Many of our ancestors made the trek west, crossing our great continent on foot, horseback, and wagon, long before the convenience of GPS. How did people find their way? Of course the sun, moon and stars have long been landmarks for travelers. The compass existed, but with the twists and turns of rivers and valleys, one could easily go off track. Imagine the delight, therefore, in seeing a known landmark across a plain or prairie to help you know you are heading in the right direction! On a recent trip cross country my husband took the time to examine two such landmarks whose dramatic shapes were visible for miles.
In Kansas one finds Castle Rock, an ancient limestone deposit at the bottom of an inland sea. Whittled by sand, wind, and water, it was visible from the Overland Trail.
Huerfano (Spanish for orphan) Butte in Colorado, a volcanic plug, is a volcano that never happened. During a mountain-building phase of our planet’s development, the ancient seabed was uplifted and magma was forced into the surrounding rock, but never broke though the surface. As erosion removed the softer stone, this formation was exposed. Named by early Spanish explorers, el Huerfano (WEAR-fah-no), rising 200’ above the floodplain, was visible from the Trappers Trail to Taos.
In many of my novels, people travel vast distances in every manner possible, from foot to train. Imagine walking from the Appalachians to the Mississippi as Nelly and kin do in my newest release, Kissless in Kansas. At least Barnabas was on horseback making a similar trek a decade earlier in Rescuing Barnabas, also released in July. Neither would have seen the landmarks above as they stopped their journeys in southeastern Kansas.
I introduced the town of Green River (although not by name in that first book) last year in Rescuing Christmas, which I am offering as a gift to one of my discussion participants. I am a fan of family building, leading to world building, and have gradually fleshed out the town of Green River over several decades (their time, not ours!) I try to ensure “standaloneability” in each tale but many of the characters pop up in more than one novel.
So my question to you, and please feel free to expand, is whether you enjoy encountering friends from other books or prefer each story to have all new characters?
Elissa Strati, Author
I enjoy researching and writing about the past. And in my mind some of me lives in the past. Via the magic of photography, I can share a vision of my personal past. This is the age my mind thinks I still am. I wish it would get my body on the same page!
Thank you for inviting me into your lives today.
Here are a bunch of links if you’d like to follow or keep in touch (I’d like that a lot!):
When I’m writing, I often find myself with a problem that stumps me.
This time it was communication. But SECRET communication. Sure by the time I’m setting my books there was a telegraph. But I needed two men to communicate with each other and no one knows there’s a connection.
I got some good suggestions. Did you know native Americans communicated with arrows? The tribe might be spread over a great expanse, but they’d stay close enough for an arrow to reach. One man would an arrow a great distance and when it reached it’s goal, those waiting them would know it was a signal for whatever had been agreed upon, then that group would send an arrow to the next group.
One can only wonder is anyone got an arrow in their backsides but it seemed to work.
Of course there were smoke signals.
And there were runners.
None of these things worked for me.
And then my fevered brain came up with homing pigeons.
And then the research began.
I found out there were already homing pigeons 1000 years before Christ.
I found out homing pigeons were used a lot in war. And were in fact called War Pigeons.
And I found out the birds could fly as far as 600 miles at a speed of 100 miles per hour. Six hours to reach 600 miles. Of course these were records, but I didn’t need my pigeons to go 600 miles. I needed more like twenty. No problem.
But how did the pigeons figure it out? How did they designate ‘home.’ Could ‘home’ be changed? Could the birds go back and forth? Did that mean they have two ‘homes.’
Oh, it was confusing, but also fascinating. ‘Home’ can be split. Like ‘home’ can be two places, the place they eat and the place they sleep. So that explains why they’d go back and forth. But more simply,, I figured out that the pigeons could send a message for two men to meet. Then they could exchange their pigeons.
Well, it was fun. And fascinating. It reminded me of the stories you hear of a dog finding his way home over hundreds of miles and even years. But these birds are born with this inbred instinct to go home. No matter where you take them, they will fly back home.
I am all kinds of excited today because it is just a little more than a week until the release day for Rescuing the Rancher! The sweet contemporary romance is the second book in my Summer Creek series that debuted in June with Catching the Cowboy.
Rescuing the Rancher is the story of Jossy Jansen, an energetic, stubborn, independent widow and Nathaniel Knight, an attorney from a big city who turns her world upside in just one visit to Summer Creek.
When I was thinking about Jossy’s character, about the type of person she is and how it all would tie into the story, I found myself drawing inspiration from someone I’ve known since I was nine years old.
She’s a rancher. A wife. A mother. One of the hardest-working people I know. She’s also vibrant and beautiful, strong and stubborn. She can work on a tractor, chase cows through a bog, train a horse, then make a delicious dinner and tenderly tuck a little one into bed with hugs and kisses.
And she provided so much inspiration for Jossy’s character.
I thought you might enjoy a little excerpt from the story today. And if you’d like to see more of what inspired the story, hop over to my Pinterest board!
Slowly, he raised his right hand and gently brushed it along the line of her jaw. His thumb caressed the curve of her cheek. The slight contact with her skin made waves of heat spiral through him, leaving him feeling reckless and energized.
“What are you doing?” she asked in a whisper. Her incredible blue eyes drew him in, held him prisoner. He could no more have walked away at that moment than he could have flapped his arms and flown home to Portland.
“I’m…” Truthfully, he wasn’t sure what he was doing. The part of his brain that had a few specks of common-sense still functioning urged him to step back and head out the door. To the very depths of his being, he knew that if he kissed Jossy, nothing would ever be the same again. Nothing.
Yet he lingered, trailing his fingers down her lovely face until he cupped her stubborn chin.
“If you think you can waltz in here and try to … seduce me, it won’t work.” She snarled her nose at him but didn’t move away. “I’m not that kind of girl.”
Absently, he nodded. “I know. And I’m not trying to seduce you. I’d have better luck trying to woo a wounded rhinoceros.”
Her hero has arrived
Even if she doesn’t realize it . . . yet
Widow Jossy Jansen intimidates people, mostly by accident. After all, her soon-to-be sister-in-law called her a cowboy version of Wonder Woman. Jossy can’t help it if she’s strong, capable, and bursting with restless energy. Never one who needed a man to rescue her, Jossy struggles with her feelings for an unlikely knight dressed in Armani.
Life as a corporate attorney has left Nathaniel Knight overworked, stressed, and going soft. He hardly recognizes the person he’s become. When his father insists he help out the small community of Summer Creek, Nate dreads spending time so far from civilization. Then he tangles with a rancher far too stubborn for her own good and far too lovely for his.
Can Nate convince Jossy he’s more than just a city boy out of his element?
A sweet romance brimming with heart, humor and hope, Rescuing the Rancher is a story of redemption, trust, and discovering true love.
Rescuing the Rancher is available for pre-order for the special price of $2.99. I hope you’ll check it out and get your copy ordered today!
I don’t know why in all the stories I’ve published that I’ve never written about popcorn until this Christmas book I’m writing. A great oversight on my part!
Anyway, I’ve done some research and what I found is interesting.
Even though popcorn is grown on ears, it’s very different altogether from sweet or field corn. The hull of popcorn is just the right thickness to allow it to burst open. Inside each kernel of popcorn is a small droplet. It needs between 13.5-14% moisture to pop. Don’t ask me how it gets the water inside there.
All I know is that the water turns to steam when heated and pressure builds.
The oldest ears of popcorn were found in a cave in New Mexico in 1948. The oldest found there were 4,000 years old, so it’s been around an awfully long time.
The Aztecs used popcorn in their ceremonies, decorations, and dances. It was an important food for them as well. When Spanish explorers invaded Mexico, they were astounded by these little exploding kernels of corn.
In South America, popcorn was found in 1,000 year old burial grounds and was so well-preserved it still popped.
Long before corn flakes made an appearance, Ella Kellogg ate ground popped popcorn with milk every morning for breakfast. Her husband, John Kellogg, praised popcorn as being easily digested and highly wholesome. I don’t know if I’d want it in a bowl with milk.
In Victorian times, popcorn decorated fireplace mantels, doorways, and Christmas trees. Kids used to string popcorn and cranberries and was often the only thing on trees unless paper ornaments.
Here are some Corny facts:
Today, Americans consume 15 billion quarts of popped popcorn yearly.
Most of the popcorn consumed throughout the world comes from the U.S.
Major states producing it are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, and Ohio.
National Popcorn Day is January 19th or whatever day the Superbowl falls on.
* * *
Darn, I’m itching to go to the movies! I can smell the popcorn now.
So, I’ve just added a scene in my Christmas book where my heroine pops popcorn for two little kids and they also string some to decorate with. In case you’re curious, the title of the book is A Cowboy Christmas Legend. Look for it September 2021.
Okay, your turn. How much popcorn do you eat? And what is the most surprising fact you learned?
Several years ago, after Hurricane Sandy devastated so much of the East Coast, help began to pour in immediately. But here in the farther inland parts of the U.S., we were left wondering what we could do, other than donate money?
In times of disaster, we all wish we were able to do more. Many people don’t want to give to a nebulous charity, fearing scams of all sorts.
One of my publishers friends, Rebecca Vickery, came up with the idea of a recipe book. The authors that wrote for her three imprints were asked if they wanted to contribute recipes to go in the book. The proceeds from the sales of the book would go to one of two charities, which we voted on. By a large margin, Save the Children was our choice.
The book was a work of love that we all participated in, some with more than one recipe. It was filled with quite a variety, and even though on the cover it says, “Featuring favorite holiday recipes by various authors”, there are several in this book that I have made all through the year. Who can wait for the holidays to have some of these scrumptious treats–especially now when we are at home more and more?
I’m sharing my contributions with you today, but there are plenty more where this came from in this little gem of a book—many of them easy and geared for our hectic lifestyles. I’ve been cooking a lot more lately with the COVID-19 pandemic going on, so I’m always on the lookout for new and different recipes!
I can certainly vouch for the two below—Blonde Brownies has been a staple in our family since I was born. It was on a “Brownie” recipe sheet when both of my sisters belonged to a troop, and my mom was a leader. This recipe is one of those that doesn’t last long around our house—the ingredients are items you usually keep stocked, and it’s easy to make. Same with the Hello Dolly Bars.
Though the book is out of print, it’s still available in limited quantities on Amazon from 3rd party sellers.
1 tsp. Vanilla
1½ cups flour
2 ½ cups brown sugar
½ tsp. salt
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
½ cup (OR MORE!) choc. Chips
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Beat eggs well. Add brown sugar gradually, beating until well mixed. Add vanilla, flour, salt and mix well. Add chopped nuts and mix. Pour into a greased, 9×13 pan and sprinkle chocolate chips over top of the batter. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes (depending on your oven). This makes a 9×13 pan of brownies. You can half this recipe for an 8×8 pan, and reduce cooking time to 25 minutes.
HELLO DOLLY BARS
½ cup butter
1 ½ cup graham cracker crumbs
1 six oz. package chocolate chips (I always add extra!)
1 can Eagle Brand milk (sweetened condensed milk)
1 1/3 cups shredded coconut
1 cup chopped nuts
Pour melted butter into a 9×13 pan. Cover evenly with the following: graham cracker crumbs (press down to soak up the butter), nuts, chocolate chips, coconut. Pour milk on top. Bake at 350 F. until lightly brown or chips have melted (about 25 minutes). Cool before cutting.
(You can also add some butterscotch chips along with the chocolate chips for variation.)
If you’ve read much about travel in the Old West—or banking—you’ll know the name Wells Fargo & Co. Private citizens, small businesses, and major industries all trusted Wells Fargo with their valuables. For example, between 1858 and 1861, Wells Fargo shipped 15 tons of gold from the Sonora, California office alone. But where there are valuables, there are evil people bent on stealing them, and there were times that those evil men were successful. So how did Wells Fargo protect against thefts—or recover stolen property they’d been entrusted with?
They employed their own detectives, of course. These were men hired as private detectives, not official law enforcement or peace officers. However, the very first and most famous of the Wells Fargo detectives, one Mr. James B. Hume, was afforded many of the perks for law enforcement of that time. A former peace officer, Hume had more than a decade of experience in the field when he was hired by Wells Fargo as their first detective in 1871. It’s safe to assume many of the others who filled out the detective force were, as well.
When a shipment was robbed, the detective nearest the scene of the crime would be contacted. He would go to the scene, take stock of what was missing based on the waybills detailing what was in the shipment, then report to W. F., & Co. about the theft. From this point, he would enlist local law enforcement’s help, interview any witnesses, and begin pursuit.
Unlike a local police officer or sheriff who was confined to a specific town or county, the Wells Fargo detectives’ jurisdiction allowed them to cross borders and pursue wherever the trail led. They were more like today’s FBI than a localized law enforcement officer. And they were graciously afforded arrest powers, so long as they kept those arrests limited to only those men and women related to robberies of Wells Fargo shipments. However, just because they could arrest someone didn’t mean they always did. Often, Wells Fargo detectives were deputized by the local agency, and when possible, they let the local authorities handle the official apprehensions.
The Wells Fargo detectives had a great example of some early “cutting edge” techniques set by their leader, Jim Hume. For instance, rather than having to keep stacks of wanted posters, Hume kept a “mugbook”—a leather-bound journal that included hand-drawn or photographic pictures of suspected robbers, where he detailed copious notes on aliases and other information for each outlaw. And, Hume also employed some rudimentary ballistics when he removed the bullet from a dead horse, which he compared with the markings on a bullet from a different case. Through these early versions of our modern-day ballistics, he linked the two bullets back to the same perpetrator and captured his man.
However, no ahead-of-its-time technique beat good, old-fashioned legwork. In his most well-known case, Hume pursued Black Bart, a gentlemanly thief who robbed at least twenty-five Wells Fargo stagecoaches across eight years, to the tune of about $18,000 (or $1-2 million in today’s dollars). The robber was finally captured when he dropped a bloody handkerchief with a launderer’s identification mark, which Hume tracked down by going door-to-door to one hundred laundries in San Francisco. At the one-hundredth place, they linked the particular mark to the account of one C. E. Boles, arrested the man, interrogated him, elicited a confession, and garnered a conviction. Black Bart served four years in San Quentin for his crimes. So through dogged determination, some tried and true procedures, as well as new and innovative techniques, the Wells Fargo detectives recovered many of the stolen shipments entrusted to Wells Fargo & Co. for shipping.
It’s your turn: Were you aware that Wells, Fargo, & Co. employed their own detectives? If so, did you realize they had the types of authority detailed above? Leave your answers to be entered in a drawing for a signed paperback copy of Courting Calamity, which includes my Wells Fargo detective hero, Jake Hicken!
Despite determination to be strong and independent, four women of bygone days are in need of a hero. On the journey to California, the deed to Mattie’s hopes and dreams is stolen. Elizabeth has been saddled with too many responsibilities at the family mercantile. Unexpectedly married, Sofia is ill-prepared for a husband and the society she is thrust into. When her sister is accosted, Aileen will do almost anything to support her. Accepting help isn’t easy when these women don’t want to show weakness, but it is more appealing when it comes with a handsome face.
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list several times. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers, Women Writing the West, and is a lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.