Monday, November 20, 2017

The Many Thanksgivings of Texas

Did you know El Paso, Texas now lays claim to the first Thanksgiving in North America? Yup, it’s true according to the Texas State Historical Association’s TEXAS ALMANAC. First observed in April 1989, the day honors Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate who, with his expedition members, held a day of thanksgiving on April 30, 1598.

One of Oñate’s followers wrote of the celebration, “We built a great bonfire and roasted the meat and fish, and then all sat down to a repast the like of which we had never enjoyed before . . .”

Hmm, sounds like they stuffed themselves, a lot like we do on Thanksgiving Day. Of course they were also grateful for a short break in their difficult journey which continued up the Rio Grande, eventually reaching the Santa Fe area.

Texas has another claim to the first Thanksgiving. In 1959 a marker was placed outside the town of Canyon declaring the expedition of Francisco Vazquez de Coronado celebrated the first feast of Thanksgiving in nearby Palo Duro Canyon in May 1541. However, research indicates grapes and pecans were gathered for the feast, and neither grow in the canyon. The feast might actually have been held farther south, probably Blanco Canyon on a fork of the Brazos River. It’s also possible the day was not a special thanksgiving, but rather to celebrate the Feast of the ascension.

While Texas is hardly the only claimant to the First Thanksgiving title – several other states insist their ancestors celebrated the first one – the Lone Star State is one of a few states that celebrated two thanksgivings in the same year, one week apart. You see, the first national Thanksgiving was set in 1863, during the American Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

All well and good until 1939 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving. The country was still in the grip of the Great Depression, and Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving would provide a longer shopping period before Christmas. He hoped increased sales and profits for merchants would help spur recovery from the Depression. Within two years, Congress passed his decree into law.

However, Republicans decried the change as an affront to Lincoln’s memory. People started calling the fourth Thursday holiday “Franksgiving”. Many football teams traditionally played their final games on the last Thursday in November, and their schedules could not instantly be changed. Since a presidential declaration was not legally binding, Roosevelt’s change was disregarded by 22 states. Some, including Texas, decided to make both dates government holidays.

In 1940 and 1941, November had four Thursdays, and Roosevelt declared the third one to be Thanksgiving. As in 1939, some states went along with the change while others stuck with the traditional last-Thursday date.

"Until 1956, Texas’ official state Thanksgiving holiday was the last Thursday in November. In some years, that was a week after the national holiday, which was cussed in Texas as a federal abomination."  Mark Hoffer

Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and romantic suspense novels, all spiced with paranormal elements. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West Begins” - with her husband and a gaggle of very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged children.

Amazon Author Page:
Newsletter:  Lyn’s Romance Gazette
Website:  Lyn Horner’s Corner 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A “Puzzling” Inspiration by Sarah J. McNeal

Most writers draw on people, events, places or objects  as inspiration for their stories…and so do I.

For my Christmas story, "A Christmas Visitor", in this year’s Prairie Rose Publication holiday anthology, SWEET TEXAS CHRISTMAS, I needed to have something for my hero to redeem himself to the heroine for his two year absence. It had to be something that took thought, time, and effort on his part…and it had to be something out of the ordinary, something lovingly special.

Just so happens I have a rather unusual box on my dresser which I bought some years ago at a shop that sells handmade items from around the world. This box is carved to represent two fish swimming in opposite directions like the astrology sign for Pisces. The special thing about this box is it is a puzzle to open it. It takes some twists, removal of pieces in a particular order, and some sliding movements to get to whatever treasure inside.

Puzzle boxes, known as himitsu-bako were first invented during the Meiji Period by three artisans, Takajiro Ohkawa, Tatsunosuke Okiyama, and Mr. Kikukawa who lived in Hakone, Japan. Hakone was a favorite tourist town and soon the small trinket boxes became popular. The boxes became bigger and more elaborate and soon became known as sikake-bako (trick box) or tei-bako (clever box).

Japanese puzzle boxes can only be opened by someone who knows or can figure out the correct sequence to unlock the secret compartment. Simple boxes may have as few as four moves while the more elaborate designs may take as many as sixty moves to open. The sequence, at first only known to the craftsman, is essential to solving the puzzle and getting into the secret compartment.

My hero in "A Christmas Visitor", Sterling Thoroughgood, comes from a family of carpenters and woodworkers. Although Sterling has chosen cattle ranching as his life’s profession, he is also a woodworking artist. He creates a puzzle box for Matilda and inside its secret compartment is something very special, something he hopes may win Matilda’s hardened heart.

SWEET TEXAS CHRISTMAS is an anthology of sweet historical western romances that take place in the state of Texas written by veteran western romance writers: Stacey Coverstone, Sarah J. McNeal, Cheryl Pierson, and Marie Piper.
(my contribution) A Christmas Visitor
Prairie Rose Publications
Released November 5, 2017

 He left her…Now he’s back…But not for long…

Sterling Thoroughgood was Matilda Barton’s first and only love, but he left her three years ago to seek his fortune in Wyoming. And now he’s come back with a puzzle box as a gift with a secret inside. But as far as Matilda’s concerned, it’s three years too late.
Is love lost forever or does the mysterious puzzle box hold the key to happiness?

Excerpt (from the opening):

“Don’t you even think about stepping up on this porch, Sterling Alexander Thoroughgood, or I’ll shoot a hole in you big enough for a team of horses to jump through.” The woman wearing a faded blue calico dress aimed the shotgun straight at his heart…and sometimes his liver since she wasn’t holding the shotgun all that steady.
Sterling raised his hands in the air. His bare hands were practically numb from the cold. He glanced up at the slate gray sky. Snow’s comin’. Then he grinned at the woman holding the shotgun. “Merry Christmas to you, too, Matilda.”
She dipped the shotgun for just a moment, but raised it again as if on a second thought. “What do you want here after being gone for three years? Did you break some hearts up in Wyoming? Maybe you have some fathers and brothers gunning for you and you thought you’d come running back here to hide.”
Well, there it was. He’d hurt her when he left and she wasn’t about to let him forget it.

Excerpt (Sterling gives Matilda the puzzle box):

When she glanced up to ask Sterling how to open the box, he stood before her with a grin spread across his face. Before she could ask, he answered her unspoken question. “It’s a puzzle box, darlin’. There is a way to move the pieces to open the box. It took a while for me to draw up the plans and quite some time to get it to work just right. I thought about what pleasure it would be for you, so I was determined to make it just right.” The light of pride fairly glowed in his eyes.
“It’s a beautiful thing like a work of art. That it is made into a puzzle box with such intricacy and thoughtful design, makes it the most significant present I have ever received.” She heard something shift inside the box when she moved it to examine it more closely to discover how to open it. “There’s something inside?”
Sterling nodded his dark head. “Yes. In fact, the greater gift is inside the box.” Again, he grinned with a boyish delight. “I made it big enough to hold all your treasures. Do you like it?”
“Oh Sterling, I positively adore it. I can see the craftsmanship you put into it. I didn’t know you could create such a beautiful thing.” She smiled. “And I am so delighted to know you made it with me in mind. Would you open it for me so I can see what’s inside?” Matilda tried to hand him the box, but he shook his head and refused.
“No ma’am. You must discover how to open it yourself. That’s half the fun.”

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Love's Blessing by Linda Hubalek

Working the Past into the Present

In Love's Blessing, my new contemporary story in the First Street Church Kindle World, newly widowed Jenna McDowell, and medically discharged soldier Riel (Gabriel) Shepard, meet at his grandfather's Cooper Ranch near Sweet Grove,Texas.

They both came to the ranch to heal from their individual heartbreaks. Jenna’s husband committed suicide and left her destitute. Riel lost his foot in a military accident and suffers from PTSD. 

Time and help from their family and pastor finds them healing and falling in love, but are they ready to marry?

Starts the new Clear Creek Legacy Series

How did I tie the past into the present? Riel's ancestors, Reuben Shepard, was featured in Darcie Desires a Drover in the Brides with Grit series, and Gabriel Shepard, in Gabe's Pledge in the Grooms with Honor series.

Riel is given a box of leather tools once used by his ancestors, because he is named after his great-great grandfather. Holding the tools makes Riel realize he's been handed a new profession, a saddle maker, as his ancestors were before him in Clear Creek, Kansas.

My new contemporary stories in the Clear Creek Legacy series will connect descendants, with their ancestors, as they struggle with a life-changing crisis.

Has anything handed down from your ancestors, pointed you to a new career? 

In my case, old family photos, family history, and quilts started me writing down the stories of my ancestors, and led me to writing and publishing over thirty books.

Many thanks from the Kansas prairie!

Linda Hubalek

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Squawteat Peak

I.H. 10 snakes across Pecos County, just south of Squawteat Peak. The peak is a dominant
feature of the landscape that rises high above the surrounding desert floor and is visible for
miles around. Prehistoric hunter-gatherers returned to camp in the shadow of the peak for
thousands of years. TARL Archives.
Back in the 1980s we lived in Alpine, Texas for a few years. My mother lived in Brownwood and I drove our son back to see his friends. One trip they rode back with us to visit the area. When we traveled the I 10 route Squawteat Peak always signified we were almost home; however, this trip the sign was gone. You know those green highway signs naming the mountain and elevation. Confused I studied every peak we passed. I'd planned to give the boys a history lesson and alas, had nothing to show them. There were several mountains that somewhat resembled the original, but none were in the right place. After some studying, I learned that TXDOT's highway construction had changed the landscape somewhat.

Burned rock middens are all that remain of large rock ovens.
This is what I remembered, but now there were roads around it. From my research I learned that Squawteat Peak is a cone shaped limestone hill hat juts 300 feet from the desert floor. "It is known for its wickiup and tipi rings—all that remain of shelters constructed by prehistoric hunter-gatherers at the site hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years ago." Though there is little vegetation, the bare bedrock supports an abundance of natural resources. They include lechuguilla, sotol, cacti, and mesquite. "Flint resources are also abundant in nearby natural outcroppings."

"Squawteat Peak was first examined by the Archeology Section of the State Department of Highways and Public Transportation (now TxDOT) during mitigation of I.H. 10 in the summer of 1974." A large burned rock midden (trash heap) was located in the right of way and excavated under the direction of Gary Moore. In the early 1980s Wayne Young and Wayne Belyeu of TxDOT returned to Squawteat Peak to make a topographic and feature map of the portions that had not been destroyed, but much information had been lost.

The most important features identified at Squawteat Peak are 14 clusters of stones believed to be wickiup and tipi rings and the rocks were used to hold up the branch supports of small brush shelters. The larger rings would have supported large wooden poles for hide tipis.

One of Squawteat Peak's wickiup rings. The rocks in this ring would have been
used to bolster the branch supports of a small brush structure. TARL Archive.
Pair of mortar holes carved into the bedrock of Squawteat Peak.
Also found were burned rock hearths and mortar holes that have been worn into the exposed bedrock. Some of the mortar holes have been ground to over 12 inches in depth which suggested they were used over long periods of time. They may have used wooden manos to grind cactus fruit (or tunas) or mesquite pods for meal.

"According to archeologist Michael Collins, who surveyed the area in the 1980s prior to the proposed construction of oil rig roads in the area, the use of this quarry goes back to at least the Late Archaic period, if not further, based  on several Shumia projectile points that he recovered during his investigation."

"The largest burned rock hidden was the focus of the 1974 excavation and is the only area of the site that has been radiocarbon dated. The midpoints of the dates taken from the around around the midden range from A.D. 900 to 1530, and midden itself (technically, the last use of the midden) dates to approximately A.D. 1300."

The research data on Squawteat Peak continues but this is all I had room for. I hope if you're interested you'll do more researching on your own. At this time there are no hiking trails to the top of the peak that reaches and elevation of 2,884 feet.

Carly Whelan; Michael Collins; Miller, Miles R and Nancy A. Kenmotsu; Young, Wayne.

Here is my favorite picture. I wish I could say I took it, but I actually found in in in Google images.

Thank you for stopping by Sweethearts of the West today and I hope you'll return often. Please let me know your thoughts on this post.

Linda LaRoque

Sunday, November 12, 2017

From There to Here

by Rain Trueax

Much as I love learning about other writers, from where they came, and what motivates them in their writing, when it comes to write something about myself, to introduce myself to those who don't know me, I freeze up. What to tell? What is interesting? What matters? 

Many times, I've written about living on a sheep and cattle operation in the Oregon Coast Range with my husband of 53 years. Our home is on the banks of a creek and where we raised two children to adulthood and enjoy having four grandchildren visit when they aren't too busy with their activities. I've written less about from where I come and how that has impacted what I write today.

My parents' story probably influences some of that. Mom, born in Oregon, was a professional musician who traveled around the country including Mexico, with all girl orchestras where she played bass and sang. Dad, born in South Dakota but moved to Oregon with his parents, was a stagehand at the Portland theater where her band was playing. He was a carnie, a guy who dropped everything to travel with the carnival through the summers. They dated. Then, leaving without a word, he stood her up. One of the hands told my mom that he'd never amount to anything for her. He returned at the end of the summer. By May, he'd changed her mind, and they were married. A little older, they weren't sure children were in the cards but turned out two were. 

A WWII baby, as I became a child, the United States was coming off a major war, and we were under the threat of a nuclear holocaust. If we could forget that, our schools had bomb shelters where we were supposed to go in the event of an attack (exactly what those were supposed to benefit us, I'm not sure as we all knew about the dangers of radiation).   

Friday, November 10, 2017

Thanksgiving Wasn't Very Nice by E. AYERS

Thanksgiving in America like many holidays has its roots in the East. Although Plymouth, MA tends to be thought of as the birthplace of Thanksgiving, I'm going to talk about another Thanksgiving, the first continuous settlement in the New World, Jamestown, VA. We think of the wonderful Powhatan Indians bringing gifts of food to the new settlers in a gesture of friendship. Exactly how much is fable and how much is truth seems to be muddied. One thing we do know was it wasn't very pretty.
What do we know? Not much. We think that the Indians who lived in these parts greeted us as intruders. They were skeptical and it didn't take them long to decide that we were not their friends. We put a settlement on their hunting lands. We brought infectious diseases from Europe and the we also succumbed to all sorts of illness from the Virginia environment and blamed it on the Indians. It's a bad case of finger pointing.
Knowing this area as I do, I can't imagine the settlers drinking water directly from the James River. For starters, it's brackish water. The salt content is almost as high as the Atlantic Ocean as the tides push ocean water into the Chesapeake Bay and into the rivers and inlets. It didn't take the settlers long to run out of food. And a bad growing season left them starving. They ate shoe leather and turned to cannibalism of their fellow dead. They wanted land to expand and hunt. The Indians didn't want them encroaching on their lands. Major fighting broke out.
We were better armed with guns and cannons! Can you imagine the surprise the Indians faced with these loud weapons when they only had spears and other primitive methods to protect themselves? It wasn't just the Englishmen's guns. The thing that sent the Indians to their knees was the simple act of burning their canoes. The settlers were ordered to burn any and all canoes as a way to overpower and control the Indians. Don't think of today's modern canoes or even those birch bark canoes, instead think of taking a tree trunk and hallowing it out. The canoes were massive often as much as 40-60 feet long and were virtually chipped out. It wasn't unusual for one to take maybe as much as two years to build.
The tribal leaders decided they had enough. If they continued to loose canoes, they would end up starving because it was their way to get around. They went hunting and after they had killed several deer, they took them to the English settlers of Jamestown. Please take the deer and stop burning our canoes. And we all lived happily ever after. (Not even close!)
Things remained rocky. And it probably didn't hurt that Pocahontas married John Rolfe. But, it's presumed that Chief Powhatan had probably long since given up on the daughter who had been kidnapped by the English, taught Christianity, how to act like a proper Englishwoman, and dress like one.
There was a feast in Virginia, except we don't know exactly when it took place. Probably fall or early winter because that would be the prime time to hunt deer but the year.... Actually there were several feasts along the east coast. Plymouth got to claim it and that still might not be correct. The Spaniards probably have the right to claim the first Thanksgiving and that's still ignoring the fact that the Indians had been celebrating a bountiful harvest long before any Europeans stepped foot in the New World.
Yes, the English settlement of Jamestown was grateful for the deer. Much like a child who
receives a gift, they then expected it all the time. And their demands on the Indians only lead to more problems. The English were superior to the Indians, not in intelligence, but in weapons.
The lovely notion of everyone sitting around the fire and enjoying a meal together is more of a fantasy then an actual event. The old harvest festival was alive and well. Although it would be another 200 years before Thanksgiving became a holiday.
Our new president, George Washington, declared the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving. But he only had one such celebration. It was meant as a celebration for our success in the Revolutionary War. Various states created their own Thanksgiving, mostly as a religious holiday. Lincoln declared the holiday for the last Thursday in November to honor the widows and orphans of the Civil War and as a day of prayer to heal the nation being torn apart. Then during the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the date back a week to help spur the economy's health.
The real person who helped to make Thanksgiving a holiday was Sarah Josepha Hale, author and magazine editor. She worked diligently for over 36 years to make it a recognized holiday, but with a religious bent. She wrote articles, editorials, and letters to senators, governors, presidents, and just about anyone who might listen. She even suggested the menu, complete with recipes, and that menu became today's normal table. She succeeded when she convinced Pres. Lincoln who declared it in the midst of the Civil War.
Those first Thanksgivings weren't the traditional meal of today, unless your table consists of venison, and maybe a goose or duck. New England had cranberries, but they weren't in a sauce, try a bowl full of berries. (Can we say tart? Just thinking about it makes my mouth pucker.) Of course there were beans, and there was plenty of popped corn. (What we call kettle corn today minus the sugar and all the salt.) No pumpkin pie or even pie shells - no wheat flour. No potatoes, they were a South American thing and hadn't made their way here. And sweet potatoes also hadn't made their way this far north. The fare was plain, but to the early settlers, it was a true feast, a celebration that lasted several days.
To many American Indians, the holiday marks a day of mourning. It was the beginning of the end of their rule over this great land. It's a day for them to honor their forefathers who ruled.
For the rest of us, it's a day to be with family, count our blessings, watch a football game with loved ones, and eat until we can't handle another bite while the kitchen explodes with dirty pots, pans, and dishes. Lately, it's also become the early shoppers start of the Black Friday sales.
For me, it's a day to spend with my girls. They take turns hosting such events. I get called upon to make the gravy or whatever last minute culinary need arises. We all chip in with the clean up and it's done in a flash. We laugh and joke, I play with the granddogs, and in general, it's a quiet family sort of a day, but at least we are all together. No one is burning any canoes...although there was that year I got the flat tire. It didn't take to two years to replace.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

WINTER WISHES--new 99cent release

By: Celia Yeary

Winter Wishes—Three short romance stories.

The three short stories in Winter Wishes came about in an odd way. I was with my first publisher back then, and on the main website was a list of Free Reads. I asked my editor if I could write one, and if so, what were the criteria?

Fifteen hundred words, basically. “Is that all? I can’t write a story that short." My editor replied,” You can if you omit useless words.

So, I wrote Merry Christmas, Victoria. Good little story, she said, but you have 2200 words. Cut it down to 1500 words.

“What? No way, I need those words.”

Her reply. “No you don’t. Now work on it.” I did, over and over when I finally got it down to 1500 words.

At one point I begged her to do it for me..I can still hear her laughing.

Anyway, I did cut it down.

Now, about the story—how do you get ideas for stories? I was listening to a CD by Ray Charles, and he sang, “You give your hand to me, and then I say Hello, and I can hardly speak, my heart is beating so..but you don’t know me…You don’t know the one who dreams of you at night..etc.”


So, Merry Christmas, Victoria was easy to write.

Another one—Wishes Do Come True—This one just popped in my head. I had been reading stories that involved Orphan Train children, and yes…this story came to me. I hope you like it.

The third one is The Cattleman’s Ball—I was writing a novel titled TEXAS DREAMER, and the hero of the story got his start when as a fifteen year old runaway, he stumbled upon a rundown ranch owned by one elderly rancher. The rancher took him in…and together they built it up. The hero here was old enough to travel to Chicago to sell his cattle by himself and was instructed to attend the Cattleman’s Ball to “make contacts.” But this young man found a lovely woman instead, and even with his unpolished demeanor..well, you’ll just have to read this story.

WINTER WISHES IS 99cents, and I thank PRP for putting these three stories in one volume: WINTER WISHES

Amazon Link:

Monday, November 6, 2017


At the end of the end of this week I will be moving to Montana for a few months. The area I’m going to is now known for tourism, but in the early 1900s coal mining was what brought thousands to this mountain area of the state. On a drive around the area, I found a piece of history.

In Carbon County Montana, there’s a  small town consisting mainly of a U.S. Post Office and a saloon.  Plotted in 1905 by George Lamport and Robert Leavens, in its heyday during World War I, Bearcreek boasted a population of nearly 2000 people. Ethnically diverse the town included Serbians, Scotsmen, Montenegrins, Germans, and Italians.  There were seven mercantiles, a bank, two hotels, two billiard halls, a brickyard and numerous saloons.

Old merchantile in Bearcreek (photo by Kirsten Lynn)

The town also had concrete sidewalks and an extensive water system. Something odd about Bearcreek, for a Montana town, no church was ever built in Bearcreek.  

Many of the buildings were constructed from the sandstone quarried in the nearby hill.  The local railway, the Montana Wyoming and Southern carried coal from the mines through Bearcreek where it was shipped to communities across Montana.  The Lampert Hotel, once located there, was built in 1907 and was described as, “well furnished…the beds being especially soft and sleep producing.  The meals are served with a desire to please the guests and no one leaves without a good impression and kindly feelings for the management.” 

However, not all times were good in the bustling town.  The Smith Mine is the site of the worst underground coal mine disaster in Montana history. The decaying buildings that still stand are a memorial to 74 men who gave up there lives in the mine on the morning of February 27, 1943.

Smoke pouring from the entrance to No. 3 vein was the first indication of trouble, “There’s something wrong down here, I’m getting out,” the hoist operator called up. He and two nearby miners were the last men to leave the mine alive.

Smith Mine (photo by Kirsten Lynn)

Families of the men anxiously awaited as rescue crews came from as far as Butte and worked around the clock to clear debris and search for survivors.  Their efforts in vain as there were no survivors.  Some men died as a result of a violent explosion, but most fell victim to the deadly methane gasses released by the blast. The tragedy sparked investigations at the state and national level that resulted in improvements in mine safety.

Long before any other markers or historical posts marked the site, a simple marker was left by two miners trapped underground waiting for the poisonous gas they knew would come.  “Walter and Johnny. Good-bye wives and daughters. We died an easy death. Love from us both. Be good.”

The tragedy at the mine hastened another death…that of the town. Many buildings were moved to other communities or demolished. The railroad tracks were removed in 1953 and the last mine closed in the 1970s.

The tragedy of the mine has stirred some plot bunnies for a story I’d like to write while living in the area. The rise and fall of Bearcreek is not an unfamiliar tale, but a part of the history of Montana and the region that should never be forgotten.

I hope that over these past few years since I have been a part of this amazing group of storytellers that I’ve been able to give you all a small glimpse into the history of Wyoming and Montana.  It has been an absolute pleasure and honor to be a part of Sweethearts of the West.  Unfortunately, while new opportunities arise something has to end.  Thank you all for reading and commenting on my posts, for sharing the information you’ve found in research, and for your support.   Hope to see you on the trail soon!

I leave you with the words of Walter and Johnny.  Be good. 

Kirsten Lynn is a Western and Military Historian. She worked six years with a Navy non-profit and continues to contract with the Marine Corps History Division for certain projects. Making her home where her roots were sewn in Wyoming, Kirsten also works as a local historian. She loves to use the history she has learned and add it to a great love story. She writes stories about men of uncommon valor…women with undaunted courage…love of unwavering devotion …and romance with unending sizzle. When she’s not writing, she finds inspiration in day trips through the Bighorn Mountains, binge reading and watching sappy old movies, or sappy new movies. Housework can always wait.

Saturday, November 4, 2017


After moving to Henderson, Nevada, I recently posted a brief history of Las Vegas. It seems only natural that I write a follow up on the origin of gambling in the Old West. 

Allow me to begin by saying that as a little girl, I loved to watch TV westerns with my dad. One of our favorites was a show called Maverick. The Maverick bothers, Bret (actor, James Garner who was my favorite) and Bart (actor, Jack Kelly) were cardsharps who played poker on Mississippi riverboats and throughout the American Old West. Getting in and out of life-threatening trouble, often with comedic effect, they always won out, good over evil. Granted the program was embellished with a lot of "Hollywood," but was based on the historical fact that in the mid 1800's on the frontier, the popularity of gambling flourished.

As towns spread through the West, along river crossings, near mining and logging sites, at railroad stops and outside Army forts, saloons, brothels and gambling halls sprang up for the mainly male population. Early camps with dirt-floor tents and bars made from boards balanced between two whiskey barrels grew into prosperous towns with wooden buildings with false fronts to make them look larger.

By mid-19th century, cities boasted elegant saloons with ornate bars, huge bar mirrors and chandeliers.

One of the most popular gambling games was poker. The exact origin of the game is unknown. Some historians believe that it came from a 16th century Persian card game called As Nas. Still others say it can't be pinpointed in time and believe the game evolved from many different countries. 

Another, vingt-et-un (twenty-one), was introduced in the predominately French community of New Orleans, a game now called blackjack. However, the most popular gambling game in the West was faro, its name supposedly derived from Egyptian pharaohs depicted on the back of French playing cards.

The historic California gold rush of 1849 brought many of the Mississippi gamblers to San Francisco where large gambling houses never closed their doors and enormous sums changed hands over the tables. Then in the 1860's came the great mining excitement of the Comstock Lode in Nevada. As in San Francisco, gambling houses dominated the main streets of the new towns, the most populated centering around Virginia City. 

The construction of the transcontinental railroad across the continent produced a number of towns with flimsy erected gambling halls, saloons, dance halls and brothels that became known as "Hell on Wheels." Men working in the remote frontier, far from home, gave cardsharps (depending on the region, also known as card sharks) plenty of opportunity to separate such men from their wages. As the Union Pacific rail line continually moved westward to meet the Central Pacific in its historic linkup in Utah Territory on May 10, 1869, Hell on Wheels followed, reconstructing their shacks, whiskey barrels, gambling equipment and other belongings to the next location at the end of the line. A few of those communities remained; today's cities, North Platte, NE, Julesburg, CO and Cheyenne, WY can trace their origins to Hell on Wheels.

The decade of the 1870's brought more boomtowns along its mining communities, namely Deadwood in Dakota Territory, Tombstone in Arizona Territory and Leadville in Colorado. The famous Wild Bill Hickok was shot to death as he sat in a poker game in a Deadwood saloon, and the hand he held - aces and eights, became the legendary expression, ‘Dead Man's Hand.’

With the advent of trail drives of Texas Longhorns to the Kansas cow towns of Abilene, Wichita, and Dodge City, more gambling meccas were built and more legendary names made Western history. With backs to the wall and guns at their sides, lawmen, Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson were well known for their gambling professions, as were Doc Holliday, Ben Thompson and Luke Short. 

During the late 19th century many frontier towns and states enacted new laws against gambling, establishing limits and mainly targeting the professional gamblers. At first, the anti-gaming laws were weak and penalties were light. But with the rise of woman suffrage reform movements across the nation in the early 20th century and the prohibition of alcoholic beverages, the gambling laws were gradually strengthened. Ironically, Nevada was one of the first states in the West to make gambling illegal in 1909, other states soon following suit.

By the time construction on the Hoover Dam was underway in 1931, Nevada relaxed its gambling laws and casinos soon were back in business. By 1939, six casinos and sixteen saloons were flourishing in Las Vegas. As is often said, "the rest is history." Las Vegas became the gambling and entertaining mecca it is today. 

Over the years, gambling has grown in popularity.  And you don't have to travel to Las Vegas to place a bet. Today many states have reintroduced gambling in limited formats and with carefully regulated laws. One doesn't even have to leave the comfort of the home, as anyone can log onto a computer to tempt the fates. 

But the professional gamblers of the western frontier are long lost legends and only remembered in history books .... or seen on old TV western reruns .... or quite possibly read in books written by Sweethearts of the West!

Born in Nebraska, Cheri Kay Clifton loved researching the Oregon Trail, historically known as the "Gateway to the West." Her passion for those brave pioneers, Native Americans and 19th Century America led her to write the epic western historical Wheels of Destiny Trilogy.  Cheri is married and has one grown son.  If she’s not riding on the back of her husband’s Harley, she’s writing the third book in the Wheels of Destiny Trilogy which includes published Book 1, Trail To Destiny and Award Winning Book 2, Destiny’s Journey.
"The Old West isn't just a time or place, it's a state of mind.  I get germs of ideas, do a lot of research, then breathe life into my characters.  I like strong heroines, but loveable; and strong heros, but vulnerable."
Reviews from Easychair Bookshop judges:  "A must read western romance." "A10/10 read." "Action, adventure, romance at its very best."

My Links:

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Stage Coach Mary

By Paisley Kirkpatrick
Mary Fields, also known as Stagecoach Mary and Black Mary, was the first African-American woman to be a star route mail carrier in the United States. She wasn't an employee of the United States Post Office because the Post Office Department did not hire or employ mail carriers for star routes. Instead, they awarded star route contracts to persons who presented the lowest qualified bids, and who posted bonds and sureties to substantiate their ability to finance the route. Once they obtained a contract, the contractor could drive the route themselves, sublet the route, or hire an experienced driver. Some individuals obtained multiple star route contracts and conducted the operations as a business.
Mary Fields obtained the star route contract for the delivery of U.S. mail from Cascade, Montana to Saint Peter's Mission in 1885. She drove the route with horse and wagon, not a stagecoach, for two four-year contracts from 1885 to 1889 and from 1889 to 1893.
Born a slave in Hickman County, Tennessee, in 1832, Mary was freed when slavery was outlawed in the United States in 1865. She took the opportunity to work in the home of Judge Edmund Dunne. When Dunne's wife Josephine died in 1883, in San Antonio, Florida, Mary took the family's five children to their aunt, Mother Mary Amadeus, the mother superior of an Ursuline convent in Toledo, Ohio.
In 1884, Mother Amadeus was sent to Montana Territory to establish a school for Native American girls at St. Peter's Mission, west of Cascade. Learning that Mother Amadeus was stricken with pneumonia, Mary hurried to Montana to nurse her back to health. After Mother Amadeus recovered, Mary stayed at St. Peter's, hauling freight, doing laundry, growing vegetables, tending chickens, and repairing buildings. Eventually she became the forewoman.
The Native Americans called Mary Fields 'White Crow' because she acted like a white woman even though she had black skin. Local whites didn't know what to make of her. One schoolgirl wrote an essay saying, "She drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature."
In 1894, after several complaints and an incident that involved gunplay with a disgruntled male subordinate, the bishop ordered her to leave the convent. Mother Amadeus helped her open a restaurant in nearby Cascade. Mary served food to anyone, whether they could pay or not. The restaurant went broke in about ten months.
In 1895, although she was approximately 60 years old, Mary Fields was hired as a mail carrier because she was the fastest applicant to hitch a team of six horses. This job made her the second woman, and first African American woman, to work for the U.S. Postal Service.
She drove the route with horses and a mule named Moses. She never missed a day of work, and her reliability earned her the nickname of Stagecoach Mary. If the snow was too deep for her horses, Mary delivered the mail on snowshoes, carrying the sacks on her shoulders.
Mary Fields died in 1914 at Columbus Hospital in Great Falls, Montana, but she was buried outside Cascade.

Monday, October 30, 2017


By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

When it comes to the subject of Halloween -- depending on where you live -- there are numerous customs and traditions associated with the holiday.

During the TEN (10) years that I have been a member of the Sweethearts of the West blog, I have covered many of them; from ghost towns to seances and spirits that allegedly still haunt the White House. Today, however, I decided to revisit a favorite post I made several years ago which focused on three customs and/or origins of celebrating Halloween. They include: a traditional game you will not only find in the American West but other parts of the United States and the world, the Pagan origins of Halloween, and the one city in the United States that, in my opinion, showcases the all-inclusive best celebration of Halloween each October.


Have you ever wondered where the traditions and games we often celebrate on Halloween first originated? Who thought up bobbing for apples? When and where did that particular game make its chilling debut? Picture the scene. Whilst planning a party to celebrate All Hallows Eve, along with tasty food, music and dancing, ideas are requested for games which might add to the evening’s merriment.

So, naturally, someone (whose name still remains a mystery) suggested filling a big wooden tub with cold water and apples. Participants were first required to have their hands tied behind their backs then told to try and grab an apple with their teeth as quickly as possible. Please note the apple must remain firmly affixed between the participant’s teeth as they lift their now drenched head to the delight of onlookers. Sometimes called apple bobbing, it is also known as dooking for apples in Scotland (where it is expected the head be completely submerged whilst trying to retrieve an apple). In Ireland, the game is known as Snap Apple. In fact, another word for Halloween (especially in County Kerry) is Snap Apple Night.

In the above painting by Daniel Maclise, the Irish artist captured the merriment and festivities of celebrating Snap Apple Night, including the game of snap apple. Maclise painted this piece from memory after attending a Halloween Party in Blarney, Ireland on 31 October 1832. Although young boys are gathered about the tub of water in Maclise’s painting for the ‘fun of it’, there is yet another connotation associated with the game based on the history of the apple tree, Pagan beliefs, and romantic superstition.

Long, long ago, when the Romans brought the apple tree to ancient Britain, their fertility goddess Pomona was associated with the fruit-bearing tree. Her name itself is derived from the Latin word for fruit, pomum, and the French word for apple, pomme.

As fate would have it, since the Romans associated fertility with the apple tree, so did the Celts. How, you might ask yourself? The answer can be found by slicing an apple in half. Ancient Celts saw that the seeds formed a pentagram-like shape and since the pentagram was the Celtic symbol for fertility, it was naturally determined that apples could (drumroll, please) "determine marriages”.

In the "romantic" version of the Snap Apple Game, apples were suspended from a string. The same rule of hands being tied behind the back of each participant applied. Allegedly, if you were the first person to bite the apple, you would be the next person to marry.

Other customs include good luck being the first person to bite into the apple in which a coin had been hidden; in which case, you would likely be the first person at the party to sport a broken tooth. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. One can only assume the coins were added as an alternate tangible prize rather than the rather iffy divination that matrimony was in your near future. After all, a young colleen might be content with the idea of becoming a bride whereas a young man might prefer the coin.

All fun aside, bobbing for apples is not without risk. Apart from catching a severe cold by repeatedly dunking your head into a bucket of cold water, there is a strong argument these days for cross-contamination of the water and apples among the participants. Of course, skilled mystery writer Agatha Christie also noted a rather glaring potential risk by using the chilling sport to drown a victim in her 1969 Hercule Poirot novel Hallowe’en Party.


As for Halloween itself, most of us have heard about the Pagan holiday of Samhain (pronounced sah-win). A medieval Celtic festival, Samhain was considered (and still is by practicing Pagans) the most important day of their calendar. It is, in fact, the Ancient Celtic New Year. Because of the time it took place, October 31st – November 1st, Samhain marked the end of harvesting (with all its blessings) and turned one’s thoughts toward preparing for the dark days of winter.

From a more paranormal perspective, Samhain is one of two days in the Pagan calendar (the other is Beltane) when the door to the Celtic Otherworld opened, allowing souls of the dead to revisit their homes and loved ones. Faerie folk were also believed to cross the threshold from their world into ours.

However, since it was believed harmful spirits and mischievous faeries could also enter the mortal world, costumes were often worn in the Highlands and isles of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, to disguise one’s self and provide protection from harm. Hence, the association between wearing costumes then and now cannot be ignored.

Bonfires were lit to ward off evil. Even the art of carving and lighting pumpkins and turnips can be traced back to Samhain as a means to ward off evil. The practice of “trick or treaters” going door-to-door is also tied to the Samhain traditions whereby boys would go to neighboring homes asking for food and fuel donations for the traditional community bonfire. By contributing to this cause, one was certain to have good fortune.

However, Christian ties to Samhain were established in the 8th century by Pope Gregory III when he proclaimed November 1st of each year henceforth to be celebrated as All Saint’s Day. Sometimes called All Souls Day, this relocated holiday (originally held in May) was created to honor all Saints and Martyrs to the Christian faith.

Strangely enough, many of the Pagan traditions for Samhain were "grandfathered" into the Christian Saint's day. For example, the day before All Saint’s Day became known as All Hallows’ Eve, and it was believed that on this night the barrier between the living and the dead became very thin – much like the Pagan belief that the door to the Otherworld opened on Samhain.


Salem, Massachusetts may be known as Witch City for 11 months of the year, but every October it becomes Halloween Town. Beginning October 1st of each year, as ghostly fog drifts in from the bay and chilled autumn winds sweep down narrow streets where 17th and 18th century houses still bear the names of their original owners, throngs of visitors gather together to celebrate Halloween.

Something is happening every day in Salem during the month of October. The festivities include Haunted Harbor Cruises where passengers tour Salem Sound and are entertained with tales of "ruthless pirates, haunted lighthouses and living monsters who wreak havoc on local ships to this day." The stories may be chilling, but the ship is heated.

Other activities include Ghost Hunting Excursions, a variety of Masquerade and Halloween Balls, Psychic Fairs, Ghost Walking Tours, and Trolley Rides that entertain after-dark passengers with the spooky history of Salem.

You'll find magic shows and carnival rides that would tempt Harry Potter himself. Besides, in what other town can you find the New England Pirate Museum, the Salem Witch Museum, the Witch Dungeon Museum, and the Witch History Museum. There is even a shop that will custom make fangs for you!

Salem is an enchanting city in daylight, too, with stunning historical architecture, wonderful restaurants, beautiful New England scenery (especially in autumn), and one of the nation's largest museums, the Peabody Essex Museum.

So, whether your idea of celebrating Halloween includes a visit to a local haunted house or a spooky cornfield maze, attending a costume party, chaperoning your favorite disguised youngster as they ring doorbells and recite the tried and true greeting “Trick or Treat”, or just staying at home with a mug of spiced apple cider while reading a good ghost story (hopefully BETWEEN THE SHADOWS by yours truly), have a wonderful All Hallow’s Eve, a Blessed Samhain, and a truly Happy and Safe Halloween!

As always, thank you for stopping by Sweethearts of the West blog. ~ AKB

PS: Although not a western, I do hope you will check out BETWEEN THE SHADOWS, a haunting historical fantasy suspense set in Regency England and Scotland. Available in print, as well as on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo formats. Check out my website at: for buy options .

PATIENCE SINCLAIR has lost everything — her family, her freedom, and the young man she loves. After years spent exiled by her family in the remote Highlands of Scotland, when a terrified childhood friend needs help, Patience realizes the time has come for her to fight back and embrace the extraordinary gift she has kept hidden from the world.

However, each step Patience takes toward freedom puts her in the terrifying path of an evil unlike anything she has ever known. When fate reunites her with a lost love, Patience learns there are others with hidden abilities and that joining them in the secret LEGION OF MITHRAS may be the only way to save humanity. BETWEEN THE SHADOWS is a stand alone novel and the first book in THE LEGION OF MITHRAS series.