Thursday, October 29, 2009

Steampunk and Weird Wild West

I have to confess a secret.
I love Steampunk

I haven’t discarded my intense attraction to writing Western romance, but my writing is morphing into a strange combination of Victorian age, alternate history with fantasy elements set in the post-Civil War era of the American West.

Try to say that to an agent or editor and watch their facial expressions. A few people do “get it” but more of them will say, “What’s Steampunk”?

So, here’s the official Wikipedia definition: Steampunk a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of "the path not taken" of such technology as dirigibles, analog computers, or digital mechanical computers (such as Charles Babbage's Analytical engine); these frequently are presented in an idealized light, or with a presumption of functionality.

Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical "steampunk" style, and a number of visual and musical artists have been described as steampunk. But often, when I’ve heard people search for a quick shorthand for defining the genre, they say, “Wild, Wild West” is Steampunk. Both the movie and the televison series clearly illustrate the elements found in a Steampunk. And both are set in the American West.

When I first discovered Steampunk, I was attracted to the reference to the Victorian era. Most of the books I’ve written have a setting between 1848 and 1888. I love the clothing, lifestyle, proper rules and etiquette of that age. When I’ve set my books, although they are in Montana, they are also clearly in the mid-19th century. So when I heard about a sub-genre of literature and an artistic movement that included fashion, music and other elements that focused on the era, I was fascinated.

That lead me to the Steamcon, the first gathering of folks in the Northwest who idolize Steampunk. It was a three-day event that offered workshops, vendors and music – but most of all, costumed participants, to celebrate all things Steampunk. It was a delightful introduction to an amazing genre.

How do Westerns fit into this technological age of steam? Easily, I think. Consider that the Victorian era coincided with the exploration and settlement of the West. There are so many possiblities for creating stories that are set in the wild, unexplored wilderness beyond the Mississippi. With Steampunk, a writer has the freedom to rewrite history, to include magic, technology and a fantastical world all in the same work. The possiblities are endless and they excite me.

So, while my book coming out in January 2010 is clearly set in the reality of a Montana mining town in 1873, my work-in-progress expands the horizons of possiblities to take a setting of historical reality and mix it with all the “what ifs” of fantasy and speculative fiction in a Steampunk world.

I have no idea what I’m going to end up with, but it sure is fun to write!

What do you think about Steampunk? Have you heard about this genre?

Deborah Schneider, 2009 RWA Librarian of the Year
Promise Me – January 2010
View the book trailer at:


Roberta C.M. DeCaprio

I loved actress Jane Seymour in her portrayal of Michaela Quinn in the television series, “Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman.” Each week she rose above new and different challenges. She boldly faced the odds of a prejudiced time, to bring medical help to a small frontier town. Thinking back on that show inspired me to do a bit of research about a real woman pioneer doctor, and my search led me to the Gale Cengage Learning site (Women’s History) where I found Elizabeth Blackwell, woman physician (1821 – 1910).

She was the first fully accredited female doctor and an ardent reformer of medical and social mores. Her sisters-in-law Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown were pioneers in the advancement of women's rights, and her friends and associates included such 19th-century luminaries as William Lloyd Garrison, Florence Nightingale, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Eliot, Dorothea Dix, religious reformer Charles Kingsley, and Julia Ward Howe, author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Although considered ridiculous, even dangerous, for pursuing a medical degree in the 1840s, Elizabeth Blackwell forced open the gates of that profession. She later founded the first medical school for women, which resulted in both greater acceptances of female physicians and stricter standards for medical schools as a whole. By the time of her death in 1910, the number of female doctors in the United States had risen to over 7,000. Let me tell you more about a “real life” Dr. Quinn:

Born in Bristol, England, on February 3, 1821 Elizabeth Blackwell was the daughter of Samuel and Hannah (Lane) Blackwell. She was the third of nine surviving children in a close-knit, highly religious and moral family. Her father Samuel Blackwell was a prominent sugar refiner in the British port city of Bristol who saw to it that his five daughters received from their private tutors an education comparable to that of their brothers. This was no small achievement in a society that considered the proper education of girls to be one which left them, in the words of Noah Webster, merely "correct in their manners, respectable in their families, and agreeable in society." The highly esteemed Webster went on to note that "education is always wrong which raises a woman above the duties of her station"; Samuel Blackwell, an abolitionist and a vociferous dissenter from the Church of England, believed that the future duties of all his children included the reform of society.

As a child and an adolescent, Elizabeth Blackwell seems to have had little patience with actual sickness, once going so far as to lock herself in a closet to prevent her family from discovering that she had a fever. When a tutor used the freshly severed eye of a bull as an illustration for his physiology lesson, Elizabeth ran to the bathroom and was violently ill.

The Blackwells immigrated to America in August 1832 after a series of business losses convinced Samuel Blackwell that he would be better able to support his large family in the New World. Less than enthusiastic about the move, the large family nonetheless arrived in New York City after a grueling voyage of seven and a half weeks. There they became deeply involved in the American abolitionist movement, attending meetings and, for several weeks, hiding an escaped slave in their home who was on his way to Canada. Their financial affairs grew steadily more precarious, however, and in 1837, they moved to Cincinnati where Samuel Blackwell died the following year.
In the wake of his death, the family was forced to struggle for money, taking in boarders and giving music and English lessons to local children. Although this was a time when women married fairly young and were considered fit for little else, it appears that none of the Blackwell daughters, including Elizabeth, were ever particularly interested in that institution. In 1844, Blackwell visited a family friend who was dying of cancer and who told her how much she had suffered from the humiliation of being treated by male doctors. This woman also mentioned that Blackwell, who had such a "love of study," would make an ideal doctor; it was apparently this meeting which gave her the idea of pursuing a career in medicine.
Discreet inquiries to doctor friends concerning the possibility of acquiring a medical degree were met with incredulity or disgust, but she was not deterred. The following year, Elizabeth was able to secure a post teaching in Asheville, North Carolina, where she studied medicine privately with Dr. John Dickson; the year after, she taught music in Charleston, South Carolina, while continuing her studies with Dickson's brother, Dr. Samuel Dickson. By 1847, she was ready to begin applying to the leading medical schools, and they were ready to turn her down. Sixteen schools denied her admission before liberal Geneva College (now Hobart College) in upstate New York put her application to a student vote. Probably as a joke, the students agreed to the admission of this "upstart" female.
Today's frenzied medical student, interning for days on end and mortgaging the future to pay for school bills, bears little resemblance to the medical student of Elizabeth Blackwell's day. After only three years of private (but not particularly intensive) study with a practicing physician and 32 weeks of pass/fail college study, a young man was handed a medical degree. Doctors in bloodstained coats with dirty hands operated largely without benefit of anesthesia. While Elizabeth was applying to colleges in America, the Viennese Dr. Semmelweis was becoming the first doctor to insist that his attendants wash their hands before touching open wounds. It would be almost 20 more years before chemist Louis Pasteur would suggest the existence of germs and be viciously castigated by the medical community for his gall.
In November 1847, Elizabeth arrived at Geneva College, where the wives of the faculty and the women of the town thought her "either wicked or insane," and so stayed carefully away. Passing her final examinations at the head of the class, she was granted a medical degree on January 23, 1849, an occurrence so unprecedented that the English humor weekly Punch memorialized it in a set of verses. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell then returned to Philadelphia, where the formerly hostile hospitals now grudgingly permitted her further study. She was determined to become a surgeon.
After several months in Pennsylvania, during which time she became a naturalized citizen of the United States, Elizabeth traveled to Paris, where she hoped to study with one of the leading French surgeons. Denied access to Parisian hospitals because of her gender, she enrolled instead at La Maternite, a highly regarded midwifery school, in the summer of 1849. La Maternite's intensive course in obstetrics concerned both pre- and post-natal care, and often involved extremely ill infants. While attending to a child some four months after enrolling, Elizabeth inadvertently splashed some pus from the child's eyes into her own left eye. The child was infected with gonorrhea, and Elizabeth contracted ophthalmia neonatorum, a severe form of conjunctivitis which rendered her unable to "work or study or even read," and which later necessitated the removal of the infected eye. Although the loss of an eye made it impossible for her to become a surgeon, it did nothing to alter her intention of becoming a practicing physician--which was in no way guaranteed simply by her medical degree.
Unable to receive training, or even recognition, at Parisian hospitals, Elizabeth left France for London in October 1850. Partially through the intervention of a cousin, she was allowed to study under Sir James Paget in nearly all the wards of venerable St. Bartholomew's Hospital. While in London she became friends with the widow of Lord Byron and with Barbara Leigh Smith, who was one of the strongest proponents of the education of women in England and later the founder of England's first feminist committee. She also met Florence Nightingale shortly before that famous reformer defied convention and her family to study nursing; Elizabeth wholeheartedly agreed with Nightingale's belief that "sanitation was the supreme goal of medicine."
By mid-1851, the substantial amount of training she had received, in addition to her medical school studies, made Elizabeth more than ready for private practice. However, no male doctor would even consider the idea of a female associate, no matter how well trained. Her younger sister Emily had been struggling to become a doctor in America, and so Elizabeth returned to the United States with the intention of setting up a joint practice. The opposition Emily Blackwell encountered while trying to get a medical degree was, if anything, stronger than that which her sister had had to face. Even Geneva College refused to accept another female student, and when Emily was finally allowed to study at Rush Medical College in Chicago, that college was so strongly criticized by the state medical society that the college denied her admission for the second year of study.
Having determined to settle in New York City, Elizabeth Blackwell found it difficult to secure space for her practice; when a sympathizer finally allowed her to rent a boardinghouse room, all the other renters promptly moved out, scandalized at having to share quarters with a lady doctor. Forced to rent her own house, Elizabeth lived in the attic and used the main rooms as consulting space for the three liberal patients a week she'd managed to win over by the summer of 1852.
Less than two years later, Elizabeth opened the one-room New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children in a slum area near present-day Tompkins Square Park on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was some time before necessity gave the poor women and children the courage to go to the woman doctor's clinic, but when they did, the dispensary had to move to larger quarters. In the fall of 1854, Elizabeth adopted (although never legally) a seven-year-old Irish orphan named Kitty, who gradually became one of the family and lived with her until Elizabeth died.
The dispensary was doing well, and Elizabeth was beginning to have grander plans--not just an enlargement of her clinic, but an actual hospital where women doctors could treat poverty-stricken women and their children. She had managed to pull strings for the medical education of a German immigrant, Marie Zakrzewska, who had been chief of midwifery at the Royal Hospital in Berlin, and Dr. Zakrzewska returned to work in the dispensary after receiving her degree from Western Reserve Medical School (now Case Western Reserve) in Cleveland. In 1854, Emily Blackwell had also graduated from Western Reserve Medical School and departed for further training in Europe, where she studied under Sir James Simpson of Edinburgh, Scotland, and attempted to raise funds for her sister's dream hospital. After returning to America in 1856, Dr. Emily Blackwell joined her sister Elizabeth's clinic in New York, and on May 12, 1857, the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children was opened.
Liberal and reformers' groups from as far away as France and Boston had contributed funds towards the hospital's existence. Its beds were full within a month, although the first two times a patient died the hospital had to withstand attacks by neighborhood mobs convinced "the lady doctors were killing their patients." In 1858, Elizabeth, whose hospital had also served as a training ground for newly graduated female doctors, took a year's leave of absence to further the cause of women's education in England. While in London, she lectured extensively and became the first woman to have her name entered in the British Medical Register. It was one of these lectures that convinced Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, later the pioneer of English female doctors, to take up the study of medicine. Elizabeth apparently gave serious thought to remaining in England and possibly setting up a hospital similar to her own New York Infirmary, but at the end of the year she returned to America, where the infirmary soon moved to larger quarters.
In April 1861, the newly formed Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, and the Civil War began. In New York, Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell set up the Woman's Central Association of Relief to train nurses for the conflict; the army at this time had no hospital units. This association soon became the celebrated United States Sanitary Aid Commission, officially appointed by President Lincoln. Fearing that their notoriety would hinder the project, the Blackwells withdrew from the organization as it grew.
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued in September 1862, and, though it declared free only those slaves in seceded states, many working-class Northerners took it to mean that freed slaves would appropriate their jobs when they were drafted to fight. Violent riots broke out in New York City for three days in July 1863, during which time hundreds of blacks were slaughtered. Buildings, including some a mere block from the infirmary, were burned to the ground. White infirmary patients demanded that the Blackwells discharge several expectant black mothers who had escaped the South, a demand with which the doctors refused to comply.
The Women's Medical College opened in November 1868, adjacent to the New York Infirmary, with Elizabeth as professor of hygiene. It was the first school devoted entirely to the medical education of women and to upgrading that education. It later became one of the first medical schools in America to mandate four years of study. The first black woman to become a doctor, Rebecca Cole, was also one of the first graduates of the Women's Medical College.
Elizabeth returned to England in 1869, leaving the infirmary and the college in her sister's hands. Certain sources say that disputes between the sisters were the primary reason for the departure, but in her autobiography Elizabeth notes that by that period "the early pioneer work in America was ended," and in England it was not. In addition to her private practice and her efforts for women's rights, she took up the fight against venereal disease or, more specifically, the fight to repeal the Contagious Diseases Act. This act required the licensing and regular physical examination of prostitutes in an attempt to stem the spread of syphilis and other diseases. Elizabeth, who was highly moral and considered herself more a "Christian physiologist" than a doctor, saw this law as tacit permission for men to behave immorally.
Her health was gradually growing worse. In 1873, she was forced to spend time in Italy to recover strength lost in several bouts of illness. The following year, while curtailing her private practice, she was made professor of gynecology at the newly incorporated London School of Medicine for Women, which had been organized by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and by Sophia Jex-Blake, who would later become the fifth woman to have her name entered in the British Medical Register. Elizabeth's most important work, Counsel to Parents on the Moral Education of Children, was written in 1876. A highly controversial book at the time, it openly discussed sexual matters such as masturbation (of which she strongly disapproved), and would probably strike a modern reader as ill informed and dated.
In her later years, Elizabeth was also a strong opponent of vivisection and vaccination and considered the fledgling science of bacteriology to be utter nonsense. In 1879, she moved permanently to the village of Hastings on the English Channel, where she finally gave up private practice and wrote her autobiography, published in 1895 under the title Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women. A final four-month trip back to the United States was made in 1906, but she was too ill to visit the New York Infirmary, which had moved to buildings on 15th Street in Manhattan.
Elizabeth Blackwell died in England on May 31, 1910, at the age of 89. Due to scarce funds and the increasing acceptance of female students at more established universities, the Medical College had closed in 1899. The hospital she founded, however, now vastly enlarged and renamed New York Infirmary-Strang Clinic, still operates on East 15th Street.
Elizabeth Blackwell, the “real life” Dr. Quinn, never deterred from her dream of working in medicine. Her determination to reach her goal, against all odds (even with the ability to use only one eye), paved the way for all women doctors. Today female physicians are accepted and respected in hospitals and communities world-wide, many specialists in their field.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


When we write a short story or a novel, that work is a “journey” from beginning to end in many ways.

Hopefully, our main characters will learn something about themselves and grow emotionally and in their personal values of not only each other, but the world around them. They must become more aware of their place in the world as individuals to be able to give of themselves to another person, the hero to the heroine, and visa versa.

The main conflict of the story brings this about in a myriad of ways, through smaller, more personal conflicts and through the main thrust of the “big picture” dilemma. I always like to use Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell as a prime example of this, because the States’ War was the catalyst for everything that followed, but it also remained the backdrop throughout the book. This generated all of the personal losses and gains that Scarlett and Rhett made individually, so if the War hadn’t been the backdrop, the main original conflict, their personal stories would have taken very different routes and their love story quite possibly would have never happened.

No matter what kind of story we are trying to weave, we have to have movement throughout—not just of the characters’ growth, but of the setting and circumstances that surround them.

Have you ever thought about how important it is to have travel in your writing? No, it doesn’t have to be lengthy travel, although that’s a great possibility, too. Even a short trip allows things to happen physically to the characters, as well as providing some avenue for emotional growth and development among them.

One of my favorite examples of the importance of travel is the short story by Ernest Haycox, “Last Stage to Lordsburg.” You might know it better as the John Ford movie adaptation, “Stagecoach,” starring a very handsome young newbie…John Wayne. A varied group of people are traveling on a stagecoach that is attacked by Indians, including John Wayne, (a seriously good-looking young outlaw by the name of Johnny Ringo) who is being transported to prison. The dire circumstances these passengers find themselves in make a huge difference in the way they treat each other—including their hesitant acceptance of a fallen woman and the outlaw.

If your characters are going somewhere, things are bound to happen—even if they’re just going to the store, as in the short story “The Mist,” by Stephen King. Briefly, a man goes to the grocery store and is trapped inside with many other people by a malevolent fog that surrounds the store and tries to come inside. Eventually, he makes the decision to leave rather than wait for it to get inside and kill them all. He thinks he can make it to the pickup just outside in the parking lot. A woman that he really doesn’t know says she will go with him. By making this conscious decision, not only are they leaving behind their own families (he has a wife and son) that they know they’ll never see again, but if they make it to the vehicle and survive, they will be starting a new chapter of their lives together. It’s a great concept in my opinion—virtual strangers, being forced to make this kind of life-or-death decision in the blink of an eye, leaving everything they know behind, when all they had wanted to do was pick up a few groceries.

In all of my stories, there is some kind of travel involved. In Fire Eyes, although Jessica doesn’t travel during the story, she has had to travel to get to the place where it all takes place. And Kaed is brought to her, then travels away from her when he is well enough. Will he come back? That’s a huge conflict for them. He might be killed, where he’s going, but it’s his duty. He can’t turn away from that. After what has happened to him in his past, he has a lot of mixed feelings about settling down and trying again with a family, and with love.

One of my professors once stated, “There are only two things that happen in a story, basically. 1. A stranger comes to town. Or, 2. A character leaves town.” Pretty simplistic, and I think what she was trying to tell us was that travel is a great way to get the conflict and plot of a story moving in the right direction. I always think of “Shane” when I think of “a stranger coming to town” because that is just such a super example of how the entire story is resolved by a conflicted character, that no one ever really gets to know. Yet, although he may have a checkered past, he steps in and makes things right for the Staretts, and the rest of the community.

In my upcoming release, Time Plains Drifter, a totally different kind of travel is involved—time travel. The hero is thrown forward sixteen years from the date he died (yes, he’s a very reluctant angel) and the heroine is flung backward one hundred fifteen years by a comet that has rearranged the bands of time on earth. They come together in 1895 in the middle of Indian Territory. But the time travel is just a means to bring them together for the real conflict, and that is the case with most of the stories we write. We aren’t writing to look at the scenery/history: we want to see the conflict, and the travel is just a way to get that to happen.

How do you use travel in your writing? Do you have any tips that might make it easier to describe the actual travel sequences? I find that is the hardest thing sometimes, for me.

Here's an excerpt from my upcoming Dec. 2 TWRP release, "A NIGHT FOR MIRACLES". In this western short story, a wounded gunman and three children seek shelter on Christmas Eve with a lonely widow. Not only is their travel important, but the timing of that journey. I hope you enjoy!

He sighed, his breath drawn up short. “I didn’t want to keep riding,” he said quietly. “No, that’s not right.” He shook his head. “I couldn’t keep riding. When I saw this cabin, it was like an answer to a prayer.” She raised an eyebrow, and he slanted her a rueful smile. “No, I’m not one to pray too much, but sometimes hope’s all there is. That, and believing maybe everything will come around right—for once.” He sighed and closed his eyes. “We’ve barged in on you, haven’t we? Gave you no choice but to grant us shelter. I’m sorry—”

“No.” She laid a hand on his arm and squeezed, cutting off the rest of his apology. She’d been prickly, and she was suddenly ashamed. It was time to put aside her own guarded feelings and do what she could to help Nick Dalton and the children. They were all counting on her. “Please, don’t say you’re sorry. I’m afraid I should be apologizing to you. I haven’t been as--gracious as I should have. You’re welcome here, for as long as you want to stay.” She was surprised to find she meant it.

He gave her a sardonic white grin that creased the lines at the corners of his eyes, as if he were laughing at the entire situation, himself included.

“My…reputation…hinders a fair amount of hospitality sometimes.” He paused before he went on. “The light inside here warmed me, even in that wind. I could tell the kids felt the same. They got so…hopeful all of a sudden. Like a glimpse of heaven in all that damn snow.”

“Somehow, I’m beginning to wonder how much of what they say about you is really true,” Angela said in a low tone. She leaned over the wound again.

The dancing laughter evaporated from his expression as soon as she spoke the soft words.

“You don’t need to be afraid. I’d never hurt you.” Their eyes locked, the air sizzling between them. He let his breath out slowly on a sigh. “Never.”

A noise from the doorway caught Angela’s attention, and she tore her gaze away from his to see the two younger children peering around the corner. They pulled back quickly out of sight as she turned.

“Go easy on ’em, Angela,” Nick said quietly. “They’ve had…a rough time of it.”
His concern for the children was not what she’d expected, and as she called to them, she wondered again what strange circumstances had brought them all together. They sheepishly came from the kitchen into the bedroom. Angela quickly pulled the sheet over the hole in Nick’s side to hide it from their view.

“Thanks,” he muttered, giving her a grateful look before he turned to the children again. “Where’s Will?” he asked, his tone rough with the suppressed pain.

Leah glanced toward the bedroom doorway. “He went out back to bring in some more wood…” She trailed off at Nick’s sharply indrawn breath.

“He shouldn’t be out there.”

The faint measure of worry in the gunman’s tone mystified Angela. But she recognized that he didn’t want to speak plainly in front of the youngsters. She stood up and took Charlie’s hand. “Come with me, you two,” she said. “I bet I can find something you’ll like. A surprise.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Underground Living

In the late 1800's the Chinese who came to the United States didn't find the riches they came seeking. Instead they found menial jobs with little pay and discrimination. That is after the railroads were through using them. Many of the towns they tried to live in didn't like having them around or had rules. One being they weren't allowed on the streets after dark.

In some towns they created underground communities. One such place is in Pendleton, OR. Today they give tours of the tunnels, living quarters, and businesses that thrived in the late 1800's and early 1900's in that town.

If you remember a few months back when I wrote about some of Oregon's notorious characters one was a man named Hank Vaughn who rode his horse into saloons and kept the town on it's toes. Pendleton was a community of about 1500 people and had 18 bordellos and 32 saloons. It was the hub of the area.

The Chinese worked for above ground businesses during the day then slipped into the tunnels and basements after dark. Underground they worked in illegal gambling houses, brothels, and saloons in basements. The tunnels connected the basements and led them to areas where they slept, lived, had their own business, and opium dens.

One Chinese who did well was Hop Sing. He had a laundry and bath service. He drew his water from a well in the basement of his business. Which was good until he had to throw the water out. Then he had to pack it up the stairs and toss it out in the alley. To save himself work, he sold the first bath in a tub for 10 cents then drop a penny for each consecutive bath in the same water, adding a hot bucket of water to each new bather.

They give tours of the underground city and the brothels that were thriving up until the 1950's. One of these days I'm headed there because it has piqued my interest and needs to be in a book. It is also only 4 hours away.

Paty Jager

Photos by David Jennings

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Western Showdown

Western novels and movies thrive on some kind of shoot-out or showdown, in which one or more men will die. The term is also loosely used to describe a poker tournament, a golf tournament, and even a football game. Each year, the University of Texas plays the University of Oklahoma, but the game is played halfway between Austin, Texas and Norman, Oklahoma—in the Cottonbowl in Dallas. Title of the game: RED RIVER RIVALRY, but the first name was Red River Shoot-Out, then Red River Showdown. Now, probably to be politically correct, it carries a new name.

Webster’s Dictionary definition: “A showdown is a decisive confrontation or contest.” In this case, often no one dies, but simply wins. The term “shoot-out” is synonymous, but in this case, someone always dies.

A famous true showdown, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, occurred in 1881 in Tombstone, Arizona Territory. The location was not a corral at all, but a 15x20 foot space between Fly’s Lodging House and the MacDonald Assay House. The final stages of the gunfight took place at the end of Fremont Street. The local newspaper headlined: “A Desperate Fight Between Officers of the Law and Cowboys.” The officers consisted of Wyatt Earp, his two brothers, and Doc Holliday.

Many Western movies revolve around the premise of a showdown. At times, the meeting occurs between only two men, reminiscent of the duel or sword fight. Most movies, though, tell the story of two sides, each having a sidekick or a group to back up the main characters.

Gunfight at the OK Corral lives on as one of the best shootouts in history.

Movie-makers filmed hundreds of Westerns. Here’s a list of the best from the Top Ten Best Western Shoot-outs:

1. Unforgiven-Clint Eastwood

2. Open Range-Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall

3. Tombstone-Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer

4. The Shootist-John Wayne

5. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly-Clint Eastwood

6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid-Paul Newman and Robert Redford

7. High Noon-Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly

8. The Wild Bunch-William Holden and Ernest Borgnine

9. Once Upon a Time in the West-Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda

10. The Quick and the Dead- Gene Hackman, Sharon Stone, Russell Crowe, and Leonardo DeCaprio

If I made a list, High Noon would be #1. In this tale, one man stands alone, because not one other citizen had the nerve to stand up to the approaching murderous gang. Not only did Gary Cooper face his extreme fear of dealing with the outlaws alone, he faced losing his bride, played by Grace Kelly, on their wedding day because she did not condone violence. If you’re so young that you’ve never watched High Noon, find the DVD and indulge yourself. The music alone is worth the time.

Celia Yeary
SHOWDOWN IN SOUTHFORK: eBook available at:
Print and eBook available at:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sam Bass, Outlaw

Sam Bass 1851-1878 Died at age 27

Sam Bass was born on a farm near Mitchell, Indiana on July 21, 1851. He was orphaned before the age of thirteen. He ran away from an uncle and worked at a sawmill for about a year in Mississippi. In early fall of 1870, he arrived in Denton Texas to work as a cowboy for the winter, but the life of a cowboy didn't live up to his boyhood dreams. He returned to the town of Denton and worked as a horse handler for the Lace House Hotel. Later, he worked for Sheriff William F. Eagan, caring for livestock, cutting firewood, and building fences.
At the age of 19, he became interested in racing horses. When this played out, he joined a group of drovers and helped drive a small herd to Dodge City, Kansas. He squandered his money on gambling. Drifting to Deadwood, South Dakota, he enjoyed a small boom in gold mining.

In 1877, he and Joel Collins tried freighting, without success, then recruited several hard characters to rob stagecoaches. On stolen horses, they held up seven coaches without much monetary success.

Next, in search of bigger loot, a band of six, led by Bass and Collins, they rode to Big Springs, Nebraska and robbed the Union Pacific passenger train. Their haul was $60,000 in newly minted twenty-dollar gold pieces from the express car and $1,300 plus gold watches from the passengers.

On July 20, 1878, Major John B. Jones, commander of the Frontier Battalion of Texas Rangers engaged in a gun battle with Bass and his men. Bass was wounded. the next morning he was found lying helpless in a pasture north of town and brought back to Round Rock. He died there on July 21, which happened to be the date of his twenty-seventh birday. He was buried in Round Rock

According to local lore, the outlaw Sam Bass used the vicinity of Rosston, Texas as a rendezvous, and the community celebrates Sam Bass Day annually on the third Saturday in July.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Tanya Hanson: Wild Horses

Nearly 37,000 wild horses and burros --descendants of the Wild West -- roam Nevada, California, and Wyoming. Another 32,000 are tended in corrals and pastures in Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. While the Bureau of Land Management rounds up thousands annually for adoption, there have been fewer takers the last few years.

In recent months, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior Ken Salazar has warned that the slaughter of many of these animals might be inevitable. Water and forage are limited in the West, he said, and drought and wildfire threaten both range land and the animals' well-being.

Fortunately, Salazar just announced to Congress a new plan to protect both the animals and range by moving thousands of horses and burros to preserves in the Midwest and East. Five preserves in addition to two already maintained would become refuge for 25,000 wild horses and burros. Many remaining on the range would be neutered, and reproduction closely monitored.

The planned preserves, essentially large ranches, would be accessible to the public, ecotourism. Salazar's plan is highly praised as it reverses decades of government policies that consider these critters "nuisances."

The thought of slaughter broke my heart. Horses and burros are tightly woven into the fabric of the Old West. I almost wish those buckaroos were called horseboys in honor of those elegant, hardworking, temperamental equines. And as for burros, well, I just love them and have sponsored three at a sanctuary in Israel. If only I lived on a farm or ranch and not a typical suburban cul-de-sac.

Here's some downhome kinds of four-legged friends.
1. Bangtail is another name for a wild horse, a mustang.

2. Cold back is a green, or unbroke, horse.

3. Churnhead is slang for a stubborn horse.

4. Dobbin is a gentle farm horse.

5. Buttermilk is another name for a palomino.

6. Calico is spotted, piebald: a pinto.

7. Cremello is an albino with pink skin and blue eyes.

8. Medicine hat, a black speckled mustang, was considered good luck by the Indians.

9. Palomilla is a milk white with white mane and tail.

10. Sabino is light red or roan with a white belly.

How about that for a remuda, the string of horses, preferably geldings, assigned to cowboys on a ranch or along the trail?

I think my favorite movie horse was the mountain horse in Man from Snowy River. I sobbed when bad guys shot him out from under. Won't be watching that movie for a long, long time. How about you? What are your favorite horse or donkey stories?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Mountain Tale

The unexplained has always fascinated me. I imagine it’s partly because my family always loved telling ghost stories and tales of odd or unusual occurrences. Once such story was told by my grandfather ...

Ambrose had found the love of his life, and it was Louisa. She was smart and pretty. Louisa was the oldest daughter a local midwife and healer, and Ambrose knew he’d found the perfect woman. His pa didn’t think too much of Louisa’s ma, and that troubled him a bit, but he was sure it would work out for them. He was in love.

Louisa was in love with Ambrose as well. She couldn’t wait for each Saturday. Though it was five miles from his home to hers, he came calling every week, walking the distance across the mountain with his shotgun in hand. Ambrose was a good man, a fine man, the son of a preacher, but her mother didn’t care for him. She didn't like him and didn’t want him near Louisa. It broke Louisa’s heart her mother despised the man she wished to marry. Ambrose still came calling week after week, and Louisa hoped her mother’s heart would soften. But it didn’t.

One night in the late fall Ambrose bid Louisa goodnight, took the shotgun he carried for the five-mile walk through the mountain road and checked it. Three shells. Since he'd never needed the weapon, it really didn't worry him he had so little ammunition. At the last minute, Louisa called out to him. She ran to the white picket fence lining her yard, removed the bag of Asafoetida she always wore about her neck and placed it around his for good luck.

He was about to tell her he didn’t need it, but her round eyes were so full of fear and angst, Ambrose just thanked her, kissed her, and started walking home over the mountain in the twilight. He knew good and well it would never do for his Pa to see that bag around his neck. Louisa’s ma was a healer it was true, but some folk said she was more...she could speak away your pains, or fix you up a tonic. She made charms. He touched the bag. Good luck, Louisa had said. He knew it was for protection, but his pa would say it smacked of witchcraft. He had his shotgun. That was protection enough for him.

As a full harvest moon rose high Ambrose could see thousands of stars in the cold night sky. The road through the woods was wide and well-packed, but he still didn’t like the rustles in the forest, the sounds around him. There were mostly deer, raccoons and ’possums in these woods, but there had been an occasional bear or wildcat. He was still thinking about the dangers when he heard it behind him. The distinct sound of hooves came closer. But this wasn’t the deep sounding gait of a horse. He looked over his shoulder and puzzled to see a big gray billy-goat. His head was lowered and he was charging. Ambrose aimed and fired his shotgun. The buckshot hit their mark, the animal fell.

He continued down the road. He would wait until the light of day to return for his kill. He picked up his pace, now little over a mile from his house. At first, he thought his mind played tricks on him. Then, he stopped and listened. The familiar clops made his heart race. He didn’t turn at first but when the sound grew close once again he turned. The same animal was bearing down on him. The same goat charged his way. Once again he fired. Once again the goat fell. Ambrose now ran, shotgun in hand toward his father's house. Well aware only one shot remained he hurried up the next hill. Soon, he could see wispy fingers of smoke rising from his father’s chimney and smelled the fragrant burning pine. He had almost reached the trail to the house when he heard the sound again. He ran as fast as he could to the edge of the yard, then to the front porch. He once again fired from the safety of the house, and once again the animal dropped as if dead.

Ambrose's father came out of the house, his white hair wild from sleep. Ambrose recounted the tale of the goat and the shots. His pa was focused elsewhere. He had noticed the charm about his neck. The preacher man told him to remove the charm before entering the house-it was no wonder a devil goat was chasing him with that around his neck. As Ambrose removed the charm he thought of Louisa and her sad, worried eyes. Had she known something waited?

Though his father and brothers could clearly see the tracks the animal left on the road, the body of the large goat was never found—nor was there any blood. The next Saturday, Ambrose took his horse and Louisa from her small mountain home, and she became his wife. The mystery of the goat was never solved, but my grandfather told the tale of the mysterious creature that chased him one cold autumn night for the rest of his life.

In my Cactus release,Snakes, Jails and Puppy Dog Tales, the woman who took Arabella in and raised her after her parent's died was inspired by my great-grandmother It always amazes me what she accomplished. She sewed for people, was a healer and midwife, and as a widow, she raised four children by herself during the depression, Louisa being the oldest. Although my grandfather called her a witch and feared her to his dying day she was an independent woman, an oddity in those days.

I can't say whether my grandfather's story is true...but always enjoyed hearing it. Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Courting in the old West.

We often hear conflicting stories on a woman’s desire to marry during the Victorian Era. Marriage was a woman’s only means of security, a home of her own, and children. With these privileges, came many hardships—being tied to the home, bearing and caring for five to seven children, endless household tasks, and in a sense, being a servant to her husband. Therefore, many women, though desirous of the joys of marriage, had ambivalent feelings regarding the establishment.

Men, however, had a different outlook on the subject. They viewed marriage as a positive enterprise. Marriage meant sex, pampering, and maid service. For the man trying to ranch or farm, marriage meant someone to help him work the land as well as cook, care for the home, and any children born to them. Often the man was a widower and married just to provide his children with a mother. Love wasn’t a prerequisite. A couple was lucky if respect grew into affection.

Though we realize the above was probably true for the majority of couples, there had to be exceptions. If not, how would writers be able to write those wonderful western historical love stories, the ones with strong, independent women and tough men who weren’t afraid to show their softer side? True, many women had cruel husbands who saw their wives as baby machines and servants, and often abused them. But I believe there were just as many men who adored their wives, who wanted a wife to work alongside them as an equal.

So, how did men and women meet, get acquainted, fall in love, and marry on the frontier in the 1800s? Many met at church, church socials, wedding, corn husking bees, barn raisings, and other socials that usually involved food, music, and dancing. Courting in the old West usually took place at an older age for girls than it did back east. Women were usually in the early twenties when they married. Men married in the middle to late twenties.

Public displays of affection, like kissing at corn husking bees, were more acceptable in the old West than in the east, especially during the earlier part of the century when women were in scarce supply. For dates, the couple took walks, took the buggy or wagon out for picnics, took horseback rides, hayrides, cuddled in the hayloft, and danced at socials.

For men in areas with few women, there were subscriptions to heart-and-hand clubs. The men received newspapers with information about women they could correspond with. Often photographs were included. Over a period of correspondence, the man might convince the woman to join him in the West and marry. Other men found their spouses as picture brides. They might see the picture of a friend’s sister or cousin and invite them to join them in marriage.

In 1849, Eliza Farnham encouraged women to travel to California to meet men and marry. Since only two women accompanied her, Eliza’s efforts weren’t considered successful. Later, Acer Mercer organized two different trips to take women to Washington to become brides to the men living there. Do you remember the 1968-1970 television show Here Comes The Brides? Three brothers risk their logging business to bring 100 women to Seattle to live for a year and hopefully become wives and remain to help settle the territory.

History is loaded with stories to tempt our imaginations. Happy Writing!
Check out the contest I have on my blog to celebrate the release of Flames On The Sky.