One of the blessings of this festive time of year is sharing good food with family and friends. During the holidays, mothers and grandmothers everywhere retreat to the kitchen and don’t emerge until they’ve baked a pile of goodies imbued with generation upon generation of family tradition.
In that way, holiday life in contemporary America hasn’t changed much from holiday life in the 1800s…including life in the White House during the turbulent years of the American Civil War. Surrounded by carnage, then-President Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, and their sons probably took comfort in family traditions.
One of the traditions Mrs. Lincoln took to the White House with her was a cake she called simply “white cake.” According to Lincoln’s Table by Donna D. McCreary, the confection was created in 1825 by a Monsieur Giron to celebrate the Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to Lexington, Kentucky—the First Lady’s hometown. The dessert proved such a hit that the prominent Todd family somehow convinced Giron to share the recipe, and the cake promptly became a Todd tradition. Mary Todd made the cake for Abraham while they were courting and continued the tradition after their marriage. Reportedly, Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Cake was her husband’s favorite sweet treat.
The recipe survives to this day. Here it is. (Instructions in parentheses are modernizations.)
Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Cake
Six egg whites
3 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 cup butter at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup blanched almonds, chopped (in a food processor or blender) to resemble coarse flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
(Preheat oven to 350 degrees.)
Grease and flour a (10- to 12-cup Bundt) pan.
In a medium bowl, beat egg whites (with a mixer on medium-high speed) until stiff (about 4 minutes). Set aside.
In a separate medium bowl, sift together flour and baking powder three times. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar (with mixer on medium speed) until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add flour mixture alternately with the milk, beating well after each addition. Stir in the almonds.
Stir in the vanilla, then fold beaten egg whites into the batter until just combined.
Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake about 1 hour (until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean).
Let cake cool in pan about 15 minutes, then remove (to wire rack) and let cool another hour before dusting with confectioners’ sugar.
Allow me to be frank: This cake is a lot of trouble to make, but the result is worth every bit of effort. It’s now part of my family’s tradition, as well.
May your family’s traditions bring you peace and joy that follows you through the coming year.
Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard a discouraging word—
Hold up there just a cotton-picking minute. What gave anyone that idea? “Discouraging,” my hind leg. Nineteenth-century Lone Star language could get downright inflammatory, especially on the range.
Take these four Texas quarrels, for example.
Regulator-Moderator War, 1839-1844
Also called the Shelby County War, the first major battle to pit Texan against Texan erupted in the eastern part of the newly minted republic. The whole thing started with a land dispute between a rancher and the county sheriff. The sheriff called for help from the leader of a lynch-happy anti-rustling vigilante bunch known as the Regulators, and the rancher soon thereafter shook hands with Saint Peter. The Moderators, a group of anti-vigilante vigilantes who called the Regulators terrorists, jumped into the fray, and before anyone knew what was up, a judge, a sheriff, and a senator died and homes burned in four counties. After a gun battle between 225 Moderators and 62 Regulators near Shelbyville, Sam Houston himself rode in with the militia and suggested both groups shake hands and go on about their business before he lost his temper.
Hoodoo War, 1874-1876
Also called the Mason County War, this Reconstruction-Era Hill Country dust-up over dead and disappearing cattle pitted Union-supporting German immigrants against born-and-bred, former-Confederate Texans. A lynch mob of forty Germans lit the match when they dragged five Texans accused of cattle rustling from jail and executed three of them before the county sheriff, elected by the Germans, reluctantly put a stop to the proceedings. In a sterling display of what can happen when a Texas Ranger goes bad, a vigilante gang led by a former Ranger embarked upon a series of retaliatory attacks against the German community. At least a dozen men died before still-commissioned Rangers restored order. Johnny Ringo spent two years in jail for his role on the side of the Texans, only to end up on the wrong end of Wyatt Earp’s good nature five years later in Tombstone, Arizona.
El Paso Salt War, 1877
The only time in history Texas Rangers surrendered happened in the tiny town of San Elizario, near El Paso. An increasingly volatile disagreement over rights to mine salt in the Guadalupe Mountains began in the 1860s and finally boiled over in September 1877. A former district attorney, intent on laying claim to the salt flats, rather flagrantly murdered his political rival, who had insisted the flats were public property and the valuable salt could be mined by anyone. The dead man’s supporters, primarily Tejano salt miners, revolted. A group of twenty hastily recruited Ranger stand-ins rushed to the rescue, only to barricade themselves inside the Catholic church in a last-ditch effort to keep the instigator alive long enough to stand trial. Five days later they admitted defeat and surrendered to the mob, who killed the accused murderer, chopped up his body, and threw the pieces down a well. Then the rioters disarmed the Ranger puppies and kicked them out of town.
Jaybird-Woodpecker War, 1888-1889
The last major set-to in Texas took place in Fort Bend County, near Houston. The liberal-Republican Woodpeckers, mostly former slaves, swept the county election in 1884. The conservative-Democrat Jaybirds, primarily white former Confederates, opposed such inconsiderate behavior for racist reasons. After Woodpeckers swept every office again in the 1888 election, retaliatory violence on both sides resulted in the deaths of several people. During the Battle of Richmond—a twenty-minute gunfight inside the county courthouse in August 1889—four men, including the sheriff, were killed. The Jaybirds won the fracas, and with the assistance of Governor Sul Ross’s declaration of martial law, seized control of county government. Jaybirds forcibly ousted every elected Woodpecker and proceeded to disenfranchise black voters until 1953, when the Supreme Court put a stop to the whites-only voting shenanigans. Intermittent Jaybird-Woodpecker violence lopped over into 1890, when a white Woodpecker tax assessor, accused of murdering a white Jaybird who had been his political opponent, was gunned down in Galveston before he could be tried for the alleged crime.
I hope everyone’s holidays are shaping up to be much more peaceful than some of Texas’s merriest and brightest moments. To help with that, I’ll give an e-copy of Wild Texas Christmas to one of today’s commenters. The anthology of five Christmas romances set in the Old West will bring a smile to your face and warmth to your heart.
Texans are resilient. They defeated the Mexicans—twice—took a beating during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and then chased the Comanche clean out of the state and into Oklahoma. All of those events were watershed moments in Texas history.
And so was the day they came.
Sheep. Hundreds of thousands of them, munching their way across the land like wooly locusts. The sight of a single woolyback could boil a cattleman’s blood. The critters trampled the range, close-cropped the forage, and left behind an odor neither cattle nor man could abide. They also carried a type of mange called “sheep scab” to which cattle were susceptible.
As if all of that weren’t enough, pastores herded on foot, not horseback. Horses were a status symbol in the Old West. Cowboys figuratively and literally “looked down on” mutton-punchers.
Sheep are not native to Texas, although they’ve been in the state since padres brought Spanish transplants with them in the 1700s. Since the animals provided both food and clothing, no mission was without a flock.
In 1800, 5,000 head of sheep lived in far south Texas, along the Rio Grande. By 1870, 700,000 woolies had moved in, primarily with Germans and other Europeans who immigrated to central and western Texas. By 1890, the state was home to 3.5 million of the critters. Of the 30 million sheep in the U.S. in the middle of the twentieth century, one-third were in Texas. At that time, the state produced 95 percent of the country’s Merino wool.
Due to market fluctuations, drought, and some disastrous government programs, in 2012 the entire ovine population of the U.S. stood at only 5.345 million; 650,000 of those, still the largest bunch by more than 100,000 animals, were in Texas. To this day, mutton, lamb, and wool make a significant contribution to Texas’s economy.
Ranchers in the mid- to late-1800s never would have believed such a thing possible. In fact, they went to great lengths to prevent the possibility. The notorious clashes between sheepmen and cattlemen that scarred the entire West began on the Charles Goodnight range in Texas. Between 1875 and 1920, one hundred twenty serious confrontations occurred in Texas, Arizona, Wyoming, and Colorado. Across the four states, at least fifty-four men died and 100,000 sheep were slaughtered.
Real and imagined problems led to the sheep wars. Texas cattlemen already were becoming testy with one another over grazing and water rights. Add sheep—which, as a means of finding other flock members, scent the ground with a noxious substance excreted by a gland above their hooves—and the range got a little smaller. Add sheep “drifters,” who grazed their flocks on other folks’ land or public property because they owned no territory of their own, and the situation became volatile. Add barbed-wire fence…and everything exploded.
The Texas legislature outlawed grazing sheep on private range without permission and on public land at all. Cattle and horses faced no such restrictions. Consequently, sheepmen were among the first to throw up fences in order to keep their flocks in and other animals out. Sheep fences lit one of the first matches in what became the Texas Fence-Cutter War, which erupted across more than half the state for about a decade starting in the 1870s. The cattlemen erected their own fences, and soon everyone was at someone else’s throat. The fence war died down, for the most part, when the state legislature criminalized fence-cutting in 1884.
Not long thereafter, most Texas cattlemen were shocked—and somewhat relieved—to discover good fences make good neighbors. They also discovered mutton and wool sold even when a mysterious disease known as Texas Fever made driving cattle to the railheads in other states well-nigh impossible.
Today, many Texas ranchers run sheep and goats right along with their cattle, and all the critters get along just fine on the same property.
Of course, had stubborn Texans on both sides of the fence paid attention to the native Indians who’d run cattle and sheep together for a hundred years before the trouble started, they might have spared themselves considerable aggravation.
In my debut novel Prodigal Gun, sheep and a barbed-wire fence touch off a war in the Texas Hill Country, bringing an infamous gunman home for the first time since he left to fight for the Confederacy. The book releases tomorrow in both paperback and digital versions, but it’s available for pre-order now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and .
There’s an autographed print copy up for grabs! I’ll let Random.org draw a winner from among those who are kind enough to comment today. Please leave me a way to get in touch.
A dangerous man. A desperate woman. A love no war could kill.
Widowed rancher Jessie Caine buried her heart with the childhood sweetheart Yankees killed on a distant battlefield. Sixteen years later, as a Texas range war looms and hired guns arrive to pursue a wealthy carpetbagger’s agenda, Jessie discovers the only man she ever loved isn’t dead.
At least not yet.
Embittered by a brother’s betrayal, notorious gunman Calhoun is a dangerous man, come home to do an unsavory job. A bushwhacker’s bullet nearly takes his life on Jessie’s land, trapping him in a standoff between the past he tried to bury and the infamy he never will. One taste of the only woman he ever loved puts more than his life and her ranch in the crossfire.
With a price on his head, a debt to a wealthy employer around his neck, and a defiant woman tugging at his heart, Calhoun’s guns may not be enough to keep him from the grave. Caught between his enemies and hers, Jessie faces an agonizing choice: Which of her dreams will die?
PRAIRIE ROSE PUBLICATIONS has a real treat for you! Lassoing a Mail-Order Bride, the third anthology of great western romance sweet/sensual stories to be released in the last month, is available TODAY.
This anthology contains four stories about mail-order brides and the circumstances that made them choose this route for their lives. I’ve often wondered what would make a woman of those times decide to leave everything familiar to her and set out on an unknown path to meet and marry a person she really knew nothing about–many times, not even what he looked like. And we know, they weren’t ALL “tall, dark and handsome” guys.
This anthology is packed with entertaining scenarios about what happened in the lives of four women–and the men who sought them out. Here’s a sneak peek at the blurbs. I’m giving away one copy of LASSOING A MAIL-ORDER BRIDE today–just be sure to leave a comment and include your contact information. This will be a digital copy of the book.
LASSOING A MAIL-ORDER BRIDE
A woman would have to be loco to become a mail-order bride…wouldn’t she? Leaving everything behind and starting fresh in the untamed west is the answer to a prayer for these ladies! A beautiful socialite needs a husband fast–but her husband wants a bride for life. A pregnant young lady becomes desperate–almost as desperate as her soon-to-be husband, who just inherited his sister’s kids. A man in love with a woman he can’t have–or can he? A woman’s reputation is tarnished and professional career compromised–she runs, but she can’t hide. Will they all find love with strangers they’ve never met who are set on LASSOING A MAIL-ORDER BRIDE?
THESE ROUGH DREAMS–Cheryl Pierson
A pregnant mail order bride. A groom with three orphaned children. Some dreams get a rough start.
When Southern socialite Gabrielle Mason discovers she’s pregnant, she takes her future into her own hands. She has her family name to consider, and a husband is what she needs. She answers an ad for a mail-order bride in Indian Territory. But the man who proposes isn’t the man she ends up marrying.
Johnny Rainbolt is not a family man by any stretch of the imagination…but Fate is about to give him no choice. His late sister’s three children will be arriving on the next stage, and he has no idea what to do with them. When cultured Gabby Mason is left waiting for her prospective groom at the stage station, Johnny sees a way to solve everyone’s problems.
Some dreams get off to a rough start. A mail-order marriage is only the beginning. When one of the children is stolen, Johnny and Gabby are forced to depend on one another in an unimaginable circumstance that could turn tragic… or show them what might become of THESE ROUGH DREAMS.
HER HURRY-UP HUSBAND—Tanya Hanson
A beautiful socialite needs a husband fast—for just one month—but the rancher wants a wife for life!
Prim and proper socialite Elspeth Maroney flees from an indiscretion to the Wild West of Colorado as a mail order bride. She doesn’t plan to stay long, only a month. Rancher Hezekiah Steller needs a wife quick to get himself an heir, but what will the stagecoach deliver to his doorstep?
Their worlds collide deliciously until Ellie must confess her mistakes. Will Hez still want her tomorrow?
THE BIG UNEASY—Kathleen Rice Adams
A man in love with a woman he can’t have. A woman engaged to a man she doesn’t love. A secret in common could destroy them all.
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.
A PERMANENT WOMAN—Kaye Spencer
He needs a wife to get custody of his grandchildren. She needs a fresh start and a new reputation. Desperate men —and women —sometimes take desperate measures…but can she be A PERMANENT WOMAN?
Blurb: Widower Simon Driscoll lost his only son and daughter-in-law, with whom he was estranged, in a cholera epidemic. He receives a letter as next of kin granting him custody of his three grandchildren, whom he has never met. The children are in an orphanage, and he cannot take custody unless he shows up with a wife and the documentation to prove the marriage is legal. He has 90 days before he loses his grandchildren, and a month has already passed. Desperate men take desperate measures…
Reputation tarnished and professional career compromised, Tessa Morris wants to start a new life—somewhere, anywhere, as long as that place is far away from here. The problem is, where? Other than attending a university, she’s never lived anywhere else. As the community’s latest pariah, the life and career she’s built in her hometown is finished. At 42, her future seems grim at best. When she happens upon a recent edition of the Matrimony Courier, she finds herself intrigued by one of the advertisement for a wife. That she doesn’t meet any of the qualifications doesn’t bother her in the least, because desperate women take desperate measures…