Thursday, January 19, 2017

Gunsmoke: Chronicling Dodge City, from Radio to Television

Troy D. Smith

Boy- how about that John Meston?

Some of you are nodding silently. Many of you, though, have never heard of John Meston. Not many people have, anymore, or know what a big influence he had on popular culture.

Meston started working for CBS radio in the 1940s, initially in the program practices department and soon thereafter as a writer. By the early 1950s, Meston and his friend Norman MacDonnell (a director and producer) set out to create a new kind of radio program: a western, but not one like The Lone Ranger and other popular shows aimed at kids. The two men, both in their late 30s at the time, were charged by their boss Hubell Robinson (CBS programming chief) to do a western series for adults, a serious drama rather than a melodrama.

They discovered a project that had been shelved for three years, meant to be a cross between westerns and hardboiled detective stories starring a tough lawman named Mark Dillon. They kept the "hardboiled" approach, and made a slight change to the hero's name: he would be Matt Dillon, and the program would be called Gunsmoke. It would be a tough, hard-bitten show, reflecting the rigors and vicissitudes of frontier life. Sometimes the innocent would suffer. The hero would be brave, but flawed in some ways and afflicted with occasional self-doubt and a good bit of cynicism (like any good hardboiled detective). The germ may have appeared in earlier scripts that never made it to the airwaves, but everything else was created by Norman MacDonnell and John Meston. This included the supporting characters: Doc Adams, Miss Kitty, and Chester.

Gunsmoke debuted on the radio in 1952, and was a hit. It was praised for its realism; it was one of the most explicit (for the time) programs on radio. McDonnell produced and directed, and Meston was the head writer. He wrote roughly 80% of the scripts in the show's first four seasons, fleshing out the characters (other episodes were written by McDonnell, Les Crutchfield, Kathleen Hite, John Dunkel, and a handful of others... Marian Clark would later also join the team and write many episodes).

What little the audience learned about Matt Dillon came from the mind of John Meston. Matt had been a wild young cowboy who spent several years on the border in Arizona and New Mexico. He could easily have become an outlaw, considering the company he kept -many of his old friends did- but he was inspired by an older lawman, who turned him onto the right path (in those early years it was common for Matt to meet old friends from his border days, and they were always extremely surprised that he had become a lawman.) Another marker of a Meston story: he often found ways to work his home town of Pueblo, Colorado into the dialogue. A surprising number of guest stars were on their way to or from Pueblo.

CBS decided to turn Gunsmoke into a television show, which debuted in 1955 with an all-new cast (and a new last name for Chester, who went from Proudfoot to Goode). The radio show continued simultaneously, and would run until 1961. Meston and most of the other radio writers started producing scripts for the TV show as well, many of them adapted from past radio episodes. This was relatively easy to do, as both the radio and TV versions ran for 30 minutes, Sometimes the radio origin of a TV episode is obvious in the title; the updated versions often changed the names of guest characters who appeared by their original names in the title.

MacDonnell, however, did not get to run the TV series, at least not at first: the netork hired Charles Marquis Warren as producer (and director of most episodes), with MacDonnell subservient to him. Except MacDonnell was NOT subservient to him, and the two feuded vigorously, leading Warren to quit halfway through the second season, at which point MacDonnell took over the reins completely.

The radio program was canceled in 1961, after nine seasons. The TV version underwent major changes at the same time: with season 7 (1961-1962), they expanded to a full hour. This meant the stories were no longer as tight, and in the eyes of many, no longer as dramatic and affecting. More emphasis was put on the guest-star-of-the-week, and gradually some of the show's hard edge wore off. The stories no longer tended to be as dark and somber as they had been in the first several years. Another notable change: Marshal Dillon no longer moped around the graveyard as much. During the half-hour era, many episodes started with a voice-over monologue by the marshal as he wandered through Boot Hill. We learned more about Matt's internal life and thought process in these scenes, probably, than in the rest of the series put together. Turns out Matt was cynical, and even bitter at times. He seemed to hate his job, and the necessity of killing so many people and dealing so much with the ugly side of human nature. He also had a pretty low opinion of the riff-raff with which he was forced to fill up the cemetery. Of course, those monologues added to the hardboiled atmosphere and helped set the dark tone for the stories. If one were to view the series from the inside out, as a progression of stories instead of a TV production subject to external forces, I think it would be safe to assume that the fact Matt quit going to the graveyard and agonizing so much over his part in filling it indicated he had either found internal peace and accepted his role, or that he gradually became more hardened to it.

In all, Meston wrote 183 of the radio episodes (out of 413). He went on to write 196 (of 635) TV episodes. That is 44% of the radio shows (mostly in the first four seasons) and nearly a third of the television episodes... plus 64 more that were adapted by someone else from his original radio stories. The very first episode of the TV show ("Matt Gets It") was a Charles Marquis Warren adaptation of a Meston radio script; the last episode of season ten was the final original teleplay by Meston ("He Who Steals," which centered on Festus). The first half of the show's 20-year run, and the entire Chester era, bore the heavy mark of Meston, who died in 1979. Norman MacDonnell, who also left Gunsmoke in 1965, passed away in 1979 just a few months after Meston.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


This past year, I was honored to be asked to participate in two more of the “Wolf Creek” collections that are the brainchild of Dr. Troy Smith, a wonderful author and good friend. Troy’s vision, when he created the fictional post-Civil War Kansas town of Wolf Creek, was that it would be populated by a very diverse community. That, in itself, will cause its own brand of problems as the people of Kansas were sorely divided during the Civil War—and that conflict left its mark long after the War ended.

With over two dozen western authors making up the fabled “Ford Fargo”, author of the Wolf Creek anthologies and shared universe books, I have found myself in some very fine company to work alongside in these creations. The beauty of this project is that each author has the freedom to incorporate their character(s) into a loose framework that Troy lays out, and every shared story gets off to a great start, has no “sagging middle”, and comes to a very climactic ending—yet, it does so with the efforts of (usually) 6 authors per book.

Imagine the thrill of being a part of such a collective effort—and seeing how flawlessly the eventual project comes out!

In 2016, I participated in two anthologies. These are somewhat different from the “shared universe” books in which there is one story, divided into chapters. The anthologies are separate short stories, but they do propel the same story along to the completion, in many ways, a lot like the chapter books do.

I had a story in a book that was published in May, Wolf Creek: Book 14—WAR STORIES. This was a fun one, because there is a creepy barber, John Hix, who lives in Wolf Creek. He claims to have had nothing at all to do with the Civil War, yet he’s always wanting others to talk about what THEY did during the War…and he has his own reasons. And let’s just say, there have been some “unexplained disappearances”… This was a bittersweet book, as the incomparable western author, Frank Roderus, was a contributor—and this was one of his last publications before he passed away.

In my story, UNCLE JOHN, my character, Derrick McCain, discovers quite by accident that he has a daughter, six-year-old Viviana, that he didn’t know he had—and her mother is dying. But just as Vivi’s mother passes, Derrick is in for another surprise—one that troubles him to his soul: it becomes apparent that somehow, John Hix, the barber, is well-acquainted with little Vivi and her mother—and this is one man that Derrick doesn’t want anywhere near his family!

The second book I contributed to this past year was called Wolf Creek: Book 18—HUNTER’S MOON. My story was THREE GOOD MEN, and this time, the town of Wolf Creek will soon be under siege by a band of raiding Kiowas who will show no mercy. They’ll reach the McCain family farm first, and though Derrick wants nothing more than to stay behind with the three men who’ve come to warn him and make their stand in his farmhouse, he knows he has to see his family to safety above all else. With the help of Sheriff Sam Gardner, a crusty lawman, Derrick and his wife, Leah, begin the trip to Wolf Creek in the dead of night under a hunter’s moon. But it isn’t long before Derrick realizes they are going to have to abandon the wagon and take their chances in the darkness of the forest to have any kind of hope of making it safely to Wolf Creek.

Some of the Kiowas follow, and while Sam and Leah make their way through the night with Vivi and her baby twin brothers, Derrick battles the Kiowas to save his family. When daylight comes, will the McCains and Sam be alive to continue the journey to warn the citizens of Wolf Creek of the impending attack? And what will become of the THREE GOOD MEN who have stayed behind to hold off the Kiowas and give Derrick, his family, and the town of Wolf Creek a fighting chance under a HUNTER’S MOON?

Here’s an excerpt from THREE GOOD MEN. Leah, the children, and Sam are making their way through the forest, and Leah is understandably worried about what’s going to happen. Here, she talks things over with Sam–and wonders where in the heck her husband is–or if he’s even still alive…

They walked in silence for a few more moments. Leah’s mind raced. Where is Derrick? He said he’d be right behind us. By her guess, it had been at least twenty minutes since they’d parted—maybe longer. Leah hurried to catch up with Sam, leaving Vivi out of earshot. “Sam, can you tell me—what was going on with you and John Hix? Were you–”

“Hix is a killer. I figured him out, followed him to your place. Charlie and Roman had ridden up just before I got there. You know the rest.” He shook his head and shifted Liam in his arm. “I hated having to go off and leave him there with Charley and Roman. But…there was no other choice.”

“Do you think—” Leah bit her lip. “I shouldn’t even mention my house at all, with the danger of the Kiowas killing three men. But…I love my home. I love what it means—a family…where my children lay their heads to sleep every night, in safety. Where my husband and I drink coffee in the mornings…and plan our dreams for the future. And where I finally have a place of my own, where I belong. To lose it—”

“Leah, they may not come—”

“Oh, they’ll come. Charley and Roman wouldn’t have stopped at our place if they’d thought there’d be any chance the Kiowas would’ve gone straight on to Wolf Creek. I have a feeling…I know my home will be destroyed.”

“If that happens,” Sam said carefully, “Wolf Creek will help you rebuild. I know that’s small consolation, but—”

She shook her head. “Forgive me. I shouldn’t even be thinking about my things when men’s lives are at stake.” She smiled at him as he glanced at her.

“It’s natural. Thinking about everything you stand to lose,” he replied.

“My family is all that matters. We will rebuild if we have to, of course. The most important thing is that we keep everyone…safe.” Her voice broke.

“You’re worried about Derrick,” Sam stated flatly. “He’s an excellent tracker, as you well know. Could be he decided to go after them; buy us some time. Don’t be thinking the worst, Leah.”

She nodded, and kept putting one foot in front of the other, trying to calm her thoughts. Don’t be thinking the worst. But how can I keep from it?

“Mama, Uncle John said he paid for some candy for me at the store,” Vivi reminded her.

Leah forced herself to smile back at the little girl. “I heard. That was nice of him.”

“He’s going away.”

“Yes.” If John Hix was killed by the Kiowas, or if he went away forever, it would be a relief. Leah had never liked Hix, and she knew Derrick felt the same. They tolerated Hix for Vivi’s sake. And to be fair, Hix doted on their daughter. It was strange to think that the odd little barber knew Vivi better than she or Derrick…or, at least, had known her longer.

“Will he ever come back, Mama?”

“I don’t know, Vivi. But at least he was able to say goodbye.”

Vivi nodded, but she looked downcast.

Leah’s heart clutched. Vivi had suffered so much loss—leaving her home, losing her mother, and now, John Hix. Leah refused to consider the further impending loss that weighed so heavy on her soul right now. Where is Derrick? The thought nagged. Thank goodness Vivi was too young to understand what was happening, truly, at the moment.

They could be in the process of losing everything. Everything, including their very lives.


My character, Derrick McCain, is an odd hero because he is “just a man”—not a lawman or an outlaw or anything glamorous. He is a farmer who did some things in the Civil War he isn’t proud of. He’s half Cherokee and half white, and though he didn’t set out to be a “family man”, throughout the Wolf Creek series, he’s found himself in that situation under very different circumstances.

I’m wondering what kind of heroes you all like to see? A lawman set on seeing right done? An outlaw who’s seen the error of his ways and turned his life around? A cowboy fighting for justice on the range? Or someone like Derrick, who just winds up through fate’s hand becoming a hero—though he never thinks of himself that way…

Do you enjoy series such as the Wolf Creek stories? Leave me a comment! I always want to know what other people think! And if you have a Wolf Creek character included in this series, please tell about him or her and their role in the town of Wolf Creek.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Old West Recipes

Your Old West characters would have been interested in reading about many of the same things that interest modern folk: the latest news, expert advice, and of course, looking and feeling good. People back then worried about the same things we do, too: clear skin, gray hair and no hair. This particular list of recipes is from The Ladies' and Gentlemen's Etiquette (Mrs. E.B. Duffey, 1877). Each paragraph beneath a heading marks a new recipe.
Some terms explained:
      Ambergris: a wax-like substance that originates as a secretion in the intestines of the sperm whale; found floating in tropical seas and traditionally used in perfume manufacture.
      Attar of Roses: the essential oil extracted from the petals of various types of rose.
      Bandoline: a mucilaginous preparation used for smoothing, glossing or waving the hair.
      Cantharides: extract of crushed blister beetle
      Deliquated: dissolved or melted.
      Drachm: a unit of weight formerly used by apothecaries, equal to 60 grains or one-eighth of an ounce.
      Felon: also known as a whitlow; a deep, usually pus-filled inflammation of the finger or toe, especially around the nail.
      Gill: a unit of volume equal to 4.16 fluid ounces
      Goulard's Extract: a solution of lead acetate and lead oxide; commonly used as an astringent up until the early 20th Century.
      Grain: A unit of weight formerly used by apothecaries, equal to 60 milligrams. 1 gram is equal to 15 grains, and 1 dram is 60 grains.
      Isinglass: a kind of gelatin obtained from fish, especially sturgeon, and used for making glue, etc.; also used of transparent sheets of mica.
      Muriate: a chloride compound.
      Rectified Spirits: highly concentrated ethanol, which has been purified by repeated distillation (rectification).
      Spermaceti: a waxy substance found in the head cavities of the sperm whale (and, in smaller quantities, in the oils of other whales).
      Tragacanth: a natural gum made from the dried sap of several Middle Eastern legume plants.

To Remove Freckles:
Prepare the skin by spreading over it at night a paste composed of one ounce of bitter almonds, ditto of barley-flour, and a sufficient quantity of honey to give the paste consistency. Wash off in the morning, and during the day apply with a camel’s-hair brush a lotion compounded thus: one drachm of muriatic acid, half a pint of rain-water and a teaspoonful of lavender-water, mixed.
At night wash the skin with elder-flower water, and apply an ointment made by simmering gently one ounce of Venice soap, quarter of an ounce of deliquated oil of tartar, and ditto of oil of bitter almonds. When it acquires consistency, three drops of oil of rhodium may be added. Wash the ointment off in the morning with rose-water.
One ounce of alum, ditto of lemon-juice, in a pint of rose-water.
Scrape horseradish into a cup of cold sour milk; let it stand twelve hours; strain and apply two or three times a day.
Mix lemon-juice one ounce, powdered borax quarter of a drachm, sugar half a drachm; keep for a few days in a glass bottle and apply occasionally.
Muriate of ammonia half a drachm, lavender-water two drachms, distilled water half a pint; apply two or three times a day.
Into half a pint of milk squeeze the juice of a lemon, with a spoonful of brandy, and boil, skimming well. Add a drachm of rock alum.
To Remove Discoloration of the Skin:
Elder-flower ointment one ounce, sulfate of zinc twenty grains; mix well, and rub into the affected skin at night. In the morning wash it off with plenty of soap, and when the grease is completely removed apply the following lotion: Infusion of rose-petals half a pint, citric acid thirty grains. All local discolorations will disappear under this treatment; and if freckles do not entirely yield, they will in most instances be greatly ameliorated. Should any unpleasant irritation or roughness of the skin follow the application, a lotion composed of half a pint of almost mixture and half a drachm of Goulard’s extract will afford immediate relief.

To Remove Wrinkles:
Melt white wax one ounce to gentle heat, and add juice of lily bulbs two ounces and honey two ounces, rose-water two drachms and attar of roses a drop or two. Use twice a day.
Use tepid water instead of cold in ablutions.
Put some powder of best myrrh upon an iron plate sufficiently heated to melt the gum gently, and when it liquefies cover your face with a napkin and hold your face over the myrrh at a proper distance to receive the fumes without inconvenience. Do not use it if it causes headaches.
Cold Cream:
Put into a jar one pint of sweet-oil, half an ounce of spermaceti and two ounces of white wax. Melt in a jar by the fire. Add scent.
Melt together a pint of oil of sweet almonds, one ounce of white wax, half an ounce of spermaceti and half a pint of rose-water. Beat to a paste.
To Remove Sunburn:
Milk of almonds, obtained at the druggist’s, is as good a remedy as any to use.

J.E.S. Hays

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Marketing your writing

It’s been a long time since last I blogged on Western Fictioneers, but let me tell you about a new project. As you know, I’m an Arizona cowboy, at least that’s where I was reared, and many of my books and stories are set in Arizona country. I’m currently involved with a new anthology—six western short stories, all of which involve posses. Naturally, the book’s title is . . . The Posse.

Most of you know I write western novels and one or two short stories a year. So why did I join up with a small independent press for an anthology? For one thing, it’s a western romance anthology. For another, the guy in charge, Frank Kelso, is right on top of the marketing. Let me plagiarize some of what he says, because I think it applies to us all.

Frank says:
- I have already initiated the marketing (The Posse Book Fan page and private FB page with ads).
- My next effort is to build my e-mail list; without 1,000 or more subscribers on your list, a book launch fizzles on the launch pad. Without effective advertising, a new book gathers cobwebs.
- After a strong launch, the 2nd-stage booster is 5-star reviews. I have taken a short course on how to find and stimulate book reviews, which keep sales high for the first month.

- I will share what I’m doing to: build my e-mail list, run effective FB ads, and promote thru Amazon giveaways and “sponsored ads.”
- I will help you by sharing what I’m doing, and help you make ads specific to creating an e-mail list of your fans (it violates agreements for me to share my subscribers with you).
 -The marketing effort is only worthwhile if you plan to publish more books. This marketing will work if you are re-launching old titles with new covers (as long as it’s clear it’s a re-release.)

So you see, I not only get a published short story, but also a course in book marketing in this electronic age.

Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt from my short story, Set a Thief.

     Daylight brought the aroma of frying bacon. “Smell that?” I said.
     “Bacon, I reckon.” I pulled in a deep lungful of mountain air. “Yep. Bacon. Let’s go have a look-see.”
     We eased off the Mormon Road into Sycamore Canyon, walking our horses in the soft grass, making as little noise as possible. Maybe fifty yards from whoever cooked that bacon, I dismounted the sorrel, pulling my One-of-One-Thousand Winchester from its saddle scabbard. Through the sunrise haze, a little girl stood at the cookfire. A woman, maybe, but as short as a schoolgirl. When she finished cooking, she swiped a hot biscuit in the bacon grease in the pan. The paint mare in the holding pen whickered, spoiling the moment. The girl reached for her rifle.
     “Lay the rifle on the ground real slow, little lady,” I said. “Real slow.” I eared back the hammer of that almighty accurate Winchester.
     She dropped the rifle like a hot poker, then stumbled back like her knees might be shaking.
     “That’s a good girl. That grub you’ve fixed smells right fine. Got enough for visitors?”
     “Quit lollygagging around, Mort. All we need is her mare,” Cy said.
     The girl dipped her head before pivoting to face us.
     My neck jerked stiff while my jaw dropped. Cuter than a bug’s ear flew into my mind.
     “Your mounts look like they need a rest and time to graze,” she said. “I can feed the three of you while those poor horses are eating, too.”
     We musta been a sight. Three bad men who’d not seen a razor for at least three days. All with cocked guns in hand.
     The girl shrugged. “From what he said, you must be Mort Eggertson.”
     “I am,” I said.
     “My brother told me they had you in jail. How come?”
     “Killed a man,” I answered, frowning.
     Her face grew just as hard as mine. “Then you deserved jail.”
     “Ah, but he’d of killed me if I’d been a hair slower with my Remington. They say he wasn’t heeled, but he had a hideout Derringer.” I waved the Winchester a bit, but not far enough for her to get any ideas about going for her rifle again.
     “Come on, Mort. That posse of Hubbell’s cain’t be all that far behind us. Let’s git.”
     “I could whip up a bit more bacon and biscuits if you want,” she said.
     I reckon she thought to stall us to let the posse catch us.
     She wore a six-gun, but unbuckled the rig to lay it by the rifle. “That’ll keep you from getting the wrong idea, making it an excuse to shoot me. Ain’t got no hideout, neither.”
     “You don’t seem all that scared of us, Missy,” I said.
     “Mr. Eggertson, you give me the feel of a better man than you carry on. If you were all that bad,        I’d be dead. I reckon you don’t like killing. Maybe you’ve even rode with a posse your own self.”      She talked big, but a little tremble hid in her voice.
     I smiled. Women say I’m good looking, but I never gave it a thought ’til she smiled at me.
     She took the biscuit and bacon from the frying pan, placing it on the grub box. Then she built another sandwich from what remained. She handed it to me, but I gave it to Jess Simmons. He took a big ol’ bite. He hadn’t eaten in nearly a day, and it showed.
     “Go ahead, Missy. Fix some grub.” I held the Remington on her. No sense taking chances.

As things develop, I’ll see if I can’t keep you all updated on the marketing tools and techniques we use. Hope you don’t think this is too much of an intrusion.

And don't forget, new Chuck Tyrell books include Dead Man's Trail and Blessing. You might want to have a look. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Deadline Coming -- Peacemaker Submissions

JANUARY 15, 2017

Submissions for the Western Fictioneer Peacemaker Awards are still being accepted for works originally published in the year 2016. (Please no reprints, or revised books or stories) All entries must be emailed or postmarked by January 15, 2017.  For more information about the awards, list of judges, and the forms needed, check out the WF website.

Monday, January 2, 2017

NEW YEAR'S TRADITIONS IN THE 1880's by Edward Massey

The irony of writing about the stresses and tensions brought on by the holidays -- 1883 through 1887 -- does not escape me. Last month’s blog, I tried to understand Christmas at that time. It was not my direct intention to follow that up with New Year’s at this blog, but, here I am. 

You see, my Fugitive Sheriff  ends up telling someone,
“Getting caught isn’t my problem, at least not till New Year‘s Eve. I’ll have to work over in Park City on New Year’s Eve. Snow or no, you can bet the Federal Authorities will do their duty in Park City’s saloons on New Year’s Eve.”

So, I realized I pretty much had the problem of trying to know how people celebrated New Year’s in the 1880s. It turned out to be a lot bigger problem that I expected. Like with Christmas, I found few direct references to New Year’s in the West. With two exceptions. There are no end of opportunities to celebrate New Year’s in the West today, but that doesn’t tell you much about how it was celebrated then. And New Year’s Resolutions (about more below) are dutifully recorded in diaries and journals all over the West.


Without a doubt, the place to start is with champagne.  The name has been around since the 1600s, although its protection as the sparkling wine from a certain region did not occur until 1891. Long before then, Dom Perignon added two features to the wine he pretty much invented, thicker glass and a rope snare to keep corks in place. The stage was set for shipping and a wine that began as a luxury with the Kings of France became industrially produced in the early 1800s and, yes, shipped to the West in the 1880s. While you did not have to be a King of France to buy it, you did have to find a way to make more money than you could working in the mines or poking cattle.

It might be noted that a quarter of the population of the west was British born (or about two-thirds of the non-American born emigrants) and whisky remained the favored New Year’s Eve drink in the UK until the 1980s.  It would not be much of a stretch to guess it was so in the West in the 1880s.


It seems that before football games, there was another game:  calling on ladies.

In the 1880s, New Year's day, rather than New Year's eve, was the time for gala entertaining and Open Houses, usually held from noon until six p.m. Tradition held that all the ladies of a family, and all boys under the age of ten, stayed at home to receive callers while the gentlemen went out to pay visits. Newspapers would even print lists of the homes that would be open and the hours they were receiving visitors. The only requirement for admission was a calling card.
"A general and cordial reception of gentlemen guests upon the first day of the year, by the ladies of almost every household, also by clergymen, and by gentlemen upon the first New-Year's Day after marriage, was a Knickerbocker custom which prevailed in New York. It was once a day when all gentlemen offered congratulations to each of their lady acquaintances, and even employees of a gentleman were permitted to pay their respects, and to eat and drink with the ladies of the household. Hospitalities were then lavishly offered and as lavishly received.

"Many gentlemen, even among those who take wine ordinarily, refuse it upon this day, because they do not like to accept it at the hand of one lady and refuse it from that of another. Again, many ladies, from whose daily tables the glitter of wine-glasses is never absent, do not supply this drink to their guests upon this day, because it is dangerous for their acquaintances to partake of varied vintages, the more specially while passing in and out of over-heated drawing rooms."

At these calling events, a New Year’s Dinner and New Year’s table was presented (as published in Minnesota in 1880):

New Year's Dinners--Raw oysters; mock turtle soup; boiled turkey with oyster sauce; roast haunch of venison; currant jelly; deviled crabs; potato souffle, baked turnips, stuffed cabbage, beets, lima beans, dried corn, and canned peas; biscuit, French rolls, rye and Indian bread; chicken salad, cold sliced ham; celery, cold slaw garnished with fried oysters, pickled walnuts, variety pickles; sweet pickled cucumbers, peaches, and plums, spiced currants and gooseberries canned pears or strawberries; English plum pudding; chess pie, potato pie, mince pie; orange souffle, pyramid pound cake, black cake, Phil Sheridan cake; Bohemian cream; oranges, raisins, figs, nuts; tea, coffee, chocolate.

New Year's Table--When receiving calls on New Years' Day, the table should be handsomely arranged and decorated, and provided with rather substantial dishes, such as would suit the taste of gentlemen. Too great profusion, especially of cakes, confectionery, and ices, is out of taste. Selections may be made from the following: Escalloped oysters; cold tongue, turkey, chicken, and ham, pressed meats, boned turkey, jellied chicken; salads, cold slaw garnished with fried oysters; bottled pickles, French or Spanish pickles; jellies; charlotte-russe, ice-creams, ices; two large handsome cakes for decoration of table, and one or two baskets of minced cake, fruit, layer, and sponge cake predominating; fruits; nuts; coffee, chocolate with whipped cream, lemonade.


I also note that oysters made an appearance at a gathering of early Dakota Territory settlers on New Year’s Day in 1880. Not merely traced back to Ancient Greeks and Romans, American Indians on both coasts considered them a staple in their diet. Abraham Lincoln also served them to guests at parties at his Illinois home.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote in Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography.:
“There were oysters and honey and sauce [from] home dried fruit the Boasts had brought with them. We told stories and joked and had a happy New Year’s day.”


The mention of Chinese New Year’s occurs frequently and one notable reference even identified that the 1880 census listed more than 100 Chinese in Evanston.  …. The Chinese staged lavish New Year's celebrations at the end of winter on the traditional Chinese calendar, including a dragon parade through downtown and fireworks.

 New Years Eve 

Perhaps the greatest way to bring in the new year occurred on New Year's Eve of 1879.  Edison gave a public demonstration of his new light bulb, lighting up his laboratory and a half mile of streets in Menlo Park before of thousands of spectators. By 1881, Edison's Pearl Street station in New York was supplying about 400 outlets for eighty-five customers.  Cities in the West first became lit with electricity in the 1880s.

The closest to us Western Fictioneers Google hit on search string "New Year’s Eve" came up on page 7, Meg Mims’s blog:  "Toss these babies in the oven and save 'em for your New Year's Eve party. Mmm! Very easy to make."


It is said the ancient Babylonians were the first, but the Romans took it up and then the Christians.  In fact, the first day of the new year became the traditional occasion for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do and be better in the future.  It turns out all over the West, people made resolutions.  They not only made them, they wrote them down in their journals and diaries.  Mostly, they resolved to make a better life for themselves and their families.  They not only resolved, they made better lives for themselves and their families -- Us.

Happy and Prolific New Year to All Western Fictioneers. 

E-mail Edward Massey with comments, author of 2014 Gold Quill winner, Every Soul Is Free and Amazon ABNA 2009 Quarter-finalist, Telluride Promise.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


I love the music of Christmas. I could play it all year long if my husband didn't object. Those songs are so uplifting and beautiful that they make me feel good just to hear them, and you can’t help but sing along with them.

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

I was a classically trained pianist from the time I turned seven years old. My father’s favorite Christmas carol was What Child Is This? Once I mastered it, I delighted in playing it for him because he took such pleasure in it, and since it was also the tune to another song, Greensleeves, I played it all year round for him. He'd sit in his easy chair and "direct" as I played it, then say, "I believe I need to hear that one again..."

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

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

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

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

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

What's your favorite Christmas carol? Mine is SILENT NIGHT, but truly, I think they're all beautiful.

I hope you all have a very blessed Christmas and a wonderful 2014! MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Do you have a favorite romance story that takes place at Christmas? One that really stands out and makes you smile to remember it?

You would think a Christmas romance would be one of the easiest tales to tell, wouldn’t you? I mean, what could be better than a backdrop of snow and mistletoe, the warmth of a fire in a great room, a twinkling Christmas tree…but what about creating a little excitement?

As readers, we want something that’s going to keep us turning the pages, no matter what time of year it might be—and let’s face it, sitting in front of a fire, half-asleep, with a book on our laps and a full stomach is not all that exciting—or romantic, either.

But sometimes, it can be a little tough to create a full length novel around a short time span—with the entire story being told in a month’s (or less) time. And for me…I’m not ever sure if my characters are going to decide if a short story is going to do their tale justice—or if they’re going to want MORE.

I’ve written quite a few novellas for Christmas boxed sets and anthologies, with some single-author collections of my own that take place for the most part during the Christmas season. But as for full-length novels that take place a Christmas, I haven’t tackled that yet, though I’d love to write one someday. This year, I DID write my first Medieval story--a Christmas wedding tale that appears in the boxed set ONE WINTER KNIGHT!

What are your favorite stories that take place at Christmas? Got some to share? I always love holiday Regency stories—and it seems there are more of those that are full-length novels than other genres.
Lisa Kleypas is a favorite of mine with her older Wallflower series. Each takes place in a different season, but there is the Christmas installment, A WALLFLOWER CHRISTMAS. It’s not a western, but this is a wonderful series, and I especially loved the Christmas tale.

Here are some heartwarming tales that make for some good holiday reading for yourself and for others!

Here's one by Livia J. Washburn (Reasoner) that's sure to please--and right now, it's FREE!

A touching novel of redemption and love by Angela Raines! Only .99!

An oldie but a goodie!

A mail-order bride Christmas story!

What are some of YOUR favorite holiday romance tales? Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win your choice of ONE of any of our Prairie Rose Publications titles included in this post in e-book format! I'll be drawing two names--you could be a lucky winner!