Friday, December 30, 2022

Billy Owen, Surveyor and Eclipse Observer by Zina Abbott


I became interested in surveyor, William Octavius “Billy” Owen, when I learned that he viewed the 1878 total solar eclipse while on the summit of Medicine Bow Mountain. I started my books that included this particular eclipse with Mail Order Blythe, published in March 2021. I will be publishing Lauren, my fifth and final book with the eclipse connection, in January 2023.

Photographs of Billy Owen are available online, but are part of a protected collection. To see two of those photos, please CLICK HERE.

The parents of Billy Owen were originally from an area near Bristol, England. Before his birth, his father and other extended members of the family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). Prior to his birth, his parents and six-month-old sister, Eva, emigrated to the United States. It was in Utah Territory that Billy’s next older sister, Etta, was born in 1856. Billy, the family’s youngest child, was born in 1859. The mother never did join the same church as her husband, and soon decided to leave the Salt Lake Valley and return to England.

Laramie Depot

Billy Owen never saw a railroad until he was eight years old and the family arrived in Laramie, Wyoming Territory. Laramie was still a “Hell on Wheels” town, since the railroad reached Laramie in early May, five weeks before the Owens did.

It was there his mother learned the inheritance she counted on to pay their passages back to England had disappeared after the death of the family attorney. Going by the name of Sarah Montgomery, Billy’s mother rented some rooms in a hotel on what’s now First Street in Laramie, facing the tracks, and South A. Soon she opened a restaurant and store, just as she had in Idaho. Eva and Etta, by then 15 and 12 years old, helped their mother a great deal.

There were plenty of respectable people in town, but, according to the autobiography Billy wrote when he was sixty-two, there were also plenty of “bar room bums, thugs, garroters, holdups, thieves and murderers from railroad towns to the eastward, and the doings of this mob of criminals form a thrilling page in the history of Laramie.” In that environment, Billy roamed the streets playing pranks with his friends. He roamed the creeks fishing and the prairies hunting with the same friends. They hunted with an antiquated black-powder musket out of which they would shoot gravel and nails when they ran out of bullets.

In October, the vigilantes raided the homes of three men — Asa Moore, Con Wagner (or Wager, or Wagan) and Ed “Big Ned” Wilson, shot them full of bullets, and then hanged their bodies from the end of a log building downtown.  The same night, they told a number of other toughs to leave town immediately or face the same treatment. Next morning, Billy and his pals got a long look at the bodies. They recognized Moore by his big red flannel neckerchief.

Later the same day, Billy and his friend Phil Bath were in the street when they saw a group of men come out of a saloon, one carrying a coil of rope. In the middle of the bunch was a man known to all as “Long Steve” (aka Steve Young or Steve Long), who had terrorized the town and murdered several citizens. In spite of being warned to leave town, he remained. The vigilantes hanged him on a telegraph pole near the corner of what are now Grand Avenue and First Street, which was by the tracks. A big crowd had gathered, among them Phil and Billy, who watched from 20 feet away. Billy’s sister, Eva, watched from further back in the crowd. After these incidences, Laramie became a safer place to live.

In this picture of the crowd that gathered around the deceased “Long Steve,” the lone boy standing just left of the pole is Billy Owen.

Billy grew up to be a small man, reaching a height of only five feet tall. However, he made up for his size with fierce energy and ambition. He became Wyoming’s best-known surveyor. He loved the work, both the math and the walking.

In the summer of 1878, William O. “Billy” Owen was working with a surveying crew high in the Medicine Bow Mountains, about 36 miles west of Larame Territory. “Over that vast forest,” he later wrote, “the moon’s shadow was advancing with a speed and rush that almost took one’s breath.” This was the total solar eclipse of July 29, 1878.

“It was terrifying, appalling,” Owen’s account continues, “and yet possessed a majestic grandeur and fascination that only one who has seen it can appreciate.”


Billy Owen contracted with the precursor to the Federal Bureau of Land Management. From 1881 to 1891, he did over 100 BLM surveys, particularly in the Snake River Valley around Jackson Hole and western Wyoming. He surveyed and established the boundaries of Albany County, and did surveys in every other Wyoming county. 


In addition, he held posts as Albany County Surveyor, Laramie City Engineer, and US Examiner of Surveys for the Department of Interior until his retirement in 1914.  Active in Republican politics, he was elected Wyoming State Auditor in 1894 and served four years beginning in January 1895.  Lake Owen in the Medicine Bow Mountains, which is now a reservoir and part of the City of Cheyenne’s water supply system, is probably named for him.

In 1883, Billy was the first person to ride a bicycle through Yellowstone Park. He and a party of friends were the first people to climb the Grand Teton. Mount Owen, in the Tetons, is named for him.

Billy Owen at the summit of the Grand Teton in August 1924, when he was about 65 years old and made the climb with Paul Petzoldt as guide. The painted steel sign is the same one he and companions left there in 1898. American Heritage Center.

In 1888, Billy married Emma Wilson in Laramie. He and his wife never had children. She weighed 250 pounds and loved to bake him cakes. Billy’s great niece, Alice Downey Nelson, remembered him years later as a smart, fussy man with a short temper and a long, clear memory, who loved to tell stories.

Billy Owen and Emma moved to Los Angeles in 1910. He died in 1947 in Tucson, AZ.   A manuscript copy of his 1930s autobiography and Downey family papers (his sister Eva married Stephen W. Downey) are archived at the Laramie Plains Museum.


is the book in which I actually include the scene involving Billy and the survey crew with which he worked. It is while searching for this survey crew that my hero, Jeb Carter, also views the eclipse. 

Lauren is currently on pre-order and will be released January 9, 2023. To find the book description and purchase link, please CLICK HERE.







Monday, December 26, 2022


Santa Claus on December 26th

I hope you’re sitting with your feet up, content as you savor memories of your Christmas celebration. Because I love this time of year, I thought I’d give you a review of the book THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SANTA CLAUS, as told to Jeff Guinn. Although it isn’t specific to west of the Mississippi River, this is a book review.

I added this paragraph to those of Jeff Guinn:

Saint Nicholas was born circa 280 in Patara, Lycia, an area that is part of present-day Turkey. He lost both of his parents as a young man and reportedly used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. A devout Christian, he later served as bishop of Myra, a city that is now called Demre.

I was relieved to learn the Santa Claus/Saint Nicholas tradition was not a marketing ploy concocted by Madison Avenue. While Bishop Nicholas, he really did go about giving gifts. Okay, he didn’t crawl down the chimney. Homes didn’t have actual chimneys as we know them back then. Many just had a hole in the roof, especially the poor to whom he donated. Not too cozy in bad weather.

Saint Nicholas’ first known gifts were to two daughters of a very poor man. They couldn’t marry without a dowry, but their father had none to offer. The father didn't think he could afford to feed the girls for the rest of his life. He was considering selling his own daughters into prostitution. Taking pity on the girls, Saint Nicholas either (1) tossed bags of gold through the window (the poor didn’t have glass in their windows) or (2) put the coins in the stockings the girls left drying by the fire each night. Thus, the girls were able to marry (and, hopefully, each got a second pair of stockings).

Saint Nicholas was an actual person who went around giving to the poor and helping all those he could. In other words, he did what we’re all supposed to do. 

  • Remarkable that he did what he could in a time when the poor were looked down upon.
  • Remarkable that doing what was right created so much notoriety and controversy and gave him a permanent place in history.
  • Remarkable that we continue his legacy by giving to those we love and, hopefully, to those in need.

Saint Nicholas

Several sources report his death as December 6, 343.
Over the years, stories of his miracles and his work for the poor spread. Saint Nicholas became known as the protector of children and sailors and was associated with gift-giving.

Whether you call him Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, thanks for continuing his legacy.

I do believe in Santa Claus. I do! I do!


Saturday, December 24, 2022


 Christmas, no big deal? Amazingly, that was the case in the Old West. The nostalgic traditions many people love observing each year were unheard of amongst settlers until Eastern traditions headed west. 

Once upon a time, Christmas was seen as an adult holiday. It was a time for drinking alcohol and eating rich meals. For those in the West, Bible reading and a large meal would be the extent of the celebration. 

Immigrants and the Civil War changed that.

German immigrants in the West brought many traditions with them. One, the Christmas tree and candles on it, arrived with them. In fact, until after the 1920s, Germany remained the source of most Christmas tree ornaments sold in the United States. 

Santa Image Created by Thomas Nast
How does the Civil War connect with Christmas? That really involves Santa Claus. Clement Moore's A Visit from St. Nicholas was already a popular poem, even in the United States. Thomas Nast adapted that to create an American St. Nicholas. He drew cartoons for newspapers during the war that showed Santa promoting the Union cause. Santa and Christmas became patriotic after that.

Santa visiting Civil War camp, by Thomas Nast.

Merry Christmas and blessings for 2023!
Marisa Masterson

She craves to be needed. He just wants a mother for his children. Can love grow out of this marriage of convenience?
Winnie's life is all about helping others, but she longs for a family of her own. When her sister brings a matchmaker to her door, Winnie grabs hold of a future, one that includes a husband and children.

Shrug Brandt is stubborn, but his children desperately need a mother. To get them one, he'll accept a wife—a wife that his heart refuses to love and then lose. He’ll give the spinster bride his name, but he won't share his heart with her.

​​​​​​​Will this holiday surprise heal this family's grief and give Winnie her Christmas wish?
Don’t miss out on this warm holiday romance! Buy Today.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Jimgle Bells- The composers story

 Post by Doris McCraw aka Angela Raines

Christmas Eve 2020

As we prepare for the Christmas Holiday and for others as we deal with the bitter cold, I thought a look at the iconic song Jingle Bells and its author, and an early recording might be kinda fun. First, did you know that the song was actually written in 1857 and that the composer was James Lord Pierpont? The following is the story of the composer.

Pierpont was born in April 1822 in Boston Massachusetts. His father was the Rev. John Pierpont, a Unitarian minister, abolitionist, and poet. His mother was Mary Sheldon Lord. You may notice that the name Pierpont rings a bell, that's because James was the uncle of the banker John Pierpont Morgan, the well-known banker, and financier.

James Lord Pierpont
from Wikipedia

After being sent to a boarding school in New Hampshire in 1832, James ran away in 1836, setting out to sea on a whaling ship. From there he served in the U.S. Navy until the age of 21.

In 1845, James married Millicent Cowie and by 1846, the two had settled in Troy New York.

Following the rest of the world, he headed to California in 1849 to open a business in San Francisco. Unfortunately, his business failed when his inventory was destroyed by fire.

James continued to be plagued by bad luck when his wife Millicent died in 1856. He moved to Savannah Georgia where his brother, the Rev. John Pierpoint Junior was living. James took the post of organist and music director for the church. He supported himself by giving organ and singing lessons.

Although James had been composing and publishing music since 1852, it was in 1857 that Jingle Bells, originally titled "The One Horse Open Sleigh", and it was also the year James remarried to a lady named Eliza Jane Purse who was the daughter of Savannah Georgia's mayor, Thomas Purse.

In 1859, his brother the Rev. John Pierpoint Junior return North after his Unitarian church closed due to its abolitionist position. James however remained in Savannah with his wife and children. When the war broke out James joined the fifth Georgia Calvary of the Confederacy and served as the company clerk. It was also during this time that James wrote the following songs for the Confederacy, "Our Battle Flag", "Strike For The South", and "We Conquer or Die".

After the war, James remained in the South moving the family to Valdosta, Georgia, where he taught music. Then in 1869, he went to Quitman, Georgia, where he was the organist for the Presbyterian Church and continued to give private lessons. James Lord Pierpont died in Winter Haven, Florida in 1893. Per his request, he was buried at the Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah beside his brother-in-law Thomas who had been killed in the first Battle of Bull Run.

Here is a version with the original lyrics that many people in the 1800s might have sung. Jingle Bells

Until Next Time - Have a Wonderful Holiday Season.

Doris McCraw

Friday, December 16, 2022

Mrs. Santa Claus - The First Lady of Christmas

The amount of Christmas lore we see, hear, touch, and taste at this time of year is staggering. We've got songs about reindeer, snowmen, the 12 days of Christmas, an elf who sits on a shelf, and letters to Santa. 

Little is known about Mrs. C ... that's Mrs. Santa Claus to you and me. who, in vivid imagination, is seen baking cookies with the help of her house elves in a cozy, dainty kitchen somewhere in their North Pole abode. As Santa Claus's wife, Mrs. Claus has been imagined as a stout woman, a little on the heavier side, with grey hair and spectacles...gee, that describes yours truly to perfection!

So, how much do we really know about Mrs. Claus?

But before Mrs. C. came on the scene, here's a bit about her husband. There is no mention of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, having a wife. Yet as the 4th century Turkish bishop's practice of distributing gifts anonymously expanded and morphed over time, he has transitioned into a full-time behavior monitor, jolly elf, and bringer of toys.

However, even mythological love affairs don't just happen overnight. It would be centuries before Santa found his lady love. The first mention of Mrs. Claus appears in an 1849 short story "A Christmas Legend" by James Rees, in which a couple disguise themselves, angel-like, as travelers, and seek shelter with a family. As it turns out the two strangers are not the Clauses at all, but long-lost family members in disguise...thus, the legend was born.

Cover art from the Unremembered History website post by Ken Zurski.

Mrs. Claus is known to have lived during the early 
Middle Ages with Santa and was
 given the name 'Goody' which meant a good wife who took care of the house and Santa Claus. Her reputation was further elevated in Katharine Lee Bates's 1889 poem "Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride" when she demands to accompany her husband on his rounds and deliver the toys herself. 

It seems she had a bit of feistiness hidden beneath her red dress!  

People unanimously agree on Mrs. Claus's character. So, it stands to reason that since Santa Claus was a jolly character, his wife would be no different. She has been portrayed as an elderly woman, with white hair, spectacles and a red outfit with white fur trimmings. She was made to look like the perfect, caring wife who would wrap a scarf around Santa Claus every year, before he embarked on his long Christmas journey.

Mrs. Claus's role may have been overshadowed by the other important aspects of Christmas, but nothing can take away her pedestal as the woman in red waiting, on a night of celebration, for her husband to return from his long journey. The image is complete with her decorating Christmas trees and making cookies or gingerbread houses with her dear elves in the backdrop of a cozy fireplace.

Whether she goes by the name of Jessica, Mary, Anna or Gertrude, Mrs. Santa Claus has been a part of the oral and literary Santa Claus stories for as long as Santa himself, but she has been a quiet companion for several generations.

On behalf of Santa and Mrs. Claus, I wish you a holiday filled with love, joy, peace and all things that make you happy.

Merry Christmas!

My New Release!

...and here's the link for the Christmas Quilt Brides series!


Monday, December 12, 2022

St. Nicholas Magazine by Bea Tifton

December 1879
Pioneer children in the West often had to amuse themselves for weeks or even months during the harsh winters. One way in which children were able to do so was by reading the St. Nicholas magazine. St. Nicholas Magazine was founded  by Scribner’s in 1873. Roswell Smith of Scribner and Company contacted Mary Mapes Dodge in 1870 to see if she would be interested in editing a new children’s magazine. Dodge was the author of several children’s books, including Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, and was an associate editor of Hearth and Home magazine.  Dodge married a lawyer at 20 and had two sons. When she was 27 she was widowed and took up writing to support her children. 

Dodge was adamant that the magazine should not be “a milk-and-water variety of the periodicals for adults. In fact, it needs to be stronger, truer, bolder, more uncompromising than the other… Most children attend school. Their heads are strained and taxed with the day’s lessons. They do not want to be bothered or amused, nor petted. They just want to have their own way over their own magazine.” 

Mary Mapes Dodge

When the first issue debuted in November of 1873, Dodge explained why she chose the name St. Nicholas. 

Is he not the boys' and girls' own Saint, the especial friend of young Americans?... And what is more, isn't he the kindest, best, and jolliest old dear that ever was known?... He has attended so many heart-warmings in his long, long day that he glows without knowing it, and, coming as he does, at a holy time, casts a light upon the children's faces that lasts from year to year.... Never to dim this light, young friends, by word or token, to make it even brighter, when we can, in good, pleasant helpful ways, and to clear away clouds that sometimes shut it out, is our aim and prayer.

The magazine had a section entitled, “For Very Little Folks” with easy to read stories in large type. It also had puzzles, math and word games, stories, and even a feature for older children to contribute their own writing. Because Dodge knew many other writers, she tapped them for contributions to St. Nicholas. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel Little Lord Fauntleroy first appeared as a serial in 1885. Burnett also contributed a novella, Sara Crewe. Louisa May Alcott, Rudyard Kipling, and Mark Twain also sent contributions to the magazine. The illustrations were of good quality, often in brilliant colors. 

In 1881, upon the death of her oldest son, Dodge abdicated most of her editing duties to William Fayal Clarke, but she continued to work for St. Nicholas until her death in 1905.

The magazine changed hands several times until its demise in 1943. St. Nicholas magazine can be found on online auction sites and sites that sell old publications and books or on the Gutenberg Project site. The periodical offers a fascinating look at one of the ways children could amuse themselves, especially during the long winter months in the Old West.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Women of Wyoming by Cora Leland


Hello!  Best wishes to you on these late fall days!

Now available as a pre-order for $0.99

The fashions that built up to the 1840 'look'

I'm already wearing wool...and still freezing.  However I also like the brisk temperatures.

I feel especially lucky not wearing the same kind of clothes the women did in 1840 'civilization.'  One fashion writer stated that the clothes were more 'restrictive' than any since the 16th and 17th centuries.  I recalled an interview with an actress wearing the beautiful clothes, silks and satin of France. 

She'd mentioned the long pointed bodice, the tight sleeves that allowed very little arm movement, not to mention the tight corsets and layers of petticoats.
In my opinion, fashion made its way even to Wyoming, though perhaps some time later and the tight sleeves would have to accommodate hard working women.

Some women saddled their husband's horses -- for the farmers and settlers. Sources say that this was also common among the Plains tribes. But I was kind of shocked by a biography about a tough farmer, written by his daughter, one of the famous writers of the early 1800's. Suffice it to say that it was not the clean wholesome kind of novel many of us read and write now. Though women were in high demand, domestic violence was common. This particular father had five wives: two divorced him.

It's hard to get statistics, and I'd be interested in how common it was for men to have several wives during their lifetimes. Divorce was relatively easy in the far West (that also surprised me because people so often, in England, were not allowed to marry again, even when one spouse was institutionalized). 

 Here are some examples of the clothes I've discussed.  First, the dresses of the 1600's & then 1700's.

Please note the long pointed bodice. A 'stomacher' was inserted (you can see the buttons at the top).  The elongated bodice was still worn in 1750, again in the form of a stomacher.

Maria Josefa (1751-67)

Her sister, Maria Carolina, who took over as wife when her sister died

 The necklines were high and got higher and stiffer at the end of the 1800's in the Wild West.  Sleeves were long and tight in the early 1800s then became comfortably loose.

1840  (East coast.  Notice the long pointed bodice as women wore, above)

You might have to look at little carefully, because the 1840's dress in America wasn't as exaggerated; but it's the same fashion.
Notable Women in Wyoming 1840-1905
First woman legislator
A resident of Laramie, she was the first woman elected to the Wyoming State Legislature.  A school teacher by profession, she was married to Charles Bellamy who was the first licensed professional engineer in the United States.  Together with her husband, Mary supervised many surveys of the northern Rocky Mountains.

The first school teacher in Wyoming
and the founder of Laramie’s first library, she was called up from the voter rolls in 1870 to
become  the very first woman to serve on a jury.

She arrived in Wyoming 1868 in a horse cart with her children in tow. 
She was appointed the first ever female bailiff in 1870 because the first women were serving on juries.  Only a woman was permitted to guard female jurors at their hotel & to escort them to the necessary, making only a woman eligible as bailiff.

Wyoming is part of the High or Upper Great Plains, an area that reaches to Canada and has half of Nebraska, Kansas, North and South Dakota.  When land was settled, people came in droves to Wyoming, most unprepared for how rough this land was. It had Yellowstone as well as grasslands suitable for cattle and raising sunflowers (American Indians knew many uses for sunflowers, as did most settlers).

I hope you've enjoyed this article about the development of Wyoming.  Best holiday wishes from Cora Leland, Author!

Cover art by Samantha Fury