Tuesday, August 16, 2022

"The One-Horse Open Sleigh" - The Origin of "Jingle Bells" by Jo-Ann Roberts


Perhaps no single piece of popular music is more universally recognized during the Christmas holiday season than "Jingle Bells", the jaunty tune about the joys of dashing through snow-covered fields while riding in a one-horse open sleigh.
In my current Christmas WIP (shh, I can't say much about it...yet!), the FMC is encouraging her children to practice the song to divert their attention. Further along in the story, the MMC sings it to the FMC when he takes her on a sleigh ride.
By adding accurate historical tidbits to my books, it gives a layer of richness and authenticity to the stories. Because the story's time frame is between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I researched holiday songs and carols. Much to my delight, I discovered that "The One-Horse Open Sleigh" (a.k.a. 'Jingle Bells") was composed in 1850, some twenty-one years before my story takes place.

Although historians are still debating the when, where, and why of the song's composition, it is accepted the tune was written at the Simpson Tavern in Medford, Massachusetts in 1850 by James Lord Pierpont. A witness, Mrs. Otis Waterman, verified the location of the song's composition. While living in Savannah, Pierpont copyrighted "Jingle Bells." Many Savannah historians believe that Pierpont penned the song about sleigh rides in Medford while in Georgia experiencing his first snowless winter as an ode to his Massachusetts snowy upbringing.

The debate between Savannah and Medford began in 1985 when Savannah erected a historical marker across from the Unitarian Church Pierpont called home.
 A few years later the mayor of Medford sent a letter to the mayor of Savannah stating the song was composed in Medford in 1850. Yet, Savannahians contends that because the song was copyrighted in 1857 while Pierpont in their city, they proclaim Savannah as the home of "Jingle Bells".

Regardless of precisely where and when "Jingle Bells" might have been written, it was clear the tune was not intended as a Christmas song. Some local history narratives claim the song was inspired by Medford's popular sleigh races during the 19th century. Though the song only mentions snow--and not Christmas or December--many believe Pierpont wrote the song for a Thanksgiving program at his father's Sunday school. The song proved so popular the children were asked to sing the song again at Christmastime and has been tied to the latter holiday ever since.  

This version of the story has been disputed by some, however, who believe "Jingle Bells" would have been too racy for a Sunday school in the 1850s.

"The references to courting would not have been allowed in a Sunday school program of that time, such as 'Go it while you're young'".

Instead, it was just a sleighing song. Fast sleighs and pretty girls. Some things never change.


The song became so popular in the 1860s and 1870s it was featured in a variety of parlor songs and college anthologies in the 1880s. It was first record in 1889 on an Edison cylinder. This recording, believed to be the first Christmas record is lost, but an 1898 recording also from Edison Records survives.

The two first stanzas and chorus of the original 1857 lyrics differed slightly from those known today. It is unknown who replaced the words with those of the modern version. Underlined lyrics are the removed lyrics from the original version. Bold lyrics are the new lyrics in the current version.

Dashing thro' the snow,
In a one-horse open sleigh,
O'er the hills (fields) we go,
Laughing all the way.
Bells on bob tail ring,
Making spirits bright,
Oh, what sport (What fun it is) to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight.

|: chorus :|
Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way;
Oh! what joy (fun) it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.

A day or two ago
I tho't I'd take a ride
And soon Miss Fannie Bright
Was seated by my side.
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And we— (then) we got upsot.

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Some people come into your life as lessons…
Unexpected fatherhood finds former bank detective, Lucas Harmon desperate for a woman to care for his orphaned nieces. A governess…perhaps? A housekeeper…maybe? A wife…definitely not! Six years ago, the wealthy Chicago socialite he planned to wed, publicly spurned his affections. Despite his determination to guard his feelings, a meddling matchmaking conductor and an encounter with a past acquaintance threatens to upend his heart.
…some come as blessings
Anxious to leave behind the whispers and stares of two jilted love affairs, Boston socialite, Ainsley MacKenzie hopes for solitude on her way to New Hope, Kansas. But when the kindly conductor enlists her help to care for two orphaned girls, she couldn’t say no. Little did she know their uncle and guardian was the one man she couldn’t forget… Lucas Harmon. Taking a chance, Ainsley offers Lucas an unusual (some might say, scandalous!) arrangement. She’ll look after the children, read them stories and cook their meals until Christmas, giving Lucas time to find a permanent replacement. Yet, the longer she cares for the family the more she longs to be part of it—whatever the risk to her heart.


Friday, August 12, 2022


 By Caroline Clemmons

Several years ago, we lived in a rural area where grass fires were all around us. Tens of thousands of acres of ranch land west of us burned. Several times, the fires jumped highways and river. In fact, the fire came only a fourth-mile from our home. Of course, we were afraid, and planned what we would take with us if we had to evacuate quickly. My husband even created a fire brake around our home. 

One fire started when someone burned trash, ignoring a burn ban. Sparks ignited the dry grass and spread rapidly. Volunteer firemen could only try to protect homes, but several were lost. Firemen were able to save numerous horses from a large barn.

A frightening sight!

As frightened as we were a few years ago, think how terrifying a grass fire must have been for pioneers and early settlers. No fire trucks, no fire hydrants, no large water supplies, no planes to drop water or chemicals on the fire. Possibly, there were no close neighbors to join in the battle. I can't imagine how horrible that must have been. 

In my latest release, GENTRY AND THE MAIL ORDER BRIDE, Gentry and his ranch hands join with others from across the county to battle a fire started by lightning. In a release several years ago, BRAZOS BRIDE, a rancher and his ranch hands battled a fire started by the villain.

In this latest book, Gentry McRae and others battled the blaze with shovels and blankets. Each wore a bandana covering his mouth and nose as protection from the smoke. There was no protection for their eyes. Imagine how their eyes must have burned. Some used blankets or pieces of clothing to beat at the flames while others used shovels to toss dirt on the fire. 

I found it interesting to learn that Native American peoples used fire as a tool to control the ecosystem. In this way they maintained wildlife habitats that sustained their cultures and economies. Burning practices managed, protected, and related to their surroundings. 

According to sociologist Kari Norgaard, "Indigenous peoples have long set low-intensity fires to manage eco-cultural resources and reduce the buildup of fuels--flammable trees, grasses and brush--that cause larger, hotter, and more dangerous fires, like the ones that have burned across the West in recent years. Before fire suppression, forests in the West experienced a mix of low- to high-severity fires for millennia. Large, high-severity fires played an important role, yet their spread was limited by low-severity fires set by indigenous peoples."

Then, new people in the West interfered, with the very best of intentions. For instance, fire suppression was mandated by the first session of the California Legislature in 1850. Later, they made it illegal to use these low-intensity fires to manage ecosystems. Oops, "progress" struck out again.

The largest fire about which I read was the Montana-Idaho fire which destroyed over three million acres. This happened in the last quarter of the 19th century.

I've heard of starting a fire to burn a strip of land in hope of stopping the larger fire when it arrived. I don't know how long this has been a practice. If you were isolated, how could one family manage this kind of maneuver? If you lived on the great plains, you would probably not know about such things. You'd be working hard to build your farm or ranch into a satisfactory home, perhaps even a dynasty you plan to hand down to your descendants. A grass fire could destroy everything but the land.

Cattle trapped by a fence

The same vulnerability was/is true with those who lived in the mountains. A forest fire would be a nightmare. A beautiful woodland setting could be reduced to ashes with all wildlife either dead or moved out of the area. 

What would you do--load the wagon and try to outrun the fire or try to suppress it? I'm certain I would have loaded what I could into a wagon and tried to outrun the blaze. 

, Book 1, Texas Hill Country Mail Order Brides, is available at Amazon in e-book and print and is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. Here's the link: 


Monday, August 8, 2022


 DID PIONEERS WEAR UNDERWEAR? Fashion in the Old West by Cora Leland

    The short answer is yes. Both women and men wore underwear, though on a wagon train, not pajamas. Throughout the nineteenth century, women dressed in layers: the minimum would have been a chemise (a kind of slip), a short or longer corset, a corset cover, petticoats and an overskirt.
    In the West, this was reduced, for women in the rural areas, to chemise, petticoats and overdress, and sometimes a corset;  but in 'civilization,' it was a different matter altogether. In the photo, it's hard to say where the models lived.

    People who dressed 'fashionably' followed a wild pace of changes as to what constituted the latest look.

The pointed bodice (with guns)
Also notice the tight sleeves.  

Toward the close of the 1880's sleeves became looser.

Quite a bit more comfortable!

    Various designs of a well-dressed woman's skirts were a cutaway skirt, a lifted top skirt (swooped skirt) and several others. Formal dresses could have more revealing necklines, but the rule for most women was a high, tight collar; as the century progressed, collars became still higher.

A cutaway skirt

Swooped skirts

Alas, the bustle's importance emerged, then disappeared throughout the 1800's.  Here is one medium-sized bustle (1880) for those times, when bustles were much smaller.  Also, please notice her hairstyle: a gentle upswept style. 

A bustle but a softer hair style (1880)

    Although women were still expected to have very long hair, it was seldom worn down. When it was it was for art or illustrations.  Girls were taught to wear their hair up when they were no older than eleven.  The following hairstyles don't look as easy-going as the one with the bustle. Bangs were popular; late in the 1800's bangs were parted in the middle.

    Also during the 1800's, hats were important.

Even a riding habit (left) had a matching hat (and the ladies on each side wore their hair down)

Toward the end of the century, the tall felt hat appeared for women.

    But for pioneer women and women settlers and on wagon trains, hats were much simpler, if their lives dictated that:  bonnets were pragmatic, for shading eyes and face from the blistering sun.  Their frames were constructed from wood or wire.

    And here we've come to the topic of dust. 

Lots of dust in this logging town

    A young woman who journeyed across the country cried out, as probably many others did as they trekked and rode in wagons on tracks that were ankle-deep in dust, "Oh, the dust, the dust! ... it was knee-deep in places. We came twenty miles without stopping.. the boys' faces were covered with all the dust...and I saw just the eyes, nose and mouth through the dust...How glad we all are to have clear cold water to wash away the dust."

    One woman cried when she reached the end of her ten-day trip that she never enjoyed a bath so much as she did then. 
    Others complained that in this dusty world, their sun bonnets were useless for keeping them safe. As happy as the traveler was about the clear cold water, authorities seem to be unanimous that bathing and even hand-washing didn't become accepted until the turn of the century.  

    From the Sun King Louis XIV to a San Francisco card-sharp, bathing was avoided for several reasons, including the ideas that bathing opened the skin to disease and underclothes made the body hygienic by absorbing perspiration and dirt.  (Men often wore long underwear.) 

    People were, when they could afford it, careful of their outer garments: shirts, for example, which had high, tight collars among the fashionable.  For everyone, body odor was considered perfectly normal.

    Writing about cleanliness among plains residents, one authority stated that homesteaders grew so poor that they had one set of clothes at a time and simply never changed them until they'd become so ragged that the garments fell to pieces.  

    This expert claimed that deciding to come West was dangerous for one's health: no sewers, outhouses (until laws passed by towns) tipped to drain into the streets, mud streets with horses, no refrigeration and a poor, grease-laden diet --  and more.  He did mention that Omaha, Nebraska, though no different from other places, was the healthiest city in the US.

    Regarding soap:  cowboys had been exposed to Mexican soap, which was made from a part of the yucca.  That soap was gentle and sweet-smelling.  Settlers, however, made soap and candles from animal fat, which was harsh and strong of scent.

                                        Please notice the mud!

Deadwood, Dakota Territory, 1800's

    In any case, it's difficult not to be sympathetic when people lived in these conditions.

    As you'd think, people going across country in wagon trains simply had no place to store more than three pieces of clothing for each person.  They carried food and all supplies they'd need for months, some water, any furniture or possessions they'd need for setting up their new lives.

  Even in those days, then, ladies sewed the family's clothes, for some, even their husband's shirts, and often they had to do without sewing machines. Some fabrics were imported from India, like cottons, so pioneers were accustomed to wear simpler fabrics. A popular one was linsey-woolsey. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote in detail about a dress her heroine made of several yards cashmere, tucked and decorated.

    Native Americans (known in those days simply as 'Indians') dressed in clothes hand-designed and sewed by women of the particular tribe they were born to and each traibe's designs varied. 

     Below is one drawing (by the Oglala holy man Black Road in 1880) titled 'Woman in a Red Wool Dress with Tepee."  Next is a contemporary set of tribal 'dolls' showing the traditional clothes of the artist's tribe, including a parfleche (buffalo hide bag) and baby carrier.

Native American 'dolls' wearing traditional clothes



Saturday, July 30, 2022

Bridging the Rivers by Zina Abbott


In my current work in progress, my heroine, Brunhilde, is a German immigrant who, in 1873, travels to St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States. By then, steamships replaced most sailing vessels, which cut down travel time across the Atlantic Ocean. As for the port of entry, I chose New Orleans for several reasons. One was, ships carrying cargo like cotton and tobacco brought passengers from Europe on the return voyage in order not to lose money. That was a more logical departure port for those commodities. Also, St. Louis, which had a large German-speaking population, was right up the Mississippi River from New Orleans.

1870-90 Railroad Map

The question I faced was, in 1873, what was the most logical form of transportation between the two cities? Was it train travel, or was it still river boat? A look at the railroad map for 1870-90s showed there were railroads that traveled north, but the more established lines ran east of the Mississippi. Since that was such a wide river to cross, I next checked to see if a railroad bridge crossed the river near St. Louis.

Work on the Eads Bridge, a combined road and railway bridge over the Mississippi River began in 1867. It connected the cities of St. Louis, Missouri and East St. Louis, Illinois. The bridge is named for its designer and builder, James Buchanan Eads. It was the first bridge across the Mississippi south of the Missouri River. Earlier bridges were located north of the Missouri, where the Mississippi is smaller. None of the earlier bridges survive, which means that the Eads Bridge is also the oldest bridge on the river.

Eads Bridge photo taken in 2012 from  LaClede's Landing

The west end of the bridge is located on the St. Louis riverfront near Laclede’s Landing, which now is in the historic district and was the northern part of the original settlement founded by the Frenchman, Pierre Laclede. Even today, it had cobblestone streets and vintage brick-and-cast-iron warehouses dating from 1850s. That sounded like a good place for a steamboat to land to disgorge passengers and freight. 

Eads Bridge 1875 drawing by Camille N. Dry- note river traffic

Since the Eads Bridge was not complete until 1874, a year after my immigrant heroine and her family arrived. Based on that information, I wrote the story so the family traveled by steamboat up the Mississippi.

Brunhilde and her family stayed with her stepfather’s oldest brother, who had been a part of the German community in St. Louis since he and his young family arrived in 1848 after a failed revolution in Germany. The second oldest also brought his family. After his first wife died, he remarried. However, when he heard that the new Transcontinental Railroad was being built with its eastern terminus in Omaha, Nebraska, he moved his family to the large German community there. His second wife’s parents, also German immigrants, both died before his wife’s grandmother, Oma Bergmann. This brother, knowing his newly arrived youngest brother has an older stepdaughter, begged her to come and care for the elderly woman who had driven off every caretaker in Omaha he hired

For Brunhilde, this means more travel. Should my heroine board another steamboat and travel up the Missouri River to Omaha—a prospect she does not favor after making the trip from New Orleans? Or, should she travel by train, which would take her from the east border of the state to the west? Before I could decide that, I needed to know if, in 1873, there was a bridge across the wide, muddy, and unpredictable Missouri River.

Omaha Union Station

The Transcontinental Railroad was a big project, the planning of which started in 1862 during the Civil War. Actual construction did not start until after. However, in order to complete the dream of connecting the country by rail from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, it became necessary to have railroad bridges across the large rivers that drained into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Chicago and North Western Railway reached Council Bluffs in 1867. To make the connection across the river, for a time, the Union Pacific tried to run freight trains across the frozen river during the winter. Also, the Union Pacific Transfer company maintained a ferry service from 1866 to 1872.

For an interesting early photograph of a train crossing the river, please CLICK HERE

In 1869 the transcontinental railroad was completed. However, that was not satisfactory to the U.P.R.R stockholders, who, in  1871, declared: “The want of a bridge over the Missouri River, at Omaha to connect the eastern railroads with the Union Pacific, has been one of the most annoying incidents connected with the trip to California.”

The bridge required 11 spans, 250 feet each. The deck was 50 feet above high water and rested upon one abutment and eleven iron piers, all in place and the larger part already sunk from 60 to 72 feet in the sand, and resting in the bed-rock. 


The new single-track railway bridge was completed in 1872. It cost $1.75 million, which is about $39.6 million in today’s money. It opened on March 27, 1872, a little over a year before my heroine arrived in the United States.

Bridge to Omaha, Nebraska, in 1872

In 1877, a tornado weakened the two easternmost spans, requiring them to be replaced with a wooden trestle. However, that was after the timeframe of my story. My heroine, who ended up being escorted by her step-cousin, who was only a few years older that she was, took the train. They crossed the 1872 bridge to reach Omaha.


The book for which I needed to know this information is Bee Sting Cake by Brunhilde, Book 12 in the Old Timey Holiday Kitchen series. It is currently on pre-order. To find the book description and pre-order link, please CLICK HERE.












Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Captain Jack by Bea Tifton


The Old West was full of eccentric characters and women who lived there had to be resilient. Ellen Elliott Jack, or Captain Jack, was one such person.

She is quoted as saying, “I do not fear man or devil, it is not in my blood, and if they can shoot any straighter or quicker than I, let them try it, for a 44 equalizes frail women and brute men, and all women ought to be able to protect themselves against such ruffians.”

Ellen Elliott was born in 1842 in Nottingham, England and lived on a family estate. When Ellen was a child, the queen of a band of gypsies who camped on the family land  said Ellen was a “finder of lost treasure.”

Ellen’s first love was a Russian named Carl. He was a jealous man and he stabbed Ellen several times in the chest after seeing her with a man who turned out to be her cousin. Ellen took a cruise to recover and met Charles E. Jack. They had a brief but happy marriage. Their children died early within a short time of each other and Charles died of complications from his wounds received fighting in the Civil War. 

Ellen crossed paths with her children’s nanny, Jenny, and the former nanny told Ellen she was now a prosperous businesswoman and that Ellen should move to Colorado. Ellen moved to Gunnison, Colorado and opened a popular restaurant. She wrote in her autobiography, The Fate of a Fairy, that a band of renegade Utes rode into town and began attacking people. Ellen supposedly fought them off with her 45s even though she had sustained a hatchet blow to the forehead.

She later prospected and owned the Back Queen Mine before moving to High Drive above Colorado Springs in the early 1900s. Ellen opened “Jack’s Cabin,” a restaurant that became quite successful. She sold photograph postcards of herself. She wore a simple cotton blouse, a wool skirt, and lace up boots. Ellen tucked a six shooter into her belt and carried a mining pick. She loved to pose for photographs. Ellen lived with her pet burro, several cats, and parrots.

In 1920 when Ellen was in town, a flood washed out the road to High Drive. The town decided not to rebuild the road for financial reasons. Ellen’s health immediately began to worsen and she had to be hospitalized, where she died on June 16, 1921 of heart problems. Ellen’s friends swore she died of a broken heart because she couldn’t return to her home, Captain Jack’s Place.

Ellen was buried in Colorado Springs by the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic and her headstone faces her beloved home on High Drive. 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

DROOPING STOCKINGS by Marisa Masterson

In the nineteenth century, how did a woman do to keep her socks from falling?

Many of the common class wore home-
knitted stockings. Two things were used to keep those socks from falling.

Garters would be tied to stockings that came above the knee. Lacy garters could be made at home by crocheting or tatting lace. A ribbon would be woven through the garter. A woman would tie that to keep the stocking from slipping.

Another way to keep a sock up was ribbing. The rib stick was used to keep the sock tight around the leg, especially for a working man's socks.

Not all socks were homemade. From the late sixteenth century onward, knitting machines were used to make socks. These too would have had the ribbing stitch included.

All of this changed in the 1930s. Nylon was invented, allowing for the creation of elastic. Garters went out of fashion after that, for the most part. Wool as one the main sources used to make socks also went out of fashion after this. 

ON SALE TODAY, jULY 24, 2022.