Thursday, June 30, 2016


By Ashley Kath-Bilsky

When thinking (or writing) about life in the American West, particularly during the mid to late 19th century, certain visuals come to mind. One of those visuals is the way people dressed, and the importance of certain articles of clothing.

Just as important as the equipment (or gear) needed on a daily basis for survival, there were two crucial aspects of his attire that a man wore everyday without fail. Rain or shine, dust storm or blizzard, triple digit temperatures or freezing cold and hurricane force winds, every cowboy, rancher, sheriff, marshal, gambler, or outlaw needed a good pair of boots and a great HAT. [Pictured: Gary Cooper, Saratoga Trunk (1945) Warner Bros.]

And, as you might have guessed from the subject of today’s post, when it came to hats, John B. Stetson knew exactly what every man living out West wanted and needed. Put simply, all of the high crowned, wide brimmed western hats you see today are attributed to John B. Stetson’s innovative design.

John Batterson Stetson was born 05 May 1830 in Orange, New Jersey, the 7th of 12 children. Like his father before him, he learned the trade of a hatter. From an early age, John B. had the knowledge and skill to make hats, but it wasn’t until a diagnosis of Tuberculosis caused him to travel West to improve his health that he saw how inadequate hats were that cowboys, settlers, and even the Colorado gold rush miners were wearing. Not only were they poorly made, they offered little protection against inclement weather or shade from the often brutal intensity of the sun.

Determined to create a sturdy, innovative design made of the highest quality, Stetson founded the John B. Stetson Company in 1865. A year later, he began manufacturing his first “open crowned” western hat known as the Boss of the Plains.

Natural in color, the lightweight hat had a 4-inch crown and 4-inch brim. Made from waterproof beaver felt, the hat was durable and its wide brim protected the wearer from the harsh sunlight.

To produce the high quality of the hat and ensure its waterproof ability, 42 beaver belly pelts were needed to produce the tight weave of the hat. As a result, the Boss proved so waterproof, it protected as good as an umbrella for its owner. Additionally, it could be held upside down like a bucket to hold water in its crown, which not only enabled the wearer to drink from its brim but use as a drinking vessel for his horse, too. The hat could also be used to carry oats in the crown to his horse.

A plain strap was used as the hatband. To further demonstrate the quality of this first western hat by Stetson, the hat was lined and had a sweatband, as well as a bow on the sweatband to help identify the front from the back of the hat. Also embossed in gold on every sweatband was John B. Stetson Company. Incidentally, all of these features continue in all Stetson hats manufactured to this day.

Although initially priced at just under $5.00, a John B Stetson cowboy hat could cost $10 to $20 or more, depending upon the materials used for a specific style. Considering a top hand’s wages were $30.00 a month, although the purchase of a Stetson hat was a big purchase, its reputation and durability made it almost a lifetime investment.

The next style western hat produced by Stetson was the Carlsbad. This model featured a front crease and is the image most closely recognized as the official cowboy hat style we know today. The Buckeye came next and was extra wide and high.

Hats were also customized for individuals by steaming and blocking the hat to roll the brim, and/or make additional creases on either side of the crown. A different hatband could be added, as well as the “stampede strings” to fasten beneath the wearer’s jaw.

[Pictured is an illustration of the five types of creases offered in a Stetson.]

The popularity and reputation of the Stetsons can also be documented by the number of historic figures who wore them on a daily basis.

Western legends such as Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley wore Stetsons. United States Presidents who wore Stetsons include Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. Over the years, special Stetson designs were customized for law enforcement, soldiers, and even motion picture actors.

Actor Tom Selleck felt so strongly about the hat he wore in his western films, he would wear the hat for 7-8 months before shooting began, in order to connect better with the character. During filming of Lonesome Dove, actor Robert Duvall didn’t want to wear the flat-top Spanish style hat designated for his character. Instead, he wanted Augustus ‘Gus’ McCrae to wear a buff-colored hat with a Carlsbad style center crease that he’d seen in an 1890 photograph of a Texas Ranger.

Actor John Wayne favored a pinched-front, triangle-crease style (useful when putting on or taking off the hat). The hat he wore in his final film, The Shootist, also featured a 6-inch crown.

The first law enforcement agency to adapt Stetsons as part of their uniform was the Texas Rangers. In addition, members of the U.S. National Park Service, as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police wear custom Stetson hats.

As for the legacy of the man himself, his company continues today and is located in Garland, Texas.

As an employer, John B. Stetson believed that “providing for his employees would lend stability to their lives”. He provided unprecedented benefits to his employees, such as a safe working environment, health benefits including a hospital, as well as a park, and houses for his 5,000 employees. He built a factory that grew to include 25 buildings on 9 acres.

In 1878, he co-founded Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Philadelphia that still operates today.

In addition, John B. built grammar and high schools, as well as colleges, including Stetson and Temple Universities. In 1900, he created the first Law School in Florida, Stetson University Law School.

By the time John B. Stetson died on 18 February 1906 at age 75, his namesake company was selling 2 million hats a year all around the world. By 1915, nine years after his death, the company employed 5,400 employees and produced 3.3 million hats.

Not only did he establish a tremendously successful company, his skill, ingenuity, and determination to produce quality hats created one of the most iconic, lasting images of the American West that is recognized throughout the world.

I hope you enjoyed this post about how the famous cowboy hat as we know it came to be. And if you want to meet a heroic character who wears a Stetson, check out Jordan Blake (the former Texas Ranger turned Pinkerton Detective) in WHISPER IN THE WIND, my sensuous historical time travel romance set in 1885 Texas. Available in print and EPUB formats on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. Please visit my website for buy links:


Stetson Hats and the John B. Stetson Hat Company, 1865-1970 – Jeffrey B. Snyder (Schiffer Publishing, 1997)
The Cowboy Hat Book - William Reynolds & Ritch Rand (Gibb Smith, Publisher, 2003)
The Look of the Old West - William Foster Harris (Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 2007)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


I know we’ve talked before about Dorothy M. Johnson, the iconic western short story writer who penned such classics as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Hanging Tree, and A Man Called Horse; but today, I wanted to tell you about another short story of hers that I read a few days ago. Quite possibly, the best short story--in any genre—that I’ve ever read.

You may never have heard of it. It wasn’t made into a movie, because it too closely mirrored the true life of a real person, Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Quanah Parker. The story is called Lost Sister.

I’d heard this story mentioned before by a couple of friends, and thought, “I need to read that—I’ve never read much of Mrs. Johnson’s work but the movies have all been good.” I know. I hate it when people say that, too. Anyhow, I bought a collection from Amazon that contained the three stories I mentioned in the first paragraph and Lost Sister as the fourth. Of course, I had to read The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, since that’s tied for my all-time favorite western movie, along with Shane. I was so disappointed. The characters in the short story were not the same as my beloved Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne! Hmmm. Well, even though I was disappointed, I decided to give Lost Sister a shot.

It more than made up for my lukewarm feelings for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Lost Sister is the story of a woman who has been kidnapped as a young child by “the hostiles”. She has an older sister, who remembers her well from childhood, and loves her with the devotion that most older sisters have for a younger sister. Through the forty years she has been gone, the oldest sister, Mary, has cherished memories of her younger sibling.

There are three younger sisters, as well, who have no recollection of the Lost Sister, Bessie. The older sister doesn’t live with them, but in a different town a thousand miles away. The three sisters are notified that their sister, Bessie, has been “rescued” and is being brought back to them. The story is told from the eyes of a nine-year-old boy, whose mother lives with the sisters. She is the widow of their brother, who was killed by the Indians. The boy has dreams of growing up and avenging his father’s death, but something changes once his Aunt Bessie comes back to live with them.

Up until Bessie is returned to them, they have gotten much attention from the neighbors, and have been pitied as being the family who had a sister stolen by the savages so many years ago. Once Bessie is returned, their standing in the community takes a subtle twist. The other sisters don’t know how to handle Bessie’s homecoming. They make plans to go into her room and “visit” with her every day. One of them decides to read to Bessie from the Bible for thirty minutes each day. The others come up with similar plans, none of which include trying to understand Bessie’s feelings at being ripped away from her Indian family.

The oldest sister, Mary, comes to visit. What’s different? Mary loves Bessie, and accepts her; and Bessie loves her—they both remember their childhood time together. The language of love overcomes the barriers of the spoken language that neither of them can understand, for Bessie has forgotten English, and Mary doesn’t know Bessie’s Indian dialect. But Bessie has a picture of her son, and Mary admires it, and by the time Mary is to go home, she has made arrangements for Bessie to come live with her—a huge relief to the other pious sisters who had made such sympathetic noises about her being reunited with them in the beginning.

In a fateful twist, Bessie makes her own decision about what she will do, taking her own life back, and helping her son avoid capture. This is one story you will not forget. Once you read it, it will stay with you and you’ll find yourself thinking about it again and again. It doesn’t fit the mold of a romance story, except for the fact that I think of Bessie being in love with her husband, having children with him, and then being “rescued” and forced to live in a society she had no ties with any longer…except one—the love and understanding of her older sister, Mary.

No specific Indian tribe is mentioned in the story, probably for a purpose. I think, one of the main reasons is to show us the cultural differences and how, in this case, the “civilized” world that Bessie had come from and been returned to was not as civilized as the “savages” who had kidnapped her. Also, as I say, Cynthia Ann Parker’s story, at the time this story was published, was not that old. There were still raw feelings and rough relations between whites and Indians. But by leaving the particular tribe out of the story, it provides a broader base for humanity to examine the motives for “rescue” and the outcome for all concerned, of a situation such as this in which it would have been better to have let Bessie (Cynthia Ann) remain “lost.”

I’ve posted the link below for the story as it was printed in Collier’s Weekly on March 30, 1956. It’s also available on Amazon in several collections.

And speaking of short stories...PRAIRIE ROSE PUBLICATIONS has a new call for submissions for our Christmas anthology, A COWBOY UNDER THE MISTLETOE!We hope you'll consider submitting a holiday story!

Theme: A Christmas surprise
Length: 10,000 to 15,000 words
Deadline: September 15, 2016

What do we wish for in the hottest part of the summer? Christmas, of course! Now’s the time to do some daydreaming and writing about those snowy, cold days we long for in the heat of summer. At Prairie Rose Publications, we’re looking for stories about romance in the old west at that most magical time of the year—Christmas—for our upcoming anthology A Cowboy Under the Mistletoe.

Have you ever stood under the mistletoe and gotten an unexpected kiss? Or maybe you hoped for a kiss from a special someone, but it didn’t happen. Life is full of surprises, especially at Christmas. Our western romance anthology A Cowboy Under the Mistletoe will be composed of stories that have an element of surprise in them. Whether your heroine finds herself falling for the wrong man or your cowboy comes home to an unexpected event, it makes for a big change in their lives.

Could an unusual gift turn friendship into love? Or maybe a playful kiss under the mistletoe changes a couple’s lives forever.

At PRP, we’re always on the lookout for experienced authors as well as bright new stars. Got a sweet love story? A sensual one? Or maybe even a spicy tale of intrigue and love? (No erotica, please.) Whatever you decide to write about, as long as it includes Christmas, a surprise, and love in the old west, we’d love to take a look.

If you have questions, please e-mail us at

Submissions should be e-mailed to or

For details about our submissions process, visit the submissions page on our website.

Sunday, June 26, 2016



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon    Apple/iTunes    Nook    Kobo    GooglePlay

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

Friday, June 24, 2016

It's Hay Season Again by Paty Jager

Haying in the 19th Century took muscle and tenacity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blurb for Brody: Letters of Fate 

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

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

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

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

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

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