead of rain, he set a series of prairie fires and was given the name Dry-Henchforth.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the west was going through another drought and water wars raged. It was the perfect environment for a former sewing machine salesman by the name of Charles Hatfield aka Robin Hood of the Clouds.
Offering his services to farmers he built high towers and released a chemical concoction he created. Because of clever timing he had some initial success, which is why the city of San Diego hired him. In 1916 he climbed his newly built tower and tossed his chemicals into the air.
Lo and behold, the sky opened up dumping thirty-five inches of rain on the city and causing a tremendous amount of damage. The city wanted Hatfield to take responsibility for what was called the Hatfield flood, but he refused, claiming it was an act of God. When the city failed to pay him his $10,000, he sued, but after twenty-two years the case was finally thrown out of court.
Scientists are still trying to figure out how to summon rain and so far their efforts have met with little success. Maybe it’s time to bring out the cannons.
“Let the record show I’ve killed fifty-one men. Let ’er rip.”
With those words, “Killer” Jim Miller, a noose around his neck, stepped off a box and into eternity. The lynch mob of thirty to forty outraged citizens who had dragged him onto a makeshift gallows may have found it irritating Miller didn’t beg for his life like the three co-conspirators hanged with him.
Then again, perhaps they rejoiced at the professional assassin’s departure, no matter how defiant his attitude. By the time of his 1909 lynching in Ada, Oklahoma, Miller had earned a reputation as sneaky, deadly, and slippery when cornered by justice.
Born James Brown Miller on October 25, 1866, in Van Buren, Arkansas, Miller arrived in Franklin, Texas, before his first birthday. Unsubstantiated, but persistent, rumors claim he was only eight years old when he did away with a troublesome uncle and his grandparents. His first confirmed kill—and his first jaw-dropping escape from justice—happened a few months before Miller turned 18. After arguing with a brother-in-law he didn’t like, Miller shot the sleeping man to death. Had the subsequent sentence of life in prison stuck, Miller’s reign of terror might have ended right there—but a court overturned the murder conviction on a technicality.
Upon his release, Miller joined an outlaw gang that robbed stagecoaches and trains before turning his back on a life of crime and taking a succession of jobs in law enforcement. Reportedly, he even briefly served as a Texas Ranger. Based on his boasting, the badges may have been a calculated way for Miller to indulge his bloodlust behind a thin veneer of respectability.
And he was respectable, at least on the surface. A Bible-thumping Methodist who never missed a Sunday church service, Miller didn’t curse, drink, or smoke. In fact, his clean-cut appearance and apparent piety—bolstered by an ever-present black frockcoat that made him look a bit like a minister—earned Miller the nickname Deacon.
Miller married John Wesley Hardin’s second cousin in 1888, fathered four children, and enjoyed a financially rewarding career selling real estate in Fort Worth. Reports indicate the family was considered a pillar of the community.
Behind the scenes, though, Miller advertised his services as a killer for hire, charging $150 a hit to “take care of” sheep ranchers, fence-stringing farmers, Mexicans, and almost anybody who got in someone else’s way. He specialized in doing away with lawmen, lawyers, and personal enemies, most often employing a shotgun from ambush under cover of darkness. Murder charges caught up with him several times, only to evaporate when witnesses for the prosecution mysteriously disappeared.
Frontier justice finally caught up with Miller on April 19, 1909. A cartel of ranchers outside Ada, Oklahoma, paid him $1,700 to silence a former deputy U.S. marshal who was a little too outspoken in his opposition to a shady land-acquisition scheme known as “Indian skinning.” Before the marshal-turned-rancher died, he identified his murderer. Miller and three of the conspirators were arrested, charged, and awaiting trial when an armed mob broke into the jail, overpowered the guards, and wrestled Miller and the others into an abandoned livery stable. Fearing Miller would slip a noose yet again, the mob hanged all four men from the rafters.
By the time of his death at age 42, Miller was known to have killed fourteen men. His boast of fifty-one executions may have been truthful. A photo of the grisly scene became a must-have tourist souvenir.
Killer Jim Miller was buried in Fort Worth’s Oakwood Cemetery. At the time, one respectable citizen reportedly commented, “He was just a killer—worst man I ever knew.”
Some real-life episodes in the Old West read like fictional adventures. Some read like tragedies. Some read like romances.
The life stories of a few non-fictional characters—like Kitty LeRoy—combine all three.
“…Kitty LeRoy was what a real man would call a starry beauty,” one of her contemporaries noted in a book with a ridiculously long title*. “Her brow was low and her brown hair thick and curling; she had five husbands, seven revolvers, a dozen bowie-knives and always went armed to the teeth, which latter were like pearls set in coral.”
From all reports, LeRoy was a stunning beauty with a sparkling personality that had men—including both notorious outlaws and iconic officers of the law—throwing themselves at her feet. She was proficient in the arts of flirtation and seduction, and she didn’t hesitate to employ her feminine wiles to get what she wanted.
Often, what she wanted was the pot in a game of chance. One of the most accomplished poker players of her time, LeRoy spent much of her short life in gambling establishments. Eventually, she opened her own in one of the most notorious dens of iniquity the West has ever known: Deadwood, South Dakota. With spectacular diamonds at ears, neck, wrists, and fingers glittering bright enough to blind her customers every night, it’s no wonder LeRoy’s Mint Gambling Saloon prospered.
With her reputation as an expert markswoman, there was very little trouble…at least at the tables.
LeRoy was born in 1850, although no one is sure where. Some say Texas; others, Michigan. One thing is certain: By the age of ten, she was performing on the stage. Working in dancehalls and saloons, she either picked up or augmented an innate ability to manipulate, along with gambling and weaponry skills that would serve her well for most of her life. According to local lore, at fifteen she married her first husband because he was the only man in Bay City, Michigan, who would let her shoot apples off his head while she galloped past on horseback.
A long attention span apparently was not among the skills LeRoy cultivated. Shortly after her marriage, she left her husband and infant son behind and headed for Texas. By the age of twenty, she had reached the pinnacle of popularity at Johnny Thompson’s Variety Theatre in Dallas, only to leave entertaining behind, too.
Instead, she tried her hand as a faro dealer. Ah, now there was a career that suited. Excitement, money, men…and extravagant costumes. Players never knew what character they would face until she appeared. A man? A sophisticate? A gypsy?
Texas soon bored LeRoy, but no matter. With a new saloonkeeper husband in tow, she headed for San Francisco—only to discover the streets were not paved with gold, as she had heard. While muddling through that conundrum, she somehow misplaced husband number two, which undoubtedly made it easier for her to engage in the sorts of promiscuous shenanigans for which she rapidly gained a reputation.
Although the reputation didn’t hurt her at the gaming tables, it did create a certain amount of unwanted attention. One too-ardent admirer persisted to such an extent that LeRoy challenged him to a duel. The man demurred, reportedly not wishing to take advantage of a woman. Never one to let a little thing like gender stand in her way, LeRoy changed into men’s clothes, returned, and challenged her suitor again. When he refused to draw a second time, she shot him anyway. Then, reportedly overcome with guilt, she called a minister and married husband number three as he breathed his last.
Now a widow, LeRoy hopped a wagon train with Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane and headed for the thriving boomtown of Deadwood. They arrived in July 1876, and LeRoy became an instant success by entertaining adoring prospectors nightly at Al Swearengen’s notorious Gem Theatre. Within a few months, she had earned enough money to open her own establishment: the Mint. There, she met and married husband number four, a German who had struck it rich in Black Hills gold. When the prospector’s fortune ran out, so did LeRoy’s interest. She hit him over the head with a bottle and kicked him to the curb—literally.
Meanwhile, thanks to LeRoy’s mystique—and allegedly no little fooling around with the customers—the Mint became a thriving operation. LeRoy reportedly “entertained” legendary characters as diverse as Hickock and Sam Bass. But it was 35-year-old card shark Samuel R. Curley who finally claimed her heart. Curley, besotted himself, became husband number five on June 11, 1877.
Shortly thereafter, Curley learned LeRoy hadn’t divorced her first husband. The bigamy realization, combined with rumors about LeRoy’s continued promiscuity, proved too much for the usually peaceful gambler. He stormed out of the Mint and didn’t stop until he reached Denver, Colorado.
Folks who knew LeRoy said she changed after Curley’s departure. Despite nights during which she raked in as much as $8,000 with a single turn of the cards, she grew cold and suspicious.
Her grief seemed to dissipate a bit when an old lover showed up in Deadwood. LeRoy rented rooms above the Lone Star Saloon, and the two moved in together.
By then, Curley was dealing faro in a posh Cheyenne, Wyoming, saloon. When word of LeRoy’s new relationship reached him, he flew into a jealous rage. Determined to confront his wife and her lover, he returned to Deadwood December 6, 1877. When the lover refused to see him, Curley told a Lone Star employee he’d kill them both.
LeRoy, reportedly still pining for her husband, agreed to meet Curley in her rooms at the Lone Star. Not long after she ascended the stairs, patrons below reported hearing a scream and two gunshots.
The following day, the Black Hills Daily Times reported the gruesome scene: LeRoy lay on her back, her eyes closed. Except for the bullet hole in her chest, the 27-year-old looked as though she were asleep. Curley lay face down, his skull destroyed by a bullet from the Smith & Wesson still gripped in his right hand.
“Suspended upon the wall, a pretty picture of Kitty, taken when the bloom and vigor of youth gazed down upon the tenements of clay, as if to enable the visitor to contrast a happy past with a most wretched present,” the newspaper report stated. “The pool of blood rested upon the floor; blood stains were upon the door and walls…”
An understated funeral took place in the room where Curley killed his wife and then took his own life. Their caskets were buried in the same grave in the city’s Ingleside Cemetery and later moved to an unmarked plot in the more noteworthy Mount Moriah.
The happiness the couple could not find together in life, apparently they did in death. Within a month of the funeral, Lone Star patrons began to report seeing apparitions “recline in a loving embrace and finally melt away in the shadows of the night.” The sightings became so frequent, the editor of the Black Hills Daily Times investigated the matter himself. His report appeared in the paper February 28, 1878:
…[W]e simply give the following, as it appeared to us, and leave the reader to draw their own conclusions as to the phenomena witnessed by ourselves and many others. It is an oft repeated tale, but one which in this case is lent more than ordinary interest by the tragic events surrounding the actors.
To tell our tale briefly and simply, is to repeat a story old and well known — the reappearance, in spirit form, of departed humanity. In this case it is the shadow of a woman, comely, if not beautiful, and always following her footsteps, the tread and form of the man who was the cause of their double death. In the still watches of the night, the double phantoms are seen to tread the stairs where once they reclined in the flesh and linger o’er places where once they reclined in loving embrace, and finally to melt away in the shadows of the night as peacefully as their bodies’ souls seem to have done when the fatal bullets brought death and the grave to each.
Whatever may have been the vices and virtues of the ill-starred and ill-mated couple, we trust their spirits may find a happier camping ground than the hills and gulches of the Black Hills, and that tho’ infelicity reigned with them here, happiness may blossom in a fairer climate.
You might think that we owe the celebration of Thanksgiving solely to the pilgrims, but in reality we have Sarah Josepha Hale to thank for it.
Sarah was a prolific author, editor, poet and mother of five. Her second book of poetry Poems for Our Children, published in 1830, included Mary Had a Little Lamb. Controversy still exists as to whether she actually wrote the well-known ditty, but she claimed that she did and it was based on her experiences as a teacher.
In 1837 she became the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book and remained so for forty years until she was ninety. Through her magazine, she set the tone for fashion, reading and cooking. She supported many women’s endeavors including Elizabeth Blackwell’s bid to become a doctor. She also helped raise funds to preserve Mount Vernon.
After reading about the pilgrim’s feast she became captivated by the idea of creating a national Thanksgiving holiday. Two hundred years after the pilgrim’s arrival Thanksgiving had been mostly forgotten. Sarah decided to change that.
So began what would turn out to be a thirty-eight year letter writing campaign. Four U.S. Presidents from Zachary Taylor to James Buchanan turned her idea down.
But Sarah never gave up, not even when the country was at war. At the age of seventy-four she wrote to President Lincoln urging him to make Thanksgiving an annual national holiday. She told him in her letter that a holiday wouldn’t stop the war but it would bring the country together. Abraham Lincoln agreed and in 1863 declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.
So as we enjoy our turkey and pumpkin pie, let’s make a toast to Sarah Josepha Hale, the woman who saved Thanksgiving.
Coming December 1st
Many things are worth dying for but modesty isn’t one of them-Petticoat Detective
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When we think of Texas sheriff’s we always think of strong willed, hard to the core men. In my second installment of the Kasota Springs Romance Series for Kensington, Out of the Texas Night, I have the daughter of the town’s mayor come for a visit where she meets the love of her life. Of course he’s a lawman! While she’s there something disastrous happens to Deuce Cowan, the present sheriff, and he can no longer fulfill his duties. Since my heroine still owns property in the county, is registered to vote there, and a deputy in Houston County she’s more than qualified to be named the interim sheriff by her father (the mayor) and the county commissioners. So, needless to say when I read this story about Emma Daugherty Banister I realized her real life story a century ago parallels to a large degree with my make-belief plot. So, here goes!
Emma Daugherty Banister, the first appointed female sheriff in Texas also was likely the first female sheriff in the United States. She was born in Forney in 1871. After the murder of her father in 1878, she stayed there for a few years and then moved to Goldthwaite to live with an uncle in order to finish school. After receiving her teaching certificate, she taught at Turkey Creek in Mills County and Needmore (currently known as Echo) in Coleman County, Texas.
On September 25, 1894, Daugherty married widower (the father of six) and former Texas Ranger John R. Banister and settled in Santa Anna. In 1914, John Banister was elected Coleman County sheriff. The Banisters moved their nine children to the first floor of the county jail in Coleman. Emma served as office deputy, and John’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Leona, served as his driver. John could ride any horse in the land but showed little interest in mastering the “horseless” carriage.
John was well received and respected as sheriff of Coleman County, bringing standards of competence and courtesy to the position that few sheriffs in any area or era could have achieved. On August 1, 1918, he died of a stroke.
After much discussion by the county commissioners and considering that the county election was just a few months away plus the fact that Emma Banister had served as her husband’s office deputy, the Coleman County commissioners asked her to finish his term. She accepted.
Newspapers from New York to California sensationalized the appointment, portraying her as a fearless, six-shooter-strapping matron of whom troublemakers should be wary, but the truth was probably less sensational. Much like her husband, Emma was courteous and unassuming, a steady hand and stalwart professional. She avoided the sudden press and refused photo requests because she had no interest in publicity. She downplayed the importance of her appointment.
This must be true because when I tried to find a picture of her for my blog I found very few.
Emma served the final three months of her husband’s term effectively but refused to accept the county commissioners’ nomination in the next election. As was her habit, she vacated the Coleman County Jail and sheriff’s offices quietly and moved her children back to the Banister family farm in Santa Anna.
In her later years, Emma never sought credit or recognition for her short term behind the badge, and the eventual oil boom allowed her to live comfortably, dabbling in real estate. Before her death at Brownwood Memorial Hospital on June 4, 1956, she donated a sizable collection of Indian artifacts and mementos from her husband’s long law enforcement career to the Fort Concho National Historic Landmark Museum in San Angelo. She is buried at the Santa Anna Cemetery, and a historical marker commemorating her life was placed there in 1986.
I’m afraid my heroine is a little bit more sassy than Mrs. Banister. As I write the book, I’m excited about seeing just how different my character is from the first woman sheriff in Texas!
I’ll give away a gift certificate to Amazon to one lucky reader,
so they can order the first book in the Kasota Springs Series, The Troubled Texan.
In Courting Trouble my heroine Grace Davenport is in big trouble.—the kind of trouble no sane man would want to mess with Not even Wild West attorney Brock Daniels. Not only is his beautiful new client charged with killing her husband, her two previous husbands died under dire circumstances. Things sure didn’t look good for Grace and when I sat down to write her story I had no idea how my hero would defend her. It was time to hit the books.
My research for this story turned up many surprises. Namely, the number of lawyers required for frontier justice. Whenever a large mining boom began lawsuits were filed in incredible numbers. “Go west young man” went double for lawyers.
“We didn’t need laws until the lawyers got here.”
The wilder the town, the more lawyers (and doctors) it required. Not everyone welcomed the onslaught of lawyers, of course, but most accepted them as the cost of doing business.
Tombstone became a favorite gathering place for lawyers many of whom became rich and ran for office. Residents dubbed the street occupied by lawyer offices Rotten Row.
A court could be held indoors or out. In one murder trial the jury sat on the coffin containing the corpse of the victim. Most trials allowed for regular recesses for “liquid refreshment.” One well-known lawyer was routinely locked up in a hotel room prior to trial to assure he would be sober enough to defend his clients.
Three for the price of one
One of the strangest trials I ran across took place in California in 1845. During the trial of Joseph Wilson, William Ide served as judge, prosecutor and defense attorney. As the district attorney, he questioned his witness and was careful to object to his own questions when needed. He then moved to the bench to rule on the objection.
Women didn’t have the right to vote, but that didn’t keep them from making their presence known in court. Margaret Cody of Denver owned a notions shop with her husband but spent most of her time suing and being sued. I found a dozen lawsuits she was involved in and that was just during Colorado’s Territorial years. When Colorado became a state, she happily continued to enjoy litigation far into old age.
It seems like everyone in the Wild West practiced law in one way or the other, which led a character in my story to lament, “Unless you know the trial of having a wife, you know nothing about law and order.”
Okay, I admit it; I’m hooked on The Good Wife (or was until they killed off Will). Anyone have a favorite TV or movie lawyer?
So how does my hero defend the woman the town called the Black Widow? You’ll have to read the story to find out. While you’re at it, you won’t want to miss the other three stories (one by our very own Mary Connealy) in our exciting new collection. To order just click the cover.