Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Ghost Towns and Boom Towns - Shirleen Davies

Ghost Towns and Boom Towns

Risk and reward, boom or bust: essential to our concept of the Western frontier. The possibilities were endless, but the risks were great and the rewards never guaranteed. For families like the MacLarens (from my newest series MacLarens of Boundary Mountain), settling in a boomtown like Conviction was the ultimate payoff for an arduous, risky journey. Of course, our hero Colin MacLaren wants more out of life than to live in a nice, stable, thriving town, but more on him later…

Boomtowns sprung up across the United States during the rapid growth of the 19th century. Adventurous travelers and those seeking a better life were drawn to a bourgeoning town for opportunity. Their presence helped the economy grow, more people were drawn to the town, and the growth cycle continued.
Nevada City Ghost Town

Gold rush fever was responsible for many 19th century boomtowns, some of which remain stable economies to this day. Even Denver, Colorado and San Francisco were once new, exciting western boomtowns. Conviction, the setting for the MacLarens of Boundary Mountain series, was inspired by two real towns first settled in the 1850s. Together they formed a bustling metropolis with a strong economy.
19th Century Marysville

Marysville and neighboring Yuba City, both in northern California on the Feather River, owe their early development to the promise of gold. Marysville became one of the largest cities in California within a decade of being incorporated in 1851. Its location was prime for a commercial center to serve thousands of gold miners. By 1857 it had a population nearly ten thousand strong, and a full, diverse economy of different industries and a rich community of people. Across the river, Yuba City benefited from the same travel routes and quietly thrived on a smaller scale, eventually becoming the county seat of Sutter County, California.

Marysville’s growth came to an essentially permanent halt when Feather River became impassable by riverboats. However, they never met the dreaded fate of so many other western boomtowns. They never went “bust.”

Boomtowns are defined as much by their growing pains and potential for failure as they are by initial growth and success. Because these towns grew so rapidly, growth was often unsustainable. Many towns never caught up to their long-term needs and went “bust” after a period of tenuous prosperity. This was an all-too-common tale that has resulted in the American West being dotted with abandoned “ghost towns.”
Bannack, Montana Ghost Town

 Bodie, California is an eerily well-preserved ghost town in northern California. It enjoyed its clandestine boom in the 1870s and 1880s thanks to the discovery of gold. At its peak, Bodie boasted 65 saloons along its main street, a population of around 7,000 people, newspapers that published several times a week, a red light district, volunteer fire fighters, and even a local brass band.

Bodie’s sudden decline occurred when more promising mining towns like Butte, Montana and Tombstone, Arizona lured off most of the miners. The people who remained in Bodie were families. The town’s economy and population never recovered. By 1920, scarcely over one hundred people called Bodie home. In 1942, the last gold mine closed. In1961, the town was designated a National Historic Landmark and has been maintained as such ever since, in a state of “arrested decay.”
Nevada City, Ghost Town
These narratives were essential to the tone of life in the American West. Towns boomed and busted. Families settled and created stable lives, all the while aware the economy could turn with little notice. It took special people with an adventurous nature and never quit attitude to take the extreme changes in the western frontier.
If you were in a position to change your life, uproot your family for a dream, would you do it? Would you believe in your heart, as the MacLarens did, that there was more to life and greater opportunity hundreds or thousands of miles away? If so, what would you give up to secure it?

Colin’s Quest, Book One in the MacLarens of Boundary Mountain centers on a family facing the very real threats and opportunities of traveling across country to start a new life in the frontier.

Barnes & Noble: http://tinyurl.com/yd7llzz5

Comment on this post below!
Follow Me: AmazonBookBub

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Kam Wah Chung

by Rain Trueax

Among the many Chinese immigrating to Oregon were two particularly interesting men, Ing Hay and Lung On. Together, they opened a business in John Day where Ing Hay, known there as Doc Hay, practiced medicine, and they began an apothecary and general store known as Kam Wah Chung (Golden Flower of Prosperity) from 1887 to 1948. These were men who lived lives bigger than many will ever know. Their stories should not be forgotten.

Ing Hay to the left; unknown woman; Lung On; and unknown woman
Exactly from where their partnership originated is not known- at least not by my research. Its impact on Oregon is shared today in a museum in John Day, which includes the original building where they lived, worked, and helped others. Kam Wah Chung was left to the community in Ing Hay's will.

Friday, August 10, 2018


I've talked about coffee but not about how it was made. Seems that we tend to think the pot was simply a pan with ground beans in it. Well, yes and no. Many a cup of coffee has been made with a few whole beans tossed in hot water. But making a cup of coffee has been a simple job for a long time. It requires beans and hot water. Grinding the beans is best. Some of the first coffeepots were quite simple. Ground coffee was placed into a pot that looks a little like a teapot. Flat on the bottom, bulging in the middle and then a narrow spout that might be covered with a sieve-like piece of metal. The heavy grounds fell to the bottom and the floaters were caught by the sieve. 

In the 1700's it became commonplace to infuse coffee. The grounds were placed in a pouch of silk or cotton and tied closed. (Sounds like a teabag to me, except this one has ground coffee in it.) The pouch was placed in the pot and hot water was poured over it. The coffee was steeped to the right color and taste, according to the person making it. I doubt it was strong coffee, but it did keep the grounds out of the cup. This pouch method was also used as means of making coffee by allowing a funnel to hold the cloth and the beans. It is referred to as a French drip. Water was poured over it. Today many coffee shops use that method. Want a cup of coffee that isn't already brewed? They will do a "pour over".  

Then we got a little more robust about it. Toss those grounds into the pan, add water and boil it until it  until it smelled right. That's a mighty strong cup of coffee!

The coffee pendulum swung again. Coffeepots came with two chambers. Put a sock or sock-like thing in the top chamber, add the ground coffee to the sock and delicately brew by pouring hot water over the grounds. The coffee is no longer boiled. Socks weren't the only thing they used. And if an  old sock was used, it's going to impart its own flavor to the coffee.

Percolators became the next big invention. It was manual and eventually became electric. An electric percolator meant a perfect cup of coffee every time, and it was heavily advertised as such. What housewife doesn't want to make a perfect cup of coffee for her husband. (If she wanted a perfect cup that sorta happened by accident. If he had good cup of coffee that meant she had a good cup. Wasn't that great logic?) These pots are still in use today and some people think that our "modern" machines don't make the full-bodied coffee like that old percolator. Go rummage around Mom's or Grandmom's kitchen and it's probably still in the cabinet in the back corner. There was a forerunner of the percolators. It was called a vacuum coffeemaker. The grounds were in the top chamber and the bottom contained the water. Place the pot on the stove, heat it, and the water turns to steam. The steam enters the top chamber and drips down through the beans into the pot below. But percolators work almost the same, except they don't use steam, they use hot water. They have that metal tube and the hot water is forced up the tube where it ran over a basket filled with coffee grounds. The fun part of these coffeemakers was when they put that glass bump in the lid of the pot. The noise it made as the hot water hit that glass bump was a bubbling sound that could be heard in the other room. Maxwell House coffee used that sound in their commercials starting in the 1950's. Click here for the commercial.

A drip coffeepot that most of us use today has its footing in the early 1900's. That paper filter was made from a piece blotting paper. But during the last half of the 1800's, it was the percolator that the cowboys on cattle drives used, pioneers used, farmers used, as well as the city dwellers. It reigned supreme for over 100 years. Many of today's nature lovers keep a simple percolator to make a pot of coffee over the campfire.

There's half dozen other ways to make coffee and equipment to do it. But I've tried to stick with what was the most common and apt to be found in a household. Coffee is one of oldest beverages known.

Just a little side note: My eyesight is improving. Except I can't see things like periods or commas, nor can I distinguish between certain letters. So please forgive my errors. I'm thrilled that my sight is still improving. In almost four months, I've gone from blind to seeing stuff. But the little stuff, such as the things on the laptop screen, is nearly impossible and that's what I'm using.

Monday, August 6, 2018


Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some 
peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win, it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.

Katie Casey saw all the games,
Knew the players by their first names.
Told the 
umpire he was wrong,
All along,
Good and strong.
When the score was just two to two,
Katie Casey knew what to do,
to cheer up the boys she knew,
                                              She made the gang sing this song            

This delightful song of romance and baseball dates to 1908 and has its origins in a train ride, poster board and the work of lyricist Jack Norworth and the musical score of Albert Von Tilzer. Though neither man saw a baseball game until decades later, the song soon became a hit in Tin Pan Alley and at baseball stadiums all over the county and eventually the whole world of baseball.

Image result for jack norworth take me out to the ballgame
Google Images
Many recordings have been made as well as movies featuring the song. A 1927 version (not in the public domain as is the original) was sung by Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in the movie of the same name.  Years later, Carly Simon sang it for the Ken Burns PBS documentary Baseball. Perhaps the most unusual use was a 2001 Nike ad featuring Major League ball players singing in their native languages.

            In Bisbee, Arizona, a small town baseball park was erected in 1909 and still stands today. The Warren Ball Park is one of the oldest in the United States and may well be the oldest. The park was constructed by the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company for use by their mining families. When merged with Phelps Dodge, maintenance and use continued until the Bisbee community took responsibility after the demise of Phelps Dodge.

            In its long history as a professional park Warren was used most disgracefully on July 12, 1917 when 2000 striking miners under orders from Phelps Dodge managers, the local sheriff and the Arizona governor were rounded up and detained in the park. Seven hundred denied the IWW and pledged to return to work with catcalls and boos sending them off. Thirteen hundred men were transported to the New Mexican desert in boxcars and left without sanitation, water or food for twenty-four hours. The Deportation of 1917 included the Wobblies attorney and some Bisbee businessmen. Accused of nefarious activities, including non-citizenship, many were actual home owners and citizens.

Detainees in Warren Ballpark July 12, 1917    Google Images

           The Wilson Presidential Commission in October of 1917 found that the deportation was wholly illegal under state and federal law. No criminal proceedings were mounted against the powers that had caused the action. At the 100th anniversary, the Bisbee community commemorated the tragic event in the summer of 2017.

Hall of Famers who played the park  include: John McGraw, Connie Mack and Honus Wagner. National teams that played exhibition games in the 1910’s-1940’s were the New York Giants, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburg Pirates and Cleveland Indians.

The Chicago White Sox played there and included members of the 1919 Black Sox scandal . Eight White Sox men were accused of throwing the World Series in favor of the Cincinnati Reds and accepted payment from a gambling syndicate.

            Though acquitted in a 1921public trial, the eight were banned from baseball and forbidden any post-career tributes. The first Baseball Commissioner was appointed with complete control over the game; he had the unusual name of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis!

Image result for judge kenesaw mountain landis quotes
Google Images

            On a lighter note, Nora Bayes, Jack Norworth’s then wife and vaudeville star, was the first to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The couple went on to write other collaborative pieces including “Shine on Harvest Moon.”  The baseball song was echoed by fans for many years during the “seventh inning stretch.” Heard less often now, the song sounds out in the Tokyo train station herding fans to their games!

Image result for Nora Bayes
Google Images

Saturday, August 4, 2018

SWEET HISTORY - Part Two By Cheri Kay Clifton

Last month I reported on the American candy industry from the 1800’s up to early 1900’s. Although most of us write our historical books during that time, just for fun I decided to continue the timeline with some more of the popular candy introduced throughout the 1900’s. It was interesting to find that many candy bars were first produced in European countries before they found their way to the U.S. Some popular candy bars were named after relatives, one even named after a horse! See if you can find your favorite candy! 

1911 My very favorite candy is the Kit Kat. Interesting to find out that the origins of what is now known as the Kit Kat brand was produced by Rowntree, a confectionery company based in York in the United Kingdom way back then. The Hershey Company’s license to produce Kit Kat bars in the United States dates from 1970, when Hershey executed a licensing agreement with Rowntree.

1920 Fannie May Candies opens its first retail candy store in Chicago.

1920 Williamson Candy Co. introduces the O’Henry! Bar.

1921 Hershey automates its production process and Hershey’s Kisses are now machine wrapped and adorned with a small “flag” on top.

1922 H.B. Reese makes the first peanut butter candy coated with Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, which we now know as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. It remains one of the best-selling candy bars of all time.

1922 The Fox Cross Candy Co. introduces the Charleston Chew which was inspired by the swinging Charleston dance.

1922 The Curtiss Candy Company was founded near Chicago, Illinois, by Otto Schnering, using his mother's maiden name. He invented the Butterfinger candy bar in 1923. The company held a public contest to choose the name of this candy.

1923 The Baby Ruth candy bar, named after President Grover Cleveland’s daughter, is introduced by Curtiss Candy Co.

1923 The Mounds Chocolate Bar, coconut filling coated in milk chocolate, makes its debut, named after its inventor, Peter Paul Halijian.

1923 One of the first candies with a nougat center, the Milky Way Candy Bar is introduced by Mars.

1924 A candy with a sweet tabby taste, called Bit O’Honey, is introduced by the Schutter Johnson Co.

1924 Akron Candy Company creates Dum Dums Lollipops.

1925 The first milk chocolate bar with peanuts, Mr. Goodbar, is made by Hershey.

1926 Milk Duds are first sold.

1928 Heath Bars, first sold only for home delivery by a dairy salesman, were mass produced. Named after L.S. Heath, the famed candy was acquired by Hershey in 1996.

1930 Mars introduces the Snickers Bar, named after the Mars family’s beloved horse.

1931 Tootsie Roll Pops, two candies in one, are introduced.

1932 Red Hots are introduced by the Ferrara Pan Candy Co.

1932 Mars debuts the 3 Musketeers, containing three flavors, chocolate, vanilla & Strawberry nougat. In 1945, Mars changes the formula for 3 Musketeers to one that’s all chocolate.

1936 William Luden, one of the creators of cough drops, introduces the 5th Avenue Candy Bar.

1941 M&M’s Plain Chocolate candies are introduced in response to depressed chocolate sales during the summer months. Remember, “They melt in your mouth, not in your hands!”

1949 Junior Mints are introduced.

1954 Marshmallow Peeps in the shape of Easter chicks are born.

1960 M&M Mars introduces Starburst Fruit Chews, eventually fortified with Vitamin C.

1963 Cadbury Brothers introduces a filled chocolate egg called Fry Crème Eggs. In 1971, the name is changed to Cadbury Crème Eggs, becoming the Easter classic.

1963 Sweettarts hit the market.

1963 Hershey Chocolate Co. acquires the H.B. Reese Co. for $23 million.

1969 Chupa Chup Lollipops become an art form, the famed painter Salvador Dali designing the label. He insisted the logo always be on the top of the wrapper.

1973 Hershey opens the first candy-related theme park Hershey’s Chocolate World.

1973 Hershey becomes the first candy company to list ingredients and nutritional information on the wrappers.

1976 Herman Beoelitz Co. introduces individually flavored jelly beans named Jelly Belly.

1980 Herman Goelitz Co. introduces the first American made Gummi Bears and Gummi Worms, which had been previously imported from Europe.

1992 M&M Mars introduces the Dove Milk Chocolate and Dove Dark Chocolate Bars.

The new millennium brought many more variations of favorite candies with new flavors and packaging. However, it was during the first half of the 20th century in the United States alone that 40,000 different candy bars appeared on the market and was the high point of the candy bar industry.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Bobby Slaughter's Half Million Dollar Ride

By Paisley Kirkpatrick
Christopher Columbus Slaughter (a.k.a. C.C. Slaughter or Lum Slaughter) (1837–1919) was an American rancher, cattle drover and breeder, banker and philanthropist in the Old West.
Slaughter awakened his ten-year-old-son Bobby in the darkness of a Dallas hotel room on a night in 1881. He hurried his son to dress in his lightest-weight clothes and leave the jacket off.
Bobby jumped out of bed and did as his father asked. The Colonel took his son to a nearby livery stable and roused the proprietor. He made a quick deal for a thoroughbred mare and a light English riding saddle. After lifting the small boy upon the horse, he placed a canvas sack in the saddle bag and handed the lad a slim envelope.
“Bobby, I’ve got a job, a mighty important one that only you can do because of your size. You’ve got to ride to the Long S Ranch without stopping, except to change horses. You must arrive before the Englishmen who left here three days ago. When you get there, give this envelope to my foreman. He will know what to do. I've placed $500 in gold in your saddle bag to buy fresh mounts. You can do it son, you’ve got to -- or we'll lose the Long S and half a million dollars. Your mother and I will leave tomorrow and meet you at home in a few days.”
“Sure, I can do it,” Bobby answered. “I can ride like a real hand now and I can even help break horses.” Flicking his spurs against the sides of the mare, Bobby was off in a flurry of hoof beats ringing out shrilly in the silent darkness of the cold, winter night. The chill air hit his thinly clad body like a spray of ice water but the small boy galloped on.
The colonel had sold his ranch, the Long S near Big Spring, to a group of men five days before the fateful night. The one who claimed to be of the nobility, representing an English syndicate, had given him a British bank draft for half million dollars in full payment for the land and all holdings thereon. After giving the Englishmen a written order to his foreman to transfer the Long S, Slaughter rented a carriage and dispatched the new owners toward the ranch at his own expense.
When Colonel Slaughter presented the draft to the Texas Land & Mortgage company, a Dallas branch office of an English loan corporation, the firm refused to hand over the cash without an investigation. A cablegram was sent to England and the loan company manager, suspicious of the English “lord” and his party, remained open that night awaiting the answer. His doubts proved correct. The answering cablegram revealed the men were imposters and the draft quite worthless. Slaughter, who had started his ranch on a shoe string, and built the Long S into a cattle empire, felt a stab of naked hopelessness. He had been taken to the tune of half a million dollars.
He came up with a hair-brained idea, but if it worked he wouldn’t lose everything. He’d send his son…the only chance he had.
Bobby galloped through the night. It wasn’t yet dawn when he reached Fort Worth where he watered the mare at a public drinking trough. The thoroughbred kept up a steady running gait into Weatherford, where Bobby hastily bought a fresh mount. On and on Bobby rode over the austere Palo Pinto Mountains, heading westward to Clear Fork, near Phantom Hill. He only stopped for water along the weary miles through the unmarked, rough country.
His horse started to limp. He headed toward the next ranch and, when the horse nearly collapsed, he ran by foot to the ranch. The only horse they had available was a mustang that had been ridden only once. Bobby told them he had to go on and asked them to head the horse in the right direction and put him on the horse’s back. The ranch hands roped the rearing horse, blinded him, headed him west, and threw the saddle upon his back. Bobby leaped in the saddle. The mustang reared and bucked, but Bobby stayed on its back. Then the animal bolted, running westward with the speed of the wind. Gradually the animal became accustomed to his light burden. He began to move with such exactness and precision that he lapped up the miles and left the endless prairie whirling behind him. By dark, Bobby found himself in the foothills of Taylor County.
Darkness dropped and with it came the cold. He hunched low over the mustang’s neck to absorb what warmth he could. At dawn, he headed toward Rock Springs, which he knew was near a river bed. He and the mustang desperately needed water. Bobby’s heart sank when he found the Englishmen camped at the river. He hastily skirted the camp and pushed his weary animal on toward the Long S. Now, it was with the greatest effort that he held his eyes open. At noon, he realized he was within the boundaries of his father’s ranch. He was so tired that the countryside began to blur. He wrapped his arms about the neck of the mustang and urged him on.
At two o’clock that afternoon, a Long S line rider saw a thin veil of dust on the far horizon. As it moved slowly nearer, he saw that it was preceded by a moving dot which gradually emerged into the shape of a slowly moving horse with a prone figure on its back. He summoned the ranch foreman and together they rode out to meet the mount and its burden. They found Bobby unconscious with his hands clasped tightly around the mustang’s neck, so sound asleep they couldn’t rouse him. But, the foreman found the envelope with Colonel Slaughter’s orders in the lad’s shirt pocket.
Leaving the lone rider to bring in the tired horse, the foreman gathered Bobby in his arms and galloped post haste to the ranch where he sent out a call for the entire Long S crew to assemble at the ranch house.
In the late afternoon the Englishmen drove up with a flourish. Haughtily, the bogus “lord” demanded the Long S. Suddenly the coach was surrounded by the grim faces of the ranch crew. The foreman spoke only a few words, but the Englishmen realized their lives were in danger and immediately left the ranch. A few days later, Colonel Slaughter and his wife arrived by carriage. They found their ten-year-old-son fully recovered from the long ride, and the Long S sill Slaughter domain.
Written for the Real West publication by Louise Cheney

Monday, July 30, 2018

Overview of California Agriculture in the Nineteenth Century

When I say "overview," in this instance, I mean a very brief overview.

The first half of the the 1800's, California was ruled by Spain, then starting in 1821, by Mexico. The Anglo population was mostly concentrated along the coast, sticking close to the missions. On mission lands, using the indigenous native populations for what amounted to slave labor, the land grew a variety of crops including fruit orchards, vineyards, truck garden vegetables and wheat. 

Mission San Juan Capistrano

While most of the ranchos granted to Californios were located along the coast, a few in the center of California and the Sierra-Nevada foothills were granted to foreign nationals, such as John Sutter. When the Mexican government secularized the mission system, instead of the land going to the indigenous people as originally intended, it was sold to the highest bidders--the Californios. Many of the crops originally grown were mostly discontinued with the exception of the vineyards for wine and wheat. The primary agricultural product was cattle.

As Mexican government officials and explorers moved north into Alta California, they brought the vaqueros who drove herds of cattle. If you think longhorns were only found in Texas, think again. That breed of Mexican cattle also found its way into California. Soon, the hides and tallow became Alta California's biggest export and form of monetary exchange.

 At first, the great central valley in California (drained by the Sacramento River to the north and the San Joaquin River to the south) was considered a desert not fit for agriculture.The first group who tried to grow wheat in the San Joaquin Valley were Mormons who had arrived in San Francisco in 1846 on the Ship Brooklyn at the start of the Mexican-American War. They brought supplies and equipment with them, including plows and a mill. Using the sail launch named The Comet, they sailed up the San Joaquin River to a point called Moss Landing. They grew wheat along the Stanislaus River near today's Caswell Park by Ripon. Unfortunately, malaria had spread down to the region, and that coupled with flooding, doomed the project.

After the United States won the war with Mexico in 1848 and Alta California became first the territory of California, and quickly the state of California after the discovery of gold, the focus of the incoming Anglos was primarily on mining. The Californios struggled to retain control of their land, and the often hostile Anglo influence prevailed. However, once the easy gold from placer mining disappeared, Americans from back east faced the choice of returning home often worse off than when they came, or of settling in California. Those who stayed often turned to the occupations they held back east, primarily farming.

Droughts in the early 1860's ruined the cattle industry. Starting in the 1866-67 years, the weather patterns through the 1870's were such that plentiful rain in the summer allowed for "dry farming," or farming that does not require irrigation. Wheat became the largest crop grown in California, particularly in the great Central Valley. Isolated as it was by vast under-populated territories to the immediate east, wheat found a market in the California, Oregon and, once the Trans-continental Railroad was completed, across the United States. The wheat market collapsed during the national financial panic of 1893. However, even before then, in the mid-1880's, wheat markets began to decline due to competition from the Missouri-Mississippi Valley region and Russia.

As wheat production fell, and irrigation systems developed and spread, the Central Valley developed more orchards, vineyards and fields of row crops. When I moved to Stanislaus County in the San Joaquin Valley several decades ago, I recall driving for miles past orchards full of peach and almond trees. I still live across the street from an almond orchard. And wheat is still grown today, as evidenced by this field about three miles from my home.

Although the method of watering trees has mostly changed from flood irrigation to sprinklers or drip systems, such orchards are among the 80 agricultural products of California's Central Valley that make it one of the most diverse and productive agricultural regions in the world today.

In my latest book, Millwright's Daughter, Eliza' uncle is one who first came to California in the late 1850's in search of gold, but soon turned to the trade he had been raised in at home in Ohio--that of being a millwright. The setting of the story is loosely based on the Tulloch Mill in Knight's Ferry (but not Mr.  Tulloch himself. I would not want the descendants of that family coming after me claiming I defamed their ancestor.)

How's that for a teaser? For a short time, you may find Millwright's Daughter as part of the nine author anthology, Under a Mulberry Moon. To read the book description and find the purchase link, please CLICK HERE.

The Comet-1846-First Sail Launch, State Registered Landmark.
Bean, Walton E.; California-An Interpretive History; McGraw-Hill Inc., USA: 1968, 1973

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Heroes and Heroines That Aren't Perfect--by Cheryl Pierson

How do you feel about a hero or heroine who isn’t physically perfect? As a reader, are you interested in those kinds of characters? What about as a writer—are these the kinds of characters you want to introduce and develop in your storylines?

The first book I ever read with an “imperfect” hero was THE TIGER’S WOMAN, by Celeste De Blasis. The story takes place in San Francisco, 1869, and seems to be one of those that people either love or hate. For me, it was an eye-opener—I’d never read a strong, masculine, virile hero who had any kind of infirmity. Jason Drake’s is a limp.


Another one that comes to mind is A ROSE IN WINTER by Kathleen Woodiwiss. The heroine is “sold” by her father to pay his gaming debts to a mysterious man, Lord Saxton, who keeps himself covered to hide disfiguring scars from a terrible fire. I can’t say too much about these books without giving away spoilers, but both of them have many reviews that speak for them and their quality.


Mary Balogh’s book SIMPLY LOVE (one of the “Simply” quartet) is the story of an English aristocrat who has lost his arm and eye, and his face has been disfigured on one side. These are war injuries from “the Peninsula Wars”—and of course, he believes no woman will ever want him. He’s become reclusive. Enter Anne Jewell, mother of a nine-year-old son. UNWED mother, to be exact.


Kathleen Rice Adams has a short story, THE LAST THREE MILES, in the Prairie Rose Publications anthology, WILD TEXAS CHRISTMAS (yep, another Christmas story!) “Can a lumber baron and a railroad heiress save a small Texas town?” With Kathleen writing it, you can bet they’re going to give it their best shot, even though Kathleen’s hero in this one is confined to a wheelchair!


My own foray into writing a hero with a physical impairment is more modern. It’s a Christmas short story called THE WISHING TREE. Our hero, Pete Cochran, has been to the Middle East and suffered a devastating wound—the loss of an eye—shortly before he was to come home. Now, he works at his dad’s Christmas tree lot, just trying to heal his own mind and spirit…and then, a miracle happens. Maria Sanchez and her son, Miguel, stop by the lot one day and everything changes. You all know I believe in happy endings, but I don’t want to give any spoilers!


What about heroines? I’ve read books about heroines who have been lame—I can’t remember the titles right now. How do you feel about “imperfect” heroines? Are those more interesting than the heroes who suffer a permanent wound?

I would love to hear from everyone about this. I’m very curious as to what y’all think. So let’s hear it—and if you have read or written any books to add to this list, please DO!

I know it’s not Christmas, but I will be giving away 2 digital copies of THE WISHING TREE to two lucky commenters today! Thanks so much for coming by!

Thursday, July 26, 2018


The Children’s Aid Society was founded in 1853 by a small group of clergymen and social reformers concerned about the general conditions of homeless, neglected, and delinquent children. One of the principals of this group was a 26-year old Congregational minister, Rev. Charles Loring Brace. He had been working as an assistant minister in the Five Points Mission, located in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods of the city. He also occasionally visited the New York City Almshouse on Blackwell’s Island, further exposing him to the degrading and dehumanizing conditions prevalent in large sections of the city.

Home for destitute children, New York City

Rev. Brace, a Yale College graduate, was selected to become the first Secretary/Director of the Children’s Aid Society. Rev. Brace knew that American pioneers could use help settling the American West and arranged to send orphaned children to them. This became known as the Orphan Train Movement. Many people think of the orphan trains as the beginning of the modern foster care system.

Searching through rubbish for food

Between 1854 and 1929, an estimated 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, and runaway children in the East were sent via trains to Midwestern farming communities. The first group of children went to Dowagiac, Michigan in 1854. The last official train ran to Texas in 1929. 

Lined up to board train
Children were taken in small groups of 10 to 40, under the supervision of at least one western agent, traveled on trains to selected stops along the way, where they were taken by families in that area. Agents would plan a route, send flyers to towns along the way, and arrange for a screening committee in towns where the children might get new homes. The towns where they stopped, naturally, had to be along a railroad line. The screening committee was usually made up of a town doctor, clergyman, newspaper editor, store owner and/or teacher.

Put on view for possible adoption

In the recent anthology UNDER A MULBERRY MOON, the novellas of Jacquie Rogers' A FAMILY FOR POLLY and my A FAMILY FOR MERRY deal with sisters who were adopted from the orphan train and later adopt their own children from an orphan train. Only 99 cents for a limited time! Amazon buy linkhttp://a.co/99Odsch 

For many years I have been interested in the orphan trains and the children who were taken from the streets of New York by the Children’s Aid Society. Most of the children went to a better life than they had. In spite of the few failures, I admire what the Children’s Aid Society intended.

Homeless children sleeping in an alley

Can you fathom a child being sent to prison because he had no home? Imagine children living on the streets with no way to buy clothes or food and no safe place to sleep. Sadly, there are still such children in many places, especially large cities!

The National Center on Family Homelessness reports that one in every thirty children in the United States is homeless, for a staggering 2.5 million children each year in America. Of course, some of those are with their parents, but many are alone. Nevertheless, this one-in-thirty number shocks me!

An orphan train stopped for photos
Rev. Brace received financial support from New York businessmen and other philanthropists such as the Roosevelt, Astor, and Dodge families to ensure the physical and emotional well-being of children and provide them with the support needed to become successful adults. The only options available to the thousands of abandoned, abused, and orphaned children were begging, prostitution, thievery, and gang membership unless they were committed to jails, almshouses, or orphanages. Rev. Brace believed that institutional care stunted and destroyed children. (I certainly agree that being sent to prison for being homeless is not the right solution!) His opinion was that only work, education, and a strong family life could help them develop into self-reliant citizens.

A "gang" of thieves and their adult leader in New York

The history of the railroads is deeply tied to the history of the Orphan Trains Era in America. Railroads were the most inexpensive way to move children westward from poverty filled homes, orphanages, poor houses, and off the streets. In the West and Mid-west, Rev. Brace believed, solid, God-fearing homes could be found for the children. Food would be plentiful with pure air to breathe and a good work ethnic developed by living on a farm would help them to grow into mature responsible adults able to care for themselves.

One of the things I found upsetting is that siblings were often split up, never to be reunited—something I believe occasionally happens today in foster care. A child’s last name was often changed and that meant the chance of contacting a sibling later was almost impossible.

When it began, the program was quite controversial. Since this was before the Civil War, abolitionists viewed it as a form of slavery, which for some failures it was. Pro-slavery advocates saw it as part of the abolitionist movement because the labor provided by children made slaves unnecessary.

Since a significant percentage of poor children in Manhattan were Irish Catholic and would be raised outside their faith once transported, some Catholics called the program anti-Catholic. In response, the Archdiocese of New York upgraded their  child-welfare programs. They improved their parochial school system and built more Catholic orphanages. In addition, they created a 114-acre training center on farmland in the Bronx which they called the Catholic Protectory.

A joyous arrival from an orphan train
The Children’s Aid Society included in their first annual report: “We have thus far sent off to homes in the country, or to places where they could earn an honest living, 164 boys and 43 girls, of whom some 20 were taken from prison, where they had been placed for being homeless on the streets. The great majority were the children of poor or degraded people, who were leaving them to grow up neglected in the streets. They were found by our visitors at the turning point of their lives, and sent to friendly homes, where they would be removed from the overwhelming temptations which poverty and neglect certainly occasion in a great city. Of these 200 boys and girls, a great proportion are so many vagrants or criminals saved; so much expense lessened to courts and prisons; so much poisonous influence removed from the city; and so many boys and girls, worthy of something better from society than a felon’s fate, placed where they can enter on manhood or womanhood somewhat as God intended that they should.” 
(Source: The Victor Remer Historical Archives of the Children’s Aid Society, Children’s Aid Society of New York City.)

The Orphan Train Heritage Society maintains an archive of riders’ stories. The National Orphan Train Museum in Concordia, Kansas maintains records and also houses a research facility.


Through a crazy twist of fate, Caroline Clemmons was not born on a Texas ranch. To make up for this tragic error, she writes about handsome cowboys, feisty ranch women, and scheming villains in a small office her family calls her pink cave. She and her Hero live in North Central Texas cowboy country where they ride herd on their rescued cats and dogs. The books she creates there have made her an Amazon bestselling author and won several awards. Check out her website and sign up for her monthly newsletter to receive a FREE western historical novella titled Happy Is The Bride. Find Caroline here:
Twitter http://Twitter.com/CarolinClemmons (no E in Caroline)

Sign up for her newsletter here and receive a FREE novella, HAPPY IS THE BRIDE. Newsletters are sent only when there is a new release or contest. No salesman will call.