Thursday, February 28, 2019


Are you the kind of reader who likes to have a detailed description of the hero or heroine in romance books? What about other secondary characters? And do you feel the same way about characters in books of genres other than western historical romance, or romance in general?

To me, there is a big difference in how much character description is needed in romance novels versus other genres, and here’s why.

When we read romance, we put ourselves in the story, empathizing with both the heroine and the hero. Of course, we need enough description to let us be familiar with them both, but this might be a case of “less” being “more.”

In our personal lives, we have preferences in how our romantic “leading men” look, speak, behave, and so on. If our preferences are toward the tall, dark, and handsome hero, it will be hard for us to be vested in a story with a hero who’s short, fair, and ugly. Or one who has habits we personally don’t find attractive.

I knew a woman who didn’t like blond heroes. If he had blond hair on the cover, she’d color it brown or black with a marker. In the book, if “blond” was mentioned, she’d mark through it and write whatever color of hair she’d decided he needed. I asked her about the heroines. “They’re all me,” she answered. “I don’t pay attention to their descriptions.”

It made me wonder how many others felt this way.

Stephen King had mentioned at one time in his book ON WRITING that “description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”

And in genres other than romance, character description is different and maybe more important, because the reader doesn’t have any preconceived expectations of the story, such as romance readers do.

When I taught creative writing classes, this description was one I used to illustrate how so much could be packed in to a short amount of words without being an info dump.
This is the beginning of St. Agnes’ Stand, by Thomas Eidson, who also wrote The Missing. Take a look:

He was hurt and riding cautiously. Thoughts not quite grasped made him uneasy, and he listened for an errant sound in the hot wind. His eyes were narrowed—searching for a broken leaf, a freshly turned rock, anything from which he could make some sense of his vague uneasiness. Nothing. The desert seemed right, but wasn’t somehow. He turned in the saddle and looked behind him. A tumbleweed was bouncing in front of the wild assaults from the wind. But the trail was empty. He turned back and sat, listening.

Over six feet and carrying two hundred pounds, Nat Swanson didn’t disturb easy, but this morning he was edgy. His hat brim was pulled low, casting his face in shadow. The intense heat and the wind were playing with the air, making it warp and shimmer over the land. He forced himself to peer through it, knowing he wouldn’t get a second chance if he missed a sheen off sweating skin or the straight line of a gun barrel among branches.

And then this, a couple of paragraphs down:

He had been running for a week, and he was light on sleep and heavy on dust and too ready for trouble. He’d killed a man in a West Texas town he’d forgotten the name of—over a woman whose name he’d never known. He hadn’t wanted the woman or the killing. Nor had he wanted the hole in his thigh. What he did want was to get to California, and that’s where he was headed. Buttoned in his shirt pocket was a deed for a Santa Barbara ranch. Perhaps a younger man would have run longer and harder before turning to fight and maybe die; but Nat Swanson was thirty-five years that summer, old for the trail, and he had run as far as he was going to run.

I absolutely love this. Can you feel that you’re right there with Nat Swanson as he’s riding? There are no wasted words, and this is just such an eloquent, masterful description of not only Nat, but the situation and the physical place he’s in as well as the dilemma he’s faced with.

Another excellent way of describing a character and setting the scene at the same time is from another character’s POV. This passage is from Jack Schaefer’s iconic classic, Shane—from the eyes of Bobby Starrett—when Shane first rides into his life.

This is just the very beginning of the book—there is more physical description of Shane a few paragraphs later, but I chose this passage because it lets us know what’s going on in a few short sentences—and that is real talent.

He rode into our valley in the summer of ’89. I was a kid then, barely topping the backboard of father’s old chuck-wagon. I was on the upper rail of our small corral, soaking in the late afternoon sun, when I saw him far down the road where it swung into the valley from the open plain beyond.

In that clear Wyoming air I could see him plainly, though he was still several miles away. There seemed nothing remarkable about him, just another stray horseman riding up the road toward the cluster of frame buildings that was our town. Then I saw a pair of cowhands, loping past him, stop and stare after him with a curious intentness.

He came steadily on, straight through the town without slackening pace, until he reached the fork a half-mile below our place. One branch turned left across the river ford and on to Luke Fletcher’s big spread. The other bore ahead along the right bank where we homesteaders had pegged our claims in a row up the valley. He hesitated briefly, studying the choice, and moved again steadily on our side.

This is tough, because we’re seeing it through two “lenses”—Bobby is nine years old, and this is what he sees, but it’s filtered by the adult Bobby who’s now telling the story of what happened all those years ago.

In writing the story this way, the reader gets the full impact of experiencing the fears, the situation brings, the joy of having Shane there, and the anguish of his leaving all through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy, with the adult overview that lets us know that Shane was not a hero—but he was to Bobby and those small time settlers who needed one so desperately. Yet, leaving was the only thing he could have done and kept Bobby’s view of him untarnished and intact.

Because we don’t know how the story will end, and we don’t know what to expect, we are learning about Shane’s character right along with Bobby so we are actively looking for details and descriptors the author might give us along the way—it will affect our opinion of Shane and let us know if Bobby is a reliable narrator, and it affects the outcome of the story.

I bring this up because in romance, seldom does the description have such a direct effect on the story itself, unless our main characters have scars, afflictions, or disabilities that might have some direct bearing on the story and its outcome.
So what do you think? Do you like a lot of description and detail about the WHR heroes you read about, or would you rather “fill in the blanks” for yourself?

As far as heroines go, most people I’ve talked to are not as concerned wither physical description (maybe because each person sees herself in the heroine?) but are more concerned with her personality traits—is she likable? Is she determined?

If she is not a fierce match for the hero, the story line is doomed.

And what about our hero? Though he can get away with more “questionable” traits, he has to be endowed with almost superhuman strength to overcome everything that’s thrown his way, and that is description that must be thoroughly detailed—not left to the reader’s interpretation.
(I apologize for the Amazon links being all over the place--I could not get them to "stick" under the book covers.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


Do  you believe in water witches/dowsers?

One of the things without which man and animals cannot exist is water. But how do we find it? Have you or anyone in your family used a dowser or water witch?

Speculation for and against water witching and dowsing has gone on for centuries. It was even against the law in some parts of Europe at one time, decreed as superstition and heresy.

My Uncle Ray Phifer was able to dowse for water, and he certainly was not a heretic. He might have been a little superstitious, but I’m not sure. We are of Scot-Irish ancestry, so there are a number of people in our family with the “sight.” Perhaps that’s why he was a dowser. My friend Margery’s late husband was a dowser who had no failures.

Dowser at work with forked branch

By the way, water witching gets its name from the branch of a witch hazel, not from witchcraft. Some water witches also were supposed to be able to locate metals, lost items, etc. I’m only discussing water, folks. Water witch can be a verb meaning the act of water witching. The two words also can be a noun describing the person who performs the dowsing action.

What brought this on? Reading, of course. You know authors—every time we do research we get sidetracked on one tangent or another. Can’t help ourselves. ☺

While reading through PIONEER WOMEN:VOICES FROM THE KANSAS FRONTIER by Joanna L. Stratton, I came upon the story of Ida Gillette, who sought the help of a water witch to locate water on her Riley County farm. She had found a good sized farm for sale near her brother for what seemed like a reasonable price. After she made her down payment and had a mortgage, she learned the owners sold because they had never been able to find water on the place. She made up her mind not to get discouraged because she would find water on her farm some place.

She had never had faith in water witches and the like but her brother urged her to get an old man who lived nearby who could water witch. She asked the man and he agreed. She was quite curious to see what he would do and if it lead to water.

The man took a forked willow stick in each hand and held it out in front of him. He told her the stick would point down when there was water. She watched and, sure enough, the stick pointed down, and then down rapidly. Her brother had a crew of well drillers at his farm and sent them to drill for her where the water witch indicated. Sure enough, at 65 feet, they found 11 feet of water. She said, “How happy I was when I took my first drink of that cold refreshing water.”

This reinforces my opinion of dowsing and water witching, so I was happy to read her success story. But I decided to investigate further instead of researching what I needed for my work in progress. Can you say procrastination?

According to Mother Earth News I learned some swear the ancient Greeks used water witching. But the first written record of finding water with a forked twig is in Georgius Agricola's work, De re metallica, written in 1556.

18th century dowser

No matter what the origin, divining or dowsing or witching for water is practiced all over the world and despite scientific ridicule, water witches still flourish today. There's even a national society. Almost every area has a diviner or two; Wake County, North Carolina boasts more than a dozen. A few of the Wake County dowsers refer to their skill as witching (from the witch hazel, a popular divining rod of the early American settlers), but it's usually called finding a well, spotting a well, or—simply—finding water.

Until his death a few years ago, Arthur Lee Brown had been witching for twenty-five years and found more than a hundred good wells. Arthur Lee claimed it came in spurts: You found a well for one person, and two or three other prospects cropped up.

Brown started divining by accident. A man came through who could witch, and Arthur Lee found out that he could, too. "Not everybody can do it, you know," he declared with conviction. "It just works for some folks." A freshly cut peach tree twig or a length of grapevine were Brown's favorite tools. He held them both palms down, with his thumbs turned in. The grape vine spun in his hands as he walked over the vein, and the forked stick pointed toward the ground.

Like most diviners, Brown wouldn't even guess why the switch worked. He just knew that it did. "There's a streak of water down under the ground," he explained, "and if you take even one step off to the side, the stick won't move. You have to be right on top of the water."

Traditionally, the most common dowsing rod is a forked (Y-shaped) branch from a tree or bush. Some dowsers prefer branches from particular trees, and some prefer the branches to be freshly cut. Hazel twigs in Europe and witch-hazel in the United States are traditionally commonly chosen, as are branches from willow or peach trees. The two ends on the forked side are held one in each hand with the third (the stem of the "Y") pointing straight ahead. Often the branches are grasped palms down. The dowser then walks slowly over the places where he suspects the target (for example, minerals or water) may be, and the dowsing rod supposedly dips, inclines or twitches when a discovery is made. This method is sometimes known as "Willow Witching".

Metal rod dowser

Many dowsers today use a pair of simple L-shaped metal rods. One rod is held in each hand, with the short arm of the L held upright, and the long arm pointing forward. When something is found, the rods cross over one another making an "X" over the found object. If the object is long and straight, such as a water pipe, the rods will point in opposite directions, showing its orientation. The rods are sometimes fashioned from wire coat hangers, and glass or plastic rods have also been accepted. Straight rods are also sometimes used for the same purposes, and were not uncommon in early 19th century New England.

In all cases, the device is in a state of unstable equilibrium from which slight movements may be amplified.

Skeptic James Randi in his "ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CLAIMS, FRAUDS, AND HOAXES OF THE OCCULT AND SUPERNATURAL," notes that dowsers often cannot agree on even the basics of their profession: "Some instructions tell learners never to try dowsing with rubber footwear, while others insist that it helps immeasurably. Some practitioners say that when divining rods cross, that specifically indicates water; others say that water makes the rods diverge to 180 degrees."

I suspect that like writing, each dowser has his or her own method. I know my uncle was successful as was the husband of my friend. Neither man would ever take money for dowsing because they believed the talent was a gift from God and to accept money would be wrong. 

You will have to make up your own mind as to whether or not you believe in water witches/dowsers. 

Are you a skeptic or a believer?

Friday, February 22, 2019


Post by Doris McCraw
writing as Angela Raines

Garden of the Gods - Kissing Camels
Colorado Springs, CO
photo (C) by the author
We write about the West, and about love. What many may not know, Helen (Hunt) Jackson and her husband William were both successful, in love. This was William's first marriage and Helen's second. He was six years her junior, but that didn't seem to matter. They could be called a 'power couple'.

Together William and Helen with their respective talents were possibly the first equally successful couple in Colorado Springs. William as a successful business man and Helen as a nationally known author. Each in their own way had an impact on not only Colorado Springs, but Colorado and beyond. As a 'power couple' they were also the subject of conjecture and gossip. This not only included Helen's niece Helen, but being thought of as better than everyone and the back room dealings with regard to William and his handling of the receivership of the Denver & Rio Grande and subsidiary railroads.

William was a majority owner of the El Paso County Bank, treasurer of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and later the receiver of the same company when it went into bankruptcy. His was a major influence on the financial health and confidence in the growth of Colorado Springs.

Image result for images of William Sharpless Jackson Colorado Springs
William Sharpless Jackson
When Jackson started his bank in 1873, the world was just beginning to feel the results of a larger world wide depression. In the United States banks were failing and as a direct result of the failure of the Henry Clewes & Company bank in New York, the Wm. B Young & Company a local bank failed. This depression has been called the long depression and the depression of 1873-1879 and lasted longer than the great depression of the 1920's -1930's. His business acumen kept the bank and this region afloat. Colorado Springs was only two years old and was in need economic stability for its continued growth.

Helen (Hunt) was already an established author when she arrived in Colorado Springs. Her writings about the area were responsible for the view many Easterners and those from Europe had of this region. That in turn helped bring about growth of the town and region. Later when she took up the cause of the American Indian, she was responsible for bringing a conscience to the general public. While she may not have been popular for her view, she did not back off from her stance on the subject. Of note is the discussion she had with William Byers in the New York Independent on the subject of 'The Sand Creek Massacre'. Although William didn't believe as Helen about the Indians, letters between the two indicate that he eventually accepted her point of view.

Image result for historic images of William S Jackson Colorado Springs
Helen (Hunt) Jackson from
The Jackson's most would call a husband and wife team. Man and wife tends to indicate the man is the principal and all that the wife does and how she is perceived is based on her husband. Husband and wife verbiage seems more a relationship of equals. William and Helen together created a dynamic relationship that had a larger influence than most may realize. Helen was on the library board and William was one of the early board members for Colorado College as an example of their influence. Neither sought notoriety for themselves, only their work. Both were fairly private people, which may be part of the reason their contributions are largely forgotten by the general public. As stated earlier, both were focused on their respective careers, their work was instrumental in helping Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region, in fact a lot of Colorado, become what it is today. Had William not been able to restructure the Denver & Rio Grande we would not have railroading as we know it for Palmer might have lost it all. His banking acumen both in Colorado Springs and the state had an impact on the financial health of our region. Helen, in highlighting all that this state had to offer has left a legacy for future generations to remember how it was. She also was vocal about Colorado Springs and protecting the natural beauty of the area,Seven Falls, Cheyenne Canon to name two, which tourist can still enjoy today, .

The same sense of privacy, in addition to a sense of self, may have also contributed to the negative comments and feelings the two generated. Although not as well documented, there were some who felt the two, especially Helen, were above the rest of the population. There does not appear to be any record that the two were aware, or even took notice of such thoughts. Instead the focus was on their relationship and their respective careers. Even when Helen took up the cause of the American Indians, which was not a popular stance, she as well as William went forward with what they thought was the correct course. Helen however, did need to persuade William that her course regarding the Indians was the only way open for her to deal with the glaring inequities in the governments treatment of Indians.

Together their impact and influence on the area may have been far greater than we may realize. 

Amazon link

In "Chasing a Chance" Edwin comes to the rescue of Mary, a woman he's loved when younger, but had left and she married another. Now a widow, she is in danger. This is a story of second chances, much like Helen and William.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -

Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Legend Reborn, Again and Again

I have begun writing a new book, a western historical time travel romance. Untitled as of yet, the story takes place in the 1890s on Galveston Island, mainly in the fabulous Tremont House Hotel.

The Tremont House has been called the Crown Jewel of Texas. Currently in its third incarnation, the original hotel opened its doors on San Jacinto Day in 1839. Although only a two-story building, it was the largest hotel in Texas. The Tremont attracted guests from around the country and the world. (Keep in mind that Galveston the premier entry point into Texas and much of the South at the time.)

Wealthy Victorians attended grand balls at the Tremont, Sam Houston gave his last public speech there, and cotton merchants discussed deals. Sioux chiefs sampled southern cooking, six American presidents and foreign ministers from France and England visited. During the Civil War, soldiers from the North and South stayed there at different periods.

Tragedy struck in June 1865 when fire raged through the Strand District for days, destroying several city blocks, including the Tremont. The renown landmark lay in ruins for over five years. At that point some of the island's business leaders combined to build a new hotel in the same location. They hired local architect Fred S. Steward to  design the building, but only two floors of the planned four stories were completed before the investors backed out. The structure stood uncompleted until four years later when a new group of owners engaged well known architect Nicholas Clayton to finish the job. It was said that over 2 million bricks were required for the massive, upscale hotel.
color postcard of 2nd Tremont House; courtesy Rosenberg Library Museum

The second Tremont House opened in 1877. Advertised as the city's only first-class hotel, it featured ornate architecture, lavish furnishings and even a steam-powered elevator. Political dignitaries, celebrities, military leaders and business kingpins were among its patrons.
Tremont House main lobby; courtesy Rosenberg Library Museum

The terrible 1900 hurricane that killed over 6,000 souls sent desperate people running for their lives to the top floor of the majestic hotel. Sadly, the second Tremont began to decline by the 1920s. It was outdated; guests desired more modern amenities offered by newer hotels such as the nearby Jean Lafitte. On November 1, 1928, the Tremont closed its doors, and the building was torn down.

Just before it's demolition, the Houston Chronicle wrote: "What was formerly the pride of the South has been content to drowse in the shade, dreaming after the manner of old things." The property sat vacant for many years.
Third Tremont House, a Wyndham Grand Hotel

However, the legendary hotel would be reborn in 1985 in a different location, when visionaries George and Cynthia Mitchell acquired the lavish Leon & H. Blum Building and turned it into the third Tremont House. Once the South's leading wholesale dry goods concern, the 1879 building embodies the spirit and elegance of the hotel's earlier incarnations. It stands in the revitalized Strand National Historic Landmark District, surrounded by shops, galleries, restaurants, lofts, offices and museums illustrating the island's vibrant, tumultuous history.

The next time hubby and I visit Galveston, you can bet we will be staying at the Tremont House! For now, I'm having fun plotting my characters' exploits at the second Tremont.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Cattle Kate--Rustler or Victim

Ellen Liddy Watson was born on July 2, 1861 to Thomas Lewis Watson and Frances Close Watson near Arran Lake, Bruce County, Ontario, Canada. Ella, as she was called, was the oldest of ten children, six of which were also born in Canada before the family moved to Kansas in 1877. Settling near Lebanon in Smith County, Kansas, Thomas homesteaded the land.
18 year old Ella Watson

Before long, Ella, as she was called, met a young man by the name of William A Pickell who lived on a neighboring farm. On November 24, 1879, the 18-year-old Ella and 21-year-old William were married. But within just a few short months Ella found that her husband was both a heavy drinker and an abusive man. Often, he would verbally abuse her then escalate the violence to physical blows and striking her with a horsewhip. By January 1883, she could take it no longer and fled to her parent’s home. Later, she moved to Red Cloud, Nebraska, 14 miles north of her parent’s farm to put even more distance between herself and her estranged husband. On February 14, 1884, she filed for divorce.

Against her parent’s wishes, Ella moved to Denver, Colorado after filing for divorce. Seeking better opportunities, she lived with a brother for a short time, but didn’t stay long. Ella then moved again, first to Cheyenne, Wyoming, then to Rawlins, Wyoming in late 1885 or early 1886. She found employment at a boarding house called the “Rawlins House” as a cook and domestic for about two years. Watson has often been misidentified as a prostitute because the Rawlins House was erroneously thought to have been a brothel.

On February 24, 1886, she met a handsome young man named James Averell, who was in Rawlins to file a claim on his homestead 60 miles east of Rawlins near the Sweetwater River. Immediately, the two fell for each other and began to court. 
James Averell

James Averell was born on March 20, 1851 to John and Sarah Ann Averell in Renfrew County, Ontario Canada. The youngest of seven children, his father died shortly after his birth. At the age of 20, Averell, now in the U.S., joined the military and was initially assigned to Fort Douglas, Utah and later transferred to Fort Fred Steele, Wyoming, 15 miles east of Rawlins. In 1876 he was discharged but he soon re-enlisted, this time assigned to Fort McKinley, Wyoming, near Buffalo.

In Buffalo, Averell shot and killed a man by the name of Charlie Johnson, a known drunkard and bully. Averell claimed that Johnson had threatened him many times with a knife. The killing occurred when Johnson threatened Averell again and Averell shot Johnson in the leg and again in the back when the shot to the leg swung the huge man around. James was held in jail at Rawlins for a time while two grand juries were convened, but he was never convicted and was eventually released.

Averell established a homestead on Cherry Creek at the north base of Ferris Mountain and married a young woman by the name of Sophia Jaeger on February 23, 1882. On August 23, 1882, Sophia gave birth to a three-month premature baby boy who lived for only a short time. Soon thereafter, Sophia took sick with what was called “child bed fever” at the time and she also died. The homestead carried too many sad memories for Averell so he sold it and established another about fifteen miles north, between Horse Creek and the Sweetwater River.

In addition to homesteading, Jim started a general store and tavern on his land. The businesses were successful due to the close proximity of his land to the Oregon and Mormon trails.

After Jim met Ella, he convinced her that she should move with him to his homestead. Inviting her to fix meals for the hungry customers, he suggested she could charge 50 cents per meal and keep the money. He also suggested that she might be able to homestead her own piece of land, a tract that was adjacent to his own. Ella agreed and was soon living in the Sweetwater Valley.

Ella’s divorce was finally official in March 1886 and just a few short months later, James and Ella applied for a marriage license in Lander, Wyoming. It is unclear if the couple ever did actually marry, as the completed application was never returned. Some said the two planned to get married after Ella proved her own homestead (only one claim per family was allowed.).

On June 29, 1886, Jim was appointed as the postmaster of his newly created community, as well as being made the Justice of the Peace. Living with Averell at his home, Ella worked for him in the general store and cafe. Ella saved her money and eventually purchased some cattle with her earnings. Settling on the adjacent land in August 1886, she built a two-room log house and began digging irrigation ditches. Ella tried to get a brand registered for her cattle but was refused due to what was known as the Maverick Law, passed in 1884.

This law provided that unbranded calves, found on the open range, could not be legally taken off the range by just anyone. They were to be branded on the neck with an “M” and became the exclusive property of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, a powerful group of men that controlled the cattle industry in Wyoming at the time. The Wyoming Stock Growers Association was also appointed as the official law enforcement agency for the Wyoming cattle industry.

The law also provided that those young calves be auctioned off to the highest bidder only by appointed representatives of the association and that the proceeds went to the association to cover the costs of policing the range. In 1886, a provision was added to the law that no one could brand calves except those receiving registered brands from the state. Further, small cattle ranchers or homesteaders were not permitted to bid on mavericks, unless they had a registered brand.

It was a combination of the Maverick law and the requirement of a registered brand which would put both Ella and Averell into the direct sights of the powerful Wyoming Stock Growers Association—but, that’s next month’s post.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Quick history of poker and book video for Gambling with Love by Kaye Spencer #sweetheartsofthewest #westernromance

My western romance Gambling with Love is set in 1883 in Denver, Colorado against the backdrop of a high-stakes poker tournament. The heroine, Lainie Conrad, is a professional poker player seeking revenge against the gambler responsible for her husband's murder. Her plans for revenge are compromised when U.S. Deputy Marshal Nick Foster shows up to arrest and escort her back east to stand trial for suspected murder.

While I grew up in a card-playing family, I've never played much poker, although I'm comfortable with a "friendly" game now and then. So, in order to write the grand tournament poker scene in Gambling with Love with historical accuracy, I needed to refresh my memory with the basic rules and etiquette and also  research the history of cards and poker to put it into historical context. I was not disappointed in the plethora of websites, blogs, and books on both topics.**

Here's where I started:
  • Playing cards date historically from as early as 10th century Asia;
  • 14th century Europe saw a variety of playing card designs develop;
  • By the late 15th century, the 52-card deck was popular as the standard preferred deck even though many card games only called for 20-32 cards, which limited the number of players in a game;
  • 15th century England and France saw the evolution of  the four suits of Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs; and
  • Court Cards—King, Queen, Jack—were influenced by English and French royalty.
  • Another interesting aspect of cards is the Joker, also called the Jack of Trumps, Imperial Trump, and Wild Card. This card may have evolved from an Americanized version of the European card game, Euchre, which required an extra card (called the trump card or Jack of Trumps). Consequently, in keeping with the royal court cards, the Joker came to represent the Court Jester or Fool.
World Web Playing Card Museum, Imperial Bower, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
The Joker has a paradoxical appeal because it carries special properties as the Imperial Trump or Wild Card and, in that role, can resolve problems and win “tricks”. The Joker is as powerful as it is insignificant. It can represent any card and yet it represents nothing without a purposeful designation.

Taking the trivia-history of poker a bit farther...

Poker’s hazy origins are of some debate among those who study this sort of thing. There are arguments supporting its creation in the ancient Orient to the game evolving as a pirate’s pastime. However, there is some agreement that poker’s historical roots reach back to a French card game of vying, bluffing, and betting called “Poque” in which one said Je poque to open the betting.

In America, Poque dates back to the French settlers of early 1800s New Orleans. As the game of poker spread northwards along the Mississippi River, it followed the expansion of the American frontier with the rush to the California gold fields in 1849 and later with the further opening of the west after the Civil War. “Brag”, a three-card British betting card game with a drawing component, influenced the rules of Poque and the “draw” was incorporated into the game. By the mid-1800s, the game was known by its American name, Poker, and was increasingly played with all 52 cards to allow for more players. The term “Draw Poker” was first recorded c. 1850.

Kaye Spencer's well-worn copy of Hoyle's Official Rules of Card Games

According to the Hoyle 1854 edition, these were the accepted hands:

  • one pair
  • two pairs
  • straight sequence or rotation
  • triplets
  • flush
  • full house
  • fours
Apparently, Draw and Stud Poker rules appeared for the first time in the card games rule book, The American Hoyle, in the 1875 edition. The 1887 edition noted that four of a kind was the best hand when straights were not played. Interestingly enough, for many years, straights were not generally accepted poker hands.

Hoyle’s rules stated that when a straight and a flush came together, it outranked a full house, but not fours. Until the 1890s, the highest possible hand was four Aces or four Kings with an Ace kicker (a.k.a. wild card, imperial trump or “cuter”). Not only was this hand unbeatable, it could not be tied.

Obviously, the player holding four kings and an ace couldn’t be beaten, however, a ‘cuter’ was a specific type of wild card in that it often bore a dangerously close resemblance to the ace of spades. More than one old west legend sprang up about gamblers losing high stakes pots to this clever imposter when they erroneously thought they held all four aces.

I incorporated a ‘cuter’, aka imperial trump, into the big poker game as a devious little plot twist in Gambling with Love to keep the players on their toes.

**To read more about the history poker in the American Old West, refer to the Time-Life Books series on The Old West, specifically the volume devoted to “The Gamblers” or visit the Internet sources devoted to the game of poker, which are too numerous to list here.

Gambling with Love
Available at
Kindle | KindleUnlimited | Print

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer
Writing through history one romance upon a time

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Thursday, February 14, 2019


By Shirleen Davies

Valentine Day was celebrated in the 19th century with parties, balls, (including bachelor balls), and by sending valentine cards.

Mother of the American Valentine
The tradition of valentine cards in the US began with The Mother of the American Valentine, Esther Howland of Worchester Massachusetts, when she received a valentine from a friend in England in 1849. It was bordered in lace paper and colorful cut flowers were pasted on it. A small pocket of green paper in the middle held a small red-edged note of Valentine Day sentiments. She loved it, but she also thought she could make a better one. Esther created a dozen designs she gave to her brother to use as samples to try to get orders for them on the sales trip he made for their family stationery business. He returned with five thousand dollars’ worth of orders for valentines.
Esther Howland, Mother of Valentine's Day

Esther needed a lot of help to make all those cards, so she called her friends over and they worked like a team. One cut out the pictures her father purchased from the only lithographer in the country, another created the backgrounds for the valentines, one wrote the messages, and so on. Each friend did some sort of work on them until all the orders were completed. The next year the orders for valentines more than doubled. Esther hired lots of women to make the cards and Worcester, Massachusetts became the center of the budding American Valentine Day business.

Nineteenth-century valentine cards were more than sweet words and lovely pictures. People touched, held, and interacted with them due to the elaborate assembly of sumptuous textures and interactive features, such as flaps that lifted revealing hidden romanticisms like "Be Mine". So, the feelings evoked in the recipients from the loving sentiments of the cards were heightened even more from touching and feeling the materials.
An essential trait of valentine cards was that they were made to be significantly handled by the receiver. In the mid-nineteenth century, valentine cards invited multiple interactions from the people they were given to. Some had pull levers or strings that revealed hidden images. Others were much more intricate, like the Beehive valentines that you'd pull out and extend to uncover a romantic image beneath. More complex than simply lifting a flap to reveal a picture, the webbing of the cut paper compelled the receiver to move around to look at the image and peer through the spaces in the paper, similar to the way perforated paper lace partially blocked images on other types of valentines.
Civil War era Valentine.

During the Civil War people weren’t able to exchange cards that much but when it ended in 1865, the popularity of valentine cards surged. That year, New Yorkers mailed over 66,000 valentines and more than 86,000 in 1866. The valentine card tradition had blossomed into a lucrative commercial industry.

Whitney Valentines
In 1881, Esther had to take care of her sick father full time, and to do so she had to sell her business to an associate, Stationer George C. Whitney, also in Worcester, Massachusetts. Whitney designed many of his company's cards based on Esther's model.
19th Century die-cut.

During the 1880s lots of articles were publicized about the Whitney Manufacturing Company’s valentine-making process, including:

·       The use of German scrap and English embossed paper
·       The skills of their young female card makers. 
·       How the valentines were sold and distributed by salesmen going from town to town taking orders from shop owners
·       And about Whitney’s seasonal shops, which allowed customers to buy directly.  

And, here is an expert of a February 1867 New York Times article about how exorbitantly expensive some of the valentine cards were, revealing that the costliest held hidden treasures within.

"Valentines of this class are not simply combinations of paper gorgeously gilded, carefully embossed and elaborately laced. To be sure they show paper lovers seated in paper grottoes, under paper roses, ambushed by paper cupids, and indulging in the luxury of paper kisses; but they also show something more attractive than these paper delights to the overjoyed receiver. Receptacles cunningly prepared may hide watches or other jewelry, and, of course, there is no limit to the lengths to which wealthy and foolish lovers may go."

However, for the Whitney factory workers who assembled the valentines by hand (all of the assemblers were women) it was hard work, and seasonal only. They were paid by the piece and made about $12.00 a week. Here is an excerpt from one of the employees, Marion Owens—Valentine Maker, in her own words. She worked on the 4th floor of the George C. Whitney building in 1895.  
1890 Valentine

“When I was hired, they only trained me for half an hour. A woman showed me what to do--how to cut out tags which were all different sizes, how to put the cards in the envelope so that the face of the card showed through the little cellophane window--and then I just had to work my fingers until they got used to it.”

Other Popular Valentine Cards
Kate Greenaway the legendary British illustrator of children’s books designed valentines in the late 1800s which were enormously popular. Some of Greenaway’s illustrations for valentine cards were collected in a book published in 1876, "Quiver of Love: A Collection of Valentines."

Most Valentines were reasonably priced and created for a large, broad audience. In fact, for several years in the late 1800's humorous valentines, intended as jokes, were popular. Among these satirical valentines, vinegar valentines were a favorite—offering a socially acceptable way to criticize, insult, and reject certain types of people. 

Valentine Candy
Richard Cadbury invented the first Valentine's Day candy box in 1861 in England. In America, in 1907, Milton Hershey launched tear-dropped shaped “kisses,” so-called because of the smooching noise the chocolate made.  In 1866, Daniel Chase the brother of Oliver Chase, the creator of NECCO wafers figured out how to print words on candy.  People loved his conversation candies with witty romantic messages, but they weren’t available in heart shapes until 1902.

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