Friday, June 29, 2012

Hay Is for Horses

 As soon as I decided to write this post on another horsey subject, the title phrase started echoing in my head, and I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it or what it meant at the time. At last! As I type, it comes to me that my grandmother used to say that whenever my sister or I had the temerity to use, “Hey,” in her presence. Today it may be a common form of address, but not that long ago, it was slang and unacceptable in nice young ladies.

My actual subject here is misconceptions about hay vs. straw in western romances I’ve read recently. I know several others on the CK schedule come from farming and ranching backgrounds and know the difference, but evidently research doesn’t make it clear to some.

Hay is an actual crop and is raised to feed horses and other livestock. Grasses or legumes are cut at a time to ensure maximum nutrition and palatability. Good hay, even decent hay, retains a green color.

Straw is a by-product of a grain crop such as wheat or oats. After threshing to remove the desired grain, empty, mature stems are used for bedding and other absorbing purposes. Straw is golden. Yes, a bored horse with nothing else to do will eat straw, even though there’s little to no nutrition in it, and it can cause digestive problems. Nowadays, a horse that eats straw gets something else for bedding.

So our intrepid heroine should not be spreading hay knee deep as bedding in a stall for the hero’s great black stallion (or any other more realistic creature). Maybe if she’s supposed to be some dummy from the East, but in the 1800s I’d think you’d have to have lived your life in a New York tenement not to know the difference.

I know that for many romances are escapism, and each of us has to decide where to draw the line between romance and reality, but in case you fall on the reality side....

I’m not going to confess my age, but the man who taught me to ride was with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as a boy. When the show went to Europe, his parents (who had probably emigrated from there not that long ago) refused to sign permission for him to go, and so he went on to other things, work as a mounted policeman among them. In other words, he was an experienced horseman who knew and liked horses.

The stable that Mr. Landi owned and operated in the mid-Twentieth Century featured, if I remember correctly, twenty-two stalls total. More than half were what we called straight stalls. A straight stall is a three-sided slot six feet wide. A horse is led in and tied there, and that’s where he spends his non-working time. Other barns where I boarded my horse after Mr. Landi’s death had all box stalls for boarding horses, but their livery horses were kept in straight stalls.

I think I’ve mentioned that my mother was Canadian. We used to visit her relatives every summer. When I was very small, they still worked the farm with draft horses and kept eight of them. When kept up for work, they stood in straight stalls. The advantages of the straight stall are use of space (half as much as a box) and labor. In a straight stall, horse manure is all right there in a heap behind the horse. In a box stall it’s spread wherever it falls and wherever it gets kicked as the horse moves around.

Those draft horses never met bedding. The horses in straight stalls in Mr. Landi’s barn got a little straw laid down in the back half of the stall at night that was carefully picked through and put to one side during the day.

What I’m getting at here is that if you’re going to have a scenario where your intrepid heroine is spreading that straw in a nice box stall, and if you want to be realistic, you need to set it up carefully. In those times, your average working stiff horse never saw a box stall and never experienced bedding.

Monday, June 25, 2012


By Caroline Clemmons

How long have you been reading romance novels? If it’s more than ten or fifteen years, you’ve seen heroines change from the damsel who has to be rescued, to the spunky heroine who works with the hero to help save herself, and sometimes to the kick-ass heroine who rescues the hero.

"Hello? Killer
is that you
I heard?"
Romance heroines are evolving. No longer will readers tolerate the TSTL (too stupid to live) heroine who goes out late at night, wearing only her nightgown carrying a candle, to investigate a strange noise when she knows there’s a killer in the area. Nope, if she is in peril, it can’t be due to our modern heroine’s stupidity.

Readers require heroines to be strong and admirable, just as the heroes are. We don’t like whiners, brutality, or stupid characters in either gender. Even if our hero and heroine are a bit over the top, we want to believe they are people we would like to know in person.

I live a few miles from a small Texas town. This is why I write characters who live in or near small Texas towns. Whether historical or contemporary, the characters who reside in my head are people I would enjoy knowing in real life...except the criminals, but I dispose of them one way or another. Even the secondary characters are people I would enjoy finding on the next acreage.

BE MY GUEST has characters that I admire and with whom I enjoy spending time...once again, except the criminals. This was my first published novel and released in 1998. I’ve updated it a bit and added back some cut scenes, but the hero and heroine remain the same. I hope you’ll enjoy spending time with Aurora O’Shaughnessy and Will Harrison and their friends and relatives. I certainly have.

That's model Jimmy Thomas standing in front
of my photo of Texas wildflowers

Here’s a blurb:

Aurora Kathleen O’Shaughnessy comes by her flaming auburn hair naturally, and this independent city woman has an inner fire to match. Nothing stops Aurora--that is, nothing short of a Texas flash flood. This super-organized businesswoman might be running from the past, but she’s using this journey to stop and smell the roses-- or rather the spring flowers in bloom across the Texas prairie. But beautiful Aurora has attracted the attention of two unsavory characters stalking her.

Rancher Will Harrison rescues her from the raging waters and she’s his guest for the next thirty-six hours. That’s long enough for Will to fall head over heels in major attraction, and he has a hunch she might feel the same. He has a plan to keep her around until he convinces her to move out of the fast land and in to his life forever. But two predators have other plans for Aurora. Can Will save her in time? Can Aurora save herself?

And here’s an excerpt after Aurora’s car is washed away by floodwater. When Will rescued her from a cottonwood tree, she was a bit banged up. As the above blurb indicated, the high water has marooned her at Will’s ranch house:

    Will let his eyes memorize every detail of her face before, with resignation, he sat up and picked up the phone again to dial his mother's phone number. Kelly answered the phone and he told her briefly about his houseguest. Once again he laughed and winked at Aurora as he answered Kelly's questions. Finally, he told her they would discuss the situation further when she got home.
    Aurora loved the way his voice changed tones as he talked to his daughter. He’d sounded friendly and polite when talking to her father, and professional while he talked to the deputy at the sheriff's office. His tone with his daughter was entirely different--patient and loving. His pride and love for his little girl showed in every word he said.
    While Will talked on the phone, Aurora absentmindedly organized the medical supplies on the bedside table into a neat little group on one corner of the tabletop. She realized what she’d done and found he watched with an amused expression. She blushed and put her hands in her lap. Why, why did she have to be such an organization nut?
When Will finished his call to Kelly and his mother, Aurora crossed her arms and accused,  "That's the second time you've done that."
    "What?" Will frowned. “What did I do?”
    "You know, laughed while you answered questions over the phone. What did you say about me?"
    "You heard what I said." Will grinned innocently.
  His stone gray eyes came to life when he smiled, and each time it made her even more aware of her attraction to this man.
She tried to fight the spell he cast over her, to concentrate on her goals. "You know very well what I mean. For instance, what did my father ask that you found so amusing, anyway?"
    Will's smile became mysterious. "That's my secret for now. Let's just say we had a meeting of the minds. I'm sure I'm going to like him."
    Aurora scowled at him, but ignored the implication. "What did your daughter ask that was so funny?"
    "She wanted to know if I still wore my wedding ring--that's been such an unbelievably big deal to her lately. Most kids don't want a stepmother, but she's determined to get one. I think it's because the father of her friend Marcie remarried last year, and Marcie has been lording it over her with tales of how great it is to have a stepmother. When I admitted I removed the ring, she wanted to know if it was because of you."
Will Harrison
    Will shrugged. "I never lie to her, so I had to tell her yes. Then, she wanted to know if I plan to keep you here. That's when I said I certainly intend to try."
    Aurora relaxed her arms and folded her hands primly together in her lap. "Oh, you know very well that I'm on my way to Colorado."
    "I know what you told me." Will said as he took her hand. For a moment he sat examining her hand. When he again met her gaze there was a new intensity there. "Yesterday I let you walk out of the restaurant and hated myself for letting you get away without my even knowing how to contact you. It may sound foolish but I determined to find you again if I had to go to Durango to do so." He traced his finger across her palm. "I promise you it won't be so easy to get away from me next time."
    He had revealed far more of himself than he had intended at this point. He determined to find out if his attraction to her was because of his three years of celibacy or because she was as special as he suspected. Careful not to scare her off, he had to know the answer. To accomplish that, he had to keep her nearby.
    He flashed her a wicked grin, "Although I like my pajama top on you, I suppose you'll be more comfortable in your own things--and definitely a lot safer."

BE MY GUEST is available for only 99 cents from these sources:


Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Coffee: Home, home on the range

"There is nothing like being left alone again, to walk peacefully with oneself in the woods. To boil one's coffee and fill one's pipe, and to think idly and slowly as one does it." --Knut Hamsun

A Norwegian author who was described as "the soul of Norway" and "the father of modern literature," Knut Hamsun was probably talking of the wild places of his homeland. Yet, his words could have as easily spoken by a cowboy.

Only one image is more vivid than the lone cowboy with his tin cup. That's the image of a group of cowboys around the campfire with a large pot sitting close by, ready to supply refills. The free-range cafe, where stories are swapped, politics argued and weather discussed.

Americans weren't always big coffee drinkers. The colonists were primarily tea drinkers until the Boston Tea Party. Boycotting tea because of unfair taxes and the monopoly of the East India Company, Americans turned to coffee as their preferred drink.

Not that there hadn't been coffeehouses before that. The intelligentsia of Boston, New York and Philadelphia had been hanging out drinking coffee since 1668. Just like their European and British counterparts, these coffeehouses were hubs where stories are swapped, politics argued, weather discussed and business transacted.*

Until 1773, coffee was considered too expensive to be consumed in most households. After the Boston Tea Party, coffee became the patriotic beverage of choice. It also helped that Central and South American growers were producing enough coffee to bring the price of beans down.

Coffee represented independence, democracy and free thinking. It's no wonder it traveled well with the western expansion. That is, the tradition of coffee traveled well. The beans were another story.

"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." --Abraham Lincoln

Until 1865, when Arbuckles introduced their ground coffee in one pound paper bags, consumers bought green coffee beans in cloth sacks. The beans picked up odors in transit and were often stale by the time they were used. Cook, wife, or lone cowboy would then have to roast the beans in a pan, being careful not to burn them. Then the beans had to be ground before you could start to boil the coffee.

Even with Arbuckles', brewing a good cup of coffee was iffy. (How to make Cowboy Coffee - Canadian style.) At it's best it was never "Good to the last drop" because the last drops contained a sludge of coffee grounds.

Of course, a dark, bitter-sweet brew with a smooth finish wasn't in the cowboy phrase book. When you had to wake up before dawn, or stay awake long after dusk, all you needed was something hot, strong and caffeinated. However, if the coffee was weak, instead of swapping stories, arguing politics and discussing weather, the cowboys might be looking for a new camp cook.

International Coffee Organization
Arbuckles Coffee History
Coffee Traditions

* Coffee trivia: Edward Lloyd opened a coffeehouse in London in 1688. It was frequented by shipping merchants and became known as a place for obtaining marine insurance. The business became Lloyd's of London.

Alison Bruce is the author of Under A Texas Star (western romance) and Deadly Legacy (mystery). Find her at:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Welcome D'Ann Lindun to Cowboy Kisses

A warm welcome to guest blogger D'Ann Lindun. Tell us about your romantic suspense, Wild Horses.

In 1971, the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act provided for the management, protection and control of all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

I live not too far from one of the areas in the US set aside specifically for the wild horses—The Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range near Grand Junction, Colorado.  For more than a century, mustangs have made their home there.  This range encompasses more than 36,000 acres and is currently supporting approximately 130 horses that roam the pinion-juniper covered hills and the sagebrush parks that make up most of the area.  These horses have an advocate group, Friends of the Mustangs, which helps ensure they stay safe from harm.  Not all the wild horses in the west are so lucky.

In Wild Horses, Martin Castillo is obsessed with protecting the mustangs that run wild on Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreave National forest.  The Bureau of Land Management has decided to round up the mustangs and send them to slaughter.  Martin could care less what the government thinks, and does everything in his power to protect the proud and free horses.  When two BLM agents are found murdered, and Martin disappears, his sister Castaña comes home to search, and literally runs into Jake Breton, FBI agent.

Wild Horses

Chapter One

            “Damn, it's hotter than the devil's backyard out here.”  Castaña Castillo took one hand off the steering wheel just long enough to swipe at the trickle of sweat running down the nape of her neck and adjust the volume on the radio.  One of her favorites, “Amarillo by Morning,” wafted from the speakers. 

            Not even George Strait's silky smooth voice helped ward off her exhaustion.  Castaña’s hands felt like twisted claws wrapped around the steering wheel, and the space between her shoulders ached until she prayed it would go numb.  The AC gasped out its last breath of cool air somewhere in the middle of Texas yesterday afternoon.  Both windows in her old Dodge were down, blasting June air through the cab like a roar from an open furnace.  An enormous red and orange sun sinking out of the Arizona sky made a blinding glare on the bug-splattered windshield.

            Her eyes burned from keeping them open.  She tried to rest last night, parked near the highway and huddled in her combination camper horse trailer, but worrying about her missing brother kept her awake until almost three in the morning.  According to a woman who refused to identify herself, no one had seen Martin for a few days.  The mystery caller implied he might be lying out in the forest hurt . . . or worse. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tennessee - Rich in History

The Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee are rich in history, as is most of this state.  A brochure I picked up on a recent trip to Pigeon Forge, explains the territory far better than I can:

"Come up to the Tennessee Cumberlands, where whispers of the past tell of centuries of human occupation amid a land of free-flowing rivers, towering rock bluffs and deeply forested plateaus and hillsides.  Here you'll discover Tennessee's last frontier--a region of intriguing history, scenic beauty, cultural diversity and boundless recreation--and no crowds."

Some of the oldest roads and "traces" have been maintained as historical pathways and highways and are clearly marked.  Here are a few, along with a little history and link to more information if you are so inclined:  The Great Warrior Path, The Avery Trace, and The old Jacksboro Pike.

The Great Warrior Path: (Info and photo gathered from Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail)

Around 1775, Daniel Boone and his trailblazers established this trail through 200 miles of wilderness from the Cumberland Gap of Virginia to Kingsport, TN.  On the 9th of September in the year 2000, this pathway followed by thousands of pioneers to settlements in new areas was finally recognized as instrumental to the growth and development in Northeast Tennessee and proclaimed recognition justly due.”

The Avery Trace:  (Info and picture gathered from Wikipedia and Fort Southwest Point)

Settlers traveling from what is now the Knoxville area in East Tennessee to the location now known as Nashville in the time period 1788 to the mid-1830's used this road cut from Clinch Mountain (East Tennessee) to French Lick (now Nashville).  Named for Peter Avery, a hunter from and familiar with the territory, his name is prominent on signs along highways all throughout Tennessee.   Mr. Avery laid this trail from those used by Cherokee Indians (for war paths or seeking buffalo).  I'm fortunate to travel this road almost daily as it leads through the Cumberland Mountains into what is now Jackson County, TN to Fort Blount, directly to Bledsoe's Fort in Castalian Springs which is where I live.  From here, it continues on to what was Mansker's Fort near today's Goodlettsville, and finally to Fort Nashborough.  These forts provided protection and shelter for travelers.

Fort Nashborough

I found no historical information on Old Jacksboro Pike other than it ran through the Knoxville area and there are tons of houses for sale there.  *smile*

I was very interested to discover that until 1805, a large part of the Cumberlands was officially deemed Cherokee Territory, and the majority of early settlers were Scotish-Irish immigrants.  The coming of the Civil War and the arrival in 1878 of the first railroad, which ran from Cincinnati to Chattanooga, drastically changed the demographics. Towns, villages, and farms formed by American and European migration took root.

Although the railroad brought passengers to Tennessee, the trains carried out the rich natural resources (coal and virgin timber).  In my book, Ellie's Legacy, which is set in the area of Sparta, TN, part of the storyline centers around the coal mines and the abandoned caves.  Today, much of the natural resources are depleted, but this state has become rich in federal parks, forests, and wildlife reserves, along with plenty of recreation of visitors.  So, as they say here in TN...."Ya'll come!"

Collage of Pictures taken at the annual Fort Bledsoe celebration

Oh...and what would a post be without an opportunity for shameless promotion?

Here's a brief peek at my Tennessee story where Ellie is alone, looking for a place to practice shooting.  She's already been threatened by one of the greedy neighbors looking to take over her Pa's Ranch, and she's determined she's going to prove she can do anything as good as the new ranch foreman, Tyler Bishop.  Enjoy!

The road didn’t improve as she traveled back into the forest. Ellie maneuvered Chessie through the trees. She strained to see the trail and watched for familiar landmarks. The air wasn’t terribly warm but the humidity was unbearable.

Damp from perspiration, her shirtfront clung to her bosom. She wiped wetness from her brow and surveyed the area. If only she could remember the exact location of the old mine shaft.

The last time she visited, she was only a child. Back then, tents, wagons, mining equipment and men hungry to find a vein of gold ore crowded the area. Instead of gold, they found coal. In comparison to the hustle and bustle of those days, the silence was almost eerie.

When the trees fanned into a clearing, the area looked familiar. Ellie dismounted and led Chessie toward a small outcropping of rocks. She dropped the mare’s reins and left her to graze on what remained of summer’s greenery.

The area, although somewhat overgrown, was just as she remembered. Ellie shielded her eyes and scanned the area. Her lips curved into a smile. There, almost concealed by fallen branches, was the entrance to the old mine. As she pushed debris aside, she grimaced. Stringy cobwebs hung in masses and changed her decision to venture inside. She shivered. Perhaps this wasn’t the best place after all. Something might live here she didn’t care to meet. It was too early for bears to seek places to hibernate, but not for wolves or coyotes. She expected to see glowing eyes peering back from the darkness.

“C’mon Ellie. Stop being such a baby."

Visions of Jeb Bryant’s face played in her mind. “You’ve already encountered one dangerous varmint today,” she muttered. She swatted her way through the sticky mesh and stepped inside.

Just an end note...she does come to her sense and realizes that shooting inside an old abandoned mine isn't such a good idea.  *smile*

I hope you've enjoyed your brief foray into Tennessee.  As a transplanted Californian, I've already forgotten my previous roots, and I'm proud to say I'm definitely a southerner at heart.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Just a Few Tidbits About The Old West

Between the years of 1870 to 1885 (the heart of the Old West) there were 45 homicides in the then ‘wild cow towns’ of Kansas combined. Abilene, Ellsworth, Wichita, Dodge City and Caldwell. Of those 45 murders, (or shootings) 16 were committed by law men. And other than Ellsworth and Dodge City, none of those towns ever had more than five killings per year.

Abilene, once known as the wildest of cow towns, went for over two years without a single murder. Wild Bill Hickok was elected sheriff of Abilene in 1971—back then, before being made famous by overly inflated stories, he was known as “Duck Bill” because of his ‘somewhat on the large size’ nose. Buffalo Bill Cody fired Wild Bill from his stages shows because “Hickok had a voice like a girl.”

Another famous lawman—Wyatt Earp—was arrested for horse theft in Arkansas, and he and his brother Morgan were arrested for running ‘bordellos’ in Chicago before they made their way west. Though proclaimed to be a Buffalo Hunter, Earp never shot a buffalo, he did drive a wagon on a hunt once.

The first gold rush wasn’t to California in 1849, but to New Mexico in 1832.

Henry the Kid doesn’t have the same ring as “Billy the Kid” does it? Well, Henry McCarty, AKA, Billy the Kid, who supposedly shot 21 men before his young death, in fact, only shot about 4.

In the early 1800’s North America had over 300 different languages being spoken between its borders.

Saloons in Deadwood, SD were the first to start covering their floors with sawdust. The shavings would conceal the gold dust customers dropped and was swept up and sifted every night by the saloon owners.

Speaking of Deadwood, it was the second community in the US to have a telephone. The first being Washington D.C.

Cole Younger, who rode with Jesse James, after serving over 20 years in prison, got a job selling tombstones when he got out.

Camels were used as pack animals in Nevada until the late 1870’s. 

An estimated 350,000 people traveled the Oregon Trail. One in seventeen did not make it to Oregon. The most common cause of death was cholera.

A Colt Peacemaker cost $17.00 in 1873, therefore making it a very expensive weapon. Not really designed for anything outside of killing, they were not practical to own or buy—and stood out like a sore thumb. 

I've gathered the above tidbits while researching over the years and I can’t claim they are 100% accurate, but I usually don’t save something in my ‘interesting facts’ file unless I’m pretty-darn sure, meaning it’s been verified by more than one source. I pulled the file up this morning when I was reminded it was my turn to blog here at Cowboy Kisses today and I didn't have anything ready to go. I have to say, I'd forgotten some of these little tidbits and hope you enjoyed reading them. (I have many, many more, but figured this was enough for today.)

Enjoy your "cowboy" ;), and thanks for stopping by.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Cowboy’s Cutter Horse

While writing Double Crossing, I had to explain why the cowboy hero Ace Diamond was without his horse. Being a man of few words, all he would say to the heroine Lily Granville was “I lost my cutter.” Hm. Wait a minute. I’m the writer. I’m supposed to know what that means, right? Well, Ace has yet to explain.

So I decided to do some research. Eventually, no matter what course Ace takes in the sequel to Double Crossing (Double or Nothing, hopefully out later this year), I had to figure out what a cutter was and why/how Ace lost it. Being a born-and-raised in Michigan, only been on a regular horse twice (and the horses sure didn’t enjoy me) greenhorn, I turned to my friend Google.

A “cutter” is an elite horse in the “remuda” which is a term for all the horses that cowboys use for a cattle drive. Every “outfit” made drives with a large remuda. And each cowboy kept their “string” of horses within the remuda – using some horses for riding drag (at the dusty, dirty end), or for patrol or for other specific jobs. A cutter has a special sensitivity to cattle. They tend to prick their ears toward cows, or follow each move of one with their eyes, and not crowd a cow by instinct. A cutter can separate cattle, which is a difficult job, far easier than most horses.

It isn’t training that makes a cutter. That horse has to be born with the instinct. I’ve seen Youtube videos now with cutters in action, and they remind me (remember I’m no expert when it comes to horses) of dogs herding sheep – only cows are a lot crazier. That horse has to turn and twist and go back again, anticipate the cow’s every move, and not be afraid of it.

Now an actual sport of cutting has evolved from the cowboys who worked cattle. Back in 1898, the first contest was held in Haskell, Texas – and advertised in the Dallas and Kansas City newspapers. 15,000 people swarmed to see it, arriving by horseback or wagons. No railroad station was close enough. Eleven cowboys competed for the prize of $150 – an astonishing amount back then. Sam Graves brought his horse Old Hub out of retirement. This horse had a reputation for cutting, and some people thought he could “work blindfolded and without a bridle” – Graves set aside half his winnings to care for Old Hub until he died.

Will Rogers once said while visiting a ranch in 1920s Texas, "It was worth the trip to brush country just to sit above Ol' Gotch and feel his shoulders roll, watch his ears work and his head drop low when he looked an old steer in the eye."

To the right is a bronze sculpture - check out the western art of Bob Stayton by clicking here.

Of course, nowadays pickup trucks and chutes have replaced horses. Even huge cattle ranches have gone the way of the open prairie and cattle drives over open range. And cutting has become a rich man’s game nowadays due to the National Cutting Horse Association. Perhaps breeding and pedigree have lessened the cowboy’s necessity for riding skills, but I’m no expert. I’d rather watch the video of the first filmed “cowpuncher” who literally did that—punched a cow while herding cattle into the pens in 1897, Texas. Click here to see it.

So what about Ace and his cutter? I still haven’t been “informed” by my hero about how he “lost” his horse. Come on, Ace! Tell me what happened. I know it was a traumatic experience, since you ended up horseless in Omaha – but perhaps fate arranged for you to meet Lily.

Ducking under a low hanging tree branch, we crept through the stable’s open doorway. I had to stifle a sneeze at the musty scent of hay and dust. Sunlight streamed into the stalls where several horses nickered. In an empty one, we found Ace Diamond sleeping on his stomach. When I prodded him with my foot, he rolled over with a loud pig’s grunt and squinted up at us both. A glass bottle lay in the dirty hay.
“Uh, wh-what time is it? Who the devil—ouch,” he said and touched the crusty stitches on his forehead. “Dagnabbit. My head feels like a squished melon.”
“Do you remember our meeting yesterday, Mr. Diamond?” I asked. Kate peered over my shoulder. “I see you found a doctor as well as some whiskey.”
“Needed it to cut the pain.” Ace sat up and scratched his soiled shirt. “Thought you was headin’ to California.”
“I am leaving in a few hours, yes. This is Miss Kimball, she’s also traveling on the Union Pacific.” I brushed sawdust off my split skirt and jacket. “I spoke to Mrs. Burkett, your landlady, who sounded quite unhappy with you.”
“That dried-up prune?” Scrambling to his feet, he weaved sideways until grabbing the half wall. A horse nuzzled his arm. “Never satisfied, no matter what I do.”
“Not if you’re prone to drink.”
Ace rubbed his eyes with the back of one hand. “I don’t suppose this is a social call, miss. Or that you’d lend me two bits. I got a powerful headache.”
I eyed him from head to foot. A beggar would look more presentable. “You wished to go to California. Miss Kimball and I need protection on the Union Pacific. Perhaps we can come to an agreement, Mr. Diamond. Is that your real name?”
He dodged the question. “What are your terms, miss? Sorry, I forgot your name.”
“Miss Granville. I’ll provide you with a ticket now and twenty dollars when we arrive safe in Sacramento. Provided no harm comes to us, that is.”
He stared with bleary eyes. “Why would two pretty fillies need me to ride shotgun? It’s a far sight safer on a train than travelin’ by stagecoach.”
“I’m tracking a murderer—”
“Whoa,” Ace cut in, fully alert now. “Who was murdered?”
Letting out a deep breath, I folded my hands together over the pocketbook’s strap. “My father was shot on Saturday in Evanston, north of Chicago. I believe someone’s following me, too. Perhaps the killer or his colleague…”
“You realize we’ll be stuck on a train for near five days,” Ace said. “With nowhere to run if there is trouble.”
“‘Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,’” I quoted but he rubbed his mismatched eyes. I retrieved the Pullman ticket from my pocketbook. “Are we agreed on the terms? My uncle may reward you extra when we arrive in California.”
“Is that right.” Ace Diamond lurched toward the doorway and then staggered outside. At the trough, he dunked his head and came up spluttering, tossing water droplets everywhere. He coughed and then slapped his hat into place. “How about this? Fifty dollars now, and a hundred when we get there. Plus meals on the train and the ticket.”
“Twenty now, plus meals and the ticket.”
“Twenty-five, take it or leave it.”
“Thirty. You don’t have a choice,” Ace said, grinning again, “unless that preacher man you were with last night has a wicked left hook.”
Ignoring that, I rummaged for a slip of paper and a pencil from my pocketbook, plus extracted the coins from my money belt. Thirty dollars—it reminded me of the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas.
 Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best First Novel!
Check out Double Crossing at Amazon - click here

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cowboy Duds

"I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy." This line was forever stamped in our consciousness of the old west cowboy when it became a song lyric in The Streets of Laredo. But exactly what was it about those cowboy duds that made the man wearing them identifiable on sight?

Since the cowboy worked with cattle and horses in some of the wildest terrain in the west, by necessity his clothing had to be durable. A cowboy’s clothing could also tell a lot about where he hailed from and the job he performed.

Stetson Champie
Hats gave a big clue to a rider’s origin. In the north, the brims were narrow and the crowns low. But just like a jackrabbit’s ears, the farther south you went, the bigger they became to shade their owners from the sun. In a previous post, Lauri Robinson gave us some great information about the Stetson and the various ways they are creased and what the creases signify. Stetsons came in a variety of styles, including the Dakota, Calgary, Champie (my fave), and the Ten-gallon. A common misconception about the Ten-gallon hat is that it referred to liquid measure. It didn’t. In Spanish, the word "gallon" refers to the band on a hat. The more gallons it had, the more expensive it was. Cowboys eventually started calling any hat that was large and expensive a Ten-gallon. Besides protecting him from the sun and rain, a cowboy’s hat had other uses. He could carry water in it or use it to fan a fire to life. If need be, he could use it as a whip to urge his horse to a faster run. On occasion, he might even stuff the crown with dried grass and use it as a pillow.

A bandana, also known as a wipe or rag, was just as necessary as a hat. They usually came in blue or red and were worn loosely around the neck. When the weather turned frigid, a bandana could be pulled up over a cowboy’s nose to prevent frostbite. It also served as a mask when a man pulled drag duty and had to ride behind the dusty herd. A bandana was long enough to be draped over the crown of a cowboy’s hat and tied under his chin to prevent the hat flying off in a high wind. This also protected his ears from frostbite if he got caught out in a blue norther. And just like his hat, a cowboy’s bandana had other uses and was sometimes brought into service as a potholder, towel, or bandage. If the only available water was muddy, the bandana could be used to filter it for drinking. In a pinch, the bandana probably had a couple of other uses, too, but I’d rather not mention those and put you off your feed this early in the day.

Shirts were always long-sleeved and most often were the pullover type with a three or four button placket on the front opening. See the young cowboy in the photo; he’s wearing a pullover, probably made of wool. Fabrics used were some variety of cotton or wool, depending on the climate. Let’s not forget gloves and leather cuffs, which fastened around the lower arm and extended down to cover the wrists. These were necessary to protect against rope burns or injuries from barbed wire and sharp animal hoofs, plus they saved wear and tear on shirt sleeves.

Contrary to popular culture, the most common pants worn by cowboys in the old west were made of heavy wool, not denim. As I mentioned before, the clothing had to be durable and wool lasted longer than other materials. Levi Strauss didn’t perfect his denim jeans until 1873, and I imagine it took quite some time after that for them to become readily available in dry goods stores throughout the west. So if you have your cowboy set in any time period prior to that, he’d most likely have worn wool or some other material.

Can you imagine wearing that hot, scratchy wool from waist to ankle? I can’t. Which brings me to the reason most cowboys wore their unmentionables year round. Since the great westward migration began after the Civil War, that’s where I’ll begin—with the union suit. The first union suit was patented in 1868 as "emancipation union under flannel." Normally, they were red flannel with full-length arms and legs. The front buttoned up from groin to neck. There was a flap in back that unbuttoned for easy access in the outhouse. After a time (don’t have an exact date) the union suit gave way to long johns, which were very similar to the two-piece suit of long underwear we’re familiar with today. Just fyi, it wasn’t unusual for men who didn’t have an easy means of doing laundry to wear their long johns for an entire summer or winter between washings. How romantic is that!

Back side of Batwing Chaps

As if two layers of garments weren’t hot and sweaty enough for our cowboy, let’s add a pair of leather chaps to his outfit. Chaps were necessary to save wear and tear on precious clothing. Plus they offered some protection from cactus thickets, thorny bushes, barbed wire, and even an occasional love nip from his best friend, his horse. Chaps came in three basic styles: shotguns, batwings, and woolies. Shotgun chaps were slim and close fitting and had to be pulled up the legs, over the pants. Sometimes awkward because the boots and spurs had to be removed to get them on. Northern cowboys preferred woolies for extra warmth. They were most often made from sheep hide with the long wool left on. For pure comfort and convenience, most cowboys preferred batwing chaps. They were looser and fastened around the legs, which didn’t require removing footwear. They also allowed more air to flow in, which was essential on the sun-scorched ranges of the southwest.

Last, but not least, no cowboy would be caught dead without his boots. Back in our cowboy’s day, a pair of boots cost between $10 and $25, depending on how much fancy stitching he wanted and the quality of the leather. Most cowboys only owned one pair, and they held onto that one pair as long as possible and resisted buying new ones. If you’ve ever worn a new pair of cowboy boots, you can sympathize. When new boots were required, they sometimes soaked them in water before putting them on the first time so they would conform to the shape of their feet. Toes were pointed for ease in and out of the stirrups. The heels were high and slanted for gripping the stirrups. The slanted heels were also good for gripping the ground when a cowhand had a rank steer on the other end of his rope. The leather loops, called mule ears, at the tops of the shafts were used to pull the boots onto the feet. No pair of cowboy boots would be complete without spurs, and they came in too many shapes and sizes for me to elaborate on in this post. A cowboy who had a care for his horse filed down the tips of the spur rowels so they wouldn’t damage the animal’s skin. And if a cowboy wanted an extra jingle in his step when he went to town, he added a pair of jinglebobs to the end of the shank.

Ah, those cowpokes and their jinglebobs. Puts a smile on my face every time. :)

Happy reading and writing!

Resources for cowboy clothing in the Old West:

The Book of the American West –Section 6, Cowboys and Horses of the American West by Ramon F. Adams 
How the West Was Worn by Chris Enss 
Bandannas, Chaps, and Ten-Gallon Hats by Bobbie Kalman

Invitation to Big Al's Books & Pals

Howdy partners. I'm taking the liberty of posting this announcement. My guest blog on was posted this morning. The topic is “Druids, Yesterday & Today”. This is a compilation of a series I posted on my sites about a year ago. However, it contains some new information as well as beautiful new graphics. I hope you will stop by and give it a read. If you feel like leaving a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

Wishing you a lovely day, wherever on Mother Earth you may be.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Riding the Rails in Old Utah

Last month, I promised to talk about mining and railroading in Deseret (territorial Utah). After giving it some thought, I decided to split the subject in two. This month I'll concentrate on Utah's early railroads and save mining for next time.

Replicas of UP No. 119 & CPRR No. 60 (the Jupiter) meet at the
Gloden Spike National Historic Site.
Train travel across Utah began with the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Point on May 10, 1869. Hammered in by Leland Stanford, head of the Central Pacific RR, that last spike linked the CPRR with the Union Pacific RR, completing the nation's first transcontinental railroad. The windy spot where the rails met was more than sixty miles northwest of Salt Lake City. Both the Mormon capital and Denver, Colorado -- the two largest cities in the mountain west -- were bypassed by the historic route. Feeder lines would need to be built to both cities.

Railroad construction workers in northern Utah
Ironically, Mormons made up most of the Union Pacific work gangs who blasted and tunneled a path through Weber River Canyon and laid track to Promontory. Latter Day Saints President Brigham Young had won a contract with the UP, employing Mormons to build the route in Utah. Church elders were lukewarm about railroads entering their domain, but Young realized train service would make it easier for new converts to "gather to Zion." It would also help their economy by increasing the flow of trade with the outside world. In 1867, Young said, "This gigantic work will increase intercourse, and it is hoped, soften prejudices, and bind the country together."

However, when the decision was made to bypass SLC in order to cut 76 miles and many steep grades from the route, and save 2.5 million dollars, Brigham Young was furious. He threatened to withdraw his support but in the end he accepted the inevitable and sent Mormon laborers to help. Some 4,000 men answered his call.

At the same time, plans were soon drawn up for the Utah Central Railroad, which would run from Salt Lake City to Ogden, where it would connect with the transcontinental route. Incorporated in 1869 and built by Mormons, this vital feeder line was completed in January, 1870. The two hour trip from Ogden to Salt Lake City cost $2, equal to about $55 in 2012.

In May of 1871, construction began on the Utah Southern, running south from SLC down the Jordan River Valley. This road eventually reached 105 miles south to Chicken Creek (Juab, Utah). Meanwhile, work also began on the Utah Northern RR from Brigham City to Ogden, and in 1874, the Utah Western got underway. Workers laid narrow guage tracks west from Salt Lake City, completing the route near Stockton in 1877. These "Mormon Roads" formed the basis for a network of rails intended, not for profit, but to connect the smaller Mormon settlements they served. Of course, there were some drawbacks. As early as the 1870s, air pollution became a problem. Smoke from trains and smelters (more about those next month) damaged crops, and together with coal smoke from home and commercial heating, made Salt Lake City air unhealthy to breath.

 A railroad groundbreaking was an exciting event, as shown in this news article: "Editor News -- Ground was broken for the Utah Northern Railroad, this evening, by moonlight. The dedication prayer was offered by Lorenzo Snow. John W. Young broke ground, and a portion of the grade was begun and completed, by shovel, pick, plow and scraper, amid the firing of cannon and ringing of bells. A great number of people were present to witness the ceremony. The brass band and Professor Fishburn's choir were present." (Deseret Evening News, August 28, 1871)

CPRR Groundbreaking Ceremony, Scramento, CA, Jan. 8, 1863 -- G.J. "Chris" Graves Collection
(Sorry, I couldn't find a picture of a Utah railroad groundbreaking. Darn!)
All of the above mentioned shortline railroads came under the control of the Union Pacific by the late 1870s to early 80s. However, another line, the Denver & Rio Grande Western, entered Utah Territory in 1881. The D&RGW rails approached from Denver via the Price River Canyon, reaching Salt Lake City in June, 1882. By purchasing several shortlines, the company swiftly began collecting revenue, giving the Union Pacific competition.

That's it for now. Next month I'll delve into mining in Utah, and how the railroads influenced the mining industry. Now here are two brief excerpts from Darlin' Druid, showing how I imagine an Old West train depot, c. 1872:

Outside Omaha’s Union Pacific Station, Captain David Taylor awaited the westbound train. Tired of the wait, he paced to a corner of the building, crossed his arms and leaned back against the yellow frame wall. This new depot was a far cry from the rickety old Riverside Station he’d passed through some years ago, he mused. Built on landfill, the new structure stood near the Missouri River Bridge, which had recently replaced the slow ferry service David recalled with distaste.

Admiring the bridge, he did his best to ignore the passengers and baggage crowding the station platform. He loosened his collar and tugged his campaign hat lower against the hot noonday sun. Barely June but summer was already here . . .


She [Jessie] fished a handkerchief from her reticule and patted her damp forehead. The depot seemed to grow hotter by the minute and the smell more revolting. Craning her neck, she looked through the window again, still seeing no sign of Tye. He’d best return soon or they would miss their train. The great iron beast had pulled up outside and now sat building up steam.

With a sigh, she eyed the crowd on the platform. It was a mixed group. There were settlers with children in tow and all their worldly goods heaped around them. Others, well-dressed easterners, might be journeying west for business purposes, Jessie supposed, or simply to see the land in all its glory. She also saw buckskinned westerners, going home perhaps.

Four such men, more dirty and rough looking than most, caught her eye. She watched them pass a whiskey jug back and forth between them and heard the muffled sound of their raucous laughter. They appeared to be well into their cups. Wrinkling her nose, she sincerely hoped they would not be traveling in her coach.

Reference sources
Union Pacific Country by Robert G. Athearn
Mormons and Gentiles, A History of Salt Lake City by Thomas G. Alexander & James B. Allen
Pioneering the Union Pacific by Charles Edgar Ames 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Chuck Wagon Cooking: Sometimes a Wild Ride

The first rays of dawn are peeking over the horizon, and a few moos from the waking cattle herd tell the cowboys it’s time to mount up and tend to business. Life for both man and beast is hard on a cattle drive.
But one man had been hard at work long before the cowhands awoke--the cook, or Cookie, as he was often called (or cousie, by those who spoke Spanish).

About Chuck Wagon Cooks

Before we get into Cookie's day, let's take a look at who he was. Most chuck wagon cooks were ex-cowboys who were either too old (meaning in their 30s and sometimes 40s) for cowpunching or were injured. Either way, he was experienced in all aspects of the cattle drive and no one, not even the trail boss, questioned his authority around the campfire if they knew what was good for them.
Most cooks were considered surly old coots. Of course, with the terrible working conditions, the injuries, the heavy lifting, the rigid schedule of long working hours and short nights, it would be hard for nearly anyone to maintain a sunny disposition. In return for their efforts, cooks made nearly as much money as the trail boss and double that of the average cowhand, but they earned every penny of it.
Food was (and always will be) important to young men, and most cowhands were 14 to 25 years old, so hiring the best cook helped the trail boss recruit the most accomplished cowhands. That's another reason why trail bosses didn't give a good cook any guff, or let the young men get out of line. Once he lured a good cook onto his crew, he did his best to keep him.

About Chuck Wagons

Chuck is defined by Etymology Online as a "piece of wood or meat," 1670s, probably a variant of chock "block." The "meat" sense is the source of American English chuck wagon, from approximately 1880. The date is, of course, wrong, since Charles Goodnight is credited for inventing the chuck wagon in 1866, and it was called a chuck wagon, so the correct date should be 1866 or before.
While companies did make chuck wagons (Studebaker, for one), most were converted farm wagons with a chuck box on the back. A hinged lid with folding legs on the chuck box served as a fold-out work bench, and there were generally hooks for a canvas at the top of the wagon to use as a sun shade. Underneath the chuck box was the boot, where they carried the Dutch ovens, tin plates, forks, knives, spoons, and cups, and whatever else they could get in there. Various hooks and fasteners on the sides of the wagon held the water barrel, large pots and tubs, axes, the coffee pot, and the like.
Underneath the wagon was another canvas or cowhide called the possum belly. Sometimes two or three. This is where they kept the firewood (or buffalo or cow chips) collected along the way for the evening fire. They also kept the kerosene for the lanterns here, usually in a separate boot. Inside the wagon, they hauled the flour, beans, coffee, dried fruit, canned goods, and other foodstuffs to last 30 days, as well as cowhands' bedrolls and personal effects, and whatever else was needed on the trail drive.

A Day in the Life of a Chuck Wagon Cook

Three in the morning comes pretty early when you put in an eighteen-hour day before, and before that, and before that... But while the cook got away with a considerable amount of crankiness and general orneriness, one thing that the cowhands wouldn't put up with was late meals. First order of the day is to build the fire and put the coffee on to boil. Then he'd "build the biscuits," meaning he'd mix up the biscuit dough and set it to rise. Those two things were the mainstays no matter whether he was cooking for a cattle drive or a roundup. After that, he'd fry some sowbelly (bacon) and maybe a few potatoes if he had them, or maybe sourdough flapjacks. It took a good two hours to get breakfast ready.
After the cowhands ate, they tossed their dishes in the wreck pan and off they went to the herd. But the cook's job has just begun, and he didn't get to sit on a horse all day to do it, either. He had to clean up the dishes and pots, pack everything away, hitch up the team (usually four mules), and head to the noon destination hell-bent for election, because he had to have dinner (served midday) ready before the herd got there. The business of the chuck wagon moseying along with the herd just wasn't true. In reality, he started an hour later, but had to be there two hours earlier than the herd, so it was sometimes a wild ride accompanied by a lot of cussing and hollering.
Finally at the destination, he unpacked everything, started the fire and put on the coffee. He made coffee by boiling the water and then tossed a couple handfuls of ground coffee in (Grandpa threw in some egg shells and salt, too) and let it simmer. It's said that if you dropped a horseshoe in the pot and it sank, the coffee hadn't boiled enough yet. This meal usually consisted of warming up whatever was left over--just enough food to keep the hunger at bay. Maybe some son-of-a-bitch stew or the some other kettle food.
After he did the dishes and disposed of the food scraps, he packed everything up again and raced the team to the evening camp, collecting firewood and other materials to use for camp fire fuel along the way.
When he got there, you guessed it, he unhitched the team, unpacked everything all over again, started the campfire, put on the coffee, built the biscuits, slapped some steaks on the grill (for roundup, usually didn't have steak on a cattle drive), and, if the cowhands were lucky, maybe he'd make a vinegar pie or a tasty dessert out of dried fruit.
While the cowhands were sitting around the campfire drinking coffee and shooting the breeze, the cook was cleaning up, feeding his sourdough starter, and getting ready for the next day--more of the same.
But the cook didn't just cook. He was also the doctor, banker, referee, often the letter writer, and father figure.
Once the fire was out, the cowhands were bedded down, the cook could go to bed, too. He got the prime sleeping spot--under the chuck wagon, but in just a few hours, another grueling day would begin.

Cow Camp Etiquette
  • Riders always stayed downwind of the chuck wagon so as not to kick up dirt in the food.
  • Horses were not to be tied to the chuck wagon.
  • There was no using the worktable as the dining table.
  • Cowboys were very careful not to let the pot lid touch the dirt while serving themselves from the pot.
  • Never take the last of anything unless everyone had been served.
  • Always scrape your plate clean and stack it in the wreck pan to be cleaned (when water was scarce, they were cleaned with sand.)

Carter Museum
Lone Hand Western: Reliving History
Muller's Lane Farm
My Wooden Spoon
Friona Star

May your saddle never slip!


Hearts of Owyhee
Coming soon: #3: Much Ado About Mavericks
Try a short story, western with a bit of magick:
Willow, Wish For Me (Merlin's Destiny #1)