Friday, March 16, 2018

The Resurgence of the Historical Western Romance: Why Readers Love Those Cowboys

It seems readers love cowboys! They plow through these stories, some at the pace of several books a week and then search for more.

What is the appeal of the cowboy and why are readers so anxious to devour their stories?

Working cowboy.
Many people are quite taken with the dynamic, fascinating, much-admired, and often misunderstood time period. They choose to immerse themselves in it, studying it in the most intimate way—through a romance novel.

I can relate to this in small ways, as I am sure a lot of us can. Nostalgia is as American as apple pie, and I’m no exception. The American west is my greatest inspiration, near and dear to my heart. I was raised in the west, and I feel lucky, invigorated, and inspired every time I look out the window in my home and see beautiful Arizona mountain ranges outside. I’m not quite ready to give up my computer and car (let alone my lovely home) to live the life of a frontier woman, but I’m one of many who is wowed and inspired by this period in American history. And my readers agree.

Working a bronc in the pen.
Americans take a lot of pride in their Western frontier ancestors, and they always have, even when it was a fairly recent past. The Western was the most popular genre of Hollywood film from the early 20th century all the way through the 1960s. Though their massive popularity dropped off in the latter half of the century, these films and the time period they represent remain major influences for popular directors like Quentin Tarantino.

What is it we find so fascinating, so compelling, about this time period? For one thing, it was a time of great hardship. The men and women of the frontier were building lives from scratch, with little social, economic, or political support. These were people of discipline, strength, and ingenuity, who when faced with a challenge, had no choice but to work hard and find a solution. Any one of us would have a hard time if we were dropped into even the most advanced and thriving metropolis of the late 19th century. On the Western frontier, people had it even harder.
Taking a meal break.

They were tough, rugged people who endured lives more difficult than what most of us can imagine, and even so, we associate these people with honor, integrity, and deeply held values. These people, for whom survival itself was such a challenge, still had the emotional strength to be good to one another, to keep their word, and to cultivate virtues, not for any kind of reward or recognition, but simply because that is what was done.

These days, a lot of people feel we’ve collectively lost our way, and that we as a society, and as individuals, are suffering a crisis of morals. Our values and virtues are not nearly so clear or strong as they once were, and so we look to other times for inspiration and guidance.

That is the crux of our admiration for the people of the western frontier. Men and women of discipline, honor, and independence are so very appealing to readers, whether they live on the early western frontier or a modern city or town.

Today, virtues are not the cultural cornerstone they once were. However, we can count on our ancestors. We can count on the past to show us examples of good people, surviving and thriving, and doing so with kindness and grace.

I hope my stories provide readers with characters that exemplify these qualities. Dixie Moon, book four in the Redemption Mountain Historical Western Series, weaves a story of romance, adventure, tough choices, and honor.

Dixie Moon, book four in my Redemption Mountain series.

Gabe Evans is a man of his word with strong convictions and steadfast loyalty. As the sheriff of Splendor, Montana, the ex-Union Colonel and oldest of four boys from an affluent family, Gabe understands the meaning of responsibility. The last thing he wants is another commitment—especially of the female variety.

Until he meets Lena Campanel...
Lena’s past is one she intends to keep buried. Overcoming a childhood of setbacks and obstacles, she and her friend, Nick, have succeeded in creating a life of financial success and devout loyalty to one another. 

When an unexpected death leaves Gabe the sole heir of a considerable estate, partnering with Nick and Lena is a lucrative decision…forcing Gabe and Lena to work together. As their desire grows, Lena refuses to let down her guard, vowing to keep her past hidden—even from a perfect man like Gabe.

But secrets never stay buried…
When revealed, Gabe realizes Lena’s secrets are deeper than he ever imagined. For a man of his character, deception and lies of omission aren’t negotiable. Will he be able to forgive the deceit? Or is the damage too great to ever repair? 

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Riches to Rags: the Men Who Found Gold

1849 Ad for ship to California Gold Rush

Anyone who has ever studied history of the United States will associate the words, ‘Sutter’s Mill,’   in connection with the California Gold Rush of 1849.   They may know John Sutter as owner of that mill, and they may even know that it was James W. Marshall, Sutter’s foreman at the mill, who made the actual discovery of gold. After that, most history books go off into the gold rush itself, and its effect on the expansion of the United States, and the development of California in particular. Sutter and Marshall, now as then, get pushed aside.   And the truth of the matter is the men who went into the history books, who really made money out of the gold rush, were the merchants who supplied the 49ers—men like Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Levi Strauss. Sutter and Marshall just got trampled on…
     John Sutter, a German Swiss immigrant, had made money in trade and received a large land grant from the Mexican government, who had possession of California at the time. Making a deal with the disbanding Russian colony at Fort Ross, Sutter obtained various livestock and implements, and built his own fort called New Helvetia.   With dreams of starting an agrarian community, he employed a decommissioned battalion of Mormons, who had come to California with the army of General Kearny.

Add James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill, 1850,
from a daguerrotype by R.H. Vance

He set them to work building a sawmill on the south fork of the American River under the management of his foreman, James W. Marshall, to whom he purportedly gave a half-interest in the mill.
On 24th January, 1848, Marshall discovered what he believed to be gold. Being a good partner and faithful employee, he showed the metal to Sutter, the men ran tests, and they ascertained that the metal was, indeed, gold. Shortly after, on 2 February, 1848, the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, thereby bringing the Mexican American War to an end, giving the U.S. half of all Mexican territories including, of course, California-- and eventually ruining the two men’s lives.
Although Sutter obtained promises from his Mormon workforce to keep the gold a secret, it wasn’t long before they discovered they could make more money mining the gold than the wages Sutter was paying them. Naturally, rumors spread and, despite the spread being rather slow in those pre-telecommunication days, and the rumors somewhat enhanced with the telling, the California Gold Rush had begun.

Anglo and Chinese miners circa 1852. Daguerrotype by J. B. Starkweather

Forty per cent of enlisted men in California deserted, two-thirds of homes in San Francisco stood empty, and John Sutter’s land was invaded.   And this is where the history books veer off into American expansionism, fortunes won and lost, wagon trains heading across the great plains, and possibly even the building of the Panama Canal—or at least the building of the Panama Railway, which preceded it. But what happened to Sutter and Marshall?
     Sutter’s agrarian community was decimated by the influx of miners, who killed his livestock for food and stole everything in sight. When he appealed to the courts for restoration of his land, the title was declared invalid because it was a Mexican land grant. Three years later, in debt, Sutter retired to his Hock Farm and deeded the remains of his land grant to his son (who would subsequently initiate the building of Sacramento). He did eventually receive a stipend of $250 a month for the taxes he had paid, and moved to the Moravian community in Pennsylvania. He continued to petition the United States government for fifteen years; in fact, two days before his death, Congress adjourned without action on yet another bill that would have given him reparation.

James W. Marshall
As for Marshall, who actually discovered the gold, he, too, had his land claim overrun and his belongings stolen. He, too, sought restitution through the courts to no avail and ended up with just the clothes he stood up in. Joining the hordes looking for gold, crowds would surround him when he would try to find another lode because they believed he had powers of divination. This apparently went on for some seven years until he returned to the small town near his lost mill and earned money by doing odd jobs. Eventually, he was able to own land again and started growing grapes, but such a high tax was levied on the resulting wine that he went bankrupt. In 1871, Marshall started a lecture tour, which eventually took him to Salt Lake City. There, Brigham Young declared he was a liar because it was in the Church records that Mormons had discovered the gold… The California State legislature did, in time, give him a small pension, which they discontinued two years later due to his drinking. Marshall lived until 1885, existing by woodworking and carpentry.

     Of course, as the Present has a way of making cack-handed amends for the Past, the Society of California Pioneers and the Native Sons of the Golden West buried Marshall on a hill overlooking the original site of Sutter’s Mill. They spent a great deal of money for a monument to the man no one supported in life, and now pay a salary to a caretaker for this important site. And Sutter? Over the years, various streets, schools and other geographic places—as well as a rose—have been named after him. And California rebuilt his vandalized fort for the tourists—and maintain it, no doubt, at great cost.

Main source: Brown, Dee: The Westerners, London, 1974
All photos are public domain
Originally published Sept., 2014, at

Throw What?

Properly speaking, there is no such thing as a “lasso.”  You may lasso things with lariat, but you cannot carry a “lasso” because lasso is a verb.

The American cowboy learned the use of la riata from the Mexicans, and he shortened the name and called it lariat, which has become the accepted name among Americans. Cowboys call it simply a rope, and when he lassos a steer he says he “roped it.”

Common wisdom of the period (and even today) claimed the very best lariats were made of raw hides. The raw hide is first cut into strips as long as the hide will allow. The hide is half- tanned without removing the hair. The strips are next soaked in water and stretched over a block, after which they are neatly braided into a rope. During the latter process they are carefully pulled as tight as possible. When this is done the rope is buried in the ground and allowed to remain in the earth two weeks to soften, after which it is dug up and again stretched over a block by means of heavy weights. After the hair has been sand-papered off, the rope thoroughly oiled or greased with mutton tallow and properly noosed (with a hondo/honda/hondoo—all depending on which source I looked at for reference, but all pronounced “onda”), it is ready for use.

Learning to throw it is a whole other thing. To do that, start with a noose only a foot or a foot and one-half in diameter, allowing the rope to slip and the noose to grow larger as you swing it. Take your position in front of a target, a post for example.  Run the end of the rope through the ring or "honda," as it is called.  Coil the rope in your left hand, carefully leaving about six feet of loose rope between the coil and the noose, and see that there are no kinks in the line and that the coils will slip easily off when the noose is thrown. Take hold of the noose with your right hand about a foot from the ring, and with the same hand grasp the rope the same distance below the honda.

Allow your wrist to move easily as you swing the noose over your head from right to left. Let your wrist act as an axle, and swing the rope as if it were a wheel revolving horizontally around your wrist and over your head. When you feel that the proper time has arrived for making the cast, choose the moment as your swinging hand comes around from back to front, take a quick step forward, bring your hand, with palm down, forward and down to the level of your shoulder, let it stretch to a full arm's length without interrupting the swinging motion of the noose, and let it go. Try to keep the noose as level as possible the whole time, also, until you actually let the rope fly. Then, the right side of the loop should be lower than the other so when it hits the post, the opposite side of the loop will flip over the target.  

That all sounds easy enough.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Medicine in the Old West...

By day and for twenty-eight years I have been a Registered Nurse. In that role I've done patient care, Education and now I work as a Quality Analyst, and all these jobs have been in hospitals. When I started writing, I would talk to authors who were writing "Medical Romance" and who would often ask me why I wasn't doing the same. I thought about it, but when you do something everyday, it's hard to find the passion in it after that many years.

But what has always fascinated me was how Medicine was done in the 1700's and 1800's, some of which things make me cringe as what was no known as it is today. For this post I am going to focus on a bit of old remedies, short and sweet in hopes you will enjoy it if interested and if an author something you might use in your own stories.

From those arriving out West in the pursuit of their own land and new start, those hearing of GOLD for the taking, or those outrunning a past that had caught up to them, the journey there could be hard physically and mentally. What many didn't think about ahead of time were all the illness and danger along the way: Smallpox, Syphilis, Typhoid, Scarlet Fever, Cholera, Diphtheria, Scurvy, Pneumonia, Malaria and even Rabies. (Will talk about more of these in depth on my April Post coming up next month.)

It never fails as we read or watch a western, the loaded wagon of a "snake Oil" salesman ride up in town stirring all kinds of commotion about a remedy that will cure any ailment. In the end, no one is cured but got a good dose of alcohol, menthol, liniments, oils and vegetable compounds for the most part. Now days we all shake out heads that the townsfolk should have known better and not wasted the last penny they had in hopes of a cure. But hold on, let's think about that...the salesmen were likely crooked in one way or another but a lot of the remedies they produced did have healing effects sometimes.

Alcohol-long used as an anesthetic, to sooth a fussy baby's teething, mixed with honey and lemon to sooth the throat, given in large amounts to knock someone out for surgery or to set a limb--at times it was all a doctor out west could hope to do. Render the patient as drunk as possible and until passed out so the care could be rendered. Whiskey was used as a depressant, mood modifier, for pain and even as a packet to place on an abscess tooth prior to removal.

Menthol/minty herbs-often used to create a strong medicinal smell and to offer a bit of relief to ailments. Let's think about this. When I was a child and had a chest cold, my mother would pull out the small glass jar of Vicks Salve and smear it across my chest and on my upper lips so I could breathe as I slept. Yuck huh, but the idea was the menthol kept the breathing passages open letting me rest. Well it worked back in history just the same.

Liniments and oils-do we not still use these today? The biggest thing out there right now is essential oils and each one treating a certain issues for those trying them. Sports medicine today uses heat lotions, creams and oils to sooth muscles and take away pain. Well in it's "snake-oil" form back then it did much the same.

Vegetable compounds-good for digestion and stomach pain. But today's health food stores are full of all kind of plant compounds and emulsions that offer some kind of health or illness benefit. Back in the day, it was much the same though there was little way preserving many of the concoctions without the benefit of alcohols as a preservative.

There probably isn't a one of you that hasn't had Grandma tell you about or use on you some kind of old remedy. I've heard the horror tales from people a good bit older than me that talk about the once a month caster oil (Fletchers Castoria) dose that mothers gave to their children. While the taste was their biggest dislike, the end results, a good clean out did everyone some good and some mother's swore by it.

On the same note, many osteopathic/holistic doctors will tell you that using probiotics and helpful digestive enzymes will keep things more regular and thus your health. Maybe those mothers were onto something back then. My mother remembers as a child cutting her foot badly on something rusty and her open cut was rinsed in Kerosene. Yikes, this one seems scary but I imagine it would have in sorts killed any germs in the wound so that nothing would grow.

I grew up where when my sister or me coughed through the night, it wasn't unusual to be jolted awake by my father who stuck a spoonful of whiskey, honey and lemon right down your throat. You know what? It worked in that it cut the congestion which lessened the cough and the little bit of alcohol helped with sleep. Child abuse? Nope, but it was done that way back then. Another on the same mother remembers getting Turpentine mixed with a spoonful of sugar And might I also mention again a mom dipping her finger into whiskey and rubbing it on her fussy baby's gums. Hey, they didn't have a drug store and oral just down the street back then.

But some of Grandma's other remedies are some that came from generations back and still it used today would work.
  • Onion or other Poultices-draws out toxins/kills germs and kills germs
  • Cold Compresses-decreases swelling and lessens pain
  • Clay or mud Poultices-Draw out toxins/kill germs and purify
  • Boiled herb Poultices-Draw out toxins/kill germs
  • Herb/Plant Teas-helpful to a number of body and mind ailments
Many of the items above might simply mimic what we call RICE in emergency situations today. REST, ICE, COMPRESS, ELEVATE.

And there is more for some quick fun and thought.

Anemia could be treated in the 1800's by boiling rusty nails and drinking the water to gain the iron remnants. There were no vitamins in that time and this worked, or continuing to cook in a rusty iron skillet.

Consumption or Tuberculosis had no cure but patients were sent to places with drier air which we all know promotes better exchange of air and breathing. Some are sure, besides a bit of criminal past, that this is the reason Doc Holliday made his way further West, though he still succumbed to the disease.

Chills and fever were often treated by boiling Horehound to drink.

Colds and Pneumonia's and pain were often treated with mixture of Willow Bark Tea. It was said to have the benefits of pain relief and lessen the cough. It turns out the Willow Bark Plant is extracted of Acetylsalicylic Acid or into today's terminology--Aspirin. As it turns out Hippocrates studied the plant in 400 B.C.

Quinine Powder was also used mixed with liquids to lower the fever. It is derived from the cinchona tree and even today is used for the treatment of the symptoms of Malaria.

As I have done some reading and research over the years for my own historical writing, I had added to my notes and been brief here to share a bit of it. There is so much more to this and again I will post more on the illnesses Cowboys and Frontiersman faced as well as the treatment for pain and injury, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Fort Laramie

Fort Laramie was founded in June 1834 by William Sublette and Robert Campbell when buffalo robe trade with Native American tribes was fast replacing the beaver fur trade. Crafted of Cottonwood logs at the juncture of the Laramie and Platte Rivers and given the name Fort William, the small stockade played a key role in controlling supplies to the central Rocky Mountains and to the bison range in the Great Basin.
Fort William
Sublette and Campbell sold the fort in 1835 to fur trading company Fontenelle, Fitzpatrick & Co, who in turn sold the company to Pierre Chouteau and the American Fur Trading Company in 1836. The American Fur Trading Company and its trapping brigade, the Rocky Mountain Outfit, operated the original trading post until 1841 when Lancaster Lupton built Fort Platte just north of Fort William and also began trading with the Native Americans. At this time, Fort William was deteriorating and didn’t provide much in the way of protection. In competition with Lupton, The American Fur Company invested $10,000 in the construction of a new stockade. Crafted of adobe walls, with a central courtyard, the new stockade opened in 1841 and was given the name Fort John, after business partner John Sarpy.   
Fort John
Fort John was an impressive structure, and what the travelers along the Oregon/California Trail associated as Fort Laramie. By 1849, the flood of emigrants to the west was motivation for the government to step in and assure their safety. The American Fur Company sold the fort to the U.S. Army and in April of that year, the Regiment of Mounted Rifles moved into the adobe fort, as the government thought to secure the area with a string of army forts along the trail, thus beginning Fort Laramie’s history as a military outpost.              
The army didn’t waste time building up the fort and adding to it with stables for horses, officer and soldier quarters, a bakery, guardhouse, and a powdered magazine house. As the flood of emigrants continued, Fort Laramie grew in size and importance. Several trail routes passed through the fort, including the Mormon Trail, the Bozeman Trail, the Pony Express Route, and the Transcontinental Telegraph. Fort Laramie became the main military fort in the Northern Plains and saw its first battle with Native tribes in 1854 in what is known as the Grattan fight; an incident near the fort involving a wagon train.   
Fort Laramie is also famous for hosting several Indian councils wanting to bring peace to the area. These campaigns failed, with the Army eventually subduing the several of the tribes.    
Fort Laramie ruins
Battles with the Plains tribes wasn’t the only thing the fort played a role in. The army also saw the development of the open range cattle industry and the settlement of the plains. With that settlement, the dangers of living on the plains ceased and the army abandoned the fort in 1890. Most of the buildings and the land were auctioned off, with some of the buildings either being relocated or demolished. The fort fell prey to time and weather until 1938 when it was inducted into the National Park System and preservation of the site was secured. Today folks can tour the fort year round and view 12 restored buildings.    

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A Victim of Wild West Identity Theft

by Shanna Hatfield

In my recent research for a book set in 1912, I happened across a few articles in an old newspaper that mentioned a "champion cowboy" by the name of Buffalo Vernon.

In 1910, Buffalo Vernon wowed the crowds at the very first Pendleton Round-Up. The articles in the  newspaper touted him as the "champion of the world" at bulldogging and claimed his appearance was "hailed with delight."

Following the tradition started by Bill Pickett, Vernon would "bulldog" a steer by jumping from a racing horse, wresting a steer to the ground and biting it on the lip to keep it down. (We can be ever so grateful bulldogging gave way to steer wrestling and eliminated the lip bite!).

Vernon was also a champion steer roper and trick roper, delighting crowds from Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Sacramento, California.

Image result for buffalo vernon cowboy pendleton roundup
Postcard from early Pendleton Round-Up 
At the 1910 Cheyenne rodeo where former president Teddy Roosevelt happened to be in attendance, Roosevelt was quoted as saying, "Then there was Buffalo Vernon. I noticed that when he went out ot bulldog the steer he wore a leather bandage around his wrist. I asked him why he wore it and he said he had broken his wrist the day before. Now, it is a pretty hard job for a man with every bone sound to bulldog a steer. Buffalo Vernon did it with a broken wrist." 

Buffalo Vernon was actually Jess Shisler, born in 1884 in Canada. The family farm was reportedly just across the river from Buffalo, New York. Around the time he was twelve, he and a brother went to Buffalo to stay with a sister and ended up changing his last name to Vernon. 

He eventually claimed he was from Texas, and embraced his Buffalo Vernon persona. 

In 1911, he was one of the star attractions at "Pioneer Day" during the Cheyenne rodeo, performing with top names such as Annie Oakley and Ambrose Means who was known as a "daredevil American." 

Buff, as he was known to his friends, went on to perform with some of the top Wild West shows of the day, traveling across North America, Europe and the Orient. He even performed for the King of Belgium.

Then one day he was gored by a bull and sustained a  "hernia wound" that wouldn't  heal, ending his cowboy career. When he disappeared from the rodeo and Wild West scene, people speculated what had happened to him, including everything from being incarcerated to getting shot. 

With his cowboy days behind him, Vernon turned his attention and efforts to working in a mine in Nevada where he remained until his death in 1939. 

Oddly, a number of letters from Buffalo Vernon appeared in the early 1960s, claiming to be from Buff. 

Through the years, a man named Tom Vernon attempted to steal Buffalo Vernon's identity and was at it again. Tom Vernon, a horse-thief, train-robber, convicted felon, and all-around bad guy, even used a copy of a real photograph of Buff to try to authenticate his proof as the well-loved cowboy. Not known for telling the truth, Tom Vernon also claimed to be one of two children born to Cattle Kate ( a fact that was never proved, particularly since she reportedly had no children). 

In spite of spending around three decades serving a sentence in Folsom Prison, Tom Vernon clung to the claim he was the real Buffalo Vernon. He tried to convince reporters he was raised by Indians after his mother died and was given the name because he could ride a saddle bison. He said he worked with Buffalo Billy Cody's Wild West show and was a ward of Annie Oakley, among various other fictitious claims. 

It's rather sad to think of identity theft being a problem way back then, but at least the truth eventually came out and Buffalo Vernon remains one of the early champion cowboys of the rodeo and Wild West performing world.

You can read a wonderful article about Buffalo Vernon that was published in 1963 in True West Magazine here.


Convinced everyone deserves a happy ending, USA Today best-selling author Shanna Hatfield is out to make it happen, one story at a time. Her sweet historical and contemporary romances combine humor and heart-pumping moments with relatable characters. When this hopeless romantic isn’t writing or indulging in rich, decadent chocolate, Shanna hangs out with her husband, lovingly known as Captain Cavedweller.

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Monday, March 5, 2018

Boston Molasses Flood

By Kristy McCaffrey

On January 15, 1919, a massive tank at the Purity Distilling Company in Boston exploded, releasing more than 2 million gallons of hot and sticky molasses. The wave of thick liquid was 30 feet tall and traveled at 35 miles per hour, destroying buildings, vehicles, and even knocking an elevated train off its tracks.

An 8-foot wave of molasses moved down a Boston street at a speed of 35 mph.
Wreckage of the collapsed tank can be seen in the background.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
For residents in the immediate vicinity there was no escape and 21 people perished that day, including three firemen who were killed when their nearby firehouse collapsed. An additional 150 people were injured, and several horses were also killed. Survivors were helped by the police, a local Army battalion, the Red Cross, and the Navy, but the sticky mess hindered the response. It took four days to find all the victims, and another two weeks to clean up the syrup. Nearly a century later, residents in the area still report smelling molasses on hot summer days.

The cause of the flood was immediately linked to sabotage, but the reality was that the tank had not been well-built. The fermentation process combined with an abnormally warm day had caused a buildup of pressure. More recently, engineers have concluded that fluid dynamics played a role in the wave that caused so much devastation. When a dense fluid spreads horizontally into a less dense fluid (molasses into air), gravity currents come into play. It’s similar to how cold dense air will flow through an open door into a warm room, even if there is no wind to drive it.

Purity and its parent company were found to be responsible, and the civil lawsuit lasted until 1925. That year the company took a charge of $628,000 against its profits, reflecting settlements and legal costs related to the disaster. That’s about $8.3 million in 2013 dollars.

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