Thursday, April 30, 2015


By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

Most authors of historical fiction agree that doing research for a book can be quite time-consuming. At the same time, the importance of accurate research and the integral role it plays in making a historical novel come alive for the reader cannot be denied. Even if the subject matter is rather shady or immoral, one has to remember the good and the bad prevalent during the time period and setting. Personally speaking, I enjoy research, and have been known to become so fascinated and side-tracked by delving into the past that writing the book can come to a standstill. Very often, even if I learn something I cannot use in my work-in-progress, I document the information and archive it for a future novel. [Pictured: Painting of Young Woman Adjusting Her Corset, 1893, by Pierre Carrier Belleuse]

When writing a novel set in the American West, there are certain details that cannot be ignored -- not if you want to be accurate. Every frontier town had a saloon, and every town had prostitutes. Whether you call them a soiled dove, floozy, strumpet, the hooker with the heart of gold, or a shady lady, they were just as commonplace as the sheriff, the cowboys, the farmers, the preacher, and the schoolmarm in the one-room schoolhouse. Very often, especially in western films, the upstairs of a saloon had sleeping rooms where the clientele was entertained by one of the girls working downstairs. You may not want to believe that the kind-hearted Miss Kitty from 'Gunsmoke' was a madam, but it seems likely. In any event, today I am going to share some research I collected a few years ago about Fort Worth and, in particular, its "Red Light District" known as Hell's Half Acre.

Before I get into specifics about the Acre itself, I thought to first share a picture of an 1876 map of Fort Worth, Texas. Drawn by D.D. Morse in April of that year, the map is significant because it was in 1876 that Hell’s Half Acre first came to town.

Contrary to what most people think, it was not located far north of town, across the Trinity, in what is now known as the Historic Stockyards area. The Acre was on the south end of town. Depending on how interested or curious you are to see the specific location, you may want to save this picture to your computer then magnify it to see the perimeters I point out. In any event, you can readily see the largest building on the north side of town was the Courthouse. North of the Courthouse, there is a bluff and slope that leads down to the Trinity River. Cattle drives camped out across this river then rode back up to Fort Worth to enjoy what the town had to offer.

The street south of the Courthouse (running north to south) is Main Street; the street immediately east of Main is Rusk (now known as Commerce). The street east of Rusk is Calhoun. Rusk and Calhoun were the east-west boundary lines for the Acre, but where exactly did it begin and end going north to south?

Using the Courthouse as a starting point, the first street south is called Weatherford; thereafter, each subsequent street was numbered and remains so to this day. Hell’s Half Acre began at Seventh Street, and its southern boundary line was Front Street (now known as Lancaster). If you look closely on the map, you can see a train traveling west with the notation, T.P.R.R. (for Texas Pacific Railroad). The red light district of Fort Worth ended just behind the railroad station.

As a side note for writers of historical fiction, it is important to know that very often street names changed over time. Researching vintage maps of an area during the time period and setting of your novel is a tremendous tool. Granted many readers will not care one way or another about a street name or if it is accurate for the time period, but I guarantee you there are history buffs who will know. The bottom line for me is that I will know. Although I am not infallible, I really try hard to transport my readers to the actual setting as one would have seen it and experienced it during the book's time period.

Now, back to to Hell's Half Acre.

Location was everything for the Acre. Apart from its proximity to the train station (and the passengers who came to town, as well as the railroad workers), there were the cowboys. Driving cattle north on the Chisholm Trail, they entered Fort Worth south of town. Tired, hungry, thirsty, and anxious to unwind and find some entertainment, Hell’s Half Acre must have been pretty appealing.

Bear in mind, Fort Worth was their last chance to patronize a saloon, dance hall, gambling parlor, or bordello. It could take anywhere from two months to four months, depending on the weather, to get that cattle to market. And once the herds moved north through Indian Territory, there would be nothing but open country until they reached Dodge or Abilene, Kansas.

“Crime and vice in early Fort Worth were virtually synonymous with Hell’s Half Acre”, according to Dr. Richard Selcer (author of Hell's Half Acre: The Life and Legend of a Red Light District).

Ironically, the main cause of death for anyone in the Acre was not the result of a gambling dispute, drunken brawl, or a gunfight, but suicide by prostitutes. Many of these women who traveled west to work in rough frontier towns did so because they were unable to find work in the better quality establishments back east or lavish bordellos like those found in New Orleans. Tragically, they had nothing better to hope for and had come to the end of their own trail of tears.

In 1876, Fort Worth was a dusty frontier town. Fort Worth offered two kinds of establishments from which “painted ladies” worked – the sporting house and the cribs.

Sporting houses, also known as "female boarding houses” provided some form of elegance, better selection of women, and were more expensive. These type houses were operated by a madam, and featured a parlor where clients could have a drink and select a girl.

The ‘cribs’, however, were nothing more than filthy pens where the desolate, unattractive women -- usually suffering from disease or alcohol addiction -- sold their services for just 25 cents. Not only were these women at the end of a downhill spiral, they had fallen so low that a sporting madam would never even allow her girls to speak with or associate with someone from the cribs. After all, the reputation of her house, and the revenue it earned, was based on her claim that her girls were better quality, more refined and free of disease.

The number of prostitutes who worked in the Acre varied. A sporting house in the late 1870s usually had 3-4 girls employed. Another interesting note gleaned from research is that any woman listed as “Miss” in the Fort Worth city directory, and who lived alone and indicated no occupation or place of employment was considered a prostitute. A respectable woman was either listed with her father, guardian, or husband. However, if a woman lived alone and had a reputable place of employment listed, they were usually classified as widows. Respectable unmarried 'ladies' did not live alone. Period.

In the years that followed, the Acre not only grew but prospered. More establishments were built, some quite extravagant. It should be noted, however, that the famous White Elephant Saloon (featured in my Western Time Travel "Whisper in the Wind") was not located in Hell’s Half Acre. Neither was it, as many believe, located in the present-day Fort Worth Historic Stockyards area. The White Elephant was located on Main Street very close to the Courthouse. As I mentioned in a previous post about Luke Short, the White Elephant was very elegant, very exclusive and catered to wealthy clientele. Many famous figures of the American West often visited Fort Worth, the White Elephant, and Hell’s Half Acre, including Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holiday.

For many years, city officials tolerated Hell’s Half Acre because of the growth that the saloons, gambling halls, and even the sporting houses brought to Fort Worth’s economy. Lest you think the good townspeople of Fort Worth turned a blind eye to all the sin and disrepute going on in the Acre, think again. Gambling and prostitution was still illegal. Fines were imposed for everything from being drunk and disorderly, fighting, carrying a gun, and especially prostitution. Still, there were ways to get around the law, and many influential people knew how.

Irish born Mary Porter (pictured), was an infamous madam of the Acre. She was also on a first name basis with many influential businessmen, including W. H. Ward and E. B. Daggett. Both men posted bond on her behalf. Of course, as her prosperity increased, so did the fines she had to pay. Nothing deterred this woman from her lucrative business. In the four year period from 1893-1897, Porter had 130 offences on record, yet never spent a night in jail.

Time passed on, and the end of cattle drives, stricter law enforcement, as well as attempts to tame the Wild West by law-abiding citizens, philanthropists, and civic leaders started the beginning of the end for Hell’s Half Acre.

Ultimately, the United States' involvement in World War I brought about the Red Light District's official demise. In 1917, Camp Bowie in Fort Worth was chosen to serve as the training ground for young soldiers soon to be shipped overseas. However, the government imposed a strict stipulation. Hell’s Half Acre MUST be shut down so as not to corrupt their brave young men in the Armed Forces. In fact, martial law was imposed to ensure the deed was accomplished. Today, the land upon which Hell’s Half Acre once existed is the home of the Fort Worth Convention Center.

If you are interested in learning more about Hell's Half Acre and the Red Light Districts that were prevalent in the American West, I recommend Dr. Selcer’s book. Not only did I find this book of great help, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Selcer and hear him speak on this subject in greater detail.

Author-Historian Richard F. Selcer holds a Ph.D. from Texas Christian University and is now a professor of history. In addition to Hell’s Half Acre: The Life and Legend of a Red-Light District, Dr. Selcer’s other published titles include: The Fort That Became a City, Fort Worth: A Texas Original!, Legendary Watering Holes: The Saloons that Made Texas Famous, and Fort Worth Characters. His latest release is Written in Blood: The History of Fort Worth's Fallen Lawmen, Volume I - 1861-1909, which he co-wrote with Kevin S. Foster. Dr. Selcer has also had published numerous articles about military history and the Old West.

Thank you so much for stopping by, and I hope you enjoyed hearing about Hell’s Half Acre.~ AKB

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


I subscribe to a little trivia newsletter called “Wisegeek” that comes a couple of times a week in my inbox. The other day, the topic was, Do Americans Still Read for Pleasure?

Here’s what their data shows:

Americans still read for pleasure, with about 75% of adults claiming to have read at least one book during the previous year, according to a 2013 survey. The number of Americans who have not read a book in the past year is estimated to have tripled since 1978, however. For people who do read for pleasure, the format has changed, as about 40% of American adults surveyed said they had read books electronically. Another 2013 survey found that adults age 18-39 who owned e-readers or tablets had read an average of 21 books in the previous year, compared with 13 for people who did not own such a device.

One of my all-time favorites--it's on my keeper shelf! It may surprise you, since it's not a romance, and it's "alternate history"--but I love this author and this story.

More about reading habits:

• A little more than half of all Americans older than 16 visit a library during a year.

• India is the country where people read the most, at an average of more than 10 hours per week.

• More than 80% of Americans age 50-64 say they read the pleasure, which is the highest rate of any age group.

Do these figures shock you? For me, they were a real eye-opener. I was amazed to find out that there were 25% of our population of adults that had NOT read one book in the past year! In the past 35 years, the number of people who have NOT read a book in the past year has tripled. That breaks my heart! And it’s astonishing to me.

If you've never read this book, let me recommend it with all my heart. It's one of those books that, when you finish it, you won't ever forget it. I have 2 copies of it and I never loan out either of them.

The one good thing—if you can call it that—that this survey shows is that on average, 8 more books per year are being read by adults with some kind of electronic device to read them on. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my Kindle. But…I read a lot of paperback books, in addition to this. I’d like to know about people like me who have both—an e-reader and the paperbacks all over the house.

What's the best book you've read recently? I'm reading OLDEST LIVING CONFEDERATE WIDOW TELLS ALL by Allan Gurganus right now. It's a one-of-a-kind book--the retelling of a life by the woman who lived it. No, it's not a true story, but it's witty, funny, and poignant--the author is wonderful, and the story is so unique it's hard to put down.

Another favorite of mine is The Outsider by Penelope Williamson. It’s an oldie, but a goodie—and I just discovered it last year, thanks to our own Kathleen Rice Adams. It was so good, in fact, that a movie was made from it.

I’m anxious to hear your thoughts about this survey and if any of this surprises you—then let’s talk good reading. What’s your pick?

Sunday, April 26, 2015


What states do you associate with coal mining? Until I lived in Parker County, Texas, I had believed coal mines were in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Imagine my surprise to learn my home state of Texas had/has a large number of coal mines. Because my work in progress features an 1885 rancher who goes undercover in a lignite coal mine, I needed to do further research on coal mining in this time period.

My family love to take short trips around our area of North Central Texas. One of the places we’ve visited is Thurber, Texas. Today, only the smokestack of the brick plant remains. However, the coal company store had been restored and is now a restaurant. We enjoyed eating there and looking at all the photos of the mine period.

Now there’s a museum across the Interstate 20, but we never make it by on a day when the museum is open. The museum has recently been adopted by Texas A&M University at Stephenville. We are definitely planning a trip to visit during their open hours.

W. C. Gordon Museum of Industrial Arts

Although my story, O’NEILL’S TEXAS BRIDE, takes place in Central Texas, I am focusing today on the town of Thurber. Though it is a ghost town today, Thurber once had a population of perhaps as many as 8,000 to 10,000. At that time (1918–20 and after the setting of my novel) it was the principal bituminous-coal-mining town in Texas. The site of the town is seventy-five miles west of Fort Worth in the northwest corner of Erath County.

Thurber miners in early 1900s

The coal deposits were discovered in the mid-1880s by William Whipple Johnson, then an engineer for the Texas and Pacific Railway. He began mining operations there in December 1886 with Harvey Johnson. Isolation forced the operators to recruit miners from other states and from overseas; large numbers of workers came from Italy, Poland, the United States, Britain, and Ireland, with smaller numbers from Mexico, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, and Russia. Black miners from Indiana worked in the mines during the labor troubles of the 1880s.

Typical Miner's house

The force of predominantly foreign workers, many of whom spoke little or no English, enabled the company to maintain a repressive environment for many years. Following inability to meet a payroll and a resulting strike by miners, the Johnsons sold out in the fall of 1888 to founders of the Texas and Pacific Coal Company, including Robert Dickey Hunter, who became president of the new company, and H. K. Thurber of New York, for whom the town was named.

Colonel Hunter chose to deal with the dissident miners, who were affiliated with the Knights of Labor, with an iron hand. The new company fenced a portion of its property and within the enclosure constructed a complete town and mining complex, including schools, churches, saloons, stores, houses, an opera house seating over 650, a 200-room hotel, an ice and electric plant, and the only library in the county. Eventually the strike ended, and the miners and their families moved into the new town. In addition to the mines, the company operated commissary stores.

Thurber restaurant in former company store

 As in the typical company town, low pay, drawn once a month, forced employees to utilize a check system between pay periods, whereby the customer drew scrip, reportedly discounted at 20 percent, for use at the company's commissary stores. In 1897 a second industry came to the town, a large brick plant; Hunter was also a partner in this operation, which, although it was separate from the mining company's holdings, used clay found on company property. A stockade, armed guards, and a barbed wire fence, which restricted labor organizers, peddlers, and other unauthorized personnel, regulated access to the town.

Despite the retirement of Colonel Hunter in 1899, Thurber remained a company-dominated community. William Knox Gordon, the new manager of the Thurber properties, at first continued the established policy of suppression and anti-unionism. Continuation of such activities resulted in a concentrated effort by the United Mine Workers to unionize the Thurber miners. Following the induction in September 1903 of more than 1,600 members into the Thurber local of the UMW and the organization of locals of carpenters, brick makers, clerks, meat cutters, and bartenders, the company opened negotiations with the workers and, on September 27, 1903, reached an agreement resulting in harmonious labor-management relations.

Catholic Church at Thurber

Thurber gained recognition as the only 100 percent closed-shop city in the nation. The victory at Thurber indicated what unions might accomplish with effective leadership and more congenial opponents than employers like Colonel Hunter, even when confronted with problems as difficult as organizing diverse ethnic groups. Despite occasional strikes, basic labor-management harmony prevailed, and Thurber remained a union stronghold until the demise of mining operations in the 1920s, after railroad locomotives began to burn oil rather than coal.

Thurber Cemetery

Gordon's discovery of the nearby Ranger oilfield in 1917 stimulated this conversion, and the change of the company name to Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company in April 1918 signified shifting company interest toward oil production, which yielded large profits from 1917 to 1920. The conversion to oil-burning locomotives led to Thurber's demise; declining use of coal and a resulting wage cut led to labor unrest lasting through much of the 1920s and to a strike in 1926 and 1927. Many miners accepted UMW assistance and moved to mining areas in other states. Numerous Italians returned to Italy rather than work in nonunion mines, and in 1926 the union chartered two railroad cars to return to their homeland 162 Mexicans, who likewise refused to scab. By the end of 1927 no union miners remained in the state. The company maintained operation of the brick plant until 1930, a general office until 1933, and commissary stores until 1935. By the late 1930s Thurber had become a virtual ghost town. The population was listed as eight in 2000.

Caroline Clemmons writes Texas-set western historical and contemporary romances. Her latest release is WINTER BRIDE, in the Stone Mountain Texas series. In May, she will release O’NEILL’S TEXAS BRIDE, book two of the McClintock series. Check her website at for a listing of her books or visit her Amazon Author Page. To be notified of her upcoming releases and contests, sign up for her newsletter.

Sources: Handbook of Texas Online 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Toilet Paper

Yes, toilet paper. Of all the things that have changed over the years, the basic functions of the body have not. Although I’m not a big T.V. watching person, an episode of How It’s Made the other night caught my attention. The subject was toilet paper, and it was rather interesting. (Here's an 1886 advertisemen.)

Documentation shows people in China using paper to wipe with after using the necessities, and that during the 14th century (the Ming Dynasty) over 720,000 sheets of specific perfumed paper for such uses were manufactured for use by the imperial court. Elsewhere in the world, wealthy people used wool, lace, or other such fabrics, while those not as well-off used about everything—from rags to grass and leaves, stones, sticks, corncobs and husks, moss, river rocks, etc. Some items were washed to be used again, or placed in a pail of vinegar stationed near the defecating area. Even today, there are parts of the world where alternatives to the toilet paper we know in the U.S. are used. 

In 1857 Joseph Gayette introduced what he called medicated paper for the water-closet. It was sold in small packages of flat sheets, and ‘medicated’ with aloe. (His success was short lived due to the popularity and distribution of the Sears Roebuck catalog. Many saw no need to spend money on something they received for free.) 

Popularity grew again when Seth Wheeler obtained the earliest U.S. patents on ‘toilet’ paper and accompanying dispensers in 1883. Others soon followed. The Scott Company, who became a major producer of toilet paper was too embarrassed to put their name on a product of such a sensitive subject, and therefore named it for the companies they produced it for—The Waldorf Hotel in New York became a big name in toilet paper due to purchasing large amounts for their customers. The Scott Brothers didn’t officially take credit for producing the ‘product’ until 1903. It was still a ‘taboo’ subject, and few asked for it by name, however, the increasing number of homes with ‘indoor’ plumbing initiated the need for something that could be flushed without damaging pipes. Plumbers, as well as doctors, then started ‘prescribing’ the use of commercially made paper-products. 

Just as most paper is produced, wood was used to create toilet paper and the processes at the time often left splinters in the rolls. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that Northern created and advertised ‘splinter free’ toilet paper, and became a top-selling brand. 

The creation and wide-spread use of ‘paper’ in ‘water-closets’ led to the term toilet as in the plumbing fixture we know it as. Originally a French term, toilet meant the act of washing, dressing, and preparing oneself.” The term evolved into a name of a room for such activities, and eventually into the fixture we know it as today. 

One final note: Who remembers this guy and his famous, “Don’t squeeze the Charmin,” line? (Dick Wilson, AKA George Whipple, was in over 500 Charmin commercials, and died at the age of 91 in 2007.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Story of Hugh Glass

A while ago, my husband asked me, “Have you ever heard of Hugh Glass?”
I remember looking at him, and answering, “Of course I have. I write about mountain men.”
He gave me a look of pure incredulity. “You have?”
Well, apparently he’d just finished watching a documentary on the history channel or one of the science channels about Hugh Glass. I pulled out one of my favorite resource books, The Mountain Men, by George Laycock, and opened it to one of many dog-eared pages. 
I have wanted to use some aspect of Hugh Glass’ incredible tale in one of my novels, but the story is so fantastic, I don’t think it would even work in a work of fiction. 
The story of Hugh Glass has to be one of the most amazing stories of survival in the history of the west. The man practically became a legend in his own time.
    He’d led a life as a pirate before he decided to become a fur trapper in the early 1820’s at the age of 40. He signed on with William Ashley and Andrew Henry, who led an expeditions up the Missouri River in 1823. When they reached the Grand River near today’s Mobridge, South Dakota, they left their boats to head toward the Yellowstone on land. 
During this journey, in which many of Ashley’s men were killed by Arikara Indians, Hugh Glass surprised a grizzly sow and her two cubs. He was away from the rest of his party at the time, and the grizzly attacked him before he was able to shoot his rifle. He fought the bear with his bare hands (no pun intended) and a knife, and nearly killed it, but he was badly mauled during the fight. 
His companions heard his screams and came running. They found a bloody and badly maimed Glass. He was barely alive, with the grizzly lying on top of him. They killed the bear and pulled Hugh’s body from underneath her. 
Everyone knew that there was no hope for their friend. They bandaged him as best as they could, and waited for him to die. The danger of Indians discovering them was a constant fear, and Hugh’s moans and cries of pain would certainly give them away. William Henry decided their group needed to move on. It wasn’t worth risking their lives for one dying man. He asked for a couple of volunteers to stay behind and bury Glass properly once he died.
 John Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger agreed and immediately began digging the grave. They waited. Three days later, Glass was still alive. Fearful of Indians, Fitzgerald persuaded Bridger that they should leave and follow their comrades to the Yellowstone. 
Fitzgerald picked up Glass's rifle, knife and other equipment and dumped him into the open grave. They threw a bearskin over him and shoveled in a thin layer of dirt and leaves, leaving Glass for dead. 
    But Glass did not die. It’s not known how much time passed, but he regained consciousness. He was alone and without weapons in hostile Indian territory. He had a broken leg and his wounds were festering. His scalp was almost torn away and the flesh on his back had been ripped away so that his rib bones were exposed. The nearest help was 200 miles away at Ft. Kiowa. His only protection was the bearskin hide.
    Glass set his own broken leg and began crawling toward the Cheyenne River about 100 miles away. Feverish and fighting infection, he was often unconscious. It is said that he used maggots to eat away his infected flesh. Then, according to legend (or tall tale at this point, take your pick) he woke up to find a grizzly licking his maggot-infested wounds which could very well have saved him from further infection. 
Glass survived mostly on wild berries and roots. On one occasion he was able to drive two wolves from a downed bison calf and eat the raw meat.
    According to Glass's own account he only stayed alive to seek revenge,  that he wanted to kill the men who had left him for dead.
    It took Glass two months to crawl to the Cheyenne River, where he built a raft which carried him downstream to Ft. Kiowa on the Missouri.
    After he was nursed back to health over many months, Glass set out to kill the two men who had left him for dead. He found Bridger at a fur trading post on the Yellowstone River but didn't kill him because Bridger was only 19 years old, and just following Fitzgerald’s orders. Glass later found Fitzgerald but changed his mind about killing him because Fitzgerald had joined the Army. 
    Glass eventually returned to the Upper Missouri where he died in 1833 in a battle with hostile Arikaras Indians.
    The story of Hugh Glass has been made into a movie "A Man in the Wilderness" in 1971 staring Richard Harris and John Huston, a moderately accurate film. A novel, "Lord Grizzly" also recounts and embellishes the story. 

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, Teton Romance Trilogy, and Blemished Brides Western Historical Romance Series. 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. 


Monday, April 20, 2015

National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame

by Lyn Horner

The book covers for my Texas Devlins series are in the process of being redone by my friend and fellow author Charlene Raddon, who also designs covers. You can sample her work here:

Currently, Charlene is working on the cover for Dashing Irish, Tye Devlin’s story. Tye’s love interest is Lil Crawford, a Texas cowgirl with a bruised heart and a chip on her shoulder. Since her older brother died in the Civil War, Lil has more or less taken his place, working on her father’s ranch alongside the male ranch hands. She wears pants and a six shooter, and goes along on a cattle drive to Kansas.

The other day, Charlene suggested putting a skirt on Lil instead of pants for a more appealing cover, to which I agreed. After all, Lil does wear a dress occasionally. Thinking about her gave me the idea for today’s post. I first posted about real life cowgirls in July 2014.

This time my topic is the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame and one of its honorees. Founded in 1975 in the basement of the Deaf Smith County Library in Hereford, Texas, the museum was moved to Fort Worth in 1994. It settled into its 33,000 square-foot permanent quarters in the city’s Cultural District in June 2002.

  National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame
Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

The museum’s Executive Director is Pat Riley. Appointed in 1996 following the move from Hereford, Riley led the planning, design, fundraising and opening of the new museum in 2002. Riley has built upon the work started by founding director Margaret Formby, and has established the Museum on a national level.

“Cowgirls are ordinary women who have done extraordinary things.” ~Pat Riley, Executive Director, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame
 Poster of Cowgirl Museum Mural
Poster of Mural above Museum entrance, available in Museum Shop
Prairie Princess statue Nat. Cowgirl Museun 
“High Desert Princess” statue outside National Cowgirl Museum; Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Dedicated to honoring courageous women of the American West, the Museum is an educational resource with exhibits, a research library and a rare photo collection. Each year, Honorees are added to its Hall of Fame. The museum also sponsors special events such as the Cowgirl Spring Roundup and Cowpoke Camp. Find an event calendar on their website:

There are over 200 honorees in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. They include pioneers, artists, businesswomen, educators, ranchers and rodeo cowgirls. A few famous ones are Georgia O'Keeffe, Sacagawea, Annie Oakley, Dale Evans, Enid Justin, Temple Grandin and Sandra Day O’Connor. Another is Joyce Gibson Roach, author, educator, rancher and 5th generation Texan, who I quoted in my previous cowgirl post.

I recently purchased two books by Ms. Roach. One is titled Horned Toad Canyon, a children’s book about these unusual creatures that inhabit the arid, wide-open southwestern prairie. Also called horned frogs, they are the mascot for Texas Christian University, my daughter’s alma mater. How could I resist this charming little book?

The other book I purchased is The Cowgirls.
 The Cowgirls by Joyce Gibson Roach
Here’s part of the publisher’s description:

“The cowboy may be our most authentic folk hero, but the cowgirl is right on his heels. This Spur Award winning book fills a void in the history of the cowgirl.

While Susan B. Anthony and her hoop-skirted friends were declaring that females too were created equal, Sally Skull was already riding and roping and marking cattle with her Circle S brand on the frontier of Texas.

In Colorado, Cassie Redwine rounded up her cowboys and ambushed a group of desperadoes; Ann Bassett, also of Colorado, backed down a group of men who tried to force her off the open range.

In Montana, Susan Haughian took on the United States government in a dispute over some grazing rights, and the government got the short end of the stick.

Susan McSween carried on an armed dispute between ranchers in New Mexico and the U.S. Army, and other interested citizens.

In the years of the War Between the States, women were called upon to do many things that would have been unheard of in peacetime. When the people moved west after the war, women were obliged to keep doing these things if the family was to survive. Still other groups of women—second generation cattle-country women—did men’s jobs because they were good at it. Some participated in Wild West shows and made reputations for themselves in rodeo as trick and bronc riders.

Bonnie McCaroll being thrown, Pendleton Rodeo 

"One of the most famous rodeo snapshots ever taken is of Bonnie McCarroll  being thrown from a horse named Silver at the Pendleton Round-Up in 1915"    Nat. Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame public domain photo by Walter S. Bowman
 cowboy gear divider
Since we all love romance here on Sweethearts, I’ll close with a romantic quote from Henrietta King, wife of Richard King. For 40 years after her husband’s death, Henrietta was sole owner of the King Ranch, largest ranch in North America.

"I doubt if it falls to the lot of any a bride to have so happy a honeymoon. On horseback, we roamed the broad prairies. When I grew tired, my husband would spread a Mexican blanket for me, and then I would take my siesta under the shade of the mesquite tree.”

Find all of my books here:

Saturday, April 18, 2015

When Disaster Strikes, What Would You Do?

None of us know what we would or wouldn’t do in a disaster until it’s upon us. We would probably like to think we would act calmly and preform with courage and valor. Maybe we even hope we will lead others to safety or protect them in horrific circumstances. Perhaps these hopes, fears, and wishes make us think about the disastrous sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912 at 2:20 AM.

One person that comes to mind when I think about the sinking of the Titanic is the unlikely heroine, a wild western woman, Margaret Brown. She did what we all hope we would do in the face of a horrific disaster. After her heroic efforts, she later became known as the “Unsinkable Molly Brown”. But the Titanic is not the only time Margaret rose to the occasion as a humanitarian and a leader. Settle back in your desk chair or recliner while I tell the tale of the remarkable Margaret Brown.

She was born Margaret Tobin in 1867 in Hannibal, Missouri, the daughter of an impoverished ditch-digger. When she was 18, she travel to Leadville, Colorado to join her brother, Daniel, who worked in the booming silver mining town of Leadville, Colorado. It was there she caught the eye of James Joseph Brown, nicknamed “J.J.”, the manager of a local silver mine. J.J. was an enterprising, self-educated man whose parents, like Molly’s, had emigrated from Ireland. The couple married in 1886. Although Molly had always planned to marry a rich man, she said, “I wanted a rich man, but I loved Jim Brown. I thought about how I wanted comfort for my father and how I had determined to stay single until a man presented himself who could give to the tired old man the things I longed for him. Jim was as poor as we were, and had no better chance in life. I struggled hard with myself in those days. I loved Jim, but he was poor. Finally, I decided that I'd be better off with a poor man whom I loved than with a wealthy one whose money had attracted me. So I married Jim Brown.”

But things were about to change, The Brown family acquired great wealth when in 1893 J.J.'s mining engineering efforts proved instrumental in the production of a substantial ore seam at the Little Jonny Mine of his employers, Ibex Mining Company, and he was awarded 12,500 shares of stock and a seat on the board. In Leadville, Molly helped by working in soup kitchens to assist miners' families.
In 1894, the Browns moved to Denver, Colorado, which gave the family more social opportunities. Molly became a charter member of the Denver Woman's Club, whose mission was the improvement of women's lives by continuing education and philanthropy. Adjusting to the trappings of a society lady, Molly became immersed in the arts and became fluent in French, German, and Italian. Molly co-founded a branch in Denver of the Alliance Française to promote her love of French culture. I had a hard time learning French in high school. I certainly can’t imagine learning two other languages fluently as well, so I think these accomplishments show how smart and determined Molly Brown was.

Unfortunately, the blue bloods of Denver found Molly to flamboyant and forceful for their taste and she was never accepted into their society. Sadly, after 23 years of marriage, J.J. and Molly privately separated in 1909. The agreement gave Margaret a cash settlement and she maintained possession of the house on Pennsylvania Street in Denver. She also received a $700 monthly allowance (equivalent to $18,374 today) to continue her travels and social work. They continued to stay in touch and cared for one another through the rest of their lives. They had 2 children, Larry and Helen.
Molly Brown continued her social work by assisting in the fund-raising for Denver's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception which was completed in 1911. She worked with Judge Lindsey to help destitute children and establish the United States' first juvenile court which helped form the basis of the modern U.S. juvenile courts system.
And then she boarded the Titanic.

When the ship began to sink into the icy Atlantic on April 15, 1912 at 2:20 AM, Molly helped passengers board the life boats until, she was finally convinced to take a seat in Life Boat #6 to preserve her own life. Because she was instrumental in saving the lives of other passengers, convincing them to row back and save other survivors. Her urgings were met with opposition from Quartermaster Robert Hichens, the crewman in charge of Lifeboat 6. Hichens was fearful that if they did go back, the lifeboat would either be pulled down due to suction or the people in the water would swamp the boat in an effort to get inside. Sources vary as to whether the boat did go back and if they found anyone alive when they did.  Molly even took an oar herself to row them to safety on the Carpathian, Margaret Brown became known as “the unsinkable Molly Brown.”

 Molly Brown giving Captain Arthur Henry Rostron an award for his service in the rescue of Titanic's surviving passengers

But Molly wasn’t finished. She ran for Senate in 1914 but ended her campaign to return to France to work with the American Committee for Devastated France during WWI.

Later, when J.J. Brown died on September 5, 1922, Margaret told newspapers, "I've never met a finer, bigger, more worthwhile man than J.J. Brown." J.J. died without a will and it caused five years of dispute between Margaret and her two children before they finally settled the estate. Due to their lavish spending J.J. left an estate valued at only $238,000, equal to $3,353,292 today. Molly was to receive $20,000 in cash and securities (equal to $281,789 today), and the interest on a $100,000 trust fund (equal to $1,408,946 today) in her name. Her children, Lawrence and Helen, received the rest. A court case against Helen and Lawrence was settled privately, and Margaret and her children were reconciled at the time of her death in 1932.

Her fame as a well-known Titanic survivor helped her promote the issues she felt strongly about—the rights of workers and women, education and literacy for children, historic preservation, and commemoration of the bravery and chivalry displayed by the men aboard the Titanic. During World War I in France, she worked with the American Committee for Devastated France to rebuild areas behind the front line and helped wounded French and American soldiers. She was awarded the French Légion d'Honneur for her good citizenship including her activism and philanthropy in America. During the last years of her life, she was an actress.

After she died in 1932 (during the Great Depression), her two children sold her estate for $6,000, equal to $109,311 today. She is buried in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York.

Margaret Brown, the unsinkable Molly Brown, will live in our memories forever. Though wealth may have given her the opportunity to be in first class on the HMS Titanic, it was her willingness to act with valor and courage when it was greatly needed, that made her famous and for which we will always honor her in our hearts.

 (All photos open domain from Wikipedia)

 Sarah J. McNeal

Sarah McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. 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, Prairie Rose Publications and Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press, imprints of Prairie Rose Publications. She welcomes you to her website and social media: