Lonesome Dove

        “Yesterday’s gone on down the river and you can’t get it back.”

One of my favorite books is Lonesome Dove, and it’s hard to believe that it’s been 35 years since the TV mini-series thrilled millions of viewers.  Based on the book Written by Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove is about two retired Texas Rangers, “Gus” McCrae and “Woodrow” Call who drive a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana. 

The Pulitzer Prize-winning story was loosely based on the true story of Charles Goodnight’s and Oliver Loving’s cattle drive from Texas to Montana. Goodnight and Loving were close friends. Before Loving died, he asked that his body be returned to Texas.  He did not want to be buried in a “foreign land.”  Charles Goodnight and Loving’s son, Joseph, carried the metal casket 600 miles back to Texas.

  “I guess this’ll teach me to be careful about what I promise in the future.” 

In Lonesome Dove, Gus dies, and Call carries his friend back to Texas as promised.  If this doesn’t make you cry, I don’t know what will.  

McMurtry originally wrote the story as a short screenplay named Streets of Laredo.  It was supposed to star John Wayne as Call.  But Wayne dropped out and the project was abandoned. 15 years later McMurtry saw an old bus with the phrase “Lonesome Dove Baptist Church” on it.  He revised the book into a novel and changed the name.  (Ah, inspiration.)

“…you ride with an outlaw, you die with an outlaw.”

The book went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. The mini-series also went on to win many awards, including the Golden Globes.  It was cheated out the Emmy by War and Remembrance.  Considered the “Gone With the Wind” of Western movies, Lonesome Dove has sold more DVDs than any other western.

It’s hard to imagine anyone but Robert Duvall as Gus, but he was actually offered the role of Woodrow Call and turned it down.  His wife had read the book and told him, “Whatever you do, don’t let them talk you into playing Woodrow F. Call.  Gus is the part you should play.”

James Garner was also considered for the role, but he had to turn it down because of health problems. 

McMurtry said that he wrote Lonesome Dove to show the real hardships of living a cattleman’s life vs. the romantic life many think they lived. Some think he failed in this regard. Instead, many readers and critics see Lonesome Dove as a celebration of frontier life. 

Have you read the book or seen the mini-series?  If so, what part stood out for you?

Say Cabbage

Recently, it was my granddaughter’s prom night. The students met beforehand for three hours of picture-taking.  I showed my age by commenting that Matthew Brady and his helpers were able to record the entire Civil War with only 1100 photographs. I wonder what he would think today if he knew that a simple high school prom required many times that number.

I’ve always been interested in old-time photography and have nothing but awe for the brave souls who first took camera in hand.  Not only did they contend with unwieldy equipment but also dangerous chemicals and exploding labs.

Women had an advantage over male photographers who were often confounded by female dress. This explains why one photographer advertised in 1861 for an assistant, “Who Understands the Hairdressing Business.”

Women also had a few tricks up their leg of mutton sleeves—or rather their skirts.  Elizabeth Withington invented a “dark thick dress skirt” to use as a developing tent when she traveled. 

Then there was Julia Shannon of San Francisco who, in 1850, took the family portrait to new heights when she shockingly advertised herself as a daguerreotypist and midwife. 

Women photographers were no better than men in preventing the cheerless faces in those early photographs. The sourpuss expressions were partly due to the uncomfortable vices that held heads still for long periods of time. Photographers used all sorts of devices to hold a client’s interest.  One even had a trained monkey. Another photographer had a canary that sang on command.  Mechanical birds were a favorite gimmick and “Watch the birdie” became a familiar refrain in studios across the country.

Magazines and newspapers ran ample advice for posing.  An 1877 edition of The Chicago Inter-Ocean advised women with large mouths to say the word “Flip,” although one photographer preferred the word “Prunes.” If a small mouth was the problem the word “Cabbage” would make it appear larger.

Not everyone was enamored with cameras.  One dog owner put up a sign warning “photographers and other tramps to stay away” after his dog had an unfortunate run-in with a tripod.

Did photography have a bearing on the suffragette movement?  Indeed, it did, but it appeared to be more of a detriment than a help.  The photographs of militant suffragettes or women dressed in bloomers did more harm than good.

If you think America was tough on suffragettes, think again. The women’s rights movement was considered the biggest threat to the British Empire.  According to the National Archives, the votes-for-women movement became the first “terrorist” organization subjected to secret surveillance photography in the world. 

Photography has come a long way since those early daguerreotype days.  One can only imagine what the brave souls of yesteryear would think of today’s “aim and click” cameras and cell phones.  Nowadays you can’t even drive down the street without having your picture taken. The only defense we have is to not leave the house unless we’re ready for a close-up.

Save the Earth; it’s the only planet with chocolate

I’ve got candy on my mind and it has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day or the empty box of chocolates on my desk. The real reason I’m thinking of all things sweet is that I just finished a book about a heroine who owns a candy shop. 

While doing the research for my book, I turned up some fun and interesting facts. For example, we can blame our sweet tooth on our cavemen ancestors and their fondness for honey.  But the most surprising thing I discovered was that marshmallows grow on trees—or at least used to.  That was before the French came up with a way to replace the sweet sap from the mallow tree with gelatin. 

I also learned that during the middle ages, the price of sugar was so high that only the rich could afford a sweet treat.  In fact, candy was such a rarity that the most children could expect was an occasional sugar plum at Christmas.  (BTW: there are no plums in sugar plums.  Plum is another word for good). 

This changed during the early nineteenth century with the discovery of sugar-beet juice and mechanical candy-making machines. 

Soon jars of colorful penny candy could be found in every trading post and general store in the country. It took almost four hundred candy manufacturing companies to keep up with the demand. 

This changed the market considerably. Children as young as four or five were now able to make purchases independent of their parents. (Had youngsters known that vegetables including spinach were used to color candy, they might not have wasted their money.) 

Children weren’t the only ones enjoying the availability of cheap candy. Civil War soldiers favored gumdrops, jelly beans, hard candy and hub wafers (now known as Necco wafers). 

Never one to miss a trend, John Arbuckle of coffee fame, noted the sugar craze that had swept the country and decided to use it as a marketing tool.  He included a peppermint stick in each pound bag of Arbuckle’s coffee to encourage sales. 

 “Who wants the peppermint?” was a familiar cry around chuck wagons. 

This call to grind the coffee beans got a rash of volunteers.  No rough and tumble cowboy worth his salt would turn down a stick of peppermint candy, especially when out on the trail.

Arbuckle wasn’t the only one to see gold in candy. Outlaw Doc Scurlock, friend of Billy the Kid and a Bloody Lincoln County War participant, retired from crime in 1880. Though he was still a wanted man, he moved to Texas and opened up a candy store.

Cadbury, Mars and Hershey rode herd on the chocolate boom of the late 1800s, early 1900s.  Penny candy still made up eighteen percent of candy sales but, by that time, some merchants had refused to sell it.  Profits were thin and selling such small amounts to children was time-consuming. Chocolate was more profitable. The penny candy market vanished altogether during World War II when sugar was rationed.  Fortunately, no war could do away with chocolate.

Jingle-Jangle Christmas

As a child, Saturdays were my favorite day of the week. I remember getting up early and rushing through chores just so I could spend the afternoons watching Westerns.  I had an unstable childhood, so I found comfort in the predictability of those old shoot-em-ups.  When a cowboy rode into town, you just knew he would set things straight before riding into the sunset. 

I also knew that when the camera zoomed onto the hero’s spurs as he walked into a saloon, the message was clear.  No one had better mess with him. 

I became fixated on spurs and for good reason. As a foster child, I was constantly being bounced from family to family. This meant I was forever having to change locations.  But the hardest part for me was having to walk into a new school, which I did more times than I can remember. This always made me feel like an outsider. Because I was shy, thin as a rail, wore glasses, and had red hair, I endured much teasing. No one called it bullying back then, but in modern terms, that’s what it was. 

After going through an especially hard first day at a new school, I remember thinking enough was enough. Would Hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard or Bob Steele stand around while the town picked on them? They would not! Only ten at the time, I decided what I needed was spurs, just like my favorite western heroes wore. The next time I walked into a new school, my spurs would send a clear message that no one better mess with me.

Convinced I had an answer to my problem, I asked for spurs the following Christmas but never got them.  It didn’t matter. The next time I walked into a new school, I pretended I was wearing spurs just like I’d seen one of my cowboy heroes do the previous Saturday.  They only jingled in my head but, you know what?  It worked.  Somehow the jingle-jangle sound that only I could hear helped drown out the teasing and that made me smile.  And that smile helped me do something I’d not been able to do at other schools: make new friends.  It was a lesson I never forgot.

In that spirit, I wish you all a jingle-jangle holiday season filled with lots of smiles, good friends, and loving families.  May all your spurs, imagined or real, be shiny ones and bring good things your way. 

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?