Monday, October 22, 2018

MAN WITH A THOUSAND FACES #SweetheartsoftheWest #history #theater

I'm taking a short break from writing about early women performers to focus on a man who was born in my adopted town. He started in theater here and went on to be known as the 'man with a thousand faces'. It seemed appropriate with the coming of Halloween. For those who are wondering the man is Lon Chaney. That is Lon Chaney Sr. not his son who was also an actor.

So who was Lon Chaney and why do I love his story and work?

Lon Chaney, Sr. The Miracle Man.jpg
From Wikipedia - Lon Chaney during production of
The Miracle Man - 1919
Lon (Leonidas Frank) Chaney was born April 1, 1883 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His maternal Grandfather founded the Colorado School for the Education of Mutes (now the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind) in 1874. His daughter Emma Alice Kennedy, was was deaf. She met Frank H Chaney, also deaf, at the school. The couple had four children, John, Lon, George and Carolin.

The story is Chaney went through fourth grade,then due to family hardship, Lon quit school to find a job and help out. News articles after his death claim he worked as a guide on Pikes Peak. He got a taste of the theater when he worked as a stage hand at the Colorado Springs Opera House in the 1890s after his brother John helped him land the job. The review for his first appearance in front of the curtain read "As a comedian he is irresistible and it would be hard to find his equal in the dancing among many first class vaudeville performers."

Image result for lon chaney images
Lon Chaney - date unknown
It was after moving to California that Chaney started working in film. He was an actor, writer and director, but it is an an actor we know him.

Elza Schallert, magazine writer and radio host, in her article "Behind Lon Chaney's Mask" had this to say:

Lon Chaney, [as an actor] I believe, is writing his signature on the page whose ink is not yet dry. And I believe it will be in years to come a bold, vigorous impression, easy to read and remember.

Chaney is an actor who, once seen, is never forgotten. He may not win your unqualified approval, with his extreme characterizations. He may annoy you more than inspire, with his hideous makeups of clouded eyes, twisted limbs or dangling teeth and a formless head. But you remember him!

His mask may be to some a nightmare but the force of his acting is strong enough to make itself felt through a disguise of putty and false hair and iron clamps that would annihilate the most potent of actors.

And in the end, no matter how repulsive the characters he plays, no matter how implacably villainous, he always becomes a hero — a tragic one, perhaps — who gains your sympathy and touches the heart.

.Lon himself had this to say, according to the article "My Darkest Hour":

"When I saw my first picture on the screen, a comedy, I wept!" And Lon Chaney grinned cheerfully, now that it was all safely in the past. "I had been playing a musical comedy and naturally supposed I could get over in pictures. In fact, I recall thinking how I would knock Ford Sterling — cold. As I considered Sterling a great artist, you see, I was aiming high.

"Instead of dealing him a blow, I gave it to myself, I was crushed, motor mortified, discouraged — oh, desperately discourage. I thought if this is screen comedy I'll go back to cold and dill, for at least my humor was welcomed on the stage.

"Positively, I did the most unfunny things imaginable before the camera, and for the life of me I couldn't get the idea. Well, I made three attempts, each worse than the last. Then one day, disgusted with my failure, I gritted my teeth and determined I'd win or die in the attempt.

"That very afternoon I ran into Jack O'Brian out on the lot: he was directing Jeannie MacPherson who wrote this scenarios and was being featured. Harry Van Meter was the lead. O'Brian told me he was looking for a heavy. I felt so discouraged with my comedy, however, that I thought I might as well take a chance, so went at it.

"Well, I made good, and Jeannie then wrote two stories expressly for me, one had a weird hunchback role — great! This was when I began the study of makeup. In musical comedies you can paste green whiskers on your chin, do a funny little dance along with your song and get away with it, so I knew nothing about makeup, but having embarked as a heavy in motion pictures I went at it heart and soul.

That story with the weird hunchback is what launched Chaney into the stratosphere. As part of his method, Chaney wore a pack of steel on his back, a steel vice which distorted his legs and of course the heavy on his face to portray the doomed man.

Lon Chaney died August 26, 1930.

For those who only know Chaney from his drama roles, you miss so much of what made him a great silent film star. If your ever in the mood, or one of the movie stations play some of his work, go yourself a favor and watch the master at work. For those who can't wait, here's the link to Phantom:
 Phantom of the Opera (silent film 1925)

For more intense reading, I recomment the books, both by Michael F. Blake. "The Man Behind the Thousand Faces" and "A Thousand Faces: Lon Chaney's Unique Artistry in Motion Pictures"

Until next time, enjoy the remains of fall, don't eat too much Halloween candy and keep those eyes reading and those fingers writing.

For those who like the supernatural, you might enjoy the novella, "Angel of Salvation Valley". Below is an excerpt of the story of Drew and Lizzie:

Drew tried to remember the quote he used to say to get him through the days in solitary. He wanted to stop the noise, but every time he tried to recite it in his mind, his head began to sear with pain. It was an effort to hold the thought, but hold it he would. "You have power over your mind, not outside events. The choice you make defines you. Gra....". He did it, he held the thought, but the rest of the quote wouldn't come. Trying as much as he could, the rest was just out of reach. The pain was so overpowering he let it go.
Still, the conversation looped through Drew's brain over and over growing louder with each telling. Drew tried to close out the sound, but some part of his brain told him that would be useless. Between the moments of clarity, where the smell of dust and pine intruded on his memories, Drew's world twisted around the arrest, the trial, Harold, the prison break, on and on. Then his dead mother's words interrupted his thoughts.
"Andrew, what have you done?" she asked.
Drew saw her, felt he could reach out and touch her, looking just like he remembered her before she was killed in an accident..
"I didn't kill that man," Drew cried, reaching a hand toward her. After three years in prison, all in solitary, he stopped trying to make people believe. Now, he had to make sure his mother knew, but the pain in his head throbbed harder. He reached up, grabbing his head. He almost missed her words.
"I know you didn't, I'm sorry you had to suffer," she said reaching out to touch his face, abating the throbbing in his head for just a moment.

ebook- Amazon- purchase here

Doris Gardner-McCraw -

Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Member of National League of American Pen Women,
Women Writing the West,
Pikes Peak Posse of the Westerners

Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Photo and Poem: Click Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Tallest Cowboy in Texas

The State Fair of Texas ends tomorrow, October 21, at Fair Park in Dallas. The last couple weeks have been rainy, no doubt affecting Fair attendance, but not to worry. The country’s largest state fair will be back just as big as ever next year, and visitors will be greeted by Big Tex, the giant cowboy.
Texas State Fair; photo by Mang9; creative commons 3.0

For nearly 65 years, Big Tex has stood over the fair, waving and welcoming guests in a deep Texas drawl.

Tex began life in 1949 as the world’s largest Santa Claus in Kerens, a small town about an hour south of Dallas. The huge figure was intended to attract Christmas shoppers. Almost everyone in town helped build him – welders, garment factory workers, and farmers who served as models.

Big Santa was a hit, drawing shoppers and newspaper coverage from other towns. However, the novelty soon wore off and Santa's owner, Howell Brister, decided to sell his creation. The State Fair bought Santa for $750.

The State Fair initially planned to place Santa in Fair Park for the holidays but then decided to turn him into a cowboy. The fair asked artist Jack Bridges to create Big Tex. Working quickly, Bridges transformed the figure, giving it a bigger head and broader shoulders.
Big Tex; photo by David R. Tribble;creative commons 3.0

Big Tex stood tall for the first time at the 1952 State Fair and the crowds swarmed around him, posing for photos. One boy even dressed up like Tex, waving at folks just like the big cowboy.

The only problem was Big Tex looked kind of scary. His nose was long and hooked. One eye was shut, as if he was winking. So, Big Tex got a nose job and Bridges opened his eye. Other changes were made over the ensuing years.

Big Tex spoke for the first time in 1953, his second year at the fair. Jim Lowe was the voice of Big Tex for almost 40 years and did a lot to develop the cowboy's personality. Bill Bragg was the voice for about a decade, until after Big Tex burned down in 2012. The fair has kept the name of the current voice a secret.

An electrical short in Tex’s wiring sparked the fire. The flames shot up his body, consuming his clothes and his face within minutes. His charred remains stood for a couple of hours at Big Tex Circle. People stared and cried, taking pictures. Eventually his steel skeleton was taken down, covered by canvas and taken away – with a police escort.

The fair wanted Tex rebuilt in time for the 2013 fair and it wanted him built in Texas – and it had to be kept a big secret. SRO Associates in Boerne (pronounced Bernie) Texas, near San Antonio, accomplished the job.

The company modeled the new Big Tex after old pictures and created 3D computer images. Working with Texas Scenic, a San Antonio company, to program the big cowboy’s arm and face movements, they made them more fluid. His face is made of silicone skin.

Big Tex symbolizes Texas. He’s a larger than life cowboy character, a little sunburned and always welcoming. He greets you with a deep, friendly “Howdy Folks,” making you want to grab a corny dog, some funnel cake and take in all the shows and exhibits. For the braver among you, there’s the big ferris wheel and a bunch of other rides. And don’t forget to take a picture with Big Tex!

Quick note: I published A Mighty Chieftain (Romancing the Guardians, Book 8) today on Amazon. This is the final book in the series. It  may not be available for a day or two on all Amazon sites.

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 pair of very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, genealogy, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged children.

Amazon Author Page: (universal link)
Newsletter:  Lyn’s Romance Gazette
Website:  Lyn Horner’s Corner 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Frank Canton, Outlaw Sheriff

Last month, I wrote about Nate Champion, one of the casualties of the Johnson County War in Wyoming. One of the men involved with killing Champion was Frank Canton.

Canton was born Josiah Horner on September 15, 1849, in Harrison Township, Henry County, Indiana. He drifted to Texas and worked as a cowboy. By 1871, frustrated with not having the money he wanted, Horner/Canton started robbing banks and rustling cattle. Cattle rustling was a capital offense. On October 10, 1874, Horner got into a gunfight with some Buffalo Soldiers, killing one and wounding the other. Somehow, he eluded justice for that. In 1877, he was arrested for robbing a bank in Comanche, Texas. He escaped from Texas Ranger custody and moved to Ogallala, Nebraska, and tried raising cattle, again. While in Nebraska, he officially changed his name to Frank M. Canton and vowed to give up his outlaw ways.

By the early 1880s, Canton was in the Wyoming Territory. He hired on as a stock detective for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and with their backing, was elected sheriff of Johnson County, Wyoming.

During the Johnson County War, Canton signed on as one of Frank Wolcott's Regulators. On April 9, 1892, Canton led the Regulators to the "KC Ranch", where Nate Champion and Nick Ray were staying. Two other men at the ranch that day were captured as they emerged shortly after the Regulators arrived. Ray was shot and killed in the opening minutes of the ensuing gun battle. Champion, a one-time friend of Canton's, held off the Regulators for most of the day, killing at least four of the Regulators and wounding others. At 5:00 p.m., Canton set the house on fire. Champion soon burst out of the house firing his Winchester rifle and was shot 28 times.

Later in life, Canton said he regretted the incident with Champion. While continuing to work for the WSGA, Canton was also involved with the hanging of Ellen Watson (aka Cattle Kate), the woman painted with the blackest of brushes by the WSGA and the newspapers in Wyoming the wealthy cattlemen controlled. It was these incidents that made Canton leave the WSGA.

Canton then traveled to Oklahoma, and became a respected Deputy U.S. Marshal under Judge Isaac Parker, based out of Fort Smith, Arkansas. He worked with other famous lawmen such as Heck Thomas, Chris Madsen, Bass Reeves and Bill Tilghman during that time.

In 1897, Canton went to Alaska to follow the gold rush but instead became a Deputy U.S. Marshal. He returned to the states in 1907 and became Adjutant General for the Oklahoma National Guard. At some point during this time, Canton arranged a meeting with the Governor of Texas. He confessed that he was secretly Josiah “Joe” Horner, and the governor took his law enforcement service into consideration and granted him a pardon. He chose to be known as Frank Canton for the remainder of his lifetime. Canton died on September 27, 1927, in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Thanks for reading. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

New Mexico’s Rio Grande Gorge Bridge by Kaye Spencer #NewMexicoHistory #OldWestHistory #SweetheartsoftheWest

Taos, New Mexico Plaza
By I, Zeality, CC BY 2.5,

The Taos, New Mexico area is one of my favorite places to visit. From where I live in the southeastern corner of Colorado, it's a long day trip The history of the area draws me. With each visit, I make sure to find a new and different place to see.

'X' marks the Taos-spot.

At any given time of the year in Taos, you'll find "artsy" activities going on around town, which are always entertaining experiences. During the summer and early autumn, especially in the early morning, the skyline will be dotted with hot air balloons.

Taos of the 1880s is one of the settings in my western historical romance novel, The Gunfighter's Woman. A block from the Taos Plaza is an old church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, which plays a significant role in the story. I will write about this church at a later time.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church,_New_Mexico_USA_-_panoramio_(98).jpg
MARELBU [CC BY 3.0  (], via Wikimedia Commons
Now, on to the real topic of this article: The Rio Grande Gorge.

The last time I visited Taos, my destination was the Rio Grande Gorge, which is roughly 12 miles northwest of town. Having never been there nor having researched anything about the gorge, it was quite a surprise to be driving over nondescript, flat prairie with the San Juan Mountain range off to the northwest and the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range on the east and the next thing I knew, there was a bridge out in the middle of what is a deceptively flat prairie that runs right up to the foot of the surrounding mountains.
Rio Grande Gorge flat prairie view
Kaye Spencer's photo
Rio Grande Gorge Bridge - south side looking northerly
Kaye Spencer's photo

The website (Rio Grand Bridge Gorge) explains about the bridge:
…the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is the second highest bridge on the U.S. Highway System. The bridge is a three-span steel continuous-deck-truss structure with a concrete-filled steel-grid deck. It was called the "bridge to nowhere" while it was being built because the funding did not exist to continue the road on the other side.

Rio Grande Gorge - west side looking westerly
Kaye Spencer's photo
At 650 feet (200 m) above the Rio Grande, it is the fifth highest bridge in the United States. The span is 1,280 feet; two 300-foot-long approach spans with a 600-foot-long main center span. The bridge was dedicated on September 10, 1965 and is a part of U.S. Route 64, a major east-west road.

In 1966 the American Institute of Steel Construction awarded the bridge "Most Beautiful Steel Bridge" in the "Long Span" category. The bridge has appeared in several films, including Natural Born Killers, Twins, She's Having a Baby, Wild Hogs, and Terminator Salvation.

Kaye Spencer at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge (Autumn 2015)

There is raised concrete walking path along both sides of the bridge. A four-foot-high steel railing keeps the observer from toppling over the edge, but if you have vertigo, a dislike of looking down from a high vantage point, or you don't particularly care for feeling the bridge move under your feet from the traffic (especially trucks) crossing the bridge, you won't be a happy camper here.

There are "look-out points" on both sides that allow you to step farther out over the edge of nothingness. From these places, you get a good view of the gorge floor. Even without binoculars or a zoom lens on your camera, you can see the white water rapids. Apparently over the years, these lookout stations have been the jump off point for suicides.

Rio Grande Gorge rapids
Kaye Spencer's photo
On the west end of the bridge you'll find a dirt parking area and a plethora of roadside vendors, who have touristy wares to sell. A state park rest area, with additional parking, is a short walk up a slight slope. In March 2013, President Obama designated 242,455 acres, which includes the Rio Grande Gorge, as the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.

Rio Grande Gorge from the bridge looking southerly
Kaye Spencer's image
The website Discover New Mexico explains the geology of the gorge.
  • The Rio Grande Gorge is a "rift valley", which is a separation in the earth's crust due to fault activity some 29 million years ago.
  • The valley appeared before the river, which is not typical as rivers tend to create valleys, canyons, gorges, and similar geologic features.
  • The gorge has many ancient petroglyphs along its walls.
  • There are hidden hot springs and ancient ruins along the river.
  • The river and immediate surrounding area offers camping, fishing (brown and rainbow trout and northern pike), boating, and rafting opportunities (Class II to Class V white water rapids).
  • The gorge is approximately 50 miles long running northwest to southeast of Taos.
Rio Grande Gorge from the bridge looking northerly
Kaye Spencer's photo
Having had more than my fill of the bridge trembling under my feet, I wandered away from the highway and walked along the canyon rim as far as the safety fence allowed.

As the highway noises faded, and I took in the sight of the vast, wide-open scenery, I imagined standing here a hundred and fifty years ago. I thought of cowboys searching for cattle and wild horses or outlaws hiding from the law. From the petroglyphs and ancient ruins that tell their tales 650 feet below, it wasn't difficult to imagine Native Americans engaged in spiritual prayer and ritual in this hidden sanctuary. I thought of the animals that sought shelter, food and water, and protection from predators down in the bottom of the gorge.

My husband tells stories of a favorite fishing spot in the southern end of the gorge. He also says there are places that have a reverence about them—places where ancient memories still linger. Maybe it was the coming dusk, and maybe it was just my writer's imagination, but there was a mystical feel in the air as I stood there in the quiet descending upon the canyon's rim as I watched the shadows lengthen and obliterate all traces of the gorge.

Perhaps Mother Nature was drawing the blanket of serenity over the secrets that lay between the canyon's walls.

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer
Writing through history one romance upon a time

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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Shirleen Davies: Fort Smith and Arkansas's Notorious Judge Isaac Parker - The Hanging Judge

Judge Isaac Parker was born in a log cabin in Belmont County Ohio on October 15, 1838. His early accomplishes were:

·                At 17 he studied law through self-study and apprenticeships.
·                At age of 21, he passed the Ohio bar exam.
·                Then he went to St. Joseph, Missouri to work for his uncle, D.E. Shannon, a partner in the Shannon and Branch legal firm.
·                By 1861, he was working on his own in both the municipal and county criminal courts.
·                In April, he won the election as City Attorney and was then reelected for the next two years.
·                In 1864, Parker ran for county prosecutor of the Ninth Missouri Judicial District.
·                In the fall of 1864, he served as a member of the Electoral College, casting his vote for Abraham Lincoln.
Isaac Parker

·                In 1868, Parker sought and won a six-year term as judge of the Twelfth Missouri Circuit.
·                In 1870, he won a seat in Congress for the Seventh Congressional District. 
·                In November 1872, he easily won a second term and gained national attention for speeches delivered in support of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In 1874, the political tide shifted in Missouri, and Republican Congressmen, like Isaac Parker, didn’t have a chance of reelection to Congress. So, he decided to attain a presidential appointment to public office and he asked to serve as the judge of the federal district court for the Western District of Arkansas, in Fort Smith. On March 18, 1875, President Grant nominated Parker as judge for the Western District of Arkansas.

Fort Smith’s U.S. Court for the Western District of Arkansas,
The only court with jurisdiction over the Indian Territory was the U.S. Court for the Western District of Arkansas in Fort Smith. So, after the Civil War, numerous outlaws took refuge in that lawless land and terror reigned.

Fort Smith

Hanging Judge
Parker arrived in Fort Smith on May 4, 1875. At age 36, he was the youngest Federal judge in the West. He held court six days a week, up to ten hours a day, and in his first eight weeks on the bench he tried 91 men. In his first summer there, of the eighteen-people charged with murder in his court, 15 were convicted, and eight of them were sentenced to death by hanging on September 3, 1875. But, only six were executed that day because one was killed when he tried to escape and another one had his sentence commuted to life in prison because he was so young.
Judge Isaac Parker

The hanging of the six felons was a huge media event. Reporters from Little Rock, St. Louis, Kansas City, and big eastern cities came to cover the story. Over 5,000 people watched the hangings.
Parker was soon known as the “Hanging Judge” of the “Court of the Damned.” But local folks agreed with Parker’s rulings and were glad justice was finally dispensed in the previous lawless territory. Most of them felt the savagery of the crimes warranted a trip to the gallows. Parker would have 73 other men hung before his death in 1896. He tried 13,490 cases in all, 344 were capital crimes, and 9,454 resulted in guilty pleas or convictions.

Parker actually believed in the abolition of the death penalty, but he took his duty and obligation to uphold the law seriously. However, even though Parker came down hard on rapists and murderers, he was a just man, who even granted retrials that sometimes resulted in acquittals or reduced sentences. At one time he said, “in the uncertainty of punishment following crime, lies the weakness of our halting justice.”

However, Parker reserved most of his sympathy for the innocent victims of crime and was one of the first people to advocate for victim’s rights.
Parker's courtroom reconstructed at Fort Smith

Jude Parker’s philosophy, in his own words was, “I have ever had the single aim of justice in view… ‘Do equal and exact justice,’ is my motto, and I have often said to the grand jury, ‘Permit no innocent man to be punished, but let no guilty man escape.'”

Famous Men He Sent to The Gallows
Some of the more notorious men Judge Parker sentenced to hanging included:
William Elliott, alias Colorado Bill, a gunslinger, who was suspected of murders in four different states, was hanged for one murder on August 29, 1879.

James Watson, who was executed April 23, 1886, for the 1872 murder of a man named Henry Martin. Watson had eluded capture until 1884, at which time a large reward was offered for his arrest in connection with the murder of Almarine Watkins. He was convicted for that crime.

John Stansberry was hung for murdering his wife. Although he and his wife had a new baby, Stansberry fell in love with another woman. He decided to sever all ties to his wife and child by killing them. He murdered his child on September 20, 1889, and he killed his wife with an ax about a month later. Stansberry was arrested at his wife's grave after the funeral and was convicted shortly thereafter. He was hung on July 9, 1890.
Rufus Buck Gang

The Rufus Buck Gang were five teenaged boys, who terrified the white settlers, the native Americans, and the African American freemen in the area when they went on a vicious thirteen-day crime spree of robbery, rape, and murder. The gang’s leader, Rufus Buck, the 18-year-old son of a black mother and Creek father, planned that the violent spree would trigger an Indian uprising to run off the white settlers, so he could reclaim the whole Territory for Native Americans. They killed Deputy Marshal John Garrett, and at least one other person, wounded several others, robbed everyone who crossed their path, and raped several women.
Rufus Buck

They were finally caught after a seven-hour shootout. Five members of the Rufus Buck Gang: Rufus Buck, Lewis and Lucky Davis, Creek freedmen, and Sam Sampson and Maoma July, Creek Indians, were hung for raping Rosetta Hansen. They were the only men to hang in Fort Smith for rape. This was one of the largest mass executions for rape in U.S. history.
Eventually, the days of the wild Indian Territory and hanging judges came to a close. In 1895 a new Courts Act was passed which removed the last remaining Indian Territory jurisdiction effective September 1, 1896.

Fletcher’s Pride, my latest book in the MacLarens of Boundary Mountain series is available in eBook and paperback.
You may buy Fletcher’s Pride directly from
Shirleen at:

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Heppner, Oregon and one day in June, 1903

by Rain Trueax

Sometimes fiction and nonfiction blend in such a way that it’s hard to believe something really happened as it did. One could not write a story with more tragedy and heroism than the year that a small town in Oregon was devastated by a flash flood. 

Many times, in high desert communities, little creeks wind through the towns. The towns have built there for the water and sometimes the protection of a valley from windstorms. Sometimes what seems protection instead becomes a trap. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Before the Refrigerator E. AYERS

Food storage before we had refrigerators or freezers took a little creativity. By the time we were settling the west, we knew all about food storage and spoiled food.
The simplest thing was to dig an underground storage area. They still exist today and they can keep all sorts of vegetables fresh for months. These underground units vary by area. Where I grew up, springhouses were common. The ones I remember were usually made of wood and bricks and that was covered with dirt. Most had a "normal" roof. They were built right over a spring. They keep the temperature fairly steady.
I have a family recipe for cookies that is somewhat laughable. The dough is supposed to be put in the springhouse to cool. Today, I leave the dough overnight in the refrigerator.
The other common storage area is the root cellar. It's exactly what you can imagine. It is a dirt cellar under the house or another building.
A more complicated one was meant to keep meats and things that you wanted very cold. It was an icehouse. Most of them were fairly large. Ice was brought in as slabs. The ice was placed on the dirt floor and covered in straw. The smaller the slab the faster it would melt. Many a settler had to make the frozen slabs, as there was no one to bring it. Obviously this did not work in warmer climates. Create a wooden box and fill it with water. Allow it to freeze. Dump the frozen slab in the root cellar and make another slab. Think of them as overly large ice cubes. Don't make those slabs too large because ice is heavy. Lucky was the woman who had enough ice left in July to serve iced tea to her family or visitors.
For those who lived in a small town or near one, slaughtering an animal meant an abundant amount of meat and it was shared because it was too difficult to store. If it was in the winter and cold enough, the meat could hang in a shed or barn. But it was also a beacon to animals of prey. It was no fun to have a couple of wolves circling your barn. Placing the meat on ice, kept it cold and hidden from quite a few animals. (And maybe because it was frozen, it didn't have as strong a scent?)
Naturally if meat was being kept in the icehouse, the lady of the house knew not to serve ice for drinks in the summer with what had once been under a carcass.
Things have changed. Back then, not a scrap of meat went unused. But that also meant that not every meal contained meat. Most families ate strictly vegetables and eggs in the summer months.
Salted meats and jerky were quite common. Planked fish was a method of drying fish by a fire. The fish were nailed to planks and dried. Jerky was made by sun drying meat or placing it over a low fire. Besides, it was easier to keep dried meat.
But a root cellar or springhouse is still a viable option today. Many people are looking for
alternative means of food storage or just to live off the grid (without electricity). In the house where I grew up, we had a root cellar and it was used. We had the big deep freezer and a refrigerator so why have a root cellar? I have no clue and no family left to ask. We used it for more than root vegetables. There were gallon jugs of apple cider, and at least a bushel or two of apples. It was my job, to cull the apples for anything that might be overly ripe. Those we fed to the rabbits and other animals that made their homes around our house. Our winters were cold and often snow coated everything. And when there wasn't an apple or two to remove, we gave them nice apples. Apparently Mom didn't feel as sorry for small creatures, because we were taking perfectly good apples. But the root cellar contained a few dozen winter squash. To me, it was the surplus even though it was purposely stocked.
I can still remember one evening asking if I could have some apple cider. My dad allowed me to go to that root cellar and pour some from one of the gallon jugs. I brought it upstairs and decided that it was delicious. I drank it and asked for more. It was close to summer and the cider had been there
for months. With permission, I returned and poured another large glass of the stuff. Mom was afraid it would upset my tummy to have too much. About half way through my second large glass, I happened to mention that I thought it was the best I'd ever tasted. My dad looked at me, got up, lifted my glass, and took a sip. I was not allowed to have any more. It had hardened. (I think I was probably eight or nine years old.) After that one time, I realized it didn't occur very often. As I got older, my dad and I would often enjoy a jug of hard cider if one were discovered. We just didn't tell Mom. (Sorry, won't happen today as the cider sold now is pasteurized.)
I guess I'm too far south to keep things through the winter without refrigeration or an honest to goodness cold cellar. My potatoes sprouted in the garage. I'm no longer keeping a big garden so I have no desire to watch that happen. If I want a few potatoes, I'll go buy what I need. But springhouses and cold or root cellars go way back in time, but they are just as useful today. With so many people looking back to pioneer times because they want to return to a more natural way and try to live greener, these underground storage areas are perfect.
There are plenty of sites on the web with directions for DIY root cellars. Dirt floors are still considered to be better than concrete. Dirt makes it easier to maintain humidity levels. If this sounds like something you want, give it a try! At least today, we aren't burying a wooden box and covering it with something to keep an animal out. Many a woman had to make do until a proper root cellar could be dug. I'm glad we no longer have to churn our own butter or worry about a warm day that might ruin everything we've stored. Our biggest worry is losing electricity for an extended time and I'm certain that someday that won't be a problem.

Monday, October 8, 2018


By Caroline Clemmons 

A novelist and a poet, Helen Jackson's remarkable "A Century of Dishonor" stirred public outrage over the U.S. government's mistreatment of Native Americans. Her book centered on seven tribes, among them: Cheyennes, Nez Perce, Sioux, Cherokees and detailed four massacres in particular. At her own expense, she sent a copy of the book to every member of Congress. She was born in Massachusetts in 1830 and became a lifelong friend of poet Emily Dickinson.

Helen Hunt Jackson

She was born Helen Maria Fiske in Amherst, Massachusetts on October 18, 1830.  She had two brothers, both of whom died shortly after birth, and a sister named Anne. Her father was a minister, author, and professor of Latin, Greek, and philosophy at Amherst College.  Her mother died in 1844, and her father died three years later, leaving her in the care of an aunt.

She had a good education, having attended Ipswich Female Seminary and the Abbott Institute, a boarding school in New York City. She was a classmate of the poet Emily Dickinson, also from Amherst. The two carried on a correspondence for all of their lives, but few of their letters have survived.

In 1852, Helen Fiske married United States Army Captain Edward Bissell Hunt, who died in a military accident in 1863. Her son Murray Hunt died in 1854 of a brain disease and her other son, Rennie Hunt, died of diphtheria in 1865.  Helen began traveling and writing after these deaths.
In the winter of 1873-1874 she was in Colorado Springs, Colorado in search of a cure for tuberculosis. There she met William Sharpless Jackson, a wealthy banker and railroad executive. They married in 1875, together just ten years before she died of cancer in 1885.

Scholars know her as Helen Hunt Jackson, but she never used that name herself—she only used one married name at a time: Helen Hunt or Helen Jackson.

Standing Bear, Ponca Chief

In 1879, her interests turned to the plight of the Native Americans after attending a lecture in Boston by Ponca Chief Standing Bear, who described the forcible removal of the Ponca Indians from their Nebraska reservation. Jackson was angered by what she heard regarding the unfair treatment at the hands of government agents and became an activist. She started investigating and publicizing the wrongdoing, circulating petitions, raising money, and writing letters to The New York Times on behalf of the Poncas.

She also started writing a book condemning the Indian policy of the government and the history of broken treaties.  Her book, "A Century of Dishonor", called for drastic changes to be made; it was published in 1881.  Jackson then sent a copy to every member of Congress with an admonishment printed in red on the cover, "Look upon your hands: they are stained with the blood of your relations." But, to her disappointment, the book had little impact.

She then went to southern California to take a much needed rest. She had become interested in the area's missions and the Mission Indians on an earlier visit, and now she began an in-depth study. While in Los Angeles, California, she met Don Antonio Coronel, a former mayor and city councilman who had also served as State Treasurer. He was a well-known authority on early life in the area and was also a former inspector of missions for the Mexican government. Don Antonio described to Jackson the plight of the Mission Indians after 1833, when secularization policies led to the sale of mission lands and the dispersal of their residents.

Many of the original Mexican land grants had clauses protecting the Indians on the lands they occupied. But when Americans assumed control of the southwest after the Mexican-American War, they ignored Indian claims to these lands, which led to mass dispossessions. In 1852, there were an estimated fifteen thousand Mission Indians in Southern California. But, because of the adverse impact of dispossessions by Americans, by the time of Jackson's visit they numbered less than four thousand.

The stories told by Don Antonio spurred Jackson into action. Her efforts soon came to the attention of the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Hiram Price, who recommended she be appointed an Interior Department agent. Jackson's assignment was to visit the Mission Indians and ascertain the location and condition of various bands, and determine what lands, if any, should be purchased for their use. With the help of Indian agent Abbot Kinney, Jackson criss-crossed Southern California and documented the appalling conditions she saw. At one point, she hired a law firm to protect the rights of a family of Soboba Indians facing dispossession of their land at the foot of the San Jacinto Mountains.

During this time, Jackson read an account in a Los Angeles newspaper about a Cahuilla Indian who had been shot and killed. His wife, it turned out, was named Ramona.

In 1883, she completed her fifty-six page report, which called for a massive government relief efforts, and while a bill embodying her recommendations passed the U.S. Senate, it died in the House of Representatives.

Not discouraged, Jackson decided to write a novel that would depict the Indian experience "in a way to move people's hearts." An inspiration for the undertaking, Jackson admitted, was Uncle Tom's Cabin written years earlier by her friend, Harriet Beecher Stowe.  "If I can do one-hundredth part for the Indian that Mrs. Stowe did for the Negro, I will be thankful," she told a friend.

The most famous of the
many novels by
Ms Jackson

Jackson was particularly drawn to the fate of her Indian friends in the Temecula area of Riverside County, California and used the story of what happened to them in her novel which was begun in December 1883, with an original title of In "The Name of the Law".  The manuscript was completed in slightly over three months and it became her classic novel, "Ramona", about a part-Indian orphan raised in Spanish California society and her Indian husband, Alessandro.  Published in November 1884, it achieved almost instant success.

Jackson then intended to write a children's story on the Indian issue but her health was deteriorating rapidly and she died of cancer in San Francisco, California in August 1885.

Her last letter was written to President Grover Cleveland, urging him to read her early work "A Century of Dishonor". Speaking to a friend, Jackson said, "My Century of Dishonor" and "Ramona" are the only things I have done of which I am glad. They will live and bear fruit."

Each year, the city of Hemet stages "The Ramona Pageant", an outdoor play based on Jackson's novel "Ramona".

Monument and plaque in memory
of Helen Hunt Jackson

At her request, Jackson was buried October 31, 1885, at Inspiration Point in scenic South Cheyenne Canyon, southwest of Colorado Springs. Because the scores of people flocking to her gravesite were threatening the natural beauty of the canyon, her remains were moved to the family plot at Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado Springs, on November 7, 1891. The land is now part of Seven Falls, a privately owned recreation area that charges an entrance fee. The plaque on the large mound of rocks that was her original burial site reads:

Oh, write of me, not "Died in bitter pains,"
But "Emigrated to another star!"
~Helen Hunt Jackson


Caroline Clemmons writes western historical romances. Her latest is BLESSING, the story of a young woman who wants to help save the closest town and aid the women who live there. Thad King is in search of killers and has tracked stolen horses to Blessing's ranch. This is second in the multi-author series The Widows of Wildcat Gulch. 

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