Thursday, April 30, 2009

Big Sky Inspiration

As the person who plans public programs, including author events, for 44 libraries in one of the busiest library systems in the country, I attend a lot of author events. Inevitably - someone in the audience will ask the author what I call the “inspiration” question. “Where do you get your ideas?”

I’ve heard answers that range from funny, to silly to sad. Every author has a different answer, including the one who responded, “All my ideas come from, isn’t that where everyone goes”? There were folks in the audience who dutifully wrote the URL address down. Author Susan Wiggs presented a PowerPoint program on the various ways she found inspiration for her wonderful books and the variety of sources amazed me, from newspaper articles to cartoons to standing oh the deck of an aircraft carrier for an official military ceremony.

I’m at the inspiration point right now, as I begin work on my next Western historical romance. I’ve had the characters in mind for a while, and I know the setting will be in Montana because I want to write a trilogy. I’ve found more inspiration for the story in different places.

I visited the setting for the beginning of the story on one of my trips to Montana, but that was a few years ago and I couldn’t quite recall the name of the place. I assumed I could google a few keywords and the name of the place would just “pop” up. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I searched the map, interviewed the members of my family in the hope they might remember the name of the place. We narrowed it down, but none of us could recall the exact name. The internet is a wonderful thing, but there is still the need for the best search engines in the world – librarians.

I sent an Email to the Montana State Historical Society requesting reference help, and within 24 hours I had a response. They provided the name of the place, and even apologized because they didn’t have any photos. I’m grateful to Zoe and Ellie for their perseverance and assistance.

Obviously, I know a lot of librarians, so I have a tendency to utilize their amazing reference skills when I need help. Even I was impressed with the enthusiasm and quick response from this group. And I was motivated to do some research in my own house. I dug out the photo boxes, assuring my family that we had a picture of the house I was thinking about. I found that and much more.
I had the chance to recall the happiness we shared that week of our vacation, the beauty of the mountains, and the glory of the buffalo running through wide- open spaces as we experienced the incredible majesty of visiting a still untamed part of our country. That is what inspires me to write my stories, a landscape that challenges on an immense scale, sometimes terrifies with its unbridled fury and yet can take your breath away with the glorious grandeur.

So I have my place, but who are these people? I’d discovered an interesting fact when researching my other two books. In 1864 Montana the divorce rate per capita was nearly equal to that of 1964. I’d always assumed that in Victorian America divorces were rare and divorcees were shunned. In fact, because there were so many men in the western states and so few women, there were opportunities for women to improve their lives through making better marriages. While obtaining a divorce wasn’t exactly easy, if a husband was abusive, a drunk, abandoned or didn’t provide for his family, or if he was found guilty of adultery, his wife could sue for a divorce and Judges in the territory were willing to grant them.

Because I’ve wanted to write a “reuniting the couple” story for a while, I used the idea of a couple separated by the war and then divorced as the premise of the story, now all I needed was motivation for bringing them back together.

That’s where the “what if’s” come into play. What if the couple had a teenage daughter and she ran away with a young man? Most parents would go through just about anything in order to find a lost child, so the couple would set aside their differences in order to search for their daughter.
For me, that’s the way the ideas for Cherish Me developed. Piece by piece, it reminds me of doing needlework, except I never prick my finger and in the end; I have a tapestry of words. I’d love to hear how other writers build their stories.

Deborah Schneider, RWA Librarian of the Year 2009



Roberta C.M. DeCaprio

I’d like you to envision boggy earthen floors, stifling heat, freezing cold nights, no privacy, mice, bugs and other vermin crawling all over the food you eat and where you sleep. Am I giving you a glimpse of what the contestants on the CBS show Survivor endure? It might sound that way, but NOPE! What I’m really showing you is what it was like to live in a typical frontier dwelling.
After completing the task of raising four walls and a roof, homesteaders found it was equally hard to make their homes livable. Water was a primary need for sustaining crops and the homesteaders themselves. For this reason most settlers staked their claims near rivers, streams, or springs. But these prime locations quickly became unavailable, and most families had no choice but to dig a well for their water source.
Well water was initially drinkable, but for practicality purposes the well was located close to the house . . . along with the barn, chicken coop, outhouse and manure pile. Human and animal waste seeped into the earth, contaminating the well. Many settlers had to boil the well water before using or consuming it.
In the winter, melted snow supplemented the water supply, as well as rain caught in barrels. But more times then not this way to obtain water was not plentiful enough. Consequently they were forced to seek out the nearest water supply, hauling back to their homes water-filled barrels in ox or horse drawn wagons. This took a lot of time and it was back breaking work.
Because of the water scarcity, the way homesteaders conserved their supply was by bathing in the same bathwater. Entire families would share a tub of water and a bath was limited to once a week. The first family members to get into the tub were the parents, followed by the children, going down the line from eldest to youngest. By the time the baby got a turn, the water was quite black, and the part of the child’s body beneath the water couldn’t be seen. Hence the phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” was coined.
After the family bath, the filthy bathwater was then used for light cleaning and heavy laundry. To conserve water further, settlers didn’t wash or rinse their dishes after eating. Pioneer mothers instructed their children to “clean their plates,” and they meant it literally. Thus coining another phrase parents say at the dinner table to their children. Fortunately, modern day parents mean something entirely different.
Disposal of human waste was another problem. Frontier toilets ranged from an agreed-upon scrub or hole in the ground, to a free-standing sod or wooden outhouses. Outhouses were usually an oblong, boxed structure, three to four feet square and around seven feet high. Built into the back wall of the outhouse was a two foot high wooden box with an oval-shaped hole cut into it. The wooden box served as the toilet. Fancy outhouses had lids that covered the hole.
The outhouse structure was positioned over a five to six foot deep hole dug in the earth. When the hole filled, the outhouse was moved. In winter the droppings would freeze and form a pile that would eventually reach the seat. Resourceful homesteaders kept sticks and shovels in the outhouse to knock down the problem.
There was little one could do about the stench. Sprinkling lye or lime down the hole after use helped to control the smell, which became unbearable in hot weather. In the middle of the night, especially during winter, homesteaders were spared the long walk to the outhouse if they used a chamber pot. The basin was kept in the house, usually beneath the bed and emptied in the outhouse come morning.
Outhouses were fly magnets, and often the winged insects found their way into the house. Window screening, though it existed, was expensive and hard to come by. Therefore, flies and mosquitoes swarmed over dining tables, food and sleeping homesteaders. Smokey smudge fires built outside the house helped to cut down on the vermin, but most times a child in the family was given the chore to wave a small branch over the dinner table to keep the bugs off the food.
Large furniture pieces such as stoves, bedsteads, tables and dressers were too hard to transport on the trail west. Often, if a family did take such belongings, they were abandoned along the way to lighten the load the oxen and horses carried. So frontier homes were furnished fairly simple. Upended trunks served as wardrobes and dressers, packing boxes stuffed with pillows became trundle beds and empty barrels were fashioned into rocking chairs.
Homesteaders pasted layers of newspaper to the walls of their homes to keep out drafts and insulate the house. Women made curtains for the few windows they had and wove bits of cloth to make rugs. But even with a roof over their heads, settlers on the frontier never ceased to battle the daily struggles they faced . . . weather, the wilderness and putting food on their rough-hewn tables.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The First Women's Advocates

While researching women doctors for the book I’m writing, I’ve discovered some interesting traits among the women who fought tradition and pushed headlong into the man’s world of medicine.

They believed women had the same intellect as men.
They held steadfast to their belief they didn’t have to define themselves by their husband.
While being nurturing, they were willing to, in some instances, sacrifice their desire for children to help others.
They all believed in the suffrage movement.
They believed all women, especially those having a baby a year, should have the choice of contraceptives.

The women who pursued medical careers in the 1800’s were forward thinkers who had to fight not only men, but the greater society to prove they were worthy of their education.

One such woman was Bethenia Owens-Adair : 1840-1926

She traveled to Oregon by wagon with her family in 1843 and didn’t begin a formal education until she was twelve. At the age of fourteen she married a family farmhand and divorced in 1859.

To support herself and her son she opened a millinery shop in 1873 in Roseburg , OR. While there she coordinated a visit and lecture by Susan B. Anthony. After six years, she felt her intellect was being wasted and leaving her son with her friend, Abigail Scott Duniway, the editor of a women’s suffragists’ journal, she attended medical college. In 1880 she graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School. In 1884 she married Col. John Adair.

During her career she wrote papers and was active in her belief criminals and institutionalized mental patients should be sterilized.

She, like many other women who stepped outside the box in the 1800’s, met much disapproval throughout her lifetime for her divorce, her career, her involvement in women’s suffrage, and the sterilization.

She wrote this in a reminiscence posted in the Oregon Journal on June 28, 1914:

"When I finally announced that I was going to become a doctor it broke the heart of all my friends, and I was publicly disgraced. Women that I had known for years drew their skirts aside and went by on the other side of the street; men refused to bow to me, and friendless and alone, I started by stage for San Francisco on my way to Philadelphia."

It took strong women to forge the groundwork for what women today take for granted.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Gen. Sam Houston--liberator of San Jacinto




April 21

Gen. Sam Houston, commander of victorious Texas troops at the battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. Houston was first President of the Republic of Texas 1836-1838, seventh governor of the State of Texas, and a US Senator for Texas.
With the outbreak of the Texas Revolution he was named commanding general of the revolutionary army. In March 1836, Houston was a delegate to the convention that declared Texas an independent republic. His command was reconfirmed, and he led the Texas army to a brilliant victory over Santa Anna in the Battle of San Jacinto (Apr. 21, 1836).

Sam was married three times. His first wife was named Eliza Allen. They were married January 22, 1829. Sam Houston's second wife was a Cherokee Indian woman whose name was Tiana Rodgers, also known as Diana Rodgers. They were married in the summer of 1830. Margaret Moffette Lea was Sam Houston's third wife. They were married May 9, 1840 and remained married for the remainder of Sam Houston's lifetime.
"I would not be gotten into a schoolhouse until I was eight years old. Nor did I accomplish much after I started. I doubt I had gone to school six months in all when my father died. I was fourteen at the time."
Quote From Sam Houston before the battle of San Jacinto...
"We view ourselves on the eve of battle. We are nerved for the contest, and must conquer or perish. It is vain to look for present aid: none is at hand. We must now act or abandon all hope! Rally to the standard, and be no longer the scoff of mercenary tongues! Be men, be free men, that your children may bless their father's name."
Quote From Sam Houston on Texas...
"All new states are invested, more or less, by a class of noisy, second-rate men who are always in favor of rash and extrememeasures, but Texas was absolutely overrun by such men." "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may
"In the name of the constitution of Texas, which has been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. I love Texas too well to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon her."
I am a Native Texan, and a member of the Daughters of the Texas Republic. My ancestor was John Jefferson Hughes who moved to Texas as a boy. Celia Yeary
My first published novel takes place in Texas in 1880.
E-Book release November 21, 2008-Print release February 22, 2009

To escape an arranged marriage, beautiful, proper Cynthia Harrington from East Texas impulsively marries Ricardo Romero, a striking, sensual Spaniard who ranches on the far western edge of the Texas frontier. Innocently, she steps into a hotbed of anger, rivalry, and strong wills. As she struggles to gain a foothold in the hostile household and foreign ranch community, she finds that her biggest challenge is to make her husband love her.

Ricardo creates his own problems by marrying an outsider, angering his mother, father, and his jealous ex-lady friend. Then, the Texas Rangers arrive looking for a killer, and Cynthia saves Ricardo’s mother in a confrontation with the wanted man. Ricardo realizes that his delicate bride has more grit and spunk than he thought, and his greatest trial becomes a race to pursue his own wife and persuade her to stay with him.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


“Kill and scalp all, little and big…nits make lice.”—Colonel John M. Chivington

Before the Battle of Fort Washita came the Battle of Sand Creek—also known as The Sand Creek Massacre. (Colorado)

Chief Black Kettle’s Cheyenne camp, and that of another Cheyenne chief, White Antelope, were attacked and destroyed on a cold November dawn, 1864. Although the camps flew an American flag alongside a white flag of truce, Colonel John Chivington, determined to further himself in the political arena of the day, ordered the Cheyennes annihilated. “Take no prisoners,” he ordered, adding his own personal slogan, “…nits make lice.”

The encampment at Sand Creek consisted of about six hundred Indians—most of them, women and children. As the first shots were fired by Chivington’s men, there were only about one hundred Cheyenne warriors in the camp to defend it. They ran out, up the creek bed from the ravine where they were camped, to hold off the soldiers, to protect the women and children.

Even though they were severely outnumbered, these warriors were able to hold Chivington’s troops at bay for over eight hours, allowing nearly five hundred Indians to escape—including Black Kettle.

Chivington boasted of killing six hundred; eye-witness testimony estimated the number at less than two hundred. Two-thirds of the dead were women and children. White Antelope was one of the first killed, as he left his lodge, arms extended to show peace.

Black Kettle’s wife was shot. As troopers neared, they shot her eight more times. Black Kettle threw her over his shoulder and ran. He later removed all nine bullets, and his wife lived.

A three-year-old toddler was not so lucky. As he walked out to the dry creek bed, three troopers some seventy yards away took turns shooting at him. The third one finally hit him, dropping the child where he stood.

Back in Denver, Chivington received a hero’s welcome. He and his men exhibited the corpses of the dead Cheyennes they had sexually mutilated and scalped to the cheering citizens of Denver. It is believed that there has never been another battle in North America where more Indians have been slain.

Three years later, a Congressional inquest labeled Chivington’s “battle” a massacre.

In 1867, Black Kettle was one of the signers of the Treaty of Medicine Lodge (Kansas) in which the Cheyenne gave up their holdings along the Arkansas River for land on a reservation in what is now Oklahoma.

By the fall of 1868, Black Kettle and two thousand warriors settled near the Washita River in the southeastern part of Indian Territory. Though the Treaty of Medicine Lodge promised specific supplies, the provisions never came. Many of the Cheyenne joined a young warrior, Roman Nose, who had been leading a series of bloody raids on farms and homesteads of white settlers.

Under General Philip Sheridan, three columns of troops launched a winter campaign against Cheyenne encampments. The Seventh Cavalry, commanded by George Armstrong Custer, was selected to take the lead.

For four days, in a foot of fresh snowfall, Custer and his 800 men followed the tracks of a small raiding party through the continuing snowstorm. The tracks led to Black Kettle's encampment on the Washita River. Custer ordered the attack at dawn.

On November 27, 1868, nearly four years to the day after the Sand Creek Massacre, Custer’s troops charged toward Black Kettle's encampment. Chief Black Kettle and his wife, Maiyuna, were shot dead on the banks of the Washita River, (Indian Territory), their bodies riddled with bullets.

“Both the chief and his wife fell at the riverbank, riddled with bullets,” one witness reported. “The soldiers rode right over Black Kettle and his wife and their horse as they lay dead on the ground, and their bodies were all splashed with mud by the charging soldiers.”

Custer ordered the slaughter of the Indian pony and mule herd—over 800 animals. The lodges of the encampment were burned along with the winter food supply. At the threat of reinforcements from other Indian camps only a few miles away, Custer quickly retreated to Camp Supply with his hostages.

In the Battle of the Washita, though Custer claimed 100 Cheyenne fatalities, Indian accounts claim 11 warriors, and 19 women and children were killed. More than 50 Cheyennes were captured—mainly women and children.

After this battle, most of the Cheyenne were convinced to accept reservation life. On the Washita River, Chief Black Kettle’s vision of peace was crushed, along with the Cheyenne way of life.

Chief Black Kettle never stopped trying to make peace with the whites. He encouraged his people to try to accept the treaties and the word of the Americans. But it was not to be. My novel, Fire Eyes, shows some of the tenuous relationships between the marshals and the Choctaw Indians in Indian Territory around this same period of time. In the scene below, the Choctaws have led five of the Indian Territory marshals to where Kaed Turner is--with Jessica. Here's what happens:


Standing Bear dismounted and came forward to stand beside Kaed, and Kaed turned his full attention to the warrior, waiting for the older man to speak.

It was as it had been all those years ago, when Kaed had come to live with the Choctaw people. The Apache had killed his mother and father, then taken Kaed and his younger brother and sister into captivity. The Choctaws had bartered with the Apaches for the youngsters, so they’d been raised in the Choctaw way.

The healing bruises Kaed wore today were reminiscent of the ones he’d been marked with when he first met Standing Bear, close to twenty years earlier.

“Seems we’ve stood this way before, Chief.”

“Yes, Wolf. You were marked as you are today. But still strong enough to wear defiance in your eyes. Strong enough to stand, and fight.”

Kaed gave him a fleeting grin, remembering how, as a nine-year-old boy faced with being traded away, he had rammed his head into Standing Bear’s rock-hard belly, catching him off guard, nearly knocking him to the ground in front of the Apaches and Standing Bear’s own warriors.

Standing Bear smiled and put his hand to his stomach. “This recovered before my pride did.” He nodded at Kaed’s arm. “I hope it is not so with you, Wolf. You did all you could, yet I see you still hold some blame in your heart for yourself.”

Kaed had to admit it was true, and he didn’t understand it. When he went over it logically in his mind, as he had done a thousand times, he knew he wasn’t to blame, that he’d done everything he could have. But he’d never expected White Deer to do what she had done, and he understood the parallel Standing Bear was drawing. The chief had never expected the young boy Kaed had been to lower his head and run at
him, either.

Standing Bear spoke in his native tongue. “Have you thought upon my words concerning Fire Eyes? Or will she go to one of my warriors?”

“She is my woman now,” Kaed said in the same language, “and will belong to no other man.”

“Does she wish it?”

Kaed nodded, and without turning, called Jessica’s name. She appeared in the doorway with Lexi in her arms.

“Do you take Wolf—-Turner-—for your husband, Fire Eyes?” Standing Bear’s voice was even. Kaed knew it wasn’t that he disbelieved what Kaed said. He was trying to let Jessica know she had a choice, of sorts. She could marry Kaed, or one of the warriors.

Jessica tucked back a strand of her dark hair. “Yes. I do.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stampede--A Drover's Worst Fear

My current work in progress focuses on a cattle drive. From watching Western movies like Rawhide, I knew there were positions for each drover. Unfortunately, the only position I could remember was Drag, because the poor cowboy riding this position had to bring up the rear and eat a lot of dust. The research was so interesting that I thought I’d share what I learned.

After the American Civil War there was a great demand for meat in the northern and eastern parts of the United States. It is estimated that at this time there were over 5 million Longhorns in Texas. The task of the cowboy was to take part in cattle drives where cattle were driven from Texas to the railroad cowtowns of Ellsworth, Abilene, Dodge City, Wichita and Newton. The cattle business eventually spread to Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona.

Between 1866 to 1895 some 10 million cattle were taken to the railroad cowtowns. The main route from Texas to Kansas was the Chisum Trial and the Goodnight Trail. These trials were over 1,000 miles long and would take between 12 and 16 weeks to complete.
The order of the drive was important – the Trail Boss would ride ahead scouting for water, pasture and the best route, while up front and to one side would be the cook and chuck wagon. The cattle would usually be guided by a lead steer who knew the trail from numerous previous trips. Of all the lead steers, the most famous was Charles Goodnight’s “Old Blue.” Old Blue—I like that name. Maybe I’ll name my lead steer something similar.

Alongside the herd would ride the Point, Swing and Flakers, with the Drag bringing up the rear and choking in the dust; drovers would change positions throughout the drive. The wrangler working the remuda would be near the rear to one side and each drover would have about a dozen horses in the remuda, switching out every three hours. Some of a drover’s horses would be dedicated to a particular task, such as riding herd at night or branding.

The herd typically moved about one mile per hour, or about ten to fifteen miles per day. While Indians, who were mainly interested in stealing horses, and rustlers, who would take anything, the most feared by the cowmen was the stampeded, particularly at night. Any sudden noise—a clap of thunder, a startled rabbit or a broken twig—could set the herd to running, so horses were kept saddled during the night. In case of a stampede men would dash to the front, hoping their horses would avoid the prairie dog holes, to try to turn the lead group into a spiral heading back into the side of the herd and thus set them milling again.

During a stampede the herd collectively began running with no clear direction or purpose. So, other than a sudden noise, what makes cattle so entirely nervous that they spook? According to scientist, it is believed to originate from biological responses in the brains and endocrine systems of herd animals. The response is believed to have evolved to help animals escape from predators.

A large stampede would frequently eliminate anything in its path. Cowboys would attempt to turn the moving herd into itself, so that it runs in circles rather than self-destructing by running over a cliff or into a river, or from damaging human life or property by overrunning human settlement.

One of the most painful movies I’ve ever watched was The Cowboys starring John Wayne; when twelve year old Charley dropped his spectacles, his friend rode in and among a herd of nervous cattle. The boy’s horse reared and well, if you’ve seen the movie, you know the rest. If you haven’t seen the movie, let me warn you to have a box of tissues sitting next to you during that particular scene, and unless you’re totally hard hearted, your popcorn will get all soggy.

Besides the danger to men and cattle, a four mile run could burn off fifty pounds from a steer and at the end of a drive that meant money. Men would therefore speak to one another in low voices and would often sing at night to soothe a jittery herd. Night shifts would change every two to four hours with time being told by the rotation of the Big Dipper around the North Star.
The objective of a drive was to keep the herd fairly in a constant, elongated bunch without gaps.

Most of the time the herd would be shaped in a long oval. There were six positions along the outside of the herd: They were Right Wing, Right Flank, Drag, Left Flank, Left Wing and Point. Each position had a specific job to so and with all the positions working together the moving of the cattle usually went smoothly.

Drag: the cowboys riding Drag would push the herd forward without letting strays drop off behind.
Flank/Wing: The Flank and Swing riders would keep the herd intact by keeping the sides intact.
Wings: The Wing riders kept the cattle moving in the general direction of the Point Leader. This was done by both sides working in tandem.

It was a pretty basic process that even after 100 years is still used today. Remember the movie, City Slickers, where Billy Crystal and his friends vacationed at a dude ranch and herded cattle? Well, one of these days, before I need a hoist to lift me up on a horse, I’d love to realize my own city slicker dream. Yee-haw!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mrs. Alexander Franklin James

It’s easy to picture Frank James and little brother Jesse wreaking havoc with Bloody Bill Anderson and Quantrille’s raiders, robbing stagecoaches and shooting up Northfield, Minnesota because we’ve seen it a million times in the movies. But Alexander Franklin James was also a man who devoured the books in his father’s library and quoted Shakespeare at will. His papa Robert Sallee James, a farmer and Baptist minister, co-founded the William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. So maybe it’s not all that surprising that Frank married a schoolteacher, Anna Ralston, who held a Bachelor of Arts degree in Science and Literature from Missouri State College and was one of its first female graduates.

The Kansas City Times in August 1876, naming Frank James a “notable knight of the road” reported that his marriage might have “remained shrouded in obscurity” had it not been for detectives from St. Louis and Cincinnati snooping around Independence, Missouri after a train robbery. Their interview with Mrs. Samuel Ralston at her home, about seven miles east of the city, revealed she and her husband had not the least idea that their daughter Annie loved and had been won by the bold train robber Frank James the year before.

How and when Frank met Miss Annie Ralston remains another of the mysteries of “the wild young man’s life.” Annie had been raised by wealthy well-known businessman Samuel Ralston, and Frank was not known to have been on intimate terms with the family nor a frequent visitor to their home. But somehow he courted Annie and stole her heart. She eloped with the “dashing, daring Frank James” in the summer of 1875.

That July, Annie simply asked her parents for permission to visit her brother-in-law, Mr. Ezra Hickman in Kansas City. Unbeknownst to them, Frank waited for her on the train, the elopement already arranged. When Ezra met her at the Kansas City depot, she told him she needed a few more minutes to speak to a friend still on the train and would follow to his house in a hack.

That was the last seen of Annie, who supposedly rendezvoused with Jesse in Kansas and proceeded with the James brothers to Omaha.

Two days after her departure for Kansas City, her parents received a brief note from her that said

Dear Mother: I am married and going West. Annie Reynolds

Not recognizing the name Reynolds, they figured she’d run off with a gambler they’d heard about. Putting their sons on her trail, her parents eventually learned of Annie’s marriage to the outlaw. Her father advised the family to treat the matter philosophically. Nothing could be done now, he said, and the less said about it the better. No one outside of the family and a few close friends would have known about the marriage had not the recent train robbery led the detectives to Ralston's house in the hope of finding Frank James there.

For three months earlier, Frank had ridden to their gate on a handsome chestnut horse. The Ralstons had not seen their daughter for nine months, and the meeting was abrupt and tearful. Frank replied that Annie was all right but that her parent’s could not see her again. She was far away and could not send letters for fear of leading the authorities to him. The visit ended in anger and tears, and Frank was never seen at the Ralston house again. Nor had he anything to do with the recent robbery.

Annie and Frank had one son, Robert Franklin James, born February 6, 1878. Five months after the murder of his brother Jesse in April 1882, Frank gave himself up to Missouri governor Crittenden, claiming he wanted peace after being hunted for twenty-one years. Accounts say that Frank surrendered with the understanding that he would not be extradited to Northfield, Minnesota where the James gang had been decimated in 1876. Two days later, Annie wrote a poem to her husband, entitled Surrendered.

Despite a vigorous prosecution, Frank was tried for only two robberies/murders and was found not guilty by both juries, who cited lack of evidence. For the last thirty years of his life, he became respectable. For a time, Frank did lecture tours with former James gang comrade Cole Younger. He became an AT&A telegraph operature before returning to the James Farm in Kearney, Missouri, where he gave tours for the significant sum of twenty-five cents. He died an honorable man on February 18, 1915. However, fearing that his grave would be desecrated or dismantled for souvenirs, he decreed that his cremated ashes be kept in a vault until such time he and Annie could be buried together.

Annie remained at the James Farm with her mother–in-law, Zerelda James Samuel for many years. In a letter to a friend, she sent “best wishes from a lonely old woman whose life work is ended.” After her death at age 91 in the sanitarium at Excelsior Springs, Missouri, she and Frank were finally buried next to each other at Hill Park Cemetery in Independence.

(In my first Western novel, my hero was a fictional James cousin who met Annie Ralston while attending college. Since doing research for that story, I find myself still interested in James trivia.)

~by Tanya Hanson

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Hanging Tower

This past week, my cousins, my husband, and I drove to nearby Cameron, Texas in Milam county to tour the Milam County Jail. Built in 1895, it has a hanging tower equipped with a trap door. I'd heard of this place and thought, oh boy, fodder for a good story.

The jail was built in the Romanesque Revival style with St. Louis pressed brick, trimmed with stone. The walls are ended with crenelations--ancient military features communicating strength. As was typical during this time period in the state, the ground floor housed the sheriff and his family. An iron door separates the small office from the living quarters.

In 1975, a new jail was built and the old building, still in it's former glory, is now a museum. All three floors, even the tower are open to visitors. The sheriff's living quarters consisted of a kitchen, dining room, parlor, and two bedrooms. Being a sheriff, though a tough job, had a few perks. Here are some interior pictures--the kitchen, child's room, and master bedroom.

The upper two floors held free standing iron cages--the cells. They sat inside iron bars away from the windows where jailers could walk all the way around. Not only were the cells locked, but a large cell release bar opened the metal door that surrounded the cages. It held a large lock. Prisoners had a front row view of the drop from the hanging tower as cages were arranged around it.

Here's the stairs from inside the sheriff's quarters to the jail cells above. Also, a picture looking down the inner space of the hanging tower and the gate to the floor of the trap door. The lights in the center and other wiring have since been added.

It's important to know that the hanging tower was never actually used, though I can't imagine a better way to deter crime than to see a body dropping down from the floor above to dangle before you. But, shortly after the jail was built, a state law dictated that all hangings be public, so they were held outside. Up until 1923 individual counties carried out executions by hanging. In 1923, the state of Texas ordered all executions take place in Huntsville by means of the electric chair.

I hope you've enjoyed this little bit of Texas history. Thanks for stopping by and please leave me a comment.

Also, starting April 1, on my blog I'm giving away a choice of one of my ebooks to a lucky winner drawn from all the comments that month.

Linda LaRoque ~ Western Romance with a Twist in Time. A Law of Her Own, Desires of the Heart, My Heart Will Find Yours, 5-09, Flames on the Sky, 10-23-09, The Wild Rose Press; Forever Faithful, Investment of the Heart 5-09, When The Ocotillo Bloom 7-09, Champagne Books.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Jesse James

Depending on who you talk to, or where you research, Jesse James may be known as a hero or one of America’s first “most wanted” criminals. I’m not saying he was one or the other, but here are a few facts and/or tales as reported by others.

Born in Clay County, Missouri on September 5, 1847, Jesse Woodson James was one of three children born to Robert S. and Zerelda James. He had an older brother, Alexander Franklin (Frank) and a younger sister, Susan Lavenia James. Jesse was three when his father, a Baptist Minister, died in California while ministering to gold rush miners. His mother (who’d remained in Missouri when Robert went to California) remarried twice, first to Benjamin Simms who died within a year, and then to Dr. Reuben Samuel. Zerelda and Reuben had four children, all born on the farm in Missouri.

Jesse’s connection with Quantrill’s Raiders came about when he was 15. Kansas became a state in 1854, and Congress decided to let the residents of the state decide on the slavery issue. This created a border war between the ‘free’ state of Kansas and the ‘slave’ state of Missouri. Cole Younger, the son of a prosperous business owner, was known as a bright student and very well behaved. The border battles caused many problems for the Youngers. At a dance in December of 1861 a Union Captain ‘crashed the dance’ and insisted the girls dance with him. When the young ladies all refused, he grabbed Cole’s younger sister and forced her to accompany him. Cole stepped in and knocked the Captain out. Knowing trouble was sure to follow, Cole fled the area. When his father was brutally murdered and his family home burned, Cole joined the Confederate Army. After a couple of years he became part of Quantrill’s Battalion. Another one of Quantrill’s Raiders was Frank James, who’d joined the Confederacy in 1861. After several successful battles with his Guard, Frank fell ill and was left behind. Upon recuperating he joined the guerrilla band. Both Frank and Cole rode with Quantrill on the raid of Lawrence, Kansas.

Shortly after the massacre on Lawrence, and because of Frank’s involvement, the Samuel (James) farm was attacked by Union soldiers. They repeatedly tortured Samuel, left him hanging in a tree, and then found 14 year-old Jesse plowing the field. After brutally beating the young boy they left him for dead. Jesse, barely alive, crawled back to the house, where he found his mother and younger siblings trying to revive his step-father. Samuel survived, but suffered severe brain injuries and later died. The Union army returned a short time later and Zerelda, pregnant at the time, and her 12 year-old daughter Susan, were arrested for not providing information about Frank’s whereabouts. A year later, at 15, Jesse James joined the Confederate cause and rode beside his older brother Frank.

After the war, the James brothers attempted to live peacefully, but time after the war was tough, and it’s said the brothers (as well as the Youngers) decided if the banks wouldn’t loan them the money they needed to start farming again, they’d take it. Some claim the James/Younger Gang formed in retaliation to the Republican reconstruction after the war that temporarily excluded former Confederates from voting, serving on juries, owning businesses, or preaching from pulpits. It’s also said that Jesse insisted the gang only rob banks whose major shareholders were Unionists, only steal strong boxes off trains and stagecoaches which held federal money, and never steal from passengers, customers, or common businesses.

Most of what I’ve mentioned here is from two books written by John Koblas, a Minnesota based author known for his knowledge on the outlaw genre. His book, The Jesse James Northfield Raid, Confessions of the Ninth Man, was filmed as a documentary.

The escapes of the James-Younger Gangs are almost unending. The controversy of Jesse’s bandit/hero lifestyle has been the basis of many novels, movies, and festivals. Whether he was one of America’s worst criminals, or a Robin Hood hero, when the word outlaw is mentioned, most everyone thinks of Jesse James.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

North American Indigenous Peoples

As I was cruising my email, I received a note about a very informative and eye pleasing (shall I say very eye pleasing) blog about Native Americans. I popped over and found it was author Skhye Moncrief's. She has studied Native Americans for years and has listed amazing resources. Here is her guest blog, and I blush at her reference to me. (Maybe not favorite but I'm in the top three.) Thank you so much Skhye...

Good morning! I'm Skhye Moncrief. Everyone's favorite Cactus Rose editor, Eve Mallary, invited me over to talk a bit about Native Americans. With the Earthsong series in the works, Cactus Rose is very interested in North American indigenous peoples. Whether the fact drawing you in is as intriguing as the Kiowa tradition of never cutting their hair being that the length of one's hair is reflective of one's spiritual enlightenment (resulting in warriors with hair that dragged on the ground), or the survival strategy of Great Basin cultures that required a family to split up during the hottest and most dangerous part of the year for survival, causing 8 years to fend for themselves in a rattlesnake-infested desert, you'll definitely find many cultural details about Native Americans to use to create fascinating pictures in your romantic tales with the reference books I've come to tell you about. And I'm known for rambling about reference books at Since the hero in my latest release is Native American, I thought I'd share my favorite resources with you.

My shamanic shape-shifting hero has more than one chip on his shoulder in the corner he painted himself into in our Post-Industrial world. You would too if the guys you were trapped with in the Army called you Cochise, but you weren't Apache. No. Cochise (named by his peers with what he considers a name representing a phase of his life in which he made very bad choices) is Lakota. Here's my model for Cochise--Mr. Drop-Dead Gorgeous Jay Tavare...

tavare.jpg JayTavare image by Sagemoon197 183746106_382363.gif jay tavare image by indira_aliyah JAYTAVARE1.jpg Jay Tavare 1 image by TLCc JAYTAVARE.jpg Jay Tavare  website image by TLCc

Sorry. I, uh, forgot what I was talking about... (Stop looking at pictures, Skhye!) Oh, wait. I remember!

I would like to state I absolutely hate it when cover artists depict a Native-American hero using a Caucasian model. This should be a sin. But who listens to Skhye?

So, what's the difference between Apaches and the Lakota? You're thinking they both lived on the Great Plains, rode war ponies, counted coup, and looked down-right gorgeous and tough in loincloths... Okay, you haven't read Thomas E. Mails' DOG SOLDIER SOCIETIES OF THE PLAINS. If you want to get the arrows right by culture or understand a culture's rituals, get this book! Each Plains warrior society is described in great detail. And if you're searching for a way to allow your female characters (captives or not) to wield weapons and participate in battle, this reference book will tell you who could get away with what. DOG SOLDIER SOCIETIES OF THE PLAINS is a college-level text. But it won't put you to sleep. Okay, maybe I should say it didn't lull me to sleep. ;) I've always been enthralled by Native Americans. And I've got over 80 hours of anthropology under my belt because of my addiction to those 500 nations. So, the geek in me knows I'm an outlying exception to the rule on the vast continuum of delightful to boring.

Another wonderful resource for all those writing contemporaries with Native-American characters is Hyemeyohsts Storm's SEVEN ARROWS. The easiest way to explain this book is to compare it to a self-help version of something akin to the Bible. First of all, you get the low-down on the four directions, medicine arrows, sacred colors, medicine wheels, etc. Then Storm begins the journey of the self. Each aspect of his belief system is taught by a story he tells. Chapter by chapter, you experience the sharing of his knowledge. And it's quite moving. The Bible put me to sleep. ;) I would like to add that archaeologists do NOT believe everything explained by Native Americans today is the way it was back before somebody got a wild hair to study a Native-American culture. You can't take a 1940s (methinks that is the decade) film like Northwestern Passage and model your historical culture after Hollywood's rendition of the local indigenous people either. We're talking New York Native-Americans dressing like lower Great Plains peoples and living in tipis. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! I can only think of one word... stereotype.

Another thought-provoking read is Frederick Drimmer's CAPTURED BY INDIANS: 15 FIRSTHAND ACCOUNTS, 1750-1870. I'm a big cheerleader for underdogs. I confess! This leaves me with strange interests... But CAPTURED BY INDIANS is by no means a handful of weird tales. Rather, it a collection of 15 true stories about white captives. So, you want to know what captives thought of Native Americans? Well, they often preferred living with them. ;) Curious?

Jack Weatherford's NATIVE ROOTS: HOW THE INDIANS ENRICHED AMERICA is another essential eye-opening read for those working on historicals with Native-American characters. It's amazing how much fear and hatred was recorded in history--another expression of the bias one cannot shake in recording history.

Erdoes & Ortiz's thick AMERICAN INDIAN MYTHS AND LEGENDS has been around for a while. But I always flip through it when wanting to round out a character with a bit of ideology. What can this book do for you? The myths and legends are broken down by culture. Yes. You just skim the table of contents and find the tales you'll need to read to grasp the ideology you're working with. You would be wise to spend time reading the myths and legends of those peoples residing next to the culture you're researching too. Lots of conflict crops up between the peoples when they have ideological differences. Extra information about the cultures is located at the end of the book. I've used this book so many times that I recommend anyone writing a Native-American character own a copy. Ideology really rounds out a perspective.

In FORBIDDEN ETERNITY, Cochise is a modern who man raised on a reservation, exposed to many Native-American cultures, and gained an appreciation for different peoples. By the time FORBIDDEN ETERNITY takes place, he is quite worldly. But what makes him real to me are all of the myths and legends I've studied and the touching manner Storm shares his beliefs in SEVEN ARROWS. I've acquired a wealth of knowledge through the years and hope Cochise shares a bit of that information with readers. But his story is a dark paranormal...

Sometimes the forbidden proves the only cure.

In present-day Scotland, a shape-shifting shaman and a Druid embrace the forbidden to safeguard history from renegade gods bent on sabotaging history by kidnapping the Goddess of Time.

A woman Cochise despises is his only hope for a future. He has no choice except to swallow his pride and protect Druidess Mairi from a man who is blackmailing her into breaking time-travel Code by kidnapping her sister. But his presence tempts Mairi into risking her sister’s life in falling in love. A fairy hairball and a pack of Hell Hounds force the duo to hide on an astral plane where there is no resolution beyond facing their FORBIDDEN ETERNITY.

You're invited to read the 1st chapter:

And... Skhye's FREE READ:

Vow Of Superstition: Dragon's Blood

When legends speak of passion, Lady Lainy chalks all up to superstition until forced to take Dragon’s Blood at her arranged marriage. Will the beast’s poison herald a life full of love, or will she find myth loaded with lies when facing her father’s VOW OF SUPERSTITION?

"Arthur is a masterpiece..." He of the Fiery Sword's King Arthur ~Diane Mason, The Romance Studio

Thanks for having me over, Eve. ~Skhye