Sunday, June 26, 2016



My husband and I don’t subscribe to the Hallmark Channel and watched (via Netflix) the great series based on Janet Oke’s writing, “When Calls The Heart” set in a coal town of the Canadian West. Wish I had seen this series before I wrote my own western romance of coal mining, O’NEILL’S TEXAS BRIDE, McClintocks book two. My book doesn’t include a Mountie, of course. Mine features a ranch hand hero, Finn O’Neill, who goes undercover in a lignite coal mine to earn money to buy his own ranch while he discovers who is sabotaging the mine.

On second thought, perhaps I’m better off using my research and imagination to create my own version of a coal town operated by a less than ethical man. The town in my story is not nearly as neat and pretty as the one in Janet Oke’s stories. The miners get just as dirty, though.

I confess that research into coal mining in 1885 Central Texas was difficult. I found plenty of information on early coal mining from Before The Common Era to today—but not much on the specific time period and locale I needed. What I did discover was fascinating in some areas, not so much in others, and downright scary in places.

I found the perfect place for my story, the town of Coal Mine, Texas southwest of San Antonio and near the town of Lytle. In my story, the town is called Lignite after the type of coal mined there. Also in my story, someone is causing deadly “accidents” at the mine and the owner wants to determine who is guilty. For this, he hires my hero, Finn O’Neill.

The beauty of changing the name of the town in fiction is that the town has whatever buildings I choose and/or need for the story. Instead of Lytle, in my book the next town is Spencer for the same reason. That’s one of the fun things about writing historical fiction. The author gets to build the setting and only has to be true to the period in customs and dress. I love making up my stories and their settings and I hope you enjoy reading them!

The actual town of Coal Mine was on U.S. Highway 81 and the Missouri Pacific line in southeastern Medina County. Coal mines, worked by as many as 500 people at a time, precipitated the growth of mining camps in the 1880s. In 1881 the International-Great Northern Railroad built a rail line from Austin to Laredo that passed through Lytle southwest of San Antonio.

The community of Coal Mine developed on this line a mile southwest of Lytle and just north of the mining camps. The high-grade lignite produced at the mines was sold to the railroads until the advent of oil-burning locomotives. In 1888 Coal Mine consisted of a store, a bandstand, a main plaza, a dance hall, a Catholic church, and at least two schools. Hmmm, in my story, Lignite has a store, both a Catholic and a Protestant church, and one two-room school where heroine Stella Grace Clayton and her sister Nettie Sue Clayton teach. I included a lot of mystery in this book, but O’NEILL’S TEXAS BRIDE (as you can guess from the title) is a romance between Finn O’Neill and Stella Clayton.

Lignite, often referred to as brown coal, is a soft brown combustible sedimentary rock that is formed from naturally compressed peat. It is considered the lowest rank of coal due to its relatively low heat content. It is used almost exclusively as a fuel for steam-electric power generation. In China, lignite is also mined for its germanium content.

I learned a couple of interesting things in my research. Dark black lignite, or jet, is where the term “jet black” originates. Now the term has more scientific and precise basis, but the actual term “horse power” began as the amount of effort it took one horse to lift one container of coal up from the mine shaft to the ground. Another thing I learned is that I never, ever want to work in a coal mine. I get claustrophobic in elevators.  

O’NEILL’S TEXAS BRIDE, McClintocks book two, is available at these links:

Amazon    Apple/iTunes    Nook    Kobo    GooglePlay

Amazon bestselling and award winning author Caroline Clemmons writes western historical and contemporary romances. Her latest release is OPHELIA, Bride Brigade Book Four.  You can keep up with Caroline’s releases by signing up for her newsletter. Her books are listed on her website at and on her Amazon Author Page.   

Friday, June 24, 2016

It's Hay Season Again by Paty Jager

Haying in the 19th Century took muscle and tenacity.

We just finished an early first cutting of alfalfa hay here in SE Oregon. While I help my husband cut the hay with a swather and we use a loader and trailer to pick up the 800 pound 3'  x 4' x 8', I am thankful I live in this century and not the 19th century.

Meadow grass here
In my soon to be released book, Brody: Letters of Fate, my heroine helps with the haying. In this area back in the 1800's they hayed the meadows. She drives two horses and rides the mowing machine as they cut the meadow grass. Then when it's time to stack she runs the stacker and helps out on the top of the stack. She has sore muscles, a bruised bottom, and blisters. Which goes to prove how hard life was back then. But everyone pitched in.

To write the haying scenes I watched Youtube videos of haying with horse drawn equipment, read sites on what hay equipment worked best where, and I picked my dad's brain. He grew up in Nebraska on a large cattle ranch where his mom, my grandmother, cooked for the hired hands and his dad was one of the hands. He told me they hayed with horses and mules and put up the large hay stacks.

From the websites I browsed I discovered there were several different horse drawn mowers. The first one having been made in England around 1845. The mower took off in the U.S. in the1860's after the Civil War when manufacturing took off. As one would figure some of the first and best models were made by John Deere, Jerome Case, and Cyrus McCormick, well-known names even today in farm equipment. The horse drawn mower had a wicked-looking sickle bar that had sharp metal plates that moved back and forth, powered by the wheels turning, as two horses or mules pulled it through the field. The horses pulled the mower from the front but were driven on the first round on the outside of the crop while the sickle bar cut the outside round. Then they horse walked on the cut round and the bar laying out to the side of the machine cut another swath of grass. The sickle bar had a lever that would raise the bar at the end of the row and let the bar down when they wanted to cut. This lever required some strength to raise and lower the bar. I make note of this in my book.
Horse drawn mower at Sod House Ranch

After the hay has dried and cured, they came along with horse drawn "buck" or "dump" rakes. The tines on the rakes were curved. The drivers of the rakes, worked in a row, pulling and turning the hay before dumping it forming long rows in the fields for the "beaver slide" or "sweep rake" to come along and gather.

The sweep rake was wide with long timbers sticking out in front of it to collect the windrows of hay.  The horses are harnessed behind this piece of equipment and push it rather than pull. When the sweep had a full load, the hay was pushed to the stacker. The person running a sweep had to physically lift the the sweep with levers. Another hard job.
Sweep rake at Sod House Ranch

The stacker could be used either to build a large stack in a field or to fill a barn. The sweep or buck rake shoved the hay onto the platform or tines of the stacker. They would push it up, back up, and shove the hay on farther, before the horses backed all the way up and turned and headed to the field. Once the hay was pushed onto the stacker, horses that are harnessed to the pulleys of the stacker are moved forward, drawing the tines or platform of hay up and over onto the growing hay stack. The person working the horses at the stacker has the easiest job.

People were also needed on top of the stack to move the hay around making the stack solid and then to put the last loads cut ends up like a roof over the top of the stack.

As many times in my life as I've wished I'd been born in the 1800's and been a pioneer, I don't think I would have liked putting up hay with horses. This is why I write western historical romance, I can live vicariously through my heroines and not have to actually endure that life.

Blurb for Brody: Letters of Fate 

A letter from a grandfather he’s never met has Brody Yates escorted across the country to work on a ranch rather than entering prison. But his arrival in Oregon proves prison may have been the lesser of two evils. A revenge driven criminal, the high desert, and his grandfather’s beautiful ward may prove more dangerous than anything he’d faced on the New York docks.

Lilah Wells is committed to helping others: the judge who’d taken her in years ago, the neighboring children, and the ranch residents, which now includes the judge’s handsome wayward grandson. And it all gets more complicated when her heart starts ruling her actions. 

You may pre-order this book at the special pre-order price of $2.99. When it publishes on July 16th the price will be $4.99. 
Amazon /Apple / Nook

The photos of the sweep rake and mower were taken at the Sod House Ranch part of the Peter French cattle empire in Harney County in the 1800's. You can find out more about the cattleman and his operation at my post here. I researched Peter French for my first Letters of Fate book, Davis.

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 25+ novels and over a dozen novellas and short stories of murder mystery, western historical romance, and action adventure. She has a RomCon Reader’s Choice Award for her Action Adventure and received the EPPIE Award for Best Contemporary Romance.  This is what reviewers says about her Letters of Fate Series: “What a refreshing and well written love story of fate and hope! Very well written but sometimes sizzling love scenes!”

All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Golden Age of Medical Quackery

By: Peggy L Henderson

On my recent vacation, it was fun to buy a few potential research books that might come in handy for future historical western romances. From famous mountain men, to Indians, and Prostitution and women in medicine in the 1800’s, these books make for some interesting reading, regardless if I use any of the information contained within or not. 

One such book was filled with “granny medicines,” or medicine used during the time. Among the many chores women were charged with on the wagon trains, they were also responsible for the overall health of their family members. Their supplies contained not only ingredients for cooking supper, but also herbs and journals handed down through the generations with home remedies. Items such as juniper berries, garlic, and bitter root were used to treat anything from nausea to typhoid. These remedies were usually a combination of advice passed down through the generations, to superstition, to religious beliefs.  

Advise such as “rinse your mouth each morning with urine to preserve your teeth and prevent mouth odor,” or “mold scraped from cheese will heal open sores,” to “wrap a piece of bacon sprinkled in black pepper around your neck to cure a sore throat,” was common.

Some medicines, such as poultices or teas might have brought some relief, but most often they were of no use, and at worst, did more harm than good. 
The Missouri State Historical Society has compiled a list of frontier medicines, which shows that the 1800’s were truly the “golden age of quackery.” Here is a short sample:

-       The hot blood of chickens cures shingles
-       Carry a horse chestnut to ward of rheumatism
-       To remove warts, rub them with green walnuts, bacon rind, or chicken feet
-       Owl broth cures whooping cough
-       Warm brains of a freshly killed rabbit applied to a teething child’s gums will relieve the pain
-       Carry an onion in your pocket to prevent smallpox
-       Brandy and red pepper will cure cholera
-       Mashed snails and earthworms in water are good for dyptheria.

The list goes on, but you get the idea. 

Peggy L Henderson
Western Historical and Time Travel Romance
“Where Adventure Awaits and Love is Timeless”

Author of:
Yellowstone Romance Series
Teton Romance Trilogy
Second Chances Time Travel Romance Series
Blemished Brides Western Historical Romance Series