Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Father of the Dime Novel

Like many readers of western lore, I've often heard the phrase "dime novel" but didn't really know what it referred to, beyond the basics of being a small, quickly-put-together pamphlet of sorts about wild west heroes and villains. Some movies refer to them, such as Unforgiven, where a writer of these novels follows around "English Bob," inventing and embellishing that gunslinger's story, much to the derision of those around them. I delved further into the topic and discovered that the dime novel was the creation of one of the most extraordinary, adventurous characters in the old West, whose own life exceeded the adventures he wrote about.

Were it not for the fantastic imagination and prodigious output of Edward Zane Carroll Judson, the reading public would never have discovered that greatest of all reading pleasures, the dime novel. Writing as Ned Buntline, this adventurer started a trend that lasted several decades. At first, teenage boys were the main fans of these novels, but their popularity quickly spread, as many city folk and people back East were eager for any news or stories about the Wild West.

Ned was born in 1823, ran away to sea as a boy and, by the time he was fifteen, was a midshipman in the navy. Resigning four years later, he led a life of incredible adventures in the Seminole Wars, and later in the Northwest fur trade. When he was twenty-three, he was tried for murder in Nashville, was lynched by a mob, and was cut down in time to be brought back to life. He could sport more scars, including a bullet hole in his chest, than any man he met -and he had a whole supply of yarns to go with each wound.

Generally in trouble, whether financially, romantically or with the law, stocky, red-bearded Ned Buntline had at least as many enemies as friends. Unscrupulous, often accused of blackmail, defendant in several trials, he once jumped bail in St. Louis, and was heavily implicated in the 1849 riot in Astor Place in New York. A reformer who frequently got drunk after delivering a lecture on Temperance, Ned was also one of the founders of the Know Nothing Party.

In the 1840's he established Ned Buntline's Own. In this sensational weekly he published not only his novels but also stories exposing gambling, prostitution and drinking in New York City - championing the cause of the Know-Nothing movement. During the Civil War he served in the Union Army as a sergeant and afterwards undeservedly assumed the rank of Colonel, a title which stuck until his death.

It was on a Western trip that he met William Cody, dubbed him Buffalo Bill and wrote a series of dime novels based on Cody's life as a hunter and scout. He also launched Cody on a theatrical career in a play he wrote in four hours-The Scouts of the Plains-with himself playing a leading part. But despite the renown, infamous or otherwise, of his exploits, Ned Buntline is perhaps best remembered for his dime novels. Typical of his four hundred-odd stories are: The Mysteries and Miseries of New York, Navigator Ned; or, He Would Be Captain, Stella Delorme; or, The Comanche's Dream, and Buffalo Bill.

I think Ned would have a laugh today if he knew that his and others' dime novels, scorned by many in their day as being "lurid" and trash reading, are archived in the Library of Congress's Rare Book and Special Collections Division! Google "dime novels" and see the detailed covers and many titles stored for future generations, alongside Lincoln's writings and the Guttenberg Bible. Over 40,000 titles are archived - and many more have been lost to the ages.

Source: Monaghan's The Great Rascal: The Life and Advertures of Ned Buntline.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Roberta C.M. DeCaprio

When I was a girl I loved watching western shows. Amongst the Saturday morning line up was The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Hop-A-Long Cassidy, Gene Autry and Wild Bill Hickcock. I loved Davy Crockett and the only woman . . . Annie Oakley.

According to the Annie Oakley Foundation, she was born in a cabin less than two miles northwest of Woodland, now Willowdell, in Drake County, a rural western border county of Ohio. Annie's parents were Ouakers from Hollidaysburg, Blair County, Pennsylvania: Susan Wise, age 18, and Jacob Mosey, age 49, married in 1848. A fire burned down their tavern in Hollidaysburg, so they moved to a rented farm (later purchased with a mortgage) in Patterson Township, Darke County.
Born in 1860, Annie was the sixth of Jacob and Susan's eight children. Her father, who had fought in the War of 1812, died in 1866 at age 67, from pneumonia and overexposure in freezing weather. Her mother married Daniel Brumbaugh, had a ninth child, Emily, and was widowed a second time.
When Annie was eight or nine years old, she was put in the care of the superintendent of the county poor farm, where she learned to sew and decorate. She spent some time in near-slavery for a local family where she endured mental and physical abuse (Annie referred to them as "the wolves").When she reunited with her family at age 13 or 14, her mother had married a third time, to Joseph Shaw after 1868.
Because of poverty following the death of her father, Annie did not regularly attend school. Later she received some additional education, but began hunting at age nine to support her siblings and her widowed mother. She sold the hunting game for money to locals in Greenville, as well as restaurants and hotels in southern Ohio. Her skill eventually paid off the mortgage on her mother's farm when Annie was 15.
Oakley soon became well known throughout the region. During the spring of 1881, the Baughman and Butler shooting act was being performed in Cincinnati. Traveling show marksman and former dog trainer Francis E. Butler (1850–1926), an Irish immigrant, placed a $100 bet per side (roughly equivalent to modern US$2,000) with Cincinnati hotel owner Jack Frost, that Butler, age 31, could beat any local fancy shooter. The hotelier arranged a shooting match with Oakley, age 21, to be held in ten days in a small town near Greenville, Ohio. Butler later said it was "18 miles from the nearest [train] station"(about the distance from Greenville to North Star). After missing his 25th shot, Butler lost the match and the bet — a serendipitous irony that led him to become a well-known winner in backstage life. Butler began courting Oakley, and they married on June 20, 1882.
Oakley and Butler lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, for a time, and she is believed to have taken her stage name from the city's neighborhood of Oakley, where they resided. At first, Oakley was Butler's assistant in his travelling show. Later, Butler realized that Oakley was more talented and unusual, so he became her assistant and business manager. Their personal and business success in handling celebrity is considered a model show business relationship even after more than a century.
They joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1885. At 5 feet tall, Oakley was given the nickname of "Watanya Cicilla" by fellow performer Sitting Bull, rendered "Little Sure Shot" in the public advertisements. During her first Buffalo Bill's show engagement, Oakley experienced a tense professional rivalry with rifle sharpshooter Lillian Smith. Smith promoted herself as younger and therefore more billable than Oakley. Oakley temporarily left the Buffalo Bill's show but returned after Smith departed.
Oakley had initially responded to the show's age rivalry by removing six years from her promoted age. She could not remove any more years without making it seem that she was born out of wedlock. As it was, her promoted age led to perennial wrong calculations of her true age and the dates for some of her biographical events. For example, the 1881 spring shooting match with Butler occurred when she was a 21-year-old adult. However, that event is widely reported as occurring six years earlier in the fall, which also suggests a mythical teen romance with Butler.
In Europe, she performed for Queen Victoria, and other crowned heads of state. Oakley had such good aim that, at his request, she knocked the ashes off a cigarette held by the Prince of Prussia, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Annie Oakley Foundation suggests that she was not the source of a widely-repeated sarcasm related to the event, "Some uncharitable people later ventured that if Annie would have shot Wilhelm and not his cigarette, she could have prevented World War I.”
Oakley promoted the service of women in combat operations for the United States armed forces. She wrote a letter to President William McKinley, on April 5, 1898 "offering the government the services of a company of 50 'lady sharpshooters' who would provide their own arms and ammunition should the U.S. go to war with Spain." The Spanish-American War did occur, but Oakley's offer was not accepted. Theodore Roosevelt, did, however, name his volunteer cavalry the "Rough Riders," after the "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World" where Oakley was a major star. The same year that McKinley was fatally shot by an assassin, 1901, Oakley was also badly injured in a railwayy crash, but she fully recovered after temporary paralysis and five spinal operations. She left the Buffalo Bill show and began a quieter acting career in a stage play written especially for her, The Western Girl. Following her injury and change of career, it only added to her legend that her shooting expertise continued to increase into her 60s. She also engaged in extensive, albeit quiet, philanthropy for women's rights and other causes, including the support of specific young women that she knew. She embarked on a comeback and intended to star in a feature-length silent movie. In a 1922, in a shooting contest in Pinehurst, North Carolina, sixty-two-year-old Oakley hit 100 clay targets from 16 yards.
In late 1922, Oakley and Butler suffered a debilitating automobile accident that forced her to wear a steel brace on her right leg. Yet after a year and a half of recovery, she again performed and set records in 1924. Her health declined in 1925 and she died of pernicious anemia in Greenville, Ohio at the age of sixty-six in 1926. She was buried in Brock Cemetery in Greenville, Ohio.
Butler was so crushed by her death that he stopped eating. He died just 18 days later.
After her death, her incomplete autobiography was given to Fred Stone, the stage comedian. After her death it was discovered that her entire fortune had been spent on her family and her charities.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Train Travel in the 1800's

For my WIP I needed to find out about train travel in 1888. After searching books and e-mailing with an author writing a book about train travel in the 1800’s, I discovered information that intrigued me.

I’ve seen train travel depicted in various ways in movies/westerns and never really thought much about it, but when I wanted to write scenes on a train for my book, I realized I needed to know more.

The lowest price ticket, third class, put a passenger in an open car with a wood seat and one “washroom” to be shared by men and women, situated at one end of the car, and unsavory company. The washroom would have a reservoir to dip water to wash and an outhouse style “commode”. These people could usually only afford the low price ticket and brought their food with them if it was a long journey,.

The next level of traveler, second class, purchased a ticket for an enclosed passenger car with padded seats, a men’s and ladies, “wash room”, and they could either bring their own food, purchase meals at the meal stops, or at the buffet car. But the meal stops were only fifteen to twenty minutes long while the train took on water and the food was usually not very good.

Until 1857 when George Pullman, a carpenter, invented the Pullman Sleeping car, first class passengers had leather upholstered seats in enclosed cars with two washrooms- men’s on one end and women’s on the other and use of a buffet or dining car. When the sleeping car began being used on the overnight trips, railroads used this new luxury coach in their ads to increase train travel. Before Pullman’s luxury cars were built, there had been railroad cars which had wooden bunks a passenger could bring their own bedding and use.

The plush Pullman coaches had padded velvet seats that folded down into comfortable beds and beds were pulled down from the ceiling as well. The first cars had curtains that closed for privacy. And special “Pullman Porters” were men trained to attend the passengers needs. These cars were made of mahogany, black walnut, and oak with etchings on the glass doors on the ends and gas lit chandeliers. One end of the car had a man’s salon, wash room, and lavatory while the other end had these same amenities for the women. They also had hot running water.

The first class passengers in the Pullman coaches either ate in the dining car, if the line they are riding had them, or the buffet car, where they could purchase sandwiches, drinks, and snack items, or they could also suffer the poor fare and rushed meal at the meal stops.

The dining cars by the 1870’s offered a menu of over 80 dishes with a price of 75 cents per meal- the equivalent of an average traveler’s daily wage. So though the second and third class passengers could eat in the dining car, few were able to afford the luxury.

Of course this in only a fraction of the information I uncovered, but I thought you might find it interesting.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I was writing another blog about what to do with our ideas once we get them when it dawned on me that I should talk about Tamaha, Oklahoma for my Cactus Rose blog today.

Though there’s very little to say about the actual town of Tamaha as it exists today, I used it in my story, Fire Eyes, due for release on May 29. (SEE FOLLOWING EXCERPT)

There’s an odd thing that happened that made me include Tamaha in my book. I’d been working on it, and had come to the part where the villain and his gang needed to reference a landmark. But which one? I try to stay as historically accurate in my writing as possible, and this story takes place in the eastern part of the state, toward the Arkansas/Oklahoma border. I must admit, I’m not as familiar with that part of the state as I am with the central part, since that’s where I was born and raised. A lot of these smaller towns don’t even dot the map, and I had never heard of Tamaha.

Until one day in May, 2005. I’d just spoken with a lifelong friend, DaNel Jennings, who now lives in a town in that eastern area of the state. In the course of the conversation, she mentioned that she and her husband were doing some genealogical research and she had learned she had some relatives buried in a small cemetery in Tamaha. Now, the intriguing part of this was that her relatives bore the same last name as my maiden name, “Moss.”

“Wouldn’t it be funny if we really WERE related?” she asked. We’d always secretly hoped we were, and pretended that we were, when we were kids.

“Yes,” I responded with a laugh, “but where in the HECK is Tamaha?” (As if I would know.) She began trying to tell me where it was, and I said, “Never mind. It’s a good thing Jeff knows where he’s going. Let me know what you find.”

I hung up, wistfully wishing that I could go with her—but that was a three-hour drive and they were leaving the next day. No way I could take off and drive down there on the spur of the moment, with family obligations.

A couple of hours later, my sister Karen called. “Cheryl, I need you to come down this weekend,” she said. I was really intrigued, because she is my “much older” sister—10 years older—and never much “needed” me for anything before.

“What’s going on?”

“I promised Mr. Borin I would take him to visit the graves of his parents and siblings for Memorial Day, and two of his brothers are buried in a cemetery in Tamaha—”

I never heard the rest of her sentence. I was sure I had misunderstood. “Where?”

“Tamaha. And the others—”

I interrupted her. “Wait, I have to tell you something.” I couldn’t believe it. I’d never heard of this place before, and now, within the space of 2 hours, two people who were very close to me had told me they were going to be going to the cemetery there!

Chills raced through my body. This was no mere “coincidence.” I promised her I would be there—no matter what—Friday afternoon. We would be going on Saturday morning.

I would never have found the place on my own. I doubt that Mapquest even has it on their site. But Mr. Borin, an older gentleman my sister had befriended in years past, knew exactly where to go. Once we got there, I stepped out and found the headstones for the “Moss” family. It was amazing to think that my best friend, DaNel, whom I had not seen in over a year, had been standing where I was just a few days earlier—a place neither of us had been before. There was an incredible sense of connection.

As the three of us, Karen, Mr. Borin, and I stood in the quiet peacefulness of the old cemetery, a man made his way toward us. “Can I help you?” he asked. We explained why we were there. “Let me show you the historical side of Tamaha while you’re here,” he said cheerfully.

The cemetery is on a bluff overlooking the Arkansas River. “Right down there is where the J.R. Williams was sunk. She was a Confederate ship, but the Union seized her and changed the name to the J.R. Williams. But Stand Watie and his men seized her back.”(June 15, 1864) He chuckled at the thought.

“Come on, I’ll show you the largest black oak tree in Oklahoma—and the oldest.” Sure enough, it stood towering over one of the first buildings of the settlement of Tamaha, dating back to the 1800’s.

Next, we visited the town jail, the oldest jail in Oklahoma, built in 1886. We were able to walk right into it and take pictures. “We’re trying to get money up to preserve it,” he said. It stood in the middle of an overgrown field. “Watch out for snakes, hon,” he told me.

When we left, I knew I had my landmarks that I needed for my book. I had seen it, and my imagination took over. It was the “jog” I needed to get on with the writing, but I will never believe for one minute that it was coincidence.

Have any of you ever experienced anything like this? Some kind of remarkable occurrence that has affected your writing in some way? Share it, if you have—I know I can’t be the only one!

Below is an excerpt from FIRE EYES. I hope you enjoy it!


THE SET UP: A stranger has shown up at Jessica’s door in the evening. She is reluctant to let him inside, even though good manners would dictate that she find him a meal and a place to bed down. There is something about him she doesn’t like—and with good reason, as we find out.

“Evenin’, ma’am.”

The stranger looked down the business end of Jessica’s Henry repeater. It was cocked and ready for action.

She drew a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves. She stood just inside the cabin door, the muzzle of the rifle gleaming in the lamplight that spilled around her from the interior.

He raised his hands and gave her a sheepish grin. “Don’t mean to startle you. Just hopin’ for a meal. Settlers are few and far between in these here parts.”

“Where’s your horse?” She didn’t lower the gun.

“Well, funny thing. I kinda hate to admit it.” He rubbed the back of his neck and looked away. “I, uh, lost him. Playin’ poker.”


“Over to Tamaha.”

“You’re quite a ways from Tamaha,” she said. “Even farther from where I expect you call home.”

He gave a slow, white grin. “More recently, I hail from the Republic of Texas.”

Jessica raised her chin a notch. It was almost as if this man invited dissension. She disliked the cool, unperturbed way he said it. The Republic of Texas. “Texas is a state, Mister. Has been for over twenty years.”

“Well, now,” he said, placing his booted foot on the bottom porch step. “I guess that all depends on who you’re talkin’ to.”

Her eyes narrowed, and she stepped back to shut the door. “I think you better—”

“Ma’am, I’m awful hungry. I’d be glad for any crumb you could spare.”

“What did you say your name was?” Her voice shook, and she cleared her throat to cover her nervousness. Most people had better manners than to show up right at dark.

“I didn’t. But, it’s Freeman. Andy Freeman.”

“Are you related to Dave Freeman?”

“He’s my brother.” He gave her a sincere look. “Look, ma’am, I’d sure feel a heap better talkin’ to you if I wasn’t lookin’ at you through that repeater. I been lookin’ for Dave.” There was an excited hopefulness in his tone. “You seen him? Ma, she sent me up here after him. She’s just a-hankerin’ for news of him. He ain’t real good about letter-writin’.”

Jessica sighed and lowered the rifle. “Come on in, Mr. Freeman. I’ll see what I can find for you to eat, and give you what news I have of your brother.”

“Thank you, Ma’am. I sure do appreciate your hospitality.”

Rolling Restaurant--The Chuckwagon

Charles Goodnight is credited with inventing the chuck wagon. In 1866 he and his partner, Oliver Loving, made preparations to take a herd of 2,000 longhorn cattle from near fort Belknap in northern Texas, to Denver. Goodnight purchased a government wagon and had it completely rebuilt according to his specifications. The distinguishing feature of the wagon was the sloping box on the rear with hinged lid that lowered to become a cook's worktable. The box was fitted to the width of the wagon and contained shelves and drawers for holding food and utensils. To the cowboys, "chuck" was food, so the box was called a chuck box and the wagon became known as a chuck wagon. There was usually a cowhide stretched beneath the wagon bed and fastened at the corners; it was used to carry wood or cow chips. In the front of some of the wagons was a jockey box, which was used for storing tools and heavier equipment needed on the trail.
During the long trail drives, the chuck wagon was the headquarters of every cattle outfit on the range. The cowboys didn't just eat their meals there; it was their social center and recreational spot. – a natural gathering place for exchanging "windies," or tall tales, listening to music if their happened to be a musician in the group, or just recounting the experiences of the day. The chuck wagon was also the cowboy’s only known address – truly their home on the range. And if the chuck wagon was their home, the chuck wagon cook was the king. He ruled the wagon with an absolute hand. Because the morale of the men and the smooth functioning of the camp depended largely upon him, the cook’s authority was unquestioned. Even the wagon boss walked softly in the vicinity of the chuck wagon cook. Wagon cooks as a group had the reputation of being ill-tempered, and no wonder. Their working conditions usually left a lot to be desired. The nature of the cook’s job required that he get up several hours earlier than the cowhands, so he worked longer hours with less sleep. When the outfit was on the move, he had to be at the next appointed camp and have a hot meal ready on time. He was often short of fuel or water. He was constantly called upon to battle the elements – wind, rain, sand, mud, insects, and even rattlesnakes – while preparing his meals. In addition to preparing meals, Cookie also was expected to act as barber, doctor, banker, and sometimes as mediator or referee if a disturbance among the cowboys arose. He was keeper of the home fires, such as they were, out on the range.
The atmosphere around a chuck wagon has been described as pleasantly barbaric, as might be expected with a group of men far from home who were doing rough, dirty work under sometimes brutal conditions. The language was colorful and often profane. There were, however, definite rules of behavior around the chuck. Most were unwritten laws understood by all but the greenest of cowhands. For example, riders approaching the campsite always stayed downwind from the chuck wagon so that they didn't cause dust to blow into the food. No horse could be tied to the chuck wagon wheel or hobbled too close to camp. Cowboys looking for warmth never crowded around the cook’s fire. There was no scuffling about of kicking up billows of dust around the chuck wagon while meals were being prepared.
When it came to eating, no cowboy dared help himself to food or touch a cooking instrument without Cookie’s permission. The cowboys never used the cook’s worktable as a dining table; they sat on the ground and used their laps instead. When dishing out a helping of food from a pot, they placed the lid where it wouldn’t touch the dirt. It was against the rules for a cowboy to take the last piece of anything unless he was sure the rest of the group was through eating. If a man got up during a meal to refill his cup with coffee and someone yelled, " Man at the pot," he was supposed to fill all the cups held out to him as well as his own. After a meal, the cowboys always scraped their plates clean and put them in the "wreck pan" or the receptacle that the cook provided for this purpose. Like most rules of etiquette, the rules around the chuck wagon were based on concern for others and common sense. Along with sourdough biscuits and coffee, most chuck wagon meals included beans, or frijoles, as they were often called. Beef was something that was never in short supply, and a good chuck wagon cook knew how to prepare it in many different ways. Fried steak was the most common – the cowboys never seemed to get tired of it – but pot roasts, short ribs, and stew showed up often on the menu. If Cookie had time, and he was feeling kindly toward "the boys," as he called the cowhands, he would make a desert. Usually it was a two-crust pie made with apples or some other dried fruit. To let the steam out, he often cut the outfit’s brand into the top crust of the pie. Simple food, a seemingly monotonous menu, and less than ideal dining arrangements were standard on the range. Yet many retired cowboys get misty-eyed when they recall their food from their days with the wagon.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Ollokot, Killed in Action October 4, 1877

Ollokott, brother of Chief Joseph whom I wrote about a while back, was a war chief of the Nez Perce band of the Wallowa Valley in Oregon. Although his birth date is unrecorded, he was surely born in the 1840’s, to Old Joseph (Tuekakas) and Arenoth. As a child, he was known as Tewetakis.

With Joseph destined as the peacemaker, Ollokot learned the traits and duties of a hunter and warrior and attended treaty signings with his father and brother. However, one treaty, the Lapwai, his father and brother did not sign.

Like his father and brother, he adhered to the “Dreamer ritual” teachings of the shaman and prophet, Smohalla, who advocated passive resistance to the American path of tribal destruction. However, as Ollokot grew up, his reputation grew as a strong warrior and political leader, and he became a war chief upon his father’s death in 1871. At this time, Joseph became the administrative chief.

In 1876, General Oliver Otis Howard, commander of the Military Department of the Columbia, authorized a meeting with the Nez Perce at Fort Lapwai along with the Secretary of the Interior who was authorized to buy Joseph’s land. The brothers, however, remembered that their late father had not signed the previous Lapwai treaty, hearing again his cautionary words: Never sign a treaty selling your home. Your father and your mother are buried here….never sell their bones.

As such, the brothers insisted that their claim to the Wallow valley was valid and called for the removal of whites who had settled there.

Although Ollokot played an important peace role with General Howard in April 1877, Howard insisted the Nez Perce move to the Lapwai reservation in Idaho despite their protests about leaving their native lands.

The Nez Perce was an association of independent bands, not a united nation, so each summer the bends met in tribal council at Tolo Lake. Here the leaders discussed policies for treaties, trade, safety and the common good. They also took opportunity to perform their “Dreamer” rituals. The yearly gathering also served as a general social gathering. While Joseph and Ollokot were away from the Nez Percé assembly at Tolo Lake that spring of 1877, young warriors from war chief White Bird's band, left the group and attacked four white men at a settlement at the Salmon River. The four were the first white men killed by any Nez Percé since the tribe assisted the weakened Lewis and Clark expedition in 1806.

This unfortunate raid started up reprisals and skirmishes, culminating in Joseph’s legendary journey to freedom. At one point, Ollokot boldly led a group of warriors into General Howard's camp and captured 100 of their pack mules. From the beginning of the Nez Percé War to the end, the number of warriors led by the war chief Ollokot never exceeded 250 men. Despite the small number, the Nez Perce fought 20 skirmishes and five major battles against forces that totaled about 2,000 soldiers, many civilian volunteers, and several treaty Nez Percé scouts.

Ollokot was killed while fighting at the final battle on Snake Creek, near the Bear Paw Mountains on October 4, 1877. He had married Tamalwinonmi, whose name means Heavy Rain Breaking Branches, or Cloudburst. Their only child, a girl named for her mother, was known as Sarah, and later on, Sarah Connor.

Of course there are tons of details I do not have space or expertise to mention in the fascinating saga of the Nez Perce, but the facts of their culture and tragic history have inspired me to start creating a story for the Earth Songs line.

And I hope you’ll do me the honor of reading Marrying Minda, soon to be released, the tale of a mail-order bride who comes to Nebraska and finds herself married to the wrong man. His kisses melt her toes, and vice versa. But the handsome cowboy can’t wait to hightail it back to Texas.

Happy Mother’s Day.


Thursday, May 7, 2009


When we think of the old west, images of cowboys, trail drives, gamblers, dancehalls, miners, outlaws and the like usually come to mind, but there are many other occupations which played large roles during that time, one of those being loggers.

Saw mills, logging camps, and lumber yards were in high demand, especially needed as the railroad laid tracks to connect the east and west coasts. White pines in the north, Ponderosa in the south, and every other pine in-between were highly sought after.

In the north woods log drives were common place every spring. During the winter months trees were fallen and stockpiled on the banks of waterways. In early spring they were corralled on the ice, and after spring break up (when all the ice melted), the logs were drove down river to the saw mills. There were usually four specific crews that worked to get the logs to the end of the drive. The River Pigs were the elite crew, or the front runners, these men balanced on the floating logs, kept the lead logs moving at high speed. One wrong step could send a man into the often raging waters, and end his life. The next crews were the drivers, they kept the logs from bunching up behind the pigs, and the last crews in the water were the rear sackers, they searched out wayward logs that would get separated from the greater mass. The fourth crews were those who worked in the wanigan. It was a floating cook shack, medical center, and anything else the drivers needed.

Like cattle drives, the log drives were long, time consuming trips, but unlike cattle drives, it was difficult for loggers to find a place for the logs to ‘bed down’ for the night. If calm backwaters couldn’t be found, log drivers worked around the clock, until a suitable spot could be found for the men to get a small amount of needed rest. Drives were grueling, intense work.

As soon as the drives ended, cruisers would start exploring the woods and blazing trees or areas to be harvested the following winter. More often than not, new logging camps with large buildings would need to be built in these new areas. Also like cattle, every log was branded with the camp’s brand so when the drive arrived at the saw mills, the correct company would be credited for their logs.

In northern Minnesota, several hospitals were built with money a very enterprising nun collected from lumberjacks and lumber companies. Sister Amata was known as the Lumberjack Sister and for over thirty years, from the late 1880’s to the 1920’s, she walked the woods, selling hospital tickets or chits for $1-$5 each. These ‘chits’ guaranteed the barrier free care at one of the local hospitals if they were injured while working. Stated right on the ticket was the disclaimer that the ‘chit’ was void if the injury came about due to liquor or fighting

My logging story, A Wife for Big John, takes place in the northern woods of Minnesota, where Dani Jones finagles herself a job at a logging camp. Big John Thompson did need a new cook for the lumberjacks, but upon his arrival home from the spring drive, he’s floored to discover the Daniel Jones he hired is actually Danielle Jones. Dani is trying to make enough money to travel to California and be reunited with her fiancé, but while working for Big John, decides he needs a wife and sets out to find him one. The story has received several wonderful reviews including a recommended read. Here is a short blurb from when John returns home from the drive:

A final glance touched each of the boys before he turned, climbed the steps, and strolled across the porch. The hinges of the screen door gave a faint screech as he pulled the framed door wide. He stepped around it and after sending a quick glance over his shoulder, twisted the brass knob of the glass-paneled door. The screen door slapped shut as he stepped into the front entranceway. He headed for the kitchen, ready to bellow for Howard and find out why there were children in his front yard. Movement in the parlor caught his attention and stilled the words in his throat. Nervous, he took one slight step toward the room on his left, and leaned around the wall.

His feet jumped and almost caused him to stumble as he pulled his head back. There were more of them! In his parlor, and these ones, were girls. They were sitting on the settee and upon the floor- playing with his checkerboard and poker cards.
John turned and put his feet in the direction of the kitchen. Howard had a lot to explain. Two steps later a scream like he’d never heard before echoed through the house.

“What the…” he exclaimed, and jolted for the staircase on the right. The sound had come from one of the upstairs bedrooms.

Fortunately, he looked down as his big feet reached the stairs, because there on the bottom step, sat another little creature. Long, blond hair hung around the cherub face smiling up at him. Mouse, the large, white tomcat that lived in the summer kitchen sat on her lap and looked as if he enjoyed the position. The cat lowered his head as a miniature hand rubbed it between the ears.

“Hi,” the little girl greeted.

His feet sidestepped, this way and that, as he tried not to step on the tiny person. “Hi,” he repeated, grabbed the solid, wood banister with one hand and chose to step over her as another scream vibrated the house. His feet flew above her head and took the stairs three at a time.

At the top landing, John glanced left and right. Which direction had it came from?
A noise drifted past, muffled, like someone talking. It came from his right. His feet hurried to the first door down the hall. As his hand reached down to twist the knob, he paused for a moment to listen. Someone was definitely in the room and it didn’t sound like Howard. Who could it be?

He shoved the door open. The words that had formed in his mind caught in his throat as his eyes took in the scene.

Dani heard the door bang open, but didn’t turn around. “Oh good, Howard, you’re back. This little one is just making their arrival.” All of her attention needed to stay focused to guide the slippery little infant from its mother’s womb. Within seconds, a tiny, perfect body glided into her waiting hands with a rush. One hand supported the round head as she turned the tiny form to make a quick assessment. “We have a fine baby boy here.”

With a cotton cloth, she removed the blood and mucus from his face to clear the small airways. Her fingers shook. When the tiny mouth emitted a slight cough, she encouraged, “That’s right little man, take in a deep breath and let your mama hear you scream.” The baby followed her instructions and as his wail filled the room, she twisted her head to the door. “Howard?”

Dani drew her brows down in confusion as she caught sight of the bulk of a man filling the entire doorway. “Oh! Um, Sir?” She didn’t recognize the tall lumberjack, but noticed the way his face was going from red to white. Her gaze fluttered between the infant in her arms, and the man in the door. She could do nothing but watch as the man melted onto the floor. Her eyes grew wide with shock, and her body gave a small jerk when his head hit the floor with a solid thud.

I must mention, I have two stories being released in May. Rancher McBride and Doctor McBride. The third McBride brother, Sheriff McBride is part of the Lawmen and Outlaws Anthology being released in June.

Thanks for reading!
Lauri Robinson

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Religion in West Texas - Historic Camp

"These are hallowed grounds. You'll find God here. Come walk with Him."

This statement can be found on the Paisano Baptist Encampment's website. I was fortunate enough to visit the campground the weekend of April 24-26, 2009 for a writing retreat. It's history intrigued me, so I felt this would be a great topic to share with readers.

Located just outside Alpine on the highway to Marfa, the encampment has been the local gathering ground for a week of renewal and inspiration since 1915. The first attendees slept in tents or in bedrolls on the ground. Meals were served from Army chuck wagons. The picture to the left is of the cooking staff in 1921.

Meals were eaten under an eating shed, and services and Bible studies were held under a tin-roofed tabernacle. At the first camps, ranchers, families, businessmen, preachers, and worshipers sat around a campfire and discussed expenses. Each gave what they could so that the camp could continue.

In the picture to the right, also taken in 1921, note that the women and girls wore dresses, and the men dress pants and white shirts.

Eventually families and churches started building cabins. The present tabernacle was built in 1950. At that time water, sewer, and electrical utilities were added, as well as trailer parking areas.

Today an offering is collected at the last service that fully funds the camp. A foundation now helps with expenses outside the budget. A full time manager and assistant oversee camp maintenance. The encampment is also used by other organizations.

The annual encampment takes place in late July. Services begin Sunday evening and end after breakfast the following Saturday morning. Though the encampment is run by the Baptist, individuals and churches from other denominations participate. I've been told that on a warm summer evening, nothing is more beautiful than voices raised in songs of praise echoing through the mountains.

The sign above greets visitors as they enter the encampment. Below is a picture of some of the cabins at the encampment today. Some are very small, others are larger with bedrooms, kitchens, and modern baths.

My husband and I stayed in one of the renovated cabins and were very comfortable. There are very few lights at the encampment, so the star show is magnificent. A flashlight is needed to navigate from one area to the other.

I hope one day to be able to attend one of the gatherings in July.

The vintage pictures above were taken from Information on Paisano Encampment was taken from

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

Friday, May 1, 2009


Head on over to Behind the Garden Gate, today, May 1st, during the Wild Rose Press Birthday Bash and you could win a book. Each line is giving away a book during their appointed hour. Cactus Rose will be from 9am-10am so if you've got a hankerin' for a historical western, head on over and leave a comment!