Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Eating Out in the Good Old Days ~ Ellen O'Connell

The new romance I’m working on now has a scene in an elegant hotel dining room, which led me to research what a restaurant like that would really serve. My time period is later than most of what we discuss here (1899), but once I found a site with images of real Nineteenth Century menus, I couldn’t help but look at all the oldies.

To my surprise every one of these old menus listed many items even a picky, plain food person like me would be happy to order.
  • Roast Prime Beef, Dish Gravy; Mashed Potatoes; Green Peas; Blackberry Pie; Canadian and Edam Cheese (Alamo Hotel, Colorado Springs, April 14, 1895)
  • Baked Salmon au Vin Blanc; Shrimp Salad (Albert Café, Denver, November 16, 1891)
  • Porterhouse Steak; Pork Chops; Eggs done in many ways (Bazaar Dinning [sic] Room, Denver, probably circa 1892)
I know that during the great slaughter of the buffalo the only parts taken were hides and tongues and that tongues had value because they were a delicacy served in New York restaurants at the time. Bits of information like that led to an expectation of finding many such eeyew! items, and I did find a few.
  • Ox Heart with Jelly (Alert Restaurant, Denver, probably circa 1894)
  • Calves Brains Scrambled with Eggs (Boston Bakery and Lunch Room, Denver, probably circa 1892)
  • Boiled Tongue (Alamo Hotel, Colorado Springs, April 14, 1895)
I’m as unsophisticated as my character who questions the listing of roast domestic duck. A Google search showed that this description is still used and it wasn’t just in the Good Old Days that chefs differentiated between plump, shotgun pellet free duck and scrawny, shot from the sky duck. I couldn’t help but use that one in my story.

The fact oyster soup, salmon, and halibut were served in Colorado in those days was another surprise. How fresh could ocean fish be so far from the sea back then? By 1899 shipping on ice and some primitive refrigeration was available, but still.... In my memory many Coloradans didn’t consider ordering ocean fish in restaurants here a good idea even in the 60's and 70's.

Other things that tickled me were mentions of deposits and extra charges for dishes taken out (or rules forbidding takeout entirely). No Styrofoam to pack things in back then. They worried about whether dishes would be returned. One menu mentions an extra charge for two people who ordered a single meal and shared.

All in all this research went as it almost always does—I needed a small amount of information for one scene in an entire novel, spent a short time finding out what I needed to know and a long time checking out things that caught my interest.

Monday, January 21, 2013

There's Gold In Them-Thar Hills...

(Though that quote was supposedly said in Georgia, pertaining the hills in the northern part of the state, in hopes of keeping miners from racing to California in 1849—I’m using it in reference to Colorado.)

It’s said Colorado gold mining began in 1858 after a discovery that set off the Denver gold rush, even though explorer Zebulon Pike noted gold in the ground in 1807. Either way, St. Charles, later renamed Denver City, was established in the spring of 1858 and by the fall of that year towns had sprung up throughout the territory.  

Once originally part of the Nebraska, Kansas, Utah and New Mexico Territory, this gold bearing region became known as the Territory of Jefferson when a provisional territorial government was formed in 1859. In 1861 Territorial officials, approving the name the Spanish used for the red dirt area decided to rename it the Territory of Colorado, which was approved by the Government that year. Fifteen years later, in 1876 Ulysses S. Grant proclaimed Colorado the 38th state to join the Union on August 1. 

The gold discoveries around Denver were small and miners began tracing the gold to its source higher in the Mountains westward. There, near the top of the mountain, towns such as Black Hawk and Central City cropped up after miners found over a thousand dollars worth of gold in five days work. (That would be over $20,000 in today’s money.)

This not only brought on more miners, it brought others who made their millions by providing the miners what they needed, merchants, railroads, saloons, banks, even playhouses and charity organizations. Soon the surface gold was all taken, and extracting the gold from the harder ore was impossible for most miners. In 1868 Colorado’s first ore smelter was built in Black Hawk, which extracted the gold and other metals and minerals from the ore, and once again, mining in the area was at its peak—which lasted until about 1959. During that hundred year time span, 1859-1959, it’s estimated that area of Colorado produced 6,3000,000 troy ounces of gold. 

Traveling to the area was precarious, though. The narrow gauge railroad had to have tight switchbacks to make the ever increasing grade, and vast bridges were built over gulches that some claimed had never ending bottoms. Once built, the Colorado Central Railroad had numerous trains traveling from Denver to Black Hawk, Central City, and Nevadaville on a daily basis. 

In my February 19th release, Inheriting a Bride, Kit Becker must travel to this area of Colorado to lay claim to a gold mine she inherited from her grandfather. 

Blurb: He’ll get beneath every delicious layer of her disguises...

Kit Becker travels to Nevadaville prepared to use any pretense necessary to discover why she must share her inheritance, and with whom.

Clay Hoffman knows a thing or two about moneygrabbing females, so when he finds one posing as his new ward he’s determined to get beneath every delicious layer of her disguises. Discovering she’s telling the truth, Clay is torn—he should be protecting her, not thinking about making her his bride! All he knows for sure is that he’s inherited a whole heap of trouble!


Contrary to those in the movies, stage coaches came in several sizes and styles. Some had three seats, some two. But they all had rigorous rules of travelers’ deportment. The following list is from the 1877 Omaha Herald via the source at the end:

Hints For Plains Travelers

The best seat inside a stagecoach is the one next to the driver…you will get less than half the bumps and jars than on any other seat. When any old “sly Eph,” who traveled thousands of miles on coaches, offers through sympathy to exchange his back or middle seat with you, don’t do it.

Never ride in cold weather with tight books or shoes or close-fitting gloves. Bathe your feet the night before starting in cold water, and wear loose overshoes and gloves about two three sizes too large.

When the driver asks you to get off and walk, do it without grumbling. He will not request it unless absolutely necessary. If a team runs away, sit still and take your chances. If you jump, nine times out of ten you will be hurt.

In very cold weather, abstain entirely from liquor while on the road. A man will freeze twice as quick while under its influence.

Don’t growl at food stations; stage companies generally provide the best they can. Don’t keep the stage waiting; many a virtuous man has lost his character by doing so.

Don’t smoke a strong pipe inside, especially early in the morning. Spit on the leeward side of the coach. If you have anything to take in a bottle, pass it around. A man who drinks by himself in such a case is lost to all human feeling. Provide stimulants before starting. Ranch whisky is not always nectar.

Don’t swear, nor lop over on your neighbor when sleeping. Don’t ask how far it is to the next station.
Never attempt to fire a gun or pistol while on the road. It may frighten the team, and the careless handling and cocking of the weapon makes nervous people nervous.

Don’t discuss politics or religion, nor point out places on the road where horrible murders have been committed.

Don’t linger too long at the pewter wash basin at the station.

Don’t grease your hair before starting or dust will stick there in sufficient quantities to make a respectable ‘tater’ patch. Tie as silk handkerchief around your neck to keep out dust and prevent sunburn.

A little glycerin is good in case of chapped hands.

Don’t imagine for a moment you are going on a picnic. Expect annoyance, discomfort, and some hardships. If you are disappointed, thank heaven.

In my western historical HIGH STAKES BRIDE, the heroine tries to reach a stage to escape her two evil stepbrothers. She is plagued by bad luck, that is, until she throw in with the hero.

I’ve ridden briefly in a stage coach a couple of times. I have to say I am very grateful for my nice air-conditioned sedan. How about you?

KEEPING HEARTH AND HOME IN OLD TEXAS: The How-To Book Your Great-Great- Grandmother Used, pages 201-202, by Carol Padgett, Sweetwater Press.

Caroline Clemmons is the author of numerous western historical and contemporary romances. See her books at her Amazon Author Page:

Books also available from Nook, iPad, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Much Ado About Mutton - Meg Mims

I confess. I stole the clever title for this blog post. The original was used for a conference workshop about mutton-eating in Detroit's old days. But it certainly fits the history of the cattle-sheep wars in the old West from 1870 to the 1920s. I also confess I had to do some quick research about the topic, since I haven’t read enough Western history of the cattle barons, trails, stockyards, open range and the like.

Cattle vs. sheep wars were not like the big, bad Johnson County cattle range wars -- not that I'm up on that history either. I discovered the most common states experiencing cattle vs. sheep troubles were Arizona, Texas, Wyoming and Colorado. Were murders and the slaughter of animals really rampant? Numbers prove it – over fifty men murdered and between 50,000 and 100,000 sheep slaughtered. Serious enough! 

Remember I’m an eastern greenhorn, born and raised in Michigan. Land of trees, the Great Lakes, lighthouses, beaches and cars. Yes, the automobile – which replaced horses after the turn of the 20th century. And yes, prior to that, horses were common (along with horse dung) all across the country, whether for riding or pulling omnibuses, wagons and stagecoaches. So the “beef vs. mutton” dispute is news to me.

Let’s face it, cowboys (cow hands, really, since they were anything but boys) worked cattle drives on horseback. After the buffalo herds were slaughtered, the open range favored cattle driven northward on “trails” to stockyards where they were sent east to meat-packing plants in St. Louis and Chicago. Ranches could be small or huge, sprawling affairs, and disputes arose about rustling or branding mavericks to swell the herds. But sheep? Cowhands considered them an insult.

What factors played a role in the conflict between cattle and sheep men in the Old West? First, some believed that sheep with their smaller mouths grazed closer to the ground and ruined the range, and that cattle would not drink from water sources “polluted” by sheep. Second, ethnicity may have played a shadowy role – men of Spanish origin herded sheep, and herders worked the sheep on foot or burro, sometimes on horseback. The ratio of animals to men were far smaller with sheep than cattle. You can imagine how “outnumbered” the sheep and herders would be in a range dispute.

For example, Charles Goodnight’s cowhands drove over four hundred sheep into the Canadian River and drowned them after herders “invaded” their range along the Texas-New Mexico border in 1875. 2400 sheep were slaughtered in Oregon in 1903 by driving them off a cliff, or “rimrock,” and the survivors shot. Other sheep herds were stampeded or poisoned.

But some disputes turned into murder. The 1886-1887 Pleasant Valley war (not so pleasant, really) in Arizona between the Graham and Tewksbury feuding factions resulted in about thirty dead men. Plenty of books and movies, some factual and some far-fetched, were spawned out of these Old West range wars.

By 1920 disputes between cattle and sheep ranchers cooled down, since the “open range” had been fenced off by that time. I'm partial to beef burgers over mutton on my dinner plate, but I do enjoy gyros. That's about as close to a cow or sheep I'll ever get.

Here’s a few interesting books, blogs and movie resources.

The Sheepmen – 1958 Glenn Ford film

Picture credits: 
Book cover and illustrations by Maynard Dixon, from the 1910 edition of Hidden Water – which I “rustled” from Ron Scheer’s BUDDIES IN THE SADDLE blog. Slaughtered sheep image from en.wikipedia.org

Meg Mims is the award-winning author of DOUBLE CROSSING (2012 Spur Award - Best First Novel, Finalist in Best Books of 2012 by USA Book News), available on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, in e-book, trade paperback and hardcover. To the right is the cover for the HC large print edition from Center Point Publishing.

Meg is working on the sequel, DOUBLE OR NOTHING, and hopes to release it in early spring. Want a sneak peek? Check out her blog for The Next Big Thing!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Cowboy Kisses Welcome to Lynn Cahoon!

Finding a story in the past

I’m from Idaho.  Cowboys, rodeos, farms, and ranches were the norm, rather than the exception.  So when we moved to Illinois, I expected more city folk than cowboy charm. I’ve been surprised at the history I’ve found, even in my own, new home town.
Alton, Illinois sets right on the Mississippi River, with historical landmarks dotting the road I take daily into the day job in St. Louis.  It’s easy to lose yourself in thoughts of the past while driving through the hilly country where two rivers meet, especially when restored paddle ships slip through the winding water.  And during the winter, Alton serves as prime eagle watching real estate.

From 1862 to 1865, during the confederate war, Alton served as home to a military prison.  The site, now reduced to a partial wall, sets on the edge of the historic section of town near the Mississippi river and now, the flour plant.  Four types of prisoners where held at the prison, confederate soldiers (which made up the majority), civilians, Federal soldiers, and guerilla or bushwackers.  At the height of the war, 1700 prisoners were held at the facility.
After the war, the prison transitioned into the first Illinois State Penitentiary. Conditions were so bad by the time the last of the prisoners were transitioned to Joliet, famous social worker, Dorothy Dix called the prison, unsalvageable.  Due to the proximity to the river, flooding of the prison was a common occurrence.

After the prison was abandoned, the stones seen above were used in several local buildings including a church and a hotel.  Many of these buildings constructed with the prison stone, now have ghostly residents that modern day paranormal hunters claim resemble the confederate prisoners.
No, the Alton prison isn’t part of my current releases.  Both The Bull Rider’s Brother and The Bull Rider’s Manager are set back home, in the Boise, Idaho area, in contemporary time.  But my writer’s mind takes off when I visit historical sites like the ones in Alton, and I wonder… What if? What would it be like to live during those times?  And you all know what happens then, story magic.

The Bull Rider’s Manager
Barb Carico’s life is all about business.  Now that her best friend has tied the knot with her high school sweetheart and Barb’s new partner, she’s busier than ever. Managing Jesse Sullivan’s career and
public persona can be a handful. Add in an aging mother who goes through home health nurses like candy, Barb’s hanging on the edge.

Her one salvation?  Hunter Martin, prodigal son of Martin Family Dairy and, hopefully, Jesse’s next sponsor. A promise his father had already made before Hunter took over the public relations department.  After his brother’s death, Hunter's become an instant dad to his seven year
old niece.  More responsibility. For Hunter, the rodeo weekend with Barb is the perfect excuse to relax.

When their dinner turns into drinks and then a quick trip to a Vegas wedding chapel, both Barb and Hunter agree their nuptials were a mistake.  A mistake they consummated the next evening.  As soon as
they’re home, the marriage will be annulled. That’s what they both want.  Or at least what they tell themselves.

Upon their return, Hunter finds that distant relatives are suing him for custody of his niece.  The only way for him to keep custody is to design a life that matches the promise of a perfect family.  For that, he needs Barb to stay married to him.  Hunter would give her anything to go along with the charade.

Barb doesn't know anything about being a wife or mother but she needs one favor.  A favor she'll trade her lifestyle, independence, and even risk her heart to make come true.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Old Time Cold Remedies

Cowgirl hat banner

Like most people this winter, I’m caught up in listening to all the grim reports about the current flu outbreak. I’ve also been suffering with an upper respiratory infection since the day after Christmas. Whether it started as a common cold or the flu, I’m not sure, but it turned into a nasty case of bronchitis. I’ve been to the doctor, have finished a round of antibiotics and am taking a strong cough remedy, but I still can’t seem to shake this thing. I may be paying my doc another visit.

All of which got me to thinking about our pioneer ancestors and wondering what remedies they favored for cold and flu bugs. My home library contains several books on herbal and home remedies, so I didn’t need to go far for an answer – many actually.

Boston Mnt. in Ozarks
Source: Common Medicinal Herbs of the Ozarks, History, Folklore and Uses
By Bob Liebert

Onions: juice of roasted onion for croup
Horehound: cooked into a thick syrup for coughs and colds; horehound candy for children’s coughs and colds
Catnip: for colds and fevers; especially good for children
Basswood: tea of the flowers for head colds; sweating herb for colds and fevers
Skunk oil: rendered fat from a skunk applied externally for chest cold and pneumonia; also might be swallowed for chest congestion (Yuck!)
Vinegar & honey: swallowed for coughs; gargled for sore throat
Turpentine: rags soaked in turpentine applied to chest for congestion; was sometimes taken internally, which could damage kidneys

Source: Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie, An Ethnobotanical Guide
By Kelly Kindscher

American licorice: roots steeped into a tea for coughs by Blackfeet Indians
Beebalm: flowers made into tea, used by the Lakotas for fever and colds; whites used it for headaches and fever
Curly-top gumweed: brewed as tea by settlers for treating all types of respiratory illness
Mint: peppermint tea prescribed by doctors for many ailments including colds (I drink it to sooth my throat and calm my cough.)
Purple coneflower: most popular of medicinal plants among settlers, used for colds and almost every other ailment
Seneca snakeroot: Seneca Indians made tea of this root, used to treat coughs, sore throat, colds and snakebite; they taught settlers how to use it
Willow: tea brewed from small branches, used for colds, headache, fever and other ailments; willow was long used in Europe and was likely familiar to many settlers
Yarrow: tea used for coughs, throat irritation and bleeding; also long known for its medicinal properties in Europe

These are but a few of the many cold remedies employed by pioneers. Quoting one of my sources: “In the past, as today, the common cold was the number-one physical complaint. I was given so many cold remedies in the course of my interviewing that if I listed them all I would have a small book.”
~~ Country Folk Medicine, by Elizabeth Janos

Now, instead of offering a book excerpt, I'd like to share a couple of the latest reader reviews for Dashing Druid. You can read more reviews on Amazon.

Just finished book 3 of the Texas Druids it's an awesome series to read! Got to read it to see!!!
~~Reviewed by mommie85360

I liked this book as much as the first one. It showed how sometimes real people can be extraordinary. In this story, you have two people who have been injured emotionally and fight their attraction toward each other and eventually give in. It brings up not only the race hatred of the Native Americans but also of the Irish. We are a nation built by many races but still have to remember that race did play a big part on how we saw each other. (review excerpt)
~~Reviewed by C. Peters ""Crazy Cat Lady""

SEE ALL MY BOOKS HERE: Lyn’s Amazon Author Page

I hope you'll visit my blog and/or home page. I love reader comments!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Cowboy Kiss Welcome to Alison Henderson

Digging up Dinosaurs in 1870’s Wyoming

When my daughter was little, she was a huge fan of PBS’s Reading Rainbow. One of the books, Mummies Made in Egypt by Aliki, stirred her fascination with ancient Egypt and led to her present PhD studies in Egyptology. She’s the poster child for the value of reading as a young child. That book literally set the course of her life.

Another favorite by the same author was Digging up Dinosaurs. While my daughter didn’t decide to become a paleontologist, we were both intrigued by the detailed descriptions and drawings of the work of excavating, preserving, and displaying the fossils of North America’s earliest residents. Nineteenth century Americans were even more enthusiastic about dinosaurs. In fact, two eminent professors, O. C. Marsh and E. D. Cope, were downright fanatical.

Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope met in 1864 and started their academic careers as amiable colleagues—Marsh at Yale and Cope at Haverford College. However, soon their opposing temperaments and scientific views (not to mention enormous egos and ambitions) threw them into a bitter rivalry, and Marsh’s public humiliation of Cope for pointing out that he’d attached the head of a major specimen to the tail instead of the neck didn’t help.

In the early 1870’s, word came east of exciting new fossil finds in Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming. Cope set off on his first trip to Wyoming in 1872, while Marsh led groups of Yale students on several fossil hunting expeditions, one guided by William “Buffalo Bill” Cody himself and accompanied by armed soldiers to keep the native tribes at bay. It was in Como Bluff, not far from Medicine Bow, that the professors’ rivalry reached its peak.

Marsh received a letter in August of 1879 from a pair of bone hunters calling themselves Harlow and Edwards. (In reality, they were railroad employees whose real names were Carlin and Reed.) The men described several enormous bones they had dug from a “secret” fossil bed and offered to sell the specimens, as well as their excavation services, to Marsh.

Marsh acted quickly but not before Cope was drawn into the fray as Carlin and Reed attempted to play the two against each other in search of the highest bidder. Over the next few years, carloads of fossils were shipped east by rail as the rivals lobbed accusations of theft, sabotage, and double dealing at each other. Eventually, the paleontologists wore themselves out and exhausted their fortunes in their attempts to win the “Bone Wars”.

My latest novella, The Treasure of Como Bluff, takes place in the fall of 1879, and features O.C. Marsh, as well as Harlow and Edwards, as secondary characters.  Here’s the blurb:

In her race against rival bone hunters, the last complication paleontologist Caroline Hubbard needs is an unconscious stranger cluttering up her dig site. Nicholas Bancroft might have the chiseled features and sculpted physique of a classical statue, but she's not about to let him hamper her quest to unearth a new species of dinosaur and make her mark on the scientific world.

Nick has come to Wyoming in search of silver but, after a blow to the head, finds himself at the mercy of a feisty, determined female scientist. Despite his insistence that he's just passing through, he agrees to masquerade as Caroline's husband to help save her job. Once their deception plays out, they face a crucial decision. Will they be able to see beyond their separate goals and recognize the treasure right in front of them?

It’s a humorous story set during a fascinating time in American history and features a hero who spends entirely too much time in a pink sunbonnet. I invite you to check it out.

Alison Henderson

Friday, January 11, 2013

Jacquie Rogers: A Fun Tour of Idaho History

Most westerns are set in Texas, Arizona, or Wyoming, a few others set in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Montana, then comes Colorado, and New Mexico.  The other states are for the most part ignored, only getting a book set in their neck of the woods on rare occasions.

Of course, every single state I listed is back East to Idahoans.

First, I thought it would be fun to do a glossary.  Ron Scheer does one every now and again in his blog, Buddies In The Saddle, and he always comes up with some interesting terms.  (Great resource--you should check it out!)  Some terms I know, some I never heard of and would like to try, some aren't of much use to me, but fascinating nonetheless.  I thought it would be fun to list a few terms and phrases still in use when I lived in Owyhee County, Idaho, where my ♥ Hearts of Owyhee ♥ series is set.

Bazoo: Late 1880s word for "mouth."  probably from Dutch bazuin meaning "trumpet."  Example: Shut your bazoo before I shut it for you.

California widow: A product of the 1849 gold rush, and referring to the men who left to find the mountain of gold, leaving their wives and children behind.  Some of the men took West Coast wives but were still married to their East Coast brides. Example: If Jeb hadn't opened his big bazoo, his new housekeeper never would have found out about his California widow, but he did miss his son.  In contemporary use, it refers to a woman whose husband is gone a lot because of his job--a long-haul truck driver or something like that.

Crowbait: Originated around 1855-1860, meaning an emaciated horse (or could be a mule, cow, or oxen) that isn't much good for work anymore.  Example: Jeb wants to sell me some crowbait for fifty dollars.  I doubt that critter would make it halfway home before he gave up the ghost.

Dry gulch: From the early 1870s, this term means to ambush.  It probably stems from bandits luring their victims into a box canyon or dry gulch to kill and rob them.  Can be used as a noun or verb.  Example: Jeb's hair stood on the back of his neck.  He had a strong feeling bandits were waiting in the next arroyo, and they had a mind to dry gulch him.

Hard case: This phrase comes from the 1830s and is used to refer to a man (sometimes a woman) who is prone to felonious behavior and who has few moral scruples.  Generally a very dangerous person.  Example: Jeb pursued a hard case wanted for murder, rape, and painting a puppy.

Hell-bent for leather: Late 1800s saying meaning to ride as fast as you can, more than likely wrecklessly.  Original saying is "hell-for-leather" and was a favorite phrase of Rudyard Kipling, who probably picked it up from the British troops in India, so not exclusive to Western at all.  Example: Jeb rode hell-bent for leather to stay out of rifle range of the mudsills waiting to dry gulch him.

Mudsill: According to Etymology Online: 1680s, "lowest sill of a house," from mud + sill. The word entered U.S. political history in a speech by James M. Hammond of South Carolina, March 4, 1858, in U.S. Senate, alluding scornfully to the very mudsills of society, and the term subsequently was embraced by Northern workers in the pre-Civil War sectional rivalry.  Example: Ready to draw, Jeb rode through the camp of mudsills, never turning his back to a one of them.

The whole kit and caboodle: Mid 1800s.  From  Etymology Online: "also kaboodle, 1861, from kit (n.1) in dismissive sense "number of things viewed as a whole" (1785) + boodle "lot, collection," perhaps from Dutch boedel "property." Kit also was paired with other words in similar formations."  Jeb rode hell-bent for leather out of the box canyon where the whole kit and caboodle of mudsills had tried to dry gulch him.

Idaho Territory
Not for the faint of heart

Before the Europeans, residents of the Idaho area were the Lemhi, Shoshone, Bannock, Nez Perce, Salish, Paiutes, and Piegan Indians.

British fur trappers roamed Idaho in search of beaver pelts and other animal furs as early as 1809, but in 1814, the trading post in southern Idaho was destroyed by the Bannock.  Still, trappers and traders came from the East Coast, Britain, Russia, and the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).  In fact, the later provided the name for Owyhee County.  From Wikipedia:
The name "Owyhee" derives from an early anglicization of the Hawaiian term "Hawaiʻi." When James Cook encountered what he named the Sandwich Islands (now the Hawaiian Islands) in 1778, he found them inhabited by Native Hawaiians who Anglo-Americans referred to as "Owyhees." Noted for their hardy physique and maritime skills, numerous Native Hawaiians were hired as crew members aboard European and American vessels. Many Owyhees sailed on to the American Northwest coast and found employment along the Columbia, where they joined trapping expeditions or worked at some of the fur trade posts.
In 1819, three Owyhees joined Donald Mackenzie's Snake expedition, which went out annually into the Snake country for the North West Company, a Montreal-based organization of Canadian fur traders. The three Hawaiians left the main party during the winter of 1819-20 to explore the then unknown terrain of what since has been called the Owyhee River and mountains and disappeared. They were presumed dead and no further information regarding their whereabouts has been found. In memory of these Native Hawaiians, British fur trappers started to call the region "Owyhee" and the name stuck.
Up to 1846, the area was  considered part of the Oregon Territory, and the primary industry was the fur trade.  Trappers and mountain men were the ones who laid out the Oregon Trail (and all the rest of the major trails, too).
Captain Benjamin L. E. Bonneville and Joseph Rutherford Walker crossed South Pass with twenty wagons and one hundred and ten men on July 24, 1832. On a two-year leave from the army, Captain Bonneville and Walker led the first wagon train over South Pass on what became the Mormon and Oregon-California Trail.
We always think of the Spaulding/Whitman wagon train as the first, but not.  Eliza Spaulding and Narcissa Whitman were the first Euro-American women to make the trek west--the Spauldings to Northern Idaho and the Whitmans to Washington State.  Henry Spaulding also brought the first printing press to Idaho in 1839.

Keep in mind that Idaho wasn't called Idaho yet.  That didn't happen until 1863, when Idaho Territory was carved from Washington Territory.  When I was in school, we where taught that Idaho was from the Shoshone "Ee-da-how," meaning "sun over the mountains," or "gem of the mountains."  This turned out not to be true and as far as we know, the name was simply made up by George M. Willing.  Yep, a hoax.  Good thing we Idahoans have a sense of humor.

Because of modern-day boundary shifts, Owyhee County is no longer the largest county in Idaho, but it's still large--the size of New Jersey.  The population is growing by leaps and bounds and is now 1.5 people per square mile.  Even so, a lot of the old ways are preserved there, both because of the remote location and because the people like it that way.  The latter is what a whole lot of city people don't understand.

So it's with the spirit of those hearty Owyhee pioneers that the Hearts of Owyhee series was born.

Where the Old West really happened!
Much Ado About Marshals
Much Ado About Madams
Much Ado About Mavericks

 Hearts of Owyhee ♥ 
A fun short story: Willow, Wish For Me (Merlin’s Destiny #1)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Old West Myth vs. Reality -by Devon Matthews

Today I’m revisiting one of my favorite topics—the myth versus the reality of the Old West.
As writers of western romance, we try to keep our facts straight and base our stories in reality, to give our readers a real taste of what it was like back in the Old West. But, as hard as we try, our efforts often fall short because we’ve been influenced all our lives by what we’ve seen on the big screen and tv—the romanticized west.
In the movies and even most of the books we read, we see our hero shove through the batwings (swinging doors) of some saloon—usually a nice, clean saloon. He bellies up to the bar and orders a drink. In the corner, a piano player is pounding out a lively tune while gaily dressed saloon girls engage the patrons. The bartender serves our hero a shot in a clean glass from a nicely labeled bottle of whiskey. After quickly tossing back the drink, our hero then flips the bartender a gold coin and carries his bottle to one of the poker tables, where a game is already in progress. After some interesting conversation back and forth, the game usually turns into a shootout and the result is several dead bodies lying on the floor. Sound familiar?
In reality, until the late 1800’s, when the railroads, mining camps, and cattle drives brought prosperity to the west, a typical saloon was neither large, nicely decorated, nor was it anything even approaching clean. More often, sawdust covered the floors, which absorbed everything from tobacco juice, blood, beer, and spilled liquor. The sawdust also disguised and soaked up the more unpleasant odors of urine and vomit. Nice, huh? Rather than a piano in the corner, you were just as likely to find a barber chair. In providing barber services, the saloons gave the more pious and wife-fearing patrons a respectable reason to walk through the doors.
Let’s go back to the image of our hero flipping the bartender a gold coin. In reality, drinks and other goods and services were often purchased with gold dust, especially in the numerous mining camps. Where gold dust was the coin of the realm, there followed some very inventive practices of stealing it. An unscrupulous bartender, intent on taking more than his fair share, would rub grease or thick liniment into his hair. Pinching into a sack of gold dust always left some clinging to fingers, especially if they were sticky with grease. The bartender had only to swipe his fingers through his hair to capture the extra grains. Later, the bartender washed his hair and all those precious grains of gold settled right to the bottom of the pan. There was another, easier method and here’s my heroine from the second book of my gold camp series (still in progress) to explain.
    She tossed her leather pouch on the counter. “Dry your hands before you go pinching inside my poke, Smitty.”
    The bartender glared at her long and hard, then snatched the filthy towel draped over his shoulder and swiped it over his hands.
    Susannah was aware of the bowl of water Smitty kept under the bar. A common practice among unscrupulous barkeeps and shop owners in gold country. Gold dust clung to wet fingers. After “pinching” someone’s dust for payment, it was an easy trick to slip one’s hand down to the bowl and release the extra grains with a quick dip in the water.
A slick trick, indeed. Which brings us back to the sawdust on the floors. Wherever there were drunken miners, there was a lot of gold dust spilled. Sawdust disguised the gold dropped on the floor. After a big night, the saloon workers simply swept up the sawdust and extracted the gold.

Now, about that poker game our hero joined. Most saloons were small, with only enough room for a couple of tables. Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, prior to the 1870’s, poker was not the most popular game and was rarely played. More likely, you'd find our early cowhands and gamblers playing Faro, also known as Bucking the Tiger. Players, or punters, as they were called, played against the dealer, much like our modern day Blackjack. Some of the more famous names who were Faro dealers at one time or another included Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Bat Masterson. Ben Thompson owned several gaming operations in and around Austin, and these included Faro.
Okay. We have our hero in the saloon; he’s paid for his drink and taken a seat at one of the gaming tables. So let’s take a closer look at that drink in his hand. While it’s true that good bourbon whiskey was available throughout the west in certain establishments, more than likely our hero was served something entirely different. Tarantula Juice, Coffin Varnish, and Stagger Soup were common concoctions sold as whiskey. These were often made with cheap watered-down alcohol, colored to look like whiskey with whatever was on hand, including old shoes, tobacco, molasses, or burnt sugar. Wait a minute. Old shoes? Really? To give the whiskey an extra kick, hot peppers and even rattlesnake heads (which tainted the mixture in pretty short order) were tossed in. Anyone thirsty? Ugh. So, next time you have your hero walk into a saloon for a drink, have him ask for the good stuff from a real distillery in Kentucky or Pennsylvania. One brand of rye whiskey that was top shelf and, as the stories go, favored by even the discerning Doc Holliday, was Old Overholt, which is still around today.
Now, what about that shootout at the poker table, where our hero is the last man standing? In reality, shootouts were much rarer than the movies would have us believe. While many men, including Wild Bill Hickok, Morgan Earp, Warren Earp, and Wes Hardin, died from gunshots inside a saloon, gun ordinances helped curtail much of the violence. Many of the towns in the Old West had gun ordinances that required you to leave your weapon with the sheriff, your hotel clerk, or even the bartender of the local saloon. Some saloons required you to check your gun at the door. As always, there were those who sidestepped the rules by carrying their guns concealed.
So there you have it, a few more tidbits to tuck away in your arsenal of Old West realities. And now a question. Which do you prefer for your entertainment (books and movies), the romanticized version of the Old West, or would you rather have the reality?

Happy reading and writing!

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*Photos courtesy of the Public Domain via Wikipedia.