Friday, August 30, 2013

BUFFALO HUNTERS - HOW RESEARCH HELPED ME CREATE A HERO

By Ashley Kath-Bilsky

For those of you who have read ‘Whisper in the Wind’, my time travel romance set in 1885 Texas, you learned that Jordan Blake, the Pinkerton detective and hero of that book, had an older brother named Ethan. Ethan had been captured by a band of renegade Comanche as a young boy, and the ensuing years of not knowing the fate of his brother haunted Jordan. In fact, the determination to find Ethan was the reason Jordan became a Texas Ranger and ultimately a Pinkerton. Unfortunately, Jordan never discovered what happened to Ethan. No matter how hard or long he searched, he could never find any trace of Ethan Blake.

Since the Windswept Texas Romance books are a series of linked novels about the Blake family, and ‘Spirit of the Wind’ is Ethan’s story, I had to play detective and dig deep to develop the character and his back story. In order to understand the man he became, I needed to understand what happened to that little boy, too. What was the emotional and psychological impact on Ethan being raised by the people who murdered his parents, and took him captive? When and how did he break away from their influence, and how did he survive in those early years of adulthood. Every little detail from the obvious lapse in schooling, the customs and traditions impressed upon him by the Comanche culture, to how he interacted with people, are key influences that make up the man.

When a writer starts doing research for a specific character or a plot, it can be exciting or frustrating. In my efforts to create Ethan’s past and the time period in which that past took place, the key for me was survival. What did he do to earn a living? I came upon one possibility that provided income but also would cause problems for someone raised by Indians as to the importance of the buffalo and the guilt he might feel about his actions toward a revered animal. I also discovered intriguing secondary characters and plot angles. And this is only one part of what research can do for a writer. So, today, I am going to provide you with a glimpse into the past of the mysterious Ethan Blake, and just one of the paths he chose to survive in the white man’s world.

The buffalo, also known as the American bison, provided the main source of sustenance for the Native American Indians; its meat was used for nourishment, the buffalo’s hide was used for shelter and clothing, and buffalo fat was used for cooking, etc. So indebted were the Indians to the buffalo, they would take a buffalo robe that had been painted and embroidered with a quill, and leave it as an offering of thanksgiving in a high area of ground. To the various tribes of American Indians, the herds were plentiful as the stars and as constant as the wind. But just like their lives, all that changed when the white man migrated west.

As more and more settlers moved west along with the railroad, the demand for buffalo hides increased tremendously. Before the advent of the railroad, only well-tanned Indian robes were considered profitable enough to transport by overland wagons or river boats. Yet, the Iron Horse would take any buffalo hide, including flint hides and hides that had been wind-dried and not tanned.

[Pictured: Texas Buffalo Hunters; Courtesy Texas State Library and Archives]

Hide hunters came by the thousands and took only the hides of the buffalo, leaving the meat to rot on the prairie -- a fact that would have disgusted Ethan Blake who understood the importance of the bison in the lives of Indians. Needless to say, the ever-increasing intrusion of the white man on their lands and now the slaughter of their buffalo did not sit well with the Indians either. Tempers flared. Even the threat of attack by Indians wearing war paint did not hinder the hunters. They were determined to make money, and buffalo hides were "as good as the price of gold" at the hide yards situated near the railroad. The lightning speed with which multitudes of buffalo were killed by these hide men was mitigated by the firepower they had. With long-range buffalo rifles, they could pick off a herd in quick succession. At this time, the Indians could only hunt with bows and arrows since they were no longer able to trade buffalo robes for guns or ammunition.

Many tribes had become so impoverished they no longer had buffalo robes to warm their bodies during bitter winter months. Between the U.S. Army chasing the Indians away from their lands and the buffalo country, the hide men killing off great numbers of the animals just for their hide, the mass slaughter of the buffalo seemed to also foreshadow the end of the American Indian way of life.

[Pictured: Charles Rath, famous buffalo hunter, seated on 40,000 buffalo hides in Dodge City, 1878)

Anger and resentment among the Indian nations continued to build. Various tribes like the Sioux, Comanche, and Cheyenne saw no answer but to attack and kill buffalo hunters as a warning to others. And in December 1868, buffalo hunter Ralph Morrison became one such victim. Killed and scalped by the Cheyenne, his body was found on a cold, desolate prairie by Lieutenant Read and John O. Austin near Fort Dodge, Kansas.

In 1877, the Buffalo Hunters War began, involving an estimated 170 Comanche warriors and their families. In December of 1876, they left the Indian Territory under the leadership of Comanche war chief, Black Horse. Their destination was the Llano Estacado of Texas, also known as the Staked Plain. One of the largest mesas in North America, it encompassed parts of northwestern Texas and eastern New Mexico. By February of 1877, the Comanche were joined by the Apache and initiated attacks against buffalo hunter camps in the Texas Panhandle. They killed and wounded many, and also stole horses. Learning of the attacks, 45 hunters left Rath City, a trading post located near a shallow, sandy-braided stream known as the Double Mountain Fork Brazos River, and tracked the Indians to Lubbock, Texas. Fighting ensued on March 18, 1877. Both sides suffered losses, but the allied warring Indians escaped. The Buffalo Hunters War, brief as it was, became one of the last conflicts with the Comanche.

Despite the money a hide man could earn, their life was hard. They lived in isolation on the prairie. For weeks and months at a time they would track herds through mud, muck, mire, and snow. Their comforts were few; their clothing often soiled and bloody. Hides were heavy to begin with and became stiff as a board when dry enough to transport by wagon back to town. And despite the financial gain to be earned by bringing in a wagonload of buffalo hides, the men were often viewed with dismay. Who knew the last time they bathed? Then there was the fact it was not unusual to see a hide man return to town constantly scratching his body due to vermin infestation as well as buffalo mange that he’d encountered amidst his plunder of buffalo skins. In fact, the odiferous smell of buffalo hunters earned them the name ‘stinker’ as in, “Lord A’mighty, here comes another stinker.”
It should be noted, however, that some buffalo hunters became quite successful with the ‘hide’business, namely Charles Rath, the man upon whom Rath City was named. And I find it difficult to believe that showman and former hide man Buffalo Bill Cody (pictured here in 1880) would allow anyone to call him a stinker. But I digress…

As for the hide business, in Dodge City alone, between 1872 and 1878, approximately 1.5 million buffalo hides were shipped by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.

So, why all this talk about hide men or buffalo hunters?

Apart from the fact they were part of an important period in the American West, they were men toughened by life and weathered by the elements. After the Civil War, they ventured west, motivated by the desire to earn a living and earn as much money as they possibly could while buffalo hides were in demand. They were ignorant (or just didn't care) about the consequences of their actions -- taking only buffalo hides (as many as they could get) while Indians already pushed off their lands needed the hide and meat for their people. And let's not forget these buffalo hunters caused the near extinction of the animal itself by 1890.

[Public Doman image of American bison galloping - Photographed by Eadweard Muybridge, First published in 1887 in Animal Locomotion.]

"Only seven years ago we made a treaty by which we were assured that the buffalo country should be left to us forever. Now they threaten to take that from us also." ~ Sitting Bull

The more I researched buffalo hunters and the plight of the Indian nations and the buffalo, it meshed perfectly with the inner struggles of Ethan as a white man raised by Indians. As he witnessed the Comanche and other tribes being forced off their land, and even participated in the destruction of the buffalo, a dying breed, how could he not feel a connection between his life and the animal? Everything about his way of life was changing.

I always envisioned Ethan as an unhappy, gruff, unfriendly recluse caught between two worlds...in more ways than one. He doesn’t seek out the company of others, and those he does trust are few. He hates and resents the Comanche for what they did to his family, and yet he cannot deny the influence they had on him. He is wary of white men, part of them, but not part of them at the same time. In his mind, he is better off walking through life alone. Since he’d been raised by the Comanche and learned survival skills from them, what better way for him to transition from tribal life and live amongst the white settlers than as a solitary but skilled buffalo hunter. It provided him a means to earn a living until he could save enough money to do what he loves…breed and train highly prized horses.

Of course, there are a lot more details about Ethan, and lots of twists and turns in the telling of his story. But it is the complexities of his character, his strength, his love of nature and connection to the elements, as well as the wall he has built around his heart that makes him unforgettable and endearing. Is he a tormented hero? Definitely. He has experienced so much upheaval and violence in his life, that he prefers to live in isolation and peace. He is a loner, satisfied with the simplicity of his life until he learns the little brother and sister he thought had been killed many years earlier along with his parents are still alive, and an unusual, irritatingly talkative Englishwoman decides to save him and, in the process, turn his world completely upside down.

I hope you enjoyed my post about Buffalo Hunters and the glimpse into the hero of ‘Spirit of the Wind’, Ethan Blake. I will keep you posted on its release date, so don’t stray too far. ~ AKB

Sources:
The Buffalo Hunters: The Story of the Hide Men by Mari Sandoz (1978 - Bison Books)

The Buffalo Hunters by Charles M. Robinson, III (1995 - State House Press)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

HELL ON THE PRAIRIE--by CHERYL PIERSON



I've talked a bit about the Wolf Creek series before here. It's one of my most favorite projects I've ever worked on, anywhere, anytime.

The series is the brainchild of Troy Smith, a good friend of mine and an excellent writer and "idea man". His thought was to create a bible to be used by the participants of the series to work from for the fictional post Civil War town of Wolf Creek, Kansas. Any member of the Western Fictioneer professional writing organization could contribute when their character was called for in the plot structure.

Now this is quite a daunting task when you think of having at least 23 (and climbing!) people who wanted to contribute, having to come up with plots that would involve at least 6 characters in each book--some of them the same as a common thread-- and keep all the books fresh and interesting. But Troy managed to do it.

The latest book, Wolf Creek Book 6: Hell on the Prairie, differs. It's an anthology of short stories by some of the contributors about their characters. Here's the blurb for it:

Welcome to Wolf Creek.

Here you will find many of your favorite authors, working together as Ford Fargo to weave a complex and textured series of Old West adventures like no one has ever seen. Each author writes from the perspective of his or her own unique character, blended together into a single novel.

In this volume -an anthology of stand-alone short stories: ... Marshal Sam Gardner confronts a notorious gunfighter who hates lawmen; Deputy Quint Croy learns the secrets of Asa Pepper's place; Billy Below learns to be a cowboy; Doc Logan contends with a specter from his past; Derrick McCain faces family secrets; Ben Tolliver gets the shock of his life; and strangers get caught up in the Danby Raid...


I loved this idea because each participant is able to write a short story featuring their character(s) and show a depth to their character they might not be able to convey in a collaborative effort such as the other books before this have been. My story is called IT TAKES A MAN, and of course, Derrick McCain, my foremost character, is at the center of this one. When Derrick and his mother are ominously summoned to the Cherokee settlement of Briartown, Derrick is determined to set things straight with the man he’s learned is his real father. But once he arrives, he’s distracted by the beautiful cousin, Leah Martin, of his best friend’s wife. Leah is hiding a secret—one that could be the death of her. Once Derrick discovers it, will he walk away? Or will he save her…and possibly himself? IT TAKES A MAN to do what his heart tells him.

Here's a short excerpt:

As Leah neared the outcropping of stone, her steps slowed.

Derrick stopped, waiting to see what she would do. She walked out onto the rock shelf and stood staring down into the rushing water.

She watched the churning current, mesmerized for a moment, and Derrick read her thoughts. Desperation was written across her lovely features. She was about to do the unthinkable. The beautiful fire in her eyes guttering out forever seared him to think of—much less have on his conscience. He stepped out from the shadows, coming toward her at a leisurely pace.

Now, he understood the turn of the dinner conversation. Had he known her circumstances, perhaps he’d have been more circumspect in his comments.

Leah glanced up as he came closer. “What are you doing here, Mister McCain?” She lifted her head, and Derrick could see the way she tried to push the dread of what she was about to do out of her expression. Her voice was low and almost sultry, with a forced hint of disdain.

Derrick smiled. “Carson and I used to play down here every chance we got.” He stepped up onto the outcropping of rock, and Leah moved away a step, just out of his reach.

He looked around, judging which way she’d jump, if she still was determined. The look in her eyes said she was.

“Current’s vicious tonight,” Derrick said, nodding at the water below. “Drowning wouldn’t be the way I’d choose to go. I thought you were stronger than this.”

Leah gave him a long stare. “You’ve never been in my situation, Mr. McCain, and you never will be. Sometimes, there’s …simply no choice.”

Just this past month, all three of the Wolf Creek books I contributed to (Bloody Trail--Book 1, Showdown at Demon's Drop--Book 5, and Hell on the Prairie--Book 6) were on the Kindle top 100 bestselling western list! Wolf Creek Book 1--Bloody Trail, is on sale right now for only .99 to get you started on the Wolf Creek series. The others are available for only $2.99.

You can find Hell on the Prairie and all my other work at my author page here:
https://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson

Or go here for all the Wolf Creek books, 1-6, that have been published so far. Scroll down on this page to find all of the Wolf Creek books. Look for book 7 sometime in September!
http://www.amazon.com/WOLF-CREEK-Bloody-Trail-Volume/dp/1475243197/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1374605121&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=Wolf+Creek+books+by+Ford+Fargo



Monday, August 26, 2013

HOW A LOVE OF HORSES LED TO A HERO-Andrea Downing, Guest


By Andrea Downing

When I was growing up I loved horses.  Many little girls do, but I daydreamed about them and it was my constant wish to just get on one and ride away—from New York! That love of horses in turn led to a love of westerns on t.v.  You name one, I watched it:  every one from Bonanza through The High Chaparral on to Alias Smith and Jones right up to…well, Hell on Wheels.  But it wasn’t until I had a daughter who also loved horses, that I was finally able to do something about this great love affair with The West.  We started vacationing on ranches.

     The idea of dude ranches came about as “needs must” after the desperate winter of 1886 when many ranches, for a time, could not support themselves.  Nowadays, dude ranches are as varied as the land upon which they sit.  They can be nothing short of luxury resorts, with well-appointed casitas and numerous facilities, to hard-riding, working cattle ranches where the guests help out.  To date, my daughter and I have clocked up about 18 different ranches.  There are a few to which we’ve returned, or would like to return, but the desire for a change of country and riding terrain hits us and we generally head for new vistas.

    


Photo:
SHALLOW CROSSING
OF THE SNAKE RIVER
 
Last May was the first time we stayed at a ranch in Nevada.  It was a working cattle ranch and we rode out to look for strays, helped a bit in the kitchen, and watched the cowboys at branding time.  One of the young cowboys was there only for the summer.  A student at a college in CA, his father had been a cowboy and he was, for a time, following in his dad’s footsteps.  He was a hard worker, caring and watchful when we rode out with him, and he sang like Jamey Johnson.  His name was Dylan J. Kane and, while he wouldn’t trade me his spurs as hard as I tried to convince him, I agreed with him that his name was perfect for a western hero. 





 It’s the name of my hero—the marshal—in Lawless Love.
(The real Dylan J. Kane in the photo on the right, the one with the beard.)

~~*~~*~~

 
 
 
 
 
Blurb:

Lacey Everhart has carved out a tough existence in the wilds of 1880s Wyoming, working hard to build a secure life for herself and her younger brother, Luke. She will stop at nothing to protect what’s hers and keep them safe. Even if it means keeping a secret that could destroy their lives.

Marshal Dylan J. Kane is a man who considers everything as black and white, right or wrong. He's never seen life any other way until he sets eyes on Lacey. Suddenly the straight and narrow that he's followed has a few twists and turns. Loving Lacey offers the home life for which he hankers...but can he really love a woman who seems to be plain lawless? 

 
Excerpt:

     Lacey thought of fluttering her eyelashes, but it was such a silly thing to do. How could women act like that? She just looked up at the marshal and waited, the possibilities turning over in her mind, flitting through her head but never settling.
 “You wanna tell me what really happened now so we can try to sort this matter? All I can do is promise I’ll do everything in my power to sort it for you, but I cain’t help you less’n you tell the truth. You tell me lies and make me look a dang fool, there’s nothin’ I can do. You understand that?”

Along with the tiniest nod, she clasped her hands together. She looked up at Dylan Kane and saw kindness in that face, a face she could so easily have loved had things been different. She could sense the heat radiating from his body and knew if she touched his chest, a strength would exist where his heart beat. If she ran her hand down his arms, she would find that same strength in his muscle. How she wanted those arms around her! All her life, it seemed, she had looked after herself, cared for her brother, struggled to make a home for the two of them. What would it have been like if Morgan had not...
 “Lacey?” Dylan’s soft voice brought her back from her reveries. “You ready to tell the truth?” With one gentle finger, he lifted her chin so their gazes met for a moment before they each stepped back from the brink of something neither could control. “Lacey?” he repeated.

“Yes, I’m ready.”
~~*~~*~~
In celebration of the forthcoming release of Lawless Love Andrea will send a copy to one lucky person who leaves a comment--to be randomly selected.  Happy Reading
~~*~~*~~
Links:   http://andreadowning.com
E:  andidowning@gmail.com
FB:  https://www.facebook.com/writerAndreaDowning
Twitter:  @andidowning

Lawless Love is currently only available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Lawless-Love-Lawmen-Outlaws-ebook/dp/B00D0TB0DO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375742464&sr=8-1&keywords=Lawless+Love--    

It will be published and available on all sites Sept. 4.
~~*~~
Loveland, a finalist for the RONE Awards tab this Friday, is available at 
http://www.amazon.com/Loveland-Andrea-Downing/dp/1612173233/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1375742568&sr=8-2&keywords=Loveland
AND 
http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=991

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Woman's Clothing



I love researching and writing historicals and often have said I’d like to time travel into one of the settings of my stories, but, wearing a corset everyday would be about as convenient as the outhouse, so I’m glad I live in the twenty-first century. 

The corset was only one layer a woman had to deal with… After a rather tight corset, which was claimed to ‘provide even the stoutest of women a healthy option to control the shape of her body’, a woman added at least two petticoats, drawers, a chemise, crinoline, and bustle with cover, a corset cover, the ever fashionable hoop skirt, which was made with thick, heavy wire so it wouldn’t lose its shape, and then over all of this came the dress, (these were often made of heavy cottons, brocades, and wools). A women’s ensemble of 1800’s easily weighed over twenty-five pounds—without shoes, overcoat/cape, hat, gloves, etc. etc. 

In the 1860’s the popular, huge hoop skirts limited movement and sitting to the point at some social events, woman stood for the entire evening. No wonder the ‘vapors’ set in.

With the popularity of the home sewing machine, patented in the U.S. in 1848, and then the invention of paper patterns in the 1860’s, came infinite changes in apparel, both for men and women. The ability to mass produce clothing provided accessibility to a much larger array. Synthetic dyes were also becoming more popular, which provided bold, vibrant colors. The Civil War and the western land runs also changed fashion. During this time the simpler clothing worn by the ‘working’ class became more popular, especially in the south and west. Laboring in the plantation fields and/or walking for up to forty miles a day beside a covered wagon, women quickly discarded layers and the more constricting garments.  Until then most of the fashions came from overseas, and filtered through the U.S. by way of New York, but the gold rush in California quickly increased the population of the western U.S. shore and the women there, being outnumbered by men two to one, had the power to instill new fashion trends.

We often think of split skirts for horseback riding, but it wasn’t until the bicycle increased in popularity that split skirts and bloomers became popular. The trend started in San Francisco where women started to ‘shorten’ their skirts to ride bike. This is also where the ‘General Association for the Simplification of Women's Clothing’ was founded in 1896. I’m assuming it’s this association we have to thank for the much simpler bras and underwear of today. 

All in all, I truly can’t imagine how bulky twenty-five pounds of clothing would be to wear, especially in the summer heat! 

 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Joys and Pitfalls of Research



            What I love most about historical novels is their ability to carry me off to a world completely foreign to everything I know. Regency Period, Elizabethan days, Victorian times, Middle Ages, Biblical times, and the American Wild West; all are as different from our modern age as sugar is from salt. Among my collection of research books on the nineteenth century, I have a book called, The Good Old Days; They Were Terrible. And they were. So, are we crazy to be fascinated by those long gone days?
            I don’t think so.
Cape Meares Lighthouse
            Even as a child I was captivated by tales of cowboys and Indians and the old West. My regret for having to live in a suburb of Los Angeles instead of on a farm out in the country, horrified my mother, who grew up on farms and hated the mere mention of the life. I suppose it’s natural that I came to love antiques. Anything from the past grabs my attention no matter where I am, books, furniture, porcelain. The day my book Forever Mine was born was no different.
Lightkeeper and bride
            My husband and I were exploring the Oregon Coast and stopped at the Cape Meares Lighthouse. I had been there before, but this time, it was open to tourists. Inside a showcase I saw a photograph of a man and woman a volunteer explained was the wedding picture of one of Cape Meares’ keepers. The bride and groom looked anything but happy. In fact, she looked downright forlorn.
            After we left, my mind started spinning. What if that bride had never met her new husband before that day? What would it have been like to go to such an isolated place as a new wife to stranger? Running back to Mama would have been nigh impossible. The nearest town was ten miles away—miles of barely navigable old growth forest, with no real roads, and a boat trip up the bay, which could only be made during high tide. There was no such thing as an impromptu trip to town in those days.
Cape Meares, lighthouse on tip
            The Cape is very familiar to me. Friends and I have been going there for writers’ retreats for nearly twenty years. We rent a house in a little village with a view of the sea. We sleep, eat, write, walk the beach, then do it all over again. There are no stores, no gas stations, no school, not one single business. Most of the houses belong to Portlanders who only show up on weekends. During the week we, along with an occasional deer or a few elk, have the place to ourselves, and we love it.
            Much of Forever Mine was written there. Ariah and Bartholomew were jabbering in my head before I could write the first word. In fact, I was trying to wrap up the book’s predecessor, Taming Jenna. Ariah and Bart didn’t make it easy. They told me about themselves, and what their lives were like, and how I should write their story.
            And I listened.
            The first thing I did to research Forever Mine, was to pay another visit to the lighthouse. I climbed the narrow, winding steps to the top where the wind threatened to snatch me off the catwalk and toss you into the sea if I didn’t hang onto the rail. Inside, I listened to the unique rattle and moan of the wind battering all those windows and the metal roof, and imagined Ariah and Bart standing beside me.
            My second step was to visit our next door neighbor, artist Barbara ­­­Watkins, a long time resident of Cape Meares, who put me in touch with a local historian, Jerry Hysmith. Besides giving me information about the area, Barbara and Jerry made it possible for me to communicate with three of the children of light keepers at the Cape. All were kind and obliging, but the most helpful was “Old Hig,” otherwise known as George W. Higgins, the son of George H. Higgins whose wedding photo first inspired m story.
            “Old Hig” at the time, happened to be the age my father would have been had he lived past his forty-fifth birthday. George and I sort of adopted each other and exchanged many letters. He came to see me the year I was at Cape Meares working on Forever Mine, so we could meet. The dear man told me tale after tale of life at Cape Meares and the area. His father no longer worked at the light, but they lived in the village. Many of “Old Hig’s’ stories made their way into my book, including Bartholomew’s recollection of trying to cook and eat a cormorant, and the terrible storm that tossed a rock over two hundred feet in the air to smash a window in the light.
Floor plan of keeper's house
            More research help was available at the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum where I found books full of stories told of the area by pioneers. I also acquired photographs there, which I have included here, even floor plans of the keepers’ houses. I studied geographical maps of the cape, and read books—about lighthouses, about pioneer days in the Tillamook area, and about sailors of the day (which helped in creating my wonderful character, Seamus, Bart’s assistant keeper).
            I learned early in my career to delve deep in my research, seeking those tiny details of life that can truly bring a book to life. Of course, I also learned to guard against using too much of the information I dug up. That’s where the pitfalls come in. Never bury your reader in research details.
Often doing the research for a book is as much or more fun than writing the story. But it can also be a lot of time-consuming work.
            Do you have any interesting anecdotes to share about doing your own research?


Charlene Raddon is an award-winning, multi-published author of historical romance novels set in the American West. Her books, published in paperback by Zebra Books, have won or placed in numerous contests. She was a Golden Heart Finalist and received a Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award Nomination. Four of her books are available as e-books from Tirgearr Publishing. A fifth will be released in November 2013.

All Charlene's e-books are available on Amazon.com, B&N.com, and other e-book stores. Her paperbacks are out of print.



Find Charlene at:
http://www.charleneraddon.com
http://www.charleneraddon.blogspot.com
http://www.twitter.com/CRaddon
https://www.facebook.com/CharleneRaddon







Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Legacy of An Unforgotten Town

Cowgirl hat banner

I recently read an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about Handly, a small town founded in 1876 a few miles from Fort Worth. Eventually annexed by its sprawling neighbor, Handley made me think of another town that suffered a similar fate. It was called Birdville.

General Sam Houston

In 1840, upon the orders of General Sam Houston, Captain Jonathan Bird and twenty Texas Rangers established Bird’s Fort on the north bank of the Trinity River in what is now Tarrant County in north central Texas. At that time the area was still on the Indian frontier. Bird’s assignment was to make it safe for white settlers. A treaty with nine Indian tribes was signed at Bird's Fort on September 29, 1843, shortly after which the fort was abandoned. Settlements grew around a few homesteads, water sources and trading posts.

Camp Worth was established in June 1849 by General Ripley A. Arnold and his troops nine miles west of Birdville. Built on a bluff overlooking the convergence of the West Fork and the Clear Fork of the Trinity, the camp was named after General William J. Worth. The outpost protected small settlements around Birdville and Denton until 1853, when the troops were moved northwest to Fort Belknap.

Birdville had approximately fifty inhabitants in 1849, with farms and ranches scattered around it. Settlements were also springing up around Fort Worth. A group of area residents petitioned the Texas Legislature for a new county and, on December 20, 1849, Tarrant County was created, named in honor of General E. H. Tarrant. An election was held on August 5, 1850, at a polling place in Birdville, to elect county officials and choose a county seat. Birdville won.

The First Tarrant County Courthouse was a wood-frame structure located in what is now Haltom High City, one of the “mid-cities” between Fort Worth and Dallas. An eighty-acre tract was donated by two citizens for county buildings. An 1851 plat of the new town includes 12 planned city blocks and a public square. Bonds valued at $17,000 were issued, bricks were collected and a foundation excavated. A jury list, drawn up at Birdville's temporary courthouse in 1855, showed 280 qualified voters, all male of course.

A permanent courthouse was never built in Birdville. In November, 1856, in a hotly contested special election, Fort Worth won the county seat by a slim margin of between three to thirteen votes (official tally varies). Jubilant Fort Worthians (yes, that’s a real word) took possession of county records, equipment and furniture, placing them in their town’s own temporary courthouse. Sadly, all early Tarrant County records were lost in a courthouse fire on March 29, 1876.

Birdville historic marker

Photo from Birdville Historical Society

The outcome of the 1856 election was contested all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, which allowed the results to stand. A new county election was held in 1860, and Fort Worth won by a large margin.

An article by the Birdville Historical Society states, “Had Birdville retained its seat, chances are good that it would have attracted in the years ahead the population that made Fort Worth. The furor over the election cost several lives and the State of Texas about $30,000.”

Birdville lost population for several decades, but later began to grow. By 1960, its residents numbered 23,000 thanks to growth and annexations. Then, in 1990, Birdville was annexed by Haltom City. However, if you think the town is forgotten, that’s far from true.

   Old Birdville School     Birdville High

        Old Birdville School (Birdville Hist. Soc.)                    Birdville High School (Birdville ISD)

The Birdville Independent School District is alive and doing just fine. It encompasses forty square miles, serving the cities of Haltom City, Richland Hills, North Richland Hills, Watauga and Hurst. Not a bad legacy for the little town that gave Fort Worth a good fight for the county seat.

Now here’s an excerpt from Dashing Irish (Texas Devlins, book two)

New Cover redo 2013

Fort Worth rose against the warm, crystal-blue morning on a bluff overlooking the Trinity River. Yesterday, Del Crawford had declared they’d lay over here for one day to rest the cattle, and Tye had heard the men talk of little else since. The cow town was “wide open,” so they said.

Just how wide open, he discovered as the herd streamed through town. Traffic moved aside, and outside the weathered buildings, residents welcomed the noisy, dusty parade. Beginning where the trail entered town at the south end, crude signs heralded a bevy of saloons, gaming halls and cathouses. The latter were easy to spot by the bawds who lounged out front. Smiling and waving, they called out boldly.

“Hey, handsome, come and see me later. Ask for Bell,” one honey-blond vixen shouted at Tye over the ruckus of bellowing cattle.

He grinned and waved, knowing he wouldn’t visit her. She was pleasing enough to look at, but she wasn’t tall and slim, with dark eyes that flashed defiantly. She wasn’t Lil.

They drove the herd across the Trinity to the bed ground Choctaw Jack had scouted out for them. Afternoon was well along when the last longhorn clambered up the far bank. By then, Chic Johnson had restocked the chuck wagon at a supply store on the town square and had forded the river. He pitched camp while Neil MacClure made the rounds, announcing which men could go have a good time in town and which were to stay with the herd. The lucky ones whooped with excitement and galloped back toward the river. Tye hoped he’d be among them as the segundo cantered up to him.

“Devlin, you’re ta stay with the herd tonight. Kirby, Dewey and young Jubal will keep ye company. I’ll send relief riders out in the morning and you’ll get your turn at the saloons.”

Tye frowned and shot a searching glance around for Lil. He saw her riding toward town with her father.

“A whiskey would go down good, but ’tisn’t my chief interest.”

The Scotsman chuckled. “Aye, I know where your interest lies.”

“So ye do, and since you’ve done me one favor concerning the matter, I’ll ask for another. Will ye let me go into town tonight?”

Neil shook his head. “Sorry, laddie, but this time I cannae oblige. I’m no the one made the decree.” Turning his horse, he called over his shoulder, “Do your job and dinna worry. The bonny lass will keep ’til tomorrow.”

Will she? Tye wondered. He recalled Lil saying that Frank Howard lived near Fort Worth. Would she see the long-haired blowhard? Images of her and Howard at the November social gnawed at him without let-up, keeping him awake more effectively than Chic’s potent coffee through the long night.

Buy Links:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0069HLDJU (Kindle)

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1470004003 (paperback)

http://tinyurl.com/lk8w55d (B&N)