Tuesday, March 31, 2015


By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

“The Old West is not a certain place in a certain time, it’s a state of mind; it’s whatever you want it to be.” ~ Tom Mix

I came across the above quote – which I not only love but believe sums up how I feel about the American West – and wondered, “Who was Tom Mix?”

Much as I pride myself on my knowledge of film trivia, I had no idea this man was the first GIANT cowboy star and pretty much the father of western films as we know them. For me, the first cowboy star whose film work I saw on television was Roy Rogers. I have since learned that long before there was Roy Rogers and Trigger, there was Tom Mix and his wonder horse, Tony.

Between 1901 and 1935, Tom Mix made 291 films. Only nine of these films were not ‘silent’. Regardless of whether or not the film was a ‘talkie’, Tom Mix films became the unbreakable cornerstone of the western genre. They provided an action-packed script, a hero that always saved the day (no matter the odds), and despicable villains who made the enraptured audience boo and hiss. Along with fast-paced, exciting action sequences, thrilling horseback riding, and dangerous stunts that Tom Mix did himself, audiences were able to actually see an authentic ‘frontier town’ situated on a 12-acre set.

The authenticity of the set (built by Mix and called Mixville) not only included a town (the layout of which has pretty much been replicated in every western film or television show you’ve ever seen), but also had an Indian village and ranch outside the town, as well as a simulated desert and distant mountain range. How exciting it must have been for those who only read about the Old West in penny novels to suddenly see it come to life on a movie screen.

Without question, the persona Tom Mix created on film became the prototype of the iconic heroic cowboy that many actors have since portrayed over the years. It isn't a stretch of the imagination to believe his image on celluloid inspired many actors to follow in his footsteps. In fact, after being injured playing football for USC, a yet unknown John Wayne (then Marion Morrison) got a job working at Fox Studios with the help of Tom Mix. Many agree that the mannerisms John Wayne often exhibited in his roles were influenced by western stars he admired, including Tom Mix.

But who was Tom Mix?

He was part of a time in movie history where stars were given new names and new identities. The studio system (even in its infancy) had their own publicity department. Creating "creative" bios about their actors was an art. After all, what the public didn't know wouldn't hurt them, but the truth might lose the studio money. Thus, targeting their ticket-buying audience, (which often included children and wholesome families) they did everything they could to protect their property and his heroic image, build a devoted fan base, and make films quick and fast while the iron was hot. Hit movies (many of which were serials) resulted in more than earnings at the box office. Lucrative product endorsements and paid personal appearances were also at stake.

Nothing was left to chance. For example, would that little buckaroo in his cowboy pajamas have believed in Roy Rogers so enthusiastically if he knew his larger than life hero’s real name was Leonard Slye and he once worked at a shoe factory? Leonard Slye or Roy Rogers? Hmm. Which sounds more heroic? I think we’d all agree, Roy Rogers.

Well, when it came to Tom Mix, at least the studio didn’t have to change his name. Born Thomas Hezekiah Mix on 06 January 1880 in Drift Run, Pennsylvania, he was the second son of Edwin and Elizabeth Mix. His father was a stable master, thus explaining where and how Tom learned how to train horses and become an exceptional trick rider.

From his childhood, we know that when his older brother, Harry, died suddenly, a then 11-year old Tom (already disenchanted with school), decided to not further his education beyond the Fifth Grade. Although his parents wanted him to continue his schooling, Tom knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. He had just seen Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show.

The exciting visual Buffalo Bill Cody portrayed to his audience had a profound effect on the boy. He watched as heroic, larger than life, Buffalo Bill Cody rode to the rescue of a stagecoach being robbed, as well as a cabin being attacked by Indians. A multitude of costumed cowboys and Indians rode about with impressive skill and thrilling stunts. Sharpshooters amazed, and trick roping left him speechless.

Before you could say lickity-split, Tom went home and used his mother’s clothesline to practice roping cows. He taught himself how to ride like the wind, to do flying mounts where (much to the concern of his parents) he would grab hold of a running horse and vault onto its back, or stand on the horse’s back while it ran. Concern turned to horror for his parents, however, when Tom started to practice trick-shooting and knife-throwing. Yet even after he accidentally shot himself above the knee trying to dislodge a jammed bullet with a pocket knife, the determination of Tom Mix could not be denied.

It became more and more apparent to everyone that Tom Mix wanted to be a cowboy, to go west and be part of the world Buffalo Bill Cody had brought to life. He even made a cowboy costume for himself. What his mother thought of her young son’s sewing skills is not known, but it prompted her to make him a far better cowboy outfit complete with an embroidered charro jacket and leather chaps. He was now just 12 years old.

Records show that Tom enlisted in the Army the day the United States declared war on Spain in 1898. Although just 18, he lied and said he was 21 – most likely to avoid the requirement of parental consent for someone 18 years of age. Assigned to Battery B Artillery, he was trained in Delaware to operate 50-ton guns, and promoted to the rank of Corporal. However, the war soon ended and Tom found himself bored in the Army. Never having seen battle, Tom was transferred to New Hampshire’s Fort Constitution in November 1898, and promoted to Sergeant by the end of the year.

In April 1901, he re-enlisted in Fort Hancock, New Jersey. For his re-enlistment, a now 21-year old Tom was given a two-week furlough. While in Fort Monroe visiting friends, he met school teacher, Grace Allen. Fourteen months later, on another furlough, Tom and Grace married. However, living apart was not what the bride wanted…or the groom for that matter. When his bride asked him to choose her or the Army, Tom went AWOL. The date was 25 October 1902. On 04 November 1902, he was officially declared a deserter.

Together with his wife, he moved to the Oklahoma Territory and settled in the town of Guthrie. Grace found a teaching position, and Tom worked several jobs, one of which was tending bar at the Blue Belle Saloon. He also broke horses for local ranchers. When the marriage failed and Grace returned to her parents’ home in Kentucky, a local rancher named Zach Mulhall asked a now depressed Tom if he would like to be the drum major for the Oklahoma Cavalry Band. Tom had no musical training; neither was he a member of the Oklahoma Cavalry. Still, he got the job.

Wearing a flashy uniform, he marched to the music before the band whilst raising and lowering his Drum Major staff. When the band appeared at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Tom was there and made quite an impression on the crowd. No doubt, the attention he received reignited Tom's dream of being in a Wild West Show. One might say that St. Louis was the real birthplace of Tom Mix, for it was here he began to create a new persona – one that garnered positive attention, pleased his newfound fans, and distanced him from the reality of having been a deserter from the Army.

From this point on, the story of his life begins to transform and become embellished.

Between the tall tales Tom told and what the studio system perpetuated about him, it was difficult to know truth from fiction. Depending on whose version you believe, he served as a scout in the Spanish-American War where he was severely wounded (shot in the mouth, in fact, which explained his crooked smile), and was also a non-combatant horse wrangler who witnessed the final battles of the Boer Wars in South Africa. The truth is, much as he wanted to see the perceived glory of battle, he never left the states.

He claimed to have been a cowboy wrangler in Texas and Oklahoma. He did do this from time-to-time in Oklahoma and Texas. Perhaps to make his cowboy persona more believable, he claimed he was born in Texas. I’m willing to let the born in Texas claim slide since, as most non-native Texans will tell you, “I may not have been born in Texas, but I got here as soon as I could.” Most likely, this was a fib orchestrated by the studio to complement his cowboy image.

Another claim – one embellished by the movie studio’s publicity department – was that Tom Mix had been a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt. The truth is, although he rode with Seth Bullock and 50 costumed horsemen, including some Rough Riders, in the 1905 Inaugural Parade to honor President Theodore Roosevelt, he never served as a Rough Rider. [Photo: President Theodore Roosevelt's Inaugural Parade 1905]

Other highlights (fact or fiction) of his life include serving as sheriff of Montgomery County, Kansas, and Washington County, Oklahoma. Another is that he was a US Marshal in Montana, New Mexico, and Arizona, and as a Texas Ranger was twice wounded in gunfights with bandits and rustlers. Whether or not he was a peace officer, sheriff, or US Marshal is doubtful. As for the Texas Ranger claim, although the Texas Rangers (sticklers for accurate record-keeping) have no record of his being one of their Rangers, Governor Allred of Texas made Tom Mix an “Honorary Texas Ranger” in 1935.

Just like Buffalo Bill Cody had often done when writing (and talking) about his life and experiences in the American West, Tom Mix learned the art of self-promotion and embellishment. And as it had with Cody, sometimes the truth, half-truths, and heroic tall tales about a person become blurred over time.

What can be said with any certainty is that Tom Mix made his first silent film in 1909. Within two years, he was a screen idol. He was a pioneer of the western movie genre including formula concept, plot, set design, and location filming as well as the original 'King of the Cowboys' and model for every iconic cowboy hero that has followed after him. Although most of his films are lost forever, his legacy still influences an industry and perpetuates the image of Western movies that has endured the test of time, and influenced other actors, writers, directors.

Whatever aspects of his bio may be fact or fiction, it makes no difference now. Just as his films combined fantasy with reality in depicting the Wild West, his identity is a combination of both as well. Perhaps what can be said of this original, iconic cowboy hero was best said by Will Rogers: “Tom is smart, like Henry Ford. He makes what the people want.”

Isn’t that the most important testament to his work and his life? It doesn’t matter where you come from. Nothing changes his contribution to the genre, or his obvious love of horses, westerns, the cowboy way of life, and the Old West. As a little boy he wanted to be a cowboy. He had been inspired by Buffalo Bill Cody. In turn, he inspired others as well. Let's re-read the quote I posted from Tom Mix that opened this article. “The Old West is not a certain place in a certain time; it’s a state of mind. It’s whatever you want it to be.”

I think the same can be said about him as an individual. Although I don't condone fabricating falsehoods about ourselves, I do believe we all have the potential to achieve our dreams, to be whatever we want to be if we work hard and have determination. We should not be limited by our past, or defined by it. It is our life’s journey and what we accomplish in the time we have that best defines our spirit, and how we should be remembered.

Thanks for stopping by Sweethearts of the West, and I hope you enjoyed this post. ~ AKB


The Amazing Tom Mix: The Most Famous Cowboy of the Movies, by: Richard D. Jensen (2005)

The Fabulous Tom Mix, by Olive Stokes, with Eric Heath (1957). New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


I’ve got a new release that hit the shelves last month! Hidden Trails is my latest western historical novella. This was a fun little novella to work on because it was something I hadn't dealt with before. Though I write a lot of stories with heroes who are of mixed heritage--half white/half Indian, or half white/half Hispanic, I've never written a story with a heroine quite like Valentine Reneau.

Valentine's mother was a slave, a beautiful octoroon, whose cruel master sold her off in a fit of drunken pique--luckily for her! She is able to marry and make a new life for herself, but there is always the uneasy fear that her former owner might find her--even though the Civil War has ended, and she is free. When Valentine is old enough to understand, her stepfather explains it to her, and so begins her burden of constantly looking over her shoulder, as well.

Now that Valentine's on her own, she has to protect herself. The old fear is there, and it's very real. But Valentine isn't alone any longer.

Levi Connor rides into her life with a bullet in his leg, half dead from cold, hunger and blood loss. Once Valentine saves him, will he ride on, or will he stay and help her face her nightmare-turned-reality--the man she must acknowledge as her father?

Valentine intrigues me because I don't know where she came from in my imagination. I "met" her walking along the road in the blizzard, carrying a wounded collie pup. I just knew she was the one for Levi. Have you ever read a story with an unlikely love match that stuck in your mind? I always am curious about what makes one person fall madly in love with another--especially when the odds are stacked against them.

There's lots of excitement and action—and hope for new love in this novella! Leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of HIDDEN TRAILS today!


Levi Connor has never run from anything in his life, and he doesn’t intend to start now. After killing the two bandits who’d followed him into Indian Territory, he finds himself wounded and riding through a blinding February snowstorm. With no purpose ahead of him and no past to guide him, he discovers a reason to exist—the beautiful mixed-blood girl who takes him in and heals him.

Valentine Reneau lives in fear that her father will find her someday in the heart of Indian Territory and force her to return to Mississippi to take her mother’s place—in every way. She knows her time has run out when a stranger shows up on her land with two hired guns—and the devil in his plans.

With some unlikely help, Valentine must try to escape the slave’s fate that her mother left behind so many years before. Will Levi kill for a woman he barely knows? The chips are down, the guns blaze, and everything finally comes clear along these HIDDEN TRAILS…but who’ll be left alive?


She pulled the covers away so she could see his leg. Without saying anything more, she took the lantern from the nightstand and turned up the wick, holding it close to the wound.

“I better get to this,” she said under her breath. Then, she glanced up to meet his gaze. “How long have you been carrying this bullet? And what are you running from?”

Levi grimaced as she turned her attention back to the wound and prodded at it.

“Three days. And I ain’t runnin’, ma’am. A Connor don’t run.”

“And you are a Connor, I take it?”

“Levi Connor. Didn’t get a chance to introduce myself earlier,” he muttered, letting go a sharp breath as she laid a warm, wet cloth over the wound.

“Need to get it cleaned up,” she said. “I don’t want to hurt you, but it can’t be helped. Taking out a bullet is always painful, but when it’s been in there for three days—”

“I know.” He waved a hand dismissively. “I’m just obliged to you—and I’ll make it up to you—for bein’ such a bother.”

She shook her head. “No bother. Truly. My father was a doctor, so I do know a little about what I’m doing.”

Levi breathed a slow sigh of relief. This wasn’t his first bullet hole. But thank God, he’d ended up here, with a beautiful young woman who seemed capable of treating him. There had been times before when he would have prayed to be in this circumstance, rather than some of the ones he’d found himself in.

Gentle hands ministered to him, but he suddenly remembered the very delicate location of the bullet hole and tried to re-cover himself.

“Mr. Connor, I’ve seen everything you have—and many others just like it,” Valentine said matter-of-factly. “I can’t very well remove a bullet from a wound I can’t see.” She snatched the covers from his hand and threw them back to his side. “You’re making it harder for me to be able to do what I need to.”

“In a week or two, I’d pay money for you to flip those covers away like that,” Levi answered.

She bent a long, hard look on him. “I’m not for sale, Mr. Connor. Not at any price. You want to keep riding?”

Levi shook his head. “Forget I said that, Valentine. Just the pain and the…damn humiliation talkin’. I didn’t mean it.”

A slow smile quirked her lips. “I can’t imagine you ever being embarrassed.”

“Believe it or not, I was raised a gentleman, ma’am.”

“I believe it, Mr. Connor. I do believe it.” Her voice was soft and sincere, and full of loss for things Levi didn’t understand.

But just then, she pulled the wound open and probed for the bullet, and the pain stripped everything else away from him. There was nothing in Levi’s consciousness but Valentine and her tweezers, delving into the bloody hole in his leg. He swallowed back the cry that threatened to bring the roof down, forcing it away.


Thursday, March 26, 2015


Why I’ve had storms on my mind, I don’t know. I suppose I can blame Carra Copelin and her book MATELYN AND THE TEXAS RANGER, which includes a hurricane. In addition, I have another friend who works for the Sisters of Charity, and the two influences collided. (Yes, pun intended.)

At the end of the 19th century, the city of Galveston, Texas, was a booming town with a population of 36,000 residents. Its position on the natural harbor of Galveston Bay along the Gulf of Mexico made it the center of trade and the biggest city in the state of Texas. Before the Hurricane of 1900, Galveston was considered to be a beautiful and prestigious city and was known as the "Ellis Island of the West" and the "Wall Street of the Southwest".

As Galveston entered the new millennium, it was one of the wealthiest cities per capita in the United States and appeared to be poised for greatness.

Galveston in the 1890s

And then one weekend in September in 1900, the same proximity to the sea that had made the community grow and prosper as a port city, changed Galveston Island forever. On Sept. 8, Galveston became the victim of a powerful hurricane of such destructive force that whole blocks of homes were completely swept away.


Striking Galveston on Sept. 8, 1900, the Great Storm is considered the worst natural disaster in the nation's history. In Galveston on the rain-darkened and gusty morning of Saturday, September 8, 1900, newspaper readers saw, on page three of the local Galveston Daily News, an early-morning account of a tropical hurricane prowling the Gulf of Mexico. 

On the previous day Galveston had been placed under a storm warning by the central office of the Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) in Washington, D.C. A one-column headline announced, "Storm in the Gulf." Under that, a small subhead proclaimed, "Great Damage Reported on Mississippi and Louisiana Coasts-Wires Down-Details Meagre." The story, only one paragraph long, had been sent out of New Orleans at 12:45 A.M. that same day, but it added nothing to the information presented in the headlines. Additional details were unavailable "owing to the prostration of the wires."

Beginning early on the morning of September 8, the winds began coming in strongly from the north. Despite the opposing winds, the tides of the southern gulf waters also rose, sending large crashing waves upon the beach front. During the afternoon the winds and rain continued to increase. The tides of the gulf rose higher and higher with fierce waves crashing on the beach, sending flood waters into the residential areas.

More than 6,000 (some estimates say as many as 8,000 to 12,000) men, women and children lost their lives. Among the dead were 10 sisters and 90 children from the St. Mary's Orphans Asylum, operated by the Sisters of Charity. The sisters also operated St. Mary's Infirmary in Galveston. It was the first Catholic hospital in the state, established in 1867.


The sisters were called to Galveston by Catholic Bishop Claude M. Dubuis in 1866 to care for the many sick and infirm in what was the major port of entry for Texas. They were also charged with caring for orphaned children, most of whom had lost parents during yellow fever epidemics prevalent in coastal areas of the time.

At first the Sisters of Charity opened an orphanage within the hospital, but later moved it three miles to the west on beach-front property on the former estate of Captain Farnifalia Green at what is now 69th and Seawall Boulevard. The location seemed ideal as it was far from town and the threat of yellow fever.

St. Mary's Orphans Asylum
Sister Elizabeth Ryan, one of 10 sisters at St. Mary's Orphanage, had come into town that morning to collect food. Despite pleas from Mother Gabriel, the assistant superior at St. Mary's Infirmary, for her to stay at the hospital until the storm passed, Sister Elizabeth said she had to return to the orphanage. Sister Elizabeth had the provisions in the wagon and said if she did not return, the children would have no supper.

Warning: Get your hankies ready now.

St. Mary's Orphans Asylum circa 1899
St. Mary's Orphanage consisted of two large two-story dormitories just off the beach behind a row of tall sand dunes that were supported by salt cedar trees. The buildings had balconies facing the gulf. According to one of the boys at the orphanage, the rising tides began eroding the sand dunes "as though they were made of flour." Soon the waters of the gulf reached the dormitories.

The Sisters at the orphanage brought all of the children into the girls' dormitory because it was the newer and stronger of the two. In the first floor chapel, they tried to calm the children by having them sing the old French hymn "Queen of the Waves." The waters continued to rise.

Sister Vincent Cottier and two children
Taking the children to the second story of the dormitory, the Sisters had Henry Esquior, a worker, collect clothesline rope. Again they had the boys and girls sing "Queen of the Waves." One of the boys later said that the children were very frightened and the Sisters were very brave.

By 6 p.m. the wind was gusting past 100 miles per hour and the waters of the gulf and bay had met, completely flooding the city. Residents climbed to the second stories, attics and even roofs of their homes. Flying debris struck many who dared venture outside their homes.

Around 7:30 p.m. the main tidal surge struck the south shore. Houses along the beach front were lifted from their foundations and sent like battering rams into other houses. Houses fell upon houses.

Four-block area of town after storm
At St. Mary's Infirmary the flood waters filled the first floor. From the second story balcony, the sisters pulled refugees in as they floated by and brought them into the over-crowded hospital. Almost every window in the facility was broken out, sending the wind and rain whipping through the building.

At the orphanage, the children and sisters heard the crash of the boys’ dormitory as it collapsed and was carried away by the flood waters. The sisters cut the clothesline rope into sections and used it to tie the children to the cinctures which they wore around their waists. Each Sister tied to herself between six to eight children. Some of the older children climbed onto the roof of the orphanage.

One of the sisters with children nearby
Eventually the dormitory building that had been the sanctuary for the children and sisters was lifted from its foundation. The bottom fell out and the roof came crashing down, trapping those inside.

Only three boys from the orphanage survived: William Murney, Frank Madera and Albert Campbell. Miraculously all three ended up together in a tree in the water. After floating for more than a day, they were eventually able to make their way into town where they told the sisters what had happened at the orphanage.

One of the boys remembered a sister tightly holding two small children in her arms, promising not to let go. The sisters were buried wherever they were found, with the children still attached to them. Two of the sisters were found together across the bay on the Mainland. One of them was tightly holding two small children in her arms. Even in death she had kept her promise not to let go.

Storm's damage downtown
Each year on September 8th, the members of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word sing "Queen of the Waves." The song provides the sisters and all those who co-minister with them an opportunity to pause and remember all who lost their lives in a devastating hurricane almost a century ago.


The death and destruction in Galveston was unbelievable. Thousands were dead and their bodies were littered throughout the city. It would be months before some would be uncovered. A complete list of the dead was never made. Stench from the corpses was detectable for miles. The bodies were piled on barges and towed out for burial at sea, but most washed back up on shores. Funeral pyres were started and burned for days.

Estimates are that the winds reached 150 mph or maybe even 200. The tidal surge has been estimated at from 15 to 20 feet. Whole blocks of homes had been completely destroyed, leaving little more than a brick or two. In all more than 3,600 homes had been destroyed.

Only beach house for miles
A great wall of debris wrapped itself around St. Mary's Infirmary on the eastern end of the city and then zigzagged through the city to the beach. At places the wall was two stories tall. Inside this great wall were destroyed houses, pieces of furniture, pots, pans, cats, dogs and people.

At St. Mary's Infirmary, there was no food or water. While the main hospital building was still standing, the adjacent structures, had been destroyed. The hospital was packed with those who were injured and those who had nowhere else to go.

Two of the Sisters walked about the area until they found crackers and cookies that had been soaked in the water. They brought them back to the hospital. Over a fire they built in the street, they dried the food and served it to those in need at the infirmary.
One year later, the Sisters opened a new orphanage.

Searching debris
On Sept. 8, 1994, a Texas Historical Marker was placed at 69th Street and Seawall Boulevard, marking the site of the former orphanage. The descendants of two of the survivors, Will Murny and Frank Madera, returned to participate in the marker dedication. As part of the ceremony, "Queen of the Waves" was again sung at the same time and place as it was during the Great 1900 Storm. And, as it continues to be each Sept. 8 by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.


To prevent future storms from causing destruction like that of the 1900 hurricane, many improvements to the island were made. The first 3 miles of the Galveston Seawall, 17-foot high, were built beginning in 1902 under the direction of Henry Martyn Robert. An all-weather bridge was constructed to the mainland to replace the ones destroyed in the storm.

The most dramatic effort to protect the city was its raising. Dredged sand was used to raise the city of Galveston by as much as 17 feet above its previous elevation. Over 2,100 buildings were raised in the process, including the 3,000-ton St. Patrick's Church. The seawall and raising of the island were jointly named a National Historical Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2001.

In 1915, a storm similar in strength and track to the 1900 hurricane struck Galveston. The 1915 storm brought a 12-ft storm surge which tested the new seawall. Although 53 people on Galveston Island lost their lives in the 1915 storm, this was a great reduction from the thousands who died in 1900.

If this works, this is a recording of "Queen of the Waves"

http://www.1900storm.com/orphanage.html (Linda Macdonald, Director of Communications, Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in Houston)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The General Store

The items I ordered for Easter via online shopping have arrived, and in a way, history is repeating itself...

Catalog ordering wasn’t unusual for pioneers. The local mercantile, general store, emporium, or country store often provided catalogs for customers to review and place orders from—if they didn’t have what the customer was looking for in stock. The merchandise would be delivered to the store and the customer would come pick it up. 

Country stores did try to hold a variety of merchandise on hand for their customers. They were the “Wal-Marts” of the day, selling most everything the community may need under one roof. The standard stock of supplies usually included foods such as flour, sugar, oatmeal, coffee beans, spices, baking powder, hard candy, crackers, dried beans, tobacco and cigars. They would also have perishables such as eggs, milk, butter, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables (when in season, otherwise canned) and honey. These items they usually procured from local residents. 

The stores also sold dry goods, including bolts of cloth, thread, needles and pins, undergarments, shoes and boots, hats, belts and socks. Of course they also sold essentials such as guns and ammunition, lanterns, lamps, ropes, pots and pans, dishes and cooking utensils, farming equipment, and even coffins. 

There would also be a selection of soaps, medicines, elixirs and other toiletries.
The owners often resided in their store, on the upper level or side/back rooms. The store area itself was usually very crowded, with walls lined with shelves, and floors covered with crates and barrels. Storage rooms were also a must. Most of the merchandise was ordered through drummers, salesmen from establishments in larger cities that maintained regular routes to assure their products were available throughout the nation. The increase of the railroad benefitted many, including store proprietors. Merchandise became easier to obtain. 

These establishments were often the hub of the community. Meetings would be held there, and they were often the number one place of socializing. The country store was also where people picked up their mail. 

In the late 1890’s the postal service created RFD. Rural Free Delivery. This eliminated the need to visit the country store to pick up mail, and it also created a way for people to order merchandise and have it delivered directly to their doorstep. In order to implement the RFD, the government had to build roads to assure mail could be delivered to every home. Companies took great advantage of this, and started sending catalogs to all homes. People now had many more choices of merchandise and the catalogs often times had very appealing prices. 

By the early 1900’s country stores began transforming into more singular focused stores, such as grocery stores, clothing stores, hardware stores, drug stores, etc. etc. Mail order didn’t completely go away, but slowed considerably until the introduction of the World Wide Web. And where, as authors, would we be with that?

I hope you all have a fabulous Easter!
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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Where the Buffalo Roam...

By: Peggy L. Henderson

Bison have roamed the area known as Yellowstone probably as long as they roamed the Great Plains in the millions. It was a common belief that these bison were escapees and survivors of the mass slaughter that occurred in the 1800’s on the plains. Actually, the historic Yellowstone bison were a subspecies of that group, and lived there for thousands of years. 
Fur trapper Osborne Russell, has mentioned the large numbers of bison in an area of Idaho, about 30 miles from the present park. Members of the earlier park expeditions commented that "buffalo skulls are strewn by thousands" in the Yellowstone valley about 40 miles north of the park. From these and other accounts of wild bison within what is today the park, and in adjacent areas, dating from 1860 through 1902, it is clear that a great number of bison inhabited the Yellowstone Plateau at all seasons, and long before the killing of the northern herd of Great Plains bison in the early 1880s.
Rifleman shooting bison ca 1880 NPS photo 
After the park was established in 1872, there was no regulation in place for the killing of animals, and poachers freely killed bison. By 1902, less than thirty bison remained.
In 1886, the army took control of Yellowstone, and one of their main objectives was to regulate the killing and decimating of the natural features and wildlife. While the soldiers worked to stop illegal hunting, they were pretty much powerless to do anything other than escort the offenders outside of park boundaries, confiscate their kills, and tell them not to come back. 
One brazen poacher, Ed Howell, came back time and again, and boasted of his exploits. Luckily, this backfired on him when the public finally heard about his poaching activities, and in 1894, the Lacey Act was passed by Congress, making poaching illegal and punishable.
In 1906, the Lamar Buffalo Ranch was established within Yellowstone to preserve the last free-roaming herd in the US. The bison that were brought to the ranch to mix with the last of the native mountain herd were plains bison, and as a result, today’s Yellowstone bison are a hybrid of the two. 
Lamar Buffalo Ranch 1930  NPS photo
By the 1950’s the herd grew to over 600 animals, and ranching was stopped. The bison were set free to once again roam the park. Today, there are two distinct herds in the park – the Lamar herd, and the Mary Mountain herd. Their numbers fluctuate in any given year, but is usually somewhere around 3000 head. 
Seeing bison in their natural habitat is one of the great joys when visiting Yellowstone. What many people need to remember, is that these animals are wild and dangerous. Unfortunately, many ignore the warnings, and year after year, injuries and even deaths occur from encounters with bison. 
bison calves
The best place to see these magnificent animals is in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys. “Bison jams” are a common occurrence, since bison cross and even travel on the park road. 

present day bison jam

Peggy L Henderson is a laboratory technologist by night, and best-selling western historical and time travel romance author of the Yellowstone Romance Series, Second Chances Time Travel Romance Series, and Teton Romance Trilogy. When she’s not writing about Yellowstone, the Tetons, or the old west, she’s out hiking the trails, spending time with her family and pets, or catching up on much-needed sleep. She is happily married to her high school sweetheart. Along with her husband and two sons, she makes her home in Southern California. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Caddo Lake, The Great Red River Raft & Sighting Bigfoot

  Caddo Lake is a 25,400-acre lake and wetland on the border between Texas and Louisiana. Named after Caddo Native Americans who lived in the area until displacement by white settlers, Caddo Lake is an internationally protected wetland featuring the largest cypress forest in the world. It is one of Texas's few non-oxbow natural lakes and is the 2nd largest in the South. Its size has been altered in modern times by dams.   Caddo Lake
Photo by: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:JCarriker

According to Caddo legend the lake was formed by the 1812 New Madrid Earthquake after a Caddo chief failed to obey the Great Spirit. However, most geologists believe the lake was formed by the “Great Raft”, a huge log jam on the Red River in Louisiana that likely flooded the adjacent low-lying area.

The Great Raft probably began forming around 1100–1200 AD. At its peak in the early 1830s, the raft extended more than 160 miles. The Great Raft protected the Caddo people from competing tribes and the periodic flooding it caused made the land fertile for agriculture. 
Great Red River Raft
Photo from 1870s when the Great Raft was being broken up

Reaching from Campti, Louisiana, to around Shreveport, the Raft impeded westward settlement. It raised the banks of the Red River, forming bayous and several lakes, called the Great Raft Lakes, which included Caddo Lake. 
Steamboat builder and river captain Henry Miller Shreve 1785–1851) began removal of the Great Raft. He finished the task in 1838, allowing navigation on the Red River. Small river boats travelled the chain of lakes as far as Jefferson, Texas, which soon became an important river port for goods and passengers. The city of Shreveport, Louisiana, was named after Captain Shreve.
Capt. Henry M. Shreve
Capt. Henry Millar Shreve; Wikipedia Commons; public domain

Later, the raft reformed farther up river, growing until it reached the Arkansas state line. Destruction of this second raft was completed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in 1874. Unfortunately, with the removal of the log jams, water levels slowly fell to a point where steamboat passage was no longer possible. Railroads soon replaced travel by water.

Although Caddo Lake never went totally dry thanks to being situated in a “bowl,” it did get very low. In 1914 an earthen dam was built near Mooringsport, Louisiana, that raised the water level close to where it had been before the Great Raft was removed. A modern replacement dam was completed in 1971, constructed by the Corps of Engineers.

Oil was discovered beneath Caddo Lake and the world's first over water oil platform was built in 1911. The Ferry Lake No. 1 was erected by Gulf Refining Company. Soon, oil derricks sprang up all over the lake, damaging the fragile ecosystem until drillers left for richer fields. Texas sought to preserve parts of Caddo in 1934 by establishing a state park, constructed by the WPA. However, the Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant was built on the shores of Caddo Lake in the mid-20th century, polluting the surrounding wetlands until its closure in the 1990s.

In 1993, it was announced that 7,000 acres of Caddo purchased by the Nature Conservancy would merge with the 483-acre Caddo Lake State Park, becoming the Caddo Lake State Park and Wildlife Management Area. Also in 1993, thanks to efforts by the Caddo Lake Institute (co-founded by Dwight K. Shellman and Don Henley, famous lead singer for The Eagles) Caddo Lake became one of thirteen areas in the U.S. protected under the international Ramsar Treaty.

Along the shores of Caddo Lake and Cypress Creek, stand many towns and ghost towns dating back to the Republic of Texas. Swanson's Landing was near where the steamer Mittie Stevens caught fire in 1869, when passengers burned to death at night, not realizing the shore was so close and the water so shallow. Farther up the bayou, Port Caddo was the northeast entry point into the Republic of Texas, and Benton was the head of navigation before Jefferson took that honor. A short distance inland from Port Caddo is the site of Macon, called the "Lost Colony" after its settlers moved to Port Caddo.
Bigfoot in SwampSince 1965 there have been hundreds of alleged Bigfoot sightings around Caddo Lake, according to the Texas Bigfoot Research Center (TBRC) -- reported in the Travel Channel’s 2006 documentary Bigfoot. Fascinated by such weird but wonderful tales, I was inspired to include such an incident (with an unexpected twist) in RESCUING LARA, Romancing the Guardians Book I. Here’s a glimpse of “Bigfoot” through Lara’s eyes.

Seated at the huge table, feeling desperately alone, she swallowed the last bite and was about to take a final sip of coffee when a wave of fear swept through her.

Her head snapped up and she set her cup down hard. Knowing her inner alarm was warning of danger, she pushed back from the table, grabbed her cane and stood. Pulse beating double-time, she headed into the hall, pausing to stare at the front door windows. It was almost sunset and the outdoor lights had automatically turned on. Seeing no figure outlined against the frosted glass panes, she continued into the great room. Her gaze went to the oversize picture window and she screamed at the top of her lungs.

Illuminated by the porch lights, a giant hairy creature stood looking in at her. Too terrified to move, she returned its stare. The ape-like thing gave a deep rumble and slapped the window with a huge paw.

Lara jumped and whimpered in terror. Released from her petrified trance, she lurched into the hall, heart hammering and breath rasping in her throat. She hobbled into the kitchen as fast as her weak leg would carry her and glanced around, panic threatening to overcome her. Then her gaze landed on a wooden knife block squatting on the counter near the stove. Limping over there, she fumbled through the collection of knives with trembling fingers, dropping several on the granite countertop.

She settled on the biggest, heaviest butcher knife, certain nothing else would stop that gigantic creature if it broke in. Could the thing actually be a man dressed in a gorilla suit, trying to frighten her? If so, he’d succeeded.

Clutching the weapon in her fist, she hobbled toward the hall, gaze glued to the windows behind the dining table, afraid the ape thing might come around back. Seeing no sign of it, she inched her way along the hallway to the great room. She paused just before the entrance, clammy with fear, and darted a look around the corner. The creature had disappeared from the window, although it could be lurking out of sight on the wraparound porch, searching for a way in.

All the doors and windows on the main floor were locked. She’d made sure of that when the likelihood of spending the night alone struck like a punch to her stomach, but she hadn’t checked the upstairs windows. Danu save her! The ape – or man – might climb to the balcony over the porch. She had to see if those bedroom windows were locked, even though logic told her the thing could easily break one.

The great room seemed twice as cavernous as before; she dreaded stepping in there, knowing the beast might reappear at any moment, but she had no choice if she wanted to reach the staircase in the far corner. Screwing up her courage, she started across the room, glancing at the window as she wound her way between pieces of furniture. Almost to the stairs, she heard heavy footsteps on the porch and caught movement from the corner of her eye.

Lara gasped, dropped her cane and dove behind an overstuffed chair. She peeked around the padded armrest and saw the man-ape standing outside with both enormous paws, no, hands pressed flat against the windowpane. It turned its massive head back and forth, obviously looking for her. Could it break through the extra-thick glass? She prayed not.

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