Wednesday, November 30, 2011


By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

In the not too distant past, a man and his golden palomino rode across motion picture and television screens, and into the hearts of millions of people around the world.

That man was Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys, and the fifth of November 2011 would have been his 100th birthday. To commemorate the Centennial of his birth, I wanted to honor Roy Rogers and his legacy.

I was not born when Roy Rogers had his motion picture box office success or popular television show, but my mother played his records and together we watched his old movies on television. As a little girl, the first thing I remember thinking about Roy Rogers was that he looked like my grandpa [pictured below]. He even talked like him.

I suppose the resemblance was what first captured my attention as a child, but I soon became a fan of this singing cowboy because he was so nice. It’s hard to not like someone who is kind, honest, and who stands up for truth and justice. In fact, when you think about it, Roy Rogers really exemplified the word hero. But who exactly was this man?

More often than not, it is our life experiences that both challenge and define our character, and by looking back at the family history and adversity Roy Rogers faced growing up, we get a glimpse into the foundation of his character. Just as important are the values instilled within him as a child -- faith, love, devotion to family, and the certain knowledge of what is right and wrong. I hope to illustrate in this post that Roy Rogers was not just playing a character on the silver screen. The goodness, kindness, compassion, integrity, and honesty that endeared him to so many millions was not the skill of an actor, but a deep-rooted reflection of his true self.

Born Leonard Franklin Slye on 05 November 1911 in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was just eight months old when his parents, Andrew and Mattie Womack Slye, steered a 12x50 foot houseboat (built by Mr. Slye from salvage lumber), along the Ohio River to Portsmouth. The family had purchased land where they hoped to build a real home, but a flood in 1913 forced them to anchor the houseboat on their land.

[Pictured: 1913 photo of Portsmouth's flood.]

In 1919, the family was able to purchase a small farm in Duck Run, approximately 12 miles from Portsmouth. Unfortunately, the farm didn’t provide enough income for the family’s support, so Andrew Slye secured a job at a shoe factory in Portsmouth. Mr. Slye lived in Portsmouth during the week and returned home on weekends to be with his family. He often brought gifts, one of which was a horse that first triggered (pun intended) the future cowboy star’s interest and skill in horseback riding.

[Pictured left: Leonard Slye with his sisters.]

For economic reasons, the Slye family returned to Cincinnati after Leonard completed eighth grade. Wanting to help support his family, Leonard quit school and started working at the same shoe factory as his father. He tried to attend night school, but quit after "being ridiculed for falling asleep in class". In 1929, after Leonard's older sister, Mary Slye, had married and moved to California, the family traveled west to visit her. Not long after returning home to Ohio, Leonard realized he wanted to live in California and moved there. In 1930, the rest of the Slye family also relocated.

The Great Depression hit the country hard; jobs were few and there was no guarantee finding one meant security. A company that had hired Leonard and his father as truck drivers went bankrupt, and soon the only jobs the family could find were as migrant workers -- a way of life many Americans were forced by circumstance to endure during the Depression. Like a page out of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, they traveled to various farms for field work, living in makeshift tents. In the midst of despair, as families struggled to stay together and survive, a young man named Leonard Slye would take out his guitar and sing for the other nomadic workers as they sat around the campfires at night.

When Andrew Slye heard a shoe factory in Los Angeles was hiring, he asked his son to go with him and apply for work. But Leonard had felt a strong connection with his music and singing. And he'd seen the happiness it brought other people. He told his father he wanted to try pursuing a singing career, and did so with his father's blessing.

Leonard moved with his cousin, Stanley Slye, to Los Angeles, and they tried to find work singing as The Slye Brothers. The duo didn’t fare well. Next, Leonard briefly joined a group called, Uncle Tom Murray’s Hollywood Hillbillies. Apparently, Uncle Tom Murray didn't believe in paying members of the group.

Still not willing to give up on his dream, Leonard appeared on a midnight amateur talent show hosted by KMCS, a radio station in Inglewood, California. The next day he was asked to join an instrumental group called The Rocky Mountaineers.Scheduled to perform on another radio station in Long Beach, California, the group needed a singer. Leonard accepted the job, but also suggested another person be added who could sing harmonies with him. Bob Nolan, a singer who played the guitar and fiddle, auditioned and got the job. [Pictured below: The Rocky Mountaineers]

Since the group was just starting out, they appeared on the radio in exchange for publicity and exposure. Nolan would eventually leave the group to accept a paying job as a caddy at the Bel Air Country Club.

Singer and yodeler Tim Spencer would take Nolan's place. Like Leonard and Bob Nolan, Spencer was also an aspiring songwriter. At this time, the group’s name was changed to the O-Bar-O Cowboys.

In 1933, the O-Bar-O Cowboys [pictured below] decided to promote themselves by touring the Southwest. Note: Leonard Slye is seen second from left, holding a guitar.

Nothing seemed to go their way. Their car kept breaking down. They had trouble getting paying jobs or finding an audience. And worse of all, they had little (if any) money for food. In fact, Leonard once borrowed a rifle and was able to feed the group with a jackrabbit one night, and a hawk for supper the next night.

They eventually arrived in Roswell, New Mexico, and at first it seemed their run of bad luck would continue. Each member of the group only had 50 cents to their name, and the only theatre in town was booked. Needing to find work, they went to the local radio station. In exchange for pay the group was allowed to have all the air time they wanted. They sang, they yodeled, and they told jokes -- often about how hungry they were. One listener in Roswell was a local girl named Grace 'Arlene' Wilkins. A few days earlier, Arlene had turned her radio dial and paused to listen to someone singing "The Swiss Yodel". That someone was Leonard Slye.

Arlene Wilkins tuned in every day hoping to hear the song again. When four days passed, she decided the next time the group joked about how hungry they were, she was going to be prepared. The day arrived when between numbers, Leonard Slye said, "I'd just about give my left arm for a piece of lemon pie like Mom makes back home." Hearing this, Arlene turned to her mother and said, "Those boys sound real hungry, mom." As Arlene expected, her mother agreed and suggested since they had plenty they could feed them. But Arlene wanted to exchange food for her favorite song. She told the group that if they would sing, "Swiss Yodel" on the air the following day, she would bring them a lemon pie.

Leonard stayed up all night practicing and the next day opened their radio show with Arlene's requested song. "Boy, did I yodel my lungs out!" he would later recall. But after he finished the song, the pie was not there. And when the show ended, the pie still had not been delivered. The disappointed group returned to their motel only to find two people waiting for them -- Mrs. Wilkins and her smiling 18-year old daughter holding freshly baked lemon pies.

What the group did not know was that Arlene had called the radio station to find out where the band was staying, and it just happened to be across the street from where she lived. Hungry as he was, Leonard was also smitten with Arlene. She would later recall, "He seemed kind of flustered, kept stammering 'thank you'. Kind of bashful, too. But not so bashful he didn't ask where we lived, so he could return the tins the next day."

The next day, Leonard returned the pie tins. As he stood in the Wilkins kitchen talking politely with her mother, Leonard became quickly tongue-tied when Arlene arrived. He later recalled, "She was even prettier than I had first thought." Arlene told him she was attending a business school but wanted to complete her studies in Los Angeles the next year. For her part, Mrs. Wilkins immediately saw what was happening between the two young people. Of course, as a mom she had some concerns. After all, the group had been telling the whole town on the radio that they were starving. But, Leonard Slye impressed her. He was polite, charming, and very shy. What harm could it do to invite Leonard and his friends to a fried chicken dinner that night?

Clearly, the highlight of the fledgling group's road tour was -- at least for Leonard -- meeting Arlene Wilkins in Roswell. But career-wise and financially, the three months of touring proved disastrous. By the time the group returned to Los Angeles in September 1933, the O-Bar-O Cowboys broke up. Tim Spencer took a job working in a Safeway warehouse, no longer thinking he could earn a living by singing. But Leonard was determined to stay in music. And he was also penning love letters to a pretty girl in Roswell, New Mexico.

Despite the fact that Leonard was now working with a group called, Jack and His Texas Outlaws, he told Spencer he thought they could make it on their own if they could convince Bob Nolan to join them. Both Leonard and Tim Spencer then went to the golf course. Although reluctant to give up a steady paycheck, Bob Nolan agreed. They became roommates and practiced for eight hours a day, determined to be the best and treating their rehearsing just like any other job.

The three friends called themselves, The Pioneer Trio.

[Pictured L-R: Tim Spencer, Bob Nolan, and Leonard Slye.]

Known for their beautiful harmony, yodeling, and excellent instrumentals, they became very popular on the radio. Still unpaid, they sang in exchange for advertising. It was not until a local newspaper columnist named Bernie Milligan kept mentioning them in his column that The Pioneer Trio started getting actual paying jobs. One of their first jobs earned each member $35.00 a week. In 1934, Harry Hall, a radio station announcer called the group, The Sons of the Pioneers instead of The Pioneer Trio. Hall said they were too young to be pioneers. The name stuck.


Successful radio and singing engagements soon followed. In August, 1934 they made their first recording of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”, (written by Bob Nolan) and “Moonlight on the Prairie” (written by M.K. Jerome, Joan Jasmyn, Tim Spencer, and Bob Nolan). They earned a whole penny for each record sold, and those pennies added up quickly. Other singers and musicians would eventually join founding members Leonard Slye, Bob Nolan, and Tim Spencer in The Sons of The Pioneers.

In 1936, The Sons of the Pioneers were scheduled to appear at the Texas Centennial Celebration in Dallas. As they traveled from California, Roy made time to stop in Roswell, New Mexico. On 14 June 1936, he married Arlene Wilkins in the living room of her family home.

In 1937, The Sons of the Pioneers signed an agreement to perform in films for Columbia Pictures. But when Leonard Slye was offered his own film contract as an actor with Republic Pictures, he had to leave the group.

In 1938, after officially changing his name to Roy Rogers, the man who would one day be known as King of the Cowboys began his film career as a leading man. His first film, "Under Western Skies" was a huge success. His films offered action, comedy, romance, music, and a moral lessons for impressionable youngsters. What some people may not know is that Roy Rogers was very athletic and performed the majority of his stunts. In addition to being considered one of the most talented horsemen in motion pictures, he was an exceptional marksman...and not just with a six-shooter. Roy's proficiency extended to rifles, shotguns, bows and arrows, and even a slingshot!

As for The Sons of the Pioneers, when their contract with Columbia Pictures ended, they quickly signed with Republic Pictures to be with their pal, Roy. Not only did they appear with Roy as supporting players in his films, the group performed with him on the radio, at public appearances, and made popular records together.

Needless to say, the greatest horseback rider on the silver screen had to have the greatest horse in motion pictures -- a certain Palomino named Trigger. Heck, he was so popular he even had his own comic book! An interesting bit of trivia about Trigger is that before he starred with Roy Rogers in all of his films, the Palomino was featured in "The Adventures of Robin Hood" with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Yep, that's Trigger that Maid Marion is riding through Sherwood Forest.

The attachment that Roy Rogers had for the golden palomino was pretty much love at first sight. Roy had personally selected the palomino (then named Golden Cloud) for his first film. And it was Roy Rogers who changed its name to Trigger. Roy not only loved that horse, he purchased Trigger. And wherever he traveled for a public appearance, Roy would make sure that Trigger was front and center outside the arena so that all the children could see him -- whether they had a ticket or not.

After years of hard work and perseverance, Roy Rogers had found his audience. He quickly became known as the King of the Cowboys, based on his huge popularity and the consistent box office success of his films. On the home front, he and Arlene were very happy, and had begun to raise a family of their own. [Pictured: Roy Rogers and wife, Arlene, with their first child, Cheryl.]

In 1944, Roy Rogers was slated to begin his next film, "The Cowboy and the Senorita", when a new contract player at Republic Pictures was cast as his leading lady. Her name was Dale Evans. Ironically, the woman who would one day be called Queen of the West never wanted to be in westerns. In fact, despite being a native Texan, she'd never learned how to ride a horse. Roy Rogers and some of the wranglers on the set taught her.

Dale Evans was born Frances Octavia Smith on 31 October 1912 in Uvalde, Texas. When she was seven years old, her family moved to Arkansas. As a small child, she showed great musical ability and performed solos in her church.

Bright as she was musically gifted, little Frances excelled in school and skipped several grades -- which could explain why she was more mature for her age. In fact, she eloped at the age of fourteen, gave birth to a son at fifteen, and was divorced at sixteen. To support herself and her son, she attended business school and obtained a job with an insurance company. Fate intervened when her boss heard her singing at work, and encouraged her to sing on the radio.

In 1931, she was hired to sing on a radio station in Louisville, Kentucky. Only nineteen years old, she used the professional name, Marion Lee. However, while on the air one day a station executive changed her name to Dale Evans. She would next move to Dallas, Texas, where she was hired as the featured vocalist on a popular morning radio show. She married R. Dale Butts, a pianist and arranger she'd met in Louisville. When her husband was hired by NBC as a composer-arranger in Chicago, the couple relocated. At this time, Dale started singing with the Jay Millis Orchestra, and then was hired to sing (and tour) with the Anson Weeks Orchestra. While touring with the orchestra, she was asked to make a screen test with 20th Century Fox. Despite being awarded a one-year contract at $400 per week, she was only given small, non-speaking parts in two films.

After leaving 20th Century Fox, she became the featured vocalist for the "Chase and Sanborn Hour", a radio show starring Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. In 1942, she was awarded a new movie contract with Republic Pictures, and was soon featured in the 1943 John Wayne film, Old Oklahoma. Unfortunately, the demands of her contract with Republic and trying to make her long-distance marriage to Butts work proved too stressful for the couple; they divorced in 1945.

Although Dale never complained and worked hard in the westerns that Republic repeatedly cast her in, her patience was wearing thin. Much as she liked the people she worked with, and had befriended both Roy Rogers and his wife, Arlene, she didn't want to be in just westerns. So, when her contract came up for renewal with Republic Pictures, Dale left the studio.

In November, 1946, tragedy struck the life of Roy Rogers. Just one week after the joyous birth of their son, Roy Rogers, Jr., Roy's beloved wife, Arlene (having suffered complications from a Caesarean section) died suddenly of an embolism. In addition to their son, nicknamed Dusty, the happily married couple also had two young daughters, Cheryl and Linda.

Emotionally devastated and a single father to three small children, Roy continued to work hard making several films a year, in addition to numerous public appearances across the country. As fate would have it, her ran into Dale Evans in Atlantic City, where she had a singing engagement. Roy suggested she return to Republic Pictures and make more movies with him. She gently refused, but eventually returned to Republic Pictures where she made two "non-western" movies. Both films were unsuccessful. Perhaps westerns weren't so bad after all?

Reunited on screen to the delight of their audiences, the respect and friendship Roy Rogers and Dale Evans always had blossomed into love. In the fall of 1947, while mounted on his trusty Palomino and waiting to ride into a rodeo arena in Chicago, Roy Rogers proposed to Dale Evans. They were married on New Year's Eve of 1947.

Not long after the couple married, Dale Evans became a born again Christian, and found great peace with a deeper devotion to her faith. After seeing the happiness and joy her faith brought his wife, Roy Rogers also made a renewed commitment to Christianity.

In 1952, while in rehearsal to appear at Madison Square Garden in New York City, promoters balked when they learned Roy Rogers planned to sing the hymn, "How Great Thou Art". After telling him he could not preach to the audience, they suggested he change the lyrics and take out any mention of God. Roy refused, and said either he sang the words and lyrics as written or he, Dale, and Trigger would cancel their engagement.

Remember, a hero always stands up for what he believes. Over the next 26 days, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans had 43 performances, all of them breaking box office records...and "How Great Thou Art" was sung at every show. In the 1950s, Roy added "Peace in the Valley", to his concert, with Trigger kneeling beside him.

When Roy's contract with Republic Pictures came up for renewal in 1951, he wanted the right to do television. The studio declined, and he suspected the reason. They wanted to take his movies and shorten them for television. There was just one hitch to their plan. Several years earlier when Roy had wanted a raise, the studio offered him a new clause in his contract instead of more money. The clause, which Roy accepted, gave him all legal rights to his name and likeness. With that in hand, he decided to make his own television show.

The Roy Rogers Show debuted on 30 December 1951. The show featured Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Trigger and Buttermilk (Dale's mare), and Bullet The Wonder Dog (who happened to be the family's real pet). Airing on NBC every Sunday night, the show ran until 1957 and always ended with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans singing "Happy Trails" (written by Dale Evans).

The popularity of Roy Rogers exploded because of television. In 1950, there were over 2,000 fan clubs worldwide. Product endorsements flourished. His picture was a constant on 2.5 billion boxes of cereal. However, Roy stipulated that he would not endorse any product that could hurt someone, or break easily. In fact, samples of the products were given to Roy and Dale for testing by their own kids.

In addition to his three children by his previous marriage, and Dale's son from her first marriage, the couple had four adopted children and Dale gave birth to one daughter named Robin. Robin would tragically die two days before her second birthday in 1952, from complications of Down's syndrome.

Throughout his life, Roy Rogers was honored with many awards. In 1949, Roy and Trigger had their boot marks and hoof marks, respectively, preserved in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. In 1953, he was awarded the Golden Apple for the "Most Cooperative Actor".

In 1980, The Sons of the Pioneers (with its founding member, Roy Rogers) were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and have also been named National Treasures by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. In 1988, Roy Rogers was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame as an individual. He also has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for Motion Pictures, Television, and Radio.

“Together, all of us can make a difference for our beloved nation’s greatest treasure: its children.” ~ Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

Lifelong philanthropists, one of the charitable organizations that Roy Rogers and Dale Evans supported was the Victor Valley Child Abuse Task Force. Founded in 1982 in San Bernadino County, California, and dedicated to helping children in crisis, its name was changed to The Happy Trails Children's Foundation in 1992 in honor of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, for their support and dedication.

Roy Rogers was 88 years old when he passed away on 6 July 1998. But somehow I think it's more appropriate to just say he rode off into the sunset on a golden palomino. And yet, it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to consider the continuing impact he has had on the lives (and imaginations) of people.

Who amongst us wasn't reminded of Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and Trigger when the endearing Pixar animated characters of Woody the Sheriff, Jessica the Yodeling Cowgirl, and Bullsye came to life in the Toy Story films? Not only was Sheriff Woody the quintessential cowboy hero, he had his own television show and vast array of collectible merchandise (which played a key plot role in Toy Story 2). Even the "Woody's Roundup" theme song from the character's fictitious television show is reminiscent of the vocals we remember from Roy and The Sons of the Pioneers.

Still, precious animated characters aside, there remains only one true King of the Cowboys in the hearts of millions to this day. In fact, here is a video tribute to Mr. Roy Rogers, featuring a song written and performed by his son, Roy "Dusty" Rogers, Jr. I can think of no better way to close my post.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by the Sweethearts of the West blog.

Happy Trails! ~ AKB

Monday, November 28, 2011


My heroes are all wounded. Not just emotionally, but physically, as well. Being a hero in a Cheryl Pierson story is like being an expendable member of the landing party on Star Trek. If you had on a red shirt when you beamed down to the planet’s surface, you could pretty well figure you weren’t going to be returning to the Enterprise in one piece, or alive.

In my debut TWRP historical western release, Fire Eyes, U.S. Marshal Kaed Turner is tortured and shot at the hands of the villain, Andrew Fallon, and his gang of cutthroats. A band of Choctaw Indians deposit Kaed on Jessica Monroe’s doorstep with instructions to take care of him. “Do not allow him to die,” the chief tells her.

Can she save him? Or will he meet the same fate that befell her husband, Billy? Although Kaed’s injuries are severe, he recovers under a combination of Jessica’s expert care and his own resolve and inner strength.

The injuries he sustained give him the time he needs to get to know Jessica quickly. Their relationship becomes more intimate in a shorter time span due to the circumstances. Under normal conditions of courtship, the level their relationship skyrockets to in just a few days would take weeks, or months.

Wounding the hero is a way to also show the evil deeds of the villain. We can develop a kinship with the hero as he faces what seem to be insurmountable odds against the villain. How will he overcome those odds? Even if he weren’t injured, it would be hard enough—but now, we feel each setback more keenly than ever. He’s vulnerable in a way he has no control over. How will he deal with it, in the face of this imminent danger?

Enter the heroine. She’ll do what she can to help, but will it be enough to make a difference? This is her chance to show what she’s made of, and further the relationship between them. (If he dies, of course, that can’t happen.)

From this point on, as the hero begins to recover, he also regains his confidence as well as his strength.

It’s almost like “The Six Million Dollar Man”: We can build him stronger…faster…better…

He will recover, but now he has something to lose—the newfound love between him and the heroine. Now, he’s deadlier than ever, and it’s all about protecting the woman he loves.

Or, his injuries may give him a view of life that he hadn’t hoped for before. Maybe the heroine’s care and the ensuing love between them make the hero realize qualities in himself he hadn’t known were there.

In my holiday short story, A Night For Miracles, wounded gunman Nick Dalton arrives on widow Angela Bentley’s doorstep in a snowstorm. Angela is tempted at first to turn him away, until she realizes he’s traveling with three half-frozen youngsters, and he’s bleeding.

As she settles the children into the warmth of her home and begins to treat Nick’s injury, she realizes it’s Christmas Eve—“A Night For Miracles,” Nick says wryly. “I’m ready for mine.”

In this excerpt, the undercurrents between them are strong, but Nick realizes Angela’s fears. She’s almost as afraid of taking in a gunman with a reputation as she is of being alone again.


Angela placed the whiskey-damp cloth against the jagged wound. The man flinched, but held himself hard against the pain. Finally, he opened his eyes. She looked into his sun-bronzed face, his deep blue gaze burning with a startling, compelling intensity as he watched her. He moistened his lips, reminding Angela that she should give him a drink. She laid the cloth in a bowl and turned to pour the water into the cup she’d brought.

He spoke first. “What…what’s your name?” His voice was raspy with pain, but held an underlying tone of gentleness. As if he were apologizing for putting her to this trouble, she thought. The sound of it comforted her. She didn’t know why, and she didn’t want to think about it. He’d be leaving soon.

“Angela.” She lifted his head and gently pressed the metal cup to his lips. “Angela Bentley.”

He took two deep swallows of the water. “Angel,” he said, as she drew the cup away and set it on the nightstand. “It fits.”

She looked down, unsure of the compliment and suddenly nervous. She walked to the low oak chest to retrieve the bandaging and dishpan. “And you are…”

“Nick Dalton, ma’am.” His eyes slid shut as she whirled to face him. A cynical smile touched his lips. “I see…you’ve heard of me.”

A killer. A gunfighter. A ruthless mercenary. What was he doing with these children? She’d heard of him, all right, bits and pieces, whispers at the back fence. Gossip, mainly. And the stories consisted of such variation there was no telling what was true and what wasn’t.

She’d heard. She just hadn’t expected him to be so handsome. Hadn’t expected to see kindness in his eyes. Hadn’t expected to have him show up on her doorstep carrying a piece of lead in him, and with three children in tow. She forced herself to respond through stiff lips. “Heard of you? Who hasn’t?”

He met her challenging stare. “I mean you no harm.”

She remained silent, and he closed his eyes once more. His hands rested on the edge of the sheet, and Angela noticed the traces of blood on his left thumb and index finger. He’d tried to stem the blood flow from his right side as he rode. “I’m only human, it seems, after all,” he muttered huskily. “Not a legend tonight. Just a man.”

He was too badly injured to be a threat, and somehow, looking into his face, she found herself trusting him despite his fearsome reputation. She kept her expression blank and approached the bed with the dishpan and the bandaging tucked beneath her arm. She fought off the wave of compassion that threatened to engulf her. It was too dangerous. When she spoke, her tone was curt. “A soldier of fortune, from what I hear.”

He gave a faint smile. “Things aren’t always what they seem, Miss Bentley.”

And for those of you who can't get enough of hunky wounded heroes, this is from my latest short story, MEANT TO BE, in the 2011 Christmas Collection:
Robin stumbled, and Jake reached to steady her. An arrow ripped through the flesh of his thigh, scorching a trail of lightning through his skin. He cried out in mingled pain and surprise as his leg folded under him. Robin stopped and turned, dropping to kneel beside him.


He looked up into her face. She was frightened, understandably; but her concern for him outweighed any other emotion in her expression.

“Leave me,” he panted, grasping the shaft of the arrow and breaking it off close to the skin. Cheyenne markings.

“Forget it.” She tugged at his arm, trying to help him to his feet. “Can you walk?”

The determination in her tone brooked no disagreement. Besides, there was no time for it. Jake forced himself to struggle up and they started for the riverbank once more. Another shot came from behind them, but they’d just managed to enter the outer fringe of trees, the recesses of the woods offering welcome shelter.

“Where?” she asked breathlessly.

Jake nodded. “Straight ahead. There’s—there’s a cave up here. Not far.”

Robin’s eyes filled with anxiety.

“I’m okay,” he reassured her. “Let’s just get safe.” The pain had become a constant throb of fire with each step, the embedded arrowhead moving against flesh. Jake cast a glance behind him. There was no movement. Their attackers must have decided that following them into the woods was not the most prudent thing to do.

Their steps slowed as they made their way toward the mouth of the cave. Ahead, across the river, the entrance beckoned, partially hidden behind a wall of scrubby brush. Jake had to get off his leg. The bleeding was bad, and the pain was not going to let up—not as long as he was walking.

Robin reached to take the rifle from him, and he gave it to her with a reluctant sigh.

She smiled. “I’ll take good care of it.”

“The river’s shallow here, and narrow, but we’ll be in the open for a few minutes.” He motioned for her to go on. “You…get ahead of me. In front.”


“Don’t argue,” he told her sharply. “If you get shot, how will you get back to your time?” He didn’t wait for an answer, though she looked as if she badly wanted to say something. She started ahead of him, his hand at her back, his gait made awkward by the hole in his thigh and the embedded length of the arrow. The pain was more excruciating with each step he took, and twice, he almost went to his knees, barely able to regain his balance at the last moment.

The river was low here, barely flowing across the tops of their boots, but the footing was rocky and slippery. Robin was careful to hold the rifle aloft as she slogged through the running water. Jake kept close to her back, cursing his own earlier lack of awareness. But how could he have been aware of anything other than the kiss he shared with Robin? Just thinking of it now, and the emotions that moment had awakened in him, eased the pain in his leg a bit. At least, it gave him something good to think about.


Saturday, November 26, 2011


Dime Novels led to
western romance
By Caroline Clemmons

How many times have your heard the term dime novel? Do you think of the frontier west, or of detective stories?

Dime novel, though it has a specific meaning, has also become a catch-all term for several different (but related) forms of late 19th-century and early 20th-century U.S. popular fiction, including "true" dime novels, story papers, five- and ten-cent weekly libraries, "thick book" reprints, and sometimes even early pulp magazines. The term was being used as late as 1940, in the short-lived pulp Western Dime Novels.

Dime novels are, at least in spirit, the antecedent of today’s mass market paperbacks, comic books, and even television shows and movies based on the dime novel genres. Dime novels provided easily understood entertainment for anyone who could read, and at an affordable price. A dime would have been a sizable investment in the mid 19th century, but a novel can be re-read many times and/or traded with another family.

In the modern age, dime novel has become a term to describe any quickly written, lurid potboiler and as such is generally used as a derisive term to describe a sensationalized yet superficial piece of written work.

A Beadles'
Dime Novels
Generally, historians agree that the term dime novel originated with the first book in Beadle & Adam's Beadle’s Dime Novels series, MALEASKA, THE INDIAN WIFE OF THE WHITE HUNTER, by Ann S. Stephens, dated June 9, 1860. Aha! A female author breaking in a new tradition!

The novel was essentially a reprint of Stephens's earlier serial that appeared in the Ladies' Companion Magazine in February, March, and April 1839. The dime novels varied in size, even within this first Beadle series, but were roughly 6.5 by 4.25 inches, with 100 pages.

The first 28 were published without a cover illustration, in a salmon colored paper wrapper, but a woodblock print was added with issue 29, and reprints of the first 28 had an illustration added to the cover. Of course, the books were priced at ten cents.

This series ran for 321 issues, and established almost all the conventions of the genre, from the lurid and outlandish story to the melodramatic double titling that was used right up to the very end in the 1920s. Most of the stories were frontier tales (Works for me!) reprinted from the vast backlog of serials in the story papers and other sources, as well as many originals.

As the popularity of dime novels increased, original stories came to be the norm. The books were themselves reprinted many times, sometimes with different covers, and the stories were often further reprinted in different series, and by different publishers.

Dime novels and papers
Beadle’s Dime Novels were immediately popular among young, working-class audiences, owing to an increased literacy rate around the time of the American Civil War. By the War’s end, there were numerous competitors like George Munro and Robert DeWitt crowding the field, distinguishing their product only by title and the color choice of the paper wrappers.

As a whole, the quality of the fiction was derided by higher brow critics and the term dime novel quickly came to represent any form of cheap, sensational fiction, rather than the specific format.

The New Dime Novel Series introduced color covers, but reprinted stories from the original series. In 1874, Beadle & Adams, through the added novelty of color to the covers (see photo in first paragraph above), their New Dime Novels series replaced the flagship title. The New Dime Novels were issued with a dual numbering system on the cover, one continuing the numbering from the first series, and the second and more prominent one indicating the number within the current series, i.e., the first issue was numbered 1. The stories were largely reprints from the first series. Like its predecessor, Beadle’s New Dime Novels ran for 321 issues, until 1885.

As noted, much of the material for the dime novels came from the story papers, which were weekly, eight page newspaper-like publications, varying in size from tabloid to a full fledged newspaper format, and usually costing five or six cents. They started in the mid 1850’s and were immensely popular, some titles running for over fifty years on a weekly schedule. They are perhaps best described as the television of their day, containing a variety of serial stories and articles, with something aimed at each members of the family, and often illustrated profusely with woodcut illustrations. Popular story papers included The Saturday Journal, Young Men of America, Golden Weekly, Golden Hours, Good News, Happy Days.

Although the larger part of the stories stood alone, in the late 1880s series characters began to appear and quickly grew in popularity. The original Frank Reade stories first appeared in Boys of New York. Old Sleuth, appearing in The Fireside Companion story paper beginning in 1872, was the first dime novel detective and began the trend away from the western and frontier stories that dominated the story papers and dime novels up to that time. He was the first character to use the word "sleuth" to denote a detective, the word’s original definition being that of a bloodhound trained to track. And he also is responsible for the popularity of the use of the word "old" in the names of competing dime novel detectives, such as Old Cap Collier, Old Broadbrim, Old King Brady, Old Lightning, Old Ferret and many, many others. Nick Carter first appeared in 1886 in The New York Weekly. All three characters would graduate to their own ten-cent weekly titles within a few years.

Black and
white version
In 1873, the house of Beadle & Adams had introduced a new ten-cent format, 9 by 13.25 inches, with only 32 pages and a black and white illustrated cover, with the title New and Old Friends. It was not a success, but the format was so much cheaper to produce that they tried again in 1877. The Fireside Library, the first reprinted English love stories, and Frank Starr’s New York Library, which contained hardier material. Both titles caught on. Publishers were no less eager to follow a new trend then than now. Soon the newsstands were flooded by ten-cent weekly "libraries". Each issue tended to feature a single story, as opposed to the story papers, and many of them were devoted to single characters. Frontier stories, evolving into westerns (Yay!), were still popular, but the new vogue tended to urban crime stories. One of the most successful titles, Frank Tousey’s New York Detective Library eventually came to alternate stories of the James Gang with stories of Old King Brady, detective, and in a rare occurrence in the dime novel world, there were several stories which featured them both, with Old King Brady doggedly on the trail of the vicious gang.

As now, the competition was fierce, and publishers were always looking for an edge. Once again, color came into the fray when Frank Tousey introduced a weekly with brightly colored covers in 1896. Street & Smith countered by issuing a smaller format weekly with muted colors Such titles as New Nick Carter Weekly (continuing the original black and white Nick Carter Library), Tip-Top Weekly (introducing Frank Merriwell) and others were 7 x 10 with thirty-two pages of story, but the 8.5 x 11 Tousey format carried the day and Street & Smith, soon followed suit. The price was also dropped to five cents, making the magazines more accessible to children. This would be the last major permutation of the product before it evolved into pulp magazines. Ironically, for many years it has been the nickel weeklies that most people refer to when using the term "dime novel."

The nickel weeklies proved very popular, and their numbers grew quickly. Frank Tousey and Street & Smith dominated the field. Tousey had his "big six": Work and Win (featuring Fred Fearnot, a serious rival to the soon to be popular Frank Merriwell) Secret Service, Pluck and Luck, Wild West Weekly, Fame and Fortune, and The Liberty Boys of ’76, all of which ran over a thousand weekly issues apiece. Street & Smith had New Nick Carter Weekly, Tip Top Weekly, Buffalo Bill Stories, Jesse James Stories, Brave & Bold Weekly and many others. The Tousey stories were on the whole the more lurid and sensational of the two. And wasn't there a series with a hero named Jack Armstrong?

Is he stealing
her jewels  or
comforting her?
Perhaps the most confusing of all the various formats that are lumped together under the term dime novel are the so-called "thick-book" series, largely published by Street & Smith, J. S. Ogilvie and Arthur Westbrook. These books were published in series, ran roughly 150-200 pages, and were 4.75 by 7 inches, often with color covers on a higher grade stock. They reprinted multiple stories from the five- and ten-cent weeklies, often slightly rewritten to tie the material together.  I have one of the thick book novels handed down in my family. Unfortunately, it’s in tatters now, but I’ve saved it anyway. I wish I knew more about the history of the specific book I have.

All dime novel publishers were canny about repurposing material, but Street & Smith made it more of an art form. Hmmm, does this remind you of one or two of today's publishers? The dime novel publishers developed the practice of publishing four consecutive, related tales of, for example, Nick Carter, in the weekly magazine, then combining the four stories into one edition of the related thick book series, in this instance, the New Magnet Library. The Frank Merriwell stories appeared in the Medal, New Medal and Merriwell Libraries, Buffalo Bill in the Buffalo Bill Library and Far West Library, and so on.

*Note: What confuses many dealers and new collectors today is that though the thick books were still in print as late as the 1930s, they carry the original copyright date of the story, often as early as the late nineteenth century, leading some to assume they have original dime novels when the books are only distantly related.

In 1896, Frank Munsey had converted his juvenile magazine, The Argosy, into a fiction magazine for adults and the first pulp. By the turn of the century, new high-speed printing techniques combined with the cheaper pulp paper allowed him to drop the price from twenty five cents to ten cents, and the magazine really took off.

In 1910 Street and Smith converted two of their nickel weeklies, New Tip Top Weekly and Top Notch Magazine, into pulps; in 1915, Nick Carter Stories, itself a replacement for the New Nick Carter Weekly, morphed into Detective Story Magazine, and in 1919, New Buffalo Bill Weekly became Western Story Magazine. Harry Wolff, the successor in interest to the Frank Tousey titles, continued to reprint many of them up into the mid 1920s, most notably Secret Service, Pluck and Luck, Fame and Fortune, and Wild West Weekly. The latter two were purchased by Street & Smith in 1926 and converted into pulp magazines the following year. That effectively ended the reign of the dime novel.

Julie Garwood's
Dime novels endeared western lore to the nation, even spreading throughout the world. Read Julie Garwood’s PRINCE CHARMING (one of my all-time favorite novels) for a look at how they spread to the UK and a young English woman took them to heart. Who knew her fascination would prepare her for the ordeal to come when she must save her young niece and nephew?

People followed the exploits of legendary heroes in the West. Talk about literary license? The fact that most of the tales were pure drivel didn’t matter a whit to their eager audience. The lure was cast, and many took the bait and headed to America’s West.

But what began my personal love of the West? In the evenings, my dad often told stories of his family coming to Texas after the Civil War. I couldn’t hear enough of those tales. Even after I’d memorized them, I urged him to retell each one. And guess who sneaked peaks at his detective magazines when he was at work?

Roy Rogers
Next came the movies: Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lone Ranger, Hoppalong Cassidy. Have I forgotten any? Personally, I wanted to ride the range with Roy, saving the West from the bank robbers and rustlers I was certain plagued the land. My family and I watched "Bonanza," "Gunsmoke," "Rifleman," "Maverick," and others and never tired of them. Then life intervened, as it did for all would-be cowgirls and cowboys. 

 As an adult, I discovered Louis L’Amour. Don’t hate me, but you can have Kathleen Woodiwiss’ books. You gasp, and I hope you’re not gathering tar and feathers! I met her once at a Houston writer’s conference and I readily admit she was a lovely person and we owe her a huge debt for popularizing historical romance novels. As well, I love the books of many other western romance authors, and especially the writers who are members of this blog!

 However, Louis L’Amour is my author hero--as you learned if you read my post a few months ago. I’ve read each of his books at least twice, and several of them too many times to count. FALLON is my personal favorite: what woman can resist a man who thinks he’s bad but is actually a good, hard working, clever man protective of others?

Cattle drive
 I usually choose to write about 1870-1890 and the time of the Texas cattle drives. Yeehaw! Yes, I also write contemporary cowboys, but none are more appealing to me than those of the late 19th century. So many things fascinate me about this time period. Would I have wanted to live then instead of now? Are you crazy? I like my current creature comforts, thank you, but I love reading and writing about that earlier time.

In that time period, the Civil War and Reconstruction were over, yet law and order was far from established. Men--and women--were often isolated and had to defend themselves and their families. If there was an area lawman, he was often too far away to offer immediate help.

When the Civil War was over, men returned home (if they still had one). In Texas and a few other states, many unbranded cattle had bred during the war and ran wild. An industrious man could gather these and place his own brand on them, then drive them to market in Kansas. According to T. H. Fehrenback in his book LONE STAR: A HISTORY OF TEXAS AND THE TEXANS, cattle sold for two dollars a head in Texas in 1875, but brought ten dollars a head in Kansas. Since cowboys made the same wage per month and received the same food regardless of where they rode, it cost no more for a rancher to have his ranch hands drive cattle to market. Fortunes were built during this time!

by Frederick Remington
 The wealth didn’t come without cost. Danger lurked everywhere in the West, but on the trail hazards multiplied. Indians, rustlers posing as Indians, rustlers posing as law men, and a plethora of bad men wanted the benefit of others’ hard work.

Then there were the natural disasters: swollen rivers, lightning storms, and stampedes. Plus Texas cattle sometimes carried tick fever and threatened to infect cattle in other states. Cattlemen from the intervening areas crusaded to block Texas cattle from crossing into their area, and it’s no wonder, is it? The astonishing fact is that any cattle made it to market.

Couple riding
at sunset
  Yes, you say, but how can it be a romance when there were no women on cattle drives. You’re right, you’re so right. Cowboys are a superstitious lot, and they believed women on a drive brought bad luck. In that way, cattle drives are far from romantic.

The Most Unsuitable Wife
Available now at
Amazon Kindle
and Smashwords

If you’ve read my book THE MOST UNSUITABLE WIFE (available for only 99 cents from Amazon Kindle), you learned that wives were not invited on a cattle drive. Definitely! No, it’s not the actual cattle drive that appeals to me, but the era. A young man with nothing could homestead land, gather unbranded cattle or buy a few head, and create a small ranch. With hard work and perseverance, he could expand. Of course, then he’d need a wife to share his life. They’d face trouble--it always came--and stand side by side to triumph. Well, that’s the way it happens in my novels.

Brides' memoirs,
by Chris Enss
Women from areas where most young men had died in the Civil War didn’t have to remain spinsters. They could travel West and marry, sometimes via mail-order arrangements. How many mail-order western romances have your read? I’ve read too many to count, but I still love them. There were wagon trains heading West (love those wagon train romances, too!), then stages and locomotives. By traveling West, a single woman had an opportunity for a family of her own. I think I’d have risked it, wouldn’t you?

Reading about people who adapt to new circumstances, meet obstacles they’d never imagined, and triumph while finding a soul mate is very romantic. Who wouldn’t love a tale like that?

Hand me that book by Celia Yeary, would you? Yes, the one that was a finalist for The Romance Reviews Best Books of 2010, TEXAS TRUE. Sure I've read it, but I reread favorites, don't you? I’m in the mood to read more about romance under western skies. If you share that mood, why not try a book by one of the Sweethearts of the West authors?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Blessings

Hello, Lauri Robinson here, a new Sweethhearts of the West member. I write and read, and read, and read, historical westerns. That’s not to say I don’t read other genres, but put a pair of cowboy boots on the hero and I’m captured, lock, stock, and barrel until the last page even if it means I don’t shut off the light until the wee hours of the morning. 

This is me—the snow princess at my granddaughter’s princess birthday party last year. Dressing up was NOT optional, and I believe this moment was captured as the punch bowl teetered and well,that's another story.

I write for Harlequin, Mills and Boon and The Wild Rose Press, and will have five books released in 2012 starting in January, but I’ll tell you more about them in another blog. Today it’s about Thanksgiving. 

As many of us were taught, the first Thanksgiving took place in the fall 1621. It was a three day feast of thanks hosted by the Pilgrims and a local tribe of Wampanoag. Intermittent days of thanks continued for the next hundred and fifty years, often celebrating an event, good harvest, or end of a time period, such as a drought or battle.

In 1777, George Washington declared the last Thursday in November as a ‘national day of public thanksgiving and prayer’ which all thirteen colonies celebrated, particularly giving thanks for the new constitution of the newly formed nation. The next national day was declared in 1789, by then President George Washington. However, it still didn’t become a ‘yearly’ celebration, until 1863.

For over 40 years, Sara Josepha Hale, the author of Mary had a Little Lamb, advocated for an annual day of Thanksgiving, and during the Civil War while looking for a way to bring the nation together, President Abraham Lincoln consulted with Ms. Hale prior to issuing the Thanksgiving Proclamation that declared the last Thursday of November (based on Washington’s date) as a national holiday.

75 years later, in 1939 retailers begged President Franklin D. Roosevelt to change Thanksgiving to the second to the last Thursday of the month, therefore giving people more shopping days before Christmas. He did so, but the confusion didn’t settle well with the county. Calendars were off, schools vacations had to be rescheduled, and yes, even football games reorganized. Many believed the reason of the date change was not a fitting cause and controversy split the nation. 23 states agreed to change the date, and 23 states refused. Colorado and Texas chose to celebrate both days. Even though businesses reported no real direct change in shopping, the two Thanksgivings (with states choosing which to observe) continued until 1941 when congress passed a law declaring Thanksgiving as a national holiday that would occur on the fourth Thursday of November every year.

So, there you have it. 

History and controversy aside, for me, Thanksgiving is all about family. We lost a very integral part of our family when my mother passed away in June, and Thanksgiving without her and her coleslaw, sweet potatoes, beet pickles and pumpkin pies is going to be bittersweet. Happiness will abound as we gather together for it always does, and sadness will enter in as we miss those we’ve lost while reminiscing of past Thanksgivings as we always do.  (This is hubby and me, my mother, our three sons, their wives and children (absent one sleeping baby and two step grandsons).

Thankfulness for all the blessing we continually receive will also be abundant as we celebrate the day. If I live to be a hundred, nothing will ever replace the sweetness of the word “Grandma!” I am thankful for so much, every day of my life—for living in a wonderful country, for freedom, for my right to worship God, for all the obvious and not to be taken lightly things which include my family, home, community, friends, vocation, my publishers and their belief in me, and especially the people who read and find delight in my books. Thanks for sharing this wonderful life with me.

My Thanksgiving wish is that each and every one of you has a blessed and beautiful holiday.