Saturday, July 30, 2022

Bridging the Rivers by Zina Abbott


In my current work in progress, my heroine, Brunhilde, is a German immigrant who, in 1873, travels to St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States. By then, steamships replaced most sailing vessels, which cut down travel time across the Atlantic Ocean. As for the port of entry, I chose New Orleans for several reasons. One was, ships carrying cargo like cotton and tobacco brought passengers from Europe on the return voyage in order not to lose money. That was a more logical departure port for those commodities. Also, St. Louis, which had a large German-speaking population, was right up the Mississippi River from New Orleans.

1870-90 Railroad Map

The question I faced was, in 1873, what was the most logical form of transportation between the two cities? Was it train travel, or was it still river boat? A look at the railroad map for 1870-90s showed there were railroads that traveled north, but the more established lines ran east of the Mississippi. Since that was such a wide river to cross, I next checked to see if a railroad bridge crossed the river near St. Louis.

Work on the Eads Bridge, a combined road and railway bridge over the Mississippi River began in 1867. It connected the cities of St. Louis, Missouri and East St. Louis, Illinois. The bridge is named for its designer and builder, James Buchanan Eads. It was the first bridge across the Mississippi south of the Missouri River. Earlier bridges were located north of the Missouri, where the Mississippi is smaller. None of the earlier bridges survive, which means that the Eads Bridge is also the oldest bridge on the river.

Eads Bridge photo taken in 2012 from  LaClede's Landing

The west end of the bridge is located on the St. Louis riverfront near Laclede’s Landing, which now is in the historic district and was the northern part of the original settlement founded by the Frenchman, Pierre Laclede. Even today, it had cobblestone streets and vintage brick-and-cast-iron warehouses dating from 1850s. That sounded like a good place for a steamboat to land to disgorge passengers and freight. 

Eads Bridge 1875 drawing by Camille N. Dry- note river traffic

Since the Eads Bridge was not complete until 1874, a year after my immigrant heroine and her family arrived. Based on that information, I wrote the story so the family traveled by steamboat up the Mississippi.

Brunhilde and her family stayed with her stepfather’s oldest brother, who had been a part of the German community in St. Louis since he and his young family arrived in 1848 after a failed revolution in Germany. The second oldest also brought his family. After his first wife died, he remarried. However, when he heard that the new Transcontinental Railroad was being built with its eastern terminus in Omaha, Nebraska, he moved his family to the large German community there. His second wife’s parents, also German immigrants, both died before his wife’s grandmother, Oma Bergmann. This brother, knowing his newly arrived youngest brother has an older stepdaughter, begged her to come and care for the elderly woman who had driven off every caretaker in Omaha he hired

For Brunhilde, this means more travel. Should my heroine board another steamboat and travel up the Missouri River to Omaha—a prospect she does not favor after making the trip from New Orleans? Or, should she travel by train, which would take her from the east border of the state to the west? Before I could decide that, I needed to know if, in 1873, there was a bridge across the wide, muddy, and unpredictable Missouri River.

Omaha Union Station

The Transcontinental Railroad was a big project, the planning of which started in 1862 during the Civil War. Actual construction did not start until after. However, in order to complete the dream of connecting the country by rail from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, it became necessary to have railroad bridges across the large rivers that drained into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Chicago and North Western Railway reached Council Bluffs in 1867. To make the connection across the river, for a time, the Union Pacific tried to run freight trains across the frozen river during the winter. Also, the Union Pacific Transfer company maintained a ferry service from 1866 to 1872.

For an interesting early photograph of a train crossing the river, please CLICK HERE

In 1869 the transcontinental railroad was completed. However, that was not satisfactory to the U.P.R.R stockholders, who, in  1871, declared: “The want of a bridge over the Missouri River, at Omaha to connect the eastern railroads with the Union Pacific, has been one of the most annoying incidents connected with the trip to California.”

The bridge required 11 spans, 250 feet each. The deck was 50 feet above high water and rested upon one abutment and eleven iron piers, all in place and the larger part already sunk from 60 to 72 feet in the sand, and resting in the bed-rock. 


The new single-track railway bridge was completed in 1872. It cost $1.75 million, which is about $39.6 million in today’s money. It opened on March 27, 1872, a little over a year before my heroine arrived in the United States.

Bridge to Omaha, Nebraska, in 1872

In 1877, a tornado weakened the two easternmost spans, requiring them to be replaced with a wooden trestle. However, that was after the timeframe of my story. My heroine, who ended up being escorted by her step-cousin, who was only a few years older that she was, took the train. They crossed the 1872 bridge to reach Omaha.


The book for which I needed to know this information is Bee Sting Cake by Brunhilde, Book 12 in the Old Timey Holiday Kitchen series. It is currently on pre-order. To find the book description and pre-order link, please CLICK HERE.






Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Captain Jack by Bea Tifton


The Old West was full of eccentric characters and women who lived there had to be resilient. Ellen Elliott Jack, or Captain Jack, was one such person.

She is quoted as saying, “I do not fear man or devil, it is not in my blood, and if they can shoot any straighter or quicker than I, let them try it, for a 44 equalizes frail women and brute men, and all women ought to be able to protect themselves against such ruffians.”

Ellen Elliott was born in 1842 in Nottingham, England and lived on a family estate. When Ellen was a child, the queen of a band of gypsies who camped on the family land  said Ellen was a “finder of lost treasure.”

Ellen’s first love was a Russian named Carl. He was a jealous man and he stabbed Ellen several times in the chest after seeing her with a man who turned out to be her cousin. Ellen took a cruise to recover and met Charles E. Jack. They had a brief but happy marriage. Their children died early within a short time of each other and Charles died of complications from his wounds received fighting in the Civil War. 

Ellen crossed paths with her children’s nanny, Jenny, and the former nanny told Ellen she was now a prosperous businesswoman and that Ellen should move to Colorado. Ellen moved to Gunnison, Colorado and opened a popular restaurant. She wrote in her autobiography, The Fate of a Fairy, that a band of renegade Utes rode into town and began attacking people. Ellen supposedly fought them off with her 45s even though she had sustained a hatchet blow to the forehead.

She later prospected and owned the Back Queen Mine before moving to High Drive above Colorado Springs in the early 1900s. Ellen opened “Jack’s Cabin,” a restaurant that became quite successful. She sold photograph postcards of herself. She wore a simple cotton blouse, a wool skirt, and lace up boots. Ellen tucked a six shooter into her belt and carried a mining pick. She loved to pose for photographs. Ellen lived with her pet burro, several cats, and parrots.

In 1920 when Ellen was in town, a flood washed out the road to High Drive. The town decided not to rebuild the road for financial reasons. Ellen’s health immediately began to worsen and she had to be hospitalized, where she died on June 16, 1921 of heart problems. Ellen’s friends swore she died of a broken heart because she couldn’t return to her home, Captain Jack’s Place.

Ellen was buried in Colorado Springs by the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic and her headstone faces her beloved home on High Drive. 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

DROOPING STOCKINGS by Marisa Masterson

In the nineteenth century, how did a woman do to keep her socks from falling?

Many of the common class wore home-
knitted stockings. Two things were used to keep those socks from falling.

Garters would be tied to stockings that came above the knee. Lacy garters could be made at home by crocheting or tatting lace. A ribbon would be woven through the garter. A woman would tie that to keep the stocking from slipping.

Another way to keep a sock up was ribbing. The rib stick was used to keep the sock tight around the leg, especially for a working man's socks.

Not all socks were homemade. From the late sixteenth century onward, knitting machines were used to make socks. These too would have had the ribbing stitch included.

All of this changed in the 1930s. Nylon was invented, allowing for the creation of elastic. Garters went out of fashion after that, for the most part. Wool as one the main sources used to make socks also went out of fashion after this. 

ON SALE TODAY, jULY 24, 2022.

Friday, July 22, 2022

First Woman Doctor in the U.S.

Post by Doris McCraw aka Angela Raines

I'm currently working on a book about the women doctors who are buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs. In the course of looking into the background of women doctors, the name of Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt has come up more than once. While not necessarily from the west, her practice in Boston, MA. help make possible the women who traveled west to the new frontier. 

Below is a brief biography of this amazing woman.

While Elizabeth Blackwell may have been the first woman to graduate from medical school in the United States, she was not the first woman doctor. Many believe that Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt, who practiced in Boston Massachusetts in the 1830s, was the first woman doctor in the United States.

She was the first woman to apply to Harvard Medical School, and although initially, she was to be allowed to audit the medical classes, the student body rose in protest so that avenue was denied her. That did not stop Dr. Hunt. After her initial work with another doctor, she continued her studies.

Dr. Hunt began to pursue her studies when her sister Sarah became ill. After many different doctors and diagnoses, Harriet turned her sister's treatment over to an English couple, Drs. Richard and Elizabeth Mott. Elizabeth Mott specialized in treating women and children. As Harriot said in her autobiography, "the doubt, uncertainty, and inefficacy of medical practice had been our portion; and the best positions had given up and only sister!"

Dr. Hunt continued studying with and working beside the Motts until Richard's death and Elizabeth removed to New York. From that point on Harriet continue to build her practice, focusing on women and children.

Hygeia, the Greek goddess of health,
carved by 
Edmonia Lewis c. 1871-1872 for Harriot Hunt's grave

Dr. Hunt was also involved in social reform, specifically abolition of slavery and women's rights, attending the 1850 women's rights convention in Massachusetts.

Dr. Hunt also corresponded with Dr. Blackwell on at least one occasion. Quoting again from her biography Dr. Hunt states, "after my experience with Harvard College, first the professors, then the students who played the same game with different men, it was truly encouraging to hear that Elizabeth Blackwell had graduated at another college, had been to Europe to refer to perfect herself in her profession, and returned to New York to commence her practice. My soul rejoiced — I poured out my feelings in a letter, and gave her the right hand of fellowship; it was acknowledged in an answer worthy of the writer."

In 1853, Dr. Hunt was awarded an honorary degree from the female medical College of Philadelphia.

Dr. Hunt was born on November 9, 1805, and died on January 2, 1875. In recent years more and more information has become available about this dedicated woman. For more information, here are some additional links:

National Park Service - Boston National Historic Park

Center for the History of Medicine - Harvard

Watch for the upcoming book: Under the Stone: 

Mock-up of the Book Cover

Doris McCraw

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Happy Birthday, America! - The Tradition of Fireworks on July 4th

One of the greatest highlights of every summer is the magic of 4th of July firework displays. The bright pops of color in the sky, paired with barbecues, all things red, white, and blue, plus friends and family, make for the perfect celebration.

Haven’t you always wondered why it’s a tradition to set off explosions of light in the sky on Independence Day? It’s certainly a day for celebration, but why fireworks? Well, the 4th of July’s history actually involves fireworks, and you can thank Founding Father John Adams for it.

During the first months of the Revolutionary War, after the 13 colonies had all voted in favor of independence from Great Britain, Congress began to write a declaration, which became the Declaration of Independence.  Before it was even finished and signed, an enthusiastic John Adams wrote his wife a letter about how he thought the occasion of America’s freedom should be celebrated.  

“The second day of July will be the most memorable event in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival…It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

 Adams was off by a couple of days.

On July 4, after making a total of 86 (mostly small) changes to Jefferson’s draft, Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence though most of the delegates didn't even sign the document until August 2nd.

Adams’s hometown of Boston held its own fireworks display to celebrate its independence as the Sons of Liberty took the opportunity to set off fireworks and shells over Boston Common. In 1783, Boston was the first city to designate July 4th as an official holiday. In the years to come, various cities continued the tradition of celebrating independence, holding picnics, parades, speeches and fireworks displays for the occasion.

By the time Independence Day celebrations really took off after the War of 1812, fireworks were even more widely available. They would become an increasingly important part of the festivities in the years to come, as public safety concerns caused cannon and gunfire to be gradually phased out of celebrations.

In 1870, Congress established Independence Day as an official holiday.

May our country always flourish and celebrate many more years of independence. I hope you all enjoyed a blessed Independence Day.

My newest release, "Ainsley" - The Love Train Series Book 8 is now available on Amazon and Goodreads. Here is a video trailer giving you a peek about Ainsley MacKenzie and Lucas Harmon's love story.


Tuesday, July 12, 2022



By Caroline Clemmons

 Anyone who reads western romance or westerns has heard of open range. There’s even a popular movie titled “Open Range,” starring Kevin Costner and Annette Benning. Exactly what is it and what changed it?

 The essence of open range is free grazing on millions of acres of unfenced land. In United States history, the areas of public domain north of Texas, where from about 1866 to 1890 more than 5,000,000 cattle were driven to fatten and be shipped to slaughter, was open range. That’s right, that’s 5,000,000 cattle over 24 years. Imagine how that affected the landscape.

Men returning from the Civil War (1861-1865) found cattle had continued to breed and there were many unbranded cattle roaming on open range in Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, and other western states. Some men were able to found herds/ranches with the unbranded “mavericks.”

Because of open range policies, it was possible to become a wealthy cattleman without actually owning any land. Most owned at least a base for operation, however, and some owned millions of acres.

The open ranges of western Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, and other western states and territories served as huge pasturelands for the herds of the Texas ranchmen. I’m from Texas, and I hate to see my state maligned, but facts are facts—and I haven’t even mentioned the Texas ticks that attached to Texas cattle and spread to infect cattle in other states through which they passed.

The trails went from western Texas northward, through Indian territory and into the vast stretches of public domain lands in the Central and Northern Great Plains. During the 24 years of open range cattle grazing, these areas were largely free of farmers or sheep.

In the 1880s, large amounts of British capital went to the United States for investment in open range ranching. Foreign enthusiasm infected American financiers and businessmen, who formed cattle companies to reap the big profits of raising beef for domestic consumption or overseas shipment. The U.S. cooperated by banning the fencing of lands on either the public domain or Indian reservations and awarding beef contracts to the cattle companies. Beef purchased by the government was distributed among the western Indians, who were left without a food supply when the buffalo herds were destroyed.

The cattlemen sometimes joined together and made up vast herds, sometimes numbering 5,000 with a small crew of cowboys. For instance, a herd of 2,000 required only 10 cowboys. (More than are shown in western movies.) Driving the cattle to market in Kansas was cheaper than shipping them by rail from Texas. Drovers used the Chisholm Trail, blazed by Jesse Chisholm, a Cherokee. The Chisholm Trail ran along the 98th meridian from deep in Texas to Caldwell, Kansas, then branched off to Abilene, and later Dodge. For a time, a steer which would sell for $2.00 in Texas would bring $20.00 in Kansas. Cowboys made $10 a month whether on the ranch or on a drive. You can understand how great fortunes were made.

"Chinook" by Charles M. Russell
The Great Die Off

The disastrously cold winter of 1886-87 called the Great Die Off meant the death knell of the open range cattle industry. (See my article on the Great Die Off ) Many investors were ruined as hundreds of thousands of cattle perished in the thick snow and ice. As cattle ranching dwindled, farmers moved in and fenced their land. Although it flourished for only a few decades, open range's influence on the Armerican character and self-image continues to the present day  

Open Range sign on 
Arizona 2014

Areas of open range still exist. For instance in Arizona, cattle must be fenced in if in an incorporated area. In unincorporated areas, the cattle have the right of way. Many other states have similar laws. If a motorist hits a cow in an open range state, the driver must pay for the cow. 

Next month, I’ll write on the barbed wire that fenced us in. I’ll leave you with this:


LONE STAR: A HISTORY OF TEXAS AND THE TEXANS, T. R. Fehrenbach, American Legacy Press, NY, 1983 edition, one of my favorite references..


Friday, July 8, 2022

The Iroquois War Club by Cora Leland


Seneca War Club 18th Century

The Three Sisters of the Iroquois:  corn, beans and squash (Maize, climbing green beans and winter squash/pumpkin)


Even warriors must eat, and the farmers among the Iroquois Confederacy since ancient times (and a confederacy didn't exist) found that the staple crops above were powerful for the people. In a slightly different way, so was the Iroquois the war club.

But were all war clubs alike? No, the war club had been in use among the Iroquois nations for centuries and during that time, it was both personal and under development for others in the tribe. The war club  above is from 1709; the next war club was used in the middle 1800's.

Being horticulturists, the Iroquois fought more vehemently than other woodland tribes, because developing their sophisticated civilization had not been easy and they were unable to see why the colonists were disrupting their farms. 

Here's a map of where the Iroquois Confederacy was (and is) located in New York.  This is where my Seneca heroine, Ta-lisha spent her childhood.  

She reached her adult years, though, in Dakota Territory among the once-nomadic Lakota.  Similar to the Senecas in New York, the Plains Indians underwent huge transitions.  Ta-lisha and Jake, the White settler she was later involved with, had a steadying influence on each other despite the times.

Though Seneca were renowned for their education and diplomacy, their war clubs appear to be unusually  vicious. Below, please find three of them.  

Middle:  Seneca war club

Far right, Canadian Seneca War Club
Directly above, a tatooed Iroquois war club

The clothing was different from what the Plains Indians wore, before and after the Reservation Era. It was also made by hand by the Seneca women. Here's one example, a Mohawk woman (also part of the Iroquois Confederacy).

The Canadian Senecas and Iroquois nations were also subject to government schools, like Native Americans were sent to Carlisle in Pennsylvania.

Canadian Seneca Schoolchildren in their boarding school
A little girl wearing traditional Seneca clothes.

Thanks for your interest in this wonderful world of the woodlands Natives. I wish I could present it better and I hate to admit that the storms here have unsettled quite a few aspects of daily life today!

Let's hope that Rescuing His Wife makes it!  Best wishes from the soggy Nebraska capitol from Cora Leland Author