Wednesday, July 30, 2014
I haven’t been to San Antonio in years, but each time I return the feeling of stepping back into the past pulls like a tether to my heart. Maybe it’s a Texan thing. But if you read my posts (or my books), you know that I love history and often wish I could time travel to the past. I thrive on research, like a detective on a fascinating case. I seek out historic sites wherever I am, and (whenever possible) try to stay at historic hotels. It may sound funny, but I always ask about ghosts. And I always listen for echoes of the past that might still linger.
This year, however, it seemed as if San Antonio's history wasn’t speaking to me. Then again, maybe I was too busy to hear it. First off, I was attending a huge writers’ conference with a busy schedule of workshops that had me walking all day and into the evening, back and forth between two modern, high-rise Marriott Hotels. All around me there was noisy traffic, lots of writers, lots of tourists, triple-digit temps, and a level of humidity that I haven’t encountered in a long time. For anyone with asthma or respiratory problems, it can be exhausting to just breathe.
I was walking back to my hotel very late one night (wearing a Regency period gown no less). There was no one else around except a patrol car in the distance. I pushed the button for pedestrians at the crosswalk. As I waited for the ‘walk’ signal to flash, this loud voice suddenly said, “wait, wait, wait…” No, it wasn’t a ghost. It was an automated male voice connected to the light, making sure pedestrians didn’t step into the street until the right moment. But for me, it said more than when to walk.
Truth is, sometimes you just have to hit the pause control. Stop whatever you are doing and breathe. Take a moment to embrace where you are, and its history.
San Antonio is a beautiful city with lots to offer. But for me (as a Texan) to stand outside the Alamo and see people behaving badly, not getting how important (even sacred) the site is to Texas, was disheartening. I understand that people want to have fun on vacation and ‘see the sights’. However, the Alamo is not a tourist attraction – not to me. It is a historical site, a battlefield where lives were lost, and is preserved as a monument to their memory. I cannot express adequately what it felt like to look across the street from the Alamo and see over-the-top, excessively loud, tourist traps like Ripley's Believe It or Not hawking their collection of oddities, a wax museum, mirrored fun house, and electronic arcades blaring across the street. The carnival-type atmosphere was just too much.
I needed quiet, a place that not only remembered the past, but respected its legacy. Fortunately, that place sits rather protectively on my side of the street, right next to the Alamo. So, today, I am going to talk about one of my favorite places to visit (and stay) when in San Antonio.
The Menger Hotel
William and Mary were married in 1851 and together operated the boarding house. They relocated to Alamo Plaza in 1855. William also established a brewery, which became a great success. Because of their entrepreneurial efforts, The Menger Hotel was founded in 1859 and remains 155 years later as fine and respectable an establishment as it was when William and Mary opened its doors.
Constructed as a two-story, 50-room hotel, The Menger became so popular that a three-story addition was quickly built directly behind it. Today, the original two-story limestone building can be seen at the southwest corner (or right) side of the hotel. Its classical design was created by John Fries, the highly respected architect who repaired the shattered ruins of the Alamo in 1850.
In the above photo, you can see the glazed, iron canopy supported on iron columns that forms a balcony for the second floor. The railings are original and date back to 1869. In 1909, architect Alfred Giles was contracted to handle the hotel's remodeling project. At that time, the awnings (pictured) replaced shutters that had provided shade over windows facing the west. Mr. Giles is also credited with creating the more neoclassical look to the hotel that remains today, including the beautiful Victorian Lobby.
The lobby’s once cast iron columns are now enclosed in plaster, and styled in such a way to appear marble. Additional columns were also added to better complement the design. Each column is ornamented with garlands, festoons, and modillions that have been painted to resemble stone. The wrought iron in this lobby is original to the hotel.
Just off this lobby, is the hotel’s famed Colonial Room Restaurant. An immediate addition to the original hotel, it was remodeled in 1912 by architect Atlee B. Ayres. At that time, the cast iron columns that once graced the restaurant were enclosed by wooden ones, and feature beautifully detailed millwork and carvings.
An interesting fact is that the Colonial Room Restaurant (pictured below) has been in continuous operation since it first opened.
Many of the restaurant’s original chefs came from Europe. As a result, by the late 1860s, the hotel had already garnered a reputation for its culinary excellence.
I highly recommend the Shrimp and Crab Martini appetizer, as well as the Filet with Bernaise Sauce, served with a perfectly baked potato wrapped in puff pastry. And you cannot dine there without having the famous mango ice cream, so exceptional it has been on the menu for over a hundred years.
The Menger Bar (pictured below) is one of my favorite spots in the hotel. After William A. Menger died in March 1871, the family eventually sold the hotel in 1881 to Major J.H. Kampmann. In 1887, the Major decided a “new tap room should be built within the hotel as a replica of the House of Lords Pub in London". Clearly that pub made quite an impression on the Major. He even sent his architect to London to personally study the pub in order that its design could be perfectly copied. At an extravagant cost of $60,000, a paneled cherrywood ceiling and cherrywood booths were installed, as well as beveled mirrors and decorated glass cabinets from France.
I should point out that The Menger Bar still serves mint juleps in silver tumblers during hot weather, and hot rum toddies during the winter. Isn't that worth a visit?
And it was in this bar that Teddy Roosevelt recruited many of his Rough Riders. Roosevelt first visited The Menger Hotel in 1892 while on a hunting trip. He returned in 1898 with Colonel Leonard Wood to organize the first US Volunteer Cavalry to fight in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
Walking toward the Main Lobby, I also enjoyed seeing the bank of polished wooden phone booths. Remember when you could phone someone in private and didn't have to listen to other people's conversations while they yell into a cell phone? Even the house phone situated on a hall table is an antique corded phone -- which I love. Yes, a real phone!
Whether you are seated in the Main Lobby of the hotel or dining in the Colonial Room Restaurant, you will have a beautiful view of the hotel’s courtyard-style tropical garden. In the 17th century, Franciscan fathers dug five irrigation ditches in San Antonio. One of these ditches ran through the Menger garden and connected the Alamo to Mission San Jose.
Today, beautiful palm, mango, and banana trees stand tall amidst a lush array of greenery in The Menger garden. For someone who wanted to get away from crowds of people and the carnival atmosphere across the street, walking about this garden and admiring the flora and fauna was truly an oasis.
While traveling through the United States on a lecture tour in 1882, Wilde stayed at the hotel. Well, don't you know gossip ensued about how he strolled about with a spiked lemonade in one hand and a long, foreign cigarette in the other. Imagine seeing him walking toward you wearing slippers with silver buckles, scarlet stockings, knee-length trousers, and a lace-frilled black velvet coat. Apparently, he talked about Decorative Art in his lectures, but his attire sounds more appropriate for a Shakespearean performance. But I digress...
In addition to a lovely fountain and various historical plaques in the garden, there is a marker for the Chisholm Trail. The marker commemorates the history of the cattle drives and Texas ranchers who frequented The Menger Hotel. Between 6 and 10 million cattle and a million mustangs were driven along this trail that began south of San Antonio and ended in Wichita, Kansas.
On a personal note, I think it is so important to preserve history. To educate children and visitors to our cities or countries about the past and the significance of a specific place. We all lead such hurried lives, and it seems at times the noise level escalates the busier our lives become.
You may not have a voice telling you to ‘wait’ at a crosswalk, but sometimes we all need to remind ourselves to stop, or just press the pause control on your life for a few moments. Breathe. Put down the iPhone and talk to someone in person. Look up, not down all the time. Encourage your children to turn off the video game and go outside for a while. Write a letter instead of texting. Embrace your life, your history, and the people around you. Go to the library and read about the origin of your town. Visit your local historical society or museum. Share history, whether it is a family recipe or who made the quilt that has been passed down from generations.
Ashley Kath-Bilsky is a best-selling, award-winning author of Historical Romance with Mystery, Suspense and/or Paranormal elements. She also writes Gothic Historical Young Adult and New Adult fiction. To learn more about Ashley and her work, please visit her website at: www.ashleykathbisky.com.
Monday, July 28, 2014
In August, 2013, my business partner, Livia Reasoner and I decided to take the plunge and open our own publishing house. So many little companies were bursting on the scene that we wondered if we would be able to make much of a difference in the publishing world. Less than a year later, I want to share with you all what we’ve done.
To start with, I better talk a little about why we wanted to start Prairie Rose Publications to begin with. Livia and I both belong to a professional western writing group, the WESTERN FICTIONEERS, of which we are both very proud to be members. I am currently acting as President of the Western Fictioneers until 2016. We had both noticed that there were many women writers—good women writers—who were having trouble “breaking in” to the western genre. Many of these women wrote “gritty” western stories—not so heavy on the romance as on the “western” aspect; many of them wrote shorter stories than the normal popular length for a novel, or novella; and many were having trouble just because they were women—with the name to prove it.
Lots of publishers don’t like taking a chance on westerns anymore, written by man or woman—but when they have a choice, they’ll be publishing the ones by men—since men are more apt to buy western and science fiction works by another man than by a woman.
Livia and I agreed that one of the submissions requirements for our publishing house would be first and foremost, to submit, you had to be a woman. We have not been sorry, and have had more business than we can handle at times.
Another thing we wanted to do was encourage new writers as well as seasoned ones. We’ve got a fantastic mix of both, and have thoroughly enjoyed working with them all. Our royalty rate is one of the best anywhere, paying 80% net to the authors, who work so hard to write these wonderful tales and hope with everything in them to find a home for their stories. After years of being offered the traditional meager 35% for e-books and 7% for print, our authors are extremely happy with the royalty payments, and so are we.
We can do this because we don’t accept anything that requires heavy editing, so we are able to produce more quality stories and novels in a shorter time span.
It wasn’t long after we opened Prairie Rose Publications that we were asked if we published children’s westerns. And what about contemporary and science fiction? Well, did we also have an imprint for youngsters’ contemporary or fantasy stories? The answer became YES very quickly. Painted Pony Books is our imprint for Middle Grade, YA and New Adult western fare; Tornado Alley Publications is the sister imprint for Middle Grade, YA, and New Adult contemporary stories, and Fire Star Press satisfies contemporary, science fiction and fantasy categories for adults.
All of our imprints except Prairie Rose Publications are open to ANYONE to submit to—men and women, alike; newbies and experienced writers.
Since opening our doors, we have published many anthologies at PRP—Wishing For a Cowboy (Christmas 2013), Hearts and Spurs (Valentine’s Day 2014), Lassoing a Bride, Lassoing a Groom, Lassoing a Mail Order Bride, and Cowboy Cravings (Summer stories, 2014).
We’ve also put out 14 novels in the PRP line, as well as 6 novellas.
In the Painted Pony Books imprint, we’ve published 9 books, some for all three of our age groups.
In the Tornado Alley Publications imprint, we published our first anthology, THIS SUMMER STORM, for YA readers just a few weeks ago in time for summer reading for ages 13-17. We also released a “retro” novel about the Viet Nam era, Echoes in the Night, and will be releasing two more about that era in the next couple of months.
Fire Star Press has seen the release of one novella and one novel, with many more on the way.
Part of what we want to do with our company is to inspire people in many ways, and one of these ways is by helping others. We have partnered with some charities that are so rewarding and exciting to work with. One of them, The Lighthouse For Recovery Ministries, has many branches that reach out to all segments of the Birmingham, Alabama community—the homeless, abused animals, addiction programs, and programs for veterans who need help. http://www.thelighthouseforrecoveryministries.org/
Another of our “pet projects” has been helping with Westie rescue expenses by donating books to the Westie Rescue Missouri Fundraising Auction (here is the Facebook page for their event, for anyone who might be interested): https://www.facebook.com/groups/WestieRSQMissouriAuction/
What do we have coming up in the next year? More of the same! Prairie Rose Publications will have its first Halloween anthology, Cowboys, Creatures, and Calico making a debut in late September. But there’ll also be an anthology from Tornado Alley Publications for Middle Grade Readers this fall called My Dog Can Do Magic! For New Adult readers, we’ll have an anthology just in time for Halloween—It Could Happen—stories that have a love story with a Halloween twist. We have submission calls open for all three of these anthologies, if you have a story you think might meet the requirements!
Christmas will see two anthologies, Present for a Cowboy and Present for a Cowgirl in our PRP line.
And Valentine’s Day will be marked by another new anthology to be released in the middle part of January.
But even more immediately, we have a special CHRISTMAS IN JULY event coming up from July 25-Aug. 1! During that time period, we’ll have many new Christmas-themed novellas and short stories available for purchase at our brand new website!
We’ll have a lot of giveaways going on, too! We hope you’ll come join us during National Week of the Cowboy, the week we’ve chosen for our Christmas in July event—and get to know our authors. But don’t wait until then—here’s the link, come on over and join us now!
PRP blog: www.prairierosepublications.blogspot.com
Questions? Ideas? Thoughts? Please leave a comment with your contact information! I will be drawing the names of 3 lucky winners today!
Here’s what’s up for grabs from the PRP goodie bag!
1 signed print copy of TIME PLAINS DRIFTER
1 digital copy of COWBOY CRAVINGS
1 digit copy of LASSOING A MAIL ORDER BRIDE
Winners will be announced tonight! Thanks so much for stopping by and celebrating with me!
Saturday, July 26, 2014
|The Brazos River runs a fur piece.|
|Yonder are some trees in those bluebonnets|
|Roadrunner or chapparal near our old home|
Some think they're only in cartoons
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Saturday, July 19, 2014
“The emancipation of women may have begun not with the vote, nor in the cities where women marched and carried signs and protested, but rather when they mounted a good cowhorse and realized how different and fine the view. From the back of a horse, the world looked wider and possibilities greater.”
~ Joyce Gibson Roach, Texas author, teacher and folklorist
I love that quote, don’t you? It paints a picture of western women, not just as housewives who cooked, laundered and raised children, but as adventurers who loved riding the range just as much as their menfolk. Women who dared to free themselves, to break the shackles placed upon them by society.
When pioneer women crossed the Mississippi River, they left behind the laws and customs of the East. They may not have given that fact much thought, but the hardships of frontier life forced them to assume new roles they never would have dreamed of back home. Many were wives and mothers, struggling to maintain a crude home, raise their children and drive off marauding Indians with a gun if need be, while their husbands worked the land or herded cattle. Often they were left alone for weeks, even months with only themselves to depend on.
Others, single women, widows or wives wanting to supplement their family income, took up work that ranged from running a boardinghouse or hotel, to baking and selling pies to hungry miners, to designing hats and dressmaking. Still others worked on horseback.
We generally think of ranch hands and drovers in the old west as men, but the fact is women also worked cattle, broke horses, roped and branded steers. Most were wives or daughters of ranchers and occasionally ranch owners themselves.
“We ranchwomen today really don’t know the hardships the ladies did then. My grandmother had it really tough. Since my grandfather was a sheriff and a U.S. marshal, she took care of the ranch. She worked in the hay fields and broke all the horses.” ~ Carol Horn of the Horn Ranch in Granby, Colorado
There were also a daring few western women who hired on as cowhands. One who became famous was Middy Morgan. An Irish colleen by birth, Middy came to the U.S. in search of a new life. Not finding New York to her liking, she headed west and took a job as a hired girl with a rancher.
“So completely did she identify herself with the change in her position, that in a short time she had acquired so much skill in the breeding and rearing of stock that the farmer (rancher,) perceiving her value, admitted her to a partnership in the farm (ranch.) Soon did her fame spread abroad, and at every fair and cattle market in the West was her name familiar. Gradually this fame has travelled East, and indeed no reputation is so widespread over all the Union as that of Middy Morgan.” ~ The North British Agriculturalist, June 30, 1880
When the Earl of Dunmore decided to try his hand at ranching in Montana in 1880, he needed to know which of his 30,000 head of Scottish cattle would fare best in the Montana environment. He chose Middy Morgan as his advisor.
The North British Agriculturalist went on to describe her this way:
“At every great fair or market may she be seen, with broad-brimmed hat tied down beneath her chin by a bandanna handkerchief, a thick frieze coat with many capes, short skirt, ingeniously gathered into high leather boots, something like knickerbocker costume. With a long cowhide whip in hand, wending her way with skill between the droves, now stooping low to examine the hoofs, now standing on tiptoe to examine the head of the beast brought to her for valuation; and so great is the reliance placed by the farmers (ranchers) on her judgement in these matters, that none would ever seek to cheapen the animal after Middy Morgan has pronounced her verdict . . .”
Seems like Miss Morgan and all her unheralded sisters were indeed emancipated in many ways by heading west.
The heroine of Dashing Irish, Texas Devlins Book II, is a daughter of the West who does a man’s job but longs for love.
“Consarned critter! Why’d you have to go and get stuck in there?” Lil Crawford muttered. She tugged harder on her rope in an effort to pull the bawling calf from the mud wallow it had wandered into. No luck. The animal was mired nearly up to his shoulders in thick clay gumbo. No matter how hard she pulled, she wasn’t going to get him out.
Nearby, standing beside the creek that had carved out the treacherous wallow along the bank, the calf’s mamma lowed plaintively as if blaming Lil for her baby’s predicament. Sending her a baleful glare, Lil said, “It’s not my fault. You should’ve dropped him in the spring like you’re supposed to ’stead of in the middle of summer. Then maybe he’d be big enough to climb out of this dang mud.”
Arms crossed, she studied the situation. She considered letting Major, her buckskin gelding, drag the calf out but feared injuring the little mite, possibly even breaking his neck. She sighed in disgust. There was no help for it; she’d have to get down in the mud and wrestle the calf out. It was either that or leave him there to die a slow, miserable death.
Dropping to the ground, she tugged off her boots and socks. She set them near the edge of the wallow, then rose, unbuckled her gun belt and laid it atop her footgear, where she could reach her six-shooter if need be. Her hat joined the pile for good measure.
Lil took a deep breath, set her teeth and stepped into the wallow, cringing as she sank up to her knees in the gooey muck. It squished between her toes and clung to her legs, plastering her britches to her skin. It also stank of rotting grass and other things she’d as soon not name.
Crooning softly to the frightened calf, she wrapped her arms around his middle, coating her hands, arms and shirt with mud in the process. She braced herself, preparing to wrestle the animal free.
A man’s deep-throated laugh caught her off guard. Jolted by the sound, she cried out in surprise and struggled to turn around, fighting the mud that imprisoned her legs. Once she succeeded, she stared, slack-jawed, at the stranger grinning at her from atop the most broken down nag she’d ever laid eyes on. The dude himself was a sight to behold. Togged out in a funny checked suit, with a derby hat atop jet-black hair, he made her lips twitch. However, her humor fled when she met his eyes. Brilliant blue, they shot sparks of light, brighter than the toothy grin splitting his handsome face.
“Sure’n I must be dreaming,” he said in a lilting Irish brogue. “Or are ye truly a lovely faery maid sent to enchant me?”
His foolish question broke Lil’s frozen stare and roused her anger. She knew she was far from lovely, and right now she was covered with nasty muck besides. “Mister, I’m no fairy and I don’t take kindly to strangers who ride up on me with no warning. So you can just turn that bag of bones around and git. Right now!”
“Ah, colleen, will ye not grant this poor beggar a few moments of your company? ’Twould be my pleasure to help ye with the wee animal if ye like.”
She snorted at his offer. “No thanks. I can get him out by myself. ’Sides, you wouldn’t want to muddy up your fancy suit, would you?” she drawled with a smirk.
He looked down at himself and grimaced. “I take it ye don’t care for my fine attire.” Fine came out sounding like foin. “Well, you’re not the first. A layer of mud might not be such a bad thing, eh? With that in mind, will ye not reconsider and allow me to lend ye a hand?” He gave another roguish grin and splayed a hand over his heart. “In truth, your beauty so captivates me that I fear I cannot turn away.”
Lil bristled at his absurd comment. Certain he was making fun of her now, for her beauty would never captivate any man, she narrowed her eyes. She’d teach him, by criminy!
Without a word, she plowed through the mud over to where her belongings lay piled. She hastily wiped the worst of the mud from her hands onto the grassy embankment, then reached under her hat and drew her Colt. Coldly calm now, she turned to face the impudent stranger. It pleased her to see how fast he sobered with a gun aimed between his eyes.
“This is Double C land, mister. You’re trespassing. I could shoot you dead and nobody’d blame me. So unless you want a hole in your head bigger than your mouth, you’d best get moving.”
Sighing, he crooked his lips. “As ye wish.” He tipped his hat to her, clumsily reined his horse around and started to leave, but then he pulled up and glanced at her over his shoulder. He held up his hands when she cocked her gun. “I’m going, colleen, never fear. But first, could ye be directing me to the Taylor place, by any chance?”
Lil stared at him for a moment while questions raced through her head. Normally, she didn’t poke her nose into other folks’ business, but in this case . . . . “What do you want at the River T?” she demanded.
He frowned testily. “I mean no harm, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m merely trying to find my sister. She’s wed to David Taylor. D’ye know him?”
Lil drew a sharp breath. “You’re Jessie’s brother?”
“Aye, that I am. So ye do know them.”
“I know them all right,” she gritted. She should’ve guessed who he was from his damned Irish accent and those blue eyes that were so much like his sister’s. The two looked a lot alike in other ways, too, except Jessie’s hair was dark red instead of black. And he was handsome, not beautiful.
Fiddlesticks! She didn’t care what he looked like. And she didn’t cotton to the way he was staring at her now, as if he was trying to see inside her head. It gave her an uneasy feeling. She wanted him gone. If giving him directions would get rid of him, so much the better.
“Follow the creek. It’ll take you to their place,” she snapped, jerking her head in the downstream direction. “Now leave before my trigger finger slips. On purpose.”
He blinked and seemed to come back to himself. “I thank ye for your kind assistance, milady,” he said mockingly. Facing forward, he kicked his sorry mount into a stiff-legged trot and headed down the creek, bouncing in his saddle.
Watching him, Lil snickered. He was a greenhorn if there ever was one, and he was going to be mighty sore tonight. She waited until he was well out of sight before laying her gun aside and returning her attention to the mired calf.
Dashing Irish (Texas Devlins, Tye’s Story)
Riding Pretty: Rodeo Royalty in the American West by Renee M. Laegreid
Quotable Texas Women by Susie Kelly Flatau and Lou Halsell Rodenberger
Cowgirls, Women of the American West by Teresa Jordan
Friday, July 18, 2014
His grave and the White Eagle Monument are located on the ranch grounds.
For its 1996 dedication, the United States Department of Interior supplied National Parks Service historic plaques. Hundreds attended as Indians danced in front of teepees while cowboys and cowgirls on horseback paraded with wagons and a stagecoach during the ceremony.
On August 16, 1998, the Old Timers group with the City of Ponca City sponsored the dedication of a monument to the memory of the late Bill Pickett of the 101 Ranch. Today, that engraved flat stone monument can be found at the corner of Third St. and Grand Avenue in downtown Ponca City, OK. Pickett was both a working and performing cowboy from 1905 to 1932 with the historical ranch and its Wild West Shows. He is credited with the innovation of what is known today as the rodeo sport of “Bulldogging”.
During the summer of 2007, the 101 Ranch was chosen as a topic by the Oklahoma Educational Television System broadcast series “Oklahoma Horizon” (www.okhorizon.org). It also appeared internationally on the Dish satellite systems’ RFD-TV network (Dish satellite channel 231).
For Your Viewing Pleasure