Tuesday, August 16, 2011

RAIN SLICKERS AND GUM BLANKETS - STAYING DRY IN THE OLD WEST

LOST HEARTS- Blurb

The Lawman—Haunted by flashbacks he can’t remember, from a war he wants desperately to forget, U.S. Deputy Marshal Richard Bennick arrives in Indian Territory carrying warrants for the notorious outlaw Peirpont Bodine and his feisty, irreverent son, Johnny.

The Outlaw—Trapped in a life of violence and abuse, Johnny Bodine lives in fear of men. Disguising her femininity, she retreats into her imagination and dreams of a family who loves her.

Together—Forced to trust each other as they journey through the dangerous Choctaw Nation, a unique bond of love forms between outlaw and lawman that can only be broken by Richard’s oath to uphold the law and the justice of the hangman’s noose.

Excerpt-Steady rain woke everyone well before sunrise. Rain ponchos of India rubber were thrown on and plates of cold beans passed around for breakfast.
Miserable without rain gear of her own, Johnny stood at the end of the chuck wagon, beneath an
open-sided, water proofed canvas tent, washing the breakfast dishes while the cook packed up the camp. The tension that had twisted her stomach muscles into a knot when the one-armed deputy rode out last night, eased when she saw him ride up alongside the wagon.
Beyond the circle of lantern light, he was nothing more than a black silhouette against a backdrop of dark gray sky. He dismounted, leaving his horse ground tied, then grabbed one of the lanterns hanging from a pole and strode past her on his way to the front of the wagon. It tipped to the left when he climbed inside.
A moment later, the large, burly man who’d been hired to drive the prison wagon, brushed by. "Don’t I get a gun?" he asked from outside the wagon.
"I thought you drove a prison wagon before," the deputy snapped as his silhouette bent and shifted behind the canvas.
"Sure, I rode a few posses an’ such, but I always had me a weapon."
There was a slam, hollow and solid, like the lid on a wooden box. The wagon lurched again. The deputy swung his legs over the seat and jumped to the ground. "The driver for the prison wagon never carries. It’s too dangerous."
The glow from the lanterns reflected off his black poncho and rain dripped from the brim of his dark hat. The low light deepened the circles which underscored his red rimmed eyes. She doubted the man’s surly mood would improve during the day.
"Come on, Deputy, can’t I even have me a little pig sticker tucked in my boot for comfort?"
"No. You were told no weapons. That’s the rule."
"Can’t ya bend the rules? That Bodine’s a dangerous man."
"Look, Hobbs, is it? I don’t bend rules for anyone. Ever. And because Bodine is dangerous is precisely the reason you are not to carry a weapon."
"I guarantee the only way Bodine will get it is to kill me first."
"Then he’ll still have it won’t he?"
"But—"
"No weapons. You don’t like it, get your gear and get the hell out of here." The deputy swung around and slammed into Johnny. "What do you want?" His broad hand clamped onto her shoulder, then he spun her around, and shoved her toward the back of the prison wagon where Brady had the other prisoners lined up.

Author Kathy Otten at book signing event
Thanks to Kathy Otten for being in our guest spot today. You can find out more about Kathy at http://www.kathyotten.com/
 
When I wrote my novel Lost Hearts, I knew there would be a scene where the deputy marshals had to ford a swollen river. For this to happen I needed it to rain, but I didn’t like the idea of my deputy wearing a mustard-yellow rain slicker. So I researched this indispensable item tied behind every cowboy’s saddle.


The Fish
Developed in November of 1881 by Abner J. Tower, the Fish Brand Pommel Slicker cost about 3.50 and yes, it came in a more hero worthy black color. However, the black slickers were unpopular because they became stiff in cold weather from the paint added to the linseed oil. Many westerners also found that black slickers spooked the horses easier than the yellow.

The Fish, as they were commonly called, came down to the ankles and had a long, wide skirt with a slit and gores in the back to also cover the horse and saddle. It closed with a fly-front and big metal buttons with the word, "Tower" on them. The collar was lined with red flannel. The early slickers had no pockets. Later, two side-pockets were added with slit openings inside so the cowboy could reach his pants.
To keep them wind and waterproof, cowboys painted them with linseed oil. Slickers became, "stiff as rawhide," in winter and got very sticky in hot weather. They had to withstand much abuse and on occasion they were used to beat out grass fires.

Cowboy Wearing The Fish Pommel Slicker
When not being worn they were rolled inside out and tied behind the cantle of the saddle. However the Fish became so popular most cowboys didn’t own coats. With a couple of wool shirts and a vest underneath, a rider could stay warm in most weather. But if it was damp a man could freeze to death at a higher temperature in a slicker than wearing any other garment.

The Fish was so popular the design has hardly changed over the past one hundred and thirty years.

I was very happy with this information and gave my hero a black slicker, knowing his horse was too smart to be afraid of it.

LOST HEARTS made it to the first round of edits when my editor questioned whether my color choice was accurate. Because I’m always worried about making an error I can’t change, I went back to double check my facts.
Confederate Prisoners at Gettysberg
1863, each with gum blanket roll

Yes, black was an original color, but Abner J. Tower didn’t invent his Fish Brand Pommel Slicker until 1881 and my story took place in 1877. Doggone it, how could I have missed that? But I did miss it and had to go back and change all my slicker references to the black Civil War gum blanket.

The gum blanket was made of 100% cotton canvas with a vulcanized black rubber coating, a process patented by Charles Goodyear in 1844.

Gum Blanket
The gum blanket was used as a ground cloth to protect the soldier from the dew while sleeping and with brass grommets around the edge, it could also be used as a make shift pup tent. It was used for protection from the cold and when used to for protection from the rain, it would keep the soldier dry from about the knee up.

While foot soldiers were issued a gum blanket, cavalry troops received a poncho, which was the same thing except with a neck opening and a stand-up collar. They were both call a Gum or Gum Blanket.


19 comments:

  1. Thank you Caroline and everyone here at Sweethearts of the West, for having me here today. This is a great place find new authors and learn about the lives of the people who were the real western heroes.

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  2. Fudiddle-do! I didn't check my facts way back when, and neither did my editor when I clothed Walks in Shadow in a yellow slicker in...1860. It was much later when I learned this fact, Kathy. Thanks for reminding me, though.

    Not sure, but no one ever mentioned my fau paux, so maybe many people don't know dates and such. I can hope. LOL

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  3. KATHY--wow, I'm impressed. Your article is one I've never read or heard about in a Western Historical. I'm glad your editor caught the error--don't you just hate having something wrong in there even though you may be the only one to notice.
    Once, I was reading a WH romance by one of the "big" authors, and she had her characters traveling from San Antonio south to Fort Worth. That just bugged the heck out of me! Thanks for being our guest--ps--I thought you had black hair. I don't know why. Celia

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  4. Kathy, Great information! Lost Hearts is a must read book. It runs the gamut of emotions and pulls at your heart strings for the two unlikely lovers.

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  5. Kathy, please accept my apology for the reversed and mixed up order of your post. Blogger and I had a knock-down-drag-out over posting this blog. Looks as if I lost. :-( Sorry. Yours is such a great blog, and we are fortunate you've shared.

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  6. how interesting, Kathy. I enjoyed the background of rain slickers. There's something about the yellow color that appeals to me in a way I can't explain. Perhaps I was a horse in a previous life!

    Wishing you all the best for Lost Hearts. It sounds like a great read.

    Maggie Toussaint
    author of romance and mystery
    www.maggietoussaint.com

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  7. Hi Joyce,

    I've made lots of little mistakes like that. I always worry someone will catch and throw my book against the wall. But reasearch is one of those things that the more you learn the more you realize you don't know.

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  8. Hi Celia,
    Being from Texas, you must catch a lot of glitches that those of us who live elsewhere make all the time. I read a book once from a big name author who put a red stripe on the hero's pants and he was in the cavalry.

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  9. Hi Paty,
    Thanks for stopping. I appreciate your kind words about my book. Best Wishes!

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  10. Hi Caroline,
    No problem. It worked. As you know, I still haven't figured out the picture thing and I appreciate the extra effort you took to make this post shine.

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  11. Interesting information, Kathy. I can't imagine making a tent out of their slickers, but they had to be frugal and travel light. It must have been a rough life living in the elements most of the time.

    Nice to get to know you today.

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  12. Hi Maggie,
    I guess yellow was the color of choice for cowboys, then and now. I just wanted my hero in the dark color because I couldn't picture someone as jaded as he is, wearing the yellow mustard.

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  13. Hi Paisley,
    Nice to meet you too. Those old gum blankets had gromets around the outside edge to make it easier to stake/tie out, and I guess they only used them as tents in an emergency. Normally they would have been in camp.

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  14. You always have the most interesting factoids from your research, Kathy.
    Lost Hearts was a wonderful story. Loved it.

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  15. Hi Sarah,
    Glad you could stop by. Research is kind of like a treasure hunt, and I'm always finding some odd bit of this or that.

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  16. Kathy,
    I can't tell you how much I appreciate your research on slickers. I've always gone by what I've noticed in Charles Russell's paintings of the old west roundups. I think most of his cowboys wore the Fish. And I love the remark that black spooked the horses. Our little papillon mix hates the color black, and will growl and woof at anyone who wears it, even the man she dearly loves, my husband. He had to take a bathrobe back to the store and replace it with a different color when she took an instant distrust to him the night he wore it. ;-) Also, it seems to me that black stands out over everything else. If you watch on the TV, or on a stage, or whatever, black catches your eye more than any other color. Seems to me it wouldn't be a good color to wear in the daylight if you were trying to avoid being shot by someone. Natural colored canvas is a much better choice, and the linseed oil must have turned it that odd color. Thanks so much for visiting us today, and solving the mystery of the colors of slickers. :-)

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  17. This is so interesting. thanks so much for doing the research on this. I don't write westerns, but I am fascinated with the stories. I'm also very glad I wasn't born back then!

    gotta love those stern cowboys, heroes all. (except for the bad ones, of course)

    I enjoyed the blog and the blurb!
    thanks,
    Lynne Marshall

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  18. Hi Jeanmarie,
    What an adorable little dog! I was watching an episode of It's Me or the Dog, and Victoria, the dog trainer said that dogs can see colors (red, green, blue, yellow I think she said). That's so funny that your husband had to take back his bathrobe.
    As for western heroes in black, I think of Tim Daly in THE OUTSIDER. He was a pretty sexy hero. And I've heard that black is the new white. As far as hats go anyway.

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  19. Hi Lynne,
    Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. Yes, I'm partial to those stern, strong, and silent type of heroes.

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