Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The 1865 Ambulance Attack that Inspired My Plot by Zina Abbott

 My third book in the trilogy I wrote for Widows, Brides and Secret Babies, Mail Order Penelope, involves the use of a 1860s-era ambulance. I discovered in my research that, on the prairie, ambulances were not used only for transporting the sick. Often, senior officers, or the families of officers, rode in Army ambulances rather than paying to ride the stagecoaches.

I drew inspiration for using an Army ambulance and the attack against it from a real incident in Kansas frontier history. This incident took place on the Smoky Hill Trail—the same road on which my hero and heroine travel. Dr.

Civil War-era ambulance - front

In my story set in October 1867, Penelope with her fourteen-month-old son is traveling to Pond Creek, the community of contractors working on nearby Fort Wallace. It had its origins in the stagecoach station built there in 1865. Marcus, a post surgeon temporarily assigned to Fort Hays to deal with the cholera epidemic that hit that fort especially strong in July and early August, is ready to return to his usual post, Fort Larned. Before he goes, he is requested to take the ambulance and travel with the same escort patrol that will protect the stagecoach leaving adjacent Hays City. In my book, the Fort Hays remarks that Marcus better not let the Cheyenne destroy his ambulance the same way they did Dr. Whipple’s.

Theodore R. Davis

The incident of Dr. Whipple’s ambulance being attacked took place November of 1865. The story was told by Theodore H. Davis, who was an artist for Harper's New Monthly Magazine, when he came west to make sketches of life on the prairies. Although he made this trip in late 1865, his article did not appear in the magazine until July, 1867.

(Please note: I reproduced this account verbatim using the language of the day which might be offensive to some Native Americans today. I intend no offense.) 

We left Monument early on the morning of the 25th, to continue our journey. An ambulance, containing a surgeon and for men, accompanied us as well as the escort of five cavalrymen. The next station was twenty-two miles distant.

By eleven o’clock the driver pointed out the station. “Thar’s Smoky Hill Springs – purty place, ain't it?” Within half a mile the ambulance left us, taking a shortcut to the road on the other side of the station, which was located for convenience to water at some distance from the direct route. The cavalry galloped on to the station, which they reached, while we were some distance from it.

Stagecoach Under Attack - 1866 by Theodore R. Davis

When within two hundred yards of the adobe we glanced back to see the country over which we had passed, and discovered, within sixty yards of the coach, a band of nearly one hundred mounted Indians, charging directly toward us. This site, frightful as it was, seemed grand. “Here they come!” and the crack of a rifle was responded to by a yell, followed by the singing whiz of arrows and the whistle of revolver bullets. The first shot dropped an Indian. Next a pony stopped, trembled, and fell. The driver crouched as the arrows passed over him, and drove his mules steadily toward the station. The deadly fire poured from the coach windows kept the majority of the Indians behind the coach. Some, however, braver than the rest, rushed past on their ponies, sending a perfect stream of arrows into the coat as they sped along. We were by this time in front of the station. The cavalrymen opened with their revolvers, and the Indians changed their tactics from close fighting to a circle. One, more daring than the rest, was intent on securing the scalp of a stock-herder whom he had wounded. He lost his own in doing so....

Civil War-era ambulances in the field

From the adobe we discovered a site that was not to be looked at quietly. The four mules attached to the doctor's ambulance were flying across the plains at a dead run. Indians enveloped the ambulance like a swarm of angry hornets. The men in the ambulance were fighting bravely, but the Indians outnumbered them ten to one. If rescue was to be attempted there was not an instant to lose. The five cavalrymen were sent off at a gallop. Seeing them, the men in the ambulance jumped out and ran through the Indians toward them, rightly conjecturing that the Indians would secure the ambulance before turning to attack them.

Civil War-era ambulance - rear

 It was a plucky thing to do, but the doctor determined that it was their only chance. The Indians caught the mules, then turned to look for scalps, which they suppose were to be had for the taking. The doctor and his men were giving them a lively fight when we came up. The value of a well-sited and balanced rifle was soon evident. With every crack a pony or an Indian came to the earth. This fire was evidently unendurable, and the circle quickly increased in diameter, when, with the rescued men mounted behind, we slowly moved toward the station, before reaching which two more dashes were repulsed.

The strain on the nervous system of the rescued men must have been intense. As we reached the station one of them broke down completely and sobbed like a child. The doctor was one of the gamest of little men. “Ah,’ quoth he, as he gazed through the glass at the crowd of Indians about the ambulance, “I put the contents of the tartar emetic can into the flour before I left the ambulance, and if that does not disorder their stomachs I won't say anything – I wish that it had been strychnine!”

A redskin had mounted each of the mules, and as many Indians as the vehicle could contain had located themselves in the ambulance for a ride. The cover had been torn off, as it probably impeded their view. Becoming tired of this, they detach the mules, unloaded the ambulance, and drew it to a point which afforded as the best view of their performance; when greatly to the indignation of the doctor, they crowned their disrespect for him and his carriage by setting fire to what he declared to be the best ambulance on the plains.

Starting in 1865 and continuing through 1868, between the stagecoach line, the coming railroad, and the increase of white settlers, the Cheyenne along with their Arapaho and Sioux allies, made frequent attacks in an effort to drive what they considered invaders from their prime bison-hunting grounds. This incident was just one of many examples of the confrontations between the white Americans and the Native Americans. It was a volatile time on the Kansas frontier. I certainly have enjoyed learning more about it and incorporating this history in my writing.


In Mail Order Penelope, Penelope plans to travel to Pond Creek Station near Fort Wallace. Her stagecoach is joined by an Army ambulance carrying Dr. Marcus Garrett who is heading west to treat soldiers injured in a Cheyenne attack. Both vehicles come under attack before they reach Fort Monument, the jumping-off station before the attack described above. An incident at another station, where she runs into some cavalry soldiers stationed at Fort Wallace, changes her mind. You may find the book description and purchase link by CLICKING HERE.


In my most recently published book, Hannah’s Highest Regard, the story also takes place in Kansas. As a matter of interest to me, during part of this trip that Mr. Davis has published in the Harper’s Monthly, he tells of an incident where Charley Bent, son of William Bent and his Cheyenne wife, who rode with the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers and was part of the attack on the stagecoach lines. Charley asked the whites at the station if the treaty had been signed. He probably referred to the Treaty of the Little Arkansas signed a few weeks before this trip. My prologue in Hannah’s Highest Regard touches on that treaty. You may find the book description and purchase link for that book by CLICKING HERE.


The first book about Hannah Atwell, the one that introduces us to Jake Burdock, is titled Hannah's Handkerchief. You may find the book description and purchase link by CLICKING HERE






Lee, Wayne C. and Howard C. Raynesford, Trails of the Smoky Hill Trail; taken from Theodore H. Davis, "A stage Ride to Colorado," Harper's New Monthly Magazine 35:206 ( July 1867) , pp. 137 - 150.


Monday, September 28, 2020

How Much Scary do You Like in a Story?

Romance novels typically have a heat level rating that may be named differently depending on which author, reader, or blogger you're talking to, but essentially mean the same thing. There's sweet (sweet kisses only, no sex on the page) and steamy (open door sex scenes). And a few others that are in-between and some that go beyond that.(These are the kind I stay away from.)

If we have such a rating for heat levels on books, why haven't we any rating on scary stuff? The only website I know that uses such ratings is My Book Cave, where authors who add their books to their site are required to list by rating how much violence and/or gore is portrayed. (Of course, there may be more, but I'm not aware of them.) As a reader, I appreciate knowing the level of "scary" that I should expect when I settle in to read a novel. For instance, I know that I can't read a Harry Potter or even a Love Inspired Suspense book at night or else I'll dream about them. But I can read a romantic story with a lower level of suspense at night and be just fine.

The other part of this equation is that fictional stories need to have some kind of outer conflict, along with the main character's inner struggle, in order to move the action along. And for romantic stories, the outer conflict needs to involve more than just a misunderstanding between the couple that could be fixed in chapter five if they just talked things out. So, in an effort to present an interesting love story while keeping the content sweet or clean, most romance authors incorporate suspenseful elements. Again, the level of suspense may vary from author to author, or even from book to book.


About a year ago, I wrote An Agent for Meg, as part of the Pinkerton Matchmaker series, which I based off of the real-life experience of female investigative reporter Nellie Bly. Reading about the time she spent in an insane asylum on Blackwell's Island just about broke my heart. What a brave woman. Her job was to pretend to be mentally ill so she could be thrown into the asylum. There, she was able to expose the horrendous conditions under which the residents were living. Poorly prepared, moldy food, having to put on wet clothing right after taking a cold bath, and not being allowed to speak to each other--well, you can probably see where these horrible rules led. Of course the residents would be deemed insane after being subjected to such atrocities! I have no doubt that I would, too.

As a fiction writer, it's difficult to describe such demoralizing conditions without bogging down the reader emotionally, so I chose to keep that aspect on the lighter side while adding a sinister matron who wanted another woman's husband for herself, so she connived with him and the director at the asylum to declare this woman insane and lock her inside. She eventually planned this woman's demise, and might have gotten away with it had not Pinkerton agents Carl and Meg Porter found the woman just in time. To make this book even more suspenseful, I also decided to add a subtle yet effective snippet from Edgar Allan Poe's poem, "The Raven." He, of course, is known as the king of horror in his day.

I, myself, have never been in an asylum before, but I have a vivid memory from my childhood of going on a school field trip to the county jail. (Why we went there, I have no clue. Why would any teacher choose that particular place as a positive learning experience?) Anyway, I remember walking past a cell and having the prisoner--a female--stick her hand out, and in my 8-year-old mind I imagined that she was calling out for someone to get her out of there. It was a scary experience.

As one reader said in a review, "[An Agent for Meg] has some anxious moments, and some very anxious moments". (Love that!) Another reviewer said, "That tree branch scraping on the window still has me on edge." So suffice it to say that this particular Pinkerton Matchmaker story is a little more intense than some of the others, including most of mine. But there are lighter moments, too, one of which gives a nod to another Meg in literature--from Little Women. And since Meg appeared in an earlier story (An Agent for Hallie) as a spoiled young lady, I had fun humbling her a bit. She and Carl had a few earlier run-ins that made their interactions in this story enjoyable to write. Yet he was very tender to her as he realized all the struggles she had gone through with her family and was going through in the difficult circumstances in which they'd been placed. If you haven't read this story yet, I hope you will give it a try, especially since Halloween is coming up and it's time to put your spook on!

Here is where you can find An Agent for Meg:

Or, click on the cover to go to the product page.

Saturday, September 26, 2020


By Caroline Clemmons    

In the book I just released earlier this month, CHARLOTTE’S CHALLENGE, the hero is a devoted reader of (fictional) Missouri Kid dime novels. These cheap publications were popular and accessible to most people. When did they begin?

Much of the content of dime novels came from story papers, which were weekly, eight-page newspaper-like publications, varying in size from tabloid to full-size newspaper format and usually costing five or six cents. They started in the mid-1850s and were immensely popular, some titles being issued for over fifty years on a weekly schedule. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, later renamed Leslie's Weekly, was an American illustrated literary and news magazine founded in 1855 and published until 1922. It was one of several magazines started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie.

Dime novels and story papers
are perhaps best described as the television of their day, containing a variety of serial stories and articles. Something was aimed at each member of the family, and often illustrated profusely with woodcuts. Popular story papers included The Saturday JournalYoung Men of AmericaGolden WeeklyGolden HoursGood News, and Happy Days.

In 1860, the publishers Erastus and Irwin Beadle (What names!) released a new series of cheap paperbacks, Beadle's Dime NovelsDime novel became a general term for similar paperbacks produced by various publishers in the early twentieth century. 

The first book in the Beadle series was Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter, by Ann S. Stephens dated June 9, 1860. The novel was essentially a reprint of Stephens's earlier serial, which had appeared in the Ladies' Companion magazine in February, March and April 1839. It sold more than 65,000 copies in the first few months after its publication as a dime novel. I do hope she was well paid for her work but I suspect not. The first 28 were published without a cover illustration, in a salmon-colored paper wrapper. A woodblock print was added in issue 29, and the first 28 were reprinted with illustrated covers. The books were priced, of course, at ten cents.

This series ran for 321 issues and established almost all the conventions of the genre, from the lurid and outlandish story to the melodramatic double titling used throughout the series, which ended in the 1920s. Most of the stories were frontier tales reprinted from the numerous serials in the story papers and other sources, but many were original stories.

As the popularity of dime novels increased, original stories came to be the norm. The books were reprinted many times, sometimes with different covers, and the stories were often further reprinted in different series and by different publishers.

The literacy rate increased around the time of the American Civil War, and Beadle's Dime Novels were immediately popular among young, working-class readers. By the end of the war, numerous competitors, such as George Munro and Robert DeWitt, were crowding the field, distinguishing their product only by title and the color of the paper wrappers. Beadle & Adams had their own alternate "brands", such as the Frank Starr line. 

As a whole, the quality of the fiction was derided by highbrow critics, and the term dime novel came to refer to any form of cheap, sensational fiction, rather than the specific format. The English equivalents were generally called penny dreadfuls or shilling shockers.

The pocket-sized sea, Western, railway, circus, gold-digger, and other adventures were an instant success. In 1874, Beadle & Adams added the novelty of color to the covers when their New Dime Novels series replaced the flagship title. Beadle's New Dime Novels ran for 321 issues, until 1885.

Most of the stories in dime novels stood alone, but in the late 1880s series characters began to appear and quickly grew in popularity. The original Frank Reade stories first appeared in Boys of New York. The Old Sleuth, appearing in The Fireside Companion story paper beginning in 1872, was the first dime-novel detective and began the trend away from the western and frontier stories that dominated the story papers and dime novels up to that time. He was the first character to use the word sleuth to denote a detective, the word's original definition being that of a bloodhound trained to track. Nick Carter first appeared in 1886 in the New York Weekly. Frank Reade, the Old Sleuth and Nick Carter had their own ten-cent weekly titles within a few years.

In 1873, the house of Beadle & Adams introduced a new ten-cent format, with only 32 pages and a black-and-white illustration on the cover, under the title New and Old Friends. It was not a success, but the format was so much cheaper to produce that they tried again in 1877 with The Fireside Library and Frank Starr's New York Library. The first reprinted English love stories, the second contained hardier material, but both titles caught on

Publishers were no less eager to follow a new trend then than now. Frontier stories, evolving into westerns, were still popular, but the new vogue tended to urban crime stories. One of the most successful titles, Frank Tousey’s New York Detective Library eventually came to alternate stories of the James Gang with stories of Old King Brady, detective, and (in a rare occurrence in the dime novel) several stories which featured both, with Old King Brady doggedly on the trail of the vicious gang.

As it is now, the competition was fierce. Publishers were always looking for an edge. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Once again, color came into play when Frank Tousey introduced a weekly with brightly colored covers in 1896. Street & Smith countered by issuing a weekly in a smaller format with muted colors. The price was also dropped to five cents, making the magazines more accessible to children. This would be the last major change before it evolved into pulp magazines. Ironically, for many years it has been the nickel weeklies that most people refer to when using the term dime novel.

The nickel weeklies were popular, and their numbers grew quickly. Frank Tousey and Street & Smith dominated the field. Tousey had his "big six": Work and Win (featuring Fred Fearnot, a serious rival to the soon-to-be-popular Frank Merriwell), Secret ServicePluck and LuckWild West Weekly, Fame and Fortune Weekly, and The Liberty Boys of '76, each of which issued over a thousand copies weekly. Street & Smith had New Nick Carter WeeklyTip Top WeeklyBuffalo Bill StoriesJesse James StoriesBrave & Bold Weekly and many others. The Tousey stories were generally the more lurid and sensational of the two.

Perhaps the most confusing of the various formats lumped together under the term dime novel are the so-called "thick-book" series, most of which were published by Street & Smith, J. S. Ogilvie and Arthur Westbrook. These books were published in series, contained roughly 150 to 200 pages, often with color covers on a higher-grade stock. They reprinted multiple stories from the five- and ten-cent weeklies, often slightly rewritten to tie them together.

All dime-novel publishers were canny about reusing and refashioning material, but Street & Smith excelled at it. They developed the practice of publishing four consecutive, related tales of, for example, Nick Carter, in the weekly magazine, then combining the four stories into one edition of the related thick-book series, in this instance, the New Magnet Library. This reminds me of today’s authors taking several of a series and making them into a box set.

The thick books were still in print as late as the 1930s but carry the copyright date of the original story, often as early as the late nineteenth century, leading some dealers and new collectors today to erroneously assume they have original dime novels when the books are only distantly related.

By the turn of the century, new high-speed printing techniques combined with cheaper pulp paper allowed him to drop the price of Argosy from twenty-five cents to ten cents, and sales of the magazine took off. 

In 1910, Street and Smith converted two of their nickel weeklies, New Tip Top Weekly and Top Notch Magazine, into pulps. In 1915, Nick Carter Stories, itself a replacement for the New Nick Carter Weekly, became Detective Story Magazine. In 1919, New Buffalo Bill Weekly became Western Story Magazine. Harry Wolff, the successor in interest to the Frank Tousey titles, continued to reprint many of them into the mid-1920s. 

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, collecting dime novels became popular, and prices soared. Even at that time, the cheap publications were crumbling into dust and becoming hard to find. I had one of these from my family from the early twentieth century but it eventually did just what you read above—it crumbled to dust.




Universal buy link is Available in e-book, print, and enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.

A widow determined to save the family ranch…

A man who inherited cursed pirate gold…

They must combine efforts to defeat an evil man.


Bret Craig is a descendant of one of the crew of The Golden Fleece. Over a century ago the merchant ship had prevailed against pirates carrying a treasure of cursed Inca gold. The legacy promises retribution against anyone who misuses the treasure. Bret has heard the story all his life but he believes the tale is a myth and that he’s in no danger if he spends the money selfishly. Ignoring his sister’s warning, he sets out for a grand adventure heading west.

Widowed former mail-order bride Charlotte Dunn is in danger of losing the family ranch. She lost her husband to a rustler’s bullet when half the cattle were stolen and both ranch hands were killed. When she and her stepsons rescue a man who fell from his horse, they learn the man has amnesia. From his saddlebags, they determine his name is Bret Craig. Charlotte nurses Bret, manages the ranch, and cares for her three stepchildren she loves. No sooner does Bret regain his memory than they discover the remainder of the ranch’s herd has been rustled.

Bret re-evaluates his priorities in order to embrace the love blossoming between Charlotte and him. Can they save the ranch and recover the stolen cattle?

 Great reviews so  far!

Thursday, September 24, 2020

A RURAL BALLROOM by Marisa Masterson

 When I think of regency novels, a ballroom comes to mind. Wealthy women creating a rainbow as they twirl past on the parquet dance floor. Men in fine black coats and crisp white shirts. In the background an orchestra plays a waltz, perhaps by Strauss.

A beautiful scene. No wonder the poorer classes wanted to imitate the experience. Because of that, the tradition of barn dances was born in Scotland in the nineteenth century. With the high number of immigrants coming to the United States during the last half of that century, this imitation of the celebrations amongst the wealthy classes came along with Scottish newcomers.

For some today, mention of a barn dance brings to mind a hillbilly with a corn cob pipe blowing on a moonshine jug and an equally hick man playing a harmonica. I only have to watch something like Looney Tunes to see this.

Actually, that image is far from the truth. Since barn dances were meant to bring the ballroom to the rural setting as well as to be celebrations, rural folk would change into their best clothes. A caller would dominate the night to guide dancers through the steps of songs. The most talented musicians available played, filling the night with popular tunes as well as commonly recognized folk songs.

Growing up on a farm, I've wondered where the people actually found room in a barn to dance. Picture a typical barn or stable. Stalls dominate the space. Perhaps a hay mow could be used, but if the people held the dance in honor of the harvest, that would be filled. 

From what I can tell, any open space in a barn was used. So, as a farm girl, I image couples dancing down the aisle with the stalls on each side. I can see why they would take advantage of a brand new barn with it's empty space to have a dance. 

Many barn dances were done in sets of people. That makes sense if they are perhaps pushed to find space to dance in an empty stall.

Whether to celebrate a harvest, a holiday, a wedding, or a barn raising, the idea of a barn dance continues in our cultural memory. When I think of the pioneers and the westward expansion, I always imagine communities celebrating with this type of party. So, grab your partner, join my set, and dance in a square with me while I celebrate September and the beginning of harvest.

Want more barn dance? Here's one of my books with a key scene happening at a barn dance.

With a new name, Grace Winkelman fled west to teach in a small town. How could she anticipate her past following her that far?

Errol Marsden wandered for years, taking his cobbler's wagon from town to town fixing shoes. His heart broke with the sudden death of his young wife almost four years before. He's shocked to glimpse her on a street in Fort Bridger and follows her to Belle.

Will he get the answers he needs to understand why she faked her death? When the couple is drawn into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Grace's aunt, will they work together or let old lies stand in their way?

This is a sweet, American western historical romance and mystery. 

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.

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