Taming the West One Meal at a Time

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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 efrednterprising 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.

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This Harvey House is in Barstow, CA. It’s now a museum. I used it as a model for my story.

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?

                   

 

Calico SpySomeone 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.

 

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Love in the Time of Miscegenation

The Dumont Brand

Kathleen Rice Adams header

She’s the sweetest rose of color this darky ever knew,
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew;
You may talk about your dearest May, and sing of Rosa Lee,
But the Yellow Rose of Texas beats the belles of Tennessee.

Those are the original words to the chorus of “The Yellow Rose Texas,” a folksong dating to early colonial Texas. The first known transcribed version—handwritten on a piece of plain paper—appeared around the time of the Texian victory at San Jacinto in April 1836.

Marie Laveau 1774-1881 Marie Laveau by Franck Schneider
“New Orleans’ Voodoo Queen” Marie Laveau (1774-1881) was a free Creole of mixed race.

In its original form, the song tells the story of a black man (“darky”) who has been separated from his sweetheart and longs to reunite with her. The lyrics indicate the sweetheart was a free mulatto woman—a person of mixed black and white heritage. In those days, “person of color” was considered a polite way to refer to black people who were not slaves. “Yellow” was a common term for people of mixed race.

During the Civil War, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” became a popular marching tune for troops all over the Confederacy; consequently, the lyrics changed. White Confederates were not eager to refer to themselves as darkies, so “darky” became “soldier.” In addition, “rose of color” became “little flower.”

Aside from the obvious racist reasons for the modifications, legal doctrine played into the picture as well. Until the U.S. Supreme Court declared the practice unconstitutional in 1967, all eleven formerly Confederate states plus Delaware, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia outlawed marriage and sexual relations between whites and blacks. In four of the former Confederate states—Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia—marriage or sexual relations between whites and any non-white was labeled a felony. Such laws were called anti-miscegenation laws, or simply miscegenation laws. In order to draw what attorneys term a “bright line” between legal and illegal behavior, many states codified the “single-drop rule,” which held that a person with a single drop of Negro blood was black, regardless the color of his or her skin.

Texas’s miscegenation law, enacted in 1837, prescribed among the most severe penalties nationwide: A white person convicted of marrying, attempting to marry, or having sex with a person of another ethnicity was subject to a prison sentence of two to five years. Well into the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for the non-white half of the illicit relationship to be severely beaten or killed by irate local citizens.

The first American miscegenation laws arose in the colonies in the 1600s. The laws breathed their last gasp in 2001, when Alabama finally removed the anti-miscegenation clause from its state constitution after a referendum barely passed with only sixty percent of the popular vote.

Texas’s miscegenation law plays a role in “The Big Uneasy,” one half of the duet of stories in my new release, The Dumont Brand. The father of the heroine’s intended “lives in sin” with a free Creole of color. Under a tradition known as plaçage, wealthy white men openly kept well-bred women of color as mistresses in the heroine’s hometown, New Orleans. Texans frowned on the practice nonetheless. The situation causes no end of heartache for the heroine.

The Dumont Brand releases Friday, along with 20 other books, as part of Prairie Rose PublicationsChristmas in July event. About half of the books are holiday tales (like The Last Three Miles), and the other half are stories set in other seasons (like The Dumont Brand). Each of them will warm readers’ hearts all year long. Prairie Rose will host an extra-special Facebook fandango to celebrate the mountain of releases July 28-29. You can RSVP here. Did I mention the Prairie Roses will be giving away free books, jewelry, and other fun prizes?

The Dumont Brand 2 Web

 

On the eve of the Civil War, family secrets threaten everything a ranching dynasty has built…until Amon Collier finds salvation in the wrong woman’s love. In the aftermath of battle, a woman destroyed by betrayal brings peace to his brother Ben’s wounded soul.

The Big Uneasy: To escape the unthinkable with a man about whom she knows too much, New Orleans belle Josephine LaPierre agrees to marry a Texan about whom she knows nothing. Falling in love with his brother was not part of her plan.

Making Peace: After four long years in hell, Confederate cavalry officer Bennett Collier just wants to go home—assuming home still exists. Widowed Jayhawker Maggie Fannin will hold onto her home at any cost…even if she must face down the imposing Rebel soldier who accuses her of squatting.

 

The-Last-3-Miles-Kathleen-2-Web_FinalThe Last Three Miles also will debut Friday as part of PRP’s Christmas in July:

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.

You can read excerpts from both books and peruse a complete list of the titles that are part of PRP’s Christmas in July event here.

 

To do a little celebrating of my own, I’ll give an e-copy of The Dumont Brand to one of today’s commenters and an e-copy of The Last Three Miles to another.

Please note: Both are available only as ebooks.

 

Chapel Cars

Photo WG2 smallHi!  Winnie Griggs here.  The past several weeks have been over the top busy for me – I’ve got TWO book deadlines in March and I’m the coordinator for a writer’s conference that falls the weekend of March 6th.  So, with apologies to all of you wonderful readers, I’m going to reprise and older post for you today.  And to make up for my shameless lack of originality, I’m going to give one of today’s visitors who leaves a comment here their choice of any book on my backlist.

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In trying to come up with a topic for today’s post I pulled up my lagniappe file.  That’s the folder where I stash all the interesting stories and factoids I come across during research – the unexpected little tidbits that have nothing whatsoever to do with my actual story need, but that spark my imagination and get my ‘what if’ meter vibrating big time.

The piece that jumped out at me this time was an article I came across when researching circuit preachers for a minor story thread in one of my books.  The article talked about a very unique tool utilized by missionaries who were attempting to do their own brand of ‘taming the west’ – namely Chapel Cars.

These were railroad cars that were modified to serve as traveling churches.  They road the rails from town to town, diverting to sidings for as long as they were needed, then moving on to the next stop.  These cars were outfitted with very modest living quarters for the missionary and perhaps his wife.  The rest of the space was utilized for church services.

Interior

Most western movies and tales glorify the gun-toting lawman or vigilante, portraying them as the tamers of the wild and wooly west.  In actuality, the peace-minded missionaries who road the rails played a larger part in bringing peace to the lawless west than any of their more aggressive counterparts.  They traveled in their mobile churches to remote areas of the country, bringing spiritual direction and a civilizing influence to people who were starved for something to offset the violence and loneliness of their existence.

These Chapel Cars traveled throughout the west and midwest – including North Dakota, Nevada, Minnesota, California, Louisiana, Texas, Oregon and Colorado.  They stopped at mining towns and logging camps, tent cities and newly established towns, bringing their gospel message and the reminder of civilization to people who had seen neither for a long time – if ever.

Chap car Int01

And, given the unfettered existence of those in the camps and towns, their appearance was surprisingly well received more often than not – especially by the ladies of the area.  The arrival of these Chapel Cars signaled not only the chance to attend Sunday services, but brought with them someone to perform weddings, funerals, baptisms and also a welcome excuse for social gatherings.  In addition, many a rough and tough cowboy who would have balked at attending a traditional church seemed to feel differently about these side rail services.  In fact, the very novelty of the Chapel Car brought folks from miles around just to have a look.

Of course, they didn’t always receive a warm welcome.  There are recorded instances of the Chapel Cars being pelted with eggs and refuse, defaced with graffiti and even set on fire.  But these were rare instances and the cars and their custodians survived to continue their mission.

 

These repurposed rail cars were furnished with pews, a lectern, an altar table and in some cases an organ.  Depending on the construction, they could seat over 70 people inside.  The Chapel Car was a multipurpose unit, serving as a home, church, Sunday School, social hall, library and meeting place.  They carried bibles and tracts which were distributed all along the lines.  The missionary and his wife, in addition to their usualExterior ministerial duties, were expected to function as singer, musician, janitor and cook.  They helped organize permanent churches, including raising the necessary funds and helping to construct the buildings.

There are records to support the existence of eleven Chapel Cars in all, though there is some evidence there may have been as many as seventeen.  Of the eleven known cars, three were utilized by Catholics, seven by Baptists and one by the Episcopalians.

Chapel cars remained in use throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  With the advent of World War I, however, the railroad tracks had to be kept clear for troop movement.  In addition, new regulations prohibited the railroad companies from giving ‘free rides’ to the Chapel Cars, something that had been common practice up until that time.  And as paved roads and the automobile became more prevalent it became easier for folks to travel longer distances on their own to attend church.  Thus, the Chapel Cars that had brought their spiritual message and civilizing influence to the rough and tumble west faded into history.

 

So, what is the most memorable place where you’ve attended a church service and what made it memorable for you?

Welcome Guests – Ruth Ann Nordin and Janet Syas Nitsick

Janet Nitsick
Janet Nitsick
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Ruth Nordin

Train Travel: A Passenger’s Perspective

“The train chugged toward the station. Smoke bellowed from the engine’s stack.  Standing underneath the roof of the brick-and-mortar depot, Opal gulped as she watched it approach. …” (Excerpt from Janet Syas Nitsick’s novella, She Came by Train, included in Bride by Arrangement.)

Trains were vital to the Old West to not only transport goods but also for people traveling from East to West. They replaced wagon trains, a popular form of travel from the early 1840s to the late 1860s. Trains continued to be the dominant mode of travel until automobiles gained momentum in the 1930s and 1940s.

Tickets Please

Passengers could purchase first, second or third-class tickets, according to their financial abilities. First-class tickets cost the most and came with the most luxuries. A second class ticket cost more than third class with this class bringing the least benefits.

If a person purchased a third-class ticket, he or she would sit on a wooden seat, be placed in an open car and had to furnish their own meal. The ticket entailed them to one washroom (our current day restroom), and it was used by men and women.

A second-class ticket enabled the traveler to sit in an enclosed car with padded seats and included two washrooms — one for men and the other for women. This passenger had three meal options: bring your own food, eat at the buffet car, or get off the train to eat during a meal stop.

Photo by Robert Spittler of Omaha, Neb. Old Tucson railroad station served as the setting for some of Hollywood’s most famous television shows, such as “Bonanza,” “Gun Smoke,” “Have Gun will Travel,” and movies,  “Rio Bravo” and “McClintock.”
Photo by Robert Spittler of Omaha, Neb.
Old Tucson railroad station served as the setting for some of Hollywood’s most famous television shows, such as “Bonanza,” “Gun Smoke,” “Have Gun will Travel,” and movies, “Rio Bravo” and “McClintock.”

Passengers riding first class sat in leather or padded-velvet seats in an enclosed car. As in the second class, men and women had their own washrooms. But different from the other classes, a first-class traveler was provided meals, could eat in the buffet car or visit a restaurant at a destination stop.

If travelers didn’t bring a meal, such as second and third-class, ticket holders, they could eat at a restaurant near the depot or eat at the dining (also buffet) car during the train stop. However, passengers had limited time to eat these unappetizing, dining-car meals, probably between 15 to 20 minutes, so often they never finished their meals and continued their trips hungry.

Around 1899, Fred Harvey solved this problem by starting a chain of restaurants at the train stations. His restaurants served appetizing meals, such as plantation beef stew on hot buttermilk biscuits and smoked haddock. Harvey hired only females for his waitstaff to allure male patrons and help women find mates.

Baggage Tags

Originally, passengers picked up their own luggage from the baggage car, but as travel by train became more popular, it became necessary to have a system to track luggage to prevent loss or theft.  Metal tags, typically made of brass, were used. They included the railroad(s) involved, an identification number, and routing. One tag would go with the passenger, and a matching tag would be attached to the luggage.

When the Journey Ends

Once the train arrived at its destination, passengers needed to be careful when they got off their cars because of the short distance between the train and the platform. At the station, travelers walked, grabbed a cab or were met with individuals who took them to their ultimate destinations.

Click Cover to Order from Amazon
Click Cover to Order from Amazon

In She Came by Train, Opal has taken the long journey from Virginia to Lincoln, Nebraska, to be the governess to two young children of a lonely widower.  “Opal pulled out her smelling salts and sniffed.  She returned the salts to her belt before clutching her purse tight. Her new life faced her. …” (Excerpt from Janet Syas Nitsick’s novella in Bride by Arrangement.)

In The Purchased Bride, Ada fought the tears, which she believed could have filled up more than what the Mississippi River contained, as she stepped from the train to meet her betrothed, Pete Kelly. She did not know what her future would be like since her brother arranged the marriage. “With each mile that separated Ada from Virginia, she didn’t know if she felt better or worse. … her brother had seen fit to sell her to a stranger out in Nebraska — far removed from anyone …” (Excerpt from Ruth Ann Nordin’s novella in Bride by Arrangement.)

Giveaway

Ruth Ann Nordin and Janet Syas Nitsick are offering three paperback copies of their anthology, Bride by Arrangement, (which ranked in the top 100 in the Western romance category in the Kindle edition).

Buy Links:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

FAIRS and FARES and a Giveaway!

 

 

Travel Town in Southern California Travel Town in Southern California

Right after Christmas we took a little trip to Travel Town in a well-known park in our area that houses locomotives from the earliest days of travel.  It was thrilling to see the steam and wood-burning engines attached to railcars that once barreled down the tracks with intent to reach the next city on the route in due and expected time.

We peeked into dining cars and strolled inside of rail cars that once accommodated many a traveler.  It really got me to thinking about the cost of things way back when.  What could the average American traveler afford?  How much have costs changed over the years?

In 1869 Railroad First Class Fare from coast to coast including meals cost $250 to $300 round trip.

Wow, that’s sounds like a small fortune to me for most folks.  Yet, coach fare (squeezing everyone into a crowded, smoky car) from Omaha to San Francisco was a more affordable $32.20.   First Class Airfare today, is probably equally as costly in relation, whereas coach fare being more affordable.  Yet, by 1886, less than twenty years later, First Class Rail fare between Kansas and California dropped to $12.00

A coal-burning locomotive A coal-burning locomotive

I suppose fluctuations have to do with supply and demand.  Just like today when a product is new and innovative, the cost skyrockets.  The very first video camera/recorder we owned cost close to $800.00 whereas today, more than twenty years later, we can buy a much more advanced camera for less than $100.00

Here’s a list of some other costs I found interesting:

In 1874 Doc Holiday charged $3.00 for a tooth extraction in his Dallas dental practice. (I’m going to the dentist this week…for him to just look inside my mouth is about $100.00)

In 1875 Wyatt Earp earned $60.00 a month as police officer in Kansas.

In 1880 Pat Garrett earned $10.00 a day as special deputy US Marshal.

In 1869 admission to a concert at a fair in Lincoln, Nebraska cost fifty cents.  (compared to the last Tim McGraw concert ticket I purchased at $125.00 … okay Tanya Hanson knows that’s not true…it was more like $150.00)

In 1880 the standard price of an infant delivery in Madison, Nebraska was $10.00 with an additional charge of $1.00 for a house visit outside of town.  (We all know how much it costs to have a baby these days)

 

About $8.00 worth of staples  today About $8.00 worth of staples today

In 1878:

Butter was 18 cents per pound

Sugar was less than 1 cent per pound

Cheese (who doesn’t love cheese?) was 7 cents per pound

Rice was 6 cents per pound

Eggs were 20 cents a dozen.

 

Seeing these prices and how costs have gone up, don’t you wonder what a loaf of bread will cost in the year 2099?  How much will it cost to have a baby or buy a car? What have you noticed lately that’s skyrocketed, ie: the cost of movie tickets these days?  To offset these costs, post a comment here and be entered to win a FREE book.  

You have your choice of my printed book, Secret Heir of Sunset Ranch or the Kindle/Nook version of The Cowboy Contract.  And be sure to look for my next Harlequin Desire, the conclusion to the Texas Cattleman’s Club titled,

Available for Pre-Order
Available for Pre-Order
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Retro Week: Day Three – A Texas Bonanza by Karen Witemeyer

My choice for retro week is a post I wrote back in April 2012. Since both of my Archer brother books are set in the Piney Woods of Texas, I thought it would be fun to look back at the history of Texas’s lumber industry.

What was the leading industry in Texas at the turn of the 20th century?

Oil? – No, that came later.

Cattle? Cotton?

The answer: Lumber.

 

Lumber? Are you kidding? I live in Texas. There are no trees. Oh, we’ve got some scrubby little mesquite and an occasional oak, but nothing that this California native would call a tree. So how in the world did the lumber industry out-perform cattle and cotton, two Texas staples?

A virgin stand of longleaf pine in the East Texas Piney Woods region, 1908.

Well, as anyone who has ever driven across this great state can tell you, Texas is a big place. Yes we have desert regions and prairie and grassland and hill country, but over in the southeast is a lovely section called the Piney Woods. And as the railroad worked it’s way west in the 1870’s and 1880’s, lumber men from Pennsylvania like Henry Lutcher and G. Bedell Moore saw the virgin forests of east Texas as a gold mine. Local boys like John Henry Kirby got in on the action, too, buying up and consolidating individual sawmills into complete lumber manufacturing plants. Kirby rose to success so quickly, he became known as the “Prince of the Pines,” having become the largest lumber manufacturer in the state by combining 14 sawmills into the Kirby Lumber Company in 1901.

Not only did the railroad boom make travel to the Texas woods easier, it was also one of the biggest sources of demand for timber. Railroads needed lumber to construct rail cars, stations, fences, and cross ties in addition to the massive amounts of wood they burned for fuel. Each year railroads needed some 73 million ties for the construction of new rail lines and the maintenance of old ones, estimated by the magazine Scientific American in 1890. From the 1870s to 1900, railroads used as much as a fourth of national timber production.

This combination of supply and demand fueled a “bonanza era” for the Texas lumber industry that lasted 50 years, from 1880 until the Great Depression. During this time, Texas became the third largest lumber-producing state in the nation.

Northern investors swooped in to buy up land, sometimes even taking advantage of “use and possession laws” to seize property from families who had owned it for generations. Corruption abounded as logging companies controlled their workers, paying them only in vouchers for the company store despite the incredibly hazardous working conditions. These “cut and get out” operations left acres of land decimated.

Today if you travel through east Texas, you can still see the pine forests, however the trees are younger and more slender compared to the giants that grew there back in the 1880s. Maybe in another 100 years, we’ll find a return of the true Piney Woods of Texas.

Now for the big treat…

Winnie Griggs is giving away a copy of her brand new release, The Bride Next Door, along with a sparkly “I Love To Read” pin. What could be better than a free book and a little book-lover’s bling?

To be entered to win, leave a comment about what you most like about forests.

Happy Summer!!!

Some Civil War Numbers ~Tanya Hanson

Ever since I read Gone with the Wind and saw the Jimmie Stewart classic Shenandoah, the Civil War has fascinated me. Recent visits to Gettysburg and Harper”s Ferry reinforced its allure. Peeking through a flea market find (Civil War Trivia and Fact Book by Webb Garrison) pointed out some wonderful tidbits that I thought inquiring minds might want to know.

1.  Only 28 percent of the 30,500 miles of railroads in 1860 lay in Confederate territory.

 

2.  The two warring capitals, Washington DC and Richmond, VA, are 100 miles apart.

3.  Seven states had announced their secession at the time of Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration. (Can you name them?**  See below.)

4.  86 percent of the United States’ manufacturing firms were located in the North.

5.  38 percent of the Confederacy’s population were slaves.

6.  Diarrhea, including dysentery, was the most common ailment in the camps and claimed the lives of 44,000 Union soldiers.

7.  More than 68 American Revolutions could have been financed for the estimated cost of the Civil War.

 

8.  During the years of the conflict, 2,778,304 men were enlisted in all the branches of the Union forces.

9.  Four states were classified as “border states”, meaning they remained in the Union but had strong ties to the South. (Can you name them?*** See below.)

10. New Orleans was the Confederacy’s largest city, with an 1860 census of 168,000.

11. New York, with its 1860 population exceeding 800,000, was the North’s largest city.

12. Due to inflation in the Confederacy, the price of a pound of tea was $10.00 by the end of 1862.

13.  On New Year’s Day 1865, 55 percent of the Confederate fighting forces was listed as AWOL.

14. The tallest man in the Union forces was Captain Van Buskirk of the 27th Indiana.  Six feet, ten and one-half inches.

15.  The shorted man in the Union forces was a private in the 192nd Ohio.  Three feet, four inches.

16.  There were 33 states in the Union in 1860.

17.  In 1861, a Union soldier’s monthly salary was $13.

18.  As president of the United States, Abe Lincoln’s annual salary was $25,000.

 

19.  About 200,000 blacks eventually served in the Union army and navy.

 

20.  Union regiment, the First Minnesota, lost 82 percent at Gettysburg, the highest percentage of one-battle casualties.

21. By the war’s end, 12,912 graves had been filled at infamous Andersonville Prison. (total deaths is believed much higher.)

 

 

22.  When Harper’s Ferry fell to Stonewall Jackson, he seized 73 cannon and 13,000 small arms from the arsenal there. And 10,000 prisoners.

Harper”s Ferry Armory

23. Thirty six (36) horses were needed to pull the six guns of a standard field battery, three pairs in tandem per gun.

24.  Six Confederate generals were killed at Gettysburg.

25.  Black troops participated in 450 battles and skirmishes.

26.  The most popular handgun in the North with about 200,000 manufactured between 1860-1872 was the Colt Army and Navy revolver.

27.  The weight of a shell thrown by a 13-inch mortar (the largest in use then) was 220 pounds.

28.  Three of the 2,300 Federal chaplains received the Congressional

Medal of Honor.

I hope you didn”t mind a history lesson today! Which fact did you find the most interesting?

 

** South Carolina; Mississippi; Florida; Alabama; Georgia; Louisiana, and Texas.

*** Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri

Coming this summer:

Hometown History . . .

As I was trying to decide what topic to blog about today, it suddenly hit me that I had access to some fabulous history right in my own backyard. In fact, it is the history of Abilene, Texas (the town I now call home) that inspired me to set my first several books in the 1880’s. For, you see, that was when Abilene was born.

Up until the 1870’s, the only people rambling through this area of West Texas were nomadic Indians, soldiers, and buffalo hunters. But by the 70’s, the Indians had been driven out, and the land was opened to settlers–or more specifically, cattle ranchers wanting to graze their herds on the plentiful prairie grasses. By 1878, Taylor County had been organized, and they named Buffalo Gap (yep, named for the buffalo that had been plentiful in the area until the buffalo hunters ravaged them) as the county seat.

Restored T&P Warehouse, Downtwon Abilene

So where does Abilene come in? It rode in on the T&P Railroad.

In 1880, the Texas & Pacific Railway began expanding west. When the local cattle ranchers learned the railroad would be coming through, they got together with area businessmen and worked to ensure that the T&P bypassed Buffalo Gap in order to run across the northern part of the county, and incidentally, through their land. They would then establish a new town between Cedar and Big Elm Creeks, east of Catclaw Creek. Since the railroad needed the water they could supply for their steam locomotives, the plan worked. One of the ranchers suggested the new town be named Abilene, after the cattle boomtown of Abilene, Kansas.

 

 

 

 

 

The Texas & Pacific arrived in Abilene in January 1881. And the railroad didn’t just lay track, they laid promises. Touting Abilene as the “Future Great City of West Texas,” railroad officials platted the townsite and started selling lots on March 15, 1881. Their marketing worked. Hundreds of people arrived even before the lots went on sale and began establishing businesses and a church. As the plaque above shows, they had a church erected one month after the railroad arrived. This plaque is located about halfway between the warehouse and the depot, so it is easy to see that the T&P was the heart of the new city.

A short two years later, Abilene had grown so significantly that it became the county seat, stealing the distinction from Buffalo Gap.

Today, the T&P tracks are still at the heart of Abilene, running through the center of town. Streets that run parallel to the tracks are designated with either a north or south distiction so people know which side of the tracks to go to. For example, there is a North 1st Street and a South 1st Street sandwiching the tracks. This systems continues with street numbers ranging well into the 20’s or higher depending on what  side of the track you are on. The rails are still used for freight transport, but the depot now houses the Chamber of Commerce instead of railroad passengers.

So how about you? What cool history can you share about your hometown?

Restored T&P Depot

Vickie McDonough: Crush, Texas—A Town for Only One Day

One of my favorite tasks as a writer is going on research trips and discovering interesting tidbits of history. While researching End of the Trail, my June release, I learned about a unique historical event. It’s called “The Crash at Crush” and is the brainchild of George William Crush, a passenger agent of  the Missouri, Kansas, & Texas Railroad, also known as “the Katy.”

In an effort to better promote their railroad, Katy officials agreed to Crush’s unusual suggestion of crashing two retired train engines. The locomotives, Old No. 999, painted bright green, and Old No. 1001, painted a vibrant red, were displayed prominently during tours throughout the state and the “Monster Crash” was advertised all the summer of 1896. The event was free, with the exception of the train fare to deliver attendees to Crush, which cost $2 for a ticket from anywhere within the state.

Crush chose a shallow valley fifteen miles north of Waco for the location, and in early September, five hundred workmen laid four miles of track for the collision run, built a grandstand for attendees, three speaker’s stands, two telegraph offices, a stand for reporters, and a bandstand. A restaurant was set up in a borrowed Ringling Brothers circus tent, and a huge carnival midway with dozens of medicine shows, game booths, and lemonade and soft-drink stands were built. Lastly, a special depot with a platform 2,100 feet long was constructed along with a painted sign, informing passengers that they had arrived at Crush, Texas.

Twenty thousand people were expected, but by early afternoon on September 15, somewhere between 40-50,000 had arrived. At 5:00 P.M., engines No. 999 and 1001 backed off to opposite ends of the four-mile track. George Crush trotted a white horse to the center of the track and raised his white hat. After a long pause, he whipped it sharply down. A huge cheer rose from the crowd, and the locomotives lunged forward, whistles shrieking as they barreled toward each other at a speed of 45 mph. In a thunderous, grinding crash, the trains collided. The two locomotives reared up like wild stallions as they rammed together. Contrary to predictions, both boilers shattered, filling the air with hot steam, smoke, and pieces of flying metal. Spectators turned and ran in blind panic. In the end, several people were killed and at least six others were injured seriously by the flying debris.

The wreckage was toted away, with souvenir hunters claiming pieces of the debris, booths and tent were removed, and by nightfall, Crush, Texas ceased to exist. The Katy railroad settled all claims against it, and George Crush was fired that same day, but rehired the next and worked for the Katy railroad until he retired. Here’s a link to a You Tube tale of the crash and some cool historic photos: ww.youtube.com/watch?v=jL5i_ZBzYk0

In End of the Trail, my hero and heroine, Brooks Morgan and Keri Langston take a rare day off work from Raven Creek Ranch to attend the Crash at Crush. It’s an exciting day for them and brings big change, especially for Brooks. End of the Trail is the sixth book in the Texas Trails series, which I wrote with Susan Page Davis and Darlene Franklin. I also wrote Long Trail Home, the third book in the series, which is the story of a Civil War soldier who returns home to Texas to find everything has changed.

End of the Trail is the story of a cocky drifter who wins a ranch in a card game, but when he goes to claim his winning, he discovers a pretty woman toting a rifle on his porch. She claims the ranch is her inheritance, but he sees it as his one chance to prove to his folks that he’s finally settled down. He’s not leaving, but neither is she.

I hope you enjoyed the story of the Crash at Crush. What’s the most interesting historical event you’ve read about?

 

VICKIE IS GIVING AWAY A COPY OF END OF THE TRAIL TO ONE PERSON WHO LEAVES A COMMENT TODAY!

Hell On Wheels

How much do I love SuperChannel?

A friend mentioned that I would probably like a new series called Hell On Wheels. I checked it out (On Demand) and the husband and I watched the first episode and LOVED it.

 

 

It all starts with a Union Soldier in a confessional, seeking absolution for things he did during the war. In particular, what happened to a woman. When the confessional is over, both man and priest emerge, but it’s not a priest at all. It’s Cullen Bohannon – the woman’s husband. And he’s out to get every man that brutalized and then murdered his wife.

It takes a cold dude to kill a man in a church and then walk out with his greatcoat flapping.

His search takes him to Hell on Wheels – the travelling camp of the men building the Union Pacific railroad. As you can imagine, it’s rough. A good portion of the workforce is freed slaves, and as we all know the term free was a formality more than anything else. He’s hired as a supervisor to the crews, and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Elam Ferguson (played by Common).

The whole thing is ruled by Thomas Durant, who’s a bit greasy and not above manipulating senators and stocks to see that the railroad gets built. Durant’s chief surveyor, Bell, is killed in an Indian attack but his wife, Lily, survives – and it’s Bohannon who brings her back to camp. And all the while Bohannon is trying to find the last of the men responsible for the death of his wife.

It’s a great story, a fantastic setting, wonderful, complex characters (The Swede as Durant’s “muscle” is deliciously creepy). Of course the cast isn’t hard to look at either. My husband is rather partial to Lily Bell.  I, of course, adore Bohannon (played by Anson Mount). In fact, there may be a reclusive rancher in a story soon that bears a striking resemblance.

And I’ll admit it – best of all was the night Bohannon and Elam had to fight each OTHER. I looked at my husband and said, “I hope they fight with their shirts off.” Yes, I’m just that shallow.

The result?

A bit of history, a bit of romance, a lot of action. Can anyone say “All aboard!”