Friday, March 30, 2012


By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

Take a moment to study this face. Look at those clear, beautiful eyes that are so young and yet reflect an intelligence and degree of sincerity, depth, and understanding one might expect from someone much older. It's a fascinating face, reflecting not only the integrity and character this young woman possessed at this time, but also the promise of what she would become. It's all that face...and in those eyes.

You might say there's a story that face. The truth is, there were many. Stories that opened a window to the past, touched the hearts and minds of millions of children (and adults), and documented frontier life firsthand. So, it stands to reason that during the month of March when the Sweethearts of the West blog proudly focused on some amazing pioneering women, the name that came to mind for me was LAURA INGALLS WILDER.

Most people are familiar with the early life of Laura Ingalls Wilder because of her best-selling Little House books. But it is interesting to note that she did not start her career as an author until she was 65-years old. So, although I will briefly overview the events of her childhood, her adult life after her marriage in 1885 until her death in 1957 is just as adventurous and remarkable as her childhood.

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was born in a log cabin built by her father, on a cold winter day in the 'Big Woods' of Wisconsin. The date was February 7, 1867, and at this time the Ingalls family consisted of her parents, Charles Philip Ingalls and Caroline Lake (nee Quiner) Ingalls, as well as older sister, Mary Amelia. The Ingalls family lived seven miles from the nearest village of Pepin.
Today, to commemorate the site of her birth, there is a 3-acre rest area in Pepin County, Wisconsin. Known as "Little House Wayside", the cabin (pictured) is a replica of the home as described by Mrs. Wilder in Little House in the Big Woods.

It has often been said that the challenges and lessons of life not only shape us as individuals but define our character. Without question, the childhood of Laura Ingalls Wilder was filled with adventure, adversity, perseverence, a strong work ethic, faith, love, joy, tragedy and tears. And all of this is reflected in her Little House books, as well as an intrinsic wisdom about what truly matters in life.

“I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.” ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder was a child of the frontier. The memories she shared with the world through her books, not only conveyed the importance of family, faith, and hard work, but also provided an amazing historical documentation of an important time in American history. Yet it is important to remember that she wasn't just an observer of frontier life. She was an active participant.

A year after her birth, her father (who must have been born under a wandering star) had heard about a homesteading opportunity in what was then Indian Territory in Montgomery County, Kansas. It was only after they had settled into their new little log cabin that Charles 'Pa' Ingalls learned the land had not been "officially" released by the government.

In 1870, the family returned to Pepin County, Wisconsin. They remained in the 'Big Woods' until 1874. Mrs. Wilder's novel, Life in the Big Woods is based on her childhood memories during this time period. In 1874, 'Pa' soon felt the wanderlust and the family moved again -- this time to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Mrs. Wilder's book based on her life during this time was called On the Banks of Plum Creek.

Before her parents would permanently settle in South Dakota in 1879, two more daughters would be added to the Ingalls family, Caroline 'Carrie' Celestia Ingalls and Grace Pearl Ingalls. A son, Charles Frederick Ingalls, would be born on November 1, 1875 in Walnut Grove, but tragically die at nine months of age. The family had stopped to visit relatives at their farm while en route to Iowa where 'Pa' had been offered a job as manager of a hotel. The family eventually returned to Walnut Grove, where tragedy would strike the family again when eldest daughter, Mary, would become seriously ill and suffer a stroke, which resulted in blindness.[Pictured below: Carrie, Mary (seated) and Laura Ingalls]

In 1879, Charles Ingalls accepted employment with the Chicago and North Western Railroad. His job required him to travel with the railroad into the eastern Dakota territory. The family joined him there in the fall of that year. They were, in fact, one of two families that founded the town of DeSmet, South Dakota.

In 1880, Charles Ingalls obtained a homestead near Silver Lake in DeSmet, and built a claim shanty on the site. Since work on the railroad had stopped for the winter, the Ingalls family was allowed to live in the Surveyor's house in exchange for guarding the tools and equipment.

By the Shores of Silver Lake documents this time period in the lives of the Ingalls family. However, the record-breaking winter of 1880/1881 would be addressed in a separate book entitled, The Long Winter. The weather was so severe and relentless that the trains could not run and townspeople almost starved to death for lack of provisions.

In 1883, to help her family financially, 15-year old Laura obtained her teaching certificate and taught three terms in a one-room school. In addition to teaching and attending school herself, she worked for the local dressmaker. It was also at this time that the pretty, hard-working and spirited Laura Ingalls caught the eye of a certain young farmer named Almanzo Wilder.

Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder were married on August 25, 1885. She was eighteen years old, and he was twenty-eight. Almanzo already had a homestead site and their future looked promising. The young couple were devoted to each other. On December 5, 1886, they welcomed the birth of their first child, a daughter named Rose.

They worked side-by-side, tending their fruit orchards and wheat fields. They also raised chickens and had cattle. But summers were hot, the land was hard to plow, and winters were hard. For several years in a row their crops were destroyed by drought, hail and insect infestation. Tragedy would strike in 1889 when their 12-day old son died of convulsions. A numb, devastated Laura carried the tiny lifeless body to the cemetery west of town for burial.

Then in 1891, their home burned down. The fire had been accidentally started by 5-year old Rose in the kitchen. The barn full of hay and grain also was destroyed by fire. As if these losses were not enough, both Laura and Almanzo faced life-threatening illness with diptheria. Worried about the farm, Almanzo returned to work before being fully recovered and suffered a terrible relapse which left him partially paralyzed. Although he would eventually regain full use of his legs, he would need a cane to walk for the rest of his life.

Physically exhausted and emotionally devastated, they left South Dakota to visit Almanzo's parents in Spring Valley, Minnesota. From there they traveled to Florida and settled for a short time near the coast. Laura quickly became ill from the damp air and the family returned to DeSmet, South Dakota. While their daughter attended school, Almanzo and Laura worked constantly at various jobs to earn enough money to settle somewhere that would offer them a secure future. They left South Dakota for the Ozarks on July 17, 1894, using a two-seat hack that had been covered with a black oilcloth like a covered wagon, and arrived in Mansfield, Missouri on August 31, 1894.

The couple purchased a small, windowless log cabin situated on a five-acre clearing and surrounded by forty acres of woodland and rocky soil for $100.00. Included in the purchase price of their property known as Rocky Ridge were 400 apples trees and a year-round spring. In time they were able to build a log hen house and a stable. With Laura handling one end of a crosscut saw, Almanzo was able to clear more acreage. The wood provided them with fuel, as well as posts and fence rail. They also sold firewood at $0.75 per wagon load in town.

By spring of their first year in Mansfield, they were able to plant their first crops. To earn necessary income, the family sold eggs, potatoes, and huckleberry and blackberry pies. When they were able to purchase a cow, the family sold homemade butter.

In 1897, the couple built a one-room frame house...together. Over time, the Wilders added nine more rooms and completed the house in 1912. The parlor featured a beautiful fireplace comprised of stones from the Rocky Ridge Farm. The chimney and foundation of the house came from fieldstones. A description of the living room states, "The room had a rustic freshness within itself, as indicated by the ceiling's heavy oak beams, cut, hewed and set by the Wilders' own hands." There was no planing mill in Mansfield, so all of the oak was hand-planed and finished by the couple.

Rocky Ridge Farm eventually consisted of 200 cleared acres, which allowed Almanzo to add to his stock. The Wilders raised hogs, sheep, Leghorn hens and Jersey cows. Almanzo's dairy goats and Morgans were famous in the town.

Mrs. Wilder's writing evolved from gaining experience writing articles for magazines and newspapers. Her first published article was a hand-written letter to the editor of the DeSmet paper back in South Dakota, wherein she let everyone know that she and her husband had traveled to Lamar, Missouri. She also wrote an obituary for the Capper's Weekly about the death of a well-known local Mansfield resident. In addition to her organizing several farm women's clubs, Mrs. Wilder became a columnist for The Missouri Ruralist during World War I. Her weekly column was called, "As A Farm Wife Thinks", and became quite popular.

She often spoke at ladies groups and encouraged women to become active in improving their farms and way of life. And long before she became a published author, Mrs. Ingalls became involved in literary clubs. She was a founding member of the Athenian Club of Hartville in 1916. The ladies would meet on a Wednesday afternoon, and Laura would travel the 12-mile distance in a buggy driven by her loving husband. Meetings were held in the homes of members, and the ladies would discuss books.

It was at the encouragement of her daughter, Rose, that Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing the Little House books in 1932. Originally, she thought to make it one book entitled, Pioneer Girl, but soon realized it would be easier to write it as individual books. The result was an 8-part series, hand-written over an 11-year period.

After the publication of her first book, Little House in the Big Woods (1932), almost immediately she started receiving fan mail. She would answer her mail every morning until she was no longer able. Laura Ingalls Wilder loved children and was delighted they not only read her books, but were so interested in her childhood.

Her husband, Almanzo, was proud of his wife's accomplishments, although he remained quietly in the background. And Laura made sure that writing did not monopolize all her time. Together with her husband, they cared for their farm and loved to explore nature. In fact, she loved to keep the windows in her home uncovered so she could always look at nature. Her daughter, Rose, once said, "She has windows everywhere, not only in her house, but in her mind." Rose also described her mother as follows: "She's little, about five feet tall, has very small hands and feet, and large violet blue eyes; I have seen them purple. Baby fine, pure white hair. She wears it short and well-groomed and moves and speaks quickly, sometimes vivaciously. But her character is Scotch, she holds a purpose or opinion like granite."

Mrs. Lichty, curator of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum,(whose mother was the same age as Laura and a friend)said of the author: "She was a very, very beautiful little lady as long as she lived. She had a pink and white complexion and still, after all the hard work, she looked kind of like a Dresden doll, so little and sweet."
It should come as no surprise that both Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder were loved and well respected by their neighbors. In their later years they drove into town every Wednesday to do their shopping and errands. The devoted couple were married for 63 years, until Almanzo's death in 1949.

In 1954, Garth Williams (the illustrator for the Little House books), designed the bronze Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal. It's first recipient was Mrs. Wilder. The medal is an annual award presented by the Association for Library Service to Children, to 'an author or illustrator whose books, written in the United States, have made, over the years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children'.

Laura Ingalls Wilder continued to live at Rocky Ridge Farm until her death on 10 February 1957 at the age of 90.

The Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder include:

1932 - Little House in the Big Woods
1935 - Little House on the Prairie
1937 - On the Banks of Plum Creek
1939 - By the Shores of Silver Lake
1940 - The Long Winter
1941 - Little Town on the Prairie
1943 - These Happy Golden Years
1971 - The First Four Years

NOTE: Farmer Boy, based on the childhood of Almanzo Wilder, was published in 1933 and not part of Laura's story. It takes place before Laura Ingalls Wilder was born, and tells the story of Almanzo's life as a boy growing up on his family's farm in Upstate New York.

Five books would be written about Laura's life in South Dakota. They are: By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie,and These Happy Golden Years, which tells about her blossoming relationship with future husband Almanzo Wilder. The book ends with their marriage. The fifth book, originally titled The First Three Years and a Year of Grace, was retitled The First Four Years. The book is about the life-threatening hardships and difficulties the Wilders endured early in their marriage. The manuscript for this book was found after the death of Laura Ingalls Wilder and published posthumously in 1971.

I realize this is an exceptionally long post, but it was very difficult for me to edit the life of such an extraordinary person, especially someone whose work meant so much to me as a child. As for what happened to the other members of the Ingalls family, I will quote a letter by Laura Ingalls Wilder to her readership.
"Dear Children,
I was born in the “Little House in the Big Woods” of Wisconsin on February 7 in the year 1867. I lived everything that happened in my books. It was a long story, filled with sunshine and shadow, that we have lived since 'These Happy Golden Years'.

After our marriage Almanzo and I lived for a little while in the little gray house on the tree claim. In the year 1894 we and our little daughter Rose left Dakota in a covered wagon and moved to a farm in the Ozarks. We cleared the land and built our own farmhouse. Eventually we had 200 acres of improved land, and a herd of cows, good hogs, and the best laying flock of hens in the country. For many years we did all our own work, but now almost all of the land has been rented or sold. For recreation we used to ride horseback or in our buggy – later on, our Chrysler. We read and played music and attended church socials.

In 1949 Almanzo died at the age of 92. We had been married 63 years. Our daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, the novelist, now lives in Connecticut.

You may be interested to know what happened to some of the other people you met in my books. Ma and Pa lived for a while on their homestead then moved into town where Pa did carpentry. After Mary graduated from the College for the Blind she lived at home. She was always cheerful and busy with her work, her books and music. Carrie worked for THE DE SMET NEWS for a while after finishing high school, and then she married a mine owner and moved to the Black Hills. Grace married a farmer and lived a few miles outside DeSmet. All of them have been dead for some years now.

Several years before Almanzo’s death he and I took a trip back to DeSmet for a reunion with our old friends. Many of the old buildings had been replaced. Everywhere we went we recognized faces, but we were always surprised to find them old and gray like ourselves, instead of being young as in our memories. There is one thing that will always remain the same to remind people of little Laura’s days on the prairie, and that is Pa’s fiddle. Every year at a public concert, someone plays on it the songs Pa used to play.

The 'Little House' books are stories of long ago. Today our way of living and our schools are much different; so many things have made living and learning easier. But the real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with the simple pleasures and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong. Great improvements in living have been made because every American has always been free to pursue his happiness, and so long as Americans are free they will continue to make our country ever more wonderful.

With love to you all and best wishes for your happiness,
I am Sincerely your friend,
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum
Walnut Grove, MN

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum
Rocky Ridge Farm, Mansfield, MO

Laura Ingalls Wilder by: Emma Carlson Berne
ABDO Publishing Co., Edina, MN (2008)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Our generation has lost so many important talents and skills. Technology makes it easier for us, but in some ways, it takes away our independence. Maybe that’s one reason we love to read (and write!) historical romance. We can go back in time vicariously without having to live through all the hardships and trials of everyday life that our great great grandmothers faced, experiencing only the top layer of what must have been difficult, by our standards, every moment. I didn't pick just one woman to talk about today. I wanted to talk about a whole generation (or two!) of women who helped their men settle the west.

Does anyone know how to cut up a chicken anymore? My mother did. I remember her getting out the wickedest looking knife I’d ever seen every Sunday and cutting up a chicken to fry. They had started to sell cut-up chickens in the store, but they were more expensive. Mom wouldn’t have dreamed of paying extra for that. By the time I began to cook for my family, I didn’t mind paying that extra money—I couldn’t bear to think of cutting a chicken up and then frying it.

It’s all relative. My mom, born in 1922, grew up in a time when the chickens had to be beheaded, then plucked, then cut up—so skipping those first two steps seemed like a luxury, I’m sure. I wouldn’t know how to begin to cut up a chicken. I never learned how. I don't want to know how.

Hog killing day was another festive occasion. Because my husband was raised on a farm, he and my mother had a lot of similar experiences to compare (this endeared him to her in later years.) Neighbors and family would gather early in the day. The hog would be butchered, and the rest of the day would be spent cutting and packing the meat. When my husband used to talk about the “wonderful sausage” his mother made, I was quite content to say, “Good for her. I’m glad you got to eat that when you were young.” (There’s no way I would ever make sausage.)

Medical issues? I was the world’s most nervous mother when I had my daughter. But being the youngest in the family, I had a world of experience to draw on. I also had a telephone and I knew how to use it! I called my mom or one of my sisters about the smallest thing. I can’t imagine living in one of the historical scenarios that, as writers, we create with those issues. The uncertainty of having a sick child and being unable to do anything to help cure him/her would have made me lose it. I know this happened so often and was just accepted as part of life, but to me, that would have been the very worst part of living in the historical west. I had a great aunt who lost all three of her children within one week to the flu. She lost her mind and had to be institutionalized off and on the rest of her life.

My mother was the eldest of eleven children. She often said with great pride that her mother had had eleven children and none of them had died in childhood. I didn’t realize, when I was younger, how important and odd that really was for those times. My great grandmother had a younger sister who was born under a tree in Indian Territory, in the heat of July. She already had three other children. My great grandfather stopped for her to have the baby, spent the night and the next day, and then they were on their way again in their covered wagon. My father’s mother had five children, two of whom died as children, and two more that almost died, my father being one of them.

It was a case of my grandmother thinking he was with my granddad, and him thinking three-year-old Freddie was with her. By the time they realized he was missing, the worst had happened. He had wandered to the pond and fallen in. It was a cold early spring day. Granddad had planted the fields already, between the pond and the house. A little knit cap that belonged to little Freddie was the only evidence of where he’d gone. It was floating on top of the water. By some miracle, my granddad found him and pulled him up out of the water. He was not breathing. Granddad ran with him back to the house, jumping the rows of vegetables he’d planted. The doctor later told him that was probably what saved Dad’s life—a very crude form of CPR. This is a picture of my dad at about age 18 or so, with his little brother Kay, who's around 7 or 8. Probably taken around 1940.

Could you have survived as a historical woman in the old west? What do you think would have been your greatest worry? What would you hate to give up the most from our modern way of life? I’m curious to know, what skills or talents to you think we have lost generationally over the last 100 years?

I’m not sure I would have lived very long, or very pleasantly. I know one thing—my family would never have eaten sausage that I’d made.

I've written two time travel stories, a short story, "MEANT TO BE" that appears in the 2011 Christmas Collection from Victory Tales Press, and a novel, TIME PLAINS DRIFTER, that received a 4.5 review from Romantic Times. In both of these stories, the heroine travels back to Indian Territory during the 1800's. They have to learn to cope with doing things the old fashioned way. Does love really conquer all? Will each of them stay in the past, given a choice? What about a man? Would he cope as well, if as a federal marshal of the 1870's he was catapulted forward into modern times? I think the hero of my sequel to TIME PLAINS DRIFTER, Cris d'Angelico, might find it very hard to give up driving fast cars and playing video games, once he's tried it. TIME PLAINS GUARDIAN is the exciting sequel to TIME PLAINS DRIFTER--availabe in 2013!

For all my short stories and novels, click here:

Monday, March 26, 2012


By Caroline Clemmons

Governor James Hogg
and his family and, yes,
the boys and Ima are
wearing kilts
Every city has philanthropists and patrons of the arts. In that respect, the woman I've chosen to feature for Women's History Month is not exceptional. After all, she was born to wealth and privilege. Why did I choose her? From the time I heard her name, I've been fascinated by her. The poor woman was cursed from birth with an abominable name.  Who could refrain from feeling sympathy for anyone going through life named IMA HOGG?

Ima Hogg, philanthropist and patron of the arts known fondly as "The First Lady of Texas," was born to Sarah Ann (Stinson) and Governor James Stephen Hogg in Mineola, Texas, on July 10, 1882. When she arrived, her father said, "Our cup of joy is now overflowing! We have a daughter of as fine proportions and of as angelic mien as ever gracious nature favor a man with, and her name is Ima!"

Why, you may ask, would a man who loved his family and adored his daughter choose that name in combination with Hogg? Ima was named for the heroine of a Civil War poem written by her uncle Thomas Elisha Hogg in which the heroine Imogene was also called Ima. She was affectionately known as Miss Ima for most of her long life.

Ima Hogg
 Ima Hogg later recounted, "My grandfather Stinson lived fifteen miles from Mineola and news traveled slowly. When he learned of his granddaughter's name he came trotting to town as fast as he could to protest but it was too late. The christening had taken place, and Ima I was to remain."

During her childhood, Hogg's elder brother William often came home from school with a bloody nose from defending her name. Throughout her adult years, Hogg signed her name in a scrawl that left her first name illegible. Her personal stationery was usually printed "Miss Ima" or "I. Hogg", and she often had her stationery order placed in her secretary's name to avoid questions. Hogg did not use a nickname until several months before her death, when she began calling herself "Imogene." Her last passport was issued to "Ima Imogene Hogg". The story that she had a sister named Ura is untrue (although I heard it all my life).

Ima had three brothers: William Clifford Hogg was born in 1875; Michael Hogg was born in 1885; and Thomas Elisha Hogg was born in 1887. Ima and her brothers were born into a family whose tradition of public service was an integral part of Texas history. Her grandfather, Joseph Lewis Hogg, took the oath of allegiance to the Republic of Texas in 1839, helped write the Texas Constitution, fought in the Mexican War, and served as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Her father was the first native born governor and was elected in 1890.

Miss Ima, 1900
She was eight years old when her father was elected governor; she spent much of her early life in Austin. After her mother died of tuberculosis in 1895, Ima attended the Coronal Institute in San Marcos, and in 1899 she entered the University of Texas. In 1901 Ima, who had played the piano since the age of three, went to New York to study music. Her father died in 1906. From 1907 to 1909 she continued her music studies in Berlin and Vienna.

In 1910, Ima moved to Houston, where she helped found the Houston Symphony Orchestra, which played its first concert in June 1913. She served as the first vice president of the Houston Symphony Society and became president in 1917. She became ill in late 1918 and spent the next two years in Philadelphia under the care of a specialist in mental and nervous disorders. She did not return to Houston to live until 1923.

After their father’s death in 1906, Ima and her brothers tried to sell the Varner plantation, but a provision in their father's will specified that the land be kept for 15 years. Luckily for them! On January 15, 1918, oil was found on the Varner plantation. A second strike the following year provided oil income amounting to $225,000 a month shared among the four siblings. That’s a lot of money now, but imagine what a sum that was in 1919! According to Ima’s biographer Gwendolyn Cone Neely, the Hoggs did not believe that the oil money was rightfully theirs, as it had come from the land and not hard work, and they were determined to use it for the good of Texas.

In spite of her personal health problems, or perhaps because of them, Ima Hogg founded the Houston Child Guidance Center in 1929 to provide counseling for disturbed children and their families. Ima was convinced that if children's emotional and mental problems were treated, more serious illness could be prevented in adults. Her interest in mental health came from her father, who had read widely on mental health issues; during his terms as governor, Ima had often accompanied him on visits to state institutions, including charity hospitals and asylums for the mentally ill. She furthered her knowledge of the field while she was a student at UT, taking several courses in psychology. Ima was convinced that her youngest brother, Tom, would have benefited from similar intervention, as he had reacted badly after their mother's death and as an adult was "restless, impulsive, and alarmingly careless with money". Although her ideas on mental health would be considered mainstream today, in 1929 they were pioneering. In 1972, she told a reporter for the Houston Chronicle that, of all her activities, she had derived most pleasure from her role in establishing the Houston Child Guidance Center.

She joined her elder brother William on a vacation in Germany in 1930. During their visit, he suffered a gallbladder attack and died on September 12, 1930 after emergency surgery. Ima brought her brother's body back to the United States. His will bequeathed $2.5 million to UT and his desire was that it be used alongside money donated by his sister for far-reaching benefit to the people of Texas. Legal challenges tied up the grant until 1939, when the University received $1.8 million. In 1940, after discussion with her brother Michael—the executor of the will—Ima used the money to establish the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at the University of Texas at Austin.

Miss Ima Hogg, Philanthropist
and Patron of the Arts
In 1943, Ima Hogg decided to run for a seat on the Houston School Board so that the board would include two female members. During her term, she worked to remove gender and race as criteria for determining pay. She championed a visiting teacher program for children with emotional problems and began art education programs in the schools for black students.

Varner-Hogg Plantation
Although Ima Hogg spent little time at the Varner plantation after Bayou Bend was constructed, she continued to purchase art and antique furniture on its behalf. In the 1950s, she restored the plantation, and each room was given a different theme from Texas history: colonial times, the Confederacy, Napoleonic times (1818), and the Mexican–American War. One room was dedicated to her father, and contained his desk and chair as well as his collection of walking sticks. She donated the property to the state, and it was dedicated as the Varner–Hogg Plantation State Historical Site in 1958, the 107th anniversary of Jim Hogg's birth.

Bronco Buster by
Frederick Remington
 Ima Hogg donated works she inherited from her brothers to Houston's Museum of Fine Arts, including one of the limited editions of Bronco Buster by Frederic Remington. In the 1920s, Hogg's brothers began to develop a new elite neighborhood, which they called River Oaks, on the outskirts of Houston. For their home, the Hoggs chose the largest lot, 14.5 acres. Ima worked closely with architect John Staub to design a house that would show off the art the family had purchased. William and Ima moved into the house, which she christened Bayou Bend, in 1928. In 1939, when she restored her estate along American lines, she donated more than 100 works on paper to Houston's Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH), including works by Cézanne, Sargent, Picasso, and Klee. Following the death of her brother Michael in 1941, she donated his collection of Frederic Remington works to the museum. Consisting of 53 oil paintings, 10 watercolors, and one bronze, it is known as the Hogg Brothers Collection, and is called one of the most important groupings of Western paintings on display in an American museum.  Ima donated her collection of Native American art to MFAH in 1944, including 168 pieces of pottery, 95 pieces of jewelry, and 81 paintings.

In 1960, she was appointed by President Eisenhower to serve on a committee to plan the National Cultural Center, now called the Kennedy Center, in Washington, D.C. In 1961, Jacqueline Kennedy named Hogg to the 18-member advisory committee to work with the Fine Arts Committee in seeking historical furniture for the White House.

One morning in 1914, Ima was awakened by a burglar in her bedroom. She confronted the man, who was attempting to steal her jewelry. Not only did she convince him to return the jewelry, but wrote down a name and address, handed it to him and told him to go there that very day to get a job. When asked why she did that, Ima responded, "He didn't look like a bad man."

The Hoggs' Bayou Bend Home
River Oaks area of Houston
Later that year, she sailed to Germany, alone. While she was en route, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, and the day before she arrived, Britain declared war on Germany. The United States was still neutral, however, so Hogg continued her tour of Europe, not leaving until several months later.

Though Ima Hogg has been described as a woman of "unfailing politeness", she was not without adversaries. For instance, at a concert arranged by the Houston Symphony for her 90th birthday featuring the elderly pianist Arthur Rubinstein, he characterized her as a "tiresome old woman." Hogg, in turn, regarded the musician as "a pompous old man." By contrast, Hogg said of Vladimir Horowitz, whom she met backstage at a 1975 concert in Houston, "Such a nice man. Not at all like that Mr. Rubinstein."

Ima Hogg was a generous benefactor, and believed that inherited money was a public trust. She was described by the University of Houston as "compassionate by nature", "progressive in outlook", "concerned with the welfare of all Texans", a "zealous proponent of mental health care" and "committed to public education."

Bayou Bend's Clio Garden
A lifelong Democrat, Ima Hogg died on August 19, 1975, at the age of 93, from a heart attack resulting from atheroma. She had been vacationing in London at the time, but fell as she was getting into a taxi, and died a few days later in a London hospital. An autopsy report revealed that her death was not related to the earlier fall. On receiving news of her death, the University of Texas declared two days of mourning and flew the flag at half-staff.

Through her long life she received far too many awards and honors to list here. In 1963, former Governor of Texas Allan Shivers—when presenting Hogg with the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the University of Texas Ex-Students Association (the first woman so honored)—said of Miss Ima: Some persons create history. Some record it. Others restore and conserve it. She has done all three.

Thanks for stopping by. Y'all come back!

Sources: Virginia Bernhard, Ima Hogg: The Governor's Daughter (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1984). James Stephen Hogg Papers, Barker Texas History Center, Univerity of Texas at Austin. Louise Kosches Iscoe, Ima Hogg (Austin: Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, 1976). Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary (4 vols., Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1971-80). Wikipedia.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Lumberjack Sister—Sister Amata Mackett

In the late 1800’s Minnesota experienced a tremendous logging boom. Weekly, new logging camps were set up to harvest logs that were then driven (floated) down the waterways to cities including Duluth and Minneapolis by the river pigs (the elite group of loggers who balanced on the logs floating along the raging spring waterways). As fast as the camps formed, so did towns along the rivers. Saw mills and lumber yards were in high demand to process the huge white pines, and other businesses flourished as well, including health care. 

In 1887 seven nuns were sent to Duluth to open a hospital using the money provided by patients and donations for charity purposes. However the needs were soon greater than the funds, so the sisters took it upon themselves to become more resourceful and successful. They created the first form of ‘health insurance’. 

Sister Amata Mackett quickly became known as the Lumberjack Sister. At almost six feet and weighing close to two-hundred pounds, she walked the woods of Northern Minnesota selling hospital tickets, or chits as they called them, to lumber companies and individual lumberjacks. For over thirty years she collected anywhere from $1.00-$9.00 per ticket per year. The holder of the ticket was guaranteed care at one of the several hospitals that were soon built buy the enterprising sisters’ design. The tickets clearly stated a disclaimer that care was null and void if the injury was due to liquor or fighting. 

This is the only picture I could find of the sisters. I have no idea which one is Sister Amata. (I first learned about the Lumberjack Sister several years ago while writing a book set in Northern Minnesota. At that time my mother had several old logging books that had been my grandfather’s and one of them included a story and pictures of Sister Amata and her hospital chits, but I have no idea what happened to those books when my mother passed away. I’m hoping one of my siblings have them.)

The Lumberjack Sister’s yearly visits were highly awaited. Besides renewing and selling new chits, she would bake pies for the lumberjacks, darn their socks, listen to their woes, and provide them with spiritual support. She was also known for doctoring their wounds onsite when needed, and if one was late with his payment, she wasn’t afraid to insist upon collecting the fee, which included using a fireplace poker if needed. 

The men often provided her transportation to the next camp, which varied from ox carts, wagon rides, horseback, and more than once, the gift of new snow shoes. It is claimed she once fought off a would be robber with her umbrella. The Lumberjack Sister and her tickets faded away after 1913 when the Minnesota legislation passed a law that made worker’s compensation mandatory.  

Sister Amata Mackett makes a cameo appearance in my book, A Wife for Big John. 

Blurb: At first sight, Dani Jones fell in love- not with Big John, but with his stove. It's the latest model and makes her believe her cooking alone will encourage the Boss Man to let her stay until she has enough money to travel to California and be reunited with the man she promised to marry.

Big John Thompson returns from the spring river drive to find the man he hired to cook for the lumberjacks is a slip of a girl- Danielle Jones. To make matters worse, Miss Jones decides John needs a wife, and sets out to find him one...

A WIFE FOR BIG JOHN is one to keep so when life is “too-much with us”, we can read it again and escape for a time to the timber land of Minnesota to get our faith in humanity reaffirmed. This Happy-Ever-After story reminds me why I love to read romance.—Long and Short of it Reviews.

I definitely recommend reading Wife For Big John. I enjoyed it immensely and you will too!—Two Lips Review Recommended Read.

Lauri Robinson

Thursday, March 22, 2012

For Love of Banjo-a Western Historical Romance

Please leave a comment.
By Sarah J. McNeal
Please welcome my guest, Sarah J. McNeal,  who writes unique Western Historical Romances.  
When I wrote Harmonica Joe’s Reluctant Bride, I had no intention of writing a sequel or a series.  But when I wrote in the character of Banjo, everything changed.  I fell in love with the homeless kid who was born in a bordello and invented little gadgets.  He had a heart of courage.  I just couldn’t let him go.  So, I had to give him his own story.
For Love of Banjo by Sarah J. McNeal
Western Trail Blazers
E-Book and Paperback

Deceit stands between Banjo Wilding’s love for Maggie O’Leary and his search for the father he never knew.
Banjo Wilding wears a borrowed name and bears the scars and reputation of a lurid past.  To earn the right to ask for Margaret O’Leary’s hand, he must find his father and make something of himself.
Margaret O’Leary has loved Banjo since she was ten years old but standing between her and Banjo is pride, Banjo’s mysterious father and the Great War.

Sunset spread like liquid gold across the horizon.  The golden light glinted off his spectacles, making it impossible for Maggie to read his dark eyes.
 Her lips pressed together in hurt. “There’s nothing wrong with you, Banjo Wilding that a good slap across the face won’t fix.”  He grabbed her wrist in his long fingers and held it in his firm but gentle grasp.
“First you want me to make love to you—in sin I might add—and next thing comes out of your mouth is sass.  Making love to you might prove a dangerous undertaking for any man.”  He smiled when he said it.  He let go of his hold on her wrist and opened his arms to her.  His dark eyes drew her to him.  She gazed into those magnetic eyes, felt her heart turn over and hurried into his warm embrace.  Banjo pulled her in close and kissed the crown of her head. 
The Earth paused as she stood in his arms.  Minutes passed.  Banjo took in a ragged breath and Maggie knew what he would say next.  She dreaded it.  He loosened his hold on her and stepped back.  The awful moment had come. 
A little history:
For Love of Banjo takes place during World War I.  Banjo joins the 15th Regiment Calvary, a real cavalry that  disbanded after World War I but reinstituted years later and still in existence today.

And now a little ghostly legend from the Platte River area of Wyoming:  The Ship of Death
On the Platte River between Torrington and Alcova, Wyoming, a legend persists that a "Ship of Death” continues to sail upon the sometimes dangerous waters. The phantom ship is said to rise out of a strange mist that quickly becomes a massive rolling ball of fog. As the ship grows closer, witnesses report that its sails and masts are covered with frost. Upon its deck stands the crew, also covered with frost, and huddled around a corpse lying on a canvas sheet. The legend continues that the ship always foreshadows the death of someone who will die on the day that it is spotted. As the crew steps back, the identity of the corpse is revealed as a person known by the witness.

The first alleged sighting was made in 1862 by a trapper named Leon Weber. When the crew stepped back, the corpse revealed the body of Weber’s fiancé who died later on that same day. Another sighting of the phantom ship was made by cattleman, Gene Wilson in 1887, when he saw the body of his wife laid out on the canvas. In 1903, another tale describes that when Victor Heibe was chopping down a tree on his riverfront property, he spied the ship. Laid out on the deck was the body of a close friend.
Every case was reported in the late fall, and in all cases, the person seen upon the deck of the phantom ship died on the very same day.
One of the sightings allegedly occurred six miles southeast of the town of Guernsey, near Casper, Wyoming. Another sighting was said to have occurred at Bassemer Bend on the Platte River.
SARAH--thank you so much for visiting Sweethearts of the West, and giving us a wonderful glimpse into your newest novel. I want to know how the homeless kid who was born in a Bordello grew up and fell in love, and I'm sure your readers will, too. Celia

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bessie Agnes Dwyer of Texas

by Jeanmarie Hamilton

My grandmother loved the theater, whether it was attending plays or acting in them. Her aunt Bessie Dwyer also loved the theater, and that's probably one of the big reasons they got along so well. My grandmother always said Aunt Bess was her favorite aunt. As children my siblings and I would listen to my grandmother's family stories and hear great things about Aunt Bess. She became one of our heroines early on. At left is a photo of Aunt Bess and her brothers, my great grandfather Joseph on the left, her right. I don't know when the photo was taken, but I'm guessing she was in her twenties at the time.

Aunt Bess was born in 1866 at her parents' home, Bonita Ranch, near Corpus Christi, Texas. Her father, Judge Thomas A. Dwyer insisted his wife, Annie Croker Dwyer, have their children in Texas, but otherwise she could travel the world as she wanted to do. When Aunt Bess was a child, she traveled with her mother and brother Joseph at times, studied with a family governess, but must have taken after her father quite a bit. The youngest of six children, she was always taking part in plays and portrayed many different characters. She also took after her father's ability for literary and historical accomplishments.

Her father died when she was sixteen. Her education didn't include practical ways she could support herself. The Civil War took the family's savings and property. She ignored society's prejudice against women working outside the home, and she took a paying job in the post office in San Antonio. She worked there for six years, and while holding that job she found a little time to write poems and sketches and have them published. She also worked at G. W. Baldwin and Company, the largest book store and stationary provider in West Texas.

Exhausted from trying to do too much, she resigned her job at the post office and in 1886 she visited her married sister at a frontier army post in the Arizona Territory and later in New Mexico. Three years later she returned to Texas and became a journalist for the Galveston "News" where she kept her readers interested with her descriptions of life in the army in the territories and Old Mexico. Her most memorable stories, "Mr. Moore of Albuquerque" and "A Daughter of Eve," were published in the Galveston "News."

While her home was in San Antonio, Texas, she graduated from a San Antonio business college and, in 1891, filled a position on the staff of the "National Economist," Washington, DC, as a congressional correspondent. She also wrote for well known southern journals. Governor James Hogg made her a commissioner to the Chicago Exposition of 1893. In that same year, she became the first female Assistant Librarian for the Library of Congress. She remained in that position until 1903, meanwhile graduating in June of 1902 from a law course of 3 years. She was the first Texas woman to receive the Bachelor of Laws degree.

She continued to write, in particular, articles for the National Farmer's Alliance periodicals, discussing a number of economic issues that influenced agriculture. Following is a link to one such article:

She traveled to the Philippines, around 1909 - 1911, to establish libraries there, and worked as the Chief of Library Circulation, even while remaining active in politics. She served as a delegate to the 1920 Democratic National Convention representing the Philippines. She loved the people of the Philippines and established her home there. She became a member of the National Federation of Women's Clubs of the Philippines, and is listed as a member from 1929 to around 1944.

My great grandfather, Joseph L. Dwyer, received a letter from the US government around the end of World War II, letting him know that she had died in Santo Tomas Internment Camp, a prisoner of war.

I'm in awe of everything she accomplished in her life. I only have one photo of her, taken with her two brothers when she was probably in her twenties. There is another photo of her in a book for sale on Amazon, titled American Women of Note. She was a strong woman, with strong opinions, and a wonderful friend to my grandmother and the people she worked with during her industrious life.

Thanks to the following for additional information about Bessie Agnes Dwyer:
Melissa G. Wiedenfeld, "Elizabeth Agnes Dwyer," Handbook of Texas Online;
and "American Women of Note," New York: Mast, Crowell and Kirkpatrick, 1897

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Molly Goodnight-"Darling of the Plains"

By Celia Yeary

Molly Goodnight (1839-1926) was the epitome of a rancher's wife during the early settlement of Texas. She would become known as "Mother of the Panhandle" and "Darling of the Plains."

Mary Ann Dyer married Charles Goodnight in 1870 at the age of 31. (Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving blazed the Goodnight-Loving trail  to drive cattle north. The novel and series Lonesome Dove was based on Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving.)


Charles and  Molly spent a seven-year stint ranching in Pueblo, Colorado, before a number of unfavorable conditions resulted in their relocation to the Palo Duro Canyon near present day Amarillo. Molly considered Texas to be much more civilized than Colorado. She had been particularly disturbed when two men were found hanged to death on a nearby telegraph pole.

This lack of civility, coupled with the ensuing drought and the Panic of 1873, resulted in the Goodnights relocating to the the Texas Panhandle.
Charles found a financial backer in John George Adair, a wealthy Irish landowner, and the two men and their wives started the JA Ranch in the Palo Duro Canyon. The Goodnights convinced the Adairs to select this location because of the plentiful grass for grazing, a steady water supply, and protection for the cattle during the winter by the canyon walls.
In May of 1877, the Goodnights and the Adairs moved cattle and provisions into the canyon.  Charles and Molly built a two-room cabin. The nearest neighbors were 75 miles away from where Molly Goodnight established the first ranch household in the Texas Panhandle. Soon the Adairs left the management of the ranch to Charles and Molly.

When a cowboy once gave the Goodnights three chickens as a token of appreciation—intended for a Sunday supper—Molly made the chickens her personal pets to help pass the time.
Over the years, Molly earned the respect and admiration of the cattlemen for the compassion she showed them and the natural remedies she developed for wounds and fevers.

She often gave parties for the cowboys, mended their clothes, and taught a number of them how to read. For this, she was soon regarded as the “Mother of the Panhandle” or the “Darling of the Plains.”
Molly also extended her compassion to orphaned buffalo calves who were left to die after commercial hunters killed their mothers on the range. By rescuing the orphaned buffalo and bottle-feeding them, Molly established an impressive buffalo herd, soon known around the world as the Goodnight Herd. Many credit her efforts with helping to prevent the extinction of the southern buffalo.

As the Panhandle became more populated, Molly donated her time to various philanthropic efforts. In 1898, she and Charles helped establish Goodnight College through the donation of 340 acres.
Molly passed away in April 1926. A fitting tribute to her life, her gravestone was inscribed: 
"Mary Ann Dyer Goodnight- One who spent her whole life in the service of others."

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
My Website
My Blog
Sweethearts of the West-Blog
My Facebook Page