Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"MACCHIATO?" No thanks, Pardner By Tom Rizzo

 

Morning java still ranks as a good way to kick-start a day–much the same way it was in frontier America. The process of brewing coffee back then, however, involved a lot of moving parts and required loads of patience.

 

The selection was fairly basic. The coffee beans were green. They first had to be roasted on a wood stove in an open skillet. On the trail, the roasting took place over a campfire. After the bean were roasted, they were placed in a bag and crushed–often with the butt of a rifle or an axe handle.

The typical brewing formula was straightforward: a handful of crushed coffee beans in a cup of hot water. This concoction yielded a robust cup of coffee, but far from what we might consider a satisfying taste. Nothing at all like a Cinnamon Dolce Latte, Caramel Macchiato, or Skinny Peppermint Mocha.


During the Civil War, Union solders never suffered any shortage of coffee beans.


Confederates, however, found that coffee commanded outrageous prices because of its scarcity, so many went without the dark elixir. As a result, coffee became a major trading commodity between the two sides.
When solders from each side met periodically–on an informal basis–Yanks would trade coffee for Virginia tobacco.

The were a couple of clever innovations brought about by the war.

 

Some regiments of the Union Army were issued special rifles–one per 100-man company–that had a coffee grinder built into the butt of the stock. And, although the first coffee filter wasn’t officially patented until 1908 (by a German housewife), Civil War soldiers created their own filters.  

Unlike the paper or gold filters we use today, soldiers often let the brew settle for a few minutes and then poured it through a piece of flannel to remove the grounds and improve the taste, according William C. Davis, in his book, Civil War Cookbook.

The coffee industry underwent a dramatic change at the close of the Civil War.

 


John and Charles Arbuckle, who owned a Pittsburgh grocery business, discovered a process for sealing in the flavor, and aroma, by coating coffee beans with an egg and sugar glaze; the wash also prevented the beans from spoiling.

“I need a cup of Arbuckle’s,” cowboys used to say, and the name became interchangeable for coffee. A great example of successful word-of-mouth advertising.


Arbuckle’s went a step further in marketing efforts by offering coupons and trading cards, many of which are available on eBay.

 

Marketed under the name Arbuckles’ Ariosa Coffee, the product’s airtight, one-pound packages became a big hit.

Chuck wagon cooks liked them because they faced the task of brewing plenty of coffee to satisfy the appetites of cowboys who spent hours riding a cold range.

Ever wonder how you would have coped with a coffee addiction in the 19th century?

Would a cup of morning Joe be worth the effort it took to crush beans, roast them in a skillet or open fire, and then strain the dark, brown liquid through a piece of flannel?

# # # 





Monday, October 20, 2014

Shotgun Shells by Gordon L. Rottman



I’ve been crashing to meet a publisher’s deadline (they can be sooo pushy) and was unable to put together a totally Western-oriented article. So, I’ve put together an entry using three shotgun-related articles from my e-book published by Osprey: The Big Book of Gun Trivia: Everything you want to know, don't want to know, and don't know you need to know.
Some of this covers modern shotguns, but much applies to shotguns of the Old West. Either way, if you have an interest in firearms, this may be worthwhile. The e-book may be purchased from any Amazon site, US or otherwise.

How are the gauges of shotguns determined? The caliber or bore diameter of shotguns is determined by the diameter of a single ball equaling the diameter of the bore after forming a number of identically sized balls from one Imperial Libra pound (453.6 grams) of lead. For a 12-gauge shotgun the pound of lead has been formed into 12 equal sized balls (the result can vary depending on what value is used for the density of lead). Thus, the larger the gauge number the smaller the caliber of the bore—see below table. Common US shotgun gauges are 10-, 12-, 16-, and 20-gauge with the 12- and 20-gauges being the most popular. Unrealized by many, in the Old West the 10-gauge shotgun was very widely used (“Doc” Holliday of O.K. Corral gunfight fame carried a sawed off Belgium-made Meteor 10-gauge—“street howitzer.” By the way, the gunfight with the McLaurys and Clantons actually occurred on the opposite side of the block from the O.K. Corral.) 8-gauge shotguns saw some popularity too. The 4-, 8-, 14-, 24-, 28-, and 32-gauge were popular in the States and Europe to varying degrees in the past, but are virtually unheard of today, the “lost gauges.” 14- and 28-gauge shotguns were widely used in the Old West along with the more common US gauges mentioned earlier. Shotguns larger than 10-gauge have been outlawed for hunting in the US since 1918.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-TRhGreQW-_c/UBF-AvjMMrI/AAAAAAAACyw/6CsYgejfmg8/s1600/Shotshell-Comparison-1024x768.jpg
 Modern shotgun shells for size comparison.

From 1922 there were 14½-gauge Greener Mk I and II police shotguns using a .577/450-inch* Martini-Henry single-shot, drop-block action, modified from old service rifles. The idea was that this odd British gauge prevented stolen guns from being used as the shells could not be privately purchased. It was circumvented by merely wrapping a smaller 16-gauge shotshell with a few layers of paper or tape. This was countered by developing a new shotshell in the late 1930s. This new round for the Greener Mk III police shotgun was an all brass case slightly bottlenecked down to 14½-gauge. Additionally it had a circular groove in the head encircling the primer. On the face of the breech plate on either side of the firing pin were two fixed studs that fit into the groove. This prevented paper-wrapped smaller shells from being loaded. Most of these shotguns, produced until 1964, were issued to prison guards and the Egyptian police, but also served in many British colonies. They were commonly known as “EGs”, Egyptian guns.
* The .577-450 Martini-Henry cartridge was actually .458-caliber being a necked down version of the older .577-inch Snider.
It is spelled “gauge” (abbreviated “ga.”) and never “gage” as is sometimes seen. “Gage” is often seen in US military publications, but that still does not make it correct. The British-developed gauge system is also used in Europe, e.g., 12 Gauge Schrotflinte in Germany, although the British usually call it “12 bore.” Older shotshells were sometimes headstamped, e.g., “No. 12,” but they were seldom called such. “Caliber” is also used to designate shotgun gauges in some countries. The Russians call it 12 калибра (kalibra). The French call it a calibre 12 fusil de chasse (hunting gun).
Of course Justin Wilson (1914-2001) had his own description of shotguns. “We rush back in the house and I get my twice-barrel car-a-bine, and Jean Ba’tiste get his automatic shootgun. Dat a one hole gun that shoot three times out of the same hole if the game warden there. If he ain’t there, it shoot five time right through the same place.”
The mathematical formula for determining gauge is:
 

It might be easier to simply use this table:
Gauge              Caliber             Millimeter
4-gauge           0.935-inch       23.79mm
8-gauge           0.835-inch       21.21mm
10-gauge         0.775-inch       19.69mm
12-gauge         0.729-inch       18.53mm
14-gauge         0.693-inch       17.60mm
16-gauge         0.662-inch       16.83mm
20-gauge         0.615-inch       16.53mm
24-gauge         0.580-inch       14.73mm
28-gauge         0.550-inch       13.97mm
32-gauge         0.526-inch       13.36mm

Even larger “shotguns” existed for commercial waterfowl hunting—“market hunting”—in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These were known as “punt guns”—aka “stanchion guns,” “market guns,” or “merchant’s guns”—as they were mounted on stanchions (support posts) fitted aboard punts—on small flat-bottom boats with a square-cut bow. Punt guns were custom-built 1.75-inch to over 2-inch caliber (44mm to 50mm-plus) swivel guns loaded with shot or scrap metal to “blast entire flocks” of fowl rising from marshes and lakes. They had 8-foot (2.43-meter) or longer barrels. The overall length could be up to 13 feet (3.96 meters). As for blowing “entire flocks” out of the sky, the average number of birds downed per shot was 16. Large commercial operations through would employ dozens of boats on line for barrage fire. These were actually muzzle-loading, flintlock- or percussion-fired cannons rather than true shotguns. There were some later breech-loading models using shotgun-type shells in 2- and 4-gauge. Punt-gunning is still a suctioned, but highly regulated, sport in Britain. In the US, punt-gunning was outlawed in most states in the 1860s and by Federal law in 1918.

Then what is the “410” shotgun? There are a couple of exceptions to designating shotguns by gauge. The gauge system was not applied to the “four-ten” shotgun popular in the US and Britain. Its bore is .410-caliber. If designated in the gauge system it would be 67.5-gauge. One occasionally sees it described as “410-gauge,” but this is entirely incorrect. The Air Force even marked cans of .410 survival shotgun shells as “cartridges, shotshell, .410 gage,” to incorporate two errors, designating it by gauge and misspelling it as “gage.” It has been called 36-gauge (not even close, that would be 0.506-inch) and in Europe it is known as the 12mm (it is actually 10.4mm—“4-10” transposed by coincidence). Regardless, these are accepted designations and “36-gauge” and “12mm” are sometimes marked in parentheses on .410 cartons. It has been suggested that “36-gauge” was used simply to fall smoothly in line with the above run of standard shotgun gauges and this may well have been the case. The .410 appeared in Britain in the 1870s and did not become common in the US until about World War I. It is often claimed that the .410 was derived from the .44 Extra Long (.44 XL or EL) introduced by Ballard in 1876 for its single-shot rifles, but was replaced by the .44-40 Winchester. The assumption that the .410 was derived from the .44 XL was because there was a shotshell variant, but the .410 shotshell had long been in use in Britain and Europe.

There were also little 9mm (0.355-inch) rimfire shotguns available in the US in the 1920s and earlier in Europe. These smallest of shotguns were intended for small pests and known as “garden guns.” Today the 9mm shotshell has been “replaced” by the .22 Long Rifle birdshot, aka “ratshot” or “snakeshot.” These tiny shotshells are only good for rats, mice, and snakes within 10 feet (3 meters) or closer. Even then, don’t expect immediate disabling wounds, in fact, they may attack if wounded (just kidding). Except at pointblank range it will not ever penetrate layered bird feathers. It provides a 6-inch (150mm) shot pattern 6 feet (1.82 meters) from the muzzle. The shot size is officially called “dust” (0.04-inch—1.01mm) in diameter. They are also loaded with the next larger shot size, No. 12 (0.05-inch—1.03mm).

Do the different colors of shotgun shells have a meaning? Shotgun shells may be thick paper or plastic with brass heads or all brass or all plastic including the head (introduced in the 1960s). Empty shotgun cartridges are often called “hulls.” Paper and plastic shotgun shells are colored with red, green, and blue being the most common. In the US most ammunition companies produce red shells, but Remington uses green and Peters blue. UMC used to use green and maroon. There are exceptions among other manufacturers to include foreign shotgun shells. Other colors such as black, light blue, brown, and tan will be encountered. There is one notable exception. From 1960 Federal Cartridge Company began producing 20-gauge shells with yellow cases allowing them to be easily identified if mixed with 12-gauge shells; the two most popular American gauges.

http://halfwheel.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Shotgun-Shells.png
Shotgun shells were and are packed in 25-round cartons since the "beginning of time immortal."

The reason for this is that a 20-gauge shell loaded into a 12-gauge shotgun will catch on the forward lip of the chamber, the chamber being slightly larger in diameter than the bore. When a break-open breech-loading shotgun is opened the chamber appears empty as the shell is 2-3/4 or 3 inches* down the chamber and a 12-gauge shell can inadvertently be loaded atop the 20-gauge. The carnage can well be imagined (Well, best not to imagine it.). Yellow 20-gauge shells though have not been 100 percent standardized throughout the industry, so take appropriate precautions. Federal 16-gauge shells are purple as they can similarly slip through the chamber of 10-gauge shotguns, even if there are fewer opportunities of this occurring as the 10-gauge is none too common now, although it has re-achieved a degree of popularity in recent years.
* The 12-gauge 2-3/4-inch (70mm) long shell is standard in the US. The 3-inch (76mm) is a magnum load and it should never be attempted to load them into a 2-3/4-inch chamber. Most modern 12-gauge shotguns have 3-inch chambers. There is also a little used 3-1/2-inch (90mm) long-range round, introduced in 1987, requiring special shotguns. The 12-gauge 2-1/2-inch (64mm) was standard in Europe and the Old West. The shorter rounds may be fired in longer chambered shotguns, but there may be feed problems in semi-automatic and pump shotguns.
      I guess we need to talk about shot sizes sometime--bird shot, rabbit shot, buck shot, etc sometime, along with slugs.

The Hardest Ride (Now available I trade paperback.)

Tears of the River

Sunday, October 19, 2014

WRITER FRENEMIES: MARK TWAIN AND BRET HARTE by Vonn McKee



I’ve been an avid reader of western fiction for most of my life. My shelves sag with books by the usual suspect authors. (You know the names so I won’t bother listing them.) I would become enamored of one author’s prosey style, dripping with adjectives, for a while. Then I’d fall in love with another’s stark, restrained realism. I’m a sucker for a stylist and still appreciate any style that’s well-executed.

When I decided to write westerns rather than just read them, I approached it a little more scientifically. Just how did this genre evolve? Who spun the first yarns that led to a literary world of laconic cowboys, stage coach heists and arrows of flame raining down on covered wagons? 

Of course, the experts disagree. The first dime western was supposedly Charles Frey’s MALAESKA, THE INDIAN WIFE OF THE WHITE HUNTER, published in 1860. Oh, but James Fennimore Cooper wrote his LEATHERSTOCKING TALES featuring protagonist Natty Bumppo beginning in the 1820’s. You know, back when the Appalachians constituted the Frontier. Throughout the latter 1800’s, there were stories of fictional adventures based on living “celebrities” like Buffalo Bill Cody, the James Brothers, Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp. Later came Wister, then Grey, eventually L’Amour. Then we lost count.


If I’d read and dissected every one of these, I would never have gotten around to writing anything of my own. I took the hummingbird approach, sampling a little of all.

One of the first accounts of the Old West that I decided to study was Bret Harte’s THE LUCK OF ROARING CAMP, the story of a baby boy who is born to a mining camp’s resident prostitute, Cherokee Sal. Harte’s characters are so comically portrayed that it’s easy to overlook the grimness of the plot twists (a couple of the principals are killed off).

I also had fun reading Mark Twain’s ROUGHING IT, a travelogue – greatly embellished, no doubt – of his first trip to the West. The Twain humor is there, albeit less polished than in his later writings.

I discovered quite by accident that Bret Harte and Mark Twain were actually good friends in San Francisco. Harte was editor of the Overland Monthly and the freshly-pseudonymed Twain hit town in 1864 and found work as a freelance journalist. Ironically, Bret Harte became Twain’s mentor, guiding him through the writing of the INNOCENTS ABROAD manuscript.

In a letter to the editor Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Twain wrote: “Bret Harte trimmed and trained and schooled me patiently until he changed me from an awkward utterer of coarse grotesqueness to a writer of paragraphs and chapters that have found a certain favor in the eyes of even some of the very decentest people in the land.”

The admiration was mutual. Harte wrote of Twain: “I think I recognize a new star rising in this western horizon.”

They remained friends for several years but, alas, the bromance was not to last. As the two became more widely known, a rivalry developed, possibly because they had similar writing styles and audiences at the time. Twain became increasingly cranky in his discussions of Harte. They wrote a play together which was ultimately a commercial failure. Years later, Twain suggested that Harte owed him money. 

By 1878, Mark Twain’s admiration for the man who was once his mentor had crossed into total disdain. He wrote to their mutual friend, William Dean Howells: “Harte is a liar, a thief, a swindler, a snob, a sot, a sponge, a coward, a Jeremy Diddler, he is brim full of treachery, and he conceals his Jewish birth as if he considered it a disgrace.”

In my opinion, it would have been almost worth ticking off Twain just for the splendid insult that followed!
Mark Twain & Bret Harte at work on a play
at Hartford House, Connecticut

It’s hard to say why their great friendship fell apart. Maybe the things they held in common dwindled over time. Certainly when Bret Harte and Mark Twain met in the rowdy town of San Francisco, they were kindred souls. They were a couple of intellectual young satirists who lived in a remarkable time and world. Nothing escaped the stab of their sharp pens. They wrote of frogs and slaves and kings and cowboys, usually with some seed of political opinion buried within.

Wives and children, cross-country moves, career successes and flops – all may have contributed to their parting of ways. Maybe they were too much alike and could never have existed in the same spheres for long. That’s often true of highly creative types. Both might be amused – or not – if they knew there is a California town named for them (TwainHarte) located near where each of them lived.

So, an interesting thing happened on the way to my western writing career. I discovered that the talent pool is very old and VERY deep. I will never again stay up half the night talking with my rowdy friends at a writing conference without remembering guys like Bret Harte and Mark Twain. Oh, to stay young and full of fire. Oh, to have fine companions with the same flame in their souls. 

I guess that’s what we’re doing here. Right, friends?

(That said, make plans to attend the first ever WESTERN FICTIONEERS CONVENTION in 2015! Details coming soon!)



All the best,


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Freight and the Red Stocking Base Ball Club #western @jacquierogers #halloween




Stocking Up for Winter
by Jacquie Rogers

October was a busy month in the Old West, especially in the northern climes. Silver City, Idaho Territory was not only north, it’s high elevation (6,200ft). They had to finish up the summer work and stock up for winter because no freight could go in or out for a few months after the snows came.

So it’s no surprise that October articles in The Owyhee Avalanche covered these things, for they meant survival to a couple thousand people. Here’s where they report a cattle drive. Since I wrote Mail-Order Ruckus (the second book in Mail-Order Tangle--the first book, Mail-Order Promise was written by Caroline Clemmons), anything that connects Owyhee County to Texas always interests me. A lot of folks there came from Texas and stayed. A lot of folks went to Texas and came back. Frankly, I’d rather winter down there than in Silver. Brrr.

News item from October 19, 1869:



On the 23rd of that same month the newspaper reported a freight delivery. Apparently, this 10-mule freight wagon was unique.



All this freight was welcome, but in the desert, so is rain. Silver City only gets about eight inches of precipitation a year, and quite a bit of that is snow. By autumn, the surroundings are so dry that the slightest spark could cause an inferno in a flash. (No pun intended.)



But all was not dour business. They worked hard and played hard. I didn’t see any reports from Virgin Alley but here is an article about a dance.


Speaking of balls, here's a report about base-ball.  If you ever wondered how interested cowhands and miners could be in Base Ball, just know that this game took place a thousand miles from the remote mining camp of Silver City, Idaho Terr.


And just for our friend Troy, I found this interesting tidbit:


That's it for today. Here's my latest release, a great Halloween read from Prairie Rose Publications. My story, Have Wand - Will Travel, is a mash-up of Have Gun - Will Travel, Narnia, and The Princess Bride. See what Nora does with her iron fan, and meet the Beavers of Extraordinary Size!

Cowboys, Creatures, and Calico, Vol. 2
Halloween short stories by
Cheryl Pierson, C. Marie Bowman, Jacquie Rogers, 
Kaye Spenser, Kristy McCaffrey, Kathleen Rice Adams

What better way to spend Halloween than with some handsome cowboys and feisty heroines who are determined to fall in love despite their supernatural powers—or lack thereof? Halloween’s a good time to take a chance on love—and to see what these Cowboys, Creatures, and Calico Vol. 2 stories might reveal to the unsuspecting reader—you!

Cheryl Pierson’s Spellbound will have you on the edge of your seat as safecracker Brett Diamond and witch Angie Colton take on a border gang leader who is pure evil. Can Angie’s supernatural powers save them? No matter what, Brett and Angie are hopelessly Spellbound.

C. Marie Bowen’s Hunter and Lily Graham is an unforgettable tale of a beautiful school marm’s love for her children that surpasses all. When a Cajun bounty hunter known only as “Hunter” shows up, Lily Graham knows he, and no one else, can help her save a young girl.

Have Wand — Will Travel 
is Jacquie Rogers’s offering about a handsome young mage, Tremaine Ramsey, who has a wand and knows how to use it…sometimes. Will his magic be strong enough to pull off a daring rescue of his father from the evil Gharth? Or will he need the warrior Nora’s love to help him see his Fate through?

Will Kaye Spencer’s character, Mercy Pontiere, be able to break a centuries-old curse and find true love all at the same time? It all depends on Reid Corvane and what he’ll do For Love of a Brystile Witch.

In Kristy McCaffrey’s story, The Crow and the Coyote, Hannah Dobbin is after an evil Navajo sorcerer who murdered her father, and she’s determined to see him dead. But she’ll need a bounty hunter, The Crow—to help find this vile man. With Hallowtide upon them, more evil is afoot than they can handle; but love will find a way.

A failed bank robber, Tombstone Hawkins, along with a fake gypsy fortune teller, Pansy Gilchrist, set out to make both their deceased fathers proud in one final spectacular heist. Family Tradition is Kathleen Rice Adams’s tale of the discovery of true love amid the commission of a crime—or the failure to commit a crime—while being overseen by the ghosts of the couple’s fathers. How can there be a happy ending? It’s Halloween, and anything can happen!
Available in digital at:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Love in the Time of Miscegenation



By Kathleen Rice Adams

She’s the sweetest rose of color this darky ever knew,
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew;
You may talk about your Dearest May, and sing of Rosa Lee,
But the Yellow Rose of Texas beats the belles of Tennessee.


Those are the original lyrics to the chorus of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” A folksong dating to early Colonial Texas, the first known transcribed version—handwritten on a piece of plain paper—appeared around the time of the Texian victory at San Jacinto in April 1836.

In its original form, the song tells the story of a black man (“darky”) who has been separated from his sweetheart and longs to reunite with her. The lyrics indicate the sweetheart was a free mulatto woman—a person of mixed black and white heritage. In those days, “person of color” was considered a polite way to refer to black people who were not slaves. “Yellow” was a common term for people of mixed race.

During the Civil War, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” became a popular marching tune for troops all over the Confederacy; consequently, the lyrics changed. White Confederates were not eager to refer to themselves as darkies, so “darky” became “soldier.” In addition, “rose of color” became “little flower.”

"Portrait of a Free Woman of Color
Wearing a Tignon"
Antoine Louis Collas, 1829
Aside from the obvious racist reasons for the modifications, legal doctrine played into the picture as well. Until the U.S. Supreme Court declared the practice unconstitutional in 1967, all eleven formerly Confederate states plus Delaware, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia outlawed marriage and sexual relations between whites and blacks. In four of the former Confederate states—Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia—marriage or sexual relations between whites and any non-white was labeled a felony. Such laws were called anti-miscegenation laws, or simply miscegenation laws. In order to draw what attorneys term a “bright line” between legal and illegal behavior, many states codified the “single-drop rule,” which held that a person with a single drop of Negro blood was black, regardless the color of his or her skin or their distance from a black ancestor.

From its passage in 1865 until its repeal in 1962, Arizona’s miscegenation law was the most comprehensive in the country. Because all ethnicities were prohibited from intermingling with any other ethnicity, people of mixed race were not allowed to marry or have sexual relations with anyone. (Yes, that last bit was specifically stated in the law.)

"New Orleans' Voodoo Queen"
Marie Laveau (1774-1881)
was a free Creole of mixed race.
Texas’s miscegenation law, enacted in 1837, prescribed among the most severe penalties nationwide: A white person convicted of marrying, attempting to marry, or having sex with a person of any other ethnicity (including American Indians and Mexicans) was subject to a prison sentence of two to five years. Well into the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for the non-white half of the illicit relationship to be severely beaten or killed by irate local citizens.

The first American miscegenation laws arose in the Colony of Virginia and the Maryland Colony in 1691 and 1692, respectively. The last of the miscegenation laws flickered out in 2001, when Alabama finally removed the anti-miscegenation clause from its state constitution after a referendum passed with only sixty percent of the popular vote.



Footnote: For y’all Yankees out there... Only seven continental U.S. states never enacted miscegenation laws. All seven were among the twenty that composed the Union. Of the remaining thirteen, four—California, Indiana, Nevada, and Oregon—did not repeal their miscegenation laws until the period between 1948 and 1965.




Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sourcebooks: Wyoming Newspapers




 This month I'd like to share with you a source I've come to enjoy as much for recreation as research. It's the Wyoming Newspapers project (newspapers.wyo.gov) and unlike similar online services, this one is free. One of several searchable online database projects from the Wyoming State Library (WSL) it competes with Wyoming Inventors, Wyoming Legislation and Wyoming Places for most compelling content. Dozens of newspapers from several decades are available in searchable PDF format. As you’d expect from the era, the ads are a hoot and the editorials, inflammatory. In the style of the day there's plenty of yellow journalism and spurious headlines. What today we'd call Clickbait.  

For quite a while I just had fun poking around aimlessly. But then I started following Laramie’s city council notes for the years 1898-1904.

A little background.  In our day job, Gina and I work with a wide variety of businesses making up marketing programs, developing web sites, and writing copy. To me, the most interesting groups we work with usually have something to do with the nuts and bolts of the real world, or maybe it's better to say, the world's foundation. The utility companies, the freight distributors, and the economic development associations. During the past 25 years, it's sometimes been surprising to see how the world actually works, and more, to see how that reality is communicated to the public through the media. (Read: not always so accurately.)

So I when I noticed the City Council debating over bids to supply the city with arc lamps, I was hooked.

Arc lamps were in use in Wyoming as early as February, 1884 (in Cheyenne) and it's something you rarely see in movies or read about in traditional westerns. The bid to put up the first poles was won by the Brush-Swan Electric Light Company. (More at BlackHillsCorp.com).

The lamps were placed on corners and above intersections and gave off intense white light due to high voltage electric arcs jumping through air between carbon electrodes. Usually powered by relatively small steam powered dynamos, arc lamps were the first practical public lighting in the West. By the turn of the century, their use was already in decline, though many small towns were just getting into the act.

I won’t try to recreate the entire saga here, but if you search by city (Laramie) and paper (Daily Boomerang) and look for “arc lamps,” you’ll see what I mean.

Step back more than a century. The excitement of new technologies and the progress of economies struggled with petty regulations and unfortunate infighting. (Sounds like our world today, doesn’t it?) Such was life on the Wyoming frontier.

Toss in a good character, a decent subplot or two, and you'd  have a crackling fun story grounded in oft-ignored history.

Then, like now, a hero wasn't as often the guy with the gun, but the person who could keep the lights on through whatever silly obstacles stood in his or her way.