A Thousand Drumsticks on the Hoof

We’ve all heard of Old West cattle drives, but did you ever hear of a turkey drive?

If you raised turkeys during the early nineteenth century and wanted to get them to market in time for Thanksgiving or Christmas, there was only one way to do it; you had to walk them.

Before refrigerator boxcars and trucks, drovers herded turkeys thousands of miles to markets or railheads. They crossed mountains, plains and deserts. In 1863 Horace Greenley walked five hundred turkeys from Iowa to Colorado, a trek of six hundred miles.  His wagon was packed with corn and drawn by six horses and mules, but his turkeys grew fat by devouring grasshoppers. 

Greeley wasn’t the only one with a long trek. It was once to a year for breeding herd to be driven from New Mexico Territory to California.  Some farmers hired boy drovers to help keep the feathered hikers in line, others used dogs.

Turkeys are temperamental birds, but they are fast walkers.  With no distractions, the wind behind them and a certain amount of luck, they can travel twenty-five miles a day.  They also have strange habits. One early drover complained that if his turkeys had a mind to, they would bed down at three in the afternoon and nothing or no one could change their minds.

Cattle had nothing on turkeys as far as stampedes were concerned.  A rifle shot, howling coyote or flutter of paper could put drumsticks on the run.  One poor drover herding his rafter of turkeys through town had to give chase when a streetlight turned on.

Turkeys liked to roost in trees, but roofs were favored, too, sometimes with disastrous results.  When a flock traveling from Vermont to Boston roosted on a schoolhouse, the roof caved in and the late-working schoolmaster barely escaped with his life.  Another flock flew onto the roof of a toll bridge and the drover’s profits went toward replacing the roof.   

Turkey farmers have it easy today in comparison and, so for that matter, do we.  Now we can enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner without having to worry about the roof caving in.

Hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

Trick or Treat

Growing up, I never heard the phrase “Trick or Treat.” Our refrain as we went door to door was “Help the Poor” and, believe me, we weren’t kidding.  To prove it, we beggars dressed the part and were sure to sound appropriately mournful. I remember getting more coins than candy and that was fine with me.

Curious as to when “Help the Poor” became “Trick or Treat,” I did some research.

According to history.com, the early beginnings of Halloween can be traced to the ancient Celts, early Roman Catholics, and 17th-century British politics. During the Celtic celebrations, banquets were prepared, and food was left out to drive away unwanted spirits.

In later centuries, people began dressing up and performing tricks in exchange for food.  Christianity’s influence in the ninth century turned the pagan holiday into All Souls’ Day, a time for honoring the dead

The poor would go to the door of the rich and receive “soul” cakes in exchange for prayers for the dead relatives’ souls. Thus, began the tradition of “souling.”  Later, children began going from door to door asking for gifts of money or food.

In Britain, Guy Fawkes day (or bonfire day) commemorated the foiling of the gunpowder plot.  On that day, children would roam the streets asking for a “penny for the Guy.” Some early settlers brought the tradition to America in the 1840s.

The Scottish and Irish called the tradition of going door-to-door “guising.” Guisers would perform a trick, recite a poem, sing a song or tell a joke in exchange for a treat.  

These early settlers brought the custom of souling and guising to the United States in 1800s, but it didn’t become widespread until the 1900s.  However, the practices soon became a problem, as some rowdy boys took the tricks to the extreme.  

Oddly enough, no one really knows how the term “trick or treat” came into play. According to the Smithsonian website, the earliest known reference to the phrase was printed in the November 4, 1927 edition of the Blackie, Alberta Canada Herald.

“Hallowe’en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.”

The term “trick or treat” wasn’t fully established in American culture until the year 1951.  The custom of going door to door for threats had been derailed by the sugar-rationing of World War II.  Trick or treating might have gone the way of dinosaurs had it not been for the Peanuts gang.  Following the release of three Halloween-themed comic strips, the popularity of the holiday became widespread. 

A year later, even Donald Duck got into the act.  The Trick or Treat cartoon featuring Donald and his three nephews was an eight-minute short that showed children the proper way to beg for candy.  Thanks to Peanuts and Disney, today Hallowe’en is one of America’s favorite holidays. 

Mind Yer Manners

Is it just me or have good manners gone the way of trail drives?   I have three grandchildren working summer jobs and I’m appalled at the stories they tell about customer rudeness.  

It didn’t always used to be that way.  Back in the Old West, manners ruled.  A cowboy might have been rough around the edges and whooped-it-up on occasion, but he also minded his Ps and Qs.  To show you what I mean, let’s compare today’s manners with those of the past.

Driving:  Navigating some of today’s roads is like steering through a metal stampede. It’s every man/woman for his/her self.  Cars ride on your tail and cut you off. To stay on the defense, today’s drivers must contend with drunkenness, speeding and texting—and that’s not all.  If thinking about this doesn’t make you long for the good ole days, I don’t know what will.  

The Cowboy Way: A cowboy would never think of cutting between another rider and the herd.  Nor would he ride in such a way as to interfere with another man’s vision. Crossing in front of another without a polite, “Excuse me” would not have been tolerated.  As for riding drunk; that would have gotten a wrangler fired on the spot.

Please and Thank You:  Recently I saw a young man hold a restaurant door open for a young woman.  Instead of saying thank you, she chewed him out. Oh, me, oh, my. What is the world coming to?

The Cowboy Way: The first man coming to a gate was expected to open it for the others. Everyone passing through would say thank you.  Holding a door open for a lady went without saying, as did tipping his hat and saying a polite, “Howdy, ma’am.” A cowboy might have gotten a smile from the lady, but he sure wouldn’t have gotten a tongue-lashing.

Cell Phones: I could probably rattle on about poor cell phone manners, but for me, loud talking is the worst offense.  During a recent visit to the emergency room, I was privy to everyone’s medical condition and more.  The Cowboy Way: Those early cowboys didn’t have cell phones, of course, which is probably a good thing; A ringing phone would have startled the cattle and maybe even the horses.  John Wayne wasn’t talking about cell phones when he said, “Talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much,” but that’s not bad advice.  Especially in ER.

Taking a Chance on Love

To order click cover.

Wanted a Wife

I am looking for a lady to make her my wife as I am heartily tired of bachelor life.

I have a new mail-order bride book out in February. Mail Order Standoff has a fun twist.  The brides all get cold feet.   

My heroine has a good reason for taking a chance on love, but what about the thousands of other women who’d left family and friends to travel west and into the arms of strangers?

Shortage of Men—and Women

The original mail-order bride business grew out of necessity.  The lack of women in the west was partly responsible, but so was the Civil War.  The war not only created thousands of widows and grieving girlfriends, but a shortage of men, especially in the south.

As a result, marriage brokers and “Heart and Hand” catalogues popped up all around the country. Ads averaged five to fifteen cents and letters were exchanged along with photographs.

According to an article in the Toledo Blade lonely men even wrote to the Sears catalogue company asking for brides (the latest such letter received was from a lonely Marine during the Vietnam War).

Cultural Attitudes

Marriage was thought to be the only path to female respectability. Anyone not conforming to society’s expectations was often subjected to public scorn.  Also, many women needed marriage just for survival.  Single women had a hard time making it alone in the East. This was especially true of widows with young children to support.

Women who had reached the “age” of spinsterhood with no promising prospects were more likely to take a chance on answering a mail-order bride ad than younger women.

Not Always Love at First Sight

For some mail-order couples, it was love (or lust) at first sight. In 1886, one man and his mail order bride were so enamored with each other they scandalized fellow passengers on the Union Pacific Railroad during their honeymoon.

Not every bride was so lucky.  In her book Hearts West, Christ Enss tells the story of mail-order bride Eleanor Berry. En route to her wedding her stage was held up at gunpoint by four masked men.  Shortly after saying “I do,” and while signing the marriage license, she suddenly realized that her husband was one of the outlaws who had robbed her. The marriage lasted less than an hour.

The mail-order business was not without deception.  Lonely people sometimes found themselves victims of dishonest marriage brokers, who took their money and ran.

Some ads were exaggerated or misleading. Some men had a tendency to overstate their financial means. Women, on the other hand, were more likely to embellish their looks. The Matrimonial News in the 1870s printed warnings by Judge Arbuckle that any man deceived by false hair, cosmetic paints, artificial bosoms, bolstered hips, or padded limbs could have his marriage nulled, if he so desired.   

Despite these mishaps, historians say that most matches were successful.

No one seems to know how many mail-order brides there were during the 1800s, but the most successful matchmaker of all appears to be Fred Harvey. He wasn’t in the mail-order bride business, but, by the turn of the century, five thousand Harvey Girls had found husbands while working in his restaurants.   

Under what circumstances might you have considered becoming a mail order bride in the Old West? 

There Were Texas Rangers Before There Was Texas

The Texas Rangers have a long and checkered history.  In 1823 by Stephan F. Austin hired ten men to protect the frontier, but the Rangers weren’t formerly constituted until 1835. The Texas Rangers are the oldest law enforcement agency in the United States and have gone through many transformations through the years.

I’m on the last draft of the third book in my Haywire Brides series. My male protagonist is a Texas Ranger and, as some of you might have guessed, that’s my favorite type of hero.

Men worked as volunteers until after the Civil War and were disbanded as needed. Some served for days and others for many months. Companies were called various names including mounted gunmen, mounted volunteers, minutemen, spies, scouts and mounted rifle companies.  It wasn’t until 1870 that the term Texas Rangers came into use.

Maintaining law and order on the frontier wasn’t easy, but those early Texas Rangers still managed to move with quick speed, even over long distances, and were able to settle trouble on the spot. They were called upon to serve as infantrymen, border guards, and investigators.  They tracked down cattle rustlers and helped settle labor disputes.  They both fought and protected the Indians.

Being a Texas Ranger didn’t come cheap.  He was expected to provide his own horse and it had to be equipped with saddle, blanket and bridle.  A Ranger also had to provide his own weaponry, which included rifle, pistol and knife.  He would also carry a blanket, and cloth wallet for salt and ammunition.  To alleviate thirst, a ranger would suck on sweetened or spiced parched corn.  Dried meat, tobacco and rope were also considered necessities. What he didn’t carry with him was provided by the land.

As for clothing, a Texas Ranger wore what he had.  It wasn’t until the Rangers became full-time professional lawmen in the 1890s that many started wearing suits.  (Today, Rangers are expected to wear conservative western attire, including western boots and hat, dress shirt and appropriate pants.)

Those early Rangers received twenty-five dollars a month in pay and worked hard for it. An officer’s pay was seventy-five dollars. A man seldom lasted more than three or six months in the job.   

In the early days, frontier justice did not require a courtroom, and Rangers fought according to their own rules. Rangers learned to strike hard and fast.   This led to many excesses of brutality and injustice.  The Rangers were reformed by a resolution of the Legislature in 1919, which instituted a citizen complaint system.

Today, the Texas Rangers enjoy a stellar reputation, and recently did something that probably has legendary Rangers Tom Horn and Big Foot Wallace a-whirling in their graves; they recently hired women

So what kind of a hero do you like to read about?

Stagecoach Rules for Readers

  1. Do not disturb the other passengers by laughing or weeping out loud.

  2. Never applaud, sigh or swoon while reading love scenes.

  3. Refrain from making verbal comparisons between male passengers and the hero in the book.  It will only make passengers feel inferior.

  4. Provocative book covers must be kept hidden beneath a plain buckskin wrapper.

  5. If you must show disapproval spit only on the leeward side of the coach.

  6. In the event of a robbery, do not insist upon finishing a chapter before raising your hands. Outlaws are not known for patience.

  7. Do not ask the driver to guard your book while you sleep.

  8. In the event of a runaway stage, avoid such comments as “Here comes the good part.”

  9. It’s best not to read by the window during an Indian attack.

  10. Anyone causing hysteria among passengers by revealing the end of a book will be tossed from the coach.

Glossary of Mail Order Bride Advertising Terms (And What They Really Mean)

My June release Undercover Bride is a mail-order bride story with a twist.  Some of the advertisements that appeared in the mail order bride catalogs were a hoot and it took a clever man to know how to decipher them.  Here’s a key that might have helped :

* Eager to learn—can’t cook; can’t sew; can’t clean

* Accomplished—can ride, shoot and spit like a man

* Modest dowry—poor as a church mouse

*Loving nature—keep her away from the ranch hands

*Traditionally built—you may wish to reinforce the floors

*Matrimonially inclined—working on husband number three

*Maternal—has six children and one on the way

*Possesses natural beauty—don’t be fooled by the false hair, cosmetic paints or bolstered bosom

*Industrious—give her a dollar and she’ll figure out how to spend ten

*Young looking—doesn’t look a day over sixty.

*And they lived happily ever after—AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.