Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Getting Christmas Right

by Rain Trueax

Humans are funny for how we tend to think what we have known is the way something always has been. Our celebration of Christmas, all that we consider normal—cards, carols, trees, Santa Claus, presents, in the United States has changed a lot in a hundred or so years. In the beginning, some Christian religions, like the Puritans were suspicious of Christmas as an invitation to decadence. The North tended to regard it somewhat the same-- up until the 1840s; while the South was more open to dances and partying. 

Christmas was only declared a national holiday in 1870 by President Grant, with maybe the hope that a joyous occasion could unite a divided and broken nation. 

As to what Christmas meant, other than the Biblical story, I believe some changes came from books with authors like Louisa May Alcott with her Little Women along with, of course, Charles Dickens with A Christmas Carol. Stories like these created new ideas about what Christmas could mean. Both were widely read. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

O Tannenbaum - The Tree by E. Ayers

The song was published by Ernst Anschutz in 1824. It's based on a folk song from the 16th century and eventually was adapted into a Christmas carol. The concept of a Christmas tree certainly brightened a home when the hours of daylight were shorter and much of the world was rather drab. It added fun to what was probably a rather boring time of the year. It's green and festive, and with its evergreen boughs showed there was promise of spring around the corner.
The original Christmas trees in Europe were hung upside down from the ceiling and decorated with red paper strips, apples, and gilded nuts. They referred to them as Sweet Trees because of all the yummy goodies that decorated them.
The idea of lighting a tree probably came from France where men would decorate the town square with a tree covered in roses to represent the Virgin Mary, dance around it, and then set it afire. (I have no idea why!)
That probably led to trees being decorated in candles. Certainly not for the timid homeowner! The trees were usually lit long enough for everyone to o-o-h and ah-h-h over, and then they were promptly extinguished. There were also plenty of buckets of water
nearby to extinguish a burning branch, and a few trees not only caught on fire, they managed to take the whole house with them. They also used to be tabletop ornaments but like everything else, the bigger the better and eventually trees were reaching the ceilings. So those beautiful trees with burning candles, although they might look fabulous, are not worth the risk. With today’s fantastic lights we can safely make the tree look as though it has real candles burning, or it can flash and do just about anything you might want.
Christmas trees are really newcomers to the USA. It’s believed German settlers introduced them in 1851. Maybe they became popular or as we say today they went viral, because there are plenty of references to individuals who had Christmas trees prior to that date in America. It didn’t take long for someone to figure out he could get paid to cut pine trees and sell them. About two years later, selling of Christmas trees was a sure way to make a little money. Back then that person went into the woods, found a few trees, cut them, and dragged them out.
By the 1880’s, German glass ornaments arrived and became very popular. The first ones were balls and then they became more elaborate. The star on the top of the tree seems to have an unclear history. But there’s enough evidence to say the first ones were made of tin.
In 1883 Sears Roebuck and Co started selling artificial trees. Very expensive! Fifty cents for the little one and a dollar for a big one, - really they weren’t cheap considering a man might be lucky to make $3.00 a week.
But by 1900, we had severely damaged the population of natural Christmas trees AKA our forests. W.V. McGalliard decided to plant 25,000 Norway spruce on his farm in New Jersey, creating what we believe is the first Christmas tree farm.
Theodore Roosevelt wanted to stop the practice of using live trees and wanted us to have “snow” trees, a deciduous branch that was coated in cotton and could be decorated. Luckily Mr. McGalliard’s sons, with some help from a hired environmentalist, put pressure on the President to allow trees to be farmed, claiming it didn’t harm the forests.
Franklin Roosevelt started a Christmas farm in 1930’s on his estate in Hyde Park, New York.
Today’s practice of farming Christmas trees has actually preserved several varieties. They are growth controlled and pruned to give us that perfectly shaped tree. Christmas tree management gives us a healthy disease-free and bug-free tree to bring into our home.
It is estimated that over 30 million Christmas trees are sold to individuals in the USA alone.

 to our readers, no matter what you celebrate. 
May we find peace during the holidays. 

And to help you get into the mood, the Authors of Main Street, have put together another annual boxed set of contemporary holiday stories on Main Street, wherever that street might be for you. My story in Christmas Wishes on Main Street is my book Christmas Paws. (Kindle for 99c for the boxed set, FREE on Kindle Unlimited, and also available in paperback.) 
 There's puppies in this story, some giggles, and a whole lot more!

Saturday, December 8, 2018


Believe it or not, the Puritans believed in drinking. In fact, they brought more beer with them than water. Early Americans took a healthful dram for breakfast, whiskey for a lunchtime tipple, ale with supper and ended the day with a nightcap. Continuous imbibing clearly built up a tolerance. By 1830, consumption had peaked at 7 gallons per year per person.

By the late 19th Century, dipsomania, or alcoholism, was being treated as a disease. The first arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol was in 1897.

Physicians began to consider alcoholism a disease, but they had no real cure. There were facilities for the treatment of dipsomania, and if that failed, there were always insane asylums where people with disabilities of all sorts were put to get them out of the way.

In my new novel being released December 15, titled Thalia, The Widows of Wildcat Ridge Book 7, my heroine, Thalia, goes to the town doctor for advice in trying to cure the man she loves of drinking.

He tells her, "Alcohol consumption eats at your innards over a long period of time and brings about a long slow death. It grinds away a man's liver and other organs. Those who recover from it are often plagued with liver and heart problems the rest of their lives." He tells her of asylums back east where they treat dipsomania, but he doesn't recommend them. "Horrible places they are," he says.

But alcohol wasn't the only addiction rampant in the nineteenth century. During this time, much of the food consumed by working-class families was adulterated by foreign substances, contaminated by chemicals, or befouled by animal and human excrement. By the 1840s home-baked bread had died out among the rural poor; in the small tenements of the urban masses, unequipped as these were with ovens, it never existed. 

The list of poisonous additives reads like the stock list of some mad and malevolent chemist: strychnine, cocculus inculus (both hallucinogens) and copperas in rum and beer; sulphate of copper in pickles, bottled fruit, wine, and preserves; lead chromate in mustard and snuff; sulphate of iron in tea and beer; ferric ferrocynanide, lime sulphate, and turmeric in chinese tea; copper carbonate, lead sulphate, bisulphate of mercury, and Venetian lead in sugar confectionery and chocolate; lead in wine and cider; all were extensively used and accumulative in effect, resulting, over a long period, in chronic gastritis, and often fatal food poisoning.

And adults weren't the only ones imbibing these poisons. Most medicines, even for children, contained alcohol or opiates or both. Laudanum is a tincture of opium containing approximately 10% powdered opium by weight (the equivalent of 1% morphine). Medical officers were convinced that one of the major causes of infant mortality was the widespread practice of giving children narcotics, primarily opium, to quiet them. Laudanum was cheap enough, about the price of a pint of beer. Opium killed far more infants through starvation than overdose. Dr. Greenhow, investigating for the English Privy Council, noted how children 'kept in a state of continued narcotism will be thereby disinclined for food, and be but imperfectly nourished.'

At mid-century at least ten proprietary brands of medicines containing opiates existed, with Godfrey's Cordial, Steedman's Powder, and the grandly named Atkinson's Royal Infants Preservative among the most popular. Opium in pills and penny sticks was widely sold and opium-taking was described a way of life in places.

Morphine was treated like a new-fangled wonder drug. Injected with a hypodermic syringe, the medication relieved pain, asthma, headaches, alcoholics’ delirium tremens, gastrointestinal diseases and menstrual cramps. By the late 1800s, women made up more than 60 percent of opium addicts.

By 1895, morphine and opium powders, like OxyContin and other prescription opioids today, had led to an addiction epidemic that affected roughly 1 in 200 Americans. The Civil War helped. The Union Army alone issued nearly 10 million opium pills to its soldiers, plus 2.8 million ounces of opium powders and tinctures. An unknown number of soldiers returned home addicted, or with war wounds that opium relieved. Opiates made up 15 percent of all prescriptions dispensed in Boston in 1888, according to a survey of the city’s drug stores.

Only around 1895, at the peak of the epidemic, did doctors begin to slow and reverse the overuse of opiates. Advances in medicine and public health played a role: acceptance of the germ theory of disease, vaccines, x-rays, and the debut of new pain relievers, such as aspirin in 1899. Better sanitation meant fewer patients contracting dysentery or other gastrointestinal diseases, then turning to opiates for their constipating and pain-relieving effects.

Charlene Raddon is an Amazon best selling and award winning author of western historical romance and designs book covers at Silver Sage Book Covers. 
You can preorder THALIA on Amazon at

Thursday, December 6, 2018


Mary Ellen Pleasant was called many things in her lifetime: Slave, Abolitionist, Cook, Madame, Entrepreneur, Real Estate Mogul, White woman and “Mammy.” She described herself in the 1890 census as “a capitalist by profession.” By her autobiography of 1902, she claimed her mother was a Louisiana Negress and her father a native Hawaiian. In some accounts, she said her mother was a Voodoo princess and her white father was John Pleasants, the son of the VA governor. The date of her birth ranges from August 19, 1812-17 with most writers settling on 1814. She died on January 4, 1904, poor and befriended by the Sherwood family in whose Napa plot she was buried.

Image result for mary ellen pleasant

Sometime between age 6 and 13, Mary Ellen was sent to Nantucket, RI as an indentured servant to “Grandma” Hussey. She worked off her time, growing very close to Mrs. Hussey, a Quaker shop owner, learning of and participating in the Underground Railroad and the cause of Abolition. An avid reader, she educated herself in many disciplines and became adept at figures.
Mary Ellen met and married wealthy John James Smith, a plantation owner who had freed his slaves and passed as white. They worked together on the Underground Railroad in different states and Canada until his death four years later. He left her money and instructions to continue their work.

Around 1848, Mary Ellen formed a partnership with John James (JJ) Pleasants and may have married but no record exists. They had a child: Lizzie J. Smith who was left with friends or family at some point. Lizzie came west, married and died in her twenties. Her relationship with MEP is unknown.

The Pleasants continued with Smith’s work in the NE, attracting too much attention from slavers. They fled to New Orleans where JJ was a relative of Voodoo Queen Marie LaVeau’s husband. The two women drew close in the four years MEP was there. By 1852, JJ preceded his wife to San Francisco; she soon traveled by boat, passing as white. JJ Pleasant was a well-paid ship’s cook and Mary Ellen was a live-in domestic at first. They shared joint residency from time to time and continued their abolitionist work.

As Mary Ellen Smith, she soon had a catering business that thrived by serving rich white men. She absorbed investment information and the tricks of wheeling and dealing in the riches of the gold mining era. All it took was listening and evaluating the discussions of her customers! She helped place blacks in employment in her own ventures (laundries, boardinghouses, catering) as well as the Palace Hotel and other white controlled businesses. 

She began her affiliation with Thomas Bell, a Scottish clerk in the Bank of California. Together they eventually had a $30 million fortune. She lived with the Bell family at the House of Mystery in SF for many years. 
Image result for john brown  
JOHN BROWN                               
  Years later, Mary Ellen left San Francisco, 1857-1859, to aid John Brown with work and money. One story has it that when he was arrested after the Harper's Ferry, VA fiasco  he had a letter in his   pocket, signed  only with her initials. She asked that a sign  be  placed on her grave. In 1965, the San Francisco Negro  Historical and Cultural Society placed the marker:                           "She was a friend of John Brown."

The crux of Mary Ellen’s life is her fight for human rights, beginning in Nantucket and spreading all the way to San Francisco. From “slave stealing” for the Underground Railroad to court cases, she led the way.

MEP first entered the legal system soon after arriving in San Francisco when she supported the case of George Mitchell, brought to CA by his owner in 1849; the owner wanted to return East, taking Mr. Mitchell also. The judge determined that the act to remove had ended and the case continued with evasive delays until 1855 when the CA Fugitive Slave Act expired and the case resolved. In 1852, MEP was a founding member of the Franchise League which sought to allow blacks to testify in court. A busy first year in the City!

The years before, during and after the Civil War were very busy for the Pleasants as their influence and riches increased. The 1860’s saw her in court   fighting for people of color to be free to travel by public transportation.  She won in several instances. Other cases hinged on women's rights..
Related imageTwo linked, notorious cases in the 1880’s had to do with Senator William Sharon (rep for NV but living in CA) and Sarah Althea Hill, a young Irish woman; the press, the populace and politicos across the country were captivated by tales of Voodoo spells, prostitution, STDs, a secret marriage, unrequited love and the influence and support of Sarah by MEP.  Sharon was a multi-millionaire: owner of the Comstock Lode, The Territorial Enterprise, the Palace Hotel and partner with the owners of the Bank of California. In the end, male sexual misconduct was judged to be expected and condoned. Both women suffered financially and their reputations were shredded.

Image result for Beltane Ranch

Mary Ellen invested in many properties over the years; she was alleged to own eight or more houses in San Francisco and a ranch near San Mateo. In 1890, she bought an established a ranch in the Valley of the Moon (Sonoma County,) designed the ranch house with its New Orleans influence, She spent many weekends there in her last years. She named it “Beltane Ranch" for Thomas Bell  his Celtic heritage...Beltane is a fertility festival held in early May.

It is impossible to do a complete review of this woman’s amazing life and accomplishments here. Books, fiction and non-fiction, movies and news articles have attempted to portray Mary Ellen’s life. Many are in error or complicated due to lack of reliable information and the very complexity of her life.

1., website for the historic ranch
2.     Fowler, Karen Joy, Sister Noon, a novel, George Putnam’s Sons, 2002
3.     Hudson, Lynn M., The Making of “Mammy Pleasant,” University of Illinois Press, 2003
4.     Wikipedia, Mary Ellen Pleasant

Arletta Dawdy writes of the Old West with special attention to the unique lives and contributions of strong women, fictional and real. Please look for her Huachuca Trilogy: HUACHUCA WOMAN, BY GRACE and ROSE OF SHARON.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


While decorating our home for the Christmas holidays, I thought about all the various family traditions we celebrate during the season. First and foremost is our display of the Nativity Scene above the mantel and our decorated Christmas tree in the living room. Also we enjoy the popular customs like stockings and wreathes hung, candles all aglow, fruitcakes and cookies baked and shared, and oh yes, we never forget our well-worn elves on the shelves every year!

But there's another traditional decoration some folks display in their homes, including ours ... Mistletoe. What kind of plant is it and where does it come from, some may wonder. And where did the holiday tradition of kissing under the mistletoe originate?

Other than seeing mistletoe for sale in the stores at Christmas time, I’d never known much about it until after I was married and my husband pointed out the plants growing in the tops of oak trees along the roadsides. He reminisced about how in his youth, he’d climb trees to cut down the mistletoe and make wreathes which he sold door to door for extra money during the holidays. Because of that bit of nostalgia, we’ve always had a wreath on our door and/or a sprig of mistletoe hanging over a doorway at Christmas time.

Mistletoe is commonly found growing as a parasitic plant. There are two types of mistletoe. The mistletoe that is commonly used as a Christmas decoration (Phoradendron flavescens) is native to North America and grows as a parasite on trees from New Jersey to Florida. The other type of mistletoe, (Viscum Album) is of European origin.

The use of Mistletoe goes back to the times of ancient Druids. They didn’t kiss under it, but they believed the plant, especially a rare species that grew on oak trees, to have sacred powers including the ability to heal illnesses, protect against nightmares, and even predict the future. The Druids would hang the plant in their houses hoping it would bring them good luck and ward off evil spirits.

Mistletoe was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology and that’s where it’s believed the custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from. Mistletoe continued to be associated with fertility and vitality through the Middle Ages, and by the 18th century it had also become incorporated into Christmas celebrations around the world.

Victorian England is credited with perpetuating the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. The custom dictated that a man was allowed to kiss any woman standing underneath mistletoe and that bad luck would befall any woman who refused the kiss. One variation on the tradition was with each kiss a berry was to be plucked from the mistletoe and the kissing must stop after all the berries had been removed. Thus, the traditions which began with the European mistletoe were transferred to the similar American plant with the process of immigration and settlement.

So, how many of you decorate your homes with a sprig of mistletoe (real or artificial) and follow the romantic tradition of couples kissing when caught standing under it? Oh, by the way, I should mention that the plant is poisonous, so please, don’t eat it. Just Kiss!

To learn more about me and my books, please visit my website: 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

RIches From the Empire Mine

By Paisley Kirkpatrick
The Empire Mine, located in Grass Valley, California, is one of the oldest, largest, deepest, longest, and richest gold mines in California. Between 1850 and its closure in 1956, the Empire Mine produced 5.8 million ounces of gold, extracted from 367 miles of underground passages.
My grandparents lived in Nevada City, another town situated in the Mother Lode. I loved exploring and visiting the gold mines and finding remnants lying on the ground not far from their house. Grandma and I found checks dated in 1901 from a gold mining company, crucibles (a ceramic container in which gold was melted at very high temperatures), and several other gold containers. I remember the first time I visited the Empire Mine. We actually stepped about four feet into the mine to the place where the miners loaded and unloaded into the cart that carried them deep down inside the mine.
We learned they kept canaries in cages. If one died, they knew methane gas (a colorless, odorless flammable gas that is the most common dangerous gas found in underground gold mines) was in that section. They would vacate that section of the mine. We also found out they'd take mules down into the mines to carry what the miners dug out of the walls.
In Oct. 1850, George McKnight discovered gold in a quartz outcrop (ledge) called the Ophir Vein. It was bought and purchased several times until the Empire Mining Co. was incorporated in 1854. Miners from the tin and copper mines of Cornwall, England, arrived to share their experience and expertise in hard rock mining. Particularly important was the Cornish contribution of the Cornish engine, operated on steam, which emptied the depths of the mine of its constant water seepage at a rate of 18,000 gallons per day. This increased the productivity and expansion underground. Starting in 1895, Lester Allan Pelton's water wheel provided electric power for the mine and stamp mill. The Cornish provided the bulk of the labor force from the late 1870s until the mine’s closure eighty years later.
A stamp mill machine crushes material by pounding rather than grinding, either for further processing or extraction of metallic ores. See below.
William Bowers Bourn acquired control of the company in 1869. Bourn died in 1874, and his estate ran the mine, abandoning the Ophir vein for the Rich Hill in 1878. Bourn's son, William Bowers Bourn II, formed the Original Empire Co. in 1878, took over the assets of the Empire Mining Co., and continued work on the Ophir vein after it was bottomed out at 1200 feet and allowed to fill with water. With his financial backing, and after 1887, the mining knowledge and management of his younger cousin George W. Starr, the Empire Mine became famous for its mining technology. Bourn purchased the North Star Mine in 1884, turning it into a major producer, and then sold it to James D. Hague in 1887, along with controlling interest in the Empire a year later.
Bourn reacquired control of the Empire Mine in 1896, forming the Empire Mines and Investment Co. In 1897, he commissioned Willis Polk to build the Cottage on land near the mine, using waste rock from the mine. The Cottage included a greenhouse, gardens, fountains and a reflecting pool.

Friday, November 30, 2018


In the series, The Widows of Wildcat Ridge, set in the Uinta Mountains, there is an occasional reference made to concerns about coming in contact with the Utes of the nearby Ute Reservation.They would actually be the Northern Ute.

The Utes are actually made of twelve major bands. The people and their culture and are among the Great Basin classification of Indigenous People. They have lived in the regions of present-day Utah and Colorado for centuries, hunting, fishing and gathering food. In addition to their home regions within Colorado and Utah, their hunting grounds extended into Wyoming, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. They had sacred grounds outside of their home domain that were also visited seasonally. Spiritual and ceremonial practices were observed by the Utes.

The origin of the word Ute is unknown, but Yuta was first used in Spanish documents. The Utes self-designation is based upon nuuchi-u, meaning the people.

The Utes are part of the Numic language group Ute people are from the Southern subdivision of the Numic-speaking branch of theUto-Aztecan language family, which are found almost entirely in the Western United States and Mexico. It includes both the Colorado River Numic language (Uto) dialect chain that stretches from southeastern California, along the Colorado River to Colorado and the Nahuan languages (Aztecan) of Mexico.

The history of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is dominated by a long process of territory contraction and cession. Prior to contact with Europeans, the Ute people inhabited a vast expanse that included much of present-day Utah, Colorado, and northern New Mexico. They are generally believed to have first appeared as a distinct people in AD 1000–1200 in the southern part of the Great Basin, an area roughly located in eastern California and southern Nevada. The Ute people migrated to the Four Corners region by 1300, from where they continued to disperse across Colorado’s Rocky Mountains over the next two centuries.

There were twelve historic bands of Utes whose culture was influenced by neighboring Native Americans. Although they generally operated in family groups for hunting and gathering, they came together for ceremonies and trading. The Utes also traded with other Native American tribes and Puebloans.

Photo by Mathew Brady
In 1880, Chief Ouray and other Utes traveled to Washington. D.C. to negotiate a treaty that would result in the removal of the White River and Tabeguache Utes from Colorado to the Uintah Basin in present day Utah. Chief Ouray died at age 47 shortly after this trip. Seated from left to right: Chief Ignacio of the Southern Utes, Carl Shurz, Secretary of the Interior, Chief Ouray and his wife, Chipeta. Standing are Woretsiz and General Charles Adams. This photo was shot in Washington, D.C. in 1880 when a delegation of Ute Indians traveled to Washington to negotiate a treaty with the U.S. government.

Ute reservations as of 1868
Here is a basic timeline of the interaction between the Northern Utes and the United States government during the time period of the series:

1873 U.S. government officials appoint Ouray as Head Chief of the Utes.
1878 Meeker became agent at Whiteriver agency.
1879 Agent Nathan Meeker is killed by Yamparika Utes.
1879 As a result of the Meeker incident, officials force the Colorado Utes to sign an agreement which removes the Yamparika and Taviwach Utes to Utah (ratified June 15, 1880).
1880, Mar 6        Treaty signed by the Indians.
1880, June 15     Treaty signed by congress for Indian removal from Colorado.
1880, Aug 24      Death of Ouray.
1880-1891 Ghost Dance Movement
1881 Yamparika Utes are moved to the Uintah Reservation in Utah.
1882 Act of January 5, 1882--Uncompahgre Reservation
1885 Miners found Gilsonite--significance--only deposit in U.S.
1886 Uintah and Ouray agencies consolidate.


My latest novel, Nissa, Book 3 in The Widows of Wildcat Ridge series is now available on Amazon including Kindle Unlimited. To read the book description and purchase your copy, please CLICK HERE.