Have you ever noticed how the setting of a book is an essential part of a story? There may be exceptions, but I don’t think you can pick up a story and drop it into another place—state, landscape, town versus farm. It just wouldn’t work well.
When I started writing JAMES, I decide to set it in Nebraska for several reasons. First, I needed the town of King’s Ford to be close enough to a mining area that my heroine could make the trip, but far enough away that it would be dangerous for her. Since there was gold mining in the Black Hills of the Dakota territory, I grabbed my atlas (yes, I still have one) and looked for the path she would have to take. It led me to a place near Chadron, Nebraska, a real town in the northwestern corner of the state.
The location gave me a wagon route to Cheyenne, Wyoming, that a wagon train might take, and a grassland that would support a yearly cattle drive to the railhead in North Platte. Perfect, I thought.
Now, I’d been through Nebraska once while on a tour with my college choir. We sang in Lincoln, then lit out for Colorado. All I really remember is that I could see the Rocky Mountains coming for hours and hours—it felt like days!
So, my memory of Nebraska is flat. Research, however, made me realize that wasn’t the case for the area I’d chosen. Back to editing.
JAMES is set in the rolling hills of northwestern Nebraska. And those hills come into play in the story. So does the weather, but that’s another blog.
What do you think? Do you care where a story is set or does it not really matter to you?
Leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win one of two electronic copies of JAMES.
After five years leading the Lord’s flock in King’s Ford, Nebraska, The Reverend James Hathaway is used to the demands on his time. But nothing could prepare him to find a baby in a basket on his front step. He always expected to marry before becoming a father. Then a young widow agrees to help him learn to care for the child and he wonders if he hasn’t found his future.
Widow Esther Travers is still reeling over the loss of her newborn baby girl when she’s asked to help care for another baby. Vowing to get the little one off to a good start, she doesn’t plan to fall for the very handsome preacher, too.
“Reverend! Reverend Hathaway!”
James heard Tad shouting long before he reached the cabin at the north end of King’s Ford, the town he’d called home for nearly five years now. The seven-year-old ran errands for many folks in town, though most often it was for the doctor. If Doctor Finney was sending for a preacher this early in the morning, it couldn’t be good news. James buttoned his vest and pulled on his frock coat then glanced in the small mirror hung beside the front door to be sure his collar was tucked in properly, then studied his face.
He looked tired. A wagon had creaked and rumbled past his home well before dawn and the noise had dragged him from a sound sleep. He’d been sitting at the table since then, trying to write his Sunday sermon, but inspiration hadn’t gotten out of bed with him. Ah, well. It was only Tuesday.
James glanced around his small home. The parsonage, if you could call the drafty, poorly lit cabin by so lofty a title, sat at the far north end of town. The church sat to the south of the parsonage, which meant the larger building did nothing to block the winter winds that howled down from the Dakota hills thirty or so miles away.
Deciding he wouldn’t scandalize any parishioner he passed, he lifted his hat from the small table under the mirror and opened the door. He was so focused on Tad that he nearly tripped over a basket left on his stoop.
“What on earth?”
“Yes, Tad, I see that. Who left it here?” He immediately thought of the wagon that had awoken him. “Why didn’t they knock? I’ve been home since nightfall.”
Tad crept closer, lifted a corner of the cloth covering the contents, and jumped back like there was a snake inside. “Baby!” Tad yelled.
“Don’t play games, Tad. Tell me what’s…” James didn’t jump away, though he wanted to. “Merciful heavens, there’s a baby in here.”
Today we are thrilled to welcome former Fillie Tracy Garrett back home for a visit! Please join us in welcoming her!
I’m so happy to be back at Petticoats & Pistols. Hey there, Fillies! I get to see old friends and make some new ones. I’m also glad to be here because I get to share my new release with you.
GRACE is one of a seventeen-book series set in Wildcat Ridge, a small mining town in the Uinta Mountains, Utah Territory, in 1884. The mine was devastated by two explosions, killing men, women and children, and leaving mostly widows in town. Each book introduces a widow who struggles to find a way to survive—and finds new love in the process.
When I started the book, I chose to have the hero work for the Wells Fargo & Company, and the stagecoach line serving Wildcat Ridge. As I learned more—and researched more—I discovered a television series called “Tales of Wells Fargo.” I watched a few episodes and, when Michael Landon appeared on screen as a young man wanting to be a shotgun messenger on the Wells Fargo, I knew I’d found my hero.
The shotgun messenger was literally that: he rode shotgun beside the driver, with the treasure box between his feet, holding a sawed-off shotgun loaded with buckshot. A shotgun messenger had to stay alert, identify danger in an instant and not be afraid to act on his decision to shoot. Though Wells Fargo policy said to let a robber have the money rather than risk lives, the shotgun in the hands of a good shooter was an effective deterrent.
“But the real security of the treasure boxes came from who was guarding them — the Wells Fargo shotgun messengers. They were ‘the kind of men you can depend on if you get into a fix,’ according to Wells Fargo detective Jim Hume. If thieves were foolhardy enough to try and steal a treasure box in transit, they would find themselves staring down the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun, loaded with 00 buckshot, possibly held by Wyatt Earp himself.” [from http://www.WellsFargoHistory.com]
The shotgun messenger gave me a strong hero, sure of himself and capable. All I had to do was add… Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.
— Now Available —
Book 10 of The Widows of Wildcat Ridge series
When a woman who has always done what she was told decides to take matters into her own hands—she just might discover her future waiting
Grace Hill has spent most of her life caring for others. When her beloved little sister is in trouble, Grace defies those who tell her she can’t, and rushes to her aid. Joining the other widows in Wildcat Ridge struggling to survive, she discovers the woman she is—a woman strong enough for a man like Benjamin Sloane.
Benjamin Sloane rides shotgun on the Wells Fargo stagecoach line through the rugged Utah Territory. He’s big-hearted, tough and about as civilized as a grizzly bear. But there’s something about a fancy lady from the big city makes him want to clean up his ways and give her his heart.
EXCERPT FROM GRACE:
Grace Hill stared in horror at the article in the several-weeks-old Denver newspaper. “No. This isn’t possible.”
“What’s that, Grace? Speak up. I’ve asked you not to mumble in my presence.”
“I apologize, Mother Hill. There was a mine collapse in—”
“There’s always a disaster, Grace. A mine today, an earthquake tomorrow. God will have his vengeance one day soon, mark my words. Close that drape. I swear the sun is hotter this April than ever before.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Grace rose to do as she was told. “But this collapse was in Wildcat Ridge, Utah Territory, where my sister, Eleanora lives.”
“Scandalous place for a woman of breeding to live. Why ever did she settle there?”
“Her husband is a miner, ma’am. He moved his wife there soon after their wedding.”
“Is he dead?”
The emotionless question shocked Grace and sent a shaft of sorrow through her. Could Eleanora actually be the widow of Darvin Cavender? “I don’t know. A list of th-the deceased isn’t included.”
“If it’s God’s will, he lived. If not, she’ll find another husband to provide for her and give her children. It is the task for which woman was created.”
Grace clamped her teeth around her tongue to keep the retort inside. God created women with minds and dreams, just like men. Woman was created for more than marriage and procreation, not that she’d say that to Mrs. Hill.
“She has a child. A daughter.”
She read further in the article, her brain stuttering to a halt as she realized men weren’t the only victims. “It says townspeople were killed in a second explosion while trying to rescue the miners.” Townspeople? Women? Children? “I have to go.”
“Go where, young lady?”
“To this place. Wildcat Ridge.” She waved the newspaper. “My sister might be…” She swallowed hard and blinked back tears. Her employer thought tears a useless luxury and Grace didn’t want another lecture. She’d had her fill of her mother-in-law’s opinions. “This article was published in the Salt Lake City paper nearly a month ago. The Denver Rocky Mountain News released the story three weeks ago. I haven’t had a letter from my sister since before the accident. She would have written if she could. I have to go to her.”
“You will not. I forbid it.”
Grace rose, clutching the newspaper in her fist. “My sister could be injured, even de—” She forced air into her lungs. She refused to even give voice to the possibility. “My sister and niece might need me. I have to go, Mother Hill.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s probably still winter at that elevation. Some of the passes may not even be open. How will you get there? Who will go with you? A decent woman may not travel alone all that way.”
Grace stared over the woman’s head into an ornate, gilded mirror. She hardly recognized the image staring back. Her dark eyes seemed lifeless. Her long, dark hair tamed into a simple chignon at her nape was dull, as dull as her life had become. She wore an unflattering high-necked black gown and her only jewelry was her wedding ring and a mourning pin, woven of Theo’s blond hair, at her throat. Little remained of the happy girl she’d once been.
If she didn’t get away from this house soon, she would become as dead inside as her husband was in truth.
I drew two winners for my giveaway and they are…CONNIE SAUNDERS AND SALLY SHUPE! Ladies, if you will please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org I will see that you get your prize! Thanks to everyone who stopped by and read and commented! Here’s hoping that cabin fever is overwith for this year and spring will be here very soon for GOOD.
When the cold weather starts up, I’m all too ready to just hunker down and get out of the Oklahoma wind—the older I get, the more I feel that way. But one thing I’ve discovered: If you have plenty of food (for both humans and the big dog), running water, and firewood, it’s not terrible. Well, until you have to go out for MORE food!
In Oklahoma, we don’t normally get a lot of snow, but we do get some. The worst problem is the ice. It seems, here in Oklahoma City, we sit on the very cusp of the jet stream—and I can’t say how many times we’re told, “It COULD be just rain, but if the temps drop even one degree, it’ll be FREEZING rain and ice.”
I can’t even imagine how the men and women we write about in our novels survived those long, cold winters. They must have been chopping firewood every day, year-round, except when the freezing rains hit in the winter. With books so scarce, I’m sure the ones that were available must have been memorized by those who read.
Thank goodness we live in a day and age when we are able to read as much as we want—online (if the electricity stays on!) or the old-fashioned way—a paperback book in hand. I do a lot of reading for my work at Prairie Rose Publications, but I have books I read “for pleasure” when I get a chance—and in the winter months it seems I get a lot more time for that than in the summer. This is how I keep cabin fever at bay when the weather is too awful to venture out.
Here are some of my picks I read while I was waiting for spring to roll around. How about you? What do you do to stave off cabin fever in those winter months? Read any wonderful books lately? Please share! I’m always looking for more reading material!
I just recently started reading the COLLECTED COMPLETE WORKS OF CHARLES ALEXANDER EASTMAN and THE ESSENTIAL CHARLES EASTMAN (OHIYESA): LIGHT ON THE INDIAN WORLD (SACRED WORLDS). Here’s the blurb from Amazon about the latter:
This revised and updated edition contains the most important writings of Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa), the first Native American author to live simultaneously in both the traditional world of the Santee Sioux and the modern civilization of the white man. Dr. Eastman also attended the injured at the Battle of Wounded Knee. Ohiyesa’s works represent a complete explanation of the philosophy and moral code of the Plains Indian. Ohiyesa’s message speaks to every person who seeks a spiritual way in the midst of a society increasingly dominated by materialism and industrial technology. Sun Dance chief, James Trosper writes, It is a small miracle that these important spiritual teachings have been preserved for us. This new edition contains 10 sepia photographs from Eastman’s life and a thought-provoking foreword by Raymond Wilson.
There are a LOT of books of writings by Charles Eastman—very interesting, poignant, and just downright wonderful, in my opinion.
Another excellent book—not really a romance, but a true western, is by my friend Robert Randisi—THE GHOST WITH BLUE EYES. It’s a story of how one mistake can make a person sink to the depths of a whiskey bottle, and what it takes to make him climb back out of it.
HERE’S THE AMAZON BLURB: Lancaster hangs up his six-shooter and grabs a bottle after accidentally killing a young girl in a gunfight, but when another girl needs his help, he will fight to regain his soul and his honor in order to save her.
Okay, not a western, but a ROMANCE– THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE is book 1 in the “Highland Pleasures” series, or what is known as The Mackenzies. This is an excellent tale by Jennifer Ashley, a shorter piece, and it has a hero you will not likely forget. Ian Mackenzie is afflicted by something—because of the time period this story takes place in, we don’t really know what it is, but it could be autism, could Asperger’s Syndrome—and he is very different. This is the first in a series and I would like to read the others!
I must confess, I did some re-reading of some old favorites, as well. GOLDEN NIGHTS by Christine Monson…speaking of “different” heroes—and heroines—Christine Monson’s characters are always intriguing and no matter how many times you read her stories, the next time you read it again you will find something you didn’t see before.
Here’s the Amazon blurb: Abandoned by her weakling husband on their wedding night, beautiful socialite Suzanne Maintree sets out to track him down in the wilds of Colorado, but is quite distracted by her guide, a handsome English adventurer.
By the way, this blurb doesn’t do this book justice at all. It’s like saying your grandma’s homemade chicken and dumplin’s and cornbread was “good”—there’s so much more to this story!
I could go on and on, but how about a MOVIE to break the cabin fever monotony? Have you ever seen this one? PURGATORY is one you will want to watch. Refuge is a small town in the west where no one carries weapons. There’s no jail, and neither the sheriff nor his deputy even carry a gun. It’s an odd assortment of citizens, who know the rules, and to kill someone else for whatever reason means their mortal soul. It’s not gory, but does have some supernatural elements that are very well done. Stars Sam Shepard, Eric Roberts, Donnie Wahlberg, Randy Quaid, and JD Souther, among others.
I will leave you with an excerpt from FIRE EYES that takes place in my heroine’s cabin. FIRE EYES is part of a 6-book boxed set, UNDER A WESTERNSKY! I’m so proud to have my story in this set with 6 different authors (Agnes Alexander, Celia Yeary, Kaye Spencer, Patti Sherry-Crews, Tracy Garrett and Cheryl Pierson). The best part is, it’s only .99 right now!
EXCERPT FROM FIRE EYES:
THE SET UP: Jessica Monroe is living alone with her adopted daughter in the eastern part of Indian Territory. Her husband has been murdered by Andrew Fallon’s border raiders. Now, the Choctaws have brought her a U.S. Deputy Marshal who has been badly wounded by the same band of outlaws, in the hope that she will be able to save his life. Here’s what happens:
“You waitin’ on a…invitation?” A faint smile touched his battered mouth. “I’m fresh out.”
Jessica reached for the tin star. Her fingers closed around the uneven edges of it. No. She couldn’t wait any longer. “What’s your name?” Her voice came out jagged, like the metal she touched.
His bruised eyes slitted as he studied her a moment. “Turner. Kaedon Turner.”
Jessica sighed. “Well, Kaedon Turner, you’ve probably been a lot better places in your life than this. Take a deep breath, and try not to move.”
He gave a wry chuckle, letting his eyes drift completely closed. “Do it fast. I’ll be okay.”
She nodded, even though she knew he couldn’t see her. “Ready?”
Even knowing what was coming, his voice sounded smoother than hers, she thought. She wrapped her hand tightly around the metal and pulled up fast, as he’d asked.
As the metal slid through his flesh, Kaed’s left hand moved convulsively, his fingers gripping the quilt. He was unable to hold back the soft hint of an agonized groan as he turned away from her. He swore as the thick steel pin cleared his skin, freeing the chambray shirt and cotton undershirt beneath it, blood spraying as his teeth closed solidly over his bottom lip.
Jessica lifted the material away, biting back her own curse as she surveyed the damage they’d done to him. His chest was a mass of purple bruises, uneven gashes, and burns. Her stomach turned over. She was not squeamish. But this—
It was just like what they’d done to Billy, before they’d killed him. Billy, the last man the Choctaws had dumped on her porch. Billy Monroe, the man she’d come to loathe during their one brief year of marriage.
She took a washrag from the nightstand and wet it in the nearby basin. Wordlessly, she placed her cool palm against Kaedon Turner’s stubbled, bruised cheek, turning his head toward her so she could clean his face and neck.
She knew instinctively he was the kind of man who would never stand for this if it wasn’t necessary. The kind of man who was unaccustomed to a woman’s comforting caress. The kind of man who would never complain, no matter how badly wounded he was.
“Fallon.” His voice was rough.
Jessica stopped her movements and watched him. “What about him?”
His brows drew together, as if he were trying to formulate what he wanted to say. “Is he…dead?”
What should she tell him?
“You were losing a lot of blood out there,” Jessica said, determined to turn his thoughts from Fallon to the present. She ran the wet cloth lightly across the long split in his right cheek.
His breathing was controlled, even. “I took a bullet.” He said it quietly, almost conversationally.
I’m so thrilled! Prairie Rose Publications just released a fantastic boxed set—with SIX WHR novel-length stories included. Best of all? For a limited time, this collection is ONLY .99! Every one of these stories is a bold, exciting western read with (of course!) a wonderful romance at it’s core—take a look at UNDER A WESTERN SKY!
Where do the very best love stories blossom? UNDER A WESTERN SKY, of course! This fabulous boxed set of six tales of danger and romance are sure to capture your imagination as you are carried away to the old west. Handsome marshals, Texas Rangers, gunslingers, and wealthy landowners meet their matches with the daring women they happen to fall in love with, and you won’t want to put this boxed set down until you’ve read the very last story!
Authors Cheryl Pierson, Celia Yeary, Kaye Spencer, Tracy Garrett, Patti Sherry-Crews, and Agnes Alexander spin six incredible novel-length love stories filled with danger, excitement, and romance that will keep you turning page after incredible page until the very end. Saddle up and kick back for some excellent reading, as star-studded romance finds you UNDER A WESTERN SKY!
FIRE EYES by Cheryl Pierson
Beaten and wounded by a band of sadistic renegades that rules the borderlands of Indian Territory, U.S. Marshal Kaed Turner understands what the inevitable outcome will be for him: death. But Fate and a war party of Choctaw Indians intervene, delivering him instead to a beautiful angel with the skill to heal him. Jessica Monroe has already lost a husband and a brother to these outlaws. Can she afford to gamble with her heart one last time?
ALL MY HOPES AND DREAMS by Celia Yeary
To escape an arranged marriage, beautiful, proper Cynthia Harrington impulsively marries Ricardo Romero, a sensual Spaniard who ranches on the edge of the Texas frontier. She struggles to gain a foothold in the hostile household, determined to make a place for herself—but will she also find a way to make her husband love her?
TEXAS GOLD by Tracy Garrett
Texas Ranger Jake McCain is hot on the trail of a band of murderous outlaws when they ambush him and leave him for dead in the blinding snow. The last thing Rachel Hudson expects the blizzard to bring is a wounded Ranger with a pack of trouble. She and Jake have more than a powerful mutual attraction in common—the dangerous gunmen he’s been chasing intend to steal Rachel and her brother, Nathan. But Jake’s not about to lose the woman who means everything to him—Rachel, his TEXAS GOLD…(Previously published as TOUCH OF TEXAS)
THE COMANCHERO’S BRIDE by Kaye Spencer
Beautiful heiress Elizabeth White is exiled to Texas until she agrees to marry the prominent politico her parents have chosen for her—Grayson Beal. When Elizabeth is approached at a fiesta by dark-eyed, handsome Mingo Valderas, her heart will never be her own again. But Mingo has a reputation as a Comanchero—a man who is as fast with his knives as he is with his gun. Still, Elizabeth gives her trust to him, and their whirlwind courtship begins. Beal will stop at nothing to claim Elizabeth—and only one man can protect her. Elizabeth and Mingo stay one step ahead of Beal…but will that be enough?
MARGARITA AND THE HIRED GUN by Patti Sherry-Crews
Pampered Margarita McIntosh is sent away by her father for her own safety—from what, she’s not sure. The long journey ahead and the secret she carries in her saddlebag could be the death of her. A rough Irish gunman, Rafferty, is entrusted with getting her to her destination—for a reward—his ticket to a new life. But will Rafferty’s protection be enough to save their lives? And will the heat of their passion seal their future—if they do survive?
XENIA’S RENEGADE by Agnes Alexander
An urgent plea for help from a family member calls for action from Xenia Poindexter and her sister. But traveling west to save their uncle, a raid on a stagecoach way station would have seen them dead if not for handsome half-Sioux rancher, Ty Eldridge. Ty wants to protect Xenia from her uncle’s schemes, but he’s been burned in the past by love. Though others say they’re all wrong for each other, Xenia has never felt more “right” than when she’s in Ty’s arms. Is true love worth the chance of becoming XENIA’S RENEGADE?
I hope you’ll snap up your very own copy of this wonderful boxed set today–there’s truly something for everyone here! Here’s the Amazon link!
What is it about the heroes we write that keeps you coming back for more? Cowboys, ranchers, Texas Rangers, Sheriffs, Marshals…
Today we remember many, many real-life heroes who sacrificed so much to save so many lives. Sixteen years ago, I was enjoying my first cup of coffee when my phone rang with the news that a plane had flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. I didn’t believe it, at first. Remembering the events of that day still feel a bit surreal.
And the stories that came out in the days that followed of a friend who was running late for his meeting at the top of the Twin Towers and was climbing out of a cab as the first plane hit; of a friend’s daughter who missed her usual train because the baby was fussy and emerged into the aftermath; of another one’s son who, though he didn’t drink coffee, was so groggy that he decided to go to the commissary for a cup just before the plane plowed into his desk at the Pentagon.
The police & firefighters that rushed into the buildings, the passengers on American Airlines Flights 11 and 77 and United Airlines Flights 175 and 93–those were heroes. Dona eis requiem sempiternam!
Though I write fiction, when I create a leading man for my stories, I try to embody him with some of those traits that make him heroic. The willingness to do whatever it takes, the iron will, the honor to stick by what is right no matter the cost to himself. And the humanity to learn to love that one special person.
Cain “Wolf” Richards of WILD TEXAS HEARTS is my latest HERO. He first showed up in my debut novel, TEXAS GOLD (aka Touch of Texas), riding with a notorious gang of outlaws. He had good reason to be on the wrong side of the law and he tried to minimize the damage the outlaws inflicted. But, when given the opportunity, he came down on the side of right, saved Ranger Jake McCain–and himself.
A broken man…
Revenge has driven Wolf Richards since the brutal murders of his wife and young daughter. Returning home with his son, Cal, he faces memories and loss at every turn. Raising Cal alone seems to be more of a challenge than he can handle. He can never replace his perfect Emily—until a rough-edged female falls into his arms—and living becomes a new adventure.
An unlikely woman…
Lizzie Sutter is as rough as a cowboy and as compelling as a stormy sky. Dressing as a man allows her to hire on with a cattle drive, only to be discovered and set adrift near Civil, Texas. When she stumbles onto an abandoned cabin, she makes herself at home. Then the owner of her newfound home shows up and Lizzie discovers just what’s missing from her life—and her heart.
Two wild hearts tamed…
Lizzie hasn’t a feminine thing about her, yet she calls to something deep inside Wolf, something he can’t deny. Being a woman has always left her feeling lacking, until he shows her their WILD TEXAS HEARTS belong together…
Readers, what is it about a hero that draws you in, that makes you fall in love? Leave a comment and I’ll choose one of you to win an e copy of WILD TEXAS HEARTS! Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite for more!
WILD TEXAS HEARTS
The sun was setting when they rounded the last bend. The little house looked the same, almost eerily so. The yard was swept of leaves and debris, the porch looked freshly swept, and…
“Pa?” Calvin guided his little horse closer to his father’s side, fear and confusion in his voice. “There’s smoke comin’ from the chimney.”
Wolf had seen the wispy white trail more than an hour ago, but had convinced himself it was lack of sleep that had him imagining things. But if Cal could see it, it must be real.
Squatters. Some low life had moved into their home. “Whoever it is, they won’t stay long once we get there. Get behind me, son.”
He checked the load in both revolvers and his shotgun before bumping his horse in the ribs. As they neared the house, he spotted the lazy freeloader, on the roof of the barn. What the hell was he doing up there? When Wolf saw fresh patches, he realized the squatter was fixing the holes.
That made no sense. All the squatters Wolf had encountered moved into an empty structure and made use of what was there until they were forced out again. He should know. He’d made use of his share of empty houses while he searched for his children.
But the evidence was before him. “This should be interesting,” he muttered. Motioning Cal out of sight, he slid a revolver free and rode up to the barn, stopping just out of the shelter of the eaves.
“What the hell are you doing to my barn?”
The intruder spun around, forgetting his precarious perch. Wolf spotted the flash of sun on a barrel, but before he could react, the man lost his footing, let out a squeal, and started sliding off the roof.
Wolf was moving almost before the realization hit. The curve of hip, the narrow waist. He snagged the falling body just short of the ground.
Tiny homes. It’s the latest craze to hit the housing industry–though families have been kiting around the country in “mobile homes” since the pioneer days. COVERED WAGON
A recent family discussion about the need for growing boys to have their own bedroom reminded me of a recent trip with my dh to explore and photograph an ancestral cabin in northern Arkansas.
James Garfield Finis & Phoebe Trimble built their first cabin on their farmland in Izard County, near Dolph, Arkansas, in 1815-1816. The exterior of the cabin measure 20×20’—so the inside would be 19×19’–and they raised ten (yes, TEN) children in the space.
The cabin is built without nails, the boards dovetailed to stay put and the cracks stuffed full of chinking. The cabin in these pictures is actually the second one built, though they made it exactly the same size. Don’t ask me why.
The main floor had the single fireplace, a table used for dining, repairs, school work, cooking, sewing… A spinning wheel probably held a permanent place near a window, too, as might a desk, a piano or a rocking chair.
Mr. & Mrs. Trimble probably had their bed in a corner of the room, too, away from the fireplace and windows. And up those stairs in the back of the room was the loft, where all of the children would sleep. No kid had their own room in this cabin! In fact, looking at it, I had to wonder how on earth they managed to find the privacy to conceive ten kids in there.
In TEXAS GOLD (previously released as Touch of Texas), my heroine lives in a cabin about the size of the Trimble cabin. When the hero literally trips over it, the cabin is inhabited by Rachel, her brother Nathan, and a goat and a few chickens are sheltering inside against a freak snow storm.
Where am I? Jake lay still and took stock of his surroundings. He was definitely inside a structure. Though the air was ripe with the scent of animals, he didn’t think he was in a barn.
Something lay across his body, holding him in place. He listened for the sounds of people, footsteps, whispered words. Nothing. The silence was broken only by the shifting of a log in the fire. If anyone stood watch, he couldn’t hear them.
Taking care not to give away the fact he was awake, he opened his eyes a slit. He could see out of the right one, but the left eye was blurry and swollen nearly shut, thanks to a lucky punch from that murdering pack of thieves that jumped him.
How had he gotten here? The last thing he remembered was dragging himself through a raging blizzard after Harrison and his men had beaten the holy hell out of him. Now the scents of animals, wood smoke, and lavender surrounded him.
Glancing down, he found the source of the lavender. A woman lay stretched out on top of him. Silky blond hair the color of the summer sun ran in a river across her shoulder and onto his bare chest. Her forehead was smooth and she had a small nose that turned up a little at the end. Long lashes a little darker than her hair fanned across the milky skin of her cheeks. In spite of his battered body, he had a sudden strong desire to taste that skin.
He shook his head to clear it and bit back a curse as the movement shot pain through his skull. In a rush, the memories of the previous day returned. And so did the agony. Besides his head and face, they must have landed a few boots to his ribs. His side burned like hell-on-fire.
Taking shallow breaths to ease the pain, he looked around. The rising sun glowed around the edges of the window shutters. He couldn’t see a guard, but he hadn’t really expected to find one. If Harrison was around, a half-dozen guns would have finished the job they’d started last night.
He turned his head a little to one side and located the source of the smoke. A poorly built red-stone chimney staggered in drunken lines all the way to the whitewashed ceiling. Whoever had built it must have been working his way through a jug of moonshine at the same time. The floor was probably plank since he didn’t smell dust, but all he felt beneath his fingers was wool and the give of a straw mattress.
He rolled his head to the other side, stretching aching muscles. The room wasn’t large, but it was well kept. There was a curtained doorway behind him and stairs in the far corner led to an attic or second floor. Plenty of places for someone to hide. He’d check them out, as soon as he could coax his battered body to move.
A sturdy rocker was pulled up close to the warmth of the fire. There weren’t any fancy things lying around. A small plank table with benches down both sides separated the kitchen from this side of the room, but the table was bare except for a couple of books and a guttered candle. Nothing to give a hint of where he was or who’d taken him in.
He looked to the other side of the room and blinked his good eye to clear his vision. It didn’t help. In the far corner, he thought he saw two goats, four chickens in dilapidated cages, and his horse. There were animals inside the house.
Where was he? If Harrison or his men had found him, he’d be toes down in the snow. He must have stumbled on this place and whoever lived here had taken him in. By the feel of it, he’d been stripped down to what God gave him. His gaze returned to the woman lying across him.
A smile curved one corner of his mouth. Wherever here was, he liked the
company. He reached for her, but his left arm wouldn’t move. Concerned, he tried again. If he could only draw one weapon, he needed to know. Of course, since he was stark naked on the floor, it didn’t matter a whole hell of a lot at the moment.
Giving up, he used only his right hand. Careful not to wake her, Jake searched for more of her softness and found cotton. She had a sweetly feminine shape buried under layers of cloth. Running his hand down the silken hair, he found her rounded bottom exactly where he’d hoped. He pressed her center to his rapidly hardening one, and couldn’t resist shifting his hips a little.
The groan of pain slipped out before he could stop it. Everything hurt, even his skin. A tiny sound brought his gaze back to the woman. Brilliant blue, the color of a clear mountain lake reflecting the sky, stared back at him.
I have a new project: sourdough bread. [the pic on the left is from King Arthur Flour–not me!] I say project because this isn’t pick up a loaf at the store, or even wake up early on Saturday and decide I’m going to bake a loaf of bread. No, to make sourdough you have to plan ahead.
Okay, I thought, I’m a planner. I can do this. Truthfully, I’m a haphazard baker at best, but, since we’re trying to eat less pre-packaged foods—read foods with less ingredients I can’t pronounce—I decided to start making my own sourdough bread. It’s a simple bread, using only flour, water and time. But sourdough has to be tended, culled, and fed.
Sourdough bread is made by the fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast. Translation: this stuff is ALIVE!
Or, lordy, what have I gotten myself into.
“The origins of bread-making are so ancient that everything said about them must be pure speculation. One of the oldest sourdough breads dates from 3700 BCE and was excavated in Switzerland, but the origin of sourdough fermentation likely relates to the origin of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent several thousand years earlier… Bread production relied on the use of sourdough as a leavening agent for most of human history; the use of baker’s yeast as a leavening agent dates back less than 150 years.” (Michael Gaenzle, Encyclopedia of Food Microbiology)
Bread is older than metal; even before the bronze age, our ancestors were eating and baking flat breads. Until the time of the development of commercial yeasts, like brewers yeast, all leavened bread was sourdough, with it’s slower raise. One reason given for the importance of unleavened bread in the Jewish faith is that at the time of the exodus from Egypt, there wasn’t time to let the dough rise overnight.
Sourdough became a staple in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush of 1849. And the sourdough tradition was carried into Alaska and the western Canadian territories during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Other leavening agents such as yeast and baking soda were much less reliable in the conditions faced by the prospectors. Experienced miners and other settlers frequently carried a pouch of starter either around their neck or on a belt; these were fiercely guarded to keep from freezing—even though freezing does not kill a sourdough starter; excessive heat does.
Sourdough had to have crossed the American west to get to California. Cookies certainly couldn’t take the time to allow a yeast bread to rise—all that bouncing in the wagon…
Even with it’s dislike of heat, it stands to reason sourdough would have appeared in the American West, maybe in leather pouches tucked into saddlebags, or beside the water jugs or barrels. A traveler wouldn’t always need a large loaf of bread, and to make a sourdough loaf you only need an amount in proportion to the size of the final product.
I’ll keep researching to see if cowboys and settlers took sourdough along on their journeys. For the moment, though, I’ve got to go feed the newest member of my family—SOURDOUGH!
I love Christmas! The hymns we sing, the celebrations we attend, that extra bit of happy in the faces of people you see when you wish them a merry Christmas or happy holiday. No wonder you’re such a jolly old elf!
I’ve spent some time thinking about what to write in a letter to such a venerable gift-giver as yourself. What should I ask for? What could I ask for that wouldn’t seem self-centered and—well—petty, especially in light of all that’s going on in the world?
Since I’m writing to a deadline—Christmas is coming, after all–I’ll give it my best try. I hope you’ll forgive me if it isn’t entirely right.
I ask for peace, for everyone, everywhere!
I ask for love for those who don’t know its power.
I ask for joy for those who hurt during this beautiful season.
I ask for hope for all who labor day after day to make their life and the lives of their family better.
And I ask for a miracle for those who need it most!
Merry Christmas, Tracy Garrett
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL THE PETTICOATS AND PISTOLS READERS OUT THERE. MAY 2017 BE THE BEST YEAR YOU CAN MAKE IT!