Thursday, September 30, 2021

Robinson's Ferry and Melones by Zina Abbott

In 1848, the first year of the California gold rush, John W. Robinson, a gold miner and entrepreneur, and Stephen Mead established passenger ferry across the Stanislaus River. Prior to Anglo settlement, the area around Robinson's Ferry was inhabited by Central Mi-Wuk. It is about five miles south of Angels Camp in Calaveras county.


Robinson's Ferry

Within a year the two discovered their little ferry was not meeting the demand for the growing number of miners. The two quickly expanded their service by building a larger ferry, which could transport not only miners, but their horses, jennys, and equipment. Historical accounts show that at the height of the Gold Rush, the two partners collected $10,000 in a six week period shuttling miners and supplies across the river. Charges were 50 cents for each passenger, horse, jenny, or other animal.

Robinson and Mead also owned the only trading post along that short stretch of river. The following journal entry by miner Harvey Wood was recorded August 15, 1849: “Robinson and Mead then had a store near the mouth of Indian Gulch, kept in a tent.”


Robinson's Ferry Marker

Harvey Wood was a native New Yorker who made the trek to the Gold Country by way of the sailing vessel the William B. Travis, which took him to Galveston, Texas. From there he made his way across land to the Gold Country.

In September of 1849 Wood took a trip to Stockton. Upon his return, he found that his mining partners had done rather well in his absence. The entry in his journal read, “the day before I returned, Huylar and Fouse (Wood’s partners) had made some two ounces each and concluded to have a grand supper for themselves. They invested $8.00 for a small can of preserves; $4.00 for one can of sardines and a few other extras making the cost of their supper $16.00. How it tasted I cannot say as no part of it was visible on my arrival.”

 Location today of Robinson's Ferry courtesy of Google Maps

In 1853, Stephen Mead sold his interest in the Robinson Ferry to George Graham for $10,000. By 1856, Robinson’s share, which had transferred hands multiple times, was eventually acquired by Harvey Wood, making him the sole proprietor of the ferry. (The source did not detail how Wood acquired George Graham's interest in the ferry.)

The Wood family continued to operate the ferry until 1911 when it was purchased by Calaveras and Tuolumne counties with the intention of building a bridge.

Melones before being buried under New Melones Lake

The town next to the ferry initially took its name from the ferry with the first post office in 1879 being Robinson’s Ferry. In 1895, the name was changed to Robinson's. In 1902, the post office changed the name to Melones. The post office was closed in 1932, re-established in 1933 and closed for good in 1942.

In January 1923 Paramount Pictures chose Melones to construct a complete 1849 mining camp set there for the motion picture The Covered Wagon. The studio sent an authentic Sierra Railroad train built in 1897 to the location via the Angels Branch line to Melones.

Melones is no more, at least, not above water. The former town and ferry site are now submerged beneath New Melones Lake, which took place when the dam by the same name finished construction and began to fill in April 1, 1978. The original Melones Dam was built in 1926. but it was also submerged beneath the larger dam which began to be constructed in 1966.

Archie Stevenot Bridge over New Melones Lake created from damming the Stanislaus River

The bridge across this lake in the approximate location of the old Robinson Ferry is the Archie Stevenot Bridge, named for Calaveras County pioneer best known as the founder of the Mother Lode Association in 1919, California’s first highway association. This organization promoted the development of Highway 49. To view early photographs of this bridge from before the reservoir was filled to create New Melones Lake, please CLICK HERE.


In my most recently published book, Madeline, Madeline, her parents, and James, the hero, cross the Stanislaus River more than once to reach Angel's Creek south of Angel's Camp in Calaveras County from the Tuolumne County side of the river not far from Columbia and Sonora, two towns mentioned in the book.

For the book description and purchase link for Madeline, please CLICK HERE. 







Tuesday, September 28, 2021

MORE EXPENSIVE THAN LOBSTER: the Humble Chicken by Marisa Masterson

I've read it many times. Too many times in sweet historical romances, actually. The farmer or rancher easily agrees to kill one of his chickens so he can have chicken and dumplings or fried chicken. Would that farmer on the American frontier really do that?

Consider what that chicken gave to his family. The hen could be released into the garden in the spring to eat bugs and worms. It laid eggs that were badly needed as a source of protein as well as extra cash money when sold in a nearby town. 

He would keep that hen for at least three years, the typical number of good laying years for the bird. After that, he might slaughter and give the bird to his wife to stew slowly (to soften the tough meat of an older bird) for his meal of chicken and dumplings.
When did these pioneer farmers eat the more tender members of the flock? The birds that would make good fryers? Typically, in the summer just in time for the Fourth of July picnics. This fact goes back to hatching out the chicks on the farm rather than obtaining them through the mail as many people do today. 

Often it was the farmer's wife who cared for the chickens as her job. When she allowed hens to go broody (to sit on the nest and hatch chicks), she wouldn't know the sex of the new birds for some weeks. (Today, people order chicks based on the number of hens and roosters they want.) 

The wife waited until the gender became more apparent in the early summer, as most hens hatched their chicks in the spring. Too many roosters would be a problem so the woman needed to cull her flock. 

These roung roosters made for tender fried chicken. typically this meant  the meal was not available year round. 

I want to emphasize that until the 1920s, only farm wives usually raised chickens. There was no meat industry for them like we have today. Amazingly, at one time chicken was the delicacy and lobster was the more common food.

(For a great article on the history of chicken as a meal, check out

Chickens scratching in the garden? I included that very thing in my latest novel.

Two ladies named Lucinda--

Lucy never uses her real name and is surprised when Rev. Caldwell calls her that at the pie auction. She's even more surprised when Ty Goodson bids on her pie. He's never shown her a bit of interest, and whoever wins her pie will share the dessert with her.

What follows is a series of misadventures and a night spent in a cave. That night with each other leads them into a forced marriage—a shotgun marriage with Ty’s father doing the forcing.

How will Lucy win the love of a man who longs for a different Lucinda? And what about the men chasing Ty and Lucy? Will they return?

Sunday, September 26, 2021


 By Caroline Clemmons

To quote a famous, fun movie of the past, “Who you gonna call?” Lawmen in the old west included sheriffs, marshals, their deputies, and Federal marshals. Of course, some states also had rangers. Very large cities had policemen, but we’re discussing the frontier. So, to whom would you turn for help?

The Sheriff was chief lawman over a county. His office is at the county seat. Even before states like Wyoming and Montana were admitted to the Union, they were divided into counties—very large counties. In pioneer times, the Sheriff’s office likely would have been attached to the jail, sometimes without even a wall between his desk and the cells. He would have at least one deputy and lead the posse in pursuit of criminals.

Want some fresh air?
Prisoner exercise cages at the 
Palo Pinto County Jail, Palo Pinto, Texas

In towns outside the county seat, a marshal was the chief lawman. The marshal functioned like the sheriff, but for a smaller area. As mentioned above, often the counties were large and the sheriff might be a long ride for help. Sometimes, this meant people virtually had to rely on themselves. That’s a scary thought in an uncivilized area.  

A Federal Marshal usually had a wide territory that might include several states. He would be appointed by a Federal Judge or other high-ranking politician, such as a governor. A man who comes to mind is Bass Reeves, the model for the Lone Ranger. He worked in Indian Territory, but also could follow criminals into bordering states. He was appointed by Judge Parker and reported to him.

Bass Reeves

In general, I suspect most people lived quiet lives and minded their own business unless a neighbor needed help. Doesn’t make a good shoot-‘em-up movie or book, but made for happier living.

In my recent release, THEODOSIA, she and her husband consult the Denison, Texas, marshal. Denison was about ten miles from the Grayson County seat of Sherman, so they relied on the marshal. And Theo had plenty of trouble!

Here’s a bit about the story:

She barely escapes death…

He is angry he has been jilted…

They must defend themselves against mysterious assailants.


Theodosia “Theo” Jordan has lived with the harsh aunt and uncle who are her guardians since her parents’ death eight years ago. In three weeks she will turn twenty-one and inherit the estate now controlled by her uncle. When she overhears her aunt and uncle planning her death, she immediately escapes Atlanta by becoming a proxy bride and heading for a small town in Texas.

Houston Kingsley yearns for a happy family like he had before his wife’s death earlier that year. A fraudulent mail-order bride who jilts him and keeps the money he sent her discourages him. Is he destined to raise his children alone? His brother convinces him to try for a proxy bride.  The process sounds simple enough—if he can scrape up the cash for a second fare and travel expenses.

But unknown forces create danger for Theo and Houston. Can they discover and defeat the guilty to achieve the happy home each desires?

THEODOSIA is a sweet western historical romance set in 1878.

Enjoy an excerpt of when Theo first arrives at her new home:

Shyness struck Theo as her husband led her toward their home’s front porch.

At the door, he stopped and unlocked it before pocketing his keys. “Always planned to do this. Hope you don’t mind.” He scooped her up and carried her across the threshold.

She couldn’t keep a surprised squeal from escaping, followed by laughter. “I always hoped my husband would do that.” That meant he hadn’t done so with his first marriage. That knowledge created more questions.

Appearing pleased, he gestured around them. “You see the foyer isn’t large, but accommodates a hall tree. They also had a grandfather clock against that wall, but they took it with them. Maybe we can get one someday.”

She removed her hat and added it to the shelf on the hall tree, then hung her coat on a hook. “That sounds nice.” She’d need elbow grease to polish away faint marks of where the clock had stood.

After adding his jacket and hat to the hall tree, he studied her. Slowly, he walked around her as if assessing her appearance. “I never expected a redhead for a wife. A lot of folks think redheads have a bad temper and are bad luck.”

Luckily for him, she realized he was teasing, his blue eyes sparkling with humor and mischief. “I never expected my husband would have a beard. A lot of women don’t like a man with whiskers on his face. Some men grow them to hide a weak chin.”

He grinned and spread his hands. “Hey, I can shave off my beard.”

She shifted her shoulders and sent him a saucy smile. “Hey, I can shave off my hair if the color doesn’t suit you. Would you prefer a bald wife?”

He laughed. “I give up, you win this round. Although, I know many women color their hair. Many even try for the color of yours.”

He gave a mock bow. “By the way, I find your hair a pleasing shade. Let’s continue the tour.” He guided her through the downstairs.

Theo inhaled the aroma drifting from the kitchen. “Mmm, dinner smells good. Bethany was kind to think of providing our meal.”

“She’s a kind woman—unless her temper gets riled. I try never to irritate her, but sometimes I do or say something she considers stupid. She’s not bashful about letting me know.” He let her climb to the second story ahead of him.

I’ll be back next month with a scary true story set in Grayson County. Stay safe and keep reading!


Wednesday, September 22, 2021


 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Site of the Flying W Ranch
in 2015 (photo property of the author)

Resilience. What do we mean when we say resilient? Generally it is the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult events.

We infer or out right talk about our characters be resilient. It is something to be admired, to strive for. We talk about it in the past, or on special occasions. But in reality we all can and do show this trait. 

It was brought home to me tonight as I spent the evening at the Flying W Ranch, eating their chuckwagon meal on tin plates. I thought about it as I listened to the Flying W Wranglers, the second oldest Western singing group after the Sons of the Pioneers. 

The Flying W today
photo from Wikipedia

What made this special was the story of how this icon came back from the devastating Waldo Canyon Fire ini 2012. That fire, which destroyed 18, 247 acres, and wiped out the Ranch  with the exception of the building housing Marion Wolfe's cookbook collection and a Teepee and the cattle.

Since 1953 the working cattle ranch, owned by Russ and Marion Wolfe, had offered the Western experience to visitors. After the fire many wondered if the family would rebuild. Although Russ passed away in 2019, it was decided the ranch would rebuild. 

Rock formation on the Ranch Site

Eight years later, in the summer of 2021, the ranch reopened to visitors. 

As I sat listening to the music, I thought of all those who had traveled West to rebuild or start their lives anew. They had resilience. They are the legends, the heroes and heroines of both history and the fictional stories writers tell. Sometimes it's good to be reminded of how strong we really are. 

For more on the history, here is the link to the Wikipedia page: Flying W History

A song from one of the early Wrangler interations: Ghost Riders in the Sky

Until the next time, stay strong and resilient.

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


Thursday, September 16, 2021

New Foods of the 19th Century – Part Two (1867-1900) by Jo-Ann Roberts

Last month in Part One of my New Foods of the 19th Century, I talked about foods that evolved in the early part of the century. Pullman loaves, toffee, cocoa, cornstarch, potato chips, Borden's condensed milk, conversation hearts, and Fleischmann yeast are products still used in the 21st century.

Here are a few more familiar offerings from the latter part of that century which I'm sure you have on your pantry shelf right now!

Tabasco Sauce
Following the Civil War, the diet of the Reconstruction South was bland, at least by Louisiana standards. So Edmund McIlhenny decided to create a pepper sauce to give the food a bit of flavor and zing!

As an avid gardener, McIlhenny received seeds of peppers that had come from Mexico or Central America. In 1868 on Avery Island, he sowed the seeds, nurtured the plants, and delighted in the spicy flavor the peppers bore.

The next year, he distributed hundreds of bottles of sauce at one dollar apiece wholesale to grocers around the Gulf Coast. He called his product "Tabasco", a word of Mexican Indian origin meaning 'place where the soil is humid". In 1870, McIlhenny secured a patent for his product.

Graham Crackers
Today's graham crackers are known as crunchy, sweet, and necessary to support gooey, toasted marshmallows, and chocolate.

However, the original recipe for the cracker was surprisingly designed as a healthy food. Developed by Reverend Sylvester Graham of Connecticut in 1870, the cracker was consumed as part of an extremely restrictive, bland diet. Graham's beliefs included the idea that sugary, spicy, or otherwise flavorful foods led to an increased appetite for evil human desires. 

The Graham crackers were baked hard and dry like a sea biscuit or hardtack. Consumers found it necessary to moisten and soften them before eating. By 1882 a flat, slightly sweet cookie called a "graham cracker" was well known. The reverend's legacy survives today mostly in the form of cookies named after him.

The main ingredients in early preparations were graham flour, oil, shortening or lard, molasses, and salt. In1898 the National Biscuit Company was the first enterprise to mass-produce the crackers at that time.

Cream Cheese
In 1872, an American dairyman, William Lawrence of Chester, New York, accidentally stumbled on a method of producing cream cheese while trying to reproduce a French cheese called Neufchatel.
Lawrence began distributing his cream cheese in 1880 in foil wrappers with the Empire Cheese Company logo printed on the outside. However, consumers know it better by the more famous name he came up with for his "not Neufchatel" -- Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese.

In 1912, James Kraft invented pasteurized cheese which led to his purchase of Lawrence's business and the beginning of Kraft's pasteurized Philadelphia Brand cream cheese.


Heinz Products
The son of German immigrants, Henry Heinz began packing foodstuffs in the basement of his father's former house in Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania. Along with a friend, Clarence Noble, they began marketing their first product--his mother's recipe for horseradish. 

The company went bankrupt in 1875. The following year Heinz founded another company, F & J Heinz, with his brother John, and a cousin Frederick Heinz. One of this company's first products was Heinz tomato ketchup. The company began to grow and the rest is history.

In 1888, Henry bought out his two partners and reorganized the company as the H.J. Heinz Company. Its slogan, "57 varieties", was introduced in 1896. Inspired by an advertisement he saw while riding an elevated train in New York City (a shoe store boasting "21 styles"), Heinz picked the number more or less at random!

Fig Newtons
Who knew there was such controversy over a 120-year-old cookie!

Story #1: In 1891, baker James Henry Mitchell invented a machine that would allow a cake-like cookie, filled with fig jam, to be made. The machine was a funnel within a funnel. Efficient and handy, the Kennedy Biscuit Works snatched up the machine and began producing the famous cookie. The name of the cookie originally was "Newtons" taken from the town of Newton, a suburb of Boston. The Kennedy Biscuit Works later became a part of the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco). Neither the taste, shape, or size of the Fig Newtons has been changed in 120 years.

Story #2: Here's an alternate story from  Ray Arsenault in the St. Petersburg Times...

"The man who originated the Fig Newton, Charles Roser put his cookie recipe to work in his factory in Kenton, Ohio, and sold out to Nabisco in 1910."

 ...and according to Nabisco: " Fig Newtons were named after either Sir Isaac Newton or the town of Newton, Massachusetts."
Cracker Jack
According to legend, Frederick and Louis Rueckheim experimented with a concoction combining popcorn, molasses, and peanuts which they sold at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Following the exposition, orders for the confection rose.  One day a Louis gave the treat to a salesman who reportedly exclaimed, "That's crackerjack!" So impressed, the Rueckheim's had the words trademarked. Of course, at the time, the term "crackerjack" was a commonly used slang word meaning "first-rate" or "excellent". 

Cracker Jack was soon sold in snack bars at circuses, fairs, and sporting events. It became so popular the brand was immortalized in the third line of the song, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game".
                                    'Take me out to the ball game,
                                    "Take me out to the fair,
                                    "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,"...

In 1912, a small toy was included in every package. Sailor Jack and his dog, Bingo, first appeared in 1918. 

Following World War I, sentiment against German-Americans remained high. There was some talk that the Rueckheims, German immigrants, weren't patriotic enough. So to prove their allegiance to America, they changed the packaging to red, white, and blue.

Dr Pepper
In 1885, in Waco, Texas, Brooklyn-born pharmacist, Charles Alderton formulated a new drink at Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store. To test this new kind of soda pop, made with 23 flavors, he offered it to the store owner, Wade Morrison, who named it Dr. Pepper (later stylized as Dr Pepper). It soon caught on, and patrons began ordering a "Waco".  The concoction was introduced nationally in the U.S.  at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904.

Its introduction in 1885 preceded the arrival of Coca-Cola by one year, with early advertisements claiming that it "aids digestion and restores vim, vigor, and vitality".

In 1886, Atlanta pharmacist, John S. Pemberton formulated the concoction, Coca-Cola at the Pemberton Chemical Company. His bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, chose the name for the drink and penned it in the flowing script that became its trademark. 
John Pemberton, the originator of Coca-Cola

Pemberton originally touted his drink as a tonic for most common ailments, basing it on cocaine from the coca leaf and caffeine-rich extracts of the kola nut. The cocaine was removed from Coca-Cola's formula in 1903.  He sold his syrup to local soda fountains, and, with advertising, the drink became wildly successful.

Believed to be the first coupon ever, this ticket for a free glass of Coca-Cola was first distributed in 1888 to help promote the drink. By 1913, the company had redeemed 8.5 million tickets.

Campbell Soup
For 152 years, Campbell Soup Company has been a part of the American food culture. It is estimated that on any given day, every household has at least eight cans of Campbell products on their shelves, and purchases more than 70 products a year per family.

In 1869, Joseph Campbell, a wholesale fruit and vegetable vendor, and Abraham Anderson, a commercial canner and packer, formed Anderson & Campbell, a precursor to the Campbell Soup Company.
The partnership dissolved in 1877 when Campbell bought Anderson's share and expanded the business to include ketchup, salad dressing, and other sauces. But the Beefsteak Tomato Soup remained its best seller

When Campbell retired in 1894, Arthur Dorrance took over as company president. Three years later, he hired his nephew, John Dorrance, a chemist with a degree from MIT. Soon after, John made Campbell Soup very famous.

Soups were inexpensive to make but very expensive to ship. John Dorrance figured if he could eliminate the soup's heaviest ingredient--water--he could create a formula for condensed soup, reducing the price from $.30 to $.10 per can.

In 1898, impressed by Cornell University's football team's new colors, a Campbell Soup executive changed the soup can label to the recognizable red and white we know today.

In 1904, an illustrator and writer, Grace Drayton, added some sketches of children for her husband's advertising campaign for Campbell's condensed soups. Company executives loved the child appeal, and the Campbell Kids were born! Initially, the trademark kids were drawn as ordinary boys and girls but later took on the personas of sailors, soldiers, and other professionals.
In 1845, New York industrialist, Peter Cooper, patented a method for the manufacture of gelatin, a tasteless, odorless gelling agent made out of animal by-products. Unfortunately, it failed to catch on, but in 1897 Pearle Wait, a carpenter in upstate New York experimented with the gelatin, added fruit extract, and turned it into a dessert. His wife, May Wait, dubbed it Jell-O.

However, lacking the funds to distribute the product, he sold the recipe and rights to 20-year-old Frank Woodward for $450. Once again, sales lagged. But just as he was about to sell the rights to Jell-O to his plant superintendent for $35, Woodward's aggressive advertising efforts, which called for the distribution of recipes and samples, paid off. By 1906, sales reached one million dollars.

One aspect of the gelatinous food made it a popular choice among mothers when their children suffered from stomach ailments. Today, doctors still recommend serving Jell-O water--that is, unhardened Jell-O--to children suffering stomach issues.

Researching these foods was such fun! The ingenuity, happenstance, a twist of fate, or plain good fortune gave rise to foods we still use today.

Campbell History - Campbell Soup Company
The History of Jell-O (


Sunday, September 12, 2021

Thurber, Texas by Bea Tifton


When many people hear about a town that went from boom town to ghost town, they might think about a gold rush as the cause, but Thurber, Texas, died another way. 

The entire town was owned by the Texas and Pacific Coal Company in the 1800s. At its high point, the mine at  Thurber produced 3,ooo tons of coal daily. Thurber was a corporate town, from its stores, saloons, school, and houses to its churches. The inhabitants included people from Italy, Poland, Ireland, and even Russia. Although the immigrants tended to cluster by country as far as neighborhoods, the various cultures lived together harmoniously. Thurber was one of the first Texas cities to be completely electrified. Each home had natural gas and running water. At its most populated, Thurber had about 10,000 inhabitants. 

In 1897, the company added a brick factory. Thurber  bricks were used to pave Congress Avenue in the state capitol of Austin, the Galveston Seawall Project, and the streets of the Fort Worth Stockyards. 

In 1913, the company manager at Thurber, William Knox Gordon, discovered oil in nearby

Ranger. As railroads began running on oil instead of coal, the coal mines and the brick kilns

were closed. The company became the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company and moved its

headquarters to Fort Worth. By the late 1930s, Thurber was a ghost town. The company

sold the buildings and people hauled them off to other towns. 

Today, the site has the Gordon Center, which includes a museum and a gift shop, and the

Smokestack Restaurant. The museum has interesting and informative exhibits. Thurber is a

fascinating place to visit. As visitors gaze out over the empty land, they can marvel that Thurber was once an innovative and thriving community.