Sunday, January 20, 2019

Line Riders and Line Shacks

Before diving into today's topic, I have some news. Along with western romance, I write paranormal romantic suspense. I'm honored to report my ROMANCING THE GUARDIANS series is nominated for 2 awards in the 2018 Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewers Choice Awards. Yay! If you wish, you can vote here:

Categories I'm entered in:



Now, about those line riders and line shacks. COWBOY BOB’S DICTIONARY definitions:

“Line Rider - A cowboy who patroled the ranch boundry lines, pushing stray cattle back over the line back onto their respective ranchs. Later, on fenced ranches, a line rider would watch for, and repair, damaged fencing.”

“Line Shack - A cabin for use of cowhands when out patroling the boundry line of the ranch for cattle that may have strayed over the line.” (Please forgive the author's misspellings.)

line shack paid photo from

 Line shacks have history as lifesavers 

The description in this excellent article made me shiver and commiserate with old time cowboys who rode the line.
"When late winter weather rolls in I think of cowboys waiting out storms huddled in their line shacks drinking hot coffee from blue metal cups.

"Rode hard and put away wet, with ice-encrusted mustaches, frozen cowboy boots and red bandannas stiff as cardboard, the herders slowly thawed out in remote winter camps stocked with survival rations of beans, jerked meat, biscuit fixins, matches, dry wood and thin wool blankets atop mouse-infested wooden bunks."

The author quotes Teddy Roosevelt from TR's time spent as a rancher in North Dakota. "The men in the line camps lead a hard life, for they have to be out in every kind of weather, and should be especially active and watchful during the storms."

Yet another interesting article pointed out how lonely a line rider's job could be. Living and working alone for months on end might make a cowboy a little "teched" in the head. In cases where two men shared a line shack, it could be a blessing.

I mention their lonely job in this excerpt from Dashing Irish.

Tye dismounted and wound his reins around a hitching post outside the general store, near a buckboard awaiting its owner. He’d volunteered to ride into Clifton and pick up supplies for the line shack he shared with a colored cowboy named Dewey Sherman. The trip was a welcome break from the winter tedium. Riding the border along their section of the ranch, to stop cattle from straying and drive off predators, was a cold, lonely job.

David had stationed him as far from the Double C as possible to keep him away from Lil – to prevent trouble with her father, Tye both understood and resented – but she was never far from his thoughts. He’d foolishly hoped this change of pace might take his mind off her for a short while. So far it hadn’t worked.

Two months had passed since the social in Meridian, yet he couldn’t stop picturing her in that tantalizing red dress, with her beautiful dark hair rippling down her back. He also couldn’t forget the way she’d gazed up at him when she was in his arms, and how feeling her excitement had made his blood pound. He still thought himself unworthy of her, but that didn’t stop him from longing to hold her and kiss her again. As always, he became half aroused at the mere thought.Unbuttoning his jacket, he resettled his gun belt and told himself he’d simply gone far too long without a woman. While in town, he ought to stop by the saloon and take one of the birds of paradise upstairs for a while, but alas, the idea soured the instant it crossed his mind. He wanted Lil, no other.

Impatient with his unruly thoughts, he stepped up onto the boardwalk and crossed to the store entrance. He was about to open the door when it swung inward and an overloaded customer plowed into him. A feminine cry of alarm rang out as tinned goods and paper-wrapped parcels toppled from a crate the woman carried.

Tye grunted in reaction. Then, to his astonishment, he found himself face to face with the object of his pent up desires. Lil stared back at him, lips parted and brown eyes wide with shock.

Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and paranormal romantic suspense novels, all spiced with sensual romance. 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 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Last Shot

While the American Civil War tore through the eastern half of the United States that was south of the Mason Dixon, Texas seemed to have escaped fairly unscathed. I won’t say completely, but considering how much Tennessee, the Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia, and other states in the Confederacy fared, Texas somehow managed to come out of the war in good shape.

While doing research for a new book and needing information of battles fought in Texas during the Civil War, it appears only five battles were fought in the Lone Star State, including what was probably where the last shots of the Civil War were fired—the Battle of Palmito Ranch in Cameron County. As casualties went, this one was light—only 118 Federal troops and an unknown number of Confederates, but as it is listed as a Confederate victory, I would assume Confederate losses were few, also. (I know—staggering isn’t it, that almost 120 dead is considered a light loss? But when held up to the death toll at Antietam—22,700 killed, wounded, or missing in one day; or Shiloh—23,700 killed, wounded, or missing; or even Gettysburg with more than 50,000 men killed, wounded, or missing, 120 dead is a small number.)

Palmito Ranch was fought May 12 and 13, 1865, more than a full month after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.  Apparently, the news of the surrender didn’t travel that fast. Since March of 1865, there had been what local commanders termed a “gentleman’s agreement” that neither side would engage with the other on the Rio Grande. In spite of this agreement, Col. Theodore H. Barrett, commanding forces at Brazos Santiago, Texas, dispatched an expedition, composed of 250 men of the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment and 50 men of the 2nd Texas Cavalry Regiment under the command of Lt. Col. David Branson, to the mainland, on May 11, 1865, to attack reported Rebel outposts and camps. At 2:00 am, on May 12, the expeditionary force surrounded the Rebel outpost at White’s Ranch but found no one there.

Exhausted, having been up most of the night, Branson secreted his command in a thicket. His men found places to sack out among weeds on the banks of the Rio Grande. Around 8:30 am, people on the Mexican side of the river informed the Rebels of the Federals whereabouts. Many combatants reported that firing came from the Mexican shore and that some Imperial Mexican forces crossed the Rio Grande but did not take part in the battle, though shots from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande or the involvement of Imperial Mexican forces has never been verified.

Branson promptly led his men off to attack a Confederate camp at Palmito Ranch. After much skirmishing along the way, the Federals attacked the camp and scattered the Confederates. Branson and his men remained at the site to feed themselves and their horses but, at 3:00 pm, a sizable Confederate force appeared, influencing the Federals to retire to White’s Ranch. Branson sent word of his predicament to Barrett, who reinforced Branson at daybreak, on the 13th, with 200 men of the 34th Indiana Volunteer Infantry.

The augmented force, now commanded by Barrett, started out towards Palmito Ranch, skirmishing most of the way. At Palmito Ranch, they destroyed the rest of the supplies not torched the day before and continued on. A few miles forward, they became involved in a sharp firefight. After the fighting stopped, Barrett led his force back to a bluff at Tulosa on the river where the men could prepare dinner and camp for the night. At 4:00 pm, a large Confederate cavalry force, commanded by Col. John S. “Rip” Ford, approached, and the Federals formed a battle line.

The Rebels hammered the Union line with artillery. To preclude an enemy flanking movement, Barrett ordered a retreat. The retreat was orderly, and skirmishers held the Rebels at a respectable distance.  The very last shot was fired approximately about 4:30 PM.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Historical music trivia and a Valentine's Day story by Kaye Spencer #westernromance #anthology #SweetheartsoftheWest

One of the many reasons I enjoy writing historical western romance novels and short stories is the research required to make sure all the historical details I include in a story are reasonable accurate.

In my novellete Mail-Order Mix Up (set in Colorado in 1891), which is included in the Valentine's Day-themed western romance anthology Lariats, Letters, and Lace, I have a scene in which the heroine, Irene Maxon, has a mental image of someone stomping about in heavy boots while singing a marching-type song. A religious song wasn’t appropriate for the situation, yet the lyrics needed to reflect the reason she was thinking of the song.

Two songs came immediately to mind: Battle Hymn of the Republic (aka John Brown’s Body) and When Johnny Comes Marching Home. But they weren’t quite right. Then I couldn’t think of any other songs, because they had achieved earworm status in my head.

I realized, though, these songs shared a common thread: the American Civil War. Since Irene was in her twenties during the war, she would have known the songs of the time period. So I did a Google search and hit pay dirt right off with a song I should have thought of on my own: Battle Cry of Freedom. Great. I had my song, and I finished writing that scene.

My research could have ended there, but I have a tendency to tumble down research rabbit holes, especially if there’s trivia involved.

Battle Cry of Freedom

  • George Frederick Root, an American composer, wrote Battle Cry of Freedom (aka 'Rally ‘Round the Flag') in 1862 to support the Union cause.
  • H. L. Schreiner (composer) and W. H. Barnes (lyricist) adapted the song for the Confederacy.
  • The Union version was modified as the campaign song for Lincoln/Garfield for the 1864 presidential election.
  • Garfield used the song during his campaign in 1880.
  • Composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk suggested it should be America’s national anthem.
  • Composer Charles Ives referenced the song in his song, “They are There”.
  • Ken Burns (known for documentaries) referenced the song in “The Civil War” documentary.
  • Film composer John Williams incorporated the song into the soundtrack of the movie “Lincoln”.
  • The 1939 film “Young Mister Lincoln” starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford has the song sung during the opening credits.

Here are YouTube renditions of Battle Cry of Freedom for the Union and the Confederacy. You'll notice the words a different.



Mail-Order Mix Up is set in the fictional town of Platte River City, Colorado, which is located on the South Platte River about 100 miles east of Denver.


Remarrying isn’t on widower Dale Forbes’ mind, but his three young granddaughters want a grandma. Widow Irene Maxon yearns for something more than the disappointments life has handed her. A mail-order bride catalog, a secret letter, and a blizzard combine to set the scene for match-making between Dale and Irene. However, another man expects Irene to fulfill their marriage agreement, and he isn’t going to take no as her answer.


“Forgive me for intruding unannounced, especially during your festivities. I’m here to return—”

“Oh, there you are, Dale, Violet,” Eloy broke in. “This is Irene Maxon from St. Louis.”

Irene followed Eloy’s wave and recognized the man and the girl coming along the hallway from the photograph she’d received with the letter. She also noted with more than passing interest that the photograph had not adequately captured Dale’s handsome maturity, strong chin, and fine, broad-shouldered physique. Before she could greet them, movement at the top of the stairs drew her attention, and she looked up to see a girl descending one slow stair at a time, her hand trailing lightly along the banister. The girl stopped midway down and looked right at Irene, the little satisfied smirk on her lips as pleasant as the sparkle in her eyes. So this was Meredith—the instigator of the marriage invitation.

Then a wisp of a child with braids flying burst through the midst of the group with a shriek of squealing delight. When she leaped, Irene instinctively caught her, staggering backwards a few steps under the child’s momentum. The girl clamped her arms around Irene’s neck with a grip so tight Irene couldn’t turn her head.

“Grandma! You’re here. You’re really here. I knew you’d come. I just knew it!”

Lydia’s face broke into a bright smile. Clara Jean clapped her hands and blurted, “It worked! She really got Meredith’s letter!”

All attention swung to Clara Jean who realized too late what she’d said as she ducked for cover behind the coat tree.

The few seconds of solemn, stunned silence shattered into echoes when Dale’s booming voice rebounded off the walls. “Meredith Margaret Forbes! What have you been up to now?”

But Meredith was nowhere in sight.

Lariats, Letters, and Lace is available on
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 Until next time,

Kaye Spencer
Writing the West one romance upon a time

References and further reading:

McWhirter, Christian L. (July 27, 2012). "Birth of the 'Battle Cry'". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved January 15, 2019. (

Monday, January 14, 2019

African American Cowboys: An Important Part of America’s History by Shirleen Davies

After the civil war, many freed African Americans looked west for a better life. While white and black cowboys worked well together on the range with so much to do, African American cowhands were usually given the less pleasant tasks such as night watches, fording the streams first to test the waters, and horse breaking. Breaking wild horses was difficult and dangerous work, which often involved big falls, broken bones, torn ligaments, and even having your lungs pulled loose from the chest wall because of the horse’s violent bucking.  

African American Texas Cowboys
Making their days more difficult, living in town involved segregation for African American cowboys. They weren't allowed in most saloons and those that did let them in forced them to stay at one end of the bar.
Even so, many African American’s became western heroes. In some cases, famous outlaws. Here are just a few of the famous African American cowboys who shaped the west.

Bass Reeves
Bass Reeves was the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal west of the Mississippi River. He was an impressive figure in a big cowboy hat, and boots polished to a gleaming shine. He always rode a large white stallion and had two Colt pistols in his gun belt, butt forward for a fast draw. Ambidextrous, he seldom missed his mark. Reeves was also a master of disguises, sometimes appearing as a cowboy, farmer, gunslinger, or outlaw.
Reeves earned his place in history as the most successful lawman in Indian Territory, arresting more than 3,000 outlaws. Many believe the classic Lone Ranger character was based on him.
Addison Jones’ unparalleled skills at breaking wild broncos were legendary. Whenever he showed up at a roundup, everyone was relieved, since he could top off horses other cowboys feared. Unlike most cowhands whose bodies couldn’t hold up to the punishment after 30, Jones was still breaking high-spirited horses until his early 70s.
Jones was a great all-around cowboy, who could best most men in all areas: bronc riding, roping, and cattle driving. He is mentioned in memoirs by cattlemen and cowhands who worked with him as one of the greatest cowboys in Texas and New Mexico.
Cherokee Bill Goldsby
Cherokee Bill Goldsby, the son of a Cherokee mother and an African-American “Buffalo Soldier” was one of the roughest, toughest, meanest outlaws in the west. He had to flee his hometown at 18 after he shot a man for beating up his younger brother. Bill was sure he’d killed him, though the man recovered. Cherokee Bill fled to the Creek and Seminole territory, where he joined up with outlaws Jim and Bill Cook.
The authorities tracked them down and in a shoot-out, that followed, Bill killed lawman Sequoyah Houston, then escaped. His sister Maud hid Bill until he shot her husband when he saw him beat her.
He rejoined the Cook brothers and robbed banks and trains across Oklahoma, shooting anyone who got in their way. The gang even held up the depot of the Missouri Pacific railroad, then rode hard for two hours to rob the railway agent in the next town over.
Cherokee Bill dodged the posse for a long time but was eventually captured and sentenced to death for the murder of an innocent bystander during the robbery of a General Store. However, a friend smuggled Bill a pistol in jail so he could break out. A gunfight with the guards was a standoff until they got another prisoner to negotiate Cherokee Bill’s surrender. Bill was hanged March 17, 1896. He’s buried in the Cherokee national cemetery in Oklahoma.

Robert Bob Lemmons
Robert Lemmons was one of the greatest mustangers of all time. Born a slave, he gained his freedom at seventeen at the end of the civil war. He moved to Dimmit County, Texas and started working for rancher, Duncan Lammons, who taught him about horses and gave Robert the surname of Lemmons.

No other cowboy equaled Lemmons skill and talent for catching mustangs, which were in high demand for roundups. Lemmons' method was to isolate himself from humans so he could infiltrate the heard and gain its trust. Then, by mounting the lead stallion, he took control of the herd, which followed him into a pen on a nearby ranch. At age twenty-two, he bought his own ranch and during his life he amassed 1,200 acres of land and impressive holdings of horses and cattle.  Later, Robert and his wife Barbarita Lemmons were fondly known as people who helped their neighbors during the Great Depression. 

Charlie Willis was a famed Texas bronco buster, cattle drover, and songwriter. He began breaking wild horses at the age of 18 and was a regular cattle drover along the famous Chisholm Trail. Today, Charlie is most well-known for writing the song “Good-bye, Old Paint” about his trusted horse on the Chisholm Trail. Charlie Willis lived to a ripe old age and was buried in 1930 in the cemetery next to his property in Bartlett, Texas.
Bill Pickett Bull Dogger

Hendrick Arnold was a hero of the Republic of Texas as a guide and spy during the Texas Revolution. He emigrated from Mississippi with his parents, Daniel Arnold, a white man, and Rachel Arnold, a black woman, in the winter of 1826 to Stephen F. Austin's colony on the Brazos River. Arnold took part in the battle of ConcepciĆ³n and in the Siege of Bexar. Arnold also served as a spy. Posing as a runaway slave, he infiltrated the Mexican camps. Through information Arnold supplied, Sam Houston was able to keep tabs on Santa Anna. It’s believed that Arnold`s intelligence prompted Houston to change his battle plan, which resulted in Texas’ victory at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Bronco Sam
After the revolution, Arnold was rewarded for his service with land beside the Medina River, a few miles northwest of where Bandera is today, and he also operated a gristmill in San Antonio. Hendrick Arnold died in the cholera epidemic in Bexar County in 1849 and was buried on the banks of the Medina River.

Angel Peak, book 12, Redemption Mountain historical western romance series, includes a sub-plat set in the historic town of Austin. It is available in eBook and paperback.

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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Oregon Trail Romance

by Rain Trueax

 map drawn by my daughter when she was at university
Having lived on what was an original homestead claim for 40 some years, the story of the trek west to Oregon has a very personal connection to my life. We have two of the wheels from the covered wagon that had traveled that trail. My interest in the journey though went back to my youth. The struggles these people went through, the very real dangers, were the very essence of adventure to my young mind.

You know, there are certain historic events that take on mythic qualities. In America, some of those have had lasting consequences, others not so much: Boston Tea Party; Revolutionary War; Lewis and Clark Expedition; Indian Battles; Pony Express; Building of the Railroads; Civil War; and on any list, the westward migration across the American continent.

When the United States government wanted to consolidate its power over this nation, the answer was to give away land. One such act was the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850:
"Arguably the most generous federal land sale to the public in American history, the law legitimized the 640-acre claims provided in 1843 under the Provisional Government, with the proviso that white male citizens were entitled to 320 acres and their wives were eligible for 320 acres. For citizens arriving after 1850, the acreage limitation was halved, so a married couple could receive a total of 320 acres. To gain legal title to property, claimants had to reside and make improvements on the land for four years."

"The Donation Land Law was significant in shaping the course of Oregon history. By the time the law expired in 1855, approximately 30,000 white immigrants had entered Oregon Territory, with some 7,000 individuals making claims to 2.5 million acres of land. The overwhelming majority of the claims were west of the Cascade Mountains. Oregon’s population increased from 11,873 in 1850 to some 60,000 by 1860." William G. Robbins in Oregon Encyclopedia
These giveaways attracted people from all walks of life. Mostly they were neither unusually rich nor poor. It cost around $1000 to acquire all needed to make the 2200 mile journey from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley. For a family of four, that meant wagon, clothing, tent, bedding, livestock, 600 pounds of flour, 400 pounds of bacon (packed in barrels of bran), 100 pounds of sugar, 60 pounds of coffee and 200 pounds of lard. Add to that sacks of bean, rice, dried fruit, salt, vinegar and molasses. Eggs packed into cornmeal were then used to make bread.
 photo of pioneers at Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Baker City, OR

If they brought a milk cow, butter was made by putting the morning's milk in buckets that churned it during the day’s travel (which illustrates how enjoyable riding in that wagon would be). They waited for the grass to green up in the spring and then hoped to beat the snows before they went over the last mountain ranges. If they brought something too heavy to make the whole journey, it would be left along the road. Worse, that road was littered with graves, which for the Oregon Trail wasn’t so much from Indian attacks as cholera and accidents.

Fortunately, for our understanding what they went through, some of the pioneers kept journals. We can read past the cold facts of the journey, to their own words, which tell of the sacrifices and difficulties they faced for the hope of a better life in Oregon.
“Then cholera took my oldest boy. His sister Isabel fell beneath the wagon And was crushed beneath the wheels.” from Overland 1852

 “The children and myself are shivering round and in the wagons, nothing for fires in these parts, and the weather is very disagreeable.” Amelia Stewart Knight, 1853

“This is the ninth case of death by violence on the route, three of whom were executed, the others were murdered. This route is the greatest one for wrangling, discord and abuse of any other place in the world, I am certain.”   Abigail Scott Duniway
It was into this saga, of hope and loss, sacrifice and danger, struggle and victory, that I set my first Oregon historical romance, Round the Bend. I first told the story of Matt and Amy verbally to my cousin during family gatherings. It was a simple story back then but it always held my interest.

When I decided to put it onto paper, I typed it out an old Royal. At the same time, I was doing a lot of research, back in the days where that meant a card catalog. Through the years, I'd improve on it; and when computers came along, I typed it into one. I continued to edit it as I'd come to see more depth in my characters and, of course, always research for enriching details-- trying to avoid using so many that they drowned my hero and heroine's story. 

This wasn't the first book I published from my backstories. I hesitated on it, not sure anyone would see what I did in this journey toward the Promised Land, and this young couple, who both had a lot to learn beyond the physical travails they were facing. 

At seventeen, Amelia Stevens, having grown up in a nurturing environment, is full of dreams and the many books she’s read. When her best friend, since childhood, Matthew Kane tells her he has other feelings for her, she pushes him away. He's ruining everything.

At almost twenty-one, Matt has already seen too much of the hard side of life. He holds few illusions about the trip or his own future. His family is as different from hers as darkness to light. Even if Amy changed her mind, it really couldn't work. She deserves someone more like the handsome wagon train scout, Adam Stone.

Round the Bend tells a story of the purest of love and the most driven of hate. It is the story of the westward march of pioneers. Most of all, it is the story of how a man’s highest ideals can change his life and that of others. Heat level (with 1 least and 5 most) is ♥♥♥♥. It, to my surprise, ended up being book one in a series of four about the settling of Oregon and one family.

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  Romances with an Edge

Thursday, January 10, 2019


It’s winter in the northern hemisphere and for most of us that means cold weather. The further north, the colder it gets. So we snuggle with a cozy throw on a comfy soft sofa, wearing materials that have been scientifically designed to keep us warm, and stare at a fireplace that’s connected to a remote control. Can you image living without such luxuries?

Yes, there are still quite a few of us that have real fireplaces that must be tended with wood. I have coal fireplaces, quite a few of them. And one fireplace that can use either coal or wood. Coal fireplaces tend to not be as deep. As I sit here my fireplace is casting a warm glow into my living room and tossing extra heat into the room. It’s beautiful. It’s electric. I popped in the fake logs and plugged it into the outlet. My real heat comes from an oil boiler. I got rid of the wonderful old boiler because I couldn’t take care of it and getting parts were very difficult. It was leftover from the mid-1800’s, and by the time it was yanked out of here it was quite old. It appears to have once been coal fired and then converted to oil. Big, bulky, and certainly not efficient, the old cast iron unit was broken into pieces and removed. Ah, here comes the wonderful super efficient new one that probably will cut my oil consumption to almost nothing.

No such luck! That was wishful thinking. Thousands of dollars later, this super-efficient tiny thing with stickers proclaiming its value in BTUs that seem to promise cheap use, it guzzles just as much oil, and I no longer have radiant heat in that brick room to keep my water pipes from freezing and to warm the brick wall to the kitchen. Now the bricks are icy cold to touch. And the oil bill has really has not changed. It’s probably gone up based strictly on gallons used.

Yes, I whine. It’s part of living in a house that dates before the Civil War. And when something happens and there’s no heat… I freeze. I’ll bundle up until only my nose can be seen. But let’s rewind the years.

My father was born at the beginning of the 1900’s in a farmhouse that was actually much bigger than my 3,000 sq ft city house. They had wood fireplaces and some wood stoves. The first stove to fire up every morning was the kitchen stove fueled by wood. My dad swears he never dilly-dallied because if he was the first one up behind his grandmother, he got to sit on the stove and get warm. Yes, directly on the kitchen stove. That meant the icy cold metal would warm under him.

He’d pull off his nightgown that he used for sleeping and get dressed for the day. Little boys wore dresses back then. Even in the winter, little boys did not really wear long pants. At least proper little boys didn’t wear long pants, but if he was doing chores then he had coveralls. It was kind of an honor to get to wear shorts or kickers instead of a dress. Boys had to be in their teens to wear long pants. And that fashion held until about WWII. I saw pictures of my older brothers in knickers in the 1930’s and the younger of the brothers in the early 1940’s in his knickers as a young teen.

Backing up again, my father would jump on the kitchen wood-fired stove and sit while getting dressed until it got too hot, and he had to jump off. It was large household and the first ones downstairs got sit on the stove. The first thing his grandmother heated on the stove was water. There was no hot water heater. So anything that you wanted to do, you needed water. His grandmother would fill several large pots with water before retiring. Often they were frozen solid in the morning even though they were inside the house.  That's cold!

Houses weren’t insulated very well, if at all. Historically, batts of grass were used in the attic until we began to use fiberglass, and that, too, has really changed over the years. Houses leaked, and the warmth escaped, as the cold penetrated, it allowed the snow to sneak through any cracks especially around the windows, unless it was hotter than Hades, and then the super heat worked its way inside the house. I know the house where my father grew up wasn’t insulated, nor did it have an attic. The attic was finished with a wooden floor and used for the older children in that multi generational house. Besides my father said that batting encouraged mice. So houses were cold in the winter and it was important to stay warm while sleeping.

There were wool blankets. After many years of use, if the moths didn’t get them, they were virtually felted. The survivors were thick and heavy. Very heavy...curl your toes over sort of heavy, especially if you were a child.

The other option was quilts. Feather quilts were common and when someone like my dad who lived on a farm, there were lots of feathers from the chickens. There was also down quilts. The down feathers were the teensy-tiny feathers and it took lots of those to fill anything. They were saved for important things such as down quilts, down pillows, etc. If you’ve never experienced the difference, well… Feather and down quilts, also called duvets, were more apt to leak a feather. The quill would poke through almost any fabric and without fail poke whoever was under it or on it. But those little, darn, down feathers would also work their way out and they had tiny pointed quills. Quilts were used both under the sleeper and over the sleeper. The quilts were often tucked inside something like a big pillowcase made for a quilt. Usually the quilt was buttoned into place so that the quilt didn’t shift within the big pocket. That way the quilt cover could be washed because washing quilts is… Crazy. The feathers mat and it’s terrible. So the cover keeps them cleaner.

Today most say to have professionally cleaned. Back then, the concept of professionally cleaned meant anyone other than main female of the house. When my sister bought a duvet about 20 years ago, she called me up laughing. “You won’t believe how it says to clean the quilt. Dry Clean Only.”

If you like the smell of dry cleaning... But for years quilts were washed and fluffed and you can't use a dryer on them and... So most people prefer a quilt filled with cotton or a polyester filler.

When my sister discovered her new duvet with the matching cover was lacking buttons and her quilt would shift, she called me again.

“Okay, dear sister. Go buy four kilt safety pins. That should work.” Perfect. Problem solved. Her duvet was secured with big gold pins. No shifting.

We think of the beautiful quilts that we love to make today, and those were never meant for everyday use. They were hope chest items and used on the marital bed mostly for show. The average quilt was made from scraps or worn out clothes. Often they were quilted over quilts. That made them warmer. Sometimes they covered the walls or windows. Sometimes they even were used on the floors.

If you’ve snuggled under wool blankets and layers of quilts, you know how warm you can stay. Even as a small child growing up in a “modern” home, I froze. My parents figured if the thermostat was set 65F, the house was plenty warm. I guess the way they grew up, it was. Our great big fireplace and an ample supply of hardwood were supposed to provide plenty of heat when mixed with a big furnace in the basement. But climbing into that cold bed and snuggling under the layers of wool blankets and between two big down quilts took only a few minutes to adjust to my body temperature keep me toasty warm.

No longer do I do that. I set thermostat at one temperature and sleep under a nice cozy blanket. If it’s extra cold, I have some really warm fuzzy PJs. I might awaken to discover that my pipes have frozen in the brick room that houses that new fuel-efficient boiler, but I will be warm. And yes, I still own a pretty patchwork quilt, a few fancy down quilts and a couple of duvets with covers. I have no desire to go back into the 1800’s and freeze my my toes, my tush, or any other part of my anatomy! Nor do I want to discover that the hand pump is frozen solid and there will be no water.

Although not a fail safe, my heating buddy comes in the fall and services my boiler, and the oil company has me on an auto fill. They track the cold days and promise that I won't run out of oil in my tank. I like my modern life even though I pay enough money for oil each month to build several nice houses in the 1800’s and probably a small town each winter. I fill my car’s gas tank for what most men made in the whole year. Today, life is good – not perfect, but it still beats stepping back in time. But there's nothing like a cozy room, a comfy chair, a warm blanket, and a really good book. And I'm certain that women back then who could read, loved a good book just as much as we do, because some things never change. Stay warm! Stay safe! And count the good things we have.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019


By Christi Corbett

When it comes to settling the American west, many images come to mind: teams of oxen pulling overloaded Conestoga wagons across dusty plains. Tattered wagon covers flapping in the wind. Horses—ridden by rough men barking out orders—trotting alongside wagon trains. Weary travelers depending on a seasoned trail guide who used landmarks and stars in the sky to lead his charges to a new life. The bravest of men, women, and children traveling thousands of miles across the country, and then spreading out across a new land.

Cowboy hats and log cabins. Gunslingers and outlaws. Campfires, canteens, and coffee. Buffalos and barbed wire.

Wait, barbed wire?

Yes, barbed wire. It’s not as well-known as everything I listed above, but as I learned a few years ago, barbed wire was vital to the settling of the American west.

My interest in the subject started during a visit to the Applegate Pioneer Museum in my small town of Veneta, Oregon. The place is crammed with all sorts of displays from pioneer days, so I made my way slowly through them all, happily inspecting artifacts from years gone by.

Then, in a dark room at the back of the building, crowded between other bits of pioneer memorabilia, I discovered a dusty picture frame. Inside was a display of several lengths and types of barbed wire.

A few of the many types
of barbed wire

At first, I wondered what sharp pieces of wire had to do with taming the west. Then, I went home and did some research.

*Settlers in the prairie areas needed a cheap, reliable way to keep their animals in, and predators out. Fences made of barbed wire solved the problem of lack of local wood. 

*Barbed wire outraged both cowboys and Native Americans, earning it the nickname the “Devil’s Rope”.

*Gunfights, and even deaths, resulted from large gangs of masked men participating in “fence-cutting wars”.

*In 1880, one barbed wire factory produced enough wire to surround the earth ten times.

Nowadays, inventive repurposing of barbed wire is happening. A glance through Etsy or Pinterest can give plenty of ideas and examples of “artsy” ways to use or display barbed wire.

Thanks for reading!

More about Christi

Christi Corbett had an early love for the written word. As a child she could often be seen leaving the library with a stack of books so tall she used her chin to balance them in her arms.

Over the years she’s put her love of writing to good use; in addition to writing over three hundred television commercials, she earned the position as head writer for a weekly television show. She left her television career when she and her husband found out they were expecting twins, but she couldn’t leave writing altogether.

She’s now an award-winning author, writing stories of brave men and spirited women settling the American west. 

Connect with Christi:
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Twitter at @ChristiCorbett
Instagram at @ChristiCorbett