Monday, April 24, 2017

Spooning the Frontier Preacher by Paty Jager

While trying to construct/conceive/fabricate the hero of my next historical western romance I hit the research trail to discover which denomination of clergymen wore the white collar. In this quest I purchased a used book titled: Pioneers & Preachers by Robert William Mondy.

I thought the book would tell me more about the type of man who became a preacher in the old west and a bit more about how they lived.  In some respects it did show me that preachers, especially itinerant ones, were at the mercy of the people along their route. They traveled throughout the mid-west and west without a church but stopping at people's houses and towns to preach. They stayed in homes, ate with the families, and then headed out again to hopefully find another house to give them a roof and food for the night.

The book also stated that even the clergymen in the small towns weren't given any money as compensation for staying in a town. He usually had to find a job to make a living, while preaching on Sundays and tending to the needs of the town during the week. This part I liked. It gives my heroine even more of surprise when she discovers the hero is a preacher. ;)

According to the author of the book the best preachers were the ones that could blend in with the people they encountered or lived with. Here are a few sayings that were in the book:

"Setting to her" was a term from bird hunting and it meant that a man was courting a lady.
"She kicked him" meant a lady rejected a man.

Itinerant preachers found themselves the most welcome when a marriage ceremony need to be performed because a couple had produced many children, or an overdue funeral service as needed.

A good preacher did more than quote the Bible, he could be a teacher or counselor, help with raising a house, or planting a field. He had to be versed in many things.

The parts in the book that had me chuckling were tales of spending the night in some "full" houses. People were so happy to have messenger of God come to their homes and communities they would ride out and tell neighbors there was a preacher. People would come from as far as ten miles away to hear a sermon and speak with the preacher. There were times when many would stay over night. There was mention of one night when there were 40 people sleeping in a cabin that measured 12 feet by 16 feet. At bed time all the men were chased outside and beds of blankets and buffalo robes spread on the floor. Before the men returned 10 women got under cover with the married ones in the center(this didn't' make sense to me). The men came in, each husband laid down with his wife and the single men laid on the outside. when someone wanted to turn, they said, "Spoon" and everyone would turn at the same time.

Another told of men going outside as women retired for the night, slipping into beds and covering themselves completely. The men then entered, undressed and slept on pallets on the floor. In the morning, they all lay in their places chatting until they decided they should get up. The woman covered their faces with their hands while the men dressed and left to do the chores.

This is what I like about the pioneer spirit and the old west. There are scenarios that could happen that make for great scenes in fiction books.

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 30+ novels, a dozen novellas, and a passel of short stories of murder mystery, western romance, and action adventure. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters.This is what readers have to say about  the Letters of Fate series- “...filled with romance, adventure and twists and turns.” “What a refreshing and well written love story of fate and hope!”

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Weird Texas: A Book Review, Sort of

I am fascinated by strange or unusual places, occurrences and historical mysteries, as well as untapped powers of the human mind. That’s why I feature psychic characters in my novels and why I love reading about mythology and legends. It’s no surprise then, that when I spotted a book titled Weird Texas while browsing a local Buc-ee’s (a huge gas station, food stop and souvenir hunter’s paradise) I had to have it.

This book is a treasure trove of spooky tales and oddities from the Lone Star State, including some ancient not-so-natural sites. One is “Enchanted Rock,” a pink granite dome more than one billion years old. Encompassing 640 acres in the Hill Country of central Texas, some twenty miles north of Fredericksburg, the rock reaches 400 feet above the surrounding land. The huge batholith (an igneous rock formation exposed by erosion) is the second largest in the United States, the first being Stone Mountain in Georgia. It’s also one of the oldest in the world.

The name Enchanted Rock stems from Native American beliefs that it is haunted, so the story goes. Both the Tonkawa and Comanche feared and revered the rock, possibly offering sacrifices at its base. The Apache believed it was inhabited by mountain spirits. Since many Indians avoided the rock, white settlers sometimes sought refuge there from raiding parties.

One legend says the rock is haunted by a band of warriors who fought to the death against enemy attackers. Their wailing spirits supposedly wander over the rock. Modern scientists suggest the Indians saw how the rock glitters at night after a heavy rain and thought the glittering lights were spirits. Likewise, they mistook the creaking sounds the rock makes when the surface chills after a warm day, for ghostly wails.

The book's authors say, "Such theories do not credit the Indians with having much sense, and assume that they were a superstitious bunch, ignorant in the ways of nature. Much of this attitude may result from our own ignorance of the forces of nature, of which the Indians were very much aware."

Members of the Weird Texas team have camped near Enchanted Rock and other granite rocks in the area. They report hearing strange noises coming from the giant rock, particularly during solstices, that sound like the hum of a high-voltage power line, even though there are such lines anywhere near. The authors speculate that the lights and sounds come from energy within the granite, and go on to say shamanistic cultures have long held such sites sacred.

This is just a small taste of the interesting legends -- and facts -- I found in this thoroughly entertaining book. If you'd like to add it to your library, it's available on  Amazon. 

You can also find all of my books on Amazon.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Wild Wonders of Hoover Dam by Sarah J. McNeal

One of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been was when I visited Hoover Dam, an American icon. Although I had seen it in movies and documentaries, nothing prepared me for the magnificence of it first hand and in person. It’s not just a dam to provide water and electricity to millions, it is also a work of art.
The unpredictable and powerful Colorado River overflowed its banks every spring and flooded the land. It caused the ruin of crops and loss of income for farmers all along its banks. If only there was a way to control the water from the Colorado in order to irrigate the land and provide drinking water for those who lived toward the south and to the west. Once electricity blossomed in towns across the U.S. people began to wonder if they could somehow use the Colorado to generate electricity. Taming the Colorado would be a mammoth undertaking even for the best engineers of the day. So, when the Government instructed the Bureau of Reclamation to come up with a solution, it was decided to build the world's largest dam.

Frank Crow and Walker Young

Frank Crow, general superintendent, and Walker Young  Engineer of Hoovered Dam were assigned the job to get it completed in the span from 1931 - 1935. The construction of Hoover took 7 years at a cost of $ 125 million. Nowadays this amount is about 788 million dollars. If the dam was not completed in the given time it would have cost the contractors $ 3000 / day in financial penalties.

The site chosen for the megastructure Hoover Dam was Black Canyon. It is an 800 feet high deep gorge through which the Colorado River flowed. The spot, Black canyon is in the middle of the desert, so there was no infrastructure, no labors, no transportation and the weather was harsh. 21,000 men took part in its construction and of them 112 laid their lives to complete this mega structure. Situated in Mojave Desert, 30 Km south-east of Las Vegas. Built on Colorado River at Black Canyon, the construction site was extremely difficult. The risks involved were huge and the consequences could have been catastrophic, if the dam failed.

The construction had to be done in stages. The first stage was necessary to divert the Colorado. It’s kind of difficult to build a dam while the river is pouring water over the area of construction. Just considering the diversion of the river is exhausting and mind-boggling.

In April 1931 blasting began for construction on the plain dry area where the dam would be placed. To divert the Colorado, 4 tunnels were excavated on each side of the Canyon, measuring 4000 feet long and 56 feet in diameter. These tunnels became diversion channels. Two tunnels were constructed on the Nevada side and another two were constructed on the Arizona side. Two small cofferdams were built to force water into the tunnels. Drilling, digging, and blasting along with debris removal continued for 13 months, with men working 3 shifts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Holidays were observed only at Christmas, 4th July and Labor Day.

Apache Indians hired to work on high scaffolding

The workers faced harsh conditions but were paid only 40% extra for this arduous and often dangerous work. No proper ventilation was provides, work was extremely physically demanding. Men had to swing 100's of feet down the canyon walls to remove dangerous loose rocks, using jacks and dynamites. Due to lack of safety measure men required nerves of steel. 

Workers swinging on the side of the canyon

The most common cause of death was, being hit by falling rocks. But the construction of Hoover Dam took place during the years of the Great Depression and workers were actually happy to be hired no matter the danger of the work involved.

Because no roads led into the canyon, men and equipment arrived at the work site by boat. Workers used 500 pneumatic drills, hoses, and compressors to make holes in the canyon rock where explosives could be placed. Once holes were drilled, workers used dynamite to blast into the rock and break it into smaller pieces that could be hauled away by dump trucks. A ton of dynamite was needed for every 14 feet of tunnel in the canyon walls. Special teams visited the inside of the tunnels to ensure it would remain safe for the workers to work inside. The tunnels were lined with concrete. By using this technique, the workers were able to blast and excavate large diversion tunnels, each of which was about the size of a 4-lane highway, lined with 3 feet of concrete. These tunnels allowed the river water to be transported away from the construction site at a rate of 1.5 million gallons per second. By November, 14, 1932, the 4 tunnels began to divert the water away from the site and the workers made alternate cofferdams by using 100 trucks to dump dirt, rock, and debris into the water at a rate of one truckload every 15 seconds. This amazing pace of dredging and dumping went on for many months.
At this point Stage 2 of construction began. This was the stage in which the actual dam was built. The work was huge and there were many problems in design which needed to be solved. Hoover is an arch gravity dam, incorporating two principles.

Arial View of Hoover Dam

The first principle has to do with the weight of the dam forces into the ground due to its weight, thus helping it to remain stable. The second principle is that the arch shape of the dam deflects the force of the water into the canyon walls through the compression of the dam's concrete walls, using the compressive strength of concrete because concrete is very strong in compression. The major problem now was the pouring of 3.4 million cubic meters of concrete. Plants were installed at the construction site to produce concrete locally. But the dam was too big to be made into a single concrete mount. If the concrete in the dam was poured in only one go, the concrete would not have settled even by today. When the ingredients of concrete - cement, sand, coarse aggregate combine in the presence of water, they start a chemical reaction, resulting in the generation of internal heat which slows down the curing process. The larger the pour, the longer the cure. If heat is not dispersed, cracks would form and weaken the structure.

                                      Concrete Dam Forms

The solution to the heat generating problem was to pour the concrete in layers of interlocking blocks, each 5 feet tall. To accelerate the setting of concrete, cool water pipes were passed through each block. The concrete mix was cooled and cured faster.  Then the next layer was poured. To speed up pouring of concrete in the mega structure, an elaborate overhead network of cables and pulleys was designed, carrying vast buckets of concrete. Labors stayed on the site to spread, place and compact the poured in concrete. Due to this new method, a record breaking volume - 8000 cubic meters of concrete was poured in a single day.

Secretary of the Interior Ray L. Wilbur announced the structure would be called Hoover Dam at a 1930 dedication ceremony, though the name didn’t become official until 1947. September 30, 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the completed dam.

The Hoover Dam Angels

I couldn’t help but notice the Art Nuevo design used for the decorative columns in Hoover Dam. They are impressive and beautiful.

The Star Map in the center of the floor

Hanson Bas Relief on the inside wall of the dam

Here are some factoids for your inquisitive minds:
726.4 feet high (221 m)
1,244 feet wide (379 m)
660 feet (203 m) thick at the base
45 feet (13 m) thick at the top
$165 million dollars to build
4.5 years to build
4.4 million yards of concrete used for construction
March 1931 building began
September 30, 1935 completed
17 generators
4+ billion kilowatt hours produced each year
10 acres of floor space

Power used by:
56% California
25% Nevada
19% Arizona
Lake Mead took 6.5 years to fill (A slow filling process was required to lessen the pressure change on the dam and to help prevent small earthquakes due to land settlement.)
589 feet (181 m) at the deepest point
247 square miles in size
110 miles (176 km) long
Named after Dr. Elwood Mead, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation (1924 - 1936)
Largest man made reservoir in the United States

 Hoover Dam Memorial by Oskar J. W. Hanson

And there you have it, the great, iconic Hoover Dam. An engineering accomplishment and a work of art.  

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:

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Messiah Festival by Linda K. Hubalek

It's Easter Sunday and I'm listening to the Messiah right now, online from our local radio station...and I realize I didn't get my post up for today. So here's today's post about a group of pioneer Swedes who tackled the HUGE project of learning The Messiah - in English - to perform for the Easter season in their little Swedish community in central Kansas.

This annual event has been presented - every year - since 1882. I have sang in the chorus some years but unfortunately not this year.

Here's some information and photos from

Upon hearing Handel's oratorio Messiah performed in London, the Rev. Olof Olsson immediately expressed his enthusiasm for the work in a letter to his friend Dr. Carl Swensson in Lindsborg. In 1882 the decision was made to perform Messiah in the Smoky Valley that spring with Swensson's wife, Alma, conducting.

Chorus members, town and farm folks alike, came from miles around for rehearsals. Most had no knowledge of music, and some little knowledge of the English language. But Mrs. Swensson persevered and the first performance was given March 28, 1882, at Bethany Lutheran Church. Subsequent performances were given at McPherson, Salina, Freemount, and Salemsborg.

Performances were moved to the Old Main chapel upon completion of that building, then to the Ling Gymnasium, and finally to its present location, Presser Hall Auditorium. Bach's Passion of Our Lord according to St. Matthew has been performed by the Oratorio Society on Good Friday since moving to Presser in 1929.

The Messiah Chorus as it appeared in Ling Gymnasium. The tradition began in 1882 at Bethany Lutheran Church, then moved to the chapel in Old Main upon that building's completion in 1886, and to Ling beginning with the 1896 season. Ling was destroyed by fire in 1946. 

The Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific Railroads would schedule special excursion trains to transport people from hundreds of miles around to experience the art and music of Holy Week in Lindsborg. Today tour buses continue to do the same thing.

Today the performance is given in Presser Hall on the Bethany College campus.

Want to hear part of it? This was a 2014 video, and I'm in the right alto section, second row.

Happy Easter everyone!

Linda Hubalek

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sand Pounders of WWII

I don't know how I chanced upon this topic—"Sand Pounders." But, it intrigued me. I couldn't imagine what the term referred to until I read the article. Then it all made sense, and I thought what a great topic for a blog post or for a novel.

After Pearl Harbor, the security of our beaches became a concern. However, even before Pearl Harbor, the beach patrol was set into motion.

"On Feb. 3, 1941, all coastal areas of the United States were organized into defense divisions known as Naval Coastal Frontiers. Then on Nov. 1, 1941, under Executive Order No. 8929, the Coast Guard was transferred to the Navy for the duration of what would soon become, for the U.S., World War II."

The Army handled land defense, the Navy would handle the offshore patrols, and the Coast Guard would handle beach patrol.

They had had three basic functions:

"*To detect and observe enemy vessels operating in coastal waters and to transmit information on these craft to the appropriate Navy and Army commands;

*To report attempts of landings by the enemy and to assist in preventing landings;

*Prevent communication between persons on shore and the enemy at sea."

In the first months of the war, patrols were handled much as they were during peacetime—one man armed with flares.

Warnings about enemy landings from the FBI were issued, but weren't taken seriously.  One incident in June of 1942 changed the Coast Guard's thinking. On June 13, 1942 the U-202 surfaced off the coast of Long Island, N.Y. Four Nazi agents came ashore in a rubber raft with the intention of striking  key U.S. factories and railroads. They changed from their uniforms into civilian clothing.

While making his six-mile patrol, 21 year-old John Cullen, Seaman 2nd Class saw someone walk out of the fog. He ordered the man to identify himself, the stranger said he was George Davis and that their fishing boat had run aground. Cullen could see the other agents dimly in the fog. One called out something in a foreign language. Suspicious, Cullen suggested they accompany him to the Coast Guard station. Davis then offered Cullen $300 to forget he'd seen anything.

At the station, Boatswain's Mate Carl R. Jenette listened incredulously to the story. They returned to the scene to find the agents were gone, but they could smell diesel oil offshore and hear the throbbing of an engine. The U-202 was trying to free itself. They could also see a blinker light. They hid behind a dune to prevent being shelled.

The next morning they returned to find to find buried explosives and incendiary devices.

The beach patrol served as a coastal information system.

Certain area of the beach were dangerous to walk so boat and motor patrols were established. Foot patrols required men to travel in pairs. They carried rifles, or sidearms and flare pistols. Distances covered were usually two miles or less as they had to report in by telephone boxes placed three quarter miles apart.

In 1942, dogs were added to beach patrols. Their keen sense of smell and ability to guard made them valuable additions. The dogs were fitted with canvas boots to protect their paws from sea coral and seashells.

When the dogs came into use, the two man teams were replaced with canine patrols. The length of their patrol was about a mile. The dogs saved their handlers lives on numerous occasions. One guardsman almost walked off a cliff, another passed out. His dog ran for help and
saved him from hypothermia.

By late 1942, horses began to arrive. "... recruits were drawn largely from the Midwest and from east of the Cascades—horse country." Oregon beaches were not easy to cover by walking.

"Pairs of Coast Guard guys, both packing .38 revolvers and Raising M50 submachine guns, usually mounted, one with a backpack radio transmitter — doggedly making their way along the beach in the teeth of every kind of weather the Oregon Coast can supply, eyes peeled for any sign of Japanese marauders."
As to the Sand Pounders success, it's hard to say. Though they never stopped an invasion, the people of Oregon were comforted by their presence as people in others areas of the U.S. were also.

"But, it's possible that the Sand Pounders had won their fight before they even suited up." The incident mentioned earlier about the Nazi saboteurs on Long Island, their capture and convictions must have sent a loud message back to the Axis Powers. "...the American home front was not going to be an easy target."

There are many articles on the Internet about the Sand Pounders. I could only report on a small portion of their activities here.

Thank you for stopping by Sweethearts of the West. If you're not following us, please do. We have interesting posts every two days. Most of them are on the old west, though some of us vary off subject from time to time.

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Happy Reading and Writing,

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

All Hail Texas Pecans! (and a recipe)

In Texas, pecans are a Big Deal. The trees are native to the state, and according the archaeological record, they’ve been here since long before humans arrived. When people did arrive, they glommed onto the nuts right away as an excellent source of essential vitamins (nineteen of them, in fact), fats, and proteins. Comanches and other American Indians considered the nuts a dietary staple, combining pecans with fruits and other nuts to make a sort of “trail mix.” They also used pecan milk to make an energy drink and thickened stews and soups with the ground meat. Most Indians carried stores of the nuts with them when they traveled long distances, because pecans would sustain them when no other food sources were available.

Texas pecans. Ain't they cute?
An individual Texas pecan tree may live for more than 1,000 years. Some grow to more than 100 feet tall.

Pecans have been an important agricultural product in Texas since the mid-1800s. In 1850, 1,525 bushels left the Port of Galveston; just four years later, the number of bushels exceeded 13,000. In 1866, the ports at Galveston, Indianola, and Port Lavaca combined shipped more than 20,000 barrels of pecans.

Nevertheless, as the state’s population exploded, pecan groves dwindled. Trees were cut to clear fields for cotton. Pecan wood was used to make wagon parts and farm implements. One of Texas’s great natural resources was depleted so quickly that in 1904, the legislature considered passing laws to prevent the complete disappearance of the pecan.

Left alone to regenerate for a couple of decades, Texas pecan groves came back bigger than ever. Until 1945, Texas trees produced more 30 percent of the U.S. pecan crop. In 1910, pecan production in the state reached nearly six million pounds, and the trees grew in all but eight counties. During the 1920s, Texas exported 500 railcar loads per year, and that was only 75 percent of the state’s crop. The average annual production between 1936 and 1946 was just shy of 27 million pounds; in 1948, a banner year for pecan production, the crop zoomed to 43 million pounds produced by 3,212,633 trees. In 1972, the harvest reached a whopping 75 million pounds.

Texas pecan orchard. Pecans make great climbing trees.
During the Great Depression, the pecan industry provided jobs for many Texans. The nuts had to be harvested and shelled. Shelling employed 12,000 to 15,000 people in San Antonio alone.

The Texas legislature designated the pecan the official state tree in 1919. Between then and now, pecan nuts became Texas’s official state health food (Texas has an official health food?), and pecan pie became the state’s official pie (and my official favorite pie). Pecan wood is used to make baseball bats, hammer handles, furniture, wall paneling, flooring, carvings, and firewood.

Yep. Pecans have always been, and continue to be, a Big Deal in Texas—especially during the holidays. I’d be surprised if any native Texans don’t bake at least one pecan pie for either Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner or both. Then there are folks like me who bake them year-round, just because they’re delicious.

Texas pecan pie. See how dark and luscious that is?
Milk-custard, my hind leg.
The first known appearance of a pecan pie recipe in print can be found on page 95 in the February 6, 1886, issue of Harper’s Bazaar. I’ll bet Texans were baking the pies long before that, though—and I’ll bet even back then Texas pecan pies weren’t the wimpy little milk-custard-based, meringue-covered things Harper’s recommended. In Texas, we make our pecan pies with brown sugar, molasses or corn syrup, butter, eggs, a whole mess of pecans, and sometimes bourbon.

Another thing Texans have been making with pecans for a long, long time is cinnamon-pecan cake. My family doesn’t put bourbon in this dessert. Instead, we pour a delicious whiskey sauce over each slice. (It occurs to me that for a passel of Baptists, my family sure cooks with a lot of liquor. See the old family recipe for muscadine wine here.)

On to the cake recipe!

Cinnamon Pecan Cake

1 cup butter, softened
2 ½ cups sugar
5 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 cup chopped pecans
Additional chopped pecans or pecan halves for topping, if desired

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans.

In large bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.

In another large bowl, beat butter and sugar at medium speed 3 to 4 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beating at low speed, add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

At low speed, alternately add milk and flour mixture into sugar mixture, beating just until blended. Fold in pecans. Spread in pans. Sprinkle chopped pecans or arrange pecan halves on top, if desired.

Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove to wire rack and cool completely.

Whiskey Sauce

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
½ Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup bourbon

In small saucepan over medium heat, bring cream to a boil.

Whisk cornstarch and water together and add to cream while whisking constantly.

Bring to a boil, whisk and simmer until thickened (taking care not to scorch the mixture on the bottom). Remove from heat.

Stir in sugar and bourbon. Taste. Add sugar and whiskey to adjust sweetness and flavor, if desired.

A Texan to the bone, Kathleen Rice Adams spends her days chasing news stories and her nights and weekends shooting it out with Wild West desperadoes. Leave the upstanding, law-abiding heroes to other folks. In Kathleen’s stories, even the good guys wear black hats.

Her short story “The Second-Best Ranger in Texas” won the Peacemaker Award for Best Western Short Fiction. Her novel Prodigal Gun won the EPIC Award for Historical Romance and is the only western historical romance ever to final for a Peacemaker in a book-length category.

Visit her hideout on the web at