Sunday, December 30, 2012


Caroline Clemmons here, in for Ashley Kath-Bilsky, who is feelin' a mite poorly lately. Poor cowgirl has been run through every test the doc can think of, so she's hiding' out at the ranch.

Luckenbach, Texas
Where "Everybody is Somebody"

In December 2002, Texas Monthly listed the town of Luckenbach in the "Top 25 Unusual Treasures of Texas." Unusual is an apt description! How many towns are sold intact?

My first introduction to Luckenbach, Texas was the song by Waylon Jennings. I’d also seen various people wearing tee-shirts with the logo “Everybody is Somebody in Luckenbach.” Was it a joke or did such a place exist?

On one of our rambling vacations, my husband and I drove through Luckenbach. I was a bit disappointed..There wasn't a lot to see the day we drove through in midweek. That was before I knew the near-ghost-town’s history and musical impact.

Luckenbach is a scenic community in southeastern Gillespie County with strong musical associations. The site was settled in the late 1840s and early 1850s by German farmers, among them the brothers Jacob Luckenbach and August Luckenbach. Jacob was a veteran of the Texas Revolution. The pleasant setting is a mixture of caliche hills and bottomlands on Grape Creek, a tributary of the Pedernales River. (As an aside, I will tell you that Pedernales was spelled incorrectly by the surveyor and is really pronounced pur-den-al-les by Texans.)

Its oldest building is a combination general store and saloon reputedly opened in 1849 by Minna Engel, whose father was an itinerant preacher from Germany. The community, first named Grape Creek, was later named after Minna's husband, Carl Albert Luckenbach, who was then her fiancé. (They later moved to another town which became Albert, Texas.)

Luckenbach was first established as a community trading post and was one of the few that never broke a peace treaty with the Comanche Indians, with whom they traded. That fact alone should make it a major landmark, shouldn’t it?

Comanche family
Painting by George Catlin
A dance hall, a cotton gin, and a blacksmith shop were in existence by the late 1800s. A number of family cemeteries and a Catholic cemetery were also established. The growing population supported a primary school and a Methodist church. Residents in addition to Methodists included in roughly equal numbers Lutherans and Catholics. Many Hispanic families resided in the area and their names joined German and other anglo names on the petition to establish Gillespie County.

Citizens of the town claimed their schoolmaster, Jacob Brodbeck, had launched the first airplane in 1865, years before the Wright Brothers. His experiment failed when his plane crashed. (Brodbeck is a subject for another post.)

Jacob Brodbeck, airplane inventor and schoolmaster

Luckenbach’s population increased to a high of 492 in 1904. By the 1960s, Luckenbach was almost a ghost town.

An ad in the paper offering "town — pop. 3 — for sale" led John Russell “Hondo” Crouch, rancher and Texas folklorist, to buy Luckenbach for $30,000 in 1970, in partnership with Kathy Morgan and actor Guich Koock. (One report said the sale included several hundred acres of ranchland, and another stated only ten acres.) Styling himself the "mayor" and "Clown Prince of Luckenbach," Crouch, a former swimming champion, actor, and columnist, declared Luckenbach "a free state...of mind" and successfully turned the small community into a foil of the nearby "Texas White House"—Lyndon Johnson's place down the Pedernales at the LBJ Ranch. Frequent festivals—including an annual Mud Daubers' Day, an annual Hug-In, a women's chili cook-off, the Luckenbach Great World's Fair, and the Non-Buy Centennial Celebration (a move to protest the commercialization of the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976), brought tens of thousands of people to the pastoral setting.

Luckenbach's association with country music began in the summer of 1973, when Jerry Jeff Walker, backed by the Lost Gonzo Band, recorded a live album there called “Viva Terlingua” at Luckenbach Dancehall. That album became an outlaw country classic.

Four years later (and a year after Crouch's death), Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson memorialized Luckenbach with the song "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)," cowritten by rock and soul producer Chips Moman and keyboardist Bobby Emmons. Country Rock artists Kenny Chesney and Kid Rock later covered the Jennings/Nelson song as a duet. It's also been recorded by musician/actor Christian Kane.

Willie Nelson, singer, songwriter, musician
A Texas treasure

Luckenbach was the site of Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic from 1995 through 1999. Other notable concert appearances in the town have included Pat Green, Robert Earl Keen, and Lyle Lovett. The little community is still an active home to country music where folks gather by the score to listen to area musicians and drink cold beer.

"Pickin' for the Record" was a fundraiser held in Luckenbach on August 23, 2009, for the organization, Voices of a Grateful Nation (honoring veterans). A Guinness Book of World Record was broken for the most guitar players gathered at one time to play (continuously, at least 5 minutes.) The Luckenbach record broke the standing German record by fifty, with the official count at 1868.

The dance hall continues to be a popular gathering place for area and visiting musicians. There's also an outdoor stage Luckenbach hosts a wide range of visitors each weekend, including bikers, bankers and everyone in between, with a separate area for motorcycle parking and car parking, usually in the grass. On Sundays, it is common for people to bring instruments and those in the crowd entertain each other, taking turns performing under the trees just outside the bar. There is a wide variety of Luckenbach-related shirts, bumper stickers and other novelties. No hard liquor is allowed, and no law enforcement is necessary as the crowd tends to self-police.

There are RV camping spots, and a small creek that runs nearby where the signs state "No Swimming Allowed". The sign makes a nice place to hang beach towels.Areas are set up for pitching washers, which must be similar to horseshoes. Occasionally, local and regional celebrities drop by on a Sunday, as this is the most relaxed day to visit and there is no charge to visit. Souvenirs are available at the general store and include postcards, t-shirts, sarcastic and humorous signs, and the local newspaper, the 8-page monthly Luckenbach Moon.

Guich Koock and Gabe Kaplan
stars of sit-com "Lewis and Clark"
Luckenbach was the setting for the short lived sit-com “Lewis and Clark,” which co-starred town co-owner Guich Koock and Gabe Kaplan. What? Sorry, I can't get my mind around Gabe Kaplan in Luckenbach. I'm determined to search out an episode of the show.

As I mentioned above, it's still all about the music. Hopeful artists travel across the U.S. to play their new song at the dance hall. On any night of the week, you can find musicians sitting around pickin' and grinnin' and singin'. It's said that you can't get any more laid back than Luckenbach unless you're unconscious. In a time when people are obsessed with social status, income, and the trappings of so-called success, Luckenbah is a virtual tranquilzer.

Although most road signs directing travelers to Luckenbach have been stolen as souvenirs, the determined visitor still can find the historic hamlet just a few miles east of Fredericksburg, on Farm Road 1376 south of U.S. 290.

KICK'N' BACK IN TEXAS, Armchair Reader

Friday, December 28, 2012


Every so often, I teach a class called “Writing Your Life Story.” Most of the people who are there for classes are senior citizens, who, for the most part, have been urged by family members to come.

As they introduce themselves, it goes something like this: “I’m Jane Doe, and I’m here because my children keep telling me I need to write this all down—but I don’t know where to begin.”

My first assurance to them all is that they don’t need to write like Laura Ingalls Wilder—their families will be thrilled with anything they put down on paper. It’s amazing to me how many people don’t feel they have anything of interest to tell their descendants!

I want to tell you about my parents, El Wanda and Fred, because they were the epitome of opposites when it came to this. My mother told stories from the time I can remember about her family, about her friends, the small town she grew up in. These were details of an ordinary life that gave me insight into the way times were during the Dustbowl days in Oklahoma. It told me about her life in particular and life in general, and it also brought people I never knew to reality for me through her memories.

Mom had a dear friend, just her age, named Mary. They were both the eldest of their respective families, each with many younger siblings that they were responsible for. Mom mentioned how she and Mary both longed for and cherished the few times when they could be alone to talk “girl talk” without each having two or three little ones they had to look after.

One of their favorite places to go was the cemetery. They’d both been born in Albany, so they knew the stories of everyone buried there in the small cemetery. The Taylor family, whose six children went berry picking, only to take shelter under an oak tree when a storm blew up suddenly. Lightning struck the tree and killed all but two of them. The oldest boy crawled to a nearby farmhouse for help, but died later. Out of the six, only one survived. There were no markers on their graves, but Mom showed me where each was buried.

The young child who, at eighteen months, crawled under the porch and drank tree poison his father had believed was well-hidden. Mom told me how his lips were stained purple She and Mary had gone to the funeral and it was imprinted in her mind forever.

She and Mary shared everything growing up. It was a good Christmas if they each received and apple, and orange, and some hard candy in their stockings, and maybe a doll, in addition, in the better-then-most years. (This top picture is my great-grandmother, Josie Belle Walls McClain Martin. The next one is a picture of my Aunt Joyce who served in the Navy in WWII.)

From Mom I learned about our family ancestors--where they'd come from and who they were. As a child, I thought of them as a story she told, but as I grew older, they became real people to me.

I learned about her, too—how, as a teen, she’d pool her hard-earned money with her younger sister, Joyce, to buy the newest Hit Parade Magazine with all the lyrics to the latest songs. They had sung together from the time they knew how, adding more harmonies as more sisters came along.

My dad never talked about his adolescence much. Even though he and Mom grew up together in the same small community, he never had much to add to the conversations. What I know of his family, I learned mostly from my aunt, his younger sister.

Why write it all down now? Because most people never believe they’ll run out of time. “Someday” never comes. My mom had such fascinating stories, filled with tenderness, charged with emotion—stories that made it seem as if I was there along with her as she spoke. She was a painter, an artist, and she could paint pictures with her words, as well.

Mom always wanted to write them down, but like so many, never found the time before it was too late, and Altzheimer’s took away that ability.

I will write it all down…all that I can remember of it. But I can’t help thinking how I wish she had written her story, with all the vivid details and description she used in telling about it. There is so much I won’t know. So much will be lost, simply because this was her life.

The memories are hers: the hard times, as well as the good—the days in an everyday life…and, the nights, when entertainment was nothing more than the beautiful harmonies of the four little girls, floating in the summer stillness for miles as they sang on the front porch…in a much simpler, slower time.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Oh, my glass is filled with Dr Pepper, not champagne. Yep, not traditional worldwide, but traditional in my household. Dr Pepper is uniquely American, uniquely Texan, and the oldest major manufacturer of soft drink concentrates and syrups in the United States. Since I was a child, Dr Pepper has been my beverage of choice. Please allow me to tell you about this amazing drink.

Soft drinks have evolved from a combination of discovery, invention and collaboration. This rich history includes the birth of the soft drink in 1783, when Jean Jacob Schweppe perfected the process for carbonating water and created the world's first carbonated mineral water. But I want to share my favorite with you, Dr Pepper.
Dr Pepper Museum, Waco, Texas

Dr Pepper is a “native Texan,” originating at Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas. Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist working at Morrison's store, is believed to be the inventor of the now famous drink. Alderton spent most of his time mixing up medicine for the people of Waco, but also pitched in to serve customers at the soda fountain counter common to drug stores at the time. He experimented with various flavors of fruits, berries, and herbs that flavored sparkling, carbonated water. Alderton kept a journal, and after numerous experiments he finally hit upon a mixture of fruit syrups that he--and his customers--liked.

Patrons at Morrison's soda fountain began ordering it by name. At the time, it was known only as a “Waco.” Customers would ask him to “Shoot me a Waco." Druggists east and west of the Brazos hounded Wade Morrison about purchasing jugs of syrup for their own shops. To satisfy the demand, Morrison and Alderton began to mix large batches of the syrup. That wasn’t enough, and the two men realized they needed a more efficient operation.

They consulted bottler, R. S. Lazenby. Alderton stepped out of the deal, but Morrison and Lazenby formed the Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Company with the sole purpose of volume production. By 1891, what had been a pharmacist’s experiment transformed into a gold mine.

Morrison is credited with naming the drink "Dr. Pepper" (the period was dropped in the 1950s). Unfortunately, the origin for the name is unclear. The Museum has collected over a dozen different stories on how the drink became known as Dr Pepper. The drink was called Dr. Pepper’s Phos-Ferrates. Whew, what a name.

Lazenby and his son-in-law, J.B. O'Hara, moved the company from Waco to Dallas in 1923. In 1904, Lazenby and O'Hara introduced Dr Pepper to almost 20 million people attending the 1904 World's Fair Exposition in St. Louis. The exposition was the setting for more than one major product debut. Hamburgers and frankfurters were first served on buns at the exposition, and the ice cream cone was first served in large numbers. On July 6, 1923, in Dallas, the remnants of the old Dr Pepper Company and Circle "A" Corporation officially incorporated as the Dr Pepper Company. Lazenby's son-in-law, John B. O'Hara, was named general manager of the firm. In these early years, the struggling firm developed a small but loyal following in the South and Southwest.

How long since a soft drink cost 5 cents?

In the 1920’s, Dr. Walter Eddy of Columbia University discovered that the human body experiences a natural energy drop at three key times of the day: 10:30 am, 2:30 pm, and 4:30 pm. A contest was held for the creation of an ad using this new information. The winner of the ad campaign came up with the famous advertising slogan, "Drink a bite to eat at 10, 2, and 4." Dr Pepper's slogan in the 1950s was "the friendly Pepper-Upper," which led the brand into the 1960s when it became associated with rock and roll music and on Dick Clark's American Bandstand TV show. The familiar clock logo was molded into bottles and has remained a part of Dr Pepper, but the original slogan and its source has been mostly forgotten.

An important 1963 district court ruling enabled Dr Pepper to expand when the United States Fifth District Court of Dallas declared that Dr Pepper was not a cola. This ruling allowed independent bottlers to carry Dr Pepper along with Pepsi-Cola or Coca-Cola, since bottlers could now carry Dr Pepper without violating their franchise contracts, which state that bottlers are not permitted to bottle competing brands. Through close personal contacts and cooperative promotional efforts, Dr Pepper aggressively courted independent bottlers. From 1968 to 1977, under the guidance of Chief Executive Officer Woodrow Wilson Clements, sales increased from $41.9 million to $226.8 million. In the same period net earnings jumped from $4.1 million to $20.3 million. W.W. Clements described the taste of Dr Pepper as one-of-a-kind, "I've always maintained you cannot tell anyone what Dr Pepper tastes like because it's so different. It's not an apple, it's not an orange, it's not a strawberry, it's not a root beer, it's not even a cola. It's a different kind of drink with a unique taste all its own." The unique taste is supposedly a secret combination of 23 fruits and herbs.

In 1986 Dr Pepper merged with the Seven-Up Company and soon thereafter moved its manufacturing operations to facilities in St. Louis, although the company's corporate headquarters remained in Dallas. In 1992 Dr Pepper/Seven-Up Companies, Inc., was the soft drink industry's third largest marketer, with a domestic market share of 11.1 percent. Its products included Dr Pepper, Diet Dr Pepper, 7UP, Diet 7UP, Cherry 7UP, Diet Cherry 7UP, Welch's, and IBC soft drinks. The company's net sales totaled more than $658 million in 1992. A collection of Dr Pepper memorabilia formed the core of the Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute, which opened in Waco in 1991.

The company now known as DPS has evolved from a combination of discovery, invention and collaboration. This rich history includes the very birth of the soft drink in 1783, when Jean Jacob Schweppe perfected the process for carbonating water and created the world's first carbonated mineral water.

Dr Pepper Snapple Group is a leading producer of flavored beverages in North America and the Caribbean. Their success is fueled by more than 50 brands that are synonymous with refreshment, fun and flavor including 6 of the top 10 non-cola soft drinks, and 9 of 12 leading brands are No. 1 in their flavor categories. In addition to their flagship Dr Pepper and Snapple brands, the portfolio includes Sunkist Soda, 7UP, A&W, Canada Dry, Crush, Mott's, Squirt, Hawaiian Punch, Peñafiel, Clamato, Schweppes, Venom Energy, Rose's and Mr & Mrs T mixers.

One of the fun ad campaigns was the “Be a Pepper” song and dance in the 1980’s starring David Naughton.

“I'm a Pepper, he's a Pepper,
She's a Pepper, we're a Pepper,
Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper, too?
Be a Pepper. Drink Dr Pepper.”

Drink up, friends! And while we're talking about Dr Pepper, it's the favorite drink of Deputy Sheriff Link Dixon, the hero of my Texas-set mystery, ALMOST HOME. If you like mysteries with quirky characters, give it a try. I think of it as Bill Crider's Sheriff Dan Rhodes meets Joan Hess's Maggody series. (I should be so lucky as to be compared to either.)


After the death of his wife, Link Dixon moves back to his hometown of Cartersville, Texas with his young son, Jason, to the Victorian home Link inherited from his grandmother. He hopes being surrounded by extended family will help Jason change from the solemn boy he’s become. Link doesn’t begrudge leaving the Dallas PD where he worked for ten years because he and Jason both love their new home. Besides, he’d do anything to help Jason. The Dixon family is thrilled to have Link and Jason in town and Jason is gradually learning to smile again.

Link’s wasted in his job as a deputy on night patrol, collaring drunks like his cousin, Virgil Lee, but it’s the only law enforcement position unless he leaves the county. At the end of Link’s first night on patrol, he’s approached secretly by an old DEA acquaintance who wants him to add to his deputy’s job that of undercover to find the killer of the man he’d be replacing. The kicker is that there may be a leak in the sheriff’s office--Link could be working with dirty cops.

But he can’t refuse, this is Jason and his family’s home. He uncovers clues that lead to more questions. Link contacts an attorney friend from Dallas, Vince Bertolli, who has also recently relocated to Cartersville. When a second person dies, Link is framed for both murders. Help comes from an unexpected source, and Link escapes--helped by a life-long friend with a simple mind, Coy Cox. And then Link’s worst nightmare, Jason goes missing. Who would guess that cousin Virgil Lee would hold the key to retribution?

Thomas Hardy said a man can never go home again.  Almost home is close enough for Link Dixon.


Amazon in Print and E-book

Thanks for stopping by!

KICK 'N' BACK IN TEXAS, Armchair Reader, West Side Publishing Farl 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Our Christmas tree has been up since around the first of December, but traditionally, trees weren’t brought in and set up until Christmas Eve. Normally the tree would remain in the house (most often on top of a small table) until January 5th. Some considered it bad luck to have a tree up before the 23rd. 

Setting up and decorating the Christmas tree was a major event and the celebration often included a feast and guests. Carols would have been sung as the candles were lit to illuminate the tree. 

In 1882 Edward Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison created the first string of Christmas tree lights. He was the Vice President of the Edison Electric Light Company and ordered a hand-wired string of 80 red, white, and blue light-bulbs the size of walnuts. He proudly displayed these lights on the tree in his New York City home on Christmas Eve and the story was carried by papers as far away as Detroit. 

Since many people were still wary of electricity, not believing it was safe, nor would it last long, the idea didn’t immediately take off. Thirteen years later, in 1895 President Grover Cleveland had the first electric lighted Christmas tree at the White House and in 1901 this advertisement appeared in an issue of McClure’s Magazine. 

By 1903, the idea was becoming more popular and General Electric applied for a patent for Christmas lighting. The patent was denied declaring the idea was based on knowledge “any ordinary wireman” had and therefore not patentable. The idea then took off, and several companies took advantage of a new market, manufacturing and selling Christmas decorations.  

From our house to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012


By David Kelley

'Twas just before Santy came, the story is told.
Cattle weren't stirrin', fact they's bunched against the cold.
The tack was hung near the chuckwagon with care.
Why, we didn't know Santy was close anywhere.

Cowboys on the ground were wishin' for their beds,
While nightmares of wild steers ran through their heads.
'Tween now and the next gather, we needed a nap.
Cookie had just finished, and tied down the flap.

When out past the cavvy, there rose such a fuss,
I sprang to my feet, leavin' the bedroll a muss,
And grabbin' my shotgun and my ragged ol' hat,
I run t'ward the racket thinkin' "...what'n thunder's that?"

When thoughts of amazement through my head courses,
It was a buckboard teamed up with draft horses.
A driver in red buckskins, so spry and dainty,
I know'd in an instant, it must be ol' Santy.

Quicker than jackrabbits, them horses they came,
And, he's shoutin' commands to each one by name...
"Get a step, Joe! One more, Prince! On, Big Ed!
Pick it up, Sam! Tighten up, Lou! On, Old Ned!

Don't spook the cavvy, back away from them pens,
You're a pullin' this wagon like a bunch of ol' hens!
Now, when I haul on these lines I mean to stop.
Hold up in this cow-camp like a ton of cow flop!"

They sat down in their riggin', like I knew they would,
With a wagon of goodies ... made of leather and wood.
Then, in a twinklin' with no further delay,
He said, "Back it up, boys, this here ain't no sleigh".

I couldn't believe my ears, and lookin' around,
Off that wagon ol' Santy came with a bound.
He was short, and his chaps reached near to his toes.
He was happy and fat, with a little red nose.

There was a ton of packages and some new tack,
And, ol' Santy was carryin' it all on his back.
His eyes sort of bloodshot, much like a cherry,
From 'rastlin' them horses clean across the prairie.

His lips was plumb puckered, his mouth drawn and droll,
(Mine got that way, the day I swallered my Skoal.)
He was holdin' a piggin' string tight in his teeth,
Not fer' tie down, but for tyin' 'up' a fine wreath.

His head was too big and he had a round belly,
No doubt derived from eatin' Texas Chili.
He's chubby and plump all right, I'd say quite jolly.
I laughed plumb out loud when I seen him, by golly.

He winked his bloodshot eye, and spat 'tween his lips,
And, it made me to know we were all in the chips.
He weren't much for chatter, just done what was due,
Givin' presents and goodies to the whole darn crew.

Then, he stuck his finger in his wee little ear,
Wallered it around and said, "We're through bein' here".
He fled to the wagon, and his team called 'em up,
"Come on you swaybacks ... what's the dag-burn holdup?

We won't be back till next year 'cause we're flat broke.
Merry Christmas, my eye, I just busted a spoke!"

About the Author 

Howdy! my name is David Kelley, and I was born in the panhandle of Texas in 1943, west of Lubbock, Tx., in the thriving metropolis of Levelland, Tx.. Yes Margaret, there really is such a place as Levelland. I’ve been writing cowboy poetry off and on for twenty years, mostly off. I came to know some of the older lingo, due to my surroundings, and as I got into poetry, it just came natural to write the way I talked. I came by most of my stories honestly, by the limited experiences I've had, and the fact that one side of the family was almost all cowboys. I spent a good deal of time as a child on The Pitchfork Ranch, (as we called it back then, actually The Pitchfork Land & Cattle Company) near Guthrie, Texas. I had a dear uncle who was the "Farm Camp Manager" for the "Pitchfork" for years. He and his brothers, Porter, Jack, and his dad, King David Myers, cowboy'd all around the Caprock area of Texas all their lives. They're all dead now and I felt an obligation to put some of their stories, as well as some of my own, down for my kids, and others who might be interested. Some of my wife's family are subjects of my poetry as well. I feel blessed and honored by the interest in my work thus far. I have made every attempt to be accurate, and authentic, as well as informative and entertaining. It is my desire that you would see our poetry as your introduction to the past, and to the future as well. My attempt in writing this poetry is to immortalize the working cowboy lifestyle, and his forefathers. While the cowboy is not perfect, he certainly embodies the spirit of goodness and fair play that we could all use in this imperfect world we live in.

I write about the working cowboy because I should have been one, and blew my chance, and because folks on the street today need to remember what the cowboys down through history have done for them.  I write about the working cowboy, and perform at gatherings when I get the opportunity, because it's one of the last forms of entertainment, void of the filth and garbage in most other forms of entertainment today.  I write so little Johnny down the street can find out about his grandpa, or uncle, in an amusing, or even a serious way, without having to wade through trash to get there.

Graphics from CanStockPhoto

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Cowboy's Christmas Dream


Charles M. Russell, the "Cowboy Artist," loved Christmas and painted several pictures for the season. Although he spent winters in California in his later years, memories of Christmases on the western prairies stuck with him.

Winter was hard and often lonely for cowboys. Weather conditions made their work doubly difficult, and often a couple of cowhands spent months together in a line shack on the far reaches of the ranch, guarding their employer's cattle. Their winter horses had to be sturdy enough to support not only the rider but, at times, a half-frozen calf.

In the painting below, two cowboys pay a visit to a pair of lonely line riders, bearing a Christmas gift -- a freshly killed pronghorn. The near rider wears a western coat lined with wool fleece and heavy chaps to ward off the cold. Wolf skins stretched on the cabin walls, no doubt taken from recent predators, help insulate the rough abode. Steam from the horses' nostrils shows just how cold it was outside.

Christmas at the Line Camp. 1904, Charles M. Russell

Russell wrote the following poem in 1917. The misspellings (colloquialisms?) are his, not mine.
Last night I drifted back in dreams

To childhood’s stamping ground

I’m in my little bed, it seems,

The old folks whispering ‘round.

My sox is hung; Maw’s tucked me in;

It’s Christmas eve you see.

I’ve said my prayers, blessed all my kin,

I’m good as good kin be.

But suddenly I’m wakened wide,

From out this youthful dream.

By jingling bells that’s just outside

Hung on some restless team.

Reminded by rheumatic shin,

And lumbagoed back that’s sore,

Whiskered face, hair that’s thin,

I ain’t no kid no more.

And getting my boots I open the door,

And I’m sure surprised to see,

An old time freighter I knowed before,

But Its years since he called on me.

He’s an undersized skinner,

Good natured and stout,

With a team like himself,

All Small.

It’s the same old cuss

Maw tells me about,

Just old Santy Claus, reindeers and all.

He’s aholding his ribbons like an old timer would

When he nods his head to me,

“I wish you’d put me right if you could,

I’m way off the trail,” says he,

“I follow the trail of the stork – it’s strange,

Me missing his track”, says he,

“But I’m guessing that bird

Never touched this range,

For there’s no sign of youngsters I see.

You bachelors have a joyful way

When and wherever you’re found

Forth of July, or Paddy’s day

A-passing the drinks around.

But to get the joy that Christmas brings,

You must be acquainted with three,

A homes but a camp without these things,

A wife, the stork, and me.”

And then my bunk pal gives me a shake,

And growls in a cranky way,

“You’ve got all the bedding,

I’m cold as a snake.

I wonder what day is today.

Now here's an excerpt from Dashing Druid, in which Tye Devlin comes to town for supplies after a long winter stretch in a line shack with another cowboy.

Tye dismounted and wound his reins around a hitching post outside the general store, near a buckboard awaiting its owner. He’d volunteered to ride into Clifton and pick up supplies for the line shack he shared with a colored cowboy named Dewey Sherman. The trip was a welcome break from the winter tedium. Riding the border along their section of the ranch, to stop cattle from straying and drive off predators, was a cold, lonely job.

David had stationed him as far from the Double C as possible to keep him away from Lil – to prevent trouble with her father, Tye both understood and resented – but she was never far from his thoughts. He’d foolishly hoped this change of pace might take his mind off her for a short while. So far it hadn’t worked.

Two months had passed since the social in Meridian, yet he couldn’t stop picturing her in that tantalizing red dress, with her beautiful dark hair rippling down her back. He also couldn’t forget the way she’d gazed up at him when she was in his arms, and how feeling her excitement had made his blood pound. He still thought himself unworthy of her, but that didn’t stop him from longing to hold her and kiss her again. As always, he became half aroused at the mere thought.

Unbuttoning his jacket, he resettled his gun belt and told himself he’d simply gone far too long without a woman. While in town, he ought to stop by the saloon and take one of the birds of paradise upstairs for a while, but alas, the idea soured the instant it crossed his mind. He wanted Lil, no other.

Impatient with his unruly thoughts, he stepped up onto the boardwalk and crossed to the store entrance. He was about to open the door when it swung inward and an overloaded customer plowed into him. A feminine cry of alarm rang out as tinned goods and paper-wrapped parcels toppled from a crate the woman carried.

Tye grunted in reaction. Then, to his astonishment, he found himself face to face with the object of his pent up desires. Lil stared back at him, lips parted and brown eyes wide with shock.

“Careful,” he said belatedly, reaching out to stabilize the wobbling crate. Despite the gloves he wore when he touched her hands, her agitated emotions slipped past his mental barriers with ease, as always. Amid that confused mix of surprise and alarm, he detected a thread of gladness. An answering rush of pleasure swept through him. He longed madly to kiss her.

Dashing Druid for Kindle
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Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Winter Survival in the Great Northwest

Winter Survival in the Great Northwest
Although I live in North Carolina and experience very few bitter winter days, I still remember the great northwest and winter in Omaha, Nebraska. It’s emblazoned on my brain and used to haunt my dreams. You think I exaggerate? Not at all.
I have to admit that a northwest winter is a mixed bag of memories. Waking up to the sight of a crust of sparkling white snow and crisp, cold air brought a certain excitement to my heart. The air seemed so clean and pure, but it froze the hair in my nose each time I breathed it in I worried that my lungs would freeze. The doors on my car were usually frozen shut. An entire process ensued each morning getting them to open again—not to mention the trials and tribulations of scraping ice off the windows. My advice to any Nebraskan is to keep their cars in a heated garage. In those days, we “Flower Children” believed in doing things the natural way like hanging clothes on a line. If you’ve never done this in the winter, you’re in for a real treat. Wet clothes freeze into stiff boards before you can even hang them up. Clipping clothespins to the frozen garments had to be done without gloves and it doesn’t take long before fingers go numb and knuckles become raw. The best thing to do is string a line inside the house—or get in the twenty-first century and use a dryer. Pray that the power doesn’t go out while you’re at it.
But what about the brave pioneers that went out west before there were power grids, central heat and modern machinery? How did they survive winters in the great northwest? And what about the Native Americans who lived on the Great Plains? How did they keep warm? How did people spend their days when blizzards roared and the temperatures dropped below zero?

The more nomadic tribes of Native Americans moved to their winter camps further south where they could enjoy a more moderate climate. The tribes that stayed were well prepared for the harsh rigors of a northwest winter. They wrapped heavy animal skins around the poles of their teepees insulating them from winds and weather. In the center, they built a small fire and covered the floor with thick, furry skins that held in the heat. Of course, they had prepared dried meats and cornmeal during the warm weather to last until spring. As well as gathering wood, they gathered seasoned buffalo chips to use for their fires. Winter was a time to repair and make weapons, baskets and pottery and it was a time to tell the stories passed down from ancestors. All in all, they were quite cozy. They didn’t have to wake up to alarm clocks and crack open frozen car doors.

The hearty pioneers who moved west had harsh lessons to learn about winterizing in such a harsh environment.  There was no time to waste during the warmer months. Hunting and curing meats along with planting crops of vegetables that would last them through the cold winter was essential for survival. A real priority was gathering and cutting enough wood to last. If the heat producing fire died due to the lack of wood, it was game over. Wisely, they built their log cabins small with the fireplace in the center so that the heat was well distributed. Lofts built above the living area helped keep them warm when the fires were banked at night since heat rises. Since they had no glass, the windows were covered with oiled paper or cloth. The light could brighten the interior even though no one could see through the windows. They filled the space between logs  with mud that further helped to insulate their homes. Some dwellings were made of dried mud and some were built into the side of a hill that also helped to insulate the living space.

For a short period in my childhood my family lived in a log cabin that had once been a carriage house. It had two huge windows, one upstairs and one downstairs that brightened the entire living space. A fireplace downstairs placed in the center of two long windows made the whole place cozy. Of course, we had modern heating, but I have to say that was the coziest place to live.
I have gratitude that I live in a world of furnaces and electricity and in a state that doesn’t have much in the way of severe winters, but I admire those hearty individuals whose adventuresome spirits took them to a place where their will, strength and intelligence would surely be tested. My hat is off to them and to their contribution to the history of our nation.
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Gifts From The Afterlife
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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tanya Hanson and O Tannenbaum

It’s finally looking like Christmas around the homestead. We decided to begin a remodel of all three of our bathrooms the Monday after Thanksgiving. The havoc, dust and early mornings around here (to let the workmen in) were so nonstop we reckoned we’d wait until construction ended to put up our tree.

So...when award-winning western author Cheryl Saint John  invited me to showcase my Christmas tree on her month-long author’ tree showcase,  I “borrowed” my niece Katie’s tree.

My sis also sent a pic of her tree just in case. Hers has a bird theme, is always magazine-perfect, and I love every year finding her a new ornithological ornament.

Well, at Home Depot the other day, picking out paint samples for the various “necessaries,’ the scent of freshly cut pine trees so overwhelmed hubby and me that we caved....gussied up the homestead as well as we could,  and put up our tree even in the turmoil of construction! Ah, what a treat, cuddling up in front of it with a good book...

And that reminded me of a favorite tome my mama gave me. It dates from 1935 and includes not only the music and lyrics of favorite Christmas carols, but a historical tidbit about each one. I wore this thing out as a kid taking piano lessons. Now it’s one of my favorite possessions. 

So I looked up “O Christmas Tree”  

What we call the Christmas tree today has its origins in ancient Rome. During the pagan festival Saturnalia, which honored Saturn the god of seed-sowing, trees laden with decorations and gifts were customary. During the dark ages, the Goths brought the Saturnalia customs back to Germany.

Legend has trees becoming part of Christmas festivities during the time of Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546.) Out on a winter night, he supposedly was so moved by stars shining on a fir tree that he brought the tree home to his family and hung it with paper stars and candles in honor of the Star hanging over the Christchild’s manger. Hence, the “Tannenbaum.”

As for cuddling up with a good book by your tree or fireplace, might I recommend my latest release, Christmas for Ransom? True, Jack is an outlaw, but a good-hearted guy who loved his gram-maw. And going from a tumbleweed Christmas tree while he’s snowbound with Eliza (they’re hiding from his former gang) to a big knotty pine after he’s all redeemed, married and a daddy is a pretty good thing!

Merry Christmas, and may God bless y’all, every single one!