Monday, December 30, 2013


By Ashley Kath-Bilsky

Well, another year is drawing to a close. As many of us contemplate our hopes and best wishes for the New Year, it is also a time for reflection of the past. As some of you know, I can get rather lost in the past -- especially doing research for a book. Quite often, that research is exciting and fascinating. At other times, it can be terrible and so dark that one cannot help but reflect on why things happened the way they did.

Without question, the history of the United States is comprised of great accomplishments, founded on the core values of freedom, liberty and justice for its people. It is a land built upon the hard work, dedication, perseverance, faith, and courage of millions who contributed to its tapestry as a nation. Yet, there have been times when it has faltered and turned a blind eye to injustice. A time when promises made in good faith were broken, when corruption, greed, and lapses of moral and honorable judgment resulted in blood-stained battlefields, persecution, and ribbons of scars that remain to this day. There is a saying that one cannot move forward, without remembering the past and learning from the past. And so, today, as many of us turned our thoughts to the coming New Year, I am going to reflect upon something that happened 123 years ago, an event that marked the tragic last chapter of the wars between the American government and the Indians of the American West.

On December 29, 1890, the Battle at Wounded Knee in South Dakota took place, an act allegedly mitigated by the United States government’s concern about a growing spiritual movement called the Ghost Dance.

For years the US Government had continually seized Indian lands. The buffalo had been hunted to near-extinction. Treaty promises to protect reservation lands from settlers and gold miners had been repeatedly broken. As unrest and resentment simmered on the reservations, word came that a Paiute prophet named Wovoka had seen a vision that prompted a religious movement known as the Ghost Dance.

Wovoka stated that in his vision, the Christian messiah, Jesus Christ, had returned to Earth as a Native American, and that he would “raise the Native American believers above all the earth”. The herds of buffalo and other animals would return to the plains, and the white man would disappear from the Native lands. The ghosts of their ancestors would also return to earth. Wovoka explained the Indians had been conquered by the white man and sent to live on reservations because they had abandoned their customs and beliefs. Yet, if they practiced the Ghost Dance, they could restore their favor with the Great Spirit.

Hope and belief by Native Americans in the promise of the Ghost Dance had been growing steadily during 1890; however, the government became anxious its influence could incite violence. Whether by narrow-mindedness, resentment over past battles, or outright prejudice, a mania soon developed about the Ghost Dance. White people were alarmed when they saw Indian tribes performing the Ghost Dance, fearing it was in preparation for an attack.

As such, in an attempt to thwart the Ghost Dance and its effect, the government decided to show its strength and 'control' against any contemplated uprising by arresting some of the great chiefs.

On December 15th, 40 reservation police attempted to arrest Chief Sitting Bull at his home on Standing Rock Reservation. Refusing to comply, Sitting Bull tried to break free from his captor, and shots were fired. The much revered Chief Sitting Bull--a man who once toured with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show to much acclaim--was killed, as well as 8 of his people and six policemen. Tension and mistrust among the Indians against the US Government escalated to fever pitch.

Approximately 200 members of Sitting Bull’s Hunkpapa band fled Standing Rock. Some joined the Ghost Dancers in the Badlands, while others joined Chief Spotted Elk and his Miniconjou band on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.

On December 19th, General Nelson A. Miles (pictured) wired General John Schofield in Washington, D.C., as follows:

"The difficult Indian problem cannot be solved permanently at this end of the line. It requires the fulfillment of Congress of the treaty obligations that the Indians were entreated and coerced into signing. They signed away a valuable portion of their reservation, and it is now occupied by white people, for which they have received nothing."

"They understood that ample provision would be made for their support; instead, their supplies have been reduced, and much of the time they have been living on half and two-thirds rations. Their crops, as well as the crops of the white people, for two years have been almost total failures."

"The dissatisfaction is wide spread, especially among the Sioux, while the Cheyenne have been on the verge of starvation, and were forced to commit depredations to sustain life. These facts are beyond question, and the evidence is positive and sustained by thousands of witnesses."

Obviously, the concerns of General Miles fell on deaf ears in Washington.

On December 23rd, Chief Spotted Elk with his men and 38 of Sitting Bull’s Hunkpapa left for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, intending to seek shelter with Chief Red Cloud.

Five days later, on December 28th, a unit of the United States 7th Cavalry intercepted Chief Spotted Elk’s band of Miniconjou Lakota and the Hunkpapa Lakota near Porcupine Butte and escorted them five miles west to Wounded Knee Creek. An encampment was established there in the bitter cold and snow. The remainder of the 7th Cavalry arrived, under the leadership of Col. James Forsyth, and surrounded the camp…along with four Hotchkiss guns, also known as the Hotchkiss Revolving Cannon. [Pictured: Soldiers at Wounded Knee with some of their Hotchkiss guns]

The number of soldiers present at Wounded Knee amounted to 500; the number of Indians was estimated to be 350, “of whom all but 150 were women and children”.

Just after daybreak on December 29th, the 7th Cavalry surrounded the Native Americans and demanded they surrender their weapons. Some weapons had already being relinquished when an argument broke out between a deaf Indian named Black Coyote (who did not understand why he must give over the gun he had purchased with his own money) and the soldiers. As the weapon was being wrestled away from him, it discharged. What immediately followed was a brutal massacre.

As soldiers shot the now predominately unarmed Indians at close range, others aimed the mighty Hotchkiss guns at the tipis in the camp that were occupied by women and children. Some women and children fled, taking shelter in an icy ravine, where they were hunted down and killed. Soldiers on horseback pursued any escaping Indians for miles across the snowy prairie.

The fighting lasted less than an hour. It was reported 300 Indians were killed by the 7th Cavalry. Half of the dead were women and children. The dead among the US Cavalry numbered 25.

Eyewitness accounts described horrific details of soldiers consumed by bloodlust who killed with a vengeance, even after promising that those who surrendered would not be harmed. Testimony by Capt. Edward Godfrey of Company D of the 7th Cavalry stated: “Little boys came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there.”

Many historians maintained the 7th Cavalry deliberately sought revenge at Wounded Knee in response to their regiment’s defeat at Little Bighorn in 1876. Whatever the reason behind their actions, the end result remains the same as does this bloody chapter regarding the history between the US Government and the Native Americans .

After the battle, a 3-day blizzard ensued. When the storm had passed, civilians were hired to bury the frozen dead Lakota in a mass grave [pictured]. Although an incensed General Nelson Miles immediately relieved Col. Forsyth of his command, the Army Court of Inquiry exonerated the colonel of responsibility. In agreement with their decision, Secretary of War Redfield Proctor reinstated Forsyth to command the 7th Cavalry again. However, General Miles continued to maintain his belief that Forsyth had deliberately destroyed the Indians, stating that what happened at Wounded Knee was a deliberate massacre, not a “tragedy caused by poor decision”.

It would seem that history now agrees with the belief of General Miles, yet in an unconscionable display of political whitewashing, the US Army awarded 20 Medals of Honor to officers and soldiers of the 7th Cavalry for what happened at Wounded Knee.

In 1965, the Wounded Knee Battlefield was declared a National Historic Landmark, and was listed on the US National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

I appreciate you taking the time to read my post this day, and regret that it is not about something more cheerful. As I mentioned earlier, the more research I do into the American West, especially legal and government matters during the time my novel-in-progress takes place, the more I am confronted with disparaging truths that one cannot help but wish had never happened. There is nothing we can do today to change history; however, by reviewing and remembering the past we can hopefully learn how to respect one another better in the present, and not allow prejudice or hatred to dictate the choices we make in the future. As Chief Sitting Bull once said: "Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children."

May the New Year bring you many blessings, and may there be peace in our hearts, in our daily lives, and in this world we all share. ~ AKB


The Wounded Knee Massacre: Martin Gitlin (2011)
Wounded Knee Museum

Saturday, December 28, 2013


I love the music of Christmas. I could play it all year long if I weren’t married to someone who isn’t as crazy about it as I am. Those songs are so uplifting and beautiful that they make me feel good just to hear them, and you can’t help but sing along with them.

My dad always loved Christmas, and was a great practical jokester. He delighted in making phone calls to his grandchildren, pretending to be Santa. He’d call back later on for a rundown about what happened on our end—the looks, the comments, and the joy of getting a real live phone call from Santa! One of the traditions in our house was the box of chocolate covered cherries that was always under the tree for him from my mom, a reminder of hard Christmases in years past when that might have been the only gift she could afford. Another was that our house was always filled with Christmas music.

I was a classically trained pianist from the time I turned seven years old. My father’s favorite Christmas carol was What Child Is This? Once I mastered it, I delighted in playing it for him because he took such pleasure in it, and since it was also the tune to another song, Greensleeves, I played it all year round for him.

The tune known as Greensleeves was a British drinking song for many years, a popular folk song that was not religious. In ancient Britain, there have been more than twenty different known lyrics associated with the tune throughout history. It was first published in 1652.

Shakespeare mentions it by name in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in which it is played while traitors are hanged. It has been attributed to King Henry VIII, and said that he wrote it for Anne Boleyn. How did this song become one of the best-loved Christmas carols of all time?

In 1865, Englishman William Chatterton Dix wrote “The Manger Throne,” three verses of which became “What Child Is This?” During that particular era, Christmas was not as openly celebrated as it is today. Many conservative Puritan churches forbade gift-giving, decorating or even acknowledging the day as a special day for fear that Christmas would become a day of pagan rituals more than a serious time of worship. Although Dix wrote other hymns, in the context of the times, it was unusual for him to write about Christ’s birth, since many hymn writers and religious factions ignored Christmas completely.

The words represent a unique view of Christ’s birth. While the baby was the focal point of the song, the point of view of the writer seemed to be that of a confused observer. Dix imagined the visitors to the manger bed wondering about the child who had just been born. In each verse, he described the child’s birth, life, death and resurrection, answering the question with a triumphant declaration of the infant’s divinity.

“The Manger Throne” was published in England just as the U.S. Civil War was ending. The song quickly made its way from Britain to the United States. Dix died in 1898, living long enough to see “The Manger Throne” become the Christmas carol “What Child Is This?”

Hope you have all had a very blessed Christmas and are looking forward to a fantastic 2014! What did you do this Christmas? Start a new tradition? Keep to the old ones? Let's talk Christmas in retrospect today!

Thursday, December 26, 2013


By Caroline Clemmons

Happy 2nd day of Christmas (and 3rd, since this post will be up both days). I hope your true love has given you something more practical than the symbolic turtle doves and French hens.

Today is also another holiday, Boxing Day. Although Boxing Day is not celebrated as such in the United States, the occasion is one of our heritage.  So, even though we don’t recognize the day as a holiday in the U.S., let’s look at the history and practice today.

Boxing Day’s history is sketchy. As a child, the vague references in books to the holiday conjured up questions of why everyone in a country would go boxing the day after Christmas. ☺ Later I learned the day has nothing to do with pugilism.

According to Wikipedia, the day is a carryover from early Roman times when slave owners and servants traded places for one day or when slaves were given gifts at Saturnalia. Perhaps this is what evolved into the British custom giving gifts to servants and those of lesser status on the day after Christmas. According to David Johnson, historians say the holiday developed because servants were required to work on Christmas Day, but took the following day off. As servants prepared to leave to visit their families, their employers would present them with gift boxes.

So why don’t we celebrate the day in the United States? In my opinion, one reason is that the classes were muddled/huddled and early settlers lacked the formal distinctions of the “old country.” Especially as people moved West, they were considered equals. Yes, money still talked, but Western society formed a new order in which people were judged more on character and productivity than ancestry. Fewer people had servants. At least that’s my take on the day.

According to Elaine Lemm, Boxing Day was a day off for servants and when they received a “Christmas Box” from the master. The servants would also go home to give “Christmas Boxes” to their families.

A box to collect money for the poor was placed in Churches on Christmas day then opened the next day. Great sailing ships when setting sail would have a sealed box containing money on board for good luck. If the voyage were a success the box was given to a priest, opened at Christmas and the contents given to the poor.  

Boxing Day is a time to spend with family or friends, usually those not seen on Christmas Day itself. With guests often popping in for a snack and quick drink, the food and drink on Boxing Day is more relaxed than Christmas Day. Lunch will usually be a buffet or leftovers from Christmas lunch. Baked Ham is a popular Boxing Day meat. Mince Pies with Brandy Butter or a slice of Christmas Cake are almost obligatory.

Boxing Day hunts are now without a fox.
In recent times the day has become synonymous with sport. Horse racing is particularly popular with meets all over the country. Many top football teams also play on Boxing Day. Until 2004, Boxing Day hunts were a traditional part of Boxing Day but the ban on fox hunting has put an end to the hunt in its traditional sense. Hunters will still gather dressed resplendently in red hunting coats to the sound of the hunting horn but it is now forbidden in law to chase the fox with dogs, so the dogs now follow artificially laid trails. Boxing Day is also a time when the British take part in activities like fun runs and charity events.

Sales begin December 26th
The New Boxing Day Sport is shopping similar to Black Friday sales in the U.S. Sales used to start in January post-New Year, but the desire to grab a bargain and for shops to off-load stock means many now start on Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is also the Feast of Saint Stephen. For those who keep saints’ days, this is a day to give to the poor and to the church. Certainly that’s a good idea regardless of your religious persuasion!

St. Wenceslaus
Here are the lyrics to the song that first alerted me to the Feast of St. Stephen, "Good King Winceslaus."

Good King Wenceslaus looked out on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if you know it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither,
You and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together,
Through the cold wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger,
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread now in them boldly,
You shall find the winter’s rage freeze your blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
You who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing. 

Happy Boxing Day. Happy St. Stephen’s Day. Happy 2nd and 3rd day of Christmas. I hope your true love gives you something more useful than calling birds and French hens. 

Peace, health, and happiness to each of you in the New Year!

Sources: by Elaine Lemm by David Johnson

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Little Christmas History

by Linda LaRoque

In the early 1700s New England, Christmas was not celebrated in the colonies. In some it was even banned, and those caught celebrating would be fined. The Puritans and Calvinists considered Christmas to be similar to the Catholic pomp and idolatry, or worse, the pagan rituals of the Druids.

The Quakers in the Pennsylvania area didn't regard Christmas any different from any other day. Stores were open, there was no more baking than normal and no Christmas porridge on Christmas Eve.

As time passed and more immigrants moved to the Americas, they brought their traditions with them. Eventually the laws against celebrating Christmas were lifted. In 1856 Christmas was made an official holiday in New England.

Picture courtesy Wikipedia Commons
For the Anglicans, the holiday began with the Christian liturgical year, the four week period before Christmas. Time was spent in religious services, fasting, praying. It was also a time of reflection, anticipation and expectation for the coming of Christ. Both churches and homes were adorned with all types of greenery, especially those with colorful berries. Mistletoe and Holly along with evergreens were favorites. Evergreens were shaped into wreaths and tied into boughs. They added color and fragrance to their homes and were the most common decorations until the Christmas tree was introduced by Prince Albert in Victorian England.

Mistletoe was popular in the 18th century and was arranged in large clusters and tied with ribbons. The bundles were major focal points in colonial homes. The hanging of mistletoe resulted from an ancient Druid belief that it warded off evil spirits and promised fertility of crops for the coming spring.

Families attended church services, Christmas carols and hymns were sung. The most most popular of the time were those written by Isaac Watts. He wrote "Joy to the World," "The First Noel," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," among a few.

The giving of gifts wasn't as big a thing as it is today. Contemporary shops would set up displays of typical gifts such as little books, candles, and candy. It was not uncommon to give a cash tip as a gift. The Christmas card as we know it was introduced in the 1800s along with Santa Claus and the filling of shoes, and eventually stockings, with candy, fruit, nuts, and other small gifts.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
Christmas during the Civil War.

As you read in my post on December 4th here on Sweethearts of the West, Christmas feasts were extravagant for those in the cities and on farms where livestock and wild life was plentiful. For those in the wilderness and homesteads far from town, celebrations were simple in comparison.

From Dicken's Christmas Past
Courtesy Wikipedia Comons
Activities of this era did not center around the children, but rather around the adults. Children were not welcome at the fox hunts, the balls and parties. And the celebration didn't end on Christmas Day. Our ancestors didn't know what we know about the 'twelve days of Christmas'—twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany on January 6th, because Christmas day had a different connotation back then. They believed the twelve days began on Christmas day and continued for a full twelve days. Nor did they have the extravagance of Santa in his sleigh filled with toys and presents under the tree.

Christmas on the prairie was often a difficult time, especially if facing blizzards and December storms, but every effort was made to celebrate, no matter how small or meager their supplies. Some people who rarely went to town, made a trip before Christmas for extra supplies, shoes and clothing which was often given to the family as gifts. Around remote military posts, soldiers could be heard singing carols, and venison roasted on an open fire filling the air with a pleasing aroma. Writer Washington Irving wrote about the explorations of Army Captain Benjamin Bonneville in the Oregon territory. They were friendly with the Indians and Kowsoter, the local chief, invited the entire company to a feast. Following the meal, both Indian and white men competed in games of strength and ability.

If the home had room, which many early prairie homes did not, there was a Christmas tree. It might have been a cottonwood, scrub brush or a tumble weed. Every effort was given to making it look festive. Bits of ribbon, berries and popcorn strings, pieces of colored paper and possibly candles. The candles were placed in tin holders and when lit, were never left unattended for fear of fire. Gifts were most often hand made—knitted scarves, mittens, socks, dolls made of fabric (rag dolls), and stuffed with straw and miniature quilts. Boys received wooden toys like tops or other toys made from available wood. Some gifts were placed on tree branches, others were place under the tree.

Those traveling west on wagon trains also celebrated. Dinner would be sausage, biscuits, rice and game if available. Pies and cakes would be baked and served with precious commodities brought from home—preserves, tea, coffee and possibly a fruit cake they'd saved for the occasion.

This is the first commercially produced Christmas card. It was designed John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole.

I hope you've enjoyed this sample of Christmas customs and celebrations in our country. Unfortunately I was unable to find any pictures of Christmases on the prairie. I hope my descriptions will paint a picture in your mind. 


Writers Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West.

Thank you for stopping by. I hope you'll leave a comment.


Monday, December 23, 2013

The Birth of Christmas

                Whose idea was it to have Christmas in the first place? Why December 25, a day no one could prove was Jesus’ birthday? Turkey dinner, holiday cards, decorated trees, mistletoe, carols, Santa Claus—who came up with all these traditions?
                Church fathers first suggested December 25 as a good day to celebrate the nativity early in the fourth century, in the hope of eclipsing the festi

vities of a rival religion they felt threatened Christianity.
                For two centuries after Christ was born, the actual day of the event was unknown, and in truth, few people cared. Death days counted more at the time than birthdays. Religious leaders felt that, since Christ was divine, his birth date didn’t matter. In fact, the Church taught that observing Christ’s birthday was sinful and demeaned Christianity.
                Theologians, however, disagreed and proposed several different dates: January 1, January 6, March 25, and May 20. Of all these days, the latter one became the most popular because of the statement of Luke that the shepherds who received the announcement of Christ’s birth were watching their sheep by night. Shepherds guarded flocks day and night only during the spring lambing season. At all other times the sheep were penned and unguarded.
                The final straw that forced the Church to legitimize December 25 as the day of the Lord’s birth came about because of the growing popularity of Christianity’s major rival religion, Mithraism. Pagan Romans, still in the majority, celebrated Natalis Solis Invicti, the “birthday of the Invincible Sun God,” Mithras. This cult came into existence in Persia and took root with the Romans in the first century B.C. By A. D. 274, Mithraism was so popular with the masses that the emperor proclaimed it the official state religion.
Church fathers decided the time had come to do something about their rival. So, to give their converts a chance to enjoy a celebration they could take pride in, Christ’s birth was officially recognized. Of course, by their dictate, the day was to be one of prayer at a special mass. The celebration of Christmas took hold and stuck. Upon the occasion of the baptism of Roman emperor Constantine, Christianity was proclaimed the state religion.

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year.
Love, Charlene

Friday, December 20, 2013

Frontier Soldiers’ Christmas

Poinsietta divider Austerity, fear and monotony were routine at frontier army posts. Christmas offered a much needed break in that routine. Festivities and various amusements were often planned for enlisted men as well as the officers and their families. Sometimes soldiers would enact a play or tableau on Christmas Eve. If available, a Christmas tree might be set up, especially if a number of children lived on the post. Image from The Project Gutenberg Ebook of Campaigning with Crook and Stories of Army LIfe, by Charles King

Quoting from the Army and Navy Register in 1886:

Every child in the garrison, Officers’, soldiers’, laundresses’, civilian employees’ little ones were all there and each and every one found a toy, an apple, an orange, a bag of candy and popcorn ‘galore.’ Santa Claus appeared and appointed Major Brown and Lieutenant Barth, Twelfth Infantry, to distribute the gifts.

Twenty years earlier a Christmas ball was held at Fort McPherson, Nebraska. As reported in the Omaha Daily Herald, 

[The ball] was well attended . . . The decorations were extremely elegant and tasteful, and the floor in good order comfortable to dance upon. . . The soldiers behaved, as soldiers should, like gentlemen . . . The officers of the garrison were present and were noticeable for their urbanity toward private soldiers. (Sounds a tad condescending, doesn’t it.)

However, on other posts, Christmas passed without much fanfare. Pvt. Wilmot P. Sanford, Co, D, Sixth Infantry, said of Christmas at Fort Buford, North Dakota:

Monday, December 25, 1876. Clear and cold 28 below. Came off guard in the morning and to the quarters the rest of the day. Having a good drink. Corn, peaches, jelly, butter, duff (a stiff flour pudding) and roast beef and gravy and whiskey drinks. . . Half the company were drunk before night. Not a very merry Christmas!

Christmas in the field was even more dreary, miserable and sometimes dangerous. Sgt. Herman Werner recalled campaigning in Montana: 

Christmas eve of 1884 found us not in the Holy Land. The Bethlehem for troop L, First Cavalry, in the year of 1884 was within the fastness of the Little Rocky Mountains, Montana, on a day when a temperature of forty-two below zero painfully penetrated to the very marrow of man and beast.

In the field near Camp Verde, Arizona, contract Surgeon Henry R. Porter wrote a letter to his father at Christmas, 1872. 

I will close by wishing you all a Merry Xmas and Happy New Year. I should like to be there and eat one of Mother’s famous apple dumplings or plum puddings but I shall be obliged to content myself eating my Christmas dinner on the ground and made up of whatever we can get. Gen. George R. Crook

On a winter campaign led by General George R. Crook, Sgt. James Bryon Kincaid recorded: 

Christmas morning of 1876 was a morning that will be remembered by the men of the campaigns long as life exists. About two o’clock a.m. I awoke, being too cold to sleep longer; or as the boys term it – I froze out, and left the tent.The moon was shining and I saw the sentry was pacing back and forth in front of Gen. Crook’s Quarters. I went over to him and asked if he had any fire, he said he would say not for there was not wood enough in 20 miles to boil a cup of coffee. “Did you freeze out?” he asked, Well you might as well join the rest.” “What do you men,” I asked. “Why look down the valley; they are walking to keep from freezing to death.” I did and in the pale moonlight I could see five or six hundred men walking to keep life in the bodies.”

Let’s remember the soldiers who served then and now in far off places, away from their loved ones during the holidays, often under terrible conditions, and be grateful for their service to our country.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Winter Survival of the Early Pioneers of the North Midwest

Sarah McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western, contemporary and historical fiction. Sarah is a retired critical care/ER nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily and Liberty. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery, Victory Tales Press, Western Trail Blazer and Prairie Rose Publications.
When I lived in Nebraska back in the Dark Ages we now call the 1960’s, I spent the winter battling below zero temperatures, ice several inches thick on the back roads, endless snow, blizzards and my car doors often frozen shut in the morning. Clothes would freeze on the line before I finished hanging them up and my fingers would go numb with the cold. Winter seemed endless and the sun would disappear in a grey sky for days on end. I often wondered how pioneers made it through the brutal winters without kerosene, gasoline, matches or grocery stores. How could they put on enough clothes to ward off the relentless wind and bitter cold? Where did they get enough food to make it through the winter? I went on a search to find out how those pioneers lived through the ferocious winters of the northwest. 

Since winter could last from September until June, preparation was key to survival. Harvesting crops that would last over winter meant they had to choose root vegetables like carrots, potatoes and beets that can endure. Dried apples and corn worked well and salted meats also lasted over time.
Light was essential since it was common not to have windows in the cabins. Most often, without kerosene handy, women made candles by pouring tallow (animal fat) over thick string. Sometimes they just stuck a string in a cup of grease. Sounds icky, doesn’t it? They also used pine knots soaked in grease and, during winter, the light of the fire served as light. Without matches, flints were often used to spark a fire in a little dry brush or moss. On occasion, people would walk for miles to ask a neighbor to give them fire in the form of embers to take home. Without fire, there would be no survival. The thick walls of log cabins helped to insulate against the cold as long as the cracks between the logs were filled with mud, rags or paper.
It must have been rough stuck in a cabin days on end in the winter months. They did have entertainments. Some played musical instruments creating music to break the monotony. They also read, sometimes aloud, shared stories, played games or just had conversations before the fire as they mended clothing or farm equipment. It sure would be nice to have conversations these days, but there are so many distractions with TV, computers and cell phones that do everything but wash the laundry.
Knowing what the pioneers endured to survive winter makes me respect their skills, tenacity, resourcefulness, fierce self-reliance and love of independence. These pioneers demonstrated the true spirit of what it is to be an American. If you can survive winter in the northwest with only rudimentary resources, you can do just about anything.
I have lived in log houses twice. The first log house was once a carriage house on an old plantation that was converted to a very comfortable house with an open stairway to the upstairs that allowed heat to warm the bedrooms and bath. That house was toasty in the winter and somewhat cool in summer.

                                                   The House Where I Was Raised
The second log house was the one where I was raised. When it was built, somewhere in the early 1800’s, it had two rooms downstairs and two upstairs. The kitchen was a detached building in the backyard that was converted to a potting house in later years. My dad spent a lot of time in there. In the 1940’s the new owner renovated the house adding a dining room, large kitchen, bathroom, screened in porch and a room with huge windows upstairs. Upstairs wallboard was put up and pretty wallpaper applied and downstairs, every room had cedar paneling and bead board ceilings. They must have loved French doors because they were everywhere. The floors had wide oak boards instead of the more modern narrow boards. The huge fireplace in the living room heated the downstairs well enough until the end of October. When winter began in earnest, my dad would bring in and reconnect the oil heater that sat in the living room and used the fireplace chimney as its smokestack. My sister and I hated that heater, but we were grateful for its warmth when we got up to the cold in our rooms. We would make a bee-line downstairs to dress. We had electric blankets so we didn’t really suffer on cold nights. Later when my oldest sister inherited the house, she introduced central heat which allowed for the enjoyment of the fireplace in winter. Because the walls were so thick, you could sit in the windowsills. One of the previous owners added clapboard to the exterior and a regular tile roof.  Except for the exceptionally wide windowsills, you could never tell the main part of the house was made of log. Although we were pretty cozy in that house, we lived in the south with relatively mild winters compared to the north Midwest.
Speaking of winter in the Midwest, here is an anthology just released from a brand new publisher that Cheryl Pierson and Livia Washburn put together to celebrate Christmas in the west. It includes stories by 8 western authors and 8 recipes that are mentioned by each author in her story. Wishing For A Cowboy Christmas stories will warm your heart.


My contribution is A Husband for Christmas.   
A night of horror… a wish for a new life...and a secret love
Jane Pierpont and her son, Robin, survived the Titanic, but her husband went down with the ship and the emotional scars of that night have kept her and her son locked into that frightening event years later. Robin is terrified of deep water and Jane has nightmares and survivor’s guilt. She yearns for a family, a loving husband and maybe another child, but she feels disloyal to Michael’s memory whenever Teekonka RedSky comes near her.
Teekonka RedSky loves Jane and her son, but all his efforts to help them past their painful memories of the night Michael Pierpont died have been unsuccessful. Unwilling to give up, can his Lakota beliefs help him bring peace to Robin and free Jane to love again? 
Teekonka let go of the latch and stepped back into the room. He took Jane’s hand in his, its warmth radiating into her chest. “I wondered if you and Rob would attend the festival with me.”
Jane felt confused. “The hotel is just down the street from here. We can manage to get there quite well on our own.”
He shook his head and squeezed her hand. “You don’t understand, Jane. I’m asking you and your son to go with me because I want to court you.”
Jane pulled her hand free. Self-reproach engulfed her. Before her stood a handsome, strong man who wanted to court her and include her son, but she couldn’t. It wasn’t right. Surely, Michael’s spirit was close by, and he would never approve. He couldn’t help dying. “I…I’m flattered that you should ask, but I can’t. My husband—”
Teekonka’s jaw clenched. “Your husband is dead. He’s been dead for seven years.” He stepped back from her. A frown turned his firm lips down. After he walked to the door and lifted the latch, he turned to her again. “I’m sorry. I apologize for reacting so angrily.  You still love your husband. I understand.” The door closed, and he was gone.
Jane stood alone in a room that had suddenly grown cold and dim.
Where you can find Sarah J. McNeal
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I wish each of y'all a wonderful, warm and safe Christmas.