Saturday, May 30, 2020

Kansas Forts Along the Santa Fe Trail- FORT ZARAH

By Zina Abbott

To protect commerce on the Santa Fe Trail, the U.S. government established a line of forts from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Dodge. Among those was Fort Zarah, which built along Walnut Creek in 1864. The site was a logical choice for several reasons. It was built near the old Rath Ranch Trading Post which, prior to the time of the fort, had served as both a stagecoach station for the Kansas Stagecoach Company and post office. In addition, Rath and his predecessor, named Peacock, had built a considerable trade with the plains tribes. Unfortunately, that trade was fraught with uncertainty due to the government agents not fulfilling treating obligations or changing terms. There were also disputes over Rath’s trading license and whether or not he traded in alcohol, firearms, and ammunition to the tribes. During the early 1860s, tensions between the whites and tribal members continued to escalate.

Ft. Riley to Ft. Larned Road-established before either Forts Harker, Hays,  or Zarah
On June 14, 1864, Maj. T. I. McKenny, inspector-general and his party were en route to Fort Larned escorting a mail stage. After a 40-mile journey from Smoky Hill crossing, the site of early Fort Ellsworth where construction on a blockout was underway, they reached Walnut creek. According to his report, he "camped at a point where the road intersects the old Santa Fe road, and where the Leavenworth and Kansas City mails are due at the same time"; "found the ranch [Rath's] entirely deserted." (He saw the owner next day at Fort Larned.)

In his June 15 report, written at Fort Larned, Major McKenny included his intent to "build a block-house" at Walnut creek on his return trip. Camp Dunlap was established two miles east of present-day Great Bend in July 1864. The major left Captain [Oscar F.] Dunlap with 45 men, Fifteenth Kansas there. Initially, it was comprised of dugouts and tents, but the men were left to build a stone fort.

Work soon began on a more permanent facility about 100 yards distant with General Samuel R. Curtis in command. The post was renamed Fort Zarah for General Curtis’ son, Major H. Zarah Curtis, who was killed at the Baxter Springs Massacre while serving on the staff of General Blunt.
Fort Zarah
In 1866, the post was replaced by a more substantial fort about one-half mile up Walnut Creek. Built of sandstone moved from the bluffs about three miles away, the fort was 116 feet long and about 50 feet wide and cost about $100,000 to build.

The fort was abandoned in April 1866 then reopened two months later. In November 1866 as the U.S. continued to secure lands from the Indians, Fort Zarah hosted a council with Plains tribes. That year had seen fewer battles, but more conflicts would occur the year after the council. Part of the reason for the discontent among the tribal people can be summed up by this 1866 statement from Woqini, or Roman Nose, of the Cheyenne warrior society:

We made peace on the North Fork of the Platte. We have kept it. Every time we meet the whites in council, they have new men to talk to us. They have new roads to open. We do not like it.

Up to July, 1868, Fort Zarah was under Fort Larned's control; On September 30, 1868, by order of President Andrew Johnson, the Fort Zarah military reservation was established, and it was surveyed the same year. It contained about 3,700 acres and extended from the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad north to the hills. From July 1868, until it abandoned in December, 1869, it was an independent post.

Two sketches of Fort Zarah (1864-1869) were drawn in 1867 by Ado Hunnius, a U. S. soldier, who was at Fort Zarah in 1867. The following statements, from an April, 1867, military report, help to identify the structures. "There are two public buildings of stone at Zarah." "A trader named Rath claims a stone building near the Round Tower as private property and also a toll bridge over Walnut Creek." "The mail Station occupies a building on the south side opposite the round tower."

Part of the trading post evidently was constructed of stone, but Ado Hunnius who was at Fort Zarah in 1867 described the trader's place as "Adobe Mud Roof House partly underground." 

Peacock Ranch, the Rath Ranch, or the Douglas trading post, depending on who operated it. The ranch was destroyed by Indians in May 1868.

With trail traffic shifting to rail traffic, the fort was no longer needed and closed in December 1869.

The fort was dismantled in December 1869, and an act of Congress, approved February 24, 1871 provided for the survey and sale of the reservation. in July 1874 the assets were offered at public sale at Salina, but less than 50 acres were sold at that time. The rest sat abandoned. 

Bernard Bryan Smyth, in his Heart of the New Kansas,” published in 1880, said: “After the abandonment of the fort it became a den of thieves and general rendezvous for bats and marauders. These occupied it day and night by turns — he former hiding by day, the latter by night.” The stone used in the construction of the fort was gradually appropriated by the settlers in the vicinity. 

A small town called Zarah grew up around Fort Zarah. At its peak, Zarah had a hotel, two saloons, a blacksmith shop, a livery stable, a general store, a post office, and several homes. Several thousand Texas cattle were wintered there. The town of Zarah is now a wheat field 3 miles east of Great Bend. The last citizen left Zarah in 1875 about 6 years after the fort was abandoned. Fort Zarah lay in ruins by 1880. Nothing remains of the site today, but it is designated with a historical marker located about 1.5 miles east of Great Bend on U.S. Highway 56.
Fort Zarah marker at nearby Fort Zarah Park - ctsy Chris Light

I have two books so far in which Fort Ellsworth serves as part of the setting. In Hannah’s Handkerchief, book 24 in the Lockets & Lace series set in 1865, Jake Burdock often finds his quartermaster duties take him to Fort Ellsworth. Hannah’s Handkerchief is now available. To find the book description and purchase link, PLEASE CLICK HERE.
In Mail Order Roslyn, book 9 in the Widows, Brides & Secret Babies series set in 1866, my heroine finds herself and her baby in the Ellsworth Stage Station near the town and Fort Ellsworth. At that time, hostile tribes, particularly the Cheyenne, frequently attacked stagecoaches and stations in an attempt to capture livestock and either kill or drive away the white Americans invading their favored hunting grounds. This book is now available. To find the book description and purchase link, PLEASE CLICK HERE.


Thursday, May 28, 2020


By Julia Ridgmont

As one of the original Pinkerton Matchmaker authors, I vividly recall a conversation we had regarding telephones and how we laughingly lamented the fact that in our stories, they hadn’t been invented yet. How much more convenient it would have been for our characters to have access to one! But since these stories mostly were taking place in the 1871, and on into 1872, oh well. We—and our characters—would get by.

That conversation took place two years ago when this series was new and gaining popularity. Now, as it begins winding down, we’ve have many cases solved and many couples matched, all at the behest of head agent, Archibald Gordon and his assistant and now wife, Marianne. But the fun isn’t finished yet. There are still a few more Pinkerton Matchmaker stories scheduled to release this summer, and all of them are sure to be exciting—much like the way it was when all of these wonderful gadgets like the telephone were being invented. Imagine if you had lived during that time. Would you have felt the excitement, too, or do you think you might have been wondering if those newfangled things would actually work? For me, probably a little bit of both.

But like Laura Ingalls Wilder, who saw both the horse and buggy days as well as the advent of motor vehicles, I think I would have been awestruck by the ingenuity of the times. This is a facet of life that I enjoy incorporating into my stories, and my upcoming Pinkerton Matchmaker story, An Agent for Sarah, is no exception. This story takes place six years later than the original stories. In 1879, I discovered, Denver, Colorado received telephone lines for the first time. Two recent Harvard graduates, Frederick O. Vaille and Henry R. Walcott, partnered with saloonkeeper Sam Morgan and applied for a franchise of the American Bell Telephone Company (think Alexander Graham Bell) from Boston. They received it, and on February 24, 1879, the Denver Telephone Dispatch Company was born. These Bell-inspired telephones were all the rage, and it seemed that progress was being made to keep family and friends who were long distances apart in touch.

But then a second telephone company sprang up, this one called the Colorado Edison Telephone Company, inspired by—you guessed it—Thomas Edison. His improvements on the transmitters made it possible for the Western Union-owned company to install phones in surrounding areas. Vaille and Walcott didn’t like this, of course, so they sued for infringement on the patent and won. Soon the two companies merged and, over a series of turnovers and share sales, became the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company. A few of the buildings that were used in the intermountain region still exist today and are on the national historic register.

Though not a huge part of the plot in An Agent for Sarah, this rivalry does play a significant role. My couple, Mark Wilson and Sarah Packard, are not your typical Pinkerton couple, either. For one, Sarah isn’t even a Pinkerton agent yet and doesn’t become one until the end of the story. Mark, her friend from childhood, is dismayed when she becomes engaged to another man. Since Mark and Sarah are both from Virginia (they were minor characters in An Agent for Jessica), I had to figure out a way to get them both to Denver. I accomplished this by making Sarah engaged to a man from Denver who had gone back East to buy horses from their renowned horse-breeding business. Mark, on the other hand, is so distraught over this development that at his mentor’s urging, who used to be a Pinkerton agent under Archie, Mark moves to Denver to seek employment there. Little does he know, nor is he prepared, when he and another agent are assigned to catch the person who’s trying to sabotage Sarah’s wedding.

How does the telephone rivalry play into this? Well, the groom’s father is a magnate, and he has his hand in a lot of pies. One of them is the newfangled telephone. When an unknown enemy starts using guerilla-style tactics to stop the wedding, he thinks it’s his rival. But that is only one of the strange things that is happening to his family. Will Mark and Sarah be able to uncover the real culprit in time?

An Agent for Sarah releases on June 5, 2020. It’s available as a preorder if you’d like to grab your copy now. That way it will download immediately on release day. Talk about modern conveniences! I hope you will enjoy Mark and Sarah’s story. They really have waited a long time to be together. When he rescued her in An Agent for Jessica, readers clamored for their love story. I’m happy that it’s finally here!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020


A book interesting to western readers and extremely helpful for any western historical writer is that of Dr. Keith Souter, an English physician who writes westerns as Clay Moore (in homage to Clayton Moore, who played the Lone Ranger). Keith’s book, THE DOCTOR’S BAG: MEDICINE AND SURGERY OF YESTERYEAR, is primarily aimed at writers and readers who are interested in the American Southwest.

Disclaimer: The book is not intended as a medical textbook for modern treatment of illness and injury. Instead, THE DOCTOR’S BAG explains past treatments for various common problems. As writers and readers of western historical novels, this is information we can find helpful. He covers everything from snakebite to hanging.

Who was the best doctor in the Old West? How did the doc remove an arrow? Could silk really stop a bullet? What was the “Germ theory”? The answers to all these questions and more can be found in THE DOCTOR’S BAG.

The book begins with a reminiscence of Gunsmoke. My family seldom missed seeing the show on television. However, I didn’t realize it had first been a radio show. Doc Adams is used as an example of the stereotypical Old West doctor. By the way, I didn’t realize Doc Adams had a dark past, but he had killed a man in a duel, fled west, and changed his name.

I admit I’ve used the book to research particular treatments rather than reading it cover to cover but it is interesting enough to sit down and read for pleasure. The table of contents clearly lists the ailments with possible treatments. This is helpful when a writer needs quick access to a remedy. We turn to Google, but the information there is not always trustworthy and often offers contradictory information. THE DOCTOR’S BAG is a factual reference, often with illustrations, with easy to understand explanations.

THE DOCTOR’S BAG is available for free in KU or in print from Amazon:

Dr. Keith Souter

Dr. Souter was born in St. Andrews, Scotland, and attended the University of Dundee. He lives in West Yorkshire in England with his wife Rachel within arrow-shot of the ruins of a medieval castle. He is a prolific author in four genres—westerns, crime, historical, and YA. He also pens a weekly health column. He writes crime as Keith Moray and non-fiction as himself.

Dr. Souter is a member of Western Fictioneers, an online group to which many western and western romance authors belong. We exchange information and generally chat about subjects of interest to those who write in these genres. This is an io group open to all writers willing to post only topics of interest to writers—no politics, etc. He is also a member of Western Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers Association, and the Medical Journalists Association. To learn more about him, check out his website at His blog is at   

My next release, now up for pre-order, is AN AGENT FOR JUDITH, Pinkerton Matchmaker’s Series, book #79. 

Judith McAdams vows to rescue her brother, even if she has to become a Pinkerton agent and enter a marriage of convenience with Peyton Knight. Their mission takes them to Northern New Mexico and pits them against a crooked lawman and a greedy rancher who doesn’t mind killing those who oppose him. 

Pre-order now for June 19 release at     

Sunday, May 24, 2020

FASTEST GUN IN TEXAS by Marisa Masterson

Maybe you've tried channels like Sling or Philo? They offer seven days free just to surf their programing. That's what I was doing when I ran into the fastest shootist Texas ever experienced.

I'm a documentary junky. I love learning. Perhaps that's why I became a teacher. For whatever reason, I ran across this documentary on a man who sent shivers through Texans.

John Wesley Hardin. Mothers used his name as a threat to make their children behave "or Wes would get them." Even Bill Hickok found himself facing the business end of this man's guns. So, exactly who was he?

John Wesley Hardin
Named for the evangelist John Wesley, Hardin was the son of a preacher and grew up in Civil War era Texas. With his father's encouragement, he practiced with the gun until he was a marksman at the age of twelve.

One of the tricks this shootist did to prove himself was to hit playing cards at fifteen paces, never missing. By the end of childhood, the man was deadly and bore a nasty grudge against Yankees and any people of color be they Mexican or African-American.

Maybe that's why he killed his first man when he was only fifteen. The former slave had bested him in a wrestling match. When he encountered the man alone in the woods, he shot him and claimed the man attacked him with a stick. The victim lived long enough to declare that a lie. Hardin ran from his home, fearing arrest.

Cowboys in Kansas
From there, he leaves a trail of dead men. He easily hid amongst a group of cattle drovers taking a heard to Kansas. That's how he eventually met Wild Bill Hickok in Abilene, Kansas. Guns weren't allowed while walking the streets of that town. Typically defiant, Hardin kept his on.

"Wild" Bill Hickok
Hickok confronted the armed cowboy, being the marshal, and demanded he remove the guns, Hardin did so and handed them toward Hickok with the handles first. Before that man could grab them, the shootist flipped them so he held them cocked and pointed close to the famous marshal's face.

This wasn't the first man Hickok talked down to avoid violence. The two went into a saloon and shared a drink bought by the lawman. When they met again another year, Hickok didn't ask the shootist to remove his guns.

That was just the type of man Hardin seemed to be. Showy, cocky, and willing to kill. After he returned to Texas and killed a lawman, Texans had had enough.Many put pressure on the governor to send a new group called the Texas Rangers after the man. With a $5,000 bounty on his head, the governor was confident the man would be caught.

I would think so, considering the amount. It was one more thing Hardin boasted about to people--the size of his bounty! In 1875, that $5,000 was equivalent in purchasing power to about $116,540 in 2020.

Someone was willing to risk Hardin's guns to claim it, and the rangers caught the man in a railroad car. Not a very glamorous life!

Here's where it gets interesting for me. While Hardin sat in Hunstville Prison, he wrote his autobiography. This is why historians view him as a man with no conscience. He detailed murders, excused them, and vowed he felt no remorse. He was the faster gun and that was all that mattered.

After serving seventeen years, the murderer went free, a supposedly changed man. While in prison, he'd earned a law degree and tried to set up a law practice. Surprise, surprise, but people were too afraid of him to use his services.

He eventually ended up in El Paso where he was shot from behind and killed. It didn't matter how fast he was since he hadn't guarded his back.

One last note--the word shootist. I used that rather than gunslinger to be authentic. Amazingly, the word gunslinger was invented in the 1920's by author Zane Grey. Men in the old west never used it, calling men like Hardin shootists. Very accurate for Hardin, I think!

If you enjoy action, romance, and adventure, please take a look at Ruby's Risk. With our 380,000 pages read on Kindle Unlimited, readers are falling in love with this book.

A man might homestead, but it takes a woman to turn that place into a home! This matchmaker will settle the West one couple at a time.

Under suspicion after his wife’s murder, Elias Kline knows he has to leave Mills Bluff. Learning a lynch mob is planning to kill him, he slips away from town. Taking only his smithy tools and his young son, he chooses a new name—Ezra King. Heading west seems a fine way to start over, but he’ll need a wife to raise his son and cook his meals. One sent by an agency shouldn’t expect love, he decides.

A matchmaker convinces lonely Ruby Hastings to take a risk on Ezra King. After all, the man is helping fulfill the nation's destiny of settling the west. Reading the man’s letter, Ruby aches for the widower's little boy and seizes on this chance to be a mama to him. After all, with a brother on the run from the law and a newly married sister, her siblings no longer need Ruby and this motherless boy does.

It should be a convenient arrangement. What happens when the mail-order wife begins to push past the walls guarding Elias’ heart, challenging him spiritually and emotionally? When danger follows him from Mills Bluff, will Elias be able to keep his family together?