Thursday, August 30, 2018

Historic California-Bale Grist Mill by Zina Abbott

When most people think of California in the mid-1800's, they think of the discovery of gold in 1848 and the coming of the "Forty-niners" to mine that gold. Up until 1848, California belonged to Mexico. However there were Americans and other foreigners there intent on making the region their home. One such person was Edward Turner Bale who built a grist mill in the northern part of Napa Valley in 1846.

The mill was established in 1846 on property in the Rancho Carne Humana land grant. Bale lived near the site until his death in 1849.

The gristmill and granary were built with local materials, Douglas firs and coast redwoods. Some timbers were cut to length with the bark left on, while others were roughed out with hand tools. The timbers were notched and held in place with wooden pegs as well as nails and screws. 

The foundation of the structure is native stone. The mill was powered by a waterwheel, with water diverted from Mill Creek nearby. A ditch carried the water from a millpond to a wooden flume, which brought the water to the top of the waterwheel. The first wheel did not provide enough power during dry summers and was replaced by a larger one, similar to the one at the mill today.

The mill was once the center of social activity for Napa Valley settlers as they gathered to have their corn and wheat ground into meal or flour. Farmers brought grain to the mill where it was placed into the boot of an elevator to be mechanically transported upstairs where it was cleaned by various types of equipment. The slow turning of the old grind stones and the dampness of the mill's site gave the meal a special quality for making cornbread, yellowbread, shortening bread and spoonbread. As old timers put it, "When meal comes to you that way, like the heated underside of a settin' hen, it bakes bread that makes city bread taste like cardboard."

Theodore Benedict Lyman bought the mill and surrounding land in 1871 and passed ownership on to his son, William Whittingham Lyman. The mill remained in operation until 1879.
The Bale Grist Mill is now a state historic park. It is a fully restored water-powered grist mill is now managed by the Napa Open Space District in partnership with the Napa Valley State Parks Association, and still grinds grain.  Visitors can watch the original set of French Buhr millstones in action when the miller grinds grain into Bale Mill flours and meals. In the late 1800s, Napa Valley farmers brought their grain to the mill where it was placed into the boot of an elevator to be mechanically transported upstairs to be cleaned and sifted by various types of equipment – a technical wonder for the Pioneers. The slow turning of the old grind stones gives the fresh meal a special quality for making cornbread, yellow bread, shortening bread and spoon bread. The mill is ADA accessible.

Below are photographs of the Bale Grist Mill and its interior workings I found on the public domain site:

My mind has been on grist mills for the last several months due to my story, Millwright's Daughter, which is part of the nine-author anthology, Under a Mulberry Moon. The story is set partly at a historic grist mill along the Stanislaus River in California. You may read the full book description and find the purchase link by CLICKING HERE.

And, although my next book has nothing to do with grist mills, look for Nissa, part of the Widows of Wildcat Ridge series which is starting in September.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018


Last month, many of us lost a dear friend, Celia Yeary. She was a woman I had never met in “real life” – but I felt like I’d known her forever, and I'm sure many of you felt the same way.
Celia and I were published within a few months of one another in 2009 (she was first!) by The Wild Rose Press. We went through that “first publishing experience” together, and I hope I was as good a sounding board for her as she was for me. It was comforting to have another new author to talk to about what was going on with our first “babies” being published and pushed out into the cruel world.

Celia was “a bit” older than I, and a wonderful combination of big sis/surrogate mom in a lot of ways—but most of all, she was a dear friend.

We talked about everything over the years. I always admired Celia’s determination and her courage to face whatever life threw her way. She chalked it up to being a fifth-generation Texan, and that might have been part of it, but I believe most of her inner strength came from deep within herself—no matter where she had been born and raised.

Celia went to college AFTER she was married and had small children—and that had to be tough. But she persevered. She received her BS in biology and went on for her Master’s degree in education. She taught school for many years and told me how she loved it, and how she missed it after retirement.

I knew Celia after that phase of her life was past, and we shared our passion for writing. We both wrote western romance stories, and loved to talk about our characters, and run scenes by one another. Celia was very meticulous in her writing process—more of a plotter than I am. We talked about everything under the sun along with our writing conversations. I treasured seeing her name pop up in my INBOX—she always made me laugh.

When we learned she had passed away, I felt like the world became a “dimmer” place—and of course, that’s true. Celia was one of the brightest stars I have ever known. I miss her. She was one of those people that is truly unforgettable, though I can hear her in my mind saying, “Me? Lands sakes, why would you say that?”

One of the main things I’ll always remember about Celia is her big heart. All you have to do is read one of her books and you’ll see it shine through. She spoke through her characters, and as all writers do, put some of herself into the people she created in her stories. She often told me this book, WISH FOR THE MOON, was the "book of my heart" and how glad she was to have it in print. I understood why--there is a LOT of Celia in these characters!

Her birthday was this past Saturday, August 25. Hard to believe she’s gone, but she’ll always be in my heart—a dear friend that I was so lucky to have known.

Sunday, August 26, 2018


John Moses Browning, sometimes referred to as the “father of modern firearms,” was born January 23, 1855 in Ogden, Utah to Jonathan and Elizabeth Child Browning. Elizabeth was one of Jonathan's three wives and John Moses one of his father's nineteen children. Many of the guns manufactured by companies whose names evoke the history of the American West-Winchester, Colt, Remington, and Savage-were actually based on John Moses Browning’s designs.

As a western historical author, I've learned a lot from researching John Browning. I thought he would be a good Western-style inventor to use for this blog. I found he was incredibly versatile and responsible for dozens of firearms concepts, many of which are still used today. 

In addition, my current work in progress is BLESSING, a romance set in Utah. Coincidentally, that's where John Moses Browning was reared. BLESSING is book two in the exciting new series, Widows of Wildcat Ridge, and is now up for pre-order. BLESSING will be released on October 1st. The link is The first book, PRISCILLA, by Charlene Raddon, will be released September 15, after which new books will be released every two weeks through spring. Series coordinator Charlene has designed all the covers for the series.

John Browning worked in his father's Ogden shop from the age of seven, where he was taught basic engineering and manufacturing principles, and encouraged to experiment with new concepts. He is said to have created his first gun in his father’s shop when he was–depending on the whose report is referenced—ten or thirteen or fourteen. Allegedly, this gun was made for his brother Matthew.

John Moses Browning

The year 1879 was eventful for the Browing family. Jonathan Browning died on June 21 and, soon thereafter, John Moses and his brothers started their own shop. They first used steam powered tools, tools that were originally foot-powered but were converted by John Moses to get power from a steam engine.

In that year, John Moses Browning married Rachel Teresa Child. Eventually, they had three sons: Val, John, and Louie.

The year 1879 was also the receipt of his first gun patent for the Breech-Loading Single Shot Rifle. He was twenty-four at the time and this was the first of his 128 patents during his lifetime.

John and his brothers began producing this rifle in their Ogden shop but customer demand soon exceeded their shop's production capacity. They were unable to expand their Browning Gun Factory because they lacked the capital required. Although John Moses Browning was very satisfied with the sales of his guns he was also very unhappy that the production chores and the daily work prohibited him from working on his new ideas. 

(This reminded me of us authors who just want to write but have to engage in social media, ads, formatting, choosing covers, editors, housework, errands, etc. I just want to write!)

A salesman for the Winchester Repeating Arms Company named Andrew McAusland happened to see one of John's Single Shot rifles in 1883. McAusland immediately bought one and sent it to Winchester's headquarters. The gun drew Winchester's interest and T. G. Bennet, Winchester's vice president and general manager, went to Ogden to buy the rights to Browning's gun. When Bennet arrived in Ogden, it didn't take long for the men to agree on the sale and Winchester paid John Moses $8,000 for the rights to produce the gun.

The agreement was beneficial to both parties. Winchester was happy because they turned competitor into a benefactor, plus they added an excellent rifle to their product line. John  was equally happy because the money from the sale and the ensuing relationship with Winchester allowed him to concentrate on inventing things instead of manufacturing them.

John Browning

John Browning was usually working on more than one project at one time. He started working on automatic pistols before 1900. He was the first to invent the slide which encloses the barrel and the firing mechanism of a pistol. Pistols of his invention were produced by both FN and Colt and they range from baby .25 caliber pistols to the .45 Government Model. The first automatic pistol designed by Browning was produced by FN as FN's .32 caliber Model 1900. The most famous pistols of John's design, however, were Colt's .45 ACP M1911 Government Model and FN's Browning High-Power Model P-35 in 9mm Parabellum.
Winchester manufactured several popular small arms designed by John Moses Browning. For decades in the late 19th Century-early 20th Century, Browning designs and Winchester firearms were synonymous and the collaboration was highly successful. This came to an end when Browning proposed a new long recoil operated semi-automatic shotgun design, a prototype finished in 1898, to Winchester management, which ultimately became the Browning Auto-5 shotgun.
John designed the lever action Winchester Model 1887 and the Model 1887 pump shotgun, the falling-block single-shot Model 1885, and the lever-action Model 1886, Model 1892, Model 1886, Model 1892, Model 1894, Model 1895 rifles as well as the long recoil operated semi-automatic Remington Model 8 rifle, many of which are still in production today in some form; over six million Model 1894s had been produced as of 1983, more than any other sporting rifle in history.
He is regarded as one of the most successful firearms designers of the 19th and 20th centuries, and pioneered the development of modern automatic and semi-automatic firearms. Impressed by the young man’s inventiveness, Winchester asked Browning if he could design a lever-action-repeating shotgun. Browning could and did, but his efforts convinced him that a pump-action mechanism would work better, and he patented his first pump model shotgun in 1888.
Browning’s manually-operated repeating rifle and shotgun designs were aimed at improving  the speed and reliability with which gun users could fire multiple rounds-whether shooting at game birds or other people. Lever and pump actions allowed the operator to fire a round, operate the lever or pump to quickly eject the spent shell, insert a new cartridge, and then fire again in seconds.
As was the custom of the time, Browning's earlier designs had been licensed exclusively to Winchester (and other manufacturers) for a single fee payment. With this new product, Browning introduced in his negotiations a continuous royalty fee based upon unit sales, rather than a single front-end fee payment. If the new repeating shotgun became highly successful, Browning stood to make substantially more fee income over the prior license fee arrangements. Winchester management was displeased with the bold change in their relationship, and rejected Browning's offer.
 Remington Arms was also approached, however the president of Remington died of a heart attack as John waited for his answer. Remington would later produce a copy of the Auto-5 as the Model 11 which was used by the US Military and was also sold to the civilian market.
John packed a sample of his shotgun into his luggage, crossed the Atlantic, and negotiated an agreement for Fabrique National de Belgique (FN) to produce his gun. He couldn't do that today, of course, but FN was then a young company in dire need of products to produce. Browning's automatic shotgun revolutionized the hunting market.This same shotgun was later produced in U.S.A. by Remington, as their Model 11. Still later, variants of this shotgun were produced by almost all of the large shotgun manufacturers, including Savage, Franchi, and Breda.
Having recently successfully negotiated firearm licenses with Fabrique Nationale de Herstal of Belgium (FN), Browning took the new shotgun design to FN; the offer was accepted and FN manufactured the new shotgun, honoring its inventor, as the Browning Auto-5. The Browning Auto-5 was continuously manufactured as a highly popular shotgun throughout the 20th century.
Browning influenced nearly all categories of firearms design. He invented, or made significant improvements to, single-shot, lever-action, and pump-action rifles and shotguns. His most significant contributions were in the area of autoloading firearms. He developed the first reliable and compact autoloading pistols by inventing the telescoping bolt, then integrating the bolt and barrel shroud into what is known as the pistol slide. Browning's telescoping bolt design is now found on nearly every modern semi-automatic pistol, as well as several modern fully automatic weapons.
He also developed the first gas-operated firearm, the Colt-Browning Model 1895 machine gun — a system that surpassed mechanical recoil operation to become the standard for most high-power self-loading firearm designs worldwide. He also made significant contributions to automatic cannon development.
By the late 1880s, Browning had perfected the manual repeating weapon. He wanted to make guns that fired faster, but that would require eliminating the need for slow human beings to actually work the mechanisms. Browning discovered the answer during a local shooting competition when he noticed that reeds between a man firing and his target were violently blown aside by gases escaping from the gun muzzle. He decided to use the force of that escaping gas to automatically work the repeating mechanism.

Browning began experimenting with his idea in 1889. Three years later, he received a patent for the first crude fully automatic weapon that captured the gases at the muzzle and used them to power a mechanism that automatically reloaded the next bullet. In subsequent years, Browning refined his automatic weapon design. When U.S. soldiers went to Europe during WWI, many of them carried Browning Automatic Rifles, as well as Browning’s deadly machine guns.
Among Browning’s most-famous designs were the Winchester Model 1886 lever-action rifle, the Remington Model 1905 semiautomatic shotgun, and the Colt Model 1911 semiautomatic pistol.

The Browning automatic rifle was adopted by the U.S. Army in 1918 and used until the late 1950s. From about 1920 until the 1980s the U.S. armed forces used Browning-designed automatic and semiautomatic weapons almost exclusively, including the .45-calibre Model 1911 auto-loading pistol; the Model 1918 .30 calibre Browning automatic rifle (BAR); crew-served .30- and .50-calibre machine guns, in several variations and modifications for air, naval, and land use; the .45-calibre auto-loading pistol; and the 37-mm automatic aircraft cannon.

The first two arms saw regular U.S. issue over 40 and 75 years, respectively. In the 21st century, improved variants of those military weapons remained in use around the world.
The premium priced Browning Superposed shotgun, an over-under shotgun design, was his last completed firearm design and possibly his most elegant. It was marketed originally with twin triggers; a single trigger modification was later completed by his son, Val Browning. Commercially introduced in 1931 by FN, Browning Superposed shotguns, and their more affordable cousins, the Browning Citori made in Asia, continue to be manufactured into the 21st century, and come with varying grades of fine hand engraving and premium quality wood.
John Browning was known as a dedicated and tireless innovator and experimenter who sought breakthrough consumer-oriented features and performance and reliability improvements in small arms designs. He did not retire from his career in his later years, but dedicated his entire adult life—literally to his last day—to these pursuits. On November 26, 1926, while working at the bench on a self-loading pistol design for Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN) in Liege, Belgium, he died of heart failure in the design shop of his son Val. Even the 9 mm semi-automatic pistol he was working on when he died had great design merit and was eventually completed in 1935, by Belgian designer Dieudonne Saive. 

During a career spanning more than five decades, Browning’s guns went from being the classic weapons of the American West to deadly tools of world war carnage. Amazingly, since Browning’s death, there have been no further fundamental changes in the modern firearm industry.

Priscilla: The Widows of Wildcat Ridge Series Book 1 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Horn of Plenty in NE Oregon by Paty Jager

From Baker County Historical Society
The Cornucopia Mine group located 12 miles west of Halfway Oregon in the Wallowa Whitman National Forest was once one of the 6 largest gold mines in the United States. It ran the longest continually of any mine in Oregon. It had 36 miles of tunnels with a depth of 3,000 feet.

It’s believed the mines output was $20 million from gold, silver, lead, and copper.

The mining area began when Lon Simmons one of the first to discover gold in the early 1880’s. It’s said he hadn’t planted the first stake of his section before men were all over the side of the mountain looking for gold.

There were many small mines in the area. The Cornucopia Mine group was made up of Union-Companion Mine(the biggest), Last Chance, Queen of the West and Red Jacket.

Last Chance was a pocket mine. Meaning it was a dense accumulation of ore that was under the surface and down to the bedrock and perhaps in the bedrock. While the other mines were dredged and drilled.
Union-Companion produced the most and was said to be on the mother lode. This means it was located on a vein of the ore it produced.

The mines were so remote they used outdated equipment and methods to extract the ore. Only horses and wagons were used for transportation. The first few years were a slow process of not only getting the ore out of the ground but also delivering it to a railroad station. Baker City was the closest and it was a 3 day trip.
They still used teams of horses to haul the heavy wagons in the 1920’s. In 1922 electricity came to Cornucopia. With it came a twenty-stamp mill.  The heavy stamps were like huge 1,000 to 2,000 pound hammers which could crush 60 tons of ore a day.

It wasn’t until the railroad came to Robinette on the Snake River, electricity and the pneumatic drill that finally had the mines producing to their fullest potential.

1894 the Union -Companion sold for $800.
1895 it sold for $60,000.
1897 it sold for $200,000.
Later the mine sold for $700,000

In the early 1900’s the Cornucopia mines employed 700 men.

During the years the mines operated the price of gold was from $20.67 to $35 a troy ounce.

High graders were men who worked at a mine and somehow or another, nuggets of pure gold found their way into their shirts and boot tops. Many nationalities worked at the Cornucopia mines. Being as remote as it was the miners had to create their own fun. They had Saturday night dances. Anyone who could play an instrument was included in the band ensemble for the dances.

A shift was 10 hours in the mine and 12 in the mill. They worked 7 days a week, so holidays were well-earned. They celebrated Christmas and the Fourth of July. Then when Labor Day was recognized as a holiday in Oregon in 1887 they relished that holiday.  The city ordinance of Cornucopia only allowed saloons to serve beer. But when there was a holiday it brought in ranchers, townspeople, the miners and the millworkers. And someone would bring along some “tangle leg”. A mixture of Pine Creek water and corn squeezins. "It’s said a few drops would turn a squirrel into a screaming panther."

While I didn’t have any dances or holidays in my book, Isaac: Letters of Fate, you will find the mining area of Cornucopia. Isaac is a mine guard at the Union-Companion at the start of the story.

 Historical western filled with steamy romance and the rawness of a growing country.

Alamayda Wagner’s life has left her cynical, but also vigilant, and that’s what propels her to Cornucopia, Oregon to uncover the secrets her father took to his grave. She quickly discovers her only hope includes trusting Isaac Corum. That soon proves to be expensive, and not just financially.

The last thing Isaac Corum needs or wants is a snooty woman telling him he didn’t do enough to save her father, which is what her letter implied. He’d helped the man more than most people would have, and swears he won’t go out of his way like that again. He’ll meet her at the Baker City train station, deliver her father’s belongings, and send her back the way she came.
universal buy link:

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 32 novels, 8 novellas, and numerous anthologies of murder mystery and western romance. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. This is what readers have to say about the Letters of Fate series- “...filled with romance, adventure and twists and turns.” “What a refreshing and well written love story of fate and hope!”

 I used the book Oregon's Golden Years by Miles F. Potter for all the information for this post. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Kate Claxton and the Tabor Opera House

Part two of a sporadic history of women actors who traveled the West, specifically Colorado.

Kate Claxton was an actor, theater company owner, and another of those the public loved to read about. She toured the West for the first time in the early 1880s. They also say the town of Claxton, Georgia was named for her.

Image result for kate claxton actress
Kate Claxton from Wikipedia
Kate was born August 24, 1848 in Summerville, New Jersey. Her grandfather, a  minister, had as a young man also made a living on the stage. Her maiden name was either Cone or Cohen. She was married twice. Her first marriage was to Isadore Lyon, which ended in 1878. Her second marriage was to fellow actor Charles A. Stevenson. That marriage also ended in divorce in 1911. There is some question as to how many children Kate had, but it is known her son, Harold Stevenson committed suicide in 1904.

Kate came to fame with her performance as a blind young woman in the play "Two Orphans", but gained her notoriety when the Brooklyn Theater, where she was performing in the above mentioned play, caught fire. One account recalls it this way:

"On the evening of Tuesday December 6th 1876 when The Two Orphans was in course of performance at the Brooklyn Theater and was rapidly nearing its close, the scenery took fire. The audience began to be alarmed and Miss Kate Claxton fearing the fatal effect of a panic stricken rush the door came down to the foot lights and cried, "Be quiet. We are between you and the fire the front door is open and the passages are clear." She said this while the stage was a burning mass and it was not until the spectators were seized with fear and it began to be from the building that Miss Claxton and the other actors with her on the stage at the time thought of flight themselves and then it was only by means of a private passage under the auditorium that they were able to escape."  

All totalled almost 300 people perished in the fire and numerous others were injured. All nine hundred seats of the theater had been sold. The fire was made worse because there were no fire escapes and only a small staircase from the balcony to the ground floor.

Kate continued to be plague with fire or fire related incidents during the early part of her career. It was so bad that Harper's Weekly even ran a cartoon. Many news reports were in poor taste, as evidenced by the following:

A hotel in St. Paul Minnesota, was burned on Monday morning. What is remarkable about this affair is that Kate Claxton and Troupe had engaged rooms in it for Tuesday. In ensuring hotels the insurance company should insert a proviso in the policies to the effect that Kate should not be allowed to lodge therein.
Colorado Weekly Chieftain May 10, 1877

Kate had started her own theater company in 1876. The news report of that event is well worth reading, if only for the language.

Feminine management.

Kate Claxton has leased the Lyceum Theatre in New York and will open it in September with the full company a first class artistes. No woman has undertaken the management of a theater in New York since the death of Laura Keene, although her success in her best days might have justified others in trying. With the exception of Mrs. John Drew, miss Claxton will now, since the death of Mrs. Conway, the only woman manager in the country. Miss Claxton is said to be a woman of business parts, and she certainly demonstrated her tact in the responses she made to the questions of the lawyers during the proceedings in her bankruptcy case before recorder Fitch on Monday. Even that venerable gentlemen and Willem Trohan was compelled to smile at her dexterous replies, and ejaculate now and then with a nod of the head — "good, very good."
Daily Denver Tribune, July 16, 1878

Image result for images of tabor opera house leadville colorado 1881
Tabor Opera House, Leadville, CO 1881- Western History
During the first season of the Tabor Opera House in Leadville, Kate Claxton's shows were some of the only ones to have an enthusiastic response. Her 1881 performance of "Two Orphans" was a hit. Kate also played Colorado Springs, Pueblo and other Colorado towns. The following appeared in the Leadville Daily Herald at the time of her performance in 1881:

Kate Claxton.
Standing room only was announced at the early hour last evening, at the Tabor opera house, every seat in the house having been filled before the rise of the curtain — an unusual thing in Leadville. A lack of space precludes any extended notice of Miss Claxton's rendition of "froufrou," but suffice it to say that the lady demonstrated the fact that she is talented, and Louise in the "two orphans" is not the only character in which she excels. Her conception of "froufrou" is admirable and, last evening, elicited much favorable comment. She was ably supported come, Miss Dolly Pike and Miss Ewers are not and Gilbert were especially distinguishing themselves.

This evening "the snow flower" will be given for the first time in Leadville. The piece admits an excellent scenic effects, which effects are done by the mechanical portion of the company. Nearly the entire house is already sold, cause probably by the character of the peace and the first appearance of Mr. Stephenson. Leadville Daily Herald, April 21, 1881

Kate had bought the rights to "Two Orphans" and performed in it until the early 1900s. She sold the rights to D.W. Griffith,  who made the 1921 silent film "Orphans of the Storm" with the Gish sisters, based on the play. After the death of her son, she discontinued acting. 

Kate died on May 5, 1924 in New York City, New York. She had a long a prosperous career and delighted audiences throughout the West and the rest of the country. A woman worth remembering.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Member of National League of American Pen Women,
Women Writing the West,
Pikes Peak Posse of the Westerners

Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Photo and Poem: Click Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here