Friday, October 11, 2019

Finding the Truth By E. Ayers

   First an apology for being late, our wonderful modern technology bit me. Seems my computers would not update and finally decided that they were going to refuse to work until I could get them updated. Now, I’m back in the cyber world and few dollars poorer.
That brings me to what are the difference between now and then, and when talking about the Old West, we’re mostly talking about the 1800’s. Lots of things are different, but some things never change. Let’s look at the things that have remained the same.
People are always looking for a better life. They want their children to have a better life than what they had. They want the opportunity to make more money, buy more things, have a better house, better food, better clothes, better education for them and their children, etc. It’s been that way since the caveman. That search for something better has always been with us.
What has changed? The things that we have or own. That’s also tied to wages. Inventions keep moving us forward. We no longer wash our clothes in a stream on a rock. We no longer have to use the old wringer washing machines or turn a crank to make the machine work. Thanks for electricity, Mr. Edison!
We are now saved from chamber pots and outhouses. We turn a spigot and we have running water, both cold and hot! We use shampoo that has been developed to give us “perfect” hair, depending on what we want our hair to do. These products are developed in labs and studied carefully before being released. They smell terrific and so does our hair. It magically heals split ends and makes our hair behave. But once upon a time, not too long ago, people were using some outrageous things to clean their hair and make it look good. Raw egg that was left in the hair? Rinsing with vinegar? How about turpentine on your hair? Might blind you, and much like the egg, I’m sure it stunk!
Children played with blocks, plain wooden blocks. Not fancy toy blocks that are made to snap together and hold tight. Books were expensive! Lucky was the child who had a few books. A ball might have been homemade. A wooden center covered with scrap material made a baseball. I doubt it did much bouncing. A doll made from cloth and maybe with china or porcelain for its head, hands, and feet. Or maybe it was made from cornhusks or wood.
So inventions change things. And as inventions made chores a little easier, we managed to stay cleaner, and do a better job. No longer are we on dirt floors that have been coated in cow blood to make it smooth and shiny. That certainly was easier to keep clean than a dirt floor that kicked up a ton of dust. Today we have vinyl and other products to produce shiny floors. We don’t sweep them with a broom. We vacuum them, or use an electric broom, even electric wet mops.
Advertisements push us to get a better vacuum. My daughter has a robot that does her vacuuming. When I suggested moving the kitchen chairs out of its way, she fussed at me and said no, I’ll confuse it. It has her house mapped. HUH?
So how do I know what was used in 1880? Often looking at patent office information will give us what we need. Old cookbooks are filled with information as they contain recipes for things like shampoo. Old newspaper advertisements contain a ton of everyday items. But going to the source is probably the best. And just because it was invented in 1885 doesn’t mean it was in use in 1885. It took several years before a patent became an easily obtained item.
For me, researching is fun. But figuring out some of the more subtle stuff can be difficult. When my hero in my upcoming historical western was burned, the "modern" practice was to use Vaseline. Yes, I researched it and in the process I learned things about Vaseline that I didn’t know. And the fun part is that we still use it, but not like it was once used.
My line editor is a great guy when it comes to commas. He’s learned a little history while editing my books. He looks this stuff up behind me, because he’s curious. He was surprised. Yes, Vaseline can still be used on minor burns, but not on anything major. We’ve got better stuff today. Chapped lips? Grab the Vasoline.
Things were available in the big cities, but not out in the West. There was definitely a
movement to “free” women. Women in the big cities wore things such as skirts that were actually pants. But not the average female, she wore a dress. Furthermore those fancy dresses with corsets, they for the city. Women had to breathe while they did chores.
A friend has a family photo album and it shows a distant relative that was once a
1897 a portrait in Paris by

John Singer Sargent

debutante. But after marrying and moving west, she went from a delicate rosebud to a tough woman who chopped firewood. I can imagine how she felt after serving high tea to living in the middle of no place and being responsible for firewood. Her fine-featured face and fancy up-do barely resembled the woman she had become ten years later.
Those women who went West on wagon trains…there were no bathrooms or privacy. Open plains didn’t give any cover. So the women stood in a circle and spread their skirts to hide the woman needing to relieve herself. So not fun!
As for women rights and the concept of suffragettes, look to England first, then look to our West. Quite a few of our western states gave women the right to vote in that state’s/territory’s elections. That’s because the most powerful women in the west tended to own the brothels and saloons. They were influential and rich. They got what they wanted. But the funny part is the average women who pushed for the rights to vote grew out of the prohibition movement to end alcohol consumption and cut down on criminal activity. Those were the devout religious women who believed their men were going to Hell for touching alcohol. (Unfortunately prohibition birthed organized crime.)
Life was tough and the men had few outlets for their disappointments and almost zero entertainment. The women who survived had to be tough. Tough enough to stand up for themselves, tough enough to have babies without help, and bury those babies in tiny graves when they didn’t live past their second birthday. They were barely surviving and their husbands’ drinking was robbing their budgets. It's easy to see how things happened but hindsight is always better.
I don’t want to go back in time. I’m happy with my hot and cold water that creates a nice shower, and my wonderful shampoo with keratin that keeps my hair healthy. My washing machine that allows me to toss a load into it along with a detergent pod and walk away, knowing I can come back in thirty minutes to clean clothes. Life is different and with it, we’ve raised the standard of clean. Our whites are whiter and our brights are brighter, and our homes are constantly being disinfected. I don’t own three dresses. I don’t own a dress. I own jeans- lots of jeans. I love my jeans and I have them in all sorts of colors. Life is good. I love writing about the old West, but I don’t want to live it!


  1. Hi, Thank you for sharing this very interesting article, and I totally agree 100% with you , I love the luxuries now a days (running water, electricity, televisions , refrigerators and all the goodies) and I am just so very happy I was born when i was. I do enjoy reading books from older times, and I Thank you for that. Have a Great weekend. God Bless you.

    1. Alicia, thanks for stopping by. The Sweethearts of the West all try very hard to write with historical accuracy. I think those who read historically accurate books can appreciate the differences between now and then.

  2. I so agree. I do love reading about and writing about the Old West. I am glad I am alive now instead of then. But, this makes me wonder what women in a hundred years will say about our time.

    1. I'm certain they will be grateful that they didn't live with our primitive things. My dad (1903-1994) was raised by his grandmother and he had aunts and uncles younger than him. The things his grandmother said about family life is darn funny now. "People have no concept of what constitutes a family. Families are falling apart. Can't even get everyone to sit at the dinner table together. And no one goes to church anymore! The world is going to Hell in hand basket."


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