Thursday, April 28, 2016


Hole-in-the-Wall, Robbers Roost, and Brown’s Park

My favorite scene in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is when Butch and Sundance retreat to Hole-in-the-Wall to find that Kid Curry has proclaimed himself head of the gang in Butch’s absence. While Logan and Cassidy spar, you get a glimpse of the hideout: a corral, log cabins, and a good number of matronly looking women in the background busy with domestic chores.

I know this scene well because almost every year in school we were led to the auditorium to watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Now we can argue if this was suitable viewing for young children or not, but because some classmate’s father was connected to the film, we got to see it. The same reason we were also shown Downhill Racer—another excellent choice for schoolchildren.

Suitable or not that scene at Hole-in-the-Wall took root in my imagination.

In my book Margarita and the Hired Gun, Margarita and Michael (a.k.a., Rafferty, a.k.a., Jack) are forced to take a detour after some really bad things happen to them (these events are chronicled in detail in my book Margarita and the Hired Gun). Michael knows he’s taking a taking a risk to bring Margarita to an outlaw hideout, but he wants to live.

When Michael made that decision, I had to create the world of an outlaw hideout. I had a lot of questions.

With such advancements in technology such as the telegraph, and the railroad opening up the west to increased population, life for the man on the run got tougher. In response a series of hideouts sprung up along the outlaw trail from Mexico to Canada. Places were chosen because they were remote and easy to defend. Places like Hole-in-the-Wall, Brown’s Park, and Robbers Roost were spaced so an outlaw could pick up fresh horses, supplies, and ammunition—advantages the perusing posse didn’t have.

I hate to remind you we’re not talking Paul Newman and Robert Redford here. These were characters like Tom Horn, who killed 17, including a defenseless 14-year-old boy. Men who made a living robbing from others. And they all holed up together? How did that work out?

Sometimes the various gangs would ride out together, but mainly they stayed within their own gangs. There was no Head Outlaw King: the gangs separately maintained their own hierarchies.

The gangs seemed to coexist just fine. Not stealing from each other was an actual rule. They entertained themselves while they cooled their heels. Butch Cassidy was famous for organizing horse races, shooting contests, and even throwing barbeques while at Hole-in-the-Wall.

Hole-in-the-Wall was reached by a gap eroded into a rock wall. From its spot on top of a mesa, the outlaws had a 360 degree view and could see anyone approaching. And the surrounding box canyons were perfect places to hide the cattle you’d just stolen, which was good because if caught, the rustler would immediately get invited to be guest of honor at a Necktie party. Hole-in-the-Wall ran as a bandit refuge for 50 years without once being penetrated by the authorities.

To reach Robbers Roost (which Butch Cassidy found a dull place), one has to first cross 40 miles of open desert. If that wasn’t enough to stop you, there were rumors it was well protected with bobby traps and dynamite, which it wasn’t, but the wise lawman gave the place wide berth. In its 30 years of activity the law never reached Robbers Roost.

I read a brief mention that undercover attempts to infiltrate the gangs were unsuccessful. I want to know that story!

How did a hungry outlaw survive in such remote locations? Some of the hideouts were in Mormon territory, and those ranchers and farmers didn’t exactly care for authority either. The ranchers and the outlaws had a reciprocal relationship with an exchange of goods and favors. The hideouts themselves were situated in spots right for grazing, so they were able to kept cattle and chickens of their own.

These were not permanent settlements. The gangs would flow in and out, maybe sheltering in the cabins during the harsh winter months. The enormous area the gangs criss-crossed is astounding. We have an idea how long it takes to cross one state in a car. Can you imagine crossing multiple states on horseback? Jesse James would venture out all over the west and then return to his home base in Missouri, for instance.

I had to people my hideout with characters. Obviously, there were outlaws, but what about women? What would happen when Michael/Jack showed up with Margarita (hint: she stirs up some interest)?

Few women were admitted to the hideouts—only four were ever allowed in Robbers Roost. But there were lady outlaws like Laura Bullion and the very interesting Basset sisters from Brown’s Park. These ladies had various romantic liaisons with the Wild Bunch. And like the Sundance Kid and Etta Place, some outlaws did bring their girlfriends or wives along. There was a report that Cassidy would send women—thought to be prostitutes—into nearby towns for supplies when he didn’t dare show his face.

So, yes, women in the hideouts were not unheard of, but I doubt the amount of feminine domestic activity seen in the movie was accurate. I don’t see any of the above-mentioned women fading into the background wearing dowdy dresses and making lye soap, but there may have been a few behaving like this.

And if you want to see what comes out of showing children inappropriate things, here’s a link to Margarita and the Hired Gun: via @amazon

I'm giving away a digital copy of MARGARITA AND THE HIRED GUN! Do you think you could have survived with the outlaws in one of these hideouts? Leave me a comment along with your contact information to be entered for the drawing tomorrow evening for a copy of MARGARITA AND THE HIRED GUN. Thanks for stopping by today! I leave you with an excerpt to wet your appetite...

Margarita meets her protector for the first time...

"Rafferty,” said Homer, nodding his head in the direction of the man, who was now moving toward the stairs, eyes still on Margarita.

He walked slowly, swinging one long leg after another, a slight swagger in his shoulders. Unable to bear up under his direct gaze any longer, Margarita looked down at her coffee. Her ears were burning, and her throat was constricted in anticipation, but still, he moved down the stairs and across the room at an unnervingly slow pace.

When he arrived on the scene, the women at the table stopped talking and looked expectantly at him. He didn’t register their presence as he walked past them—to their apparent disappointment. The men playing poker watched him with wary eyes. One of them touched the gun in his holster, nervously. The cowboys stopped talking and drew closer together.

Without a word or invitation, the tall man pulled out the chair across from Margarita. The gun sticking out of his waistband put a lump of fear in her stomach.

He jerked his head in her direction, looking at Homer.

“Why is she here?” he asked in a deep voice, speaking in the same slow pace as he walked. He had an Irish accent, she noted. Homer poured out a cup of the thick, dark liquid for him.

“Rafferty. This is Margarita McIntosh, Jock’s daughter.”

“And she’s here for what reason?” he asked again, in a brusque tone.

Margarita looked up, her face burning with indignation. She was met with quite a sight. The man across from her had a few days’ growth of black whiskers covering the lower part of his face. Jet-black hair stood in loose curls around his head in an uncombed mass. His hair was in need of a wash, strands clumping together with something she didn’t want to dwell on. It was hard to guess his age. Older than she, certainly, but she couldn’t discern much beyond that.

He was without a jacket or shirt, and his long john’s undershirt was pushed up at the elbows, showing long, muscular forearms. Worse, the top buttons of his shirt were unbuttoned, exposing the patch of black hair on his chest. The tight, sweat-stained garment showed every bulge and indent in his lean torso, including his nipples. He was as good as naked.

Margarita tried to hide her shock at this unseemly display. She’d never seen so much of a man’s body before, up close. His eyes bored into her. They were steely eyes the color of indigo set in bloodshot orbs. Her discomfort seemed to amuse him. He narrowed his eyes at her, and a smirk twisted his lips as he observed her watching him. Other than his lips and eyes, he was as still as if he’d been carved in stone. Very economical in his movements, Margarita thought.

“Well, here’s the thing. She’s the job. Jock wants his daughter delivered to his sister in Durango. He wants you to make sure she gets there. Safe—and intact,” Homer said, in a way which made her redden.

The man called Rafferty grinned rakishly, displaying surprisingly even, white teeth. “If it’s safety he after, there’s better ways to transport his precious cargo, I would think.”

“He wants her movements to go undetected.”

Rafferty leaned over the table. She could smell him now. He smelled like sour sweat, whiskey—and cheap perfume. There was some other odor Margarita couldn’t identify, but it was a smell which repelled her.

Repelled her, yes, but she felt an odd measure of arousal at the same time. She raised her handkerchief to her nose to breathe through its lavender-scented folds. Catching her gesture, the dark man glowered at her briefly before the smirk returned to his lips.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Each of my family members loves history. This means we enjoy finding new destinations and delving into the area’s past. Last week, my youngest daughter and I traveled to Ennis, Texas to look at their famous (well, at least here in Texas it’s famous) Bluebonnet Trail.

From a better year for Bluebonnets,
photo by Nelda Liles
Heavy rains the week before had caused grasses to grow taller than the flowers we sought in some places, but we were not to be deterred. After TexMex for lunch, we started at the Visitor Center. At one time the building had housed the Wells Fargo Freight Office.  I couldn’t help thinking of Wells Fargo stages and the danger they faced.

Armed with brochures and a map, we went next door to the Ennis Railroad and Cultural Heritage Museum. The small but interesting museum was converted from a Van Noy Restaurant building. The restaurant served customers from as many as ten passenger trains a day that once stopped in Ennis.

Sorry I can't get this to turn the right way.
I think I'll stick with my toothpaste.

Those of you not from Texas may not find this as interesting as I do, but this is the way towns all across the country grew.  This could be Anytown, Anystate, USA. Towns blossomed or died due to the railroad.

I had no idea Ennis had been such an important railroad center.  In 1871, the Houston and Texas Central Railroad, a forerunner of the Southern Pacific Railroad, purchased 647 acres of land in Ellis County at a price of $5.00 an acre. This established the line’s northern terminus.

Ennis depot in 1911
This two-story depot burned
A year later, the site was established as the City of Ennis, named after Cornelius Ennis, an early official of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad.  The first train ran through the community in 1872 on its way from Corsicana to Dallas. Citizens of Burnham, a small town to the south, responded violently to being bypassed and attacked the new community. They killed one man and wounded several others.

In its earlier days, Ennis had a “wild west” reputation. At one time the city contained 13 saloons and 6 beer halls. In 1883, Ennis National Bank held the title of the largest bank in the county with $100,000. on deposit. The outlaw gangs of Cole Younger and Sam Bass stopped in Ennis. Younger reportedly checked out the Ennis National Bank but decided it was too well guarded to rob.

Sideways, but Ennis
in its early days
In 1873, Jacob Shebasta, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, was the first of many Eastern Europeans to make this area home. The town has a strong Czech influence. Today the city is home to four Czech social halls as well as the National Polka Festival on Memorial weekend each May. (I have to admit we stopped for Czech pastries to take home. We bought cinnamon rolls and kolaches, which we jokingly call square donuts.)

Dancers at a past National Polka
Festival in Ennis
In 1891, the Texas and New Orleans Railroad, a part of the Southern Pacific, established a division point in Ennis. This led to the construction of shops and a roundhouse that employed several hundred men.  Ennis citizens contributed $25,000, 90 acres of land, and a 43 acre lake toward the project.

Here’s where Ennis officials were clever.  A contract was drawn up that stated that the railroad could NOT move its shops out of town as long as the City of Ennis was able to provide water for the railroad’s use.  The city built three lakes for this purpose: one in 1892, one in 1895, and the last in 1940. Between 1910 and 1915 the railroad tried to move the shops, but the community was supported in the courts, and the shops remained in Ennis.

The city was growing. By 1890, Ennis had two banks, a cotton compress, three cottonseed depositories, a cotton gin, a fruit-canning business, a brickyard, an opera house, and two weekly newspapers, the Local and the Saturday Review. In 1894 Ennis received its second railroad, the Texas Midland, which provided service from Paris, Texas, by 1897.

Old postcard showing cotton bales
waiting to be loaded onto trains

Today, Ennis is known as the Bluebonnet City because of the springtime beauty and abundance of the Texas state flower in and around the city. Ennis was designated by the 1997 State Legislature as the "Official Bluebonnet City of Texas" and home to the "Official Bluebonnet Trail of Texas." This year rains caused the Bluebonnet Festival to be rained out two of the three days. However, the Bluebonnet Trail still offered beautiful vistas.

Photo of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush
by Nelda Liles

The Kachina Prairie is one of the last remaining examples of Texas blackland prairies. Ennis' first bluebonnet trail was marked through this area in 1939. On our drive along the trail, we were lucky to see a herd of red deer but the Clydesdales were not out during our drive nor were the animals at the exotic farm. We were pleased to see longhorns, though.

Longhorn nibbling on bluebonnets,
grass, and Indian paintbrush

Ennis is home to the Texas Motorplex, a quarter-mile drag racing facility built in 1986 by former funny car driver Billy Meyer. It annually hosts the NHRA O'Reilly Fall Nationals each September, when hundreds of professional and amateur drag racers compete for over $2 million in prize money.

Our day was a lovely experience. We plan to go again next year if the rains don’t interfere with the bluebonnets. We didn't get to see all the lovely Victorian homes so we have to go again.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Paiute Cradleboards, Basketry, and Weaving by Paty Jager

I had the pleasure of attending an event called Tradition Keepers. It was sponsored by the Harney County Arts Association on my area. There were people showing western and American Indian traditions. I navigated toward the two Paiute women who specialized in basketry and cradleboard making.

Rena Beers is an elder who makes beautiful traditional cradleboards. She is 98 years old. The tradition of making cradleboards was passed down by her parents and grandparents.

To start the process for making the cradleboard she is given or purchases a hide. The hide is soaked in water for several days. She removes the hair with a draw knife. Then rinses the hide and soaks it again, only this time in cow brain for two to three days. This is the process that softens the hide. The next step is wringing out the hide. At this stage the hide is white in color. The hide is then smoked, keeping a close eye on the hide so it doesn't burn. This process gives the hide a warm yellow tone.

During the waiting processes in the hide tanning, Rena gathers willow of uniform size for the bones of the cradle board.  After gathering the sticks, she strips the bark from the willow.  When the hide is properly tanned and the willow is cut to size she begins building the cradleboard. When the board is finished she adds a decoration of colorful bead work. While her cradleboards look like collector pieces, they are used on the reservation for newborns.

Sara Barton specializes in basketry and learned the art of making cradleboards from Rena and another elder who is no longer of this earth.

Sara's basketry projects begin with her gathering willow in the winter. This is the best time to get the sticks when the sap is down and nothing is growing on the sticks.The bark is taken off the sticks and they are split.

In the above photo it shows the stages that a willow stick goes through to become willow thread. What is used in weaving and basketry. This thread is wound and left to dry 6-10 months. Like all wood product they must dry completely before being used or they can shrink and ruin a project that took many hours to make.

The items above were made to show the different types of materials that can be used to weave and make baskets. The different colors are obtained either by the material or how the material is stored. The white circle of willow thread at the top of the photos shows one circle of the willow covered in white cloth and one uncovered. The uncovered will turn the brown you see in the two circular projects. If the willow is kept wrapped in the cloth until used, it remains white for many years before it begins to also darken. 

Sara weaving a hood on a cradleboard
You can see that as she uses the willow thread while weaving it is placed in a bowl of water to make it pliable enough to work with.
Sara was wonderful to visit with. She gave me insights into more than just her basketry, cradleboards, and regalia. She had a wonderful spirit about her. Pointing out a photo of her regalia dress that she'd made, she said, "I don't know how to sew, but I wanted to make my regalia dress myself, from the sewing to the decorations. I prayed to the Creator to show me the way and it came to me in a dream, you know, how to do it." This gave me chills because it sounds so much like my character Shandra Higheagle in my mystery series. Not the praying to the Creator, Shandra doesn't believe in her heritage that strongly yet, but the dream fits so well with what I write. She also told me that she wanted the regalia dress not to dance at powwows but to dance for herself. She'd heard that the traditional dance of not just her people but people all over the world was being lost. And it has been passed down that everyone dancing all over the world brings balance. It keeps earth from tipping off it's axis. That is why she dances and teaches her daughter and grandchildren to dance. Dance is joyful and the world needs that joyfulness.

This meeting of Rena and Sara brought joyfulness to me. Not only did I meet two wonderful women, I learned a bit more about their culture and traditions.

Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. She not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it. All Paty’s work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story.

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