Sunday, June 30, 2013

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Big Cowboy Welcome to Merry Farmer

Cows and Romance

What on earth do cows have to do with Romance?  If you look on the cover of my latest novel, Fool for Love, you’ll see a beautiful picture of cows in a pasture along with a handsome couple.  It’s a pretty, pastoral scene, but cows?  Not exactly romantic, eh?

Actually, cows have played a major role in one of the most famous and romanticized professions of the Old West, the cowboy.  Romance novels abound with cowboys.  What could be more romantic than a rugged young man living his life on the open range, embracing freedom and independence, complete with well-formed muscles, deeply tanned skin, and a dazzling smile that would melt the heart of any heroine.  There is a whole mythos surrounding the cowboy that tickles our fancy.

The hero of Fool for Love, Eric Quinlan, was a cowboy.  He’s got everything your classic cowboy could want: good looks, an independent spirit, and a love for the outdoors and his cattle that lead him into some pretty dicey situations.  And the hat.  Eric definitely has the hat.  But wait a minute, didn’t I just say he was a cowboy?  What happened?  Isn’t he still roaming the open ranch, rustling cattle and driving them to market?

Well, the story is set in 1896.  As Eric mentions to one of the other characters, he used to participate in long cattle drives in his youth, but the days of the open range are long over.  Yep, Eric is a cowboy at the end of the Age of Cowboys.  But how exactly did the Age of Cowboys start and why did it end?

When the American West opened to settlers beginning in the late 1840s it was – to the white man’s eyes – a vast, open land full of wild country, perfect for grazing.  This was before the territory was organized into states.  It was the perfect place to raise livestock with which to feed the growing population back east.  Entrepreneurial ranchers from Texas to Montana saw the opportunity and jumped on it.  They brought herds of all sorts of cattle out west to grow, fatten, and reproduce.

These herds would roam the untamed land, the open range.  They would be marked by their owners and rounded up when the time was right by cowboys.  It was the cowboy’s job to gather their boss’s cattle and to drive them to one of the few railheads for transportation back east.  It was a business that was as lucrative as mining.  Granted, the ethics of the practice could be questioned as the land wasn’t really “free and open”, but rather the ancestral territory of the Native Americans.  But for the purposes of this post, I won’t open that can of worms. (But boy will it be opened with the next book in my Montana Romance series, In Your Arms!)

But as I mentioned, by the time Eric Quinlan is facing the struggles to keep his ranch in Fool for Love, by the 1890s, the era of the open range was over.  There was no more need to let cattle roam freely and then have them driven to railheads by cowboys.  By the 1890s that way of thinking was obsolete.

A few factors led to the end of the Age of Cowboys.  As the railroad expanded, there were more railheads at which cattle could be loaded onto trains and transported east, or even west to California.  With the railroad so close by, there was no need for the long cattle drives that cowboys had traditionally overseen.  At the same time, the once unorganized territory of the west was being divided, administrated, and granted statehood.  Montana itself became a state in 1889.  With more and more of the land being owned by states or individuals, what was once free grazing for cattle became trespassing.

But the biggest change that ended the open range was a revolutionary little invention in the 1880s that we take for granted: barbed wire.  Yes, a few little twists of metal brought about the end of cowboys.  Barbed wire was cheap and easy to produce and erect.  It made it possible for ranch owners to enclose their territory and mark it apart from the territory of their neighbors. Suddenly cattle no longer wandered indiscriminately on the untamed land.  Now they lived and graze in carefully marked areas belonging to their owner.

Granted, cowboys didn’t disappear.  What a travesty that would have been!  Instead they became as enclosed as the cattle they looked after.  Like Eric, they became ranch owners, concentrating their efforts on their own herds on their own land.  Or else they became the men who worked for industrious ranchers like Eric.  But life wasn’t always easy and ranches weren’t always secure, as Eric finds out in Fool for Love.  But I’ll leave you to read about that yourself.

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Monday, June 24, 2013


Recently, a friend and I were discussing travel by wagon, by coach, and by horse. Then friends and I discussed an early book on life on the range. These discussions reminded me of a post I did on another blog a couple of years ago. This information fascinates me, so I hope you will enjoy reading or re-reading this. I can’t imagine going through this experience. I’ve moved many times, but always knew I could return or visit whenever I wished. Not so with our ancestors who moved across the country.

Several things in the list included in the following excerpt surprised me. For instance, I shared with my husband that pickles prevent scurvy. I had previously thought greens had to be fresh. He loves pickles and often says he is preventing scurvy before he bites down on a crunch spear.

Linda Hubalek graciously allowed me to quote from her book TRAIL OF THREAD, in which Dorothy Pieratt describes preparing for the trip West from Kentucky to Kansas. If you haven’t read this series, do yourself a favor and acquire a copy of at least the first book, TRAIL OF THREAD. One of the things the book pointed out that is not included in this excerpt is that women often had no say in whether the family moved or not. Men generally decided the family's fate. In this instance, the wife does not want to leave, but defers to her husband.

Here is the excerpt from Linda’s book:

We debated, but finally packed two wagons for each family. We felt it was better for the animals’ sake to limit the weight on each wagon to around 2000 pounds instead of overloading one wagon....Since we need six oxen per wagon, we bought extra animals a few weeks ago. John decided to use oxen instead of mules because the oxen are easily managed, patient, and gentle--even with the children--and not easily driven off or prone to stampeding like mules and horses...After much discussion, John agreed to hitch a cage of chickens on the back of the wagon.

Yesterday we sold everything that wouldn’t fit in the wagons at a public auction on our farm. The strain of the day is still on my mind. This morning I’ve been ready to fetch something and then I stop in midstep, wondering if it’s tucked in the wagon or was sold yesterday. It was hard to see most of the animals and all but a few chickens leave the place. But we can’t take everything along, and we need the money.

New wagon beds were built using seasoned oak boards. Sides were jointed together. No nails were used that could work out along the bumpy road and spell disaster. Along the inside of the three-foot-high sides, John built long boxes running the length of the wagon for storage. These boxes will serve as seats during the day if the children want to ride inside. We just add boards cut to fit across the storage boxes, put bedding on top, and the wagon is outfitted for sleeping. The boards fit in a wooden holder that runs along the outside of the wagon. They can also be used to make a bench or table when laid across stumps, or, heaven forbid, as lumber for a coffin. 

I had a big hand in preparing the wagons, too. The wagon beds were fitted with a framework of hickory bows high enough to give head clearance, and I hand-sewed long pieces of cloth together for coverings. It was quite an undertaking. It had to be tight, strong enough to withstand heavy winds, and rainproof so things inside don’t get soaked. Even though it was extra work, I ended up making them a double thickness to keep out the cold. A dark muslin went over the framework first, then a heavy white linen. The dark cloth cuts down on the brightness of the reflection as we walk beside the wagon. I coated the outside material with a mixture of hot beeswax and linseed oil for waterproofing. It turned the material a sand color, which should help the reflection, too. The covering is drawn together on the ends by a strong cord to form tight circles. End flaps can be buttoned on to completely seal the wagon top. My stitches and buttonholes will be tested by the first storm we run into. I even stitched pockets on the inside covering to hold little things like our comb, sunbonnets, and other personal things I didn’t want out of reach.

John borrowed a guidebook to Oregon and California from a neighbor, which suggested that for each adult going to California, a party should carry 200 pounds of flour, 30 of hardtack, 75 of bacon, 10 of rice, 5 of coffee, 2 of tea, 25 of sugar, 2 of saleratus, 10 of salt, a half-bushel each of cornmeal, parched, and ground corn, and a small keg of vinegar. We’re not going to California (unless the men change their minds), so we shouldn’t need that much per person, but we’ll need supplies until we get crops and garden planted and harvested. Who knows how long it will be until towns with stores get established in the new territory?

I’ll take one barrel of pickled cucumbers along to prevent scurvy...the decision of what kind and quality of item to trade for had to be made...The mill sells different grades of flour. I wish I could have bought the superfine flour, sifted several times...I bought the next grade, middlings, for our cooking. It’s much more coarse and granular, but it serves the purpose...The mill’s shorts, a cross between wheat bran and coarse whole wheat flour, looked clean, so I also bought 125-pound sack of it...

We can’t afford to carry the flour in heavy barrels, so it is mostly stacked in fifty-pound cotton cloth to cut down on weight. Because the flour is not kiln-dried, we double-sacked it in a leather bag. If the flour absorbs too much moisture, I’ll end up with a heavy loaf and will have to add more flour to my baking.

Sorghum molasses, our main sweetener, will make the trip in small wooden kegs...For special occasions, I bought three cones of white sugar. The New Orleans sugar we buy reasonably in the stores her may fo for top dollar on the frontier. The cones resemble pointed hats. They are molded atthe factory, and wrapped in blue paper. Usually I leave the cones whole and use sugar snippers, a cross between scissors and pliers, to break off lumps as I need them. To save space on the trip, I ground up the cones and divided the two types of sugar (the white sugar on the top gradually changes to brown sugar on the bottom), then sifted to remove the impurities. The storekeeper said I should pack it in India rubber sacks to keep it dry, but I decided not to add that extra expense. I tucked the cone papers in the wagon because I can extract the indigo dye from it to color yarn and material blue.

I also bought a small quantity of low grade brown sugar since it is ten cents cheaper than the cones. It’s dark, smelly, sticky, and sometimes dirty, but it still gives sweet taste to cooking.

Parched corn is another sacked commodity in the wagon. The kernels were sun dried last fall and I’ll grind them into meal with the mortar when I need it.

Smoked bacon was double-wrapped in cloth, put in wooden boxes, and covered with bran to prevent the fat from melting during the trip. I cooked the crocks of cut meat I had left into a thick jelly. After it set up in pans and dried, we broke it into pieces and packed it in tins. If I add boiling water to some, we’ll have portable soup on the trail.

Smaller sacks of beans, rice, salt, saleratus, and coffee are wedged around the whiskey jugs underneath the wagon seat. The medicine box, filled with tiny cloth sachets holding dried medicinal herbs and little medicine bottles, is wedged on top, ready for an emergency.

I put the sacks of yeast cakes, dried bread, and hardtack inside one of the long boxes, along with the box of homemade soap bars. I’ll have small sacks of each staple in the back box and refill them from the bigger sacks when I need to.

The back end of the wagon drops down partway on chains and will serve as a preparation table for food or for other jobs. The provision box faces the back so it can be opened up without hauling the box out of the wagon every time. It has my tinware, cooking utensils and small sacks of necessities for cooking everyday.

Campfire cooking with a kettle, although
pioneers would probably have used
far less wood to limit the flames

Wish I could have brought all my kitchen utensils, but I settled for two spider skillets, three Dutch ovens of various sizes, the reflector for baking, the coffee pot, the coffee mill, the mortar and pestle, a few baking pans, knives, and my rolling pin.

Walking out to the wagons for the umpteenth time, it struck me that they are starting to look like a peddler’s caravan. They are overflowing with items attached to the sides. The wooden washtubs and zinc washboard are fastened to one side of the wagon. The walking plow is lashed to the other side. Small kegs of water, vinegar, and molasses fit in where needed to balance the wagon. Everybody can see what we own because it’s hanging in plain sight.

The second wagon is packed even tighter than the first with household and farming tools we’ll need after we get to our new land. All the boxes are packed tight so they won’t slide around, rattle, or spill. I hope we won’t have to unpack it until we reach our destination.

Heading West

Whew, aren't you glad we live today instead of back with our pioneer ancestors? While it would be nice to visit for a day, I am happy to be living with modern conveniences.

You can learn more about Linda Hubalek’s TRAIL OF THREAD at

Friday, June 21, 2013


Born an Englishwoman in 1831, Isabella Lucy Bird grew up in Tattenhall, a village about eight miles southeast of Chester and 35 miles from Liverpool. The county of Chesire is in the west of England. Her father was a Church of England minister. Isabella suffered from poor health – a possible mix of boredom and the lack of education and social restrictions. I can imagine that!
Her father gave her 100 pounds sterling in 1854 to visit relatives in America, with the directions to stay as long as the money lasted. The 23-year-old Isabella jumped at the chance. To think she had to wear hoops, lived out of a trunk while traveling, had to visit outhouses or worse, and keep the proprieties of the day -- I'm ashamed to say I haven't accomplished one tenth of the traveling this 19th century woman did!
Isabella wrote her first book, The Englishwoman in America, about her adventures, published in 1856 as a first-hand account of her shipboard journey from England to Halifax, Canada, and then overland to Boston, Cincinnati and Chicago. The Kindle edition is free, if you’re interested in reading bits like this:
“The path is a narrow, slippery ledge of rock. I am blinded with spray, the darkening sheet of water is before me. Shall I go on? The spray beats against my face, driven by the contending gusts of wind which rush into the eyes, nostrils, and mouth, and almost prevent my progress; the narrowing ledge is not more than a foot wide, and the boiling gulf is seventy feet below. Yet thousands have pursued this way before, so why should not I? I grasp tighter hold of the guide's hand, and proceed step by step holding down my head. The water beats against me, the path narrows, and will only hold my two feet abreast….”
Interesting, first-person narration that proves she could write, in the flowery style of the times. After her parents’ death, Isabella returned to the British Isles and lived with her sister Henrietta in Scotland. She used her royalties to help Scottish craftsmen to emigrate to America after writing numerous articles in journals and magazines. But "poor health" soon descended again.
In 1872, Isabella took off and toured Australia – which she disliked – before she traveled to Hawaii (called the Sandwich Islands at the time). Clearly she preferred the latter, since she wrote a second travelogue book, The Hawaiian Archipelago, published in 1875. But before that, she returned to tour Canada and the United States.
Colorado, in fact, in 1873. Isabella explored the Rocky Mountains (800 miles of it) while riding “like a man” instead of sidesaddle. A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains is also free on Kindle, and includes her friendship with “Rocky Mountain Jim.” She described Jim Nugent, a one-eyed “dear desperado” who seemed to appreciate her independent spirit and returned her affection, as “a man any woman might love but no sane woman would marry.” Smart woman! Within a year after Isabella headed onward in her travels, Nugent was shot and killed.
Back home in Scotland, she was courted by an Edinburgh physician, John Bishop, but decided her health needed a tour of Asia instead – Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia. After her sister died of typhoid in 1880, a despondent Isabella decided to marry John Bishop. That led her to become a nurse by studying medicine so that she could travel as a missionary. At almost sixty, she toured mission stations in India, Persia, Kurdistan and Turkey.
Isabella Bird's many travelogue books of all her adventures led her to being named the first woman “fellow” of the Royal Geographical Society in 1892, and also a member of the Royal Photographic Society in 1897. She wasn’t done, though. Isabella soon traveled to China and Korea, as well as Morocco. A few months after her return to Edinburgh in 1904, she died at 72 with plans for another trip to China.
A formidable woman, indeed!
Meg Mims is the award-winning author of Double Crossing (WWA Spur Award - Best First Novel, 2012) and Double or Nothing, the sequel. She also writes contemporary romance novellas. Meg loves westerns on film and TV despite her lack of enthusiasm for riding a real horse -- a mutual feeling in the few instances they've attempted to pair up. Meg prefers her sofa while watching cowboys at work. Less dust, bugs and sunburn, too.

Meg is also one half of the team D.E. Ireland, contracted for a cozy mystery series featuring G.B. Shaw's Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle - coming in 2014 from St. Martin's Press.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Interesting Question About the Old West

                                          Are Western Heroes Always The Sheriff?

 (Question from Jannine Corti Petska)

            The field of occupations in the 19th century American West was wide open, yet heroes in historical romance books are either a sheriff, a marshal, a cowboy, a desperado (with heart), or a gambler. But what about other jobs that shaped the West?
            I’ve been reading historical western romances for over 30 years. There were heroes of all kinds, but my favorite was (and still is) the ex-gunslinger. What exactly is a gunslinger, you ask? He can be for hire, seemingly on the wrong side of the law. In today’s terms, he’d have been a bad ass. Or he can shoot-‘em-up to survive the evil men chasing after him. He’s either made a mistake or was falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Beneath his dark past lurks a good guy, even though he was a hardened man who was a crack shot with a rifle or gun. The kind of man you’d love to see transformed by the end of the book all because of a determined yet caring heroine.
Below are a few occupations that aren’t new to the western romance genre, but neither are they the norm. A writer’s imagination can romanticize about the hero who is a trapper or miner. Sure, the sheriff hero seems stronger, more appealing, the upstanding citizen, but I’m willing to read a romance with any hero who has a job outside the norm. It’s all about the author’s vision.  

Mountain Men, Trappers, Fur Traders: Who wouldn’t want to see a tall, solidly muscled hero in buckskins? These men lived off nature and usually preferred making their home in the mountains. They mingled with the Indians, traded, and sold their goods to anyone with money. But the life these men led was lonely and dangerous. Accidents and illness killed many, especially those high up in the mountains who had no way of getting help.
The Hawken rifle was their constant companion. They owned metal traps large and small, bearskin gloves, sharp knives for scraping hides, utility knives, ash-frame snowshoes, and so much more, all of it practical and useful. In reality, trappers, et. al, were filthy with little regard to personal hygiene. Of course, in a romance novel, this hero—while attractively grubby—prefers to be clean, or as clean as possible.  
            Now take a heroine, add a trapper in trouble—maybe she stumbled upon him injured—and throw in a believable conflict. A romance writer’s imagination can run with just that bit of an idea. At least, that’s all it takes for me to realize there’s story material in there waiting to jump onto the pages.

            Miners: The hero needs money. He pans for gold. But is he the miner? Of course not! I have a story simmering on the back burner with a heroine who is a miner. This is the American West, so that’s not an impossibility. Women back then were made sturdy and had a strong constitution. What if your hero and heroine are both miners? What if they stake a claim on the exact same spot?
            Wherever gold was found, towns shot up almost overnight. Of course, when the gold was depleted, a town disappeared rather quickly. Is there something in this new town that has drawn your hero or heroine? Again, are they after the same thing? When these “gold” towns sprang up, laws were set by vigilante miners’ courts. They didn’t mess around. Justice came swift. A-ha! Is your miner hero about to be hanged?

            With a little research (the era of the internet is a God-send to writers; but always double-check your facts), a writer can find an occupation seldom written about for her hero. Or heroine. You’ll make your readers happy because you’ll give them a refreshing look at the Old West. I don’t recall reading any westerns with a hero who was a doctor or lawyer. I tend to go after the rough and ready guy with a stubbly chin and jaw (a perennial 5:00 shadow). You never know who might pick up your book to read. You could be responsible for turning a reader, who never cared for the American West, on to historical western romances. Whatever the case, let your imagination spread as far and wide as the West. You’d be surprised by what you’ll find.

Writers, what are some of the different types of jobs you’ve given your hero. Readers, what jobs for a hero would you like to see? (Jump in with thoughts about jobs for heroines, too!)

Now that your mind is thinking about about checking out Rebel Heart:

When the woman he's sworn to protect finds herself in the middle of a range war,
Beau Hamilton fights against losing his heart while defending Courtney Danning against the unscrupulous man fixing to run her out of town.

But when their passion turns as hot as the Santa Fe sun, will their love in the untamed West prevail? Or will Beau's dark past tear them apart?

Buy links

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Cure All

Laudanum, a tincture of opium, was initially created and named (after the Latin word laudare, meaning to praise) by a 16th century Swiss-German alchemist who discovered the elixir had to ability to reduce pain. By the 1800’s the popularity of the medicine had spread worldwide. Considering the ailments and diseases people faced, it’s easy to understand how laudanum had become the miracle drug of its time. 

Though it was mixed or created with several bases, anything from honey to wine, laudanum was usually a reddish-brown color and hosted a bitter, distinct taste. Its main two ingredients were opium and alcohol. Containing morphine and codeine, the tincture was used to treat almost any aliment from pain relief to diarrhea. (It is still prescribed for severe diarrhea and a derivate of laudanum is given to babies going through withdrawals after being born to addicted mothers.)

Mary Todd Lincoln was addicted to laudanum, as were several other well-verified historical figures, which was not uncommon. Women were often encouraged to use laudanum daily for menstrual cramps, to assist in getting a full night’s sleep, and promote overall health and well-being. 

Cheaper than a bottle of gin or wine because it was labeled as medicine and not subject to being taxed as an alcoholic beverage, laudanum was easily acquired and stocked as a staple in most general stores. Its over-use caused some communities to ‘limit’ purchases to doctors or medical professionals only, but for the most part there were no laws or even warnings about using, distributing, or making laudanum. 

The cure-all's downfall happened in the early twentieth century. In 1906 the US Pure Food and Drug Act required all tinctures to be properly and accurately labeled with an ingredients list, This supposedly eliminated over 30% of laudanum producers and in 1914 the Harrison Narcotics Act restricted the manufacture and distribution of opiates, including laudanum. 

Posted by Lauri Robinson

Friday, June 14, 2013

Energy Efficiency in the Old West by Ginger Simpson

Jacquie Rogers usually posts on the 2nd Friday, but she's accompanying a friend to an out-of-state funeral so I thought I would recycle a blog from my personal site to share here.  

In an age where we are concerning about rising fuels costs, going green and saving energy and the earth's resources, I often wonder why builders continue to construct such huge homes.  Does a family a four really need a 4000 square-foot home?  Or is the size of a person's home these days symbolic of their success or failure in life?  I, for one, have decided that I don't need the extra space and much prefer a small home now compared to my 2500 sq. ft. one of 25 years ago.  At the time I had two children living at home, but with just Hubby and me most of the time, I'm happy with a lot less room.  So, let's look at how a family of four might have lived had they been Lakota Sioux back in the 1800s.

For the Plain's Indians, portability was a must.  They migrated from summer to winter camps, following the buffalo herds. Everything the tribe owned was easily packed and readied for travel by horseback.  The poles used to create the tepee structure were used over and over again, and also served as the travois on which personal belongs were loaded, much like a trailer today, and pulled behind the animal.  Upon construction, the tepee usually faced east and had a slight slant in that direction to combat the sometimes prevalent prairie winds.  The door--a flap that when closed, signaled a desire for privacy.  Back in the day, there wasn't a Walmart close by where you could pick up a new rug or liven up the decor, or a Target where you might replace a broken dish.  Since toilet practices aren't discussed in most historical research books, I can't image having my own "on suite" which is now called the adjoining bathroom, thought I definitely would have the open concept so many seek. Alas, no stainless appliances or separate play room for the kids.  Back then it was called outdoors, and it served the purpose all year long.

Buffalo served many purposes for the tribe.  Usually as many as twenty hides covered the pyramid structure, and were held together by wooden lodge pins.  Furry and warm hides also served as bedding and were rolled and stored during the day.  A smoke flap at the top of the tepee could be adjusted to ventilate or retain heat, depending on the season.  Bags known as parfleches and made from animal skins, served as closets and drawers.    Heated stones kept the interior warm, but firewood was kept close at hand when readily available. Carrying wood wasn't just a chore needed for warmth, but as fuel for meals prepared daily.

During the winter months, more skins, sometimes brightly painted to reflect family or tribal history, were added along the bottom to hold in the heat. Tepees were viewed by the Indians as *"a good mother who sheltered and protected her children."

Backrests made from woven willow bark or other materials served as chairs for the family.  Bows, arrows, medicine bags, and other belongings might be suspended on the interior walls.  The woman's sewing bag usually held sinew thread and needle shaped bones, made from the buffalo, and her cooking was done in a buffalo paunch pot.

Unlike the white trappers and traders who killed buffalo for sport and their pelts, the American Indian prized everything about nature and nothing was wasted from their kills.  Every part of the animal served some function necessary to life. Everything from the string on their bows, the fur that sheltered them from cold winter winds and snow, and the bladder in which they toted their water came from one shaggy beast.  When the herds began to disappear, so began the tribe's sojourn into oblivion.    

So, how would you fare living in the 1800s when the heat outside was unbearable or the cold air nipped at your nose even inside your home?  I wonder what Al Gore would have said back then.  Perhaps burning buffalo chips was bad for the ozone, but I guess we'll never know.

*I learned my historical facts from a Reader's Digest book entitled, America's Fascinating Indian Heritage and I've woven some of these facts into a few of my historical novels. There's so much more to share, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


A Discourse on The Game of Faro, as Played in The Wild West

The first card out of a faro box was called the “soda” and did not count in the betting. The last card in the deck, the “hock,” was also dead. Thus derived the expression, “from soda to hock,” meaning from beginning to end, one of many idiomatic terms that came into the language from the frontier’s most popular game (from The Knights Of The Green Cloth by DeArment).
In preparation for the writing of my book, Divine Gamble, due to be released later this year, I did an in-depth study of the game of Faro (also spelled pharo). Dealing faro, you see, was how my heroine, Maisy Jessup, earned her living.
Between 1850 and 1910, the stereotypical frontier gambler was found in every mining camp, railhead, cattletown, and army post, plus a few places in between. Hiding his thoughts and emotions took no effort for this man, for he naturally avoided letting anyone too close; they might discover his secrets. His eyes flick over every surface, every face, while his brain calculates the possible opportunities to be had on site. His ear takes in everyclink of a coin, every whisper of pastebacks being shuffled. No weapons are visible on his person. Gems flash from rings and stickpins. He appears amiable, but don’t be fooled; he can be ruthless to a fault.
Seeing a game starting up at a back table whose occupants wear fine broadcloth suits, gold watch chains and polished shoes, he saunters over, and takes a seat. They’re playing faro, a game that gave the player fair odds at winning, until late in the century when sharps figured out how to cheat. Our gambler figures to pass the time and earn the confidence of the other men at the same time, before he invites them later to a friendly game of brag (a 3-card game that evolved into 5-card draw poker), the game he found most profitable.
Layout & positions of dealer & players
The dealer, a young man in clean but ordinary clothes, a cigarette dangling from his mouth nods and opens a fresh pack of pasteboards (cards). Beside him stands another man—the banker/guard. On the table in front of him lie the case counter and a metal box containing cash. The table is oblong, the dealer and guard on one long side, the players ranged along the opposite side and ends of the table. A cloth covers the table, a faro layout painted on its surface. The dealer places the new deck in the card case (a special box made for this purpose).
“Place your bets, gentlemen,” the dealer calls out.
Each player lays a “chip” which he has “bought” from the banker, on whatever painted card on the cloth layout he believes will win. When they finish, the dealer announces “Bets are in. Play begins,” and draws the top card (the soda card) off of the deck, laying it aside. Groans and pleased chuckles sound about the table upon seeing the now exposed second card. The banker claims lost chips and pays out on winning ones. You see, the players who bet upon the card in the layout which corresponds in value to the card now visible in the dealing-box have won. Those who did not bet on that card lost.
From the top card downwards, the cards alternately win for the players and the bank/dealer. The second card, then, after the soda card is drawn, wins for the players. On the next round, players bet on which card with lose, rather than win, and so on. The banker keeps track of what cards have been played on the case counter. And so the game goes. As you can see, the bank has little edge. Gradually, after cheating began and regulators moved in, the game went out of favor and faded into history. But until then the game of faro was THE game to play and a rowdy good time was had by all at the tables. 
Most sources say an early version of faro was first introduced in the Americas around 1717 in what would later become New Orleans by a Scotsman. But its roots date back to the game of landsquenet, played by Teutonic foot soldiers in the 1400s. In 1861 it was called Basset. 
Faro was also called “bucking the tiger” because of the drawing of a Bengal tiger on the backs of early cards. “Twisting the tiger’s tail” was another of the game’s euphemisms. Alleys, streets and districts containing numerous gambling parlors were often referred to as “tiger alley” or “tiger town.” A drawing of a tiger usually decorated the outer wall of a gambling hall so illiterate miners and other laborers would know the game was available inside.

Why is it that poker is always considered the official game of the Old West? Movies. Dime Novels. Poor research. Draw poker or “Bluff poker” as it was called then, was actually a rarity on the frontier until the late 1870’s. Even after that, each saloon featured at least one faro bank, especially during the gold rush. An 1882 New York Police Gazette study estimated that more money was wagered on faro in the U.S. each year than all other forms of gambling, including sport wagering. Photos or paintings showing people playing poker prior to 1870, are actually displaying brag.

By the way, although movies like Tombstone were correct in showing faro being played, they had the layout wrong and made other errors as well. 

Charlene first serious writing attempt came in 1980 when she awoke one morning from an unusually vivid and compelling dream. Deciding that dream needed to be made into a book, she dug out an old portable typewriter and went to work. That book never sold, but her second one, Tender Touch, became a Golden Heart finalist and earned her an agent. Soon after, she signed a three book contract with Kensington Books. Five of Charlene's western historical romances were published between 1994 and 1999: Taming Jenna, Tender Touch (1994 Golden Heart Finalist under the title Brianna), Forever Mine (1996 Romantic Times Magazine Reviewer's Choice Award Nominee and Affaire de Coeur Reader/Writer Poll finalist), To Have and To Hold Affaire de Coeur Reader/Writer Poll finalist); and writing as Rachel Summers, The Scent of Roses. Forever Mine, Tender Touch, To Have and To Hold and The Scent of Roses are available as eBooks.