Tuesday, September 22, 2020


 Post by Doris McCraw writing as Angela Raines

It's that time of year when we start thinking about canning, preserving, and preparing for the coming fall and winter months. While I was researching old recipes, I came across some fun, interesting, and some that made me go humm. I thought perhaps you might like to take a look for yourselves at how they made use of their produce in 1870s. Let me know what you think.

One that we all know and probably love is Apple Jelly. Here's one for you to try:

Apple Jelly. One pack of sharp green apples; pare and core them, put them into a well tinned sauce pan, pour on them 1 quart of spring – water, put them over a slow fire till all of a wash, pour through a new flannel bag; when cold, to every pint of juice add 1/4 pound of loaf sugar, boil fast and skim it well until it jellies, pour into molds for dessert; double the quantity of sugar if you wanted to keep all year.

Perhaps you'd like to try some Sweet Potatoe Pie. I know I used to love it.

Sweet Potato Pie. Boil the potatoes; peel and slice them. Put a layer in the baking dish, either with or without pastry. Dot it over with butter, sprinkle with sugar and a little allspice, or any other seasoning you may prefer. Proceed in this way until the dish or plate is full; then pour over the top milk or cream until the pieces are well soaked. Then bake slowly and regularly till done.

Now this one surprised me, but I found it quite interesting. It looks like you can make your own Rice Cakes. Here's how:

Rice Cakes. Beat 3 eggs very lightly; then add to them a half a pound of boiled rice, mashed up well with a lump of butter twice the size of a hen's egg. Put in a cup full of sour milk, with a teaspoon of saleratus, and finally, after of course, putting in a little salt, sift in enough flour to make a soft batter for gridiron cakes, or a little more, so that you can bake in muffin rings. Use milk also in forming the batter. These cakes are delicious.

Of course, if you would like you can preserve the fruit by crystalizing it or creating a preserve. Below are the two options:

To Crystallize Fruit. Pick out the finest of any kind of fruit; leave on their stalks; beat the whites of three eggs to a stiff froth, lay the fruit in the beaten eggs with the stocks upward; drain; beat the part that drips off again; select them out one by one and dip them into a cup of finely powdered sugar; cover a pan with a sheet of find paper; place the fruit inside of it in an oven that is cooling; when the icing of the fruit becomes firm pile them on a dish and set them in a cool place.

Nutmeg or Citron–Mellon Preserves. Cut the melon into slices half an inch thick. Take off the rind. Keep them in salt water for 3 days. Boil them in fresh water 6 hours, changing the water three times. Make a syrup of one and a half pounds of sugar to 1 pound of fruit, seasoned with the extract of lemon, mace, cinnamon and white ginger, soaked and dried, to your taste. Boil the fruit in the syrup till it is perfectly transparent. During the whole process the boiling must be very slow, or the fruit will fall to pieces.

Hope you enjoyed a look back to how they did it way back when. In many ways, these remind me of my great grandmother. She might not have gone through all the processes, but it does bring up fond memeries.

Let me know if these bring back any memories for you.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Breast Binding: Dangerous!

Have you ever read a romance, historical or contemporary, in which the heroine disguises herself as a boy/man? And she binds her breasts? I’m thinking of a book I love: Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. In it, the heroine binds her breasts for weeks, maybe months (I don’t recall exactly) in order to pass herself off as a boy and work in a Union hospital in New Orleans during the Civil War.

Now, Ms. Woodiwiss was and still is a hero of mine and I hate to criticize her work, but she really should have done more research on the topic of breast binding. I recently read up on it myself because I was planning to have the heroine of my upcoming book don men’s clothing and follow her love, the hero, into danger. She considers binding her breasts but instead decides to strategically pad her undergarment.

Why? Because I learned by poking around on the internet how binding, particularly with bandages, can damage soft tissues and underlying muscles if done over a prolonged period. It may cause shortness of breath, chafing, excessive sweating, rashes, back pain, bruised and even broken ribs. Unsafe binding may lead to permanent deformation of the breasts, scarring, and lung constriction.

Yowser! I sure didn’t want my heroine experiencing such unpleasantness. She has enough to deal with as it is.

Despite all the nasty side effects, breast binding has gone on historically. Wearing a corset was one way to reduce the size of breasts. There was widespread use of corsets throughout western European history up to the Victorian era. The Japanese kimono is a very elaborate form of binding. The obi (belt) goes around the lower torso, while the chest is bound by the sarashi. In the 1920s, flappers bound their chests to achieve the desired look.

I doubt American pioneer women bound their breasts. They were too busy raising children, cooking, sewing and helping their men tame the Wild West. However, a number of women disguised as men fought in the Civil War, their gender going undiscovered until they happened to be wounded or come down sick and require medical attention. They may quite possibly have bound their breasts.

There is also the famous case of Charley Parkhurst (Charlotte) who worked for years as a stagecoach driver in the West. “Loose fitting clothing hid her femininity and after a horse kicked her, an eye patch over one eye helped conceal her face. She weighed 175 pounds, could handle herself in a fistfight and drank whiskey like one of the boys.” Who knows if she bound her breasts? 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Where does the West become the West?


I asked this question in a Sweet Western readers group and got a surprisingly wide array of answers. It turns out, part of the difference comes from perspective, but also what time period we are talking about.

If you google it, the fine folks at the Census Bureau has some information:

The United States is home to several different regions and subregions, each with its own unique history and culture. But it's not always clear where one region ends and another begins. There's no consensus on whether the Dakotas are part of the Midwest, for example, or if Arkansas belongs to the South.

Luckily, we have the US Census Bureau, which has classified American regional divisions for more than 100 years. They classify the West as such:

The West consists of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii.

And then there’s the Census’ definition of the Midwest:

The next Census region is the Midwest. It consists of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.

So this is all well and good, but the Census has been only for the past one hundred years or so. And if we’re talking about historical, that’s a whole other ball park, isn’t it?

As I mentioned, I asked this question in a group and was consistently being told “West of the Mississippi” and “West of the original 13 colonies.” Well, in all my Canadian ignorance, I thought these sweet ladies were giving me two different answers. And even Google might support my thoughts as I got this information:

The United States of America initially consisted of 13 states that had been British colonies until their independence was declared in 1776 and verified by the Treaty of Paris in 1783: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

So as we know these states now, they are all well East of the Mississippi, but an examination of old maps, helps us to see that the British ceded the lands all the way to the Mississippi River to those 13 former colonies in 1783. Interestingly, from what I read, part of the controversy the colonists had with Britain had to do with taxation and the fact that Britain wanted to restrict any settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. They actually issued a Royal Proclamation to that effect in 1763. Perhaps this is the trigger point for our fascination with all things to do with Western expansion.

What do you think? Where does the West become the West and why are we so fascinated with it?

All of my Proxy Brides books managed to make it well West of the Mississippi so I think I'm safe either way ;-) Check out A Bride For Hamilton:

Marry in haste, repent at leisure…

Sadie Fitzsimmons must choose between total destitution and marriage by proxy with someone she’s never met.

When Sadie steps off the train to meet her new husband for the first time, life in Nebraska is not at all what she had expected. Torn between honoring the vows she spoke to a stranger, and her desire to be free of all obligations, Sadie must face the consequences of her choices.

Hamilton Foster had worked hard for his successes. All that was missing from his perfect life was a family of his own. Sending home to Boston for a wife seemed like a good idea until she arrived and she was too pretty to be trusted.

Follow along to see if these two can find their happily ever after.

Available on Amazon, included in your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Battle of Yellow Tavern - An Almost Forgotten Battle with a Significant Impact by Shirleen Davies

There were times when relatively forgotten battles had a major impact on the larger scope of the Civil War. This is one of those battles.

The Battle of Yellow Tavern took place May 11, 1864, just six miles north of Richmond at a crucial crossroads in Henrico County, Virginia. It is the site of the present-day intersection of Mountain Road, Brook Road, and Telegraph Rd.

A column of Confederate Calvary reined their horses to a halt on Telegraph Road. Exhausted, they dismounted in front of an old, ramshackle three-story wayside inn that was abandoned years before. It was still known by locals for the color of its peeling paint: Yellow Tavern.

The Officers, Calvary, and Number of Men in the Battle:

For the Union:


·       Major General Philip Sheridan—The Commander

·       Brigadier General Wesley Merritt

·       Brigadier General David M. Gregg

·       Brigadier General James H. Wilson

·       General George A. Custer

General Philip Sheridan

Their Calvary:

·       The 5th Michigan Calvary

Number of Men:

·       10,000

For the Confederacy:


·       Major General James Ewell Brown Stuart, better known as J.E.B. Stuart

·       Colonel Henry Clay Pate

·       Brigadier General William Henry Fitzhugh (Rooney) Lee

·       Brigadier General Lunsford L. Lomax

·       Brigadier General William C. Wickham

·       Brigadier General James B. Gordon

·       Henry McClellan, Officer and Adjutant General

General J.E.B. Stuart
Their Calvary:

·       The 1st Virginia Calvary

Number of Men:

·       4,500  

The Battle

This was a Calvary battle in strictest sense.

A recruiting song from the Civil War, Jine the Calvary, captured the mood of the time. The song’s chorus goes, “If you want to have a good time… jine the Calvary, jine the Calvary. If you want to catch the devil, if you want to have fun, want to smell hell…Jine the Calvary.”

The type of adventurous men who wanted to do all of the above were the horse soldiers who fought on both sides at the Battle of Yellow Tavern.

The whole campaign began when Union General Phillip Sheridan brashly claimed he could whip the Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart if given the chance. So, General Ulysses S. Grant gave him that opportunity by sending him south toward Richmond with three divisions.

Upon discovering Sheridan's move, Stuart dispatched General Fitzhugh Lee's division to harass Sheridan's rear while Stuart rode with his Calvary force, which included Generals Lunsford L. Lomax and William C. Wickham. They traveled night and day, wearing out their horses. They reached Yellow Tavern around 10:00 a.m. on May 11 and formed a blocking position.

Stuart ordered his force into two wings with Wickham taking position west of the Telegraph Road, facing south and Lomax, lined at a right angle to Wickham's brigade and along the Telegraph Road, facing west.

Within an hour of Stuart’s arrival at Yellow Tavern, Sheridan arrived with his mighty force. They hadn’t ridden as hard or fast as Stuart’s, giving the Federal troops a slight advantage. Their mounts weren’t as exhausted as those of the Confederates.  

Without delay, General Wesley Merritt charged Stuart's left. The Union’s left fought Lomax's brigade head-on while getting caught in a horrific flank fire from Wickham's brigade to the north. The Union Calvary skirted around the southern flank causing Lomax to relinquish his position along the Telegraph Road and fall back on Wickham's line.

Stuart directed Lomax's men back into position, ordering them to extend Wickham's left on a straight line facing south. The two Southern brigades were deployed on either side of the Telegraph Road by 2:00 p.m.

J.E.B. Stuart
The battlefield settled down for about two hours and the Rebels took advantage of the quiet to catch some needed rest.

General George A. Custer positioned his Union brigade on Sheridan's right. Custer spotted several Confederate cannons on Stuart's line and planned to seize them by flanking their position. He dismounted half of his brigade in preparation for an attack, while Sheridan readied the rest of his command to assist. A bugler heralded the charge, and the soldiers, now on foot, closed in on the Confederate front.

Custer's men thundered toward the booming guns, crossing five different fences before they encountered a bridge over the narrow span and up the hill, while Confederates poured down on them from the heights above the creek. The Federal riders pierced Lomax's brigade and pressed the Confederate’s left flank backward.

The Battle’s Outcome

Seeing the break in his line, Stuart galloped toward it. As always, his commanding presence helped rally the troops and stabilize the 1st Virginia Cavalry's position, driving the Union troops back.

But then, Private John A. Huff, one of the dismounted Union cavalrymen, a sharpshooter, took aim with his 44-caliber pistol from a range of 10 to 30 yards and fired at Stuart. He fatally wounded the Legendary Confederate commander.

Fitzhugh Lee took command of the field, but Stuart continued to shout orders. It’s said that when he saw some Confederates running away he yelled at them, "Go back! Go back! I had rather die than be whipped!"

Battle of Yellow Tavern
However, the Southern Calvary was so massively outnumbered that less than an hour later the rain-sodden Rebels fell back toward the Chickahominy River. As the Confederate cavalry retreated, Sheridan led his troops south to Richmond.

The mortally wounded Stuart was taken from Yellow Tavern to a relative's home in Richmond, where he died on the evening of May 12. The Confederacy had lost its finest cavalryman.

Robert E. Lee said of Stuart, "I can scarcely think of him without weeping."

The Union Calvary suffered 625 casualties, but they also captured 300 Confederate prisoners and recovered almost 400 Union prisoners.

Once Sheridan reached Richmond, instead of storming the city, he led his Calvary to the town of Bermuda Hundred, just outside of Richmond where he joined up with Benjamin Butler's Army of the James. By the end of the month, and just in time to take part in the slaughter at Cold Harbor, Sheridan rejoined Grant.

Thank you for reading the post. Please feel free to comment!

Solitude Gorge, book ten in the Redemption Mountain historical western romance series is available through most vendors!



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Saturday, September 12, 2020

Quilting Bees in the 1800s by Bea Tifton

 In the 1800s, quilting bees became a social event for women. When a woman left for points west, many times she would never see her friends or family again. Sometimes a group of women would assemble and make a friendship quilt for the woman who was leaving to remember them by. Often, a single woman was accompanying the pioneers west, and her friends and family would make a quilt for her hope chest so that when she was married, she and her new husband would have the quilt. 

In the new home, quilts could be used to hang at window openings or within the cabin for privacy. The quilts also provided a bit of home in a strange land.  Sometimes, women would send letters with bits of material from a dress they'd made and these would be made into quilt blocks, then into quilts.

In the new homesteads, winters were long. Women would often assemble quilt blocks over the winter and then, in the spring when the weather warmed up, meet and assemble the quilts together. These events were big social occasions. Often, only expert women would gather to quilt something for a specific occasion, such as a birth or a wedding. But usually, all women were welcome to participate in the quilting bee. The women had a chance to catch up and laugh. The husbands had a chance to socialize and the children could play. At the end of the day, the women would break to make dinner and frequently the bee was followed by a dance.

Many of these quilts did not survive. The main reason is that these quilts were meant to be used. They simply wore out. Conditions were harsh in the new homesteads. Dust, floods, fires, all destroyed quilts. But  many of them were handed down and still remain cherished heirlooms in families today.


Thursday, September 10, 2020



I hate when I read a book that has a major historical error. Certain things jump at me and when I know someone got it wrong…That happened to me recently when the story had a woman sewing at home on a machine in the old west.

Let’s look at the sewing machine. For starters, these machines were considered commercial machines and not for home use. It would take quite a few years before a machine would be produced for home use, but I’ll get there.

The first sewing machine was invented in the late 1700s by Thomas Saint and was meant for working with leather. No one knows if he even attempted to build such a machine. But years later someone tried to build his machine and had to tweak it slightly to make it work. Thomas patented it as “An Entire New Method of Making and Completing Shoes, Boots, Spatterdashes, Clogs, and Other Articles, by Means of Tools and Machines also Invented by Me for that Purpose, and of Certain Compositions of the Nature of Japan or Varnish, which will be very advantageous in many useful Appliances.” It was hand cranked. He died a pauper.

In the early 1800s, there were quite a few patents for sewing machines. A Viennese tailor Josef Madersperger patented his invention. He built his and several more. The first one only did a straight stitch, but the others could sew circles. It’s believed he was trying to find a machine that would embroider. He never made one for commercial release. Instead, he spent his entire life and all of his money attempting to make it better. He died a pauper.

In France, Barthélemy Thimonnier invented a machine that used a barbed needle and made a chain stitch. He produced 80 machines and was awarded a government contract to produce uniforms for the French Army. Seems the other tailors didn’t like invention and figured he’d put them out of work, so they came with torches and burned everything to the ground. He narrowly escaped and created a new machine that was even better. The tailors struck again and Barthélemy Thimonnier managed to save one machine. He went to England and tried there but died a pauper.

Inventing a sewing machine wasn’t such a great idea.

It was in the USA where well-known inventor, Walter Hunt, (he invented the safety pin among other things) invented a machine using two needles and created a lock-stitch. He hoped his daughter could use it to make corsets. Then he worried if such a machine might hurt the tailors and seamstresses, so he abandoned his design and never filed for a patent.

In 1846, Elias Howe came up with almost the same design. His design worked so well he staged a man vs machine event with five seamstresses, and his machine beat them and was obviously superior. He couldn’t find a buyer for his invention. He continued to improve his design. He went London and eventually returned to the USA totally broke only to discover that others had taken his patent and were making machines based on his design. He sued them and won. 


Along came Isaac Singer, a machinist, and he’d invented a machine that was totally different from Howe’s except for one thing, that needle with the eye near the point. The little needle cost Singer a small fortune. But Singer approached other sewing machine manufacturers who had lost to Howe and devised a scheme for them to share patents. In the beginning, they had to pay Howe $25 for each machine they sold. Eventually they got that amount down to $5 per machine. (To give you an idea as to how expensive $25 was, it was a year’s salary for most men!)

It was 1858 when Singer introduced the first personal sewing machine called the Grasshopper. It was the end of the Civil War when Singer made the Family Sewing Machine. By 1889 Singer created the first practical electric machine. And it was 1933 when the Featherweight came into being.

Howe died a very wealthy man in 1867. But it was Singer who is best known for the sewing machine. Why? He was a promoter and very good at it. He also was the first person to ever spend a million dollars on advertising.