Monday, January 20, 2020

My Grandchildren's Favorite Hospital (LOL)

I say that with tongue in cheek, but my three youngest grandbabies, ages 5, 6 and 7, have visited the hospital on several occasions. Not for anything super serious, thank goodness. Watching them cavort with their friends at their annual joint birthday party today – their b-days are close together – I thought how lucky we are to have them.

You see, they are adopted. The youngest, Emerson, was only four days old when my daughter and her spouse brought her home from the hospital. My husband had the pleasure of babysitting her for two months until she was old enough to go to daycare.
Over the years since then, the kiddos have had their share of childhood illnesses and minor accidents, involving trips to the doctor and/or hospital. Which brings me to Cook Children's Medical Center.

Cook Children’s is a nationally recognized not-for-profit pediatric hospital located in Fort Worth, Texas. One of the largest freestanding pediatric medical centers in the U.S., it is consistently recognized as one the best children's hospitals in the nation. But it didn’t start out that way.
The Cook Children’s of today exists thanks to two women, Ida Turner and Matilda Nail Cook.
Ida Turner was the former postmistress of Fort Worth. On a cold November day in the early 1900s, Mrs. Turner met a man carrying an infant; the man was a doctor, and the child had been left on his doorstep. Mrs. Turner purchased a warm wrap for the baby and, doing some investigating, learned no hospital in Fort Worth would provide charity care for abandoned children.
Turner vowed to somehow build a hospital that would care for every child, regardless of the parents' ability to pay, and the community of Fort Worth rallied around her. Contributions poured in from hundreds of community members, land was donated, architects provided plans free of charge, countless tradesmen stepped in to build the hospital without any pay and scores of volunteers held fundraisers and stepped in wherever they could.
Fort Worth's Free Baby Hospital;
On March 21, 1918, Mrs. Turner’s dream, the Free Baby Hospital was opened. The hospital opened its doors with only 30 beds. A second floor was added in 1922 to include care for older children and adolescents and the hospital was eventually renamed The Fort Worth Children's Hospital.

Meanwhile, when oil was found on the Cook Ranch near Albany, Texas, in 1926, Matilda Nail Cook decided to use her money to found a hospital to serve Fort Worth’s women and children in memory of her late husband and daughter. On January 28, 1929, the W.I. Memorial Hospital opened. Designed in Italian Renaissance style, it had 55 beds.
W.I. Cook Memorial Hospital; 

When the polio epidemic struck in 1952, the board of trustees of the W. I. Cook Memorial Hospital voted to expand the facility to 72 beds and changed its mission to care exclusively for children. They renamed the facility Cook Children's Hospital. It was proposed that the hospital combine with Fort Worth Children’s Hospital, but the boards of the respective institutions could not reach an agreement. The two hospitals finally merged in 1985. Countless Fort Worth and Tarrant County families are very grateful for the care given to their children by this fine medical center.

Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and paranormal romantic suspense novels, all spiced with sensual romance. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West Begins” - with her husband and one very spoiled cat. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, genealogy, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged baby.

Amazon Author Page: (universal link)
Newsletter:  Lyn’s Romance Gazette
Website:  Lyn Horner’s Corner 

Thursday, January 16, 2020


I have found it fascinating to research the Homestead Acts in the United States and cannot even begin to imagine how exciting the possibilities were for anyone with the courage and energy to take advantage of the legal opportunities. Most definitely this research is going to make it into my current work in progress, A Bride for Hamilton, which will be releasing in March.

The Homestead Acts were several laws in the United States by which an applicant could acquire ownership of government land or the public domain, typically called a homestead. In all, more than 160 million acres (650 thousand km2; 250 thousand sq mi) of public land, or nearly 10 percent of the total area of the United States, was given away free to 1.6 million homesteaders; most of the homesteads were west of the Mississippi River. (This fact blew my mind!)

The first of the acts, the Homestead Act of 1862, opened up millions of acres. Any adult who had never taken up arms against the Federal government of the United States could apply. Women and immigrants who had applied for citizenship were eligible. The Homestead Acts had few qualifying requirements. 
A homesteader had to be the head of the household or at least twenty-one years old. They had to live on the designated land, build a home, make improvements, and farm it for a minimum of five years. The filing fee was eighteen dollars (or ten to temporarily hold a claim to the land). 
The homestead was an area of public land in the West (usually 160 acres or 65 ha) granted to any US citizen willing to settle on and farm the land. The law (and those following it) required a three-step procedure: file an application, improve the land, and file for the patent (deed). The occupant had to reside on the land for five years, and show evidence of having made improvements. The process had to be complete within seven years.
The "yeoman farmer" ideal of Jeffersonian democracy was still a powerful influence in American politics during the 1840–1850s, with many politicians believing a homestead act would help increase the number of "virtuous yeomen". The Free Soil Party of 1848–52, and the new Republican Party after 1854, demanded that the new lands opening up in the west be made available to independent farmers, rather than wealthy planters who would develop it with the use of slaves forcing the yeomen farmers onto marginal lands. Southern Democrats had continually fought (and defeated) previous homestead law proposals, as they feared free land would attract European immigrants and poor Southern whites to the west. After the South seceded and their delegates left Congress in 1861, the Republicans and other supporters from the upper South passed a homestead act. 
I really love the ideals and principles behind these Acts. The fact that those supporting these laws wanted to allow “average” people to settle and prosper rather than those who were already wealthy landowners really appeals to me. And inspires story ideas ;-)

Keep up with all my story ideas by joining my Facebook group. And learn about all my available books on Amazon.

Check out A Bride for Carter, my first Proxy Brides book:

They didn’t meet until after the wedding day.

Carter McLain has finally accomplished the success he was striving for when he moved to the frontier a decade ago. All that’s missing is a wife to share it with. Having no desire to leave his land, he requests a friend back home to arrange a proxy marriage for him. When his bride seems too good to be true, Carter wonders if he did the right thing.

The highly publicized deaths of Ella St. Clair’s parents cause her to lose everything. Left destitute, alone, and friendless, she grudgingly accepts the offer of marriage by proxy to a man she has never met. The long trip West leaves her plenty of time for second thoughts.

What does the future hold for these legally bound strangers? Can they get past their secrets to find happiness?

Available in print and Kindle. Included in your KU subscription.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


By Caroline Clemmons

Shirleen Davies is under the weather so I'm re-posting an article I wrote quite a while back about oner of my favorite authors, Louis L'Amour. 

Who is your favorite western author? Has a western author influenced you? Louis L’Amour had a tremendous impact on my love of the west. In a speech at an RWA conference not many years long before he died, he said he “could write in the median of Hollywood and Vine while sitting in a folding chair with a typewriter balanced on his knees.” Wow, what concentration! No wonder Louis L’Amour is called “America’s Storyteller.”

Louis L'Amour working on Hondo

Allegedly Louis L’Amour preferred Sam Elliott and Tom Selleck play his western heroes. Certainly both have become synonymous with his work. “Conagher” is one of my favorite movies, and “Crossfire Trail” is another, although I hated that Mark Harmon played a bad guy. 

The man who would become Louis L'Amour grew up in the fading days of the American frontier. He was born Louis Dearborn LaMoore on March 22, 1908, the last of seven children in the family of Dr. Louis Charles LaMoore and Emily Dearborn LaMoore. His home, for the first fifteen years of his life, was Jamestown, North Dakota where Doctor LaMoore was a large animal veterinarian. Dr. LaMoore changed the spelling of the family surname to L’Amour.

When Louis was very young his grandfather, Abraham Truman Dearborn, came to live in a little house just in back of the LaMoore's. He told Louis of the great battles in history and of his own experiences as a soldier in both the civil and Indian wars. Two of Louis' uncles had worked on ranches for many years, one as a manager and the other as an itinerate cowboy. It was in the company of men such as these that Louis was first exposed to the history and adventure of the American Frontier.

Louis L'Amour, age 12

Jamestown, North Dakota had provided Louis with an idyllic childhood but hard times finally uprooted the family and set them on a course that would forever alter Louis' life. After a series of bank failures ruined the economy of the upper Midwest, Dr. LaMoore, his wife Emily, and their sons Louis and John took their fortunes on the road. They traveled across the country in an often-desperate seven-year odyssey. During this time Louis skinned cattle in west Texas, baled hay in the Pecos valley of New Mexico, worked in the mines of Arizona, California, and Nevada, and in the saw mills and lumber yards of Oregon and Washington.

It was in these various places and while working odd jobs that young Louis met the wide variety of characters that would later become the inspiration for his writing. In Oklahoma they were men like Bill Tilghman, once the marshal of Dodge City; Chris Madsen who had been a Deputy U.S. Marshall and a Sargent with the 5th cavalry; and Emmett Dalton of the notorious Dalton Gang. In New Mexico he met George Coe and Deluvina Maxwell who had both known Billy the Kid; Tom Pickett who'd had a thumb shot off in the Lincoln County War; Tom Threepersons who had been both a Northwest Mounted Policeman and a Texas Ranger; and Elfagio Baca, a famous New Mexico lawyer who had once engaged over eighty of Tom Slaughter's cowboys for 33 hours in one of the west's most famous gunfights. During his years in Arizona Louis met Jeff Milton, a Texas Ranger and Border Patrolman and Jim Roberts, the last survivor of the Tonto Basin War and later Marshall of Jerome. But perhaps most importantly, during the years he was traveling around the country, young Louis met hundreds of men and women who, though unknown historically, were equally important as examples of what the people of the nineteenth century were like.

In the years after leaving Jamestown Louis had a sporadic career as a professional boxer. Having been well taught by his father and older brother, Louis made extra money from an occasional prizefight and, in the year just after his family left Jamestown, he often fought in the ring for the money to buy gas so that they could move on. On more than one occasion a run of luck allowed him to box full time. Over the years he spent time in dim gymnasiums in cities all across the west, first as a boxer, then as second and finally as a trainer, seeing the world of fighters, managers, gangsters and gamblers first hand. Louis ended his fighting career by coaching several successful Golden Gloves teams; the first few in Oklahoma, the last, an army team that went to the Tournament of Champions in Chicago. Louis freely drew from this experience for many of the boxing stories in the collections HILLS OF HOMICIDE, BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS and OFF THE MANGROVE COAST.

L'Amour as a boxer

On his own, Louis hoboed across the country, hopping freight trains with men who had been riding the rails for half a century. He wrapped newspaper under his clothes to keep warm while sleeping in hobo jungles, grain bins and the gaps in piles of lumber. He spent three months "on the beach," in San Pedro, California and circled the globe as a merchant seaman, visiting England, Japan, China, Borneo, the Dutch East Indies, Arabia, Egypt, and Panama with the rough and ready crews of various steamships on which he served. In later years he wrote stories about these times, his own experiences and those of people he had known. Many of these stories are now published in the collection YONDERING and there are two more in OFF THE MANGROVE COAST. Fiction based on Louis' travels in the Far East can be found in WEST FROM SINGAPORE, NIGHT OVER THE SOLOMONS, BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS, and OFF THE MANGROVE COAST.

Traveling around the country and working in various remote locations gave Louis an intimate first-hand knowledge of the territory and landscape where the majority of his stories would be set. He spent time hiking around or traveling through what would later be the settings for SACKETT in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, BENDIGO SHAFTER in the South Pass area of Wyoming, SHALAKO in the boot heel of New Mexico, SON OF A WANTED MAN in the Utah Canyon Lands, TAGGART in central Arizona, Mojave Crossing in the California desert and Los Angeles, THE MAN CALLED NOON in central New Mexico and Southern Colorado, PASSIN’ THROUGH in Southwest Colorado, FALLON (one of my personal favorites) in Northern Nevada, MUSTANG MAN in Northeast New Mexico, NORTH TO THE RAILS in New Mexico, Texas and Kansas, and THE EMPTY LAND in Northern Utah.

Though he left school in the 10th grade Louis had a thirst for knowledge. Throughout his life Louis haunted libraries and bookstores across the country and all over the world. Often he went without meals in order to afford to buy books. He sometimes worked long and hard so that he could quit working temporarily and afford to study full time. Louis liked to brag that from 1928 until 1942 he read more than 150 non-fiction books a year and that in order to do it he worked miserable jobs and lived in skid row hotels and campgrounds.

After several years in the Pacific Northwest, Louis' parents moved to a little farm that their eldest son, Parker, had purchased in Oklahoma. John had left Oregon a year before and had not been heard from since and so it was just the three of them who traveled across Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas to settle on the acreage outside Choctaw. They had a house, animals, occasional crops, and their lives returned to normal. They lived in a community in which they were not viewed as vagabonds. Slowly the LaMoore family began to put down roots.

Louis always wanted to be a writer but in his early days he thought that his writing would take the form of poetry. For years he struggled to learn this craft without much guidance except his own intellect. Eventually, he broke out into a number of little magazines and began placing poems regularly. The name Louis L'Amour was seen in public for the first time. Poetry, however, didn't pay very well. In fact, it didn't pay at all. He tried writing short stories that drew on his life experience, sending them to collage journals or literary magazines. This was not the answer to earning a living as a writer either. Finally, he sold a short story called "Anything for a Pal" to a pulp magazine called TRUE GANG LIFE. He made less than eight dollars but he took it as a sign and committed his attention to writing for the pulps. The hoped for breakthrough took almost two years to come.

In 1937 he sold a short story called "Gloves for a Tiger" to THRILLING ADVENTURES MAGAZINE and, this time, other sales followed quickly. Although he wrote in several genres, including a rare western or two, Louis' most financially successful stories were the adventure tales he wrote about the captain of a tramp freighter and his crew. Ponga Jim Mayo, Louis' fictional character, was a merchant captain whose tendency to find trouble had drawn the attention of a British Intelligence officer. Together, Mayo and Major Arnold kept agents of the Axis powers off balance in the years leading up to WWII. Ultimately, Louis did place some material with literary magazines "The Admiral" was published in STORY, one of the most prestigious periodicals of it's day; "It's Your Move", "Survival," and "Glorious! Glorious!" were published in TANAGER; and "Dead End Drift" and "Old Doc Yak" were published in the NEW MEXICO QUARTERLY. His poetry, originally seen in many anthologies and magazines, was self-published in a collection called, SMOKE FROM THIS ALTAR.

Louis was inducted into the US army late in the summer of 1942. After boot camp he went to Officer's Candidate School and then Tank Destroyer School. By the time he was eligible to join a TD outfit he was ordered to change assignments because with his 35th birthday just over six months away he would be too old to join a combat unit. He joined the Transportation Corps and was sent to England and then on to Europe with a trucking company. As a second Lt. he commanded a platoon of gas tankers that supplied planes and tanks all through the fighting in France and Germany. Before he returned home he was promoted to 1st Lt. and was briefly a company commander. While in Europe he gathered the background that he later used in his stories about that area. He visited many of the locations that appear in “Meeting in Falmouth” (collected in BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS), THE WALKING DRUM, SACKETT’S LAND, and TO THE FAR BLUE MOUNTAINS. He met the people who were models for the characters in “A Friend of the General” (collected in YONDERING), REILLY’S LUCK, KIOWA TRAIL and “The Cross and the Candle” (collected in OFF THE MANGROVE COAST).

After his discharge Louis returned to the U.S. only to find that the market for his Adventure stories had nearly disappeared. Now editors were asking for Mysteries and Westerns. Because of Louis' background, an old friend in the publishing business pushed him in the direction of Westerns. Following his friend's advice, Louis L'Amour moved to Los Angeles, a city he knew well from his sea-faring and boxing days, settled into a small room in the back of another family's large apartment and began to write. For the first couple of years he sat on the bed and worked with his typewriter sitting on a folding chair. Compared to his Oklahoma days his output was enormous. In one year he sold almost a story a week and wrote even more than that. The pulps had never paid very well and that situation had not changed much. Louis' average take on a short story was less than $100.

By the early 1950s, pressured by radio, TV, and the paperback book, the pulp magazines, which had published a majority of the fiction in the United States, began to go out of business. Many writers, Louis included, found it harder and harder to sell their stories. Like others Louis tried many different markets. He sold "Westward the Tide" to a British publisher. Four Hopalong Cassidy novels went to a short lived magazine based on Clarence Mulhford's character, and "The Gift of Cochise," "Get out of Town," "Booty for a Badman," "THE BURNING HILLS," and "WAR PARTY," to what were called the "slick" magazines like COLLIERS and THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.

Playbill for Crossfire Trail
starring Tom Selleck, one
of L'Amour's favorite actors

Louis had already sold several novels (WESTWARD THE TIDE, his four Hopalong Cassidy stories, CROSSFIRE TRAIL, UTAH BLAINE, and SILVER CANYON) to paperback publishers when “Hondo,” a film made from his short story “Gift of Cochise” (collected in WAR PARTY) hit the silver screen. Also prior to the release of “Hondo,” he had sold several other projects for movies and TV. In 1951 a couple of episodes of Cowboy G-Men were made from his treatments and he sold a series pilot called “One Night Stand” (collected in THE STRONG SHALL LIVE) to Bing Crosby. He also sold a story to Fireside Theater and the treatment for the feature EAST OF SUMATRA to Universal International. But it was the success of “Hondo” that gave Louis' career a much-needed boost.

Playbill for Conagher
starring Sam Elliott, the other
of L'Amour's favorite actors

In 1956 Louis L'Amour married Katherine Elizabeth Adams, an aspiring actress. The daughter of a resort developer and silent movie star, Kathy had grown up in the deserts and mountains of Southern California where her father had once owned vast tracts of land. Together Katherine and Louis traveled all over the west searching out locations and doing research for Louis' books. In 1961 their son Beau was born and in 1964 they had a daughter, Angelique.

Louis and Katherine -- doesn't he look happy?

The 1960s were a productive time for Louis. He developed his famous Sackett family series, traveled extensively to promote books and movies, and, for the first time in his life, bought a house. He was often invited to speak at public forums and held book signings for large crowds all across the country.  And he finally settled down to work with a single publisher, Bantam Books. 

After six years (1953 -1959) of going back and forth between Fawcett/Gold Medal, Ace and Bantam, Louis was looking to find a publisher who would bring out more than two of his books per year.  His editor at Gold Medal lobbied to let him write more but management refused even though he was placing books with competing publishers.  L’Amour had sold 14 novels, 9 motion pictures, and several million paperback copies before Bantam Editor in Chief Saul David was finally able to convince his company to offer Louis an exclusive contract that would expand to three books a year.  It was only after 1960, however, that Louis’s sales at Bantam began to surpass his sales at Gold Medal.

A book contract with Bantam kept him motivated and on a deadline. Louis expanded the Sackett family series to include the family's beginnings on the American continent and also began the process of weaving in tales of the Chantry and Talon clans too. The vision of a large matrix of fiction interwoven with the history of the United States and Canada began to appear in his work. Plans, many that did not come to fruition for another ten years, for writing historical fiction (like THE WALKING DRUM, a story written in the1960s but not sold until the mid '80s.) and even science or fantasy fiction (THE HAUNTED MESA) were carefully made. By 1973 his new found wealth allowed Louis to move into a better neighborhood in West Los Angeles. Louis felt independent and secure for the first time in his adult life. He was sixty-five years old.

Even before the height of his success in the 1980s, jealousy caused controversy among other writers of westerns.  A rumor was circulated that somehow Louis was a creation of his publisher, Bantam Books, and that they told him what to write and then gave him preferential treatment over other writers when it came to money and advertising.  In truth, Louis wrote in a manner that was very much like stream of consciousness and it was nearly impossible for him to plan what was going to happen in one of his books let alone take direction from someone else.

Even in the early 1970s, Bantam Books was still lagging in the area of public relations, it took a publicity trip to England and the exemplary efforts of L’Amour’s British publisher Corgi, to focus their attention on what could be done.  For the most part the publicity effort that defined Louis’s career until the mid ‘70s was the work he did on his own, learned through hard experience promoting both boxers and his own book of poetry in the 1930s.  Publishers then, as now, spent next to nothing unless they absolutely had to.

The hard feelings seem to have culminated with the story that Bantam required independent distributors to buy titles in lots of 10,000 copies if they wanted access to other Bantam titles at wholesale prices, and that they kept all of L’Amour’s books in print at all times … thus forcing other authors off the racks in the Western sections of bookstores. 

There were occasionally additional price incentives offered to distributors who sold certain amounts of the entire Bantam catalogue,” George Fisher, who worked at Ludington News in Detroit, the number two independent distributor in the country, remembers.  “But selling Louis was often the way that a distributor could meet their quotas, because he was so popular.  Louis wasn’t a problem for us, he was a solution.”

The problem seemed to be one of jealousy and misinterpretation, writers with fewer titles and less popular books could get squeezed where shelf space was limited. But no publisher could afford to keep books in print that weren’t selling, the book stores would simply return them for a refund. Whatever the effect, Louis L’Amour was not the beneficiary of any sort of special, and exclusive, distribution policy.

Theodore Roosevelt Award

In addition to pleasing millions of fans, Louis won the Western Writers of America's Golden Spur Award for DOWN THE LONG HILLS, North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, his novels HONDO and FLINT are voted places in the 25 best Western Novels of all time. Five years after out selling John Steinbeck's total of 41,300,000 copies (a Bantam record) Louis L'Amour sold his one hundred millionth book and had won the Western Writer's of America's Golden Saddleman Award. Louis' books have been translated into over fifteen foreign languages and are sold in English in almost a dozen countries.

Starting in 1966 he would take his family to spend the summer in Durango, CO, a place he had visited briefly with a mining buddy in the in the late 1920s. For over ten years they spent the month of August at the Strater Hotel, Louis dividing his time between writing in a corner room over the Diamond Belle Saloon and hiking in the La Plata or San Juan Mountains. In later years he participated in the Presidential Committee on Space, a Ute/Commanche peace treaty, and was on the National Board of the Library of Congress' Center for the Book. In 1982 he won the Congressional (National) Gold Medal, and in 1984 President Ronald Reagan awarded L'Amour the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In May 1972 he was awarded an Honorary PhD by Jamestown College, as a testament to his literary and social contributions

The summer of 1987 Louis caught pneumonia. In a few weeks he threw it off and was seemingly healthy until late fall, when he caught it again. The first round of tests showed nothing but ultimately a needle biopsy caught malignant cancer cells. Going back through the x-rays, doctors discovered a thin veil of cancerous material running throughout his lungs. Because the cancer was not localized in any one spot, surgery was not possible. He began his long postponed memoir, EDUCATION OF A WANDERING MAN. As the disease progressed Louis moved his work from his office to a desk in an upstairs bedroom and ultimately into the master bedroom. He was editing the book the afternoon that he died. A few days before he passed away Louis was notified that sales of his books had topped two hundred million.

"His death was a tragedy to anyone who admired literature, he showed people what a good story can do, whether it was an escape from the everyday life or just a bedside companion. His stories painted a picture in your mind that pleased anyone 8-80 years old, male or female. His writings could teach life lessons or bring people closer together like it did between my father and I. His work can take you on an adventure unlike others to which the average person is subject. In a world that is so "high-tech" it’s a great feeling when you pick up a L'Amour book and are taken on an adventure-filled ride through the world of literature." - S.J. Reese

He died doing what he loved, writing a book at his ranch in Hesperus, Colorado. He acquired the ranch from a family local to the San Juan region. Since his death in June of 1988 Bantam Books has continued to release the work of Louis L'Amour. SMOKE FROM THIS ALTAR, his 1939 book of poetry, and a revised version of YONDERING, were released in the same year. Since then there have been re-releases of the four Hopalong Cassidy novels, and many books of his short stories, some containing material never before published. In the years since his death in 1988, over one hundred and twenty million copies of his books have been sold. None of Louis L’Amour’s Bantam titles have ever been out of print.

America's Storyteller, Louis L'Amour

Much more information on this remarkable man is available on his official website, and on Wikipedia. Additional information includes the audio productions of son Beau L’Amour and tributes by daughter Angelique L’Amour.

For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.”
Louis L'Amour

Knowledge is like money: to be of value it must circulate, and in circulating it can increase in quantity and, hopefully, in value.”
Louis L'Amour

No one can get an education, for of necessity education is a continuing process.
Louis L'Amour

There’s something about reading a Louis L’Amour novel that dissipates stress and care. Hero and I have each of the L'Amour novels in our keeper shelves. We re-read them from time to time. 

Louis L'Amour knew exactly how to tell a story!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Desert Denizens

by Rain Trueax

There are many ways to live in the desert. You can be in a walled community, a condo, a mansion on a ridge, or in a small development on one of Tucson's many ridges. 

Such a ridge is where we found our dream, second home over twenty years ago. I wanted desert around the house and a feel of an adobe (though it's slump block). I wanted the denizens who live here to feel it was as it always had been for them to come through-- and it is.

By having an acre and a third, we have been able to leave the kind of vegetation seen in open desert. Some, who live in the Santa Cruz River valley bulldoze off the natural growth and build walls. I suspect some of that is fear of rattlesnakes-- not an unreasonable concern in the desert. I'd rather live with the rattlesnakes than have to keep out all the others. That snake below, swimming in the little desert pond that came with the property, is not a rattler. Most snakes here are not.

For their safety, we do keep a small fenced yard for our cats to be out when they wish but still protected from the predators (coyotes, javelina, raccoons, and bobcats are most prevalent), who might find plump cats a tasty meal. By law, we also have to fence the swimming pool but the cats don't get access to that either for their safety-- unless we are out there.

When we first bought this house, I had no idea that javelina could be predators as I thought
of them as more scavengers.  We adopted a desert cat when we first arrived. He had no owners and showed up needing food and care. Every time he saw the javelina through the glass doors, he'd growl. I thought that strange but knew they could rip up a person's leg. Once a herd of them killed our neighbor's dog, I better understood our cat's reaction. He'd often be on our roof-- definitely a safe place for a fluffy black cat as no hawk nearby could threaten him based on his size.

My love of the desert has found its way into many of my books from historical to paranormal. I have always regarded nature as a character in my stories. This is especially true where it come to the Sonoran Desert. By living with those who also live here, I don't write them as Bambis but  let them be what they are-- part of nature and life for those who watch (well, except for those who can talk in the paranormals).

Those denizens who never leave here, who come through or call this place home, they know this land better than I ever will. they do not claim it because it's not what they do. They just own it by nature. They are born here and likely will die here. They know where the food is and for what to watch out. Once in a while, I am fortunate enough to cross their paths.

When we spend time watching, we get to see baby birds, like these quail, grow up. 

All the photos were taken on our desert home, which we call Casa Espiritu. The black and white one was taken with the wildlife cam as javelina are jittery around humans during daylight. They can be legally hunted in Arizona, and I am told they are good to eat, but I would not know. 

This will be my last post at Sweethearts. Currently, my writing has gone to contemporary and paranormal, which means I am not doing enough historic research to feel a good fit here. Love the group and will definitely keep reading it regularly. :)

Friday, January 10, 2020


 Dowsing, sometimes called divining, wishing, or witching has been around since the beginning of time. Evidence of its use has been found on every continent throughout civilization. They claim there is no scientific proof that it really works and many times it doesn’t. Some people can do it and some can’t. Some swear it’s the result of electromagnetic activity, others say that’s got nothing to do with it. It’s been used to find all sorts of things from water to graves to car keys or other lost objects.
Teams of geologists and dowsers have worked together to find water in the driest of places and 96% of the time the dowsers found water. It was exactly the number of feet down that they predicted. For every attempt to discredit dowsing, there’s another scientific study that says dowsing works, but they don’t know how or why. They just can’t prove it does or doesn’t. But it is known that almost everywhere on this planet you will find water under the ground. So the odds are with the dowsers.
Using a forked or "Y" shaped branch usually from a willow tree, a fruit tree, or shrub is all it takes. Even wire coat hangers have been used. I’ve seen people use what looks like two zip ties hooked together.

                                Traite De La Physique Occulte/Bettmann Archive
If using a branch, there seems to be a fairly consistent suggestion to have the three parts of the rod about 12 inches or a 1/3 of a meter. The two branches (the “V” section of the "Y") are held loosely in palms-up hands, leaving the protruding end or the pointed baseof the “Y ”of the branch facing away from the body. Slender branches with no twiggy bits hanging off of it, apparently work best. Two rods or wires bent into an “L” shape also work. Hold the rods so that the shorter end is in each hand and the rods are free to move.
When the rod starts to move, you can count and when you reach the maximum movement, there should be water in that spot and the count should tell you how far down you will find water. No idea how fast to count or if counting tells you the depth in feet or yards. Dowsers are a little protective of their craft.
The next problem once you think you’ve found the right spot to drop a well is how to dig a well. Historically, they dug a hole with picks and shovels. It was dangerous especially as they dug deeper. Enter metal pipes. Many of our early settlers in the west were not hand digging their wells. Well digging equipment could be bought. Think of a screw point attached to a pipe and to that they would attach another pipe with holes in it. They would put a third pipe horizontally through the holes and use that pipe to turn the pipe with the screw point. Then they would just screw it into the ground. As the first section of pipe begins to vanish into the ground, a new pipe is added to the one being sunk, And the pipe with holes was placed on top of the new section. Drilling works better if you have two people to do it but the pipe could also be turned using animals. When drilling, they could go down 40 or 100 feet without hitting water or slam into rock and be forced to stop. It’s a frustrating job. (Even today with high-powered equipment that can cut through rock, it’s still not easy.) Then when they hit water it usually gushed out the top of the pipe, soaking the drillers. They had to get a cap on it. Most of the time, the cap was a hand pump that was attached. If they were lucky, they could buy a windmill.

In 1850 Daniel Halladay and John Burnham started a company called U.S. Wind Engine Company. Their invention of the Halladay windmill changed everything. It was bought as a kit and assembled when it arrived. It was the means of moving water through pipes into the house and it could be used to turn equipment such as saws and mills. The first windmills were wooden and Daniel kept making improvements and eventually he was using galvanized steel. 

In my book, A Rancher’s Dream, I wrote about the men drilling a well. It was fun for me to write, but not fun for them. They worked hard and didn’t hit water after several tries. They enlisted the help of another man, an American Indian, who didn’t do any dowsing, but he merely looked at the way the land flowed and said try here. Okay, maybe that was a bit of a spoiler but not really. In A Rancher’s Woman, Mark got a used windmill. In a Rancher’s Request, they had real problems with their windmill when a storm took it down on a bitter cold night.
Even today some old windmills still dot the land, but new technology that allows for living off the grid, means windmills are sprouting across America especially in rural areas. Windmill farms are springing up and supplying electricity to residents in the area. Where my daughter lives, her local energy company is using windmills. Her water is from a community well. Something old is new again. 

Sunday, January 5, 2020


In total, 270 million acres (10% of all land in the United States) were settled under the Homestead Act. Homesteading occurred in 30 of our states.  The Homestead Act was extremely progressive. Women, nearly all immigrants, and African Americans had the right to claim free land.

The Homestead Act, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, was the most far-reaching land distribution bill enacted. Previous legislation had sold large tracts of land to railroads and wealthy individuals, but the Homestead Act of 1862 focused on everyday people.

It was signed during the civil war by a congress that did not include the southern states, which had left the government. Two similar acts were passed -- The Morrill Land Grant Act, which declared that states would receive land grants for funding colleges that offered classes in agriculture and mechanic arts.  
The Pacific Railway Acts promoted the building of a transcontinental railroad by issuing government bonds and granting large tracts of land to the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad Companies. The U.P. was to build west from Omaha, NE to the Pacific coast, and the P.R. was to build from California east, and they would meet.

Though the Homestead Act did not become popular until after the civil war, it furthered the American Industrial Revolution. It was written to expand the development of the Western part of the United States.  Farmers and ranchers, freshly settled in virgin territories, needed agricultural and animal husbandry tools.  The grasshopper plow, invented in the 1880’s, cut strips of sod the settlers used to build houses. Women AND families who’d received land needed equipment for cooking and storing food, spinning, weaving and sewing, among other things.

 But the rate of cancellation - legally and permanently abandoning a homestead - was 50%.  A few plausible reasons were the miles between sod houses; living in sod houses, especially after living in more sanitary conditions prior to migrating to the plains; medical treatment available in some areas, and not in others; crop failure; death of work animals and herds of animals due to the harsh weather and scarcity of water. 

All of those reasons are addressed in diaries from those times.  Public and college libraries, state museums and the historical societies in many states have research materials for the public. Solomon Butcher of Nebraska lived in a sod dugout on his homestead, but left to travel through Nebraska taking photos of homesteaders. Some of these are included in this piece. 

International tragedies, such as the Panics of 1873, then 1893, reverberated across the prairies.  The final panic was the beginning of a depression that began in 1894 and ended 1897. This was a worldwide disaster, with the fluctuating cotton prices at the center of blame.  Cotton was normally $50 per bale; but in 1870, the price had jumped 56%. The south had planned to rebuild factories and make the economy firm, but the wild price variations made this impossible.

Further blame fell on railroad speculation and reckless private international funding, such as with nearly bankrupt Argentina prior to 1893.  America in the 19th century was plagued with economic instability since 1812.  Economists and historians state firmly that these panics ended only with the Great Depression.


The Pioneer Home

Nonetheless, beginning in 1864, pioneers were creatively settling the wild new territories, building homes out of the materials they found – wood at creek bottoms could be sawed into rough planks to cover dirt floors or build shanties.  When trees were large enough, logs could be used for cabins, and even packing crates could become cupboards.  If there were no trees, prairie grass and mud would serve for bricks. Settler homes were often one room (16 x 10 feet) and furniture was kept to a minimum. One bed could sleep two adults and two children, or pallets were used. Cabin, shanty and soddy walls could be plastered with newspapers and ‘chinked’ to keep out varmints and icy blasts.  With tent-like tarps or linen below them, dirt and snake-dribbling roofs were tamed. Daylight in the dark little houses was increased through the use of wall plastering and ceiling linen.

Men had ready-made clothes, such as blue jeans, were easily found in the stores, according to newspaper advertisements. Women’s ready-made clothes were also in the shops, but it was normally part of household life to sew women’s clothes at home, because ready-made women’s clothes were costly.

The garment industry was both more sophisticated during the Industrial Revolution in America and dependent on the old methods of production.  Women worked the machines; some took their piece work bundles to their homes, or to smaller locations to sew on commercial machines. Factories were not centralized.

Diaries and letters speak most often of pioneer women starting businesses for cooking for the men in town ('boarding’), buying lumber and sawing planks to make ‘tables’ and benches, then cooking some of the food and hiring a cook, most usually an immigrant. Other businesses they started included millinery shops, where the owner would make everything but the frame of each hat, or seamstress/tailoring shops, where the owner sewed the clothes alongside her seamstress help.

It is fallacious to assume that ‘the ladies’ were ornamental, and they merely followed their men.  Indeed, women of all ages – the oldest recorded being in her 80’s – homesteaded alone.   Sisters often settled one area, each claiming 160 acres of land. The Act demanded that each build and live in, full-time, a house she built on her own land as head of a household.  The four Chrisman sisters are a famous example (NE History Collection of Butcher photos). 

One acre is the size of an American football field; 160 acres equals 6,969,600 square feet. Depending on the shape of a woman’s 160 acres, each sister’s home would be far from the others.

Published diaries from the homestead times are replete with young women new to the sod house plains, expressing their terrors when their husbands left for the fields each day. Sod houses were, some diarists said, smelly, vermin-infested and dirty. Others emphasized that they paid no rent and kept themselves to themselves. Various kinds of sod houses were built. If possible, a soddy could be dug out of the sides of rising ground, if a rise could be found. Or houses were built out of sod, the first layer of the earth, which held the prairie grass, its roots and mud.

Although soddies are often described as being ‘warm in winter, cool in summer,’ diary entries from the plains often say the opposite.  Women wrote that it was impossible to leave the stove at all for months; others describe their feet being frost bitten, despite sitting with quilts wrapped around them in front of the fire.  The roof was capable of collapsing, too, after a few heavy rainstorms.  If the roof didn’t collapse, snakes routinely dropped into the house or crawled in; bull snakes were the most prevalent.

Although mud often fell into pots on the cook stove, homesteaders were careful about their diets.  Army wives often passed on tips, such as how to avoid scurvy. (They said that potatoes contained large amounts of vitamin C and kept scurvy away.)  Homesteaders picked vegetables, preserved fruit and vegetables in many ways, sometimes canning, using mutton fat atop each jar’s contents, or a popular method was ‘bottling,’ a less arduous technique for shorter term storage.  Meat was ‘jerked’ or salted and dried.  A piece of jerked buffalo, unless it was from an old animal, was highly nutritious. Homesteader diaries mention it for taking to eat in the fields.  One piece of jerked buffalo could last for several hours.

Homesteaders in the diaries reveal a sturdy cheerfulness. Women either laughed at hardships, such as a snake falling through the roof and into their beds, or they turned problems into jokes.  A house might seem to rain bull snakes, but the soddy’s residents kept a hoe handy for chopping the snakes and carrying them out when somebody had to open the door. If a woman wasn’t cheerful about her burdens, she was proud of keeping her word to her family. 

Millicent had married for love, and her husband proved to be, as she said, ‘unspeakably lazy.’  In a diary, she described the five days before she gave birth to an 11 pound baby. She spun enough wool to weave into cloth, then sewed for her family.  She’d already knitted gloves and hats for them all. Two days before the birth, she operated the loom, with an oiled rag over her stomach so she wouldn’t feel the loom’s harsh bumping. The day before she had the baby, she cut rags she’d saved and made a rug for the largest room.  She finished up by cleaning the house and cooking supper.  She gave birth at 2:43 am.

Although Indian raids made up a small percentage of settler life, they did exist.  Cynthia Ann Parker’s family was killed before her eyes.  Still living, her mother was scalped. Little Cynthia Ann was stolen, but treated as an honored captive for the next 24 years. Of course, she was expected to work along with the Comanche women, who did everything for the band but fight and hunt.  But she’d married a high dignitary who sincerely loved her.  Nomadic hunters, they broke camp every three weeks, and the women dragged the households from one site to the next.

Book lovers and scholars existed among pioneer women. Again, diaries reveal the patience they showed to their molded, decaying books that had fallen from wagons into rivers or been accidentally thrown into fires. Some of the books were entire collections of Shakespeare or poems of their favorite authors. Most carried twenty or more books and kept them long after they’d fallen to pieces, drying them, laying each page out separately, but with the cheerful vigor so characteristic of the pioneer woman.

Cora Leland, Author. Biographical Note.

I was born in Dallas, Texas.  When I was a tween, my Oto Indian father bought a ranch on a rocky mountain in Oklahoma, where we moved into an old log cabin.  Reading the diaries of homesteaders, I sigh at how many bull snakes my poor mother found in her kitchen, and how many tarantulas terrified me.

My father caulked the gaps between the logs, but cold drafts and mice got into the house.  One night at supper the roof caved in (my mother grabbed a board and shoved it under the cracked beam). The school teacher didn’t know how to use a dictionary, the boys carried knives and everywhere bootleggers abounded.  But how I loved my white-hoofed Choctaw pony with her evil disposition. Most of all, I loved my freedom.

I wrote nonfiction beginning with “Letters from Nepal” and published nonfiction until last year. In Dec. 2019 I self-published Christmas at the Homestead, Book 1 of my Mail Order Bride series on Amazon. Book 2 will be released at the end of Jan. 2020.


 Pioneers of Personality Science: Autobiographical Perspectives. Edited by Stephen Strack, PhD, Bill N. N. Kinder, PhD

So Much to Be Done: Women Settlers on the Mining and Ranching Frontier, ed. Moynihan, Armitage and Dichamp, U of Nebraska Press 1990
The Female Frontier by Glenda Riley. University Press of Kansas  1988
The Gentle Tamers Women of the Old Wild West by Dee Brown, University of Nebraska Press, 1958
Lincoln County Tribune, January 12, 1886
Library of Congress Database: The Berg encyclopedia of World Dress and  Fashion: Developments through the Mid-Nineteenth Century Developments
History Nebraska (Nebraska Historical Society), exhibits incl. Solomon Butcher photos (e.g., Chris
man sisters and a sod house)
Oklahoma History Society, Oklahoma City, OK
Sheldon Museum, University of Nebraska at Lincoln (Great Plains exhibit)

(National Park Service)