Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tom Dooley: Myth, Legend, or Truth by Sarah J. McNeal

Tom Dula, Confederate Soldier
One of the things I enjoy doing in my historical research is to discover if certain folktales and folk songs have any validity. Surprising to me is the number of these sometimes outlandish tales and songs that have turned out to have a basis in reality. A while back I wrote articles about Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan, legendary characters in American folktales. I found both of them to have been based on truth. Johnny Appleseed, like the Disney character, did indeed, walk across the country in bare feet, raggedy clothes, wearing a cooking pot as a hat as he planted apple trees in communities along the way. Paul Bunyan was a big lumberjack who did heroic things. There was no Babe the Blue Ox, however.
Some of you may remember the song “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley” by the Kingston Trio in 1958. The next part of the verse is “Poor boy you’re bound to die.” So, what do you think—was there a real Tom Dooley, or was he just a fictitious character in a folksong? Well, hand on to your hats because I have discovered the truth behind the song.
The song, as it turns out, is based on an 1866 murder of a woman named Laura Foster which took place in Wilkes County, North Carolina. Yep. Right here in my state right after the end of the American Civil War. It is alleged that a man named Tom Dula murdered Laura Foster. By the way, although his last name, Dula, was spelled with an “a” on the end, in Appalachian speech it is pronounced like a “y”—sort of like the Grande Old Opry.  
Before Tom Dula went off to fight in the American Civil War for North Carolina, he had been Anne Foster Melton’s lover since the time he was twelve. Ann was Laura’s sister. Laura had married James Melton was Tom was serving in the Confederate army, but even so, as soon as he returned after the war, he and Ann picked up where they left off.
Tom must have been quite the romantic or maybe just a smooth operator because he was also the lover of Laura Foster and their cousin, Pauline Foster. He should have known being the lover of three close relatives was going to lead to trouble…and so it did. It was Pauline Foster’s comments about Tom and Ann that led to the discovery of Laura’s body, which was unrecognizable from all the stab wounds, and accusations that both Tom and Ann were involved in the murder. Laura was pregnant at the time of her death and speculation was that Tom was the father. Laura had been stabbed several times with a large knife. The horrendous way in which Laura was murdered added to the notoriety of the murder along with the fact that the former governor of North Carolina, Zebulon Vance, acted as Dula’s defense attorney. The news of the murder had even been reported in the “New York Times.”

Ann was acquitted in a separate trial based on the word of Tom Dula that she had nothing to do with the murder.
In the song, written by a local poet, Thomas C. Land, there is mention of a man named Grayson who, according to the song, was a romantic rival of Tom Dula or a vengeful sheriff who captured Dula and presided over the hanging, but that was not factual. Col. James Grayson was a Tennessee politician who hired Tom on his farm when Tom fled from North Carolina while under suspicion and used a false name. Grayson helped in the capture of Tom Dula and was involved in returning him to North Carolina, but played no other role in the case.


Tom, who never confessed to the murder, made a puzzling statement at the gallows just before he was hanged. He declared he had not murdered Laura Foster, but still deserved punishment. His statement led to speculation that Ann Foster Melton, who had once expressed jealousy of Tom’s supposed plans to marry her sister, Laura, had been the murderer. A few years after the murder, Ann died in a carting accident; another version is that she went insane. Maybe Karmic justice had finally been served. I, on the other hand, cannot help but wonder why no one suspected Pauline Foster. Since she was the eager beaver who led authorities to the body of Laura, implicated Tom and Ann, and, oh yeah, was also a lover of Tom Dula’s. Did anyone else wonder about that? Well, actually the authorities did suspect her. Pauline finally confessed that she and Tom murdered Laura and was given immunity because she told them everything they needed to know to apprehend Tom Dula. 
The whole sad situation was immortalized in the folk song, “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley,” sung by the Kingston Trio back in 1958.  Here is the YouTube video of the Kingston Trio singing this famous folk song:

THE KINGSTON TRIO

 Suspicions abound in my new release from Fire Star Press, IT’S ONLY MAKE BELIEVE.


June believed Kit loved her…until she married him

Blurb:
Beautiful June Wingate’s perfect marriage is in shambles—and she hasn’t even left the wedding reception! When she overhears two gossips discussing the real reason Kit Wilding married her, June believes there must be some truth to it—after all, things have happened just the way they said. Is her marriage only make believe? Trust is hard for June to accept, and now, her faith in her husband has been broken—along with her fragile heart.

Kit Wilding has loved June since the moment he laid eyes on her—a vision in pink that he couldn’t get out of his mind. Now that he’s married her, he can’t understand the changes that have suddenly turned her secretive and distant. How can he make things right between them when he doesn’t know what he’s up against?

But the tables are turned when June’s father, a pillar of the community, is accused of a crime that brings shame on the Wingate family—along with prison time. Kit Wilding’s not the kind of man to give up easily, but with his budding political career at stake, will he be able to hold his marriage together? Or will he be forced to admit IT’S ONLY MAKE BELIEVE…

Excerpt:
A loud slap echoed through the house. June’s hand stung as she placed it back in the pocket of her dressing gown, part of her vast trousseau paid for by her parents.
Kit stepped back and rubbed his reddened cheek with his left hand while Snort, Kit’s dog, barked. June couldn’t help but notice the flash of his golden wedding band in the light of the dressing room. Her heart clenched at the sight of it. They’d been married only a few hours and now this…
“Hush that barking, Snort.” The dog quieted, but kept a sharp eye on June just in case. Kit glanced from the dog to June. “What the hell was that for, June? Did I do something wrong by trying to kiss my wife?”
“You bet you did. I thought you loved me and now…” She wasn’t quite sure how to say it to him now that she knew the truth. Honestly, she could barely believe what she had overheard at their wedding reception. How could she explain to him what she heard and express the doubts she had about his love because of it? Well, best to find a way because it seemed quite evident to her that he wasn’t about to leave her be until she did.
“You’d best tell me what this is all about, June, because I’m beginning to have doubts about your sanity and beginning to wonder about my own.” He cocked his head and narrowed his blue eyes at her.  If this is one of your cockamamie jokes, it isn’t funny—and please don’t tell me you married me just to spite your parents. I’m fairly certain your mother doesn’t think I’m good enough for you. She’s only spoken to me about four times in all the years I’ve known you. It’s a little late for second thoughts, June.” Snort began to pace between June and Kit as if to decide whose side he should take.
BUY LINKS: Paperback    Kindle


Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author who writes diverse stories filled with heart. 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 and Sundown Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:



Wednesday, February 14, 2018

“Ma” Ferguson and the Texas Rangers



Most of us from Texas have read about the origination of the Texas Rangers and the rough years they had with lack of state funding and low pay. But, it wasn’t until I was researching for my latest time travel, Birdie’s Nest, that I learned about the political problems the Rangers faced.

At the beginning of the 20th century, lawyers became a major threat to the Rangers. They challenged the legality of Ranger arrests by quoting the 1874 law that allowed only supervisors to make arrests of which there were only four in the state. Law on the Frontier faded and the Frontier Battalion ceased to exist when a new law went to affect. The new Ranger Force dropped to four companies of 20 men each.

In 1905, the Rangers still had their Wild West era reputation, but they were gradually evolving into detectives and solved cases with modern crime fighting techniques. They still dealt with trouble along the border and after Spindle Top, kept peace in oil Boom Towns.

In 1927 Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, Democratic candidate, was elected the first woman Governor of Texas. Her husband, James Ferguson, served as Governor from 1915 to 1917 but during his second term he was impeached, convicted and removed from office to never hold office in Texas again.

His wife decided to run in his place promising to follow the advise of her husband. “A common campaign slogan was, ‘Me for Ma, and I Ain’t Got a Durned Thing Against Pa.’” During her first term, Ma averaged over 100 pardons a month. There were accusations of bribes and kickbacks, but attempts to impeach failed.

“Ma’s” second term was less controversial but rumors abounded that state highway contracts went to those companies that advertised in the Fergusons’ newspaper. A House committee found no wrongdoing. Ma was instrumental in establishing the University of Houston as a four-year institution. Though both she and her husband were teetotalers; she aligned herself with the “wets” in the war on prohibition. She took a firm stand against the Ku Klux Klan and pushed for sales tax and corporate income tax.

During her two terms, she granted almost four thousand pardons, many were those convicted of violating prohibition laws. Rumors circulated that pardons were available in exchange for cash payments to the governor’s husband. In 1936 the Texas Board of Paroles was invented to take over the power.

When “Ma” was re-elected, in protest over political corruption, 40 Rangers quit the force; the remaining Rangers were fired. Political appointments replaced them. In 1934, after an investigation of corruption, a panel recommended the formation of the Texas Department of Public Safety to be headed by an Independent Public Safety Commission. The newly elected Governor Allred revoked the commission of all Rangers appointed by the Ferguson administration.

In 1935, the Department of Public Safety begins operation. Tom Hickman is commissioned Senior Ranger. He later serves as a member of the Public Safety Commission.

Former Rangers Frank Hammer and Manny Gault are commissioned to end the crime spree of outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.

















Pictured is the Posse of Six, the officers who ended the life of the two outlaws. Manny Gault is standing on the right and Frank Hamer is kneeling on the left. The duo, who had killed 14 law-enforcement officers, were shown no mercy when ambushed by the six officers. 

In 1939, despite the neutrality of the US, Captain Frank Hammer and 49 retired Rangers offered their services to the King of England to protect their shores against Nazi invasion. The King thanked them for their offer. The US State Department was not amused.

During WWII, US Army Intelligence Division Officers train with the Texas Rangers in Austin at the DPS Headquarters.

References:

Texas Ranger History: Timeline - Order Out of Chaos (See The Official Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas Website.)

www.texasalmanac.com/topics/history/texas-rangers-horses-helicopters 


Happy Reading and Writing, folks...oh and let's not forget researching our next project.

Linda
www.lindalaroque.com


Monday, February 12, 2018

El Tiradito-- the Wishing Shrine

by Rain Trueax

With Valentine's Day approaching, it seems a time to look at a story of love gone wrong and wishes from those who hope for it to go right.


Tucson, Arizona is a land of many cultures drawn here by the river valley and its ability to nurture life. To me, having been here off and on since 1965, both to vacation and live, it is a land of mysticism, violence, history and mystery. One of its mysteries is that of el Tiradito. I only learned of it five or so years ago, even with all the time I'd spent in the area. The first time I went looking for it, I didn't have an address and thought another shrine (the region is full of them) was it. It was not. 


Finally, I got the right spot, took photos, absorbed its ambiance, and was inspired to put it into an historical romance. Years later, it appeared again in my paranormal contemporaries based in its neighborhood, Barrio Viejo. The old adobe community, many of the dwellings being lovingly restored, seemed a logical place to have a family of natural-born witches involved with protecting the street from evil. 

El Tiradito's mythology could make a book all on its own-- but not with the happy ending romances require. It has many versions of its story, secrets protected by the mists of time, as to its meaning and why it is there.

The neighborhood, Barrio Viejo has its own secrets and its history goes back many hundreds of years. It is the end of El Camino Real also called the Royal Road to Mexico City. It served as a road for the first Spaniards who entered America. Father Kino, who founded many missions in the area came down the road in the 1690s. 

For any who might be visiting Tucson, el Tiradito, the Wishing Shrine , is on Main Avenue between Cushing and Simpson Streets. It is south of downtown Tucson. When you see it, it looks like the remains of an older building with adobe walls, a simple shrine at its center. The reason for its existence may begin in the 1870s when its story was first told-- or was it? 

El Tiradito is a story of the West, of love, tragedy, and of a curse or is that a blessing? There are, of course, many such stories, what made this one special enough that people still visit this place and hope for a miracle? 

Not all who come may know its story. There are, after all, at least twenty versions of it-- all with a common thread-- a love gone wrong. Here is one version, which might well be the true one, of course.


It was in the 1870s, and Juan Oliveras was eighteen, a shepherd, who frequented Tucson, while he lived north of town with his young bride and his father-in-law, on the older man's ranch. Juan fell in love with his mother-in-law, who must have been a beautiful woman to inspire such a risky affair. Their adultery was possible because she lived in her husband's large main home in Barrio Viejo. 

It might've gone on for some time; but one particular day, Juan chose to visit her at the same time his father-in-law also came to town. The older man discovered the two making love in his own bed. Not surprisingly, there were angry words and a fight. Juan broke away, running from the house. His father-in-law followed with an axe. Yelling for help, to no avail, the older man hacked at him until Juan died in a pool of his own blood.

The murderer, believing he would be arrested by the Tucson marshals and hanged for the crime, saddled his best horse and rode south sixty miles to Sonora, Mexico.  

One story, as to the father-in-law's end, is that he didn't stay there. He wanted his sheep and rode back to get them. Near Tubac, he was attacked by Apaches, who scalped, stabbed and shot him repeatedly, tying his body to a cactus (yes, the Old West could be brutal and I am leaving out the most gruesome details). His dead body was found by the south bound stage coach and carried to Nogales, Sonora where it was buried.

Juan's widow was despondent after this horrible tragedy. There are several stories as to how she died but they all claim hanging. One such version is that
even though she was pregnant, she couldn't bear to continue living after Juan's and her mother's betrayal and her father's murderous deed. Without hope, she untied the bucket to ranch's well, tied the rope around her neck and threw herself down the deep well. When neighbors came to check on her they found her body and buried it right there, under a large mesquite, where it remains-- no shrine that I know of.

Some say Juan's body was left to rot on the dirt road. The Catholic Church refused him burial in hallowed ground, given the nature of his sin. One story says he was buried on the spot where he had been murdered. It has led to the name for the site. El Tiradito means castaway or little throwaway. Of course, there is another more romantic story that his mother-in-law buried him under her porch and built a wall around the grave-- the wall that still surrounds the shrine (unlikely given later events).

Now why should such a grave inspire becoming a shrine where even 140 years later people visit with prayers? One story lays it to the barrio women who
romanticized the love affair. They visited the grave to light candles and ask God to forgive Oliveras, the handsome (of course, he must have been) young man.

It soon evolved into a place where others could go to make a wish, writing their request on a small piece of paper and putting in the wall. Today it is claimed that if a candle is lit and the flame lasts the night, the wish will be granted-- possibly by Juan's ghost or was it the weeping mother-in-law's ghost, who some claim to hear when they visit. I saw no stories as to her end, which is unusual in that usually adulteresses must pay the ultimate price. Maybe she did-- or maybe she found another handsome young man.

El Tiradito is the only shrine dedicated to a sinner (that is known). It is now on the registry of historic places and contributed to preventing the freeway from wiping out the barrio more completely than downtown Tucson's expansion was already attempting. 

I have liked my time there, whenever I've visited. I can't say I felt any vibes either way. It feels peaceful and has a quiet beauty. I certainly didn't cast a wish, who knows how that would have worked out.

I used the legend when I wrote Arizona Sunset set in the 1880s. In this snippet, Abigail and Priscilla, longtime friends, are stopping at the shrine on their way down to picnic on the Santa Cruz River.


“So what are you going to ask for?” Abigail asked.  

"If I told you, would it come true?" Cilla quieted her voice as they neared the shrine. Lit candles, rosaries, crucifixes and bits of cloth were fastened to the adobe enclosure. If a candle continued burning through the night, it was believed it was a sign the wish would come true.

"My dear friend, this isn’t like blowing out a birthday candle. Besides, you can't believe in this sort of thing?" Abigail hushed her own voice at least partly because an old woman, a shawl almost covering her white hair, was kneeling in front of the small structure and gave her a gimlet eyed look.  

"And if I do?" Priscilla pulled a candle from her shawl. She knelt and lit it, closing her eyes.

Abigail looked at the shrine wondering if it did have some kind of magical powers. If so, from where might the enchantment come? A catastrophic result on love could fix someone else’s problems. She resisted a sarcastic laugh. For what would she wish if she believed in such? Nothing could be wished into existence. She had prayed when her mother grew sick and what good had it done. 

Wishing for freedom, for adventure, for forbidden fruits, none of that would bring her what she wanted—if she even knew what that might be. Would a wish bring the dark gunman into her life? She remembered how he had looked, what she had felt in that moment when their gazes seemed to lock. He had been a handsome man even under the beard. Would she want to conjure a reckless love like that into her reality? No, that was not for her. Wishes were for children or naive adults, not practical women. 

When Priscilla rose, she met Abigail’s skeptical expression with a benign expression of her own. “What can it hurt?” 

Abigail made a dramatic shudder. “Perhaps wishes are dangerous.” 

Priscilla laughed. “I will risk it.”

“What we wish for sometimes has another thing connected. Something we may not have considered.” “Maybe I would want the other thing too.” Priscilla laughed even though she received another stern look from the old lady. 

Links:
Arizona Sunset
Tucson Moon (where this business of making wishes is a major issue)

Both books are also available at most other sites and can be found through Arizona Sunset-- https://books2read.com/u/mdxKdm 
Tucson Moon-- https://books2read.com/u/38MDLm




Saturday, February 10, 2018

TRAINS by E. Ayers


Say gauge when talking about trains and I immediately think about those cute trains that people set up at Christmas. As a child, I become enamored with those displays. I had an uncle that often started the beginning of October to set up the display so that it would be ready by Dec. He kept it up through Jan and it took another two months to pack away. I used to beg my parents to go see that aunt and uncle as often as possible over the holidays and they lived several hours away in another state. I was hooked on what was once considered a child's toy.
I knew that those toy trains came in "gauges" and that meant size, but I didn't know that gauge referred to the size of the tracks, I thought it was the size of the little trains.
In the 1800's trains underwent some major changes. It had nothing to do with the way they looked or their engines, although during that time we made major strides in producing faster and more efficient engines. I'm talking about how they got from here to there - their tracks!
One of the things that started the changes was the fact that we "imported" people who built trains in England. I'll skip the fact that the original tracks were wood, then wood topped with strips of metal, and go right to the forged metal tracks.
How big did the tracks need to be and who decided such things? The men who came here from England were familiar with the train cars that were used in the mines. Four foot, eight and a half inches seemed to be the standard gauge for the mines, and to keep things seamless, the tracks that were built to move mined minerals were kept the same width to move those cars full of coal, etc directly to the cities. That was easier than moving the minerals by hand to the next train that would cart them away from the mines. It was as labor and time saving back then as it would be today. So why would anyone change that? There seems to be some ideas that those measurements matched the width of two horses' behinds or the ruts made by the old Roman carts. Seems that is an erroneous belief, but I don't think it's been totally proven fact or fiction.
Today's Trains, CSX
In America, the concept was to use many British locomotives, except they soon discovered it was cheaper and more efficient for us to build our own. The other thing that was happening in America, was that many trains were built to connect bodies of water, usually canals, which had been the primary way to move supplies from place to place. It didn't matter if the train tracks, or what is known as gauge, matched or not. Lots of rail companies existed, each with their own gauge, each serving a small area of land. They built what was needed for their area and what they were transporting.
Train gauges varied because nothing was standard and because the gauges made a difference in a variety of things. Even to this day there are differences depending on the train and how it is used. High-speed trains don't need as much track width. That means less real estate. But those super wide tracks, about 8 feet are still used in some parts of the world today. They can hold heavy loads, they are very stable, and the trains are much slower.
But back in the North America, trains tracks varied from 3 feet to 6 feet. Whenever a train encountered another company's rails that were a different size, the loads had to be transferred by hand. And during the Civil War there were over 20 rail companies, each with their own gauge in the United States.
It was the Baltimore & Ohio and the Boston & Albany RRs that used the 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches. These large companies serviced much of the northeast. Surprisingly the Pennsylvania RR used a 4 feet, 9inch track that was compatible. (That thought still scares me a little bit because I would think the train wouldn't be as stable.)
The Erie and the Lackawanna railroads were very important and ran on a 6 foot, 0 inch gauge. The Canadian railroads ran on a 5 foot, 6 inch rails mostly for military transport.
But the South tended to use broad gauges, because they were moving heavy agricultural products and related items. That five-foot track extended between Norfolk and Richmond, and onto Memphis and New Orleans, except it wasn't a full network because it wasn't totally connected.
Along came the Civil War and the North decided that by destroying the supply lines through the South, they could quickly end the war. They were correct. It had devastating consequences through the South and actually affected the North because the North was also dependent on those agricultural products. In a strange and convoluted way, the North actually did the South a favor because it forced the rebuilding of the tracts.
But it was when the war ended and the east needed the grain out of the Midwest that the need for standardization of the rail system became imperative. It was recommended that the rails should be 5 foot because that's what California was, but at the last minute, the decision was made to stick with the gauge of the most important railroads in the east. The decision was made to keep the tracks to 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches.
I'm willing to bet that one of those companies was padding a few senators' pockets. But no matter why or what gauge they used, Congress did something right by standardizing the rails across the USA. Canada followed suit in 1872-1873. By the time the South managed to get their new railroads built to the new standard and the old rails converted, it took a major push that ended on Memorial Day weekend in 1886 with a very big celebration. This standardization also paved the way for our transcontinental railroad. It is the same gauge that we use today.
But wait, times change! Have you ever driven on a city road and discovered you are sharing the road with a train? It's a little unnerving, or at least it was for me. I saw the tracks and I'm thinking trolley tracks. No. It's a train! Lightweight trains for moving people in and out of congested city areas are often using electrified trains with narrow tracks. It's less real estate used and it works. Of course for someone like me who is used to small town traffic and avoids the "big" city as much as possible, discovering that a train is riding beside you or coming "towards" you is enough to make me a little white-knuckled and send my heart into a sprint. Smaller gauge tracks with lightweight trains for passengers seem to be the way of the future. But for now, we are still moving products, minerals, raw material, and most people on tracks with a gauge of four feet, eight and one half inches just as we've done almost from the beginning of trains in America, because it's fast, efficient, and very economical.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Judge Roy Bean--"Law West of the Pecos"

By Celia Yeary


JUDGE ROY BEAN


Judge Roy Bean, the self-appointed “Law West of the Pecos”, became a saloonkeeper and Justice of the Peace on the Rio Grande in a desolate stretch of the Chihuahua Desert of SW Texas. When the Texas Rangers weren’t around to stop him, he brazenly held court.

A few months ago, as I watched Late Night TV, a somewhat new movie came on about the famous Judge Roy Bean. I was interested, so I watched the introduction. Actor to play the Judge? ROBERT REDFORD as a young man. I couldn't quite see RR as the real Judge Roy Bean, but the story was put together rather well.
PECOS RIVER, TEXAS/MEXICO BORDER


SALOON ON PECOS RIVER, TEXAS SIDE

Roy Bean found himself in trouble most of his life from Texas to California. He killed, stole, cheated, swindled, and abused his wife.
Young women considered Bean handsome, and often competed for his attention. (See vintage photo and judge for yourself.) In San Diego, a Scotsman named Collins challenged Bean to a pistol shooting match on horseback. He allowed Bean to choose the target, and Roy Bean decided they would shoot at each other. Bean shot Collins in the arm. The sheriff arrested both men and charged them with attempted murder. During the two months in jail, Bean received many gifts of flowers, food, wine, and cigars from the ladies of San Diego. The last gift included knives encased in tamales. He used the knives to dig through the cell wall.   

In Southwest Texas by the Rio Grande, the small town of Langtry was established as a construction junction from east and west during the building of the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway. Two origins of the town’s name are under dispute. One claim says the town was named for a civil engineer named Langtry who directed a group of Chinese laborers in the railroad construction.
LILLIE (LILY) LANGTRY
The other more popular and accepted claim is that Judge Roy Bean,
an eccentric, colorful character, insisted he named the town after his idol,
English actress Lillie Langtry, the “Jersey Lily.”
THE SALOON TODAY, OPEN
FOR VISITORS


Today, a Texas Visitor’s Center sits next to the preserved
150-year-old-saloon  in Langtry, Texas.
The center is well maintained, with clean restrooms,
a snack area, landscaping, and a gift shop.
~~*~~*~~
Celia Yeary...Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

CALIFORNIA'S RUSSIAN PRINCESS

By Arletta Dawdy



“Settlement Ross” 1841 by Ilya Gavrilovich Voznesensky

California’s vibrant history reflects a multitude of invasive ethnic groups long past the emigration of First Peoples coming down through Canada or other far horizons. Among the most intriguing adventurers were members of the Russian-American Company who ventured south out of Alaska to seek trade and agricultural venues. The fur trade was diminishing in early 19th Century waters off the Pacific coast. Harsh conditions in the far north meant scarcity of foods for increasing population growth. Exploration moved south as early as 1803 and by 1812 Fortress Ross was established on what is now the Sonoma County coastline.

 Fort Ross State Park Russian Orthodox Chapel, Frank Schulinburg

The colony lasted until 1842 when John Sutter of Gold Rush fame bought the settlement; it passed to ranchers and farmers until bought by the state in 1903. The site deteriorated over the years due to fires, the 1906 earthquake, road building across it and abandoned ruins. The wooden structures were reconstructed over the years. The park is listed on various state and national registries.


What follows is a piece I wrote more than 30 years ago while living at the Russian (or Slavyanka) River. Princess Helena, her husband Alexie and M. du Mofras are real historical characters in 1841.

SPRING RETREAT
            “But Alexie, we have made a good life here. What is there for us back in Russia other than ostracism by my family? They’ll never forgive us for eloping and father will block your advancement every way he can. You can do better here or in Sitka.” It wasn’t the first time Helena made the plea to her husband.
            “My dear, I know better in these matters and you really must let me do what I think right.” He planted a brief kiss on her forehead. “Hadn’t you best see to Monsieur de Mofras’ entertainment?  The Captain and I will tend to the provisions going on board the ship for the Alaskan settlements. He already has my letter requesting my transfer and will send it on its way to St. Petersburg “ Having said his piece, Alexander Rotchev,  commandant of Russia’s southermmost possession on the North American continent, made an about face and left the room and his frustrated wife.
            With a sigh that might have been of sadness, Princess Helena of the house of Gargarin, watched their guest make his way from the rose garden. He was with the French legation in Mexico City and touring the coastal area. Alexie thought the man’s motives were innocent given his skills in the sciences but Helena had her doubts. She had grown up in the midst of household and political intrigue and was suspicious.
            Dinner last night went nicely enough when she delighted in serving her best Bordeaux. The Frenchman was genuinely surprised to see and hear her play from an original Mozart score. The distraction of an interesting guest would be more enjoyable is only Alexie would be more reasonable.
            “Ah, Madame, I am not disturbing you?”  Eugene Duflot de Mofras entered the house with the barest of knocks on the half-open door.
“Please, Monsieur, won’t you join me for tea? The samovar is always at our call.”  She enjoyed using her best Parisian French. “Perhaps you know the story of our settlement?” Last night’s conversation was all about recent events abroad.
“Wasn’t it Captain Ruskov who founded the Ross Colony?”
“Yes, he came from Sitka to establish gardens for the Alaskan communities.” She offered him tea in a delicate China cup and showed him to a seat at the window. “He went as far south as the bay the Spanish call Bodega, but he found this area more to his liking.”
Shifting his cup from one hand to the other, de Mofras said, “I suspect he found the soil and climate better for crops.”
“I’m sure you are right. He became a folk hero, traversing the wilds with one good leg and opening up new territories. He found the native Kashsaya Pomo to be friendly.”
“And did they freely give over their land?”                               
“He got a very good bargain for three blankets, three pair of britches, three horses, two axes and some beads. I am afraid it wasn’t any more honorable a price than the Dutch paid for Manhattan.”
De Mofras chuckled and added, “Perhaps those items were worth more thirty years ago!”
An hour later, a mounted party left the Fort: two Russian soldiers led Helena and her guest, the woman’s Kashaya maid, and another servant burdened with a picnic hamper and blankets. The soldiers and the Frenchman were armed against the occasional bear or wild boar known to roam the coastal mountains. The ride passed quickly and, deep into the hills, the party stopped to eat. At elena’s suggestion, Monsieur and the soldiers cont
Helena’s suggestion, one of the soldiers and Monsieur continued on, leaving Helena with her guard and her private worries. Resting against a young redwood tree near a bed of bright white trillium, she looked down on the fort, its surrounding orchards and grazing lands, out to the sea.

“Oh, Alexie, can’t you see the wealth, the beauty and the potential here! Thirty years is nothing in the march of history. We devoured the seals and the otters. Leave them be and they’ll be back. Let their Highnesses wear rabbit! The orchards are flourishing; we only need to plant more. The sea and the fog may not be right for grain, but what of the cattle and sheep that flourish. We can be a self-sufficient colony. There is little we cannot grow or build. And, we’ve only begun to explore the Slavyanka and her primal forest.”

The heady wine, the warm sun and her feelings overcame Helena. In her dream, she saw the history of Russia, past and future. Blood ran, flags and crowns passed. Through the violence, the laughter and tears, she saw one face clearly and it was Alexie’s. Her dream tried to awaken her. A gentle petting of her shoulder brought her to consciousness
“Darling, I’m here. Have you lost our guest?” teased Alexie.
Trembling and reaching for him, Helena spoke. “I was in St. Petersburg, and there was much trouble and danger but we were together. Alexie, I am so afraid.”
“Nonsense, Helena. It was nothing more than a bad afternoon’s dream. You will see. All your friends and family long for your return. I’m sure your father will forgive our elopement. You are too precious to him for us to remain in exile forever.”
Helena gave up her efforts to win him over. She missed her family and there was always the music and ballet. Perhaps he was right. She would return with him, but they must find a way to share their thoughts and feelings. She would insist.
The exuberant M. de Mofras and his guide returned to find the Rochevs restored to each other’s good graces. The party followed the sun’s path, reaching the fort just as the sun took its plunge into the reflecting mirror that was the sea.

EPILOGUE
Sometime after their return to Russia, the Rotchevs’ marriage ended in divorce. De Mofras published a book about his travels in Alta California and Oregon with reference to the couple and the Mozart score..

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I write about strong women of the Old West whom I research deeply and whose territory I travel. I find the courage, perseverance, and strength of the characters in my work inspire me to continue on the difficult path to publication.Originally an east coaster, I live in Northern California, an area rich in beauty and history. There are many stories yet to be written here but my fascination is with the American Southwest and the Rockies. Find out more about me and my books at www.arlettadawdy.com.