Tuesday, July 30, 2013


By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

“You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before us.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

In many ways, this has been the most difficult post for me to write. You see, on 24 July 2013, Kane, my family’s beloved 13-year old German Shepherd passed away in his sleep. So, when faced with a topic of what to write about this month, all I could think about was Kane, the impact he had on our lives, and the soul deep ache that remains as we deal with his loss. As I gathered my thoughts about Kane and selected some photos to share with you all, I pondered the unique relationship that man has always had with dogs.

Whether or not you are a dog lover or believe the old saying that Dogs are Man’s Best Friend, the extraordinary relationship between humans and dogs has been recorded throughout history in poems, literature and film. Some of you may remember reading Homer’s Odyssey in high school, and that it was Argos who not only waited 20 years for his master to return from his ill-fated voyage, but was the only one to recognize Odysseus after so many years. Other unforgettable dogs featured in literature and later in film were Dorothy’s feisty, devoted Toto from The Wizard of Oz, the scarred but courageous Buck from The Call of the Wild, the heartbreaking Old Yeller from the Newberry-winning novel of the same name, and more recently the adorable Golden Retriever Marley from Marley and Me.

Lassie, the super intelligent, loving, devoted collie was first featured as a short story in a 1938 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. The response to the story was so great that author Eric Knight published Lassie Come Home as a novel in 1940. Lassie continued to endear itself to millions in books, films, and several syndicated television shows over the years. However, Lassie wasn’t the first movie star dog whose popularity included books, film, radio, television, and merchandising; that honor goes to a certain German Shepherd name Rin Tin Tin.

Rescued from a World War I battlefield in 1918, at a time when deadly mustard gas was being used and soldiers fought in handmade trenches with little protection from artillery, the discovery and life of Rin Tin Tin is, in itself, a remarkable story involving a bombed village in France, and an American soldier. On 15 September 1918, Lee Duncan, a corporal in the United States Army, entered the severely battered village of Filrey, France, to identify a possible landing site for military aircraft. The village had been bombed recently and when Corporal Duncan discovered a destroyed kennel, the only dogs left alive were a female German Shepherd and her five newborn pups—one of whom would grow up to be Rin Tin Tin.

Duncan rescued and brought them back to his Army unit where a new chapter in their lives began. After the puppies were weaned and the mother’s health restored, she was given to an officer. Three of the puppies were adopted by three soldiers in the unit. Duncan, however, kept a male and female puppy.

Convinced the puppies were symbols of good luck, he named them Rin Tin Tin and Nanette. The names were based on a pair of good luck charms that some French children had given the American soldiers. The two puppies remained with Duncan and in 1919, when he boarded a ship back to the United States, Rin Tin Tin and Nanette went with him. Upon arrival in New York, re-entry processing required the dogs be quarantined. They were temporarily placed with a breeder named Leo Wanner.

Unfortunately, when the time came for the dogs to be returned to Duncan, Nanette had become gravely ill with pneumonia. A sympathetic Wanner gave Duncan one of his female German Shepherd puppies. While traveling west to California, Duncan learned that Nanette had died; he named his new female puppy Nanette II.

At his home in Los Angeles, Duncan taught Rin Tin Tin a variety of tricks and believed if his beloved pet won some ribbons at local shows, he would be able to breed Rin Tin Tin. To this end, in 1922, Duncan became a founding member of the Shepherd Dog Club of California. With great anticipation and hope, Rin Tin Tin was entered in the club’s first show. Although he demonstrated impressive agility, he also showed an aggressive temperament by growling, barking, and snapping during the show. To make matters worse, on the walk home from the show, Rin Tin Tin's left front leg was broken when a tied stack of newspapers was carelessly tossed off a delivery truck and hit Rin Tin Tin. Duncan nursed Rin Tin Tin back to health over the next nine months.

By the time Rin Tin Tin appeared in his next dog show, approximately 10 months after his injury, he made an award-winning leap of 11 feet 9 inches. (See photograph courtesy of the Rin Tin Tin Collection, Riverside, California.)

At the show, Duncan noticed Rin Tin Tin being filmed and the thought occurred to him that perhaps his dog might do well in motion pictures, following in the footsteps of Strongheart, another German Shepherd who had become quite successful in films.

The seeds of Duncan’s dream were planted, and in 1922, Rin Tin Tin made his film debut in The Man from Hell’s River. Billed as Rintan, he portrayed a wolf in the film because the wolf that was to have been used did not perform well on camera. He would continue to be cast as a wolf-hybrid in other films as well. In 1922, Rin Tin Tin was billed as himself portraying a domestic dog in the silent film, My Dad.

A year later, Rin Tin Tin appeared in his first starring role, Where the North Begins. The film proved so successful, it has often been referred to as the movie that saved Warner Brothers Studio from bankruptcy. Rin Tin Tin would star in 24 other successful films, many of which were written by a young screenwriter named Darryl F. Zanuck. In fact, it was his involvement with the Rin Tin Tin films that contributed to Zanuck’s promotion to movie producer.

With the enormous success of his film, endorsements and merchandising followed. Rin Tin Tin became a worldwide phenomenon, able to connect emotionally with audiences regardless of what languages they spoke. Extremely skilled and well-trained by Duncan’s off-camera voice commands, he proved so ‘almost human’ in his performances that in 1929, Rin Tin Tin received the most votes as a Best Actor nominee for the very first Academy Awards. However, the Academy felt a canine nominee might adversely affect the desired integrity of the awards, and Rin Tin Tin’s name was removed in favor of another human.

Among the extensive silent and sound filmography of Rin Tin Tin are numerous westerns including the 1925 film Clash of the Wolves. The Library of Congress stated this film was “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant” and the complete full version has been preserved by the National Film Registry.

When discussing her wonderful book, Rin Tin Tin – The Life and the Legend, author Susan Orleans described the story of Rin Tin Tin as a “narrative about luck, about love, about heroism, and loyalty, and that story is what has endured”.

The qualities she described about Rin Tin Tin resonated with me, because they easily describe Kane, as I am sure dog owners everywhere can relate when thinking about the four-legged fur babies in their families.

"There will always be a Rin Tin Tin.” ~ Lee Duncan

Rin Tin Tin died on 10 August 1932; he was 14 years old. Although heartbroken by the loss of his beloved dog, Duncan believed the legacy of Rin Tin Tin would live on in the hearts of Rin Tin Tin fans. Without question, this remarkable dog broke ground in a very young movie industry and became an unprecedented movie star. He demonstrated not just how intelligent and agile he was on film, but the unique emotional connection between dogs and humans that he was able to communicate with a worldwide audience.

“I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.” ~ Doris Day

I emphatically believe there is an undeniable empathy that dogs possess, a quiet understanding and almost psychic insight established by a close emotional bond with their human families. I saw it often in the eyes of our dog Kane; I felt it in the quiet moments after the death of my mother and he watched me in silence then came over to quietly rest his head in my lap. And I saw it again in his eyes when he lay dying – this sweet sadness, quiet knowing, and stoic acceptance that the time had come for him to leave us. I think of the wisdom in his eyes, the calm of his demeanor, and the nobility in the way he faced death on his own terms.

And yet I don’t want to focus on his death, but his life, and how on one beautiful day in the summer of 2000, I drove to South Carolina to pick out our long awaited puppy. There he was with his brothers and sisters, and what I noticed first was that wherever he went, they followed him. I picked up this chubby little fella and he looked intently at my face with such intelligence, curiosity, and affection, his bright eyes arched naturally with little brown eyebrows, and my heart melted.

Kane grew quickly, as most puppies do, literally by leaps and bounds. He hated squirrels, loved to play tug o’ war, and could let himself out by opening the kitchen door like a raptor from Jurassic Park. Throughout his life, he tirelessly remained sentinel over our home and children. He literally leapt into the pool at six months of age when our youngest son screamed. Kane didn’t understand that Will was not in danger, but just having fun with his brothers.

He wanted nothing more than to be around us. During the day, while the boys were at school, he would follow me from room to room. I truly believe Kane thought he was human; he saw no difference between himself and my other boys. I was his mother. But when my husband came home, I was quickly abandoned. He was, most of all, my husband’s dog. They shared a special bond, so as hard as it is for me and our sons to cope with Kane’s loss, my husband (in many ways) has lost his best friend.

He was an extremely healthy dog until the last year of his life. He weighed on average 122 pounds, and guarded all of us unfailingly night and day. With an almost noble sense about his bearing, Kane easily intimidated anyone who saw him, and to the very end of his days remained watchful and wary of anyone who approached any member of his family. Still, to us he was a big teddy bear.

He loved to be outdoors and often resembled a lion to me as he proudly kept watch of the neighborhood from his favorite spot in the breezeway off the kitchen. When he wasn’t chasing squirrels out of the yard, (or on one occasion tearing a drain pipe off the house then clamping each end shut with his jaws to trap one inside), he played with his little brother, our 19-pound Scottish Terrier named Patrick. And just like those little German Shepherd puppies in the same litter as Kane, Patrick followed his big brother wherever he went. My husband built hurdles for Kane to jump, and when Kane wanted to play, he almost pranced about with these beautiful high steps.

Because he was such a big, extremely strong dog, there were endless days of obedience training where he expertly learned special command signs. In fact, Kane was with me on September 11, 2011. We went that morning to his obedience class and as we did our workout with the trainer, someone ran outside to tell us the news of the 9-11 attacks.

“They say that dogs may dream, and when Topsy was old, his feet would move in his sleep. With his eyes closed he would often make a noise that sounded quite human, as if greeting someone in his dreams.” ~ Alice Hoffman, The Red Garden

This is one of the last photos taken of Kane. He was born on 25 May 2000 and died on 24 July 2013. He was in life and will forever be in our memories, strong, strikingly beautiful, extremely intelligent and intuitive, a devoted friend, tireless protector of our home and family, brave beyond measure, wise beyond his years, and a deeply loved and cherished member of our family.

Thank you for allowing me to share some memories of our sweet Kane with you, and I hope you enjoyed also learning about Rin Tin Tin. I would also like to thank my dear friends who not only understood the pain of our loss, but helped to bring comfort to our hearts as we adjust to life without our precious Kane.

With that in mind, I would like to share a poem by Donna Swajeski that Cheryl Pierson, one of my dear Sweethearts of the West sisters sent to me. She found it on Facebook and shared it with me. Now, I would like to share it with you.

And yes, I DO believe that dogs go to heaven. :) ~ AKB


Their joys are simple. A soft bed. A scrap fallen from the table that the younger dogs missed. The memory of a treed squirrel. A stormless night.

White whiskered faces and legs crooked as question marks.

Old Dogs…their sweet Buddha bellies hang over crossed legs as they fall asleep in a coveted patch of sun. Dreaming of out-racing their shadows down long, shady lanes.

Once they danced by your side. The very definition of joy unleashed. A perfect poem caught in shining eyes and wagging tails. They have followed you faithfully for years. And would plunge into fires, untamed wildernesses, raging waters if you asked.

Now, they struggle to catch up. Their pace slow but their hearts still valiant. Their cloudy eyes are starting to dim and go distant, tuning in to some invisible world. Just beyond your reach.

Don’t go you say, as you scratch the tender part between their ears. Stay longer. I can’t imagine a world without your fur pressed close to my cheek. There are still so many roads we haven’t explored.

And they look up at you with a wisdom that just slays you.

Their backs are bent, not from the weight of years, but from the invisible wings they are growing that will soon take them to a place where once more they are warriors of speed, drunk with the sights and scents of a thousand meadows. Able to leap high enough to touch the wing of the tiniest butterfly.

A place where they will now wait for you to catch up. ~ Donna Swajeski


Rin Tin Tin – The Life and the Legend by Susan Orleans (Simon and Schuster)

Dog World: And The Humans Who Live There by Alfred Gingold (Random House)

Lassie - The Extraordinary Story of Eric Knight and the World's Favourite Dog by Peter Haining (Peter Owen Ltd)

Sunday, July 28, 2013


My birthday is July 28th. I share my special day with Jackie O., and only one other person I’ve actually met in my lifetime—my daughter’s best childhood friend, Hailey.

I always loved that my birthday came in July. The Oklahoma weather was traditionally hot. In those early years, we dressed in our best party dresses, wore white anklets and Mary Janes, and always, there were beautifully wrapped gifts (no gift bags in those days!) and a marvelous homemade cake.

My sixth birthday is one I remember vividly. We were in the process of moving, and our furniture hadn’t arrived. Mom never bought cakes, but this was an exception. She bought the only chocolate cake the store had—a German chocolate cake—forgetting that I was “the one” who didn’t like coconut. We pulled out the kitchen drawers, turned them on end and used them for makeshift chairs around our “table”—a large wardrobe box turned on its side. The same day we were moving in, another family was doing the same thing, just down the street. The best birthday gift of all? They had a little girl my age! Jane became my best friend. (This is a picture of Jane--who also had a July birthday and was a year older than I was--playing in my sandbox when we were around 8 and 9 years old.)

Slumber parties were popular in later years. Parents endured a houseful of giggling, rambunctious elementary school-aged girls for the longest night of their lives…until the next year rolled around.

Costume parties were another fad. The pictures that my parents took of a costume party I had for my tenth birthday are unforgettable. I remember how much fun we all had, figuring out “who” or “what” we were going to be. Amidst a hippie, a leprechaun, and Indian princess, and a gypsy, I was a hula dancer. My oldest sister had just returned from a year of college studies in Hawaii, and I had a brand new grass skirt that needed to be broken in. My good friend DaNel, who’d moved just across the street, wore my kimono—another present from my sister. This was before Pizza Hut—we ate hot dogs for dinner.

And what about skating parties? Do any of you remember those? We had a skating rink with a wooden floor (yes, this definitely shows you how old I am!) and we never tired of skating around and around, couples skating, all boys, all girls, backward skate—the changeups were endless, as were the games.

This month I’ll celebrate a milestone birthday—number 56. I don’t mind getting older at all—hey, I can get my discount at IHOP now!

In my book, FIRE EYES, Frank Hayes, the youngest of the deputy marshals, has made an embarrassing and potentially deadly mistake. Though Kaed Turner, the main character, survives, Frank has made the decision to give up law enforcement. Kaed seeks him out, along with Travis Morgan, another marshal, to have a talk with him about it. He shows Frank that no matter what, he’s part of a different kind of family now. Birthday reminiscing is how the difficult conversation begins.


“Well, Frank, I expect you’ll remember to tell someone next time, won’t you?” Kaed said quietly.

“Won’t be a next time, Mr. Turner. I don’t b’lieve I’m cut out for this.”

Travis started forward, but Kaed put a staying hand on his arm. Travis met his eyes and Kaed shook his head. He came toward Frank slowly. When he got within arm’s length, he stopped.

“How old are you, Frank?”

“Twenty. Or close enough. My birthday’s next month. My ma, she always made a cake.” He glanced around at Kaed, a flush staining his neck, making its way into his face. “Chocolate,” he mumbled, “if she could get it.”

Kaed gave him a half-smile and closed the last bit of distance between them. “You’re awful lucky, Frank. I lost my mother when I was just shy of nine. I’m not sure I even remember exactly when my birthday is. But, that’s not really important, anymore.”

Frank nodded, but didn’t look at him. He kept his eyes fixed on the gently swirling water of the creek.

Kaed went on. “When you became a marshal, you got another family. We all share the same life, the same dangers, the same loneliness of bein’ out on the trail.”

Frank shuddered, his lips compressing tightly. “I know you’re right, Mr. Turner.”

When he didn’t continue, Kaed said, “I’m not mad at you, Frank. Anybody can make a mistake. Travis, here, he was a couple of years older than you when he made his big one.”

Travis drew his breath in, and Kaed turned to give him a quelling glance. “Right, Trav?”

Travis nodded.

Kaed turned back to Frank. “You’ll have to get Trav to tell you about it.” He spoke easily, as one friend would to another, as if he thought Travis and Frank were on amicable terms.

Frank gave a short, brittle laugh. “I don’t think Travis Morgan is gonna talk to me about any mistake he ever made.”

“Trav, come on up here,” Kaed said.

Travis slowly stepped forward to join Frank and Kaed, swallowing tightly. “Frank, I guess I need to say—”

“You better do more than guess what you need to say, Travis,” Kaed said, his tone cool.

Travis glanced at Kaed and flushed. He nodded. When he turned back to Frank, his green eyes were apologetic. “I gave you a hell of a rough time, Frank. I’m sorry for that.” He extended his hand. “Will you accept my apology?”

Kaed looked at Frank expectantly. He felt like an older brother overseeing two younger, quarreling siblings, forcing them back to brotherhood once more. But Kaed knew he was the only one who could end this discord between them.

Hesitantly, Frank reached for Travis’s hand and shook. “Sure. Forget it.”

“All right. Now let’s hear no more of this business of you givin’ up marshaling, Frank,” Kaed said. “You trained with Lem Polk, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir. I think that might be my problem.”

Kaed nodded, sure that it was. “You ride with Travis for the next few months, see if he can’t teach you what you need to know.”

Both Travis and Frank started to speak, but Kaed held up a hand, giving them both a hard, cutting look. “Make your peace, boys. Travis, I expect you to teach him everything I taught you.”

I’ll be giving away a copy of FIRE EYES today to one lucky commenter. Just leave a comment about one of your own birthday celebrations to be entered in the drawing. Thanks so much for coming by today!

I also have a free short story at Amazon through today, July 28! It's called THE WISHING TREE--a contemporary Christmas romance for Christmas in July with my publisher.
All my works are available at Amazon here:

Friday, July 26, 2013


I live in North Central Texas on the Fort Worth side of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The town of Mineral Wells is a couple of counties to the west. This town bears that name for a very good reason.  Each summer they hold a Crazy Water Festival. There are several versions of how Crazy Water acquired the name, but here is the one most often recorded.

Brazos River near Mineral Wells, Texas

The first well was dug by a Mr. Elder when he tired of hauling water from the Brazos River nearby. At first his family refused to drink the water because of the smell. When the cattle appeared to show no ill signs from drinking the well water, the family tried it. Mrs. Elder's rheumatism disappeared and Mr. Elder's stomach problems also disappeared. Word spread, and soon neighbors were lining up to buy water.

One nearby family had a terrible burden. The wife/mother was truly crazy in the medical sense of the word. Probably she was bi-polar, but that definition wasn’t around then. Her family and neighbors only knew the woman was nuts.Her husband dug a well and struck water. After drinking the water, the woman became more and more normal until, eventually, she was cured—as long as she drank the water. Word spread and soon neighbors were hauling “Crazy Water” from that magical well, hoping it would cure whatever ailed them. (I think they should have called it “Sanity Water.”)

Little did they know, the reason for the miraculous result was the well was dug through a shaft of lithium—the same lithium used today to treat severe depression and similar disorders. Although other wells in the area carry lithium, they also have high mineral content including bicarbonate of soda, calcium, and phosphate, hence the name of the town Mineral Wells. And it is plural. Numerous artesian wells in this area produced healing water for those suffering stomach complaints and rheumatism and arthritis. Bathing in the water high in carbonated salts eased aching joints and muscles.

Crazy Water Crystal Plant then

An industry evolved in which the water was distilled and the salt crystals sold nationwide in every form from small packets of salts,  “crystals,” bottles, soaps, and large jars. In fact, that business is still going today.  A customer can buy bottled water or crystal packets. Caution, although this highly mineralized water helps certain stomach complaints, I was told it also creates kidney stones and gall stones.

Famous Water Company
Mineral Wells, Texas
as it looks today

One antiquish collectible I own is a green quart-bottle from Wizard Wells, a Crazy Water competitor. My husband and I drove to the site of the old Wizard Wells baths and bottling plant, but were disappointed to find only brush. There were numerous other competitors, but Famous Water Company with its Crazy Water is the only survivor of these once thriving businesses. Although we heard a report of one place that offered mud baths, we were unable to locate the establishment. Now it appears, the young couple who purchased the Famous Water Company have revived the practice of mineral baths. 

Baker Hotel

Moving on i my saga, the Baker Hotel was built in 1926. This luxury hotel featured baths, swimming pool, massage rooms, mud baths, and all the services expected at a luxury health resort hotel. It had air-conditioning and ice water was piped into each room. A bowling alley was built under the swimming pool. The garage was reached through a tunnel under Highway 80 (now Hwy 180) to a parking building across the street. Of course, in an opulent establishment like the Baker, residents did not park their own cars. Famous people from across the nation stayed there and include Bob Hope, Marlene Dietrich, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, the Andrews Sisters, the Dorsey Band, and my hero Roy Rogers. And many of them performed in the elegant ballroom.

Sadly, the Baker Hotel and the Crazy Water Hotel nearby have seen better days. The Baker is an empty shell, stripped of all its fixtures by a previous owner who auctioned them off and then declared bankruptcy. Attempts to raise the several million dollars required to restore this grand old landmark have been unsuccessful. At last there is interest from a buyer and hope blossoms that the day will come when this beautiful structure will be renewed.

The Crazy Water Hotel, which is built on the site of the first well, has fared only slightly better. It has been converted to an assisted living facility for elderly residents. At least the large bedrooms are an improvement over most such establishments. I wonder if the hotel residents drink the famous water and suffer from fewer medical complaints? From the south windows of the Crazy Water Hotel, one can view the sales offices of Famous Water Company where water, salts, crystals, and soaps are sold. Recently, baths have been added. At least a small portion of the legacy continues. Here's a video from ABC's WFAA - Chanel 8 in Dallas:


Wednesday, July 24, 2013



First off, congratulation to Will and Kate on the birth of the Prince of Cambridge! 

My family is awaiting such an arrival. Our daughter-in-law is expected to deliver any day. Her due date is the 26th. We know it’s a boy, and his arrival is greatly anticipated by his older sisters, ages six and four. This is the 3-D ultrasound picture of the new baby. Amazing, isn’t it? 

Remember when ultrasounds first came out? Those gray and white pictures that didn’t look like anything. I must admit, I was like Rachel on Friends, I just couldn’t ‘see’ a baby no matter how hard I tried.

Plenty of things with birth control, pregnancy and childbirth have changed over the years. Here are a few tidbits from the 1800’s: 

Not including miscarriages and still births, the average American woman in the 1800’s gave birth to six children.

To maintain modesty, doctors were to have ‘eye contact’ with their patients and exams were performed only by touch.

Pain during childbirth was expected, but in the mid-1800’s chloroform was offered to some upper-class woman. The pain reliever soon became more acceptable. Easily obtainable, any one assisting with a birth could administer it. Mid-wives, family members, etc. and overdoses were not uncommon.

During this time, when more lower-class women were working outside of the home, postpartum rest (in the years before this included up to a month of ‘lying in’) eroded. Women were expected back at work the day after giving birth, especially those in domestic positions.

If a woman couldn’t breast feed, or afford a wet-nurse a ‘pap’ was created from bread, water, and sugar. Milk was added weeks later.

Actual maternity clothes were not ‘invented’ until 1906, before then women adapted the dresses they had to accommodate their ever growing middle. 

‘Bandages’ or ‘support girdles’ were sometimes worn to support the stomach. There was a ‘pregnancy corset’ which hid their growing abdomen so women could participate in social activities long into their pregnancies, but doctors did advocate not lacing it too tightly.

Up until the 1920’s most babies were born at home, hospital births were only for the very poor. There was also the fear of disease due to sanitary measures in most hospitals.   

Birth control—a very common prevention method was nursing. Women nursed their babies until the age of two which for many prolonged their infertile period.

Condoms, sponges, diaphragms and douching were a few other methods, however, these were used mainly by ‘ladies of ill repute’ and were not promoted to prevent pregnancy, but to stay free from venereal diseases.

At the time, there was nothing greater a woman could give her husband than a houseful of children. If a woman was encouraged to refrain from having another child due to complications, abstaining from sexual intercourse was the prescription given. Separate bedrooms, or long vacation where one spouse or the other went to live with family, were often the way couples attempted to follow doctor’s orders. 

My latest release, The Cowboy Who Caught Her Eye features a pregnant heroine.

Pregnant and unmarried, Molly Thorson knows her livelihood is under threat. The last thing she needs is a distracting cowboy swaggering into view. Especially one who knows she has a secret and still looks at her with desire in his eyes.  

Carter Buchanan knows all about secrets. It's his job to know. And Molly sure has something to hide. But the fear in her eyes touches a place he thought long-ago dead-and now this cowboy can't help but consider exchanging his pistol for a band of gold.... 


Monday, July 22, 2013

A Family Affair--a post by new author Carra Copelin

By Carra Copelin
First I'd like to thank Sweethearts of the West for having me today and for allowing me to announce the launch of my first book, CODE OF HONOR. You are all so gracious.
Families. Sometimes we love 'em, sometimes we hate 'em, but in the end, if we're lucky, we all have 'em. There are a few sayings we throw around, Relatives and fish after three days . . . , You can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family, or I can tease you and call you names, but I'll punch anybody else in the nose if they try. In our formative years, the family unit is important in giving us a sense of place or belonging and forms our ideas of relationship, loyalty and honor to each other.

When our country was in its early years and expanding to the West and Southwest, family took on an even greater meaning. Farms and ranches were miles from town isolating people. Working the land and animals was impossible without someone to lend a hand. Limited funds or no money at all precluded hiring the number of hands needed. Large families helped because, by having many children, they provided their own workforce.
There are, unfortunately, children who for one reason or another are without family. They end up in the "system" as we call it, being raised by foster families. Set in North Central Texas in the fictitious town of McTiernan, Code of Honor touches on Bridey McTiernan Benning and her husband Andrew. Early on in their marriage, they wanted a large number of children to dote on and to whom they could pass on the family McTiernan and Benning ranches. They learned shortly after their first child, Wyatt, was born that he would be an only child. Bridey and Andrew became foster parents and found their niche. The books in the series touch on the current lives of each foster or adopted child raised by this couple.

 The following is a blurb and an excerpt for my first Texas Code Series, CODE OF HONOR.
Graeme McAlister has returned home to Texas to discover why his foster brother overdosed on morphine and crashed the company jet. The idea makes no sense, but the NTSB and coroner's reports both confirm suicide. Graeme's determined to unearth the truth and return to Washington, D.C. but, when he sees his brother's widow, will he be able to handle the biggest revelation of all?

Graeme McAlister
A widow at the age of twenty-eight, Maggie Benning, resolves to establish a successful and independent life for herself and her five-year-old son, Andy. Her initial goal is getting back her RN job at the hospital ER where she was accused of stealing the drugs that killed her husband ten months ago. She's reconstructing her shattered life when Graeme McAlister comes back to McTiernan, Texas and stirs up old memories and feelings she thought long buried. Can she overcome past hurt and loss of trust to accept the possibility of a new love in her life?

Maggie Benning
Maggie took her place behind the scarred, antique oak bar. She tied a worn bleached-white apron over her jeans, gathered the empty glasses and bottles and swiped a bar towel over the sticky remnants of beer and mixed drinks spilled earlier in the afternoon.

She looked across the bar, through layers of swirled smoke, to the handful of customers sitting at tables surrounding the dance floor. Businessmen and good old boys exchanged stories from their day while enjoying the frigid indoor temperature, band members set up their equipment, and a few cowboys played pool off to the far right.

Two men sat at a table in a shadowed back corner, their heads angled close in deep conversation. It was too dark to see their faces, but they appeared almost angry at times, each taking his turn stabbing the tabletop with an index finger to make his point. Maggie wondered what their story was. Were they discussing a major transaction, ranchers making a deal or enemies settling a score?

Before her imagination could run any other direction, Harry walked up with a stack of clean towels. He placed them on a shelf behind the bar then stood between her and her curiosity, effectively blocking her view.
* * *
Jaw clenched and tense as a bull rider waiting for the gate to spring open, Graeme stared at the drink in his hand as his older brother took verbal swings at his character.

"Now that you're back, do you have the balls to stay, or are you going to turn tail and disappear again?" With that final sarcastic shot, he finally shut-up.

Graeme pushed upright in his chair to loosen the kinks from his back and shoulders. Every muscle screamed a protest at being bunched in a knot.

Elliott's words stung like the slap of Andrew's hand the first time Graeme had openly defied an order. He supposed, in all fairness, his brother had a right to ask the question. Whether one was born a Benning or raised as one, family meant everything. And, while he hadn't had a choice on whether to go or stay, he hadn't been available when the family had needed him.

While Graeme didn't have an answer yet, he damn sure had a few questions of his own for Dallas County's Assistant District Attorney.

Graeme took a swig from his longneck as Elliott mirrored his actions. They were, he thought, like two grade school opponents sizing each other up on the playground at recess. Graeme swiped at the condensation on the beer bottle while deciding where to begin.

"So Wyatt never contacted you, at any time, before the crash? You had no idea he was in trouble?"

"No. Not a clue." Elliott shifted in his chair, repositioned his beer. His foster brother made it apparent that he was unaccustomed to being questioned. Either that or there was something else he wasn't saying.


"Nothing . . ." Elliott swiped at a water puddle under the bottle. "It's nothing."

"Look, if we're going to get to the bottom of this, we have to level with one another. What were you going to say?"

"You know Wyatt. He was never like the rest of us. He didn't act out, never bucked the system. He always kept things bottled up."

"Yeah, that goody two-shoes act used to piss me off. We could never wheedle anything out of him." Graeme shook his head and grinned.

"Well, it was the same thing this time, except…"

"Elliott," Graeme ground out his brother's name, huffed out a sigh in exasperation. "Stop dragging this out. What?"

"Maggie came to the office about a month prior to the accident. She asked me for the name of a good divorce attorney."

That news ripped through Graeme like a shot.  After digesting it for a minute, he asked, "Did you give her one?"

"Yeah, I did."

Graeme leaned toward the table, rested his forearms against the edge. "Did she go? Did she file?"

"No." Elliott picked up his bottle, drained its contents then answered sadly, "Whether or not she intended to, I don't know, because the next time I saw her, Wyatt was dead. Soon after the funeral, she moved in with that ditzy friend of hers like she didn't want anything to do with the family."

"Is that when you decided to charge her with theft of the morphine Wyatt likely overdosed with? When she was alone and vulnerable?"

Elliott scowled. "D.A. Harrison was relatively new in his job and still trying to impress the good people of Dallas County."

Snorting in disgust, Graeme ground out, "And he did it at Maggie's expense."

"Yeah, but not without cause. The drugs disappeared from the hospital's inventory and the investigators narrowed the time down to Maggie's shift."

"What did she have to say about that?"

"She denied stealing the drugs, of course."

"You don't really think she did, do you?"

"I don't want to, but . . . hell, I don't know," Elliott said with a sigh. "You knew her better when we were growing up. Do you think she's capable?"

Graeme pushed his chair away from the table. "I think I should talk to Maggie to get her side of the story."

Elliott leaned back in his own chair, sported a grin, and glanced past him. "Somehow I don't think you'll have to go far."

Graeme swiveled around to see Maggie standing behind the bar.  While he tried to decide whether to go up to her now or wait until tomorrow, Maggie looked out across the room and made eye contact.
Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West blog today. I hope you enjoyed my post and excerpt for my book, CODE OF HONOR, which is available at 
on Amazon.com in ebook and paperback and at  
on createspace.com for print.

In honor of my book launch, I'm offering a free download from Amazon to one person who comments on this post. Please remember to leave your email if you wish to be considered for the drawing.
Currently, I'm working on the second book in the Texas Code Series, CODE OF CONSCIENCE.
Visit my website : http://www.carracopelin.com
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Tags: Texas, Carra Copelin, family, CODE OF HONOR, Southwest, foster children

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saddle Up, Cowpokes!

Cowgirl hat banner
 My husband gave me the idea for this post. He asked me how cowboys got their saddles in the old days. Where were they made? I replied that there must have been saddle makers located in frontier towns, but I didn’t really know because I’d never investigated the subject. How could I neglect such an important matter? I’m a western historical author, for gosh sakes!

Photo from Wikipedia commons
Donning my researcher’s hat, I went hunting for a definite answer on the net and quickly confirmed my assumption. There were indeed many saddle makers in the Old West. Today, I’d like to tell you about three brothers who became famous in the trade here in Texas. They were Tom, Clint and Jesse Padgitt.

 The three boys came to Texas from Tennessee with their family in 1853. They first settled in Houston, where their father and older brother Bob died of yellow fever in 1854. Their mother succumbed to the same disease four years later, leaving twelve-year-old Tom to provide for his two younger brothers and sister. They managed to survive until a few months later when their uncle, Tom Bond arrived. An experienced saddle maker, he opened a shop in Houston, and in 1859, he put Tom and Clint to work as apprentices.

 During the Civil War, the Padgitts crafted saddles and harnesses at the Confederate arsenal in Houston. Younger brother Jesse earned money as a newsboy on the Houston streets. Years later, he recalled seeing the paper roll off a press powered by a horse walking on a treadmill.

After the war, the South was bankrupt. Texas railroads didn’t resume building for five years, all except the Houston and Texas Central. In July 1867 Tom Padgitt headed for the end of the line of the H and TC, where he opened a shop to supply harness for teamsters hauling supplies for the railroad. In 1869 Clint joined Tom’s business in Bryan, Texas. Now the home of Texas A & M University, Bryan was a rowdy railroad camp back then. The Padgitts’ shop was located next to a saloon.

 As the railroad progressed northward, Tom moved with it, opening a shop at each town along the way. When the Waco and Northwestern Railroad, a branch of the H and TC, reached Waco, Tom decided to settle in that growing city with his wife and family. (He married three times, losing his first wife in childbirth and his second to apoplexy – a stroke.)

Tom’s business flourished and he contributed greatly to Waco’s development. The Tom Padgitt Company became famous across the U.S., Canada and Mexico, supplying saddles for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show and to celebrities such as Will Rogers. Eventually, Tom even traded in South America.

RT Dennis & Co. and Tom Padgitt Inc. Buildings, Waco, Texas (Destroyed in Waco tornado of 1953) Courtesy Baylor University Texas Collection

Meanwhile, Clint and Jesse were making saddles in Bryan, Corsicana and other wide open towns along the H and TC tracks. Jesse, who lived to the ripe old age of 97, recalled having to sleep on the floor of his shop in Grosebeck with kegs of trace chains protecting him from bullets whizzing through the flimsy walls from the gambling house next door.

Courtesy Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection
In 1873, Clint and Jesse joined forces to open Padgitt Brothers in Dallas, at that time a wild west town of wooden shacks, board walkways and muddy streets surrounding the courthouse square. The Padgitts set up shop in a two story brick building on the west side of the square with a sign over their door reading “Manufacturers and Wholesalers of Horse Collars, Harness and Saddlery Goods." Padgitt saddles were already in great demand, and like their older brother in Waco, Clint and Jesse prospered. Their trademark was the “Bronco Brand”, depicting a cowboy riding a bucking horse in a Padgitt saddle.

Courtesy Dallas Public Library Digital Collection
Dallas was a hub of trade, supplying freighters and ranchers across the vast Texas prairie and beyond. Soon, Padgitt Brothers moved into larger quarters, again and again expanding until finally settling in the five story Padgitt Bros. building. But they weren’t done growing yet. In 1900 they built a six story factory and spread out to show their line of buggies and carriages.

There were other pioneer saddle makers in Dallas, and by 1908 it was the saddle market capital of the world. For further history of the Padgitt brothers and the saddle trade, refer to these sites:

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Butch Cassidy: Good Guy or Villain

I guess most of us remember the famous movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid. In the movie, they were portrayed as witty, fun loving men who just happened to rob banks and railroads for a living. Robert Redford liked his character so much he named his film festival Sundance. At the end of the movie, the two sort-of heroes are battling it out with the government officials in Bolivia, South America after they robbed a mining payroll and we assumed they both died that day.

So, is that what Butch Cassidy was really like? Was he a happy-go-lucky guy who just made a living by stealing, or is there more to the story? Did good ol’ Butch have a dark side? And did Butch die that November day in Bolivia with his friend, Sundance?

First, a few factoids: Butch Cassidy’s real name was Robert Leroy Parker and he was born in Utah to Mormon parents on April 13, 1866. I guess that would make him a post Civil War baby like my Grandfather McNeal who also was born the year after the Civil war. He worked as a rancher and a butcher before he took up his life of crime. Cassidy formed the Wild Bunch gang in 1896 after he got out of a short term in prison and they went on a string of robberies unmatched in American history. The Union Pacific Railroad exerted great effort as well as the U.S. government to do something about the robberies and the pressure on Cassidy became so great he intended to surrender, but when that didn’t work out, he fled to Bolivia with the Sundance Kid.

With theatrical license, movies about Butch Cassidy and his partner seem to tell the story of two guys who hated violence and were just having a good time, but as it turns out, Butch wasn’t exactly a nice guy. He actually murdered innocent people.

There is a bit of mystery surrounding Butch Cassidy’s death. Some report that he died with his partner and friend, Sundance at that shoot-out in Bolivia on November 6, 1908, but there is evidence that suggests he may have escaped and returned to the United States to live in obscurity until July 28, 1938. Since there is dispute between historians about the date of his death, I suppose we will never really be certain about when he died. I am of the mind that a good mystery is always way more intriguing than cut and dry facts. Until I did this research, I always thought that Paul Newman’s portrayal of Butch Cassidy was the whole truth and nothing but. I have to admit that I am disappointed to learn that Butch Cassidy was just a villain after all.



A haunted house, a trunk and a date with destiny.

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Deceit stands between Banjo Wilding’s love for Maggie O’Leary and his search for the father he never knew.



Sarah McNeal

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