By Ashley Kath-Bilsky
Yet, according to legend, All Hallow’s Eve is also the time when spirits of the dead are able to cross over the invisible bridge that separates their world from ours. Their intention might simply be to communicate with a loved one or create some manner of mischief.
However, there are many people who believe these visits do not happen just one day a year. And one does not have to be psychic or an amateur ghost hunter to believe the bridge between two worlds is never closed or barred, or that ghosts have been frequently seen (and/or heard) by the living at any given time of the year.
How many of us have stayed at hotels that are allegedly haunted? How many of us have taken a ‘Ghost Tour’ of a historic area just for the fun of it? How many have experienced a strange phenomenon that defies logical explanation? I don’t deny there are many people who roll their eyes and shake their heads at any talk of ghosts, but I’ll be honest. I have a keen fascination with the paranormal—and I’m not talking vampires, werewolves, or zombies.
I love to visit historical sites where one can feel as if transported back in time. Truth is, I search for locations where the past is not only preserved but embraced. A couple years ago I took a ghost tour of Salem, Massachusetts, and it was wonderful. Over the years, I have also stayed in haunted hotels.
But one thing I haven’t done is visit a legendary ghost town of the Old West. Well, not a real one.
As a little girl, I visited my first ‘make-believe’ ghost town. Over summer vacation with relatives I visited Storytown USA, an amusement park in Upstate New York. There were several sections in the park and one was called “Ghost Town”. I don’t remember how I got separated from my family, but I do remember walking around (for what seemed forever) by myself in the western themed Ghost Town. With its version of Boot Hill, gunfights on a dusty street, and piano music that echoed out of swinging saloon doors, it seemed real enough to me. And as I wandered (hot, tired, and thirsty) repeatedly looking for a familiar face, western music taunted me from hidden speakers with the words, “cool, clear, water…water…water.”
Although it’s too late to visit an authentic Ghost Town for this Halloween, I've been researching potential destinations. At the top of my list is Deadwood, South Dakota. And it just so happens they have a hotel there, allegedly haunted by its original owner, namesake, and the first sheriff of Deadwood, Seth Bullock.
The Bullock Hotel website.
Located 4,533 feet above sea level in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Deadwood was established in 1876. Originally, the Black Hills were given in perpetuity to the Lakota-Sioux, as stated in the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. Forts were even built to prevent white men from settling in the area. Then, in 1874, after a military expedition to the area, Gen. George Armstrong Custer reported gold in the Black Hills.
Granted, Deadwood had its wild side, but respectable citizens and businesses settled there as well. One such enterprise was a hardware store called the ‘Office of Star and Bullock, Auctioneers and Commission Merchants’, co-owned by Sol Star and Seth Bullock. In fact, The Bullock Hotel was built upon the site where the hardware store originally existed.
As mentioned earlier, Bullock (who had previously been a sheriff in Lewis and Clark County, Montana) became Deadwood’s first sheriff. To illustrate how rough a town Deadwood was when Seth Bullock arrived on 01 August 1876, a mere 24 hours later none other than Wild Bill Hickok (whose gun skills were almost legendary) was murdered—shot in the back while playing cards at Nuttal and Mann’s Saloon.
The railroad had been built using a labor force of Chinese immigrants who’d been living in Deadwood since 1880. In fact, by the late 1880s these immigrants had established their own Chinatown in an area that is now part of Deadwood’s Main Street.
Today, the spirit of Deadwood continues to thrive amidst the legacy of its Wild West past and the lingering influence of people who lived and died there long ago. How could it escape the echoes of their lives despite the passage of time? Consider all that happened during Deadwood’s turbulent history – reckless violence, murders, dreams, failures, fortunes made and lost, the diverse mix of its citizens including rough miners, respectable settlers, soiled doves, corrupt evildoers, not to mention floods, severe snowstorms, and a fire that gutted the business district in 1894.
One does not need to see a ghost or hear a disembodied voice to recognize a place haunted in one form or another. I am taken back as I write to an evening walk I made in Salem, Massachusetts two years ago; the rows of wooden homes and narrow streets, the old, gnarled trees and the misting rain. It seemed then that a peaceful, spiritual imprint still lingered in the air. You could not only see the history; you could feel it.
Consequently, I don’t find it difficult to believe that ghosts of Deadwood might still wander the streets beneath a full moon. Or, that one might not sense the influence still present of those who sleep in eternal slumber amidst towering pines on a hillside cemetery that overlooks Deadwood.
Thousands of people visit Mount Moriah and the graves of its famed residents each year. They are also able to review public burial records to learn how causes of death were listed in the early days of Deadwood. Comments such as, “bad whiskey”, “summer complaint”, and “God knows” are given as a matter of record. There is even one entry which lists cause of death as, “eating fourteen hardboiled eggs”.
Another location believed to be haunted is the Adams House. Originally built by Harris Franklin in 1892, the Queen Anne styled residence was located in a prestigious upscale neighborhood of its time. Franklin had made his fortune as a businessman in the early days of Deadwood, and had spared no expense in the quality of his home or the amenities it offered, including electrical lighting, central heating, indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, and telephone service. Together with his wife, Anna, he hosted many elegant parties at their prestigious home. After Anna died in 1902, Franklin remarried in 1905. At that time, he sold the house to his son, Nathan, for $1.00 and moved back East. Nathan, also a successful businessman became Mayor of Deadwood in 1916, replacing the four-term mayor, W.E. Adams. When Nathan Franklin and his wife decided to also leave Deadwood a few years later, he sold the house to Adams.
Do ghost towns of the Old West still exist? In the case of Deadwood, a thriving modern community has retained its history and preserved its colorful past from generation to generation. Perhaps the hauntings so frequently reported are simply the spirits of former residents who still feel part of Deadwood and appreciate the town's willingness to not forget them. Either way, visiting Deadwood is on my 'to do' list.
Haunted Deadwood: A True Wild West Ghost Town - Mark Shadley, Josh Wennes (Haunted America 2012)
The Bullock Hotel, Deadwood, SD
Adams Museum and House, Deadwood, SD
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Monday, October 28, 2013
I'm giving my normal blog days to my daughter, Jessica Pierson, to talk about her part in illustrating the beautiful new children's book, SARAH'S MUSIC, published recently by Publishing by Rebecca J. Vickery. The story is by one of my writing students and long-time friends, a professional storyteller for the Choctaw Nation, Stella Long. This story was based on her own life, and I know she is working on "book 2" right now. Here is Jessica's post about illustrating the book for Stella and working with her--a once in a lifetime experience! ----- Cheryl Pierson
Over the course of the last two years, I’ve been lucky enough to work with Choctaw storyteller Stella Long on the illustrations for her children’s book, Sarah’s Music.
At out last meeting, I struggled clumsily to explain to Stella why I thought Sarah’s Music was so special, and ended up saying something incredibly articulate, like “It’s just…I mean…it’s a great story.” She hadn’t asked me, but I desperately wanted to tell her why I had been so grateful for the opportunity to work on her story. “You know…” I began, “when I think of the books the girls I work with like to read, I mean, there’s nothing like this. There’s nothing…relatable. It’s all just… princesses.” (Slow clap) Well said, Jessica. Well said. Maybe you could have been less specific, but I doubt it. Not to be dissuaded, however, what follows is another more targeted stab at using my words.
Why Sarah’s Music is a “Great Story”: A Book Report by Jessica Pierson
Sarah’s story begins when she discovers that she is inspired by music, but seems to have no way to share her songs with others. With the help of her animal friends, Sarah goes on a journey all by herself and receives the gift of a musical instrument made especially for her by her. When she fails initially to make it sound, she becomes discouraged, but she doesn’t give up. Instead, she tries again, and practices, and learns at last to release the songs that have been locked in her heart.
Sarah’s Music is a moving glimpse at a worldview long forgotten by our dominant culture. In Sarah’s world, the creatures she encounters in the woods are not strange or frightening, but her closest friends. The natural world isn’t Sarah’s adversary. There is no “big bad wolf,” or “dark forest.” Rather, the natural world around her is generous, helpful, and inclusive. Sarah is a member of the forest community, not a stranger or an interloper. She isn’t superior to the plants and animals around her, but considers them her loved ones and her wise teachers. She lives comfortably among her relations in nature, learns from them humbly, and is ultimately only able to accomplish her goal because of the gifts she receives from her friends. Imagine the improved health of our planet if more children began to see themselves not as separate from the natural world, but as members of a community of living creatures.
In what is yet another departure from our established modern archetypes, Sarah is a child, a girl, and an empowered individual all at once! Her parents have shown her how to meet her needs, and allowed her the autonomy to make her own discoveries. It is no surprise, then, that she is brave enough to embark on a journey all by herself because she feels confident that she is prepared. Throughout the story, Sarah chooses for herself, and asks for help and guidance when she needs it. As a result, her learning process is unhurried and unstructured, the result of her own unique experiences. Her self-knowledge is completely uncontrived, and part of her accomplishment. Sarah isn’t a helpless object waiting for someone to save her, or take care of the hard parts. She is an active participant in making her dream a reality.
Perhaps the most subtly beautiful and surprising element is Sarah’s wish itself. Sarah’s greatest wish is not to gain anything for herself, but to share her music, which is already inside of her. She doesn’t dream of a husband, or a crown, or a treasure, or wish to be something she isn’t or to attend a ball. She wishes for an ability, not so she can gain something, but so she can use her own gifts for the enjoyment of those around her. What a delicate, wise wish for our world!
In addition to the opportunity to revisit a familiar and yet foreign traditional reality, there is one final facet of Sarah’s Music that I fell in love with as I worked to create the images. The final item that would make me want to read this book to my child every night at bedtime is that there is not one singular mention of Sarah’s physical appearance.
In our image conscious world, this might seem, at first, like a glaring omission. Our fairy tales are often about girls who are described as beautiful. “Once there lived a beautiful princess.” Stories about girls are almost always about their extraordinary beauty, as though these precious women/children had no other important or distinguishing qualities. If beauty doesn’t figure heavily into the story (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, etc.) it is almost guaranteed that as soon as the heroine is introduced, a physical description is provided. Sarah is not described as beautiful or in any other way, because it is utterly unimportant what she looks like. This is refreshing! She is a girl, acting to bring her goals about, and it doesn’t matter to anyone if she is beautiful. She has many praise-worthy qualities, and in the story, she learns new ones (patience, perseverance, etc.) It is lovely to find a story about a girl where literally everything else about her matters more than her appearance.
If you happen to be looking for a new bedtime story or a Christmas gift, consider sharing Sarah’s Music with your family. It is…healing. That’s the word I wanted to find for Stella, but somehow I suspect that she knows this already.
Sarah’s Music is currently available at Amazon in print for $9.45 and as an ebook for $3.99, thanks to Publishing by Rebecca J. Vickery.
It isn’t possible to say an adequate “Thank You” Rebecca J. Vickery, Laura Shinn, and Cheryl Pierson for their hard work. Cheers, ladies.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
When you were a kid, did you go see the frightening movies shown around Hallowe’en?
I was a major wuss, but one year my best friend and I braved our way to the theater. Since we couldn’t drive yet, that meant convincing my mom to drive us and then come back for us. My mom and dad went to bed as soon as the ten o’clock news was over. Convincing her and my dad to drive us there was not hard, but staying up to come after us took some convincing.
The first scary movie I remember seeing was “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” It was old even when I was a kid, but we didn’t realize it. For one thing, we didn’t see that much for covering our eyes. I suspect we saw the 1932 version starring Bela Lugosi and Arlene Francis, which had little to do with the original Edgar Allen Poe story by that name first published in Graham’s Magazine in 1841. The 1954 version starred Karl Malden and Patricia Medina. Thinking back, I am pretty sure Bela Lugosi was in the version we saw at a cut rate theater.
The second feature was “Phantom of the Opera.” Yes, there was an earlier version. Remembering the hairdos and filming, I think it was much, much earlier. ☺ It starred Lon Chaney as Eric, and I think it was made about 1925, but I’m not certain. It’s on YouTube in its entire 106 minutes, but the film is so dark and blurry that I couldn’t read the date clearly. I have to admit that I didn’t stick with the video to see if quality improved. Here’s the link if you want to try.
I guess I don’t have to tell you that I never went to see “The Excorsist,” do I? ☺
In more recent years, I remember once when my husband was out of town and my youngest daughter and I went to see “Sixth Sense.” Oh, my goodness, that was scary for me. I was thinking about going home in our very dark rural area to a dark house where I had forgotten to leave on a light. My husband traveled off and on for most of our married life and I was never afraid. Except that night. It had been bright sunshine when we went into the theater. It was dark when we came out. We turned around and bought tickets to the Steve Martin movie, "Bowfinger". After laughing for an hour and a half, I was fine to take my daughter to her home and go to mine.
I don’t like being scared, yet I watch some movies over and over. “Sleeping with the Enemy” is a nail-biter for me. That type movie is much more nerve-wracking than some guy with a chainsaw. I suppose there are actual cases of beserk men chasing someone with a motorized murder weapon. More likely, though, is the psychologically vicious spouse who terrorizes and intimidates. Yep, for me, “Sleeping with the Enemy” is fright at its worst.
What is it that makes us volunteer to be frightened? Is it the same gene that makes people ride roller coasters and go bungee jumping? I guess I’m missing that chromosone or gene or whatever it is.
What does this have to do with the Old West? So glad you asked. ☺ Actually, not a thing. Sorry, I am simply trying to be seasonally topical. Another of the Sweethearts of the West had already covered ghost towns, so there you are.
Now, I will mention something about the Old West. I’m happy to announce that my next western historical romance, THE MOST UNSUITABLE COURTSHIP, will released October 30. It will be available in print and ebook.
Here's the blurb:
Storm Kincaid wants justice; Rena Dmitriev wants vengeance.
When Storm’s best friend and the friend’s wife are murdered, Storm secures a temporary appointment as Federal Marshal so he can capture the killers. He follows them to twenty one year old Rena’s home, which is in flames when he arrives. She has survived by following her elderly husband’s strict instructions and watched in hiding while the men murdered him. Storm intends to take her to the nearest town where she will be safe. She can identify the men who killed the person who had been her husband in name only and like a grandfather to her, and she vows to kill at least one of them. Whether or not Storm allows her to accompany him, she assures him she will go after the murderers. She is the only person alive who can identify the evil foursome whose policy has been to leave no witnesses. Storm agrees to take her with him. She’ll be safer with him to protect her than she would riding alone.
As a powerful and passionate love blossoms, they unite to rescue three orphaned children, fight the elements, and encounter the killers. Will their love be enough to protect them?
Available at Amazon and Smashwords.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
During our recent trip to Montana and Wyoming, I discovered Cody, Wyoming. I had never been there, but always wanted to, partly because I always like the name. My youngest son is named Cody.
I wasn’t disappointed. The museums, attractions, and just the area itself are full of history and grandeur.
One tidbit I learned about was John Jeremiah Liver-eating Johnston. His life was the inspiration behind the 1972 Robert Redford movie Jeremiah Johnson. I’d never realized the movie was based on a real man.
Born in New Jersey in 1824, Johnston headed west to the Medicine Bow Mountains in Wyoming to become a tapper while in his early twenties. A few years later, as a man over six and half feet tall and weighing 250 pounds, he took a Flathead Indian wife and built a cabin near the Little Snake River. His life changed drastically when he arrived home one day to discover his wife and unborn child mutilated on the floor of his cabin.
Deciphering they’d been killed by Crow, he went on the rampage against the Crow that lasted 12 years. Legend says he’d remove the liver of those he killed and take a bite out of it, or pretend to, in order to make an impression on his proclaimed enemies, hence giving him the name of Liver-eating Johnston.
In 1862 he went to Colorado and joined the Calvary to fight in the Civil War, though wounded, he continued serving until receiving an honorable discharge in 1865. Afterwards he was hired to provide meat for the Army Post in Wyoming. Later he worked his way into Montana where he started a wood yard to supply wood for the steamboats on the Missouri River. Following that, he became the first Marshal in Billings, Montana and a few years later, the first Sheriff in Red Lodge, Montana.
Rheumatism set in during his aging years in the 1890’s and he found relief in the hot springs near Cody, Wyoming. The winter of 1899 his health failed and he was sent to the old soldier’s home in California, where he died in January of 1900.
In 1974, with Robert Redford assisting in his re-burial, Johnston’s remains were transferred and laid to rest in Cody, Wyoming at The Old Trail Town museum.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
What? Using genealogy to research a historical novel? No way.
Let’s say you’re writing a Civil War story. Your hero was born in the South but moved to the north as an adolescent. The skills he learned hiding out in the woods to avoid beatings from his father now serve him well as he sneaks through enemy lines to gather intelligence for the Union. The Rebs call him “that dang Yankee ghost.” So what is his name? Something that sounds Southern would be best, something strong.
|Military Registration Card|
On Ancestry.com, I clicked on military records, then Civil War Records and Profiles. There’s a box for selecting Confederacy or Union, then you choose the first two letters of a surname. I chose Ra because R names have a strong ring to them. My hero is now Stephen Dodson Ramseur. Or how about Winter W. Goodloe? These are actual names of men who served in the Confederate Army in the Civil War. Neither of these names might strike your fancy, but they can give you ideas, or you can keep looking.
|Military Pension record|
Now, remember, names are not copyrighted. Even so, it’s wise to be cautious when using the name of a real person. After all, it might be understandable if someone became put out because you named your horrible, conscienceless villain Abe Lincoln. Not long after I posted this blog on another site I received a message warning me against using the name Stephen Dodson Ramseur because he ended up being quite a prominent person and there might be family left who would object. So be sure any name you use isn’t well known. One trick is to take a given name from one place and use it with a surname from another one. This also allows for more choices.
A few of the heroes in my books bear the name of a man who lived in centuries past, such as Bartholomew Noon (from Forever Mine, available at e-book stores now), and Columbus Nigh (from Tender Touch, to be released October 18, 2012).
Stephen Dodson Ramseur’s father remained in the South and is buried there. Stephen missed the funeral but knows the old guy died of apoplexy, a common cause of death back then, better known now as a stroke, and was buried the next day. Why the next day? Doesn’t sound very respectful, does it? Well, morticians capable of embalming the dead were few and far between back then except in larger cities and towns. Plus, they cost money. So next-day burial was often a necessity.
|Burearu of Statistics Death Record|
Infant mortality was high, so old cemeteries tend to have more graves for children than for adults, although you can’t always tell because it was common to bury an infant or toddler with a parent or even a grandparent already buried. Babies lost in childbirth with their mothers were generally buried with Mom.
From death certificates you can learn the most prevalent causes of death and the terms used for them. Unfortunately, such certificates didn’t come into being until mid to late century. Birth certificates are even more difficult to find. Often, in rural areas, there was no such thing as a birth certificate. I couldn’t get one for my father when I was trying to join the DAR.
Census reports are a great place for gaining an understanding of how people lived in the second half of the nineteenth century. Until 1850, they reported only the name of the head of household and how many children of certain age groups lived there. The 1850 report, however, lists each member of the household. The later the report the more information is available. You can learn how long a couple has been married, how many marriages they had before the report, what they did for a living, how much land they owned, their yearly income, where their parents were from, who was literate and who wasn’t.
Did Winter W. Goodloe know how to read? Few people did back then, especially the women. Children often left school as soon as they were big enough to contribute some real labor to the farm or family business, so their reading abilities were not always good. It’s interesting to see which occupations list the most people who were literate. Farm families were generally at the low end of the scale. Those children were needed at home, and farms were out in the country, frequently too far away for children to attend school.
Another great research source available through genealogy societies and online sites is county history books and town newspapers. These require some time-consuming reading, but you can learn a lot about how people lived, what their social lives were like, and their activities, even how they thought. County histories list the towns and give descriptions of the area, such as how the towns were laid out, rivers, fields, trees, etc.
Names of towns and counties were changed time and again. You don’t want to set your book in a town or county that didn’t exist then. The wise thing here is to consider inventing your own town. Hard to invent a county, though, and have it be credible, although a quick study of counties in various sections of the country will reveal numerous names that were used over and over. Lincoln County, for example. Washington County. But before you invent a Lincoln County, make sure there wasn’t one already in a different section of the state.
Histories also give biographical information on the earliest and most prominent citizens. Another great chance to learn about life in the time period, and to collect names.
Personal journals are also available through genealogy sites, and these contain a wealth of information. I once started a book set in Utah in 1857. My heroine was a young lady fresh out of finishing school that travels west to live with her father who is an officer at a post called Camp Floyd, southwest of Salt Lake City. As part of my research I acquired the journal of a soldier at that post, which gave me oodles of those tiny details that can make your story truly believable.
All of these sources are available through sites such as ancestry.com, genealogy.com, Cyndi’s List, Genealogy Bank, Archives.com, and many others. Most require paid yearly memberships. You can get around this by finding a local LDS (Mormon) Ward House that has a genealogy library. There you can use a computer to access sites like ancestry.com without having to pay a fee. The people who maintain these LDS Ward House libraries are usually canny about doing genealogy research and free with their valuable advice. If you need a record that is housed at the main LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City, these small local libraries can order a copy for you to study.
I’m only an amateur genealogist, but If you have questions about genealogy research, I’ll be happy to do my best to answer them, or to find someone who can.
Now, I need to excuse myself so I can write down all the plot ideas that came to me while writing this. Winter W. Goodloe is going to be a very busy, very sexy, and courageous young man. Hmm, who is going to be my heroine? Looks like I need to peruse my personal genealogy, or pay another visit to ancestry.com.
How much do you know about your genealogy?
Sunday, October 20, 2013
For the past few days I and my husband have been visiting friends in Kerrville, Texas, about 200 miles southwest of our home in Fort Worth. With a population of around 21,000, Kerrville is a jewel set in the heart of the beautiful Texas hill country. It’s home to a number of retirees in search of a warm climate, including our transplanted Minnesota friends.
|Guadalupe River dam in Kerrville Shriners Park|
|Pretty in pink along river bank; Photos courtesy of Chuck Russell|
Kerrville and neighboring Ingram boast three playhouses, my favorite used book store, “Books to Share” and the Museum of Western Art. Yesterday, we spent a couple hours viewing the museum’s fabulous collection of paintings, prints, bronzes and a delightful children’s exhibit. I also found a book I simply had to add to my personal library. Today, I'll share a few quotes from:
Authored by Jim Kane, a longtime lover of the western movie genre, this book offers over “2,000 quotations from more than 1,100 western movies ranging from the 1920s to present-day films. In addition to traditional movies, it includes silent films (via title cards), serials, miniseries, and even a few cowboy cartoons.” ~~quoted from dust jacket, front flap
Arranged in alphabetical order by topic, the quotations deal with every topic under the sun. Here are a few examples.
Gus: It’s an accident she’s even on this trip!Clara: Well, I never noticed you having accidents with ulgy girl.
Gus McCrae played by Robert Duvall and Clara Allen played by Angelica Huston in Lonesome Dove (1989)
Captain: The lady and I were trying to dance.
Alejandro: Your were trying. She was succeeding.
Captain Harrison Love played by Matt Letscher and Alejandro Murrieta played by Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro (1998)
You're not going to solve anything by turning yourself into a whiskey bottle.
Dr. Jonathan Mark played by Walter Brennen in Singing Guns (1950)
Calem: And how is the flower of the west this morning?
Molly: Gone to seed.
Calem Ware played by Randolph Scott and Molly Higgins played by Ruth Donnelly in A Lawless Street (1955)
Cornelius: I could see death looking right at me, the Grim Reaper staring me right in the face.
Veronica: My, it must have been pretty horrible for both of you.
Cornelius J. Courtney played by Jimmy Durante and Veronica Whipple played by Barbara Jo Allen in Melody Ranch (1940)
God may have created man but Sam Colt made him equal.
Davis Healy played by Bruce Boxleitner in Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice (1994)
That was a one-hundred-percent genuine imitation.
Gabby Whitaker played by George "Gabby" Hayes in Don't Fence Me In (1945)
Ramona: You speak of the earth as if it were a woman.
Alessandro: Well, isn't it always a woman who gives life?
Ramona played by Loretta Young and Alessandro played by Don Ameche in Ramona (1936)
Wherever they get to, all good stories begin and end in the same place. and that's the heart of a man or a woman.
Narration by Wilford Brimley in Last of the Dogmen (1995)
That pretty much captures the spirit of Western Movie Wit & Wisdom. I highly recommend this wonderful collection of movie quotes! For any western lover they will bring back memories of great movies and television series.