Monday, January 14, 2019

Remembering Tex Ritter by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #countrymusic

To kick off 2019, let's take a stroll down musical memory lane, and take a quick look at the show business career of a talented man named Woodward Maurice Ritter, better known as Tex Ritter.

He was born on January 12, 1905 and he died on January 2, 1974. He was father to actor John Ritter and grandfather to actors Jason and Tyler Ritter.

Tex was a popular actor and country music artist in the early years of both industries. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Tex was born in Murvaul, Texas and grew up on the family farm. After he graduated high school, he went to college with intent to become a lawyer. In 1928, he became interested in show business, and his law/government studies went to the back burner.

Tex Ritter - publicity image 1966*
Here is a timeline highlighting his business/music career:

Radio and Broadway

1928 - sang cowboy songs on radio in Houston, Texas
1928 - moved to New York City - sang in chorus of Broadway show The New Moon
1931 - appeared in the role of Cord Elam in Broadway show Green Grow the Liacs (basis for the musical Oklahoma!)
1932 - played role of Sagebrush Charlie in The Round Up
1934 - played role of Sagebrush Charlie again in Mother Lode
1932 - starred in New York City's The Lone Star Rangers radio show - sang and told Old West stories
1933-1936 - wrote and starred in Cowboy Tom's Roundup (daily radio children's cowboy program)
During this time, he appeared on WHN Barndance and sang on NBC radio shows.
1965 - moved to Nashville - worked for WSM Radio and the Grand Ole Opry - cohosted late-night program with country disc jockey Ralph Emery

Recording Career

1933 - signed with Columbia Records - recorded "Goodbye Ole Paint" and "Rye Whiskey"
1935 - signed with Decca Records - recorded "Sam Hall" and "Whoopie Ti Yi Yo"
1942 - signed with Capitol Records - he was the company's first artist they signed and also their first western singer


1936 - moved to Los Angeles
1936 - movie debut - Song of the Gringo - followed by 12 B-movie westerns (40+)
*Appeared in episodes of Death Valley Days and The Rebel
1938 - 1945 - starred in singing cowboy movies - teamed with Johhny Mack Brown (western actor) in several movies
1945 - starred as "Texas Ranger Tex Haines"
1950 - returned to show business in supporting roles or performing as himself
1966 - played himself in the film Nashville Rebel (side note: Waylon Jennings was also in this movie)

Musical Years

1944 - "I'm Wasting My Tears on You" - No. 1 on the country chart and No. 11 on the pop chart
1945 - "There's a New Moon over My Shoulder" - No. 2 country - No. 21 pop
1945 - 1946 hits: "You Two-Timed me One Time Too Often" and his cover of the song "The Deck of Cards", which is a recitation song
1952 - toured Europe
1952 - recorded the title track of the western movie, High Noon "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin'"
1955 - "Remember the Alamo"
1961 - "I Dreamed I was in Hillbilly Heaven"
1965 - moved to Nashville - one of the founding members of the Country Music Association

 'High Noon'

Tex Ritter's contribution to the western genre--movie, television, and country music--is a legacy that I hope will never be lost or forgotten. I hope someday to visit The Tex Ritter Museum in Carthage, Texas. Here is a quote from the museum's website:

The museum started in 1993 as the Tex Ritter Museum and expanded to include friends of Tex and other Texas-born country music legends. In August 2004, the museum expanded to add a significant Jim Reeves display which features the radio equipment from Jim's radio station KGRI in Henderson.

I grew up listening to Tex on the radio or watching his western movies on Saturday afternoon matinees at the theater or on late night television. I still have two 78rpm records of his:When You Leave Don't Slam the Door/Have I Told You Lately That I love You and My Heart's as Cold as an Empty Jug/Rock and Rye. Sadly, I've lost track of my record of Blood on the Saddle.

I mean no disrespect to his memory or his singing, but I cannot listen to Blood on the Saddle without smiling, if not actually giggling. You listen and let me know if you kept a straight face.

As I don’t send a newsletter, you might consider following me on these platforms:
Amazon (for new release notifications| BookBub (my book recommendations) | Blog (occasional posts)| Twitter (history trivia)

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer
Writing through history one romance upon a time


“Tex Ritter.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Dec. 2018,
“Tex Ritter.” IMDb,,
Razor Tie Artery Foundation Announce New Joint Venture Recordings | Razor & Tie, Rovi Corporation,
*Capitol Records, Tex Ritter 1966, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons 

Friday, January 11, 2019

Old West Recipes: Breads

For 2019, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some Old West cooking. For most of this, you’ll need an old-fashioned cast-iron Dutch Oven – that little 3-legged cookpot with a lipped lid. Dutch ovens have been in use since the 1700s, and nobody cooking over an open fire would be without one in the Old West. You can roast in one (place coals on top of the lid and underneath the pot), fry or boil (place coals underneath), bake (place coals on top of the lid in a 3-to-1 ratio with coals underneath, leaving most of the coals on top), and simmer or stew (place coals underneath in a 4-to-1 ration with coals on top of the lid, with most of the coals beneath). Legends of America has a great table showing how many modern charcoal briquettes to use in order to achieve specific cooking temperatures in your Dutch oven. 

Let’s start with some basic frontier bread recipes.

Bannock or Frying Pan Bread

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

Grease and pre-warm a skillet or Dutch oven. Thoroughly mix dry ingredients, then add just enough water to make a stiff dough. Work dough as little as possible and form a 1-inch cake. Set cake into skillet and brown both sides, then set in front of the fire to bake. Test for doneness by thumping with a wooden spoon handle or stick. A hollow ringing sound tells you it’s done. Or, you can insert a clean stick or matchstick – if it comes out clean (no clinging dough), the cake is done.

Hoecakes or Johnnycakes

1 cup white cornmeal
½ cup flour (optional)
½ tsp salt

Lightly grease your skillet or Dutch oven. Combine the dry ingredients and mix well. Flour will improve the texture of the cake, but is optional. Add just enough cold water to make a stiff batter. Drop large spoonfuls of batter onto the skillet and cook slowly.

Ash Cakes

1 cup white cornmeal
½ cup flour (optional)
½ tsp salt
Mix dry ingredients and add just enough batter to make a firm dough. Form dough into thin cakes. Clear the coals from an area of your fire and lay the cakes on the hot earth. Rake coals and ash over the cakes and let them cook for five minutes. Test for doneness by thumping with a spoon handle. A hollow ringing sound indicates doneness.

And here’s a more modern recipe for an old-fashioned product:


2 cups stone ground flour
1 cup water

Combine flour and water and knead until smooth. Sprinkle some flour onto a smooth surface and roll the dough flat until it is one-fourth inch thick. Cut biscuits out with a can or glass, making each one about three-fourths inch in diameter. Poke holes into each biscuit with a fork. Place on a floured cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees F for 35 to 45 minutes. Biscuits should come out hard and dry.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Ranger Jim's Ramblings for January

Happy New Year, everyone.

With the snow flying, and below zero temperatures rolling in here in New Hampshire, I thought I'd write a bit about horses in winter.

I don't believe there are many instances in the movies or television where horses look as they do in teh wintertime. They are always slick and shiny. And of course, clean, hardly the way hard working cow ponies typically look.

In the wintertime, horses grow long, thick coats, which act as insulation. (When Yankee sheds out in the spring, I brush enough hair off him to make several more horses, or horsehair sofas). Depending on the breed, the climate, and the latitude, horses grow different lengths coats. Some in the South might not grow any at all. I recall when I lived in San Diego. I was surprised when Sam didn't grow a coat... until I realized the temperatures were still in the 70s. Of course, the San Diegans thought  that was freezing. They'd wear windbreakers and sweatshirts while I was in T-shirts. Horses up nroth can grow very long, thick coats, so they can look almost like bears, they are so fuzzy. I can also get a pretty good handle on how severe the winter will be by how long Yankee grows his coat. Some winters it is real thick, others, not so much.

Although you'd never know it today, with so many horses blanketed in the winter,  that long coat means horses can survive teh cold just fine. If you see horses standing outside in a snowstorm, you'll notice snow can pile up on their backs to three or more inches without melting. They also bunch up, to keep each other warm, and turn tails to the wind. The only real hazard for horses in cold weather is getting soaked in a cold rain, or a sleet and ice storm. On occasion, a horse might lose the tip os his ears to frostbite, but that's rare.

So, in your writing, if you're doing a story or chapter set in the cold weather, no slick, smooth coated horses, please, Give them the thick, mink coat look. And of course, when your rider gets to town, give  his or her horse a nice warm stall in the livery stable. The horse will appreciate it.

Ranger Jim

Saturday, January 5, 2019



Engineer George Ratcliff squinted into the darkness and spotted a red lantern on the tracks up ahead. When the big unit neared a small station at Alila, California, Ratcliff applied the handbrake on the Southern Pacific train #17.

In the darkness of February 6, 1891, three masked men leaped aboard the passenger train, making its run San Francisco to Los Angeles. Drawing their guns, Bob and Gratton Dalton rushed Radcliff and forced him to halt the train.

A third Dalton brother, Bill, bulled his way into the passenger compartment brandishing a rifle and ordered everyone to stay in their seats.

Bob and Grat forced Radcliff out of the engine and shoved him toward the Express car.

At this point, the robbery attempt took a turn for the worst. Radcliff tried to take advantage of the darkness and made a run for it. 

One of the brothers snapped off a shot and hit the engineer in the stomach. The Southern Pacific engineer would later die from his wound.

The bad luck continued when the Daltons reached the express unit. They ordered guard Charles C. Haswell to unlock the door. He refused.

 The brothers fired several rounds of buckshot into the door. But Haswell retrieved his gun. Utilizing a small hole in the door, he returned the Daltons' gunfire.

The Dalton Brothers first-ever attempt at train robbery had failed. The trio decided to call it a night and regroup.

A posse tracked down Bill and Grat. Bob managed to escape. A court released Bill but sentenced Grat to twenty years. Grat, however, succeeded in getting away. 

Southern Pacific lent some validity to the Dalton Gang by posting $6,000 rewards for each of them.

The three brothers made their way back to Oklahoma and reunited with their younger brother, Emmett.

Despite the botched, the Daltons didn't decide to go straight. 

Far from it. The Dalton Brothers figured there is strength in numbers and began recruiting other outlaws to join. Between May 1891 and June 1892, the Dalton Gang robbed four trains in Indian Territory.

Over the period, they stole between several hundred dollars to over $10,000.

Bob Dalton always considered Jesse James a rival, no doubt envious of the kind of publicity James commanded. 

He once boasted he could top anything the infamous Missouri bandit every did by robbing “two banks at once in broad daylight."

On October 5, 1892, the Dalton Gang rode into Coffeyville, Kansas, to rob the C.M. Condon & Company Bank and the First National Bank across the street.

Although gang members wore fake beards and other disguises, townspeople recognized them because the Daltons once lived In Coffeyville.

"The Last Day of the Daltons" proved a disaster with Grat and Bob Dalton, Bill Power, and Dick Broadwell killed by angry townspeople.

Emmett was shot twenty-three times but survived. He was sentenced to life in the Kansas penitentiary but won a pardon after serving fourteen years.

He played it straight the rest of his life as a successful real estate agent, author, and actor.


Thursday, January 3, 2019

Cowboys in Chicago

I caught a History Channel documentary a bit ago on the Chicago Union Stock Yards.

In 1848, when Chicago was only a connection for transporting livestock from the West to the rest of the country, small stockyards such as Lake Shore Yard and Cottage Grove Yard were scattered throughout the city along various rail lines. As the railroads expanded westward, Chicago evolved into a large railroad center. As the number of trainloads of livestock increased, the need for a centralized stock center became obvious.
In 1864, a consortium of nine railroad companies acquired three hundred and twenty acres of swampland south west of The Loop, and the Chicago Union Stock Yards was born. By 1890 the yards were handling more than nine million cows, pigs and sheep a year. That’s a lot of hooves.

But I wanted to know who took care of all those critters.

Before the creation of the stock yards, tavern owners provided pastures and care for cattle herds waiting to be sold. Eventually they built 2300 livestock pens on the swampy site. They also built
hotels, saloons, restaurants, and offices for merchants and brokers, but that’s another blog.

My next question: who moved all those animals around? I had visions of cowboys throwing lassos in downtown Chicago.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a storyline there, after all. The cowboys only moved the doggies as far as Dodge City, Kansas City, and all the other termini of the cattle drives.

In the early days of the Stock Yard, drovers herded cattle, hogs, and sheep down two wide thoroughfares from the railroad cars to the pens. Then the railroad consortium built more rail lines, bringing the livestock right to the holding pens—and removing the need for the drovers.

It’s a shame really. A thousand head of longhorns moo-ing their way down Michigan Avenue ahead of a couple of swoon-worthy cowboys would have been entertaining.

Happy New Year!

Coming February 1 ~ GRACE

Tuesday, December 25, 2018


The men who were stationed at the signal station on Pikes Peak, at 14,115 feet, sent the following telegraphed message on Christmas Eve, 1873, in the first year of operation:

"A Merry Christmas to everybody"

Image result for pikes peak signal station images
Pikes Peak History, Pikes Peak Signal Station #1

I can do no less! 

"Wishing Everyone a Holiday to Remember"

Photo (C) by the author

And for those who can't be home, much like the wanderers and travelers in the Old West, I leave you the link to this video:

Image result for free old west christmas clip art

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
also writes as:
Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


A very Merry Christmas to everyone! I had an excellent "early" present this year--two anthologies with a story of mine in them both released within one week of each other.


The first one is called BOURBON & A GOOD CIGAR, and is the third of its kind, the brainchild of Scott Harris. Scott comes up with some of the best prompts and then signs up 51 of the rest of us to each write a 500-word story using that prompt. I have to say, this has been so much fun, and it's helped me really remember how to tighten things up and get to the point of what I'm saying in the tale. Most of these prompts can be used anywhere in the story--there was only one that had to be used at the beginning, and that was for the 2nd book, A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT.

Here's what Scott's prompt was for BOURBON & A GOOD CIGAR: I slowly poured a full glass of bourbon and took my time lighting a good cigar.

Oh, the possibilities! It's amazing what 52 fertile minds can come up with that are so different from one short prompt. Lots of western fun, and be sure to check out the other books that came before this one, THE SHOT RANG OUT, A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT, and of course, BOURBON AND A GOOD CIGAR. The 4th one will make its debut early next year.

As I said, these stories are short at only 500 words, but here’s the beginning of mine to whet your appetite and see what everyone else came up with! For only .99 for the Kindle version, it’s a steal, and print versions are available as well.

My story is called “THE FIXER”—here’s an excerpt:

The click of the gun from the doorway gave me pause, but only for a moment. I already had the crystal decanter in my hand, and I needed a drink now more than I had five minutes earlier…before I had a .44 pointed at my head.

I slowly poured a full glass of bourbon and took my time lighting a good cigar that my soon-to-be father-in-law had so thoughtfully provided.

Finally, I looked up from where I sat at his desk—the desk he ran his cattle empire and his life from—to meet his thunderous gaze.

“Trouble, sir?” I took a draw from the cigar, savoring the fine tobacco. Then, I leaned back in his leather chair, as if it belonged to me, easing my back. But I kept the pain from my face. I’d never let him know how thorough his two thugs had been in the beating I’d taken last night. Tom Duncan was the kind of man who’d prey upon the slightest weakness. He was a bastard—a deadly one.

But, so was I.

You can snap this collection up at Amazon, and be sure to check out the other books that Scott's come up with, too, while you're there!

A few days after the release of BOURBON & A GOOD CIGAR, Sundown Press released a collection of traditional western stories, TALES OF THE OLD WEST. This anthology has some excellent stories in it by L.J. Washburn, James Reasoner, John Nesbitt, Darrel Sparkman, and David Amendola--and I’m sure proud to have mine included, as well.

My story is called HIDDEN TRAILS, and it was nominated for a WF Peacemaker award a few years back. I hope you’ll snap this collection up for some action-packed reading in these winter months to come. Here’s the blurb and buy links!

Get ready for seven action-packed stories of the old West that will pull you right in and take you along for the ride of your life! If you love traditional stories of bygone western days, this collection of tales is for you. You’ll find a wide variety of stories included in this anthology by James Reasoner, John D. Nesbitt, Livia J. Washburn, Cheryl Pierson, Darrel Sparkman, and David W. Amendola.

Saddle up and ride the dangerous range of Indian Territory, search for a deadly mysterious beast, track outlaws, or solve a grisly mystery—and never leave your easy chair! This collection makes a great gift to yourself or other fans of TALES OF THE OLD WEST!

May you all have a wonderful Christmas and here’s hoping that 2019 will bring us all the very best! Thanks for stopping in today!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Christmas in Victorian America

Christmas in Victorian America (1837-1901) wasn’t always what we think of as a traditional holiday. In colonial times, Americans from different religions and national origins kept the holiday (or didn’t keep it) in ways carried over from the Old World. Puritans, for instance, tended to ignore Christmas because the Bible was silent on the topic. Many kept this attitude until the 1870s. Virginia planters took the occasion to feast, dance, gamble, hunt and visit, following what they thought were old Christmas customs in English manors. Even as late as the early nineteenth century, many Americans hardly took notice of the holiday at all.

However, we must not forget the large Dutch and German populations in the Northern colonies. These immigrants had no qualms about celebrating the winter holiday, and many of our modern traditions come from these backgrounds.

By the mid-century, improved communication, improved travel and a generally increased pace of life created the need for common customs. People longed for what they saw as traditional values, particularly centering around the family hearth. The various Christmas practices began to merge into one American holiday. Its relative lack of theological or Biblical authority “ironically allowed Christmas to emerge as a highly ecumenical event in a land of pluralism.”

Especially in the Northern cities, Christmas emerged as a tool to forge a national culture. By the 1850s, it had captured the Northern imagination and was making inroads in the South. The Civil War intensified the appeal of the holiday. “Its sentimental celebration of family matched the yearnings of soldiers and those they left behind. Its message of peace and goodwill spoke to the most immediate prayers of all Americans.”

The Northern victory in 1865 solidified many of the modern traditions, and customs and symbols of Yankee origin came to stand for the American Christmas. This new “revived Christmas” offered a retreat from contemporary life, but cast in contemporary terms. Americans varied old themes and introduced new symbols to create something uniquely their own.

Christmas rituals first got a toehold in New York, with savvy merchants quick to realize their commercial value. German bakeries began staying open late to decorate their windows with red silk buntings and holly. Holiday shoppers couldn’t resist the cakes, toys and candies displayed under glittering gas-lamps – nor could they ignore the smells of cinnamon kuchens (cakes) and sweet almond paste. By the 1870s, Macy’s was dressing their windows with Christmas displays. One window displayed dolls from Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland and Bohemia; another showed scenes from Uncle Tom’s cabin, with steam-powered movable parts.

The Dutch called their Santa Claus Saint Nicholas, and it is from them we learned the tradition of the Christmas stocking. As early as 1832, Harriet Martineau had identified what would become one of the most familiar symbols of the American Christmas: the Christmas tree. And by the 1850s, many Americans, not just New Englanders, had fallen in love with the German tradition.

As the tree became more popular, it also assumed a place in the market. During the 1850s, town squares began to bristle with trees cut for seasonal profits. By 1900, one American in five celebrated the holiday with a tree. At first, the decoration of these evergreens reflected the whim of folk tradition. People added strings of popcorn or beads, nuts, oranges or lemons, candies, and home-made trinkets. However, popular newspapers and magazines raised the standards for decoration (“cotton batting dipped in thin gum arbic and then diamond dust makes a beautiful frosting for tree branches”), and homely ornaments gave way to more sophisticated ones. Tree decoration soon became big business. As early as 1870, American businessmen began to import large quantities of German ornaments to be sold on street corners and variety shops. Vendors hawked glass balls in bright colors, tin cut in all imaginable shapes, and wax angels with spun glass wings.

The first Christmas cards were distributed by R.H. Pease, a printer and variety store owner from Albany, New York, in the early 1850s. A family scene dominated the small card’s center, but unlike its English forerunner (only a decade older), the images on the corners showed pictures of the bounty and joy of the season rather than reminders of poverty, cold, or hunger. It took Louis Prang, a German immigrant and “astute reader of public taste,” to expand the sending of cards to a grand scale. Prang arrived in America in 1850 and made a name as a printer. By 1870, he owned nearly two-thirds of the steam presses in America and had perfected the color printing process. When Prang introduced his Christmas cards to America in 1875, they proved such a hit that he could not meet demand.

Decorated trees and cards were only window dressing to the custom of Christmas gift-giving that blossomed in the 1870s and 1880s, clearly a product of the new world of commerce and consumerism. Presents also served more subtle ends, however. The getting and giving of gifts provided a means of dealing with social change. Personal gifts “mediated the fragile relationships of an increasingly fragmented society.” Charitable gifts provided “symbolic solutions to the problems of economic inequality that threatened social peace and individual conscience.”

“If you have money to spend on presents, do not waste on people richer than yourself, but on those poorer. Above all, in sending presents, do not send articles that cost money and are vulgar and tawdry. A piece of music, a note written on Christmas Day, wishing many happy returns, or a few flowers, entail no obligation, require no work, and do their own work of love as well as costly gifts, and show a delicacy of breeding” (The Ladies World, December 1892).

The custom had once been merely to give the gift unadorned and uncovered, but a present hidden in paper heightened the effect and helped designate the item as a gift. American stores understood the symbolism and began to wrap gifts in distinctive colored papers with tinsel cords and bright ribbons as part of their delivery service.

Handmade gifts, created months in advance, were often hung on the Christmas tree. There might be a pen-wiper in the shape of a water lily, a knitting bag worked with silk floss and matching fringe, a red rose potpourri, quince jam, and maybe a pair of embroidered bed slippers. Brown or white paper wrappings were used and sealed with wax. In many homes, gifts were exchanged on Christmas Eve, while in others they waited until after church on Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve also brought carolers, who would afterwards be invited into the home for hot beer, punch, and pennies. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843 in England, quickly became a world favorite and many families made a tradition of reading this book aloud on Christmas Eve. Storytelling of all kinds was a classic form of parlor entertainment on this night, and interestingly, ghost stories were a prime request at the holidays. 

A discussion of the evolution of Santa Claus would take another entire post, but suffice to say that the jolly old elf first appeared in the 1820s, in a semi-modern form, in Clement Moore’s “An Account of a Visit from Saint Nicholas.” By the 1850’s and 60s, artists and writers had given wide circulation to Moore’s interpretation of the revised saint. Thomas Nast’s artwork expanded on the American version of St. Nick, making him taller and dressed in red. Moore had already given the old fellow eight reindeer, but Nast added a workshop at the North Pole, manned by elves. By the end of the 19thCentury, Santa Claus had solidified into the version we are familiar with today.

Here’s a recipe your characters might have followed for a Christmas ham. “An excellent manner of cooking a ham is the following: Boil it three or four hours, according to size; then skin the whole and fit it for the table; then set it in the oven for half an hour, cover it thickly with pounded rusk or bread-crumbs, and set back for half an hour longer. Boiled ham is always improved by setting it in an oven for nearly an hour, until much of the fat dries out, and it also makes it more tender.” The Practical Housekeeper, a Cyclopedia of Domestic Economy, Elizabeth Fries Ellet, 1857.

The main course of Christmas dinner would, of course, have depended on ethnic background and where one lived. Anglophiles favored sirloin, beef or goose. But most Americans served turkey stuffed with oysters or a ham (sometimes both). Occasionally there were two turkeys -- one boiled and one roasted. There was also likely to be sausages, bacon, roast potatoes, and whatever vegetables might be available (turnips, baked squash, cabbage dishes). Then there was the homemade bread, preserves, mince pie or plum pudding.

J.E.S. Hays
Christmas in 19thCentury America (History Today) -
The American Christmas (Writers in the Storm) -

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Ranger Jim's Ramblings for Deeember

This month's topic will be a bit of an unabashed, and unapologetic, plug for my latest Texas RAnger James C. Blawcyzk novel, Tough Month for a Ranger, just released by Firestar Press, an imprint of Cheryl and Livia's Prairie Rose Publications.

This is my second contemporary Texas Ranger novel, following the adventures, trials, and tribulations of sixth generation Ranger James C. Blawcyzk, a direct descendant of the first James C. Blawcyzk, the main protagonist in my first Texas Ranger traditional western series. The current day Jim is every much an old-fashioned, no-nonsense Texas Ranger as his ancestors, but proficient in the modern methods and tools of crime fighting.

That brings me to the main topic. The difference between writing traditional versus contemporary Westerns.

I find it much more difficult to write contemporary Westerns. When you're working in the time period of the old West,  you can pretty much change around settings, places, names, and any other details to suit your plot, as long as your details aren't too far fetched, or the actions of your characters too outrageous. Most people won't notice the differences in such details, except for the purists. I try to keep things as accurate as I can, but, like any fiction writer, will make changes to fit the story.

It's not that simple with a contemporary novel. You'd better get the details right, including landmarks, highways, city streets, businesses, and methods correct, or someone will be certain to point out yo u have your character, say, driving the wrong way down a one way street in Austin.Many of the locations in my novels I have visited personally, so I have photographs I've taken for reference. I used to, and sometimes still do, rely on a good old fashioned Rand McNally road atlas .However, I've found Google Maps to be an invaluable resource. You can get details of your settings from Street View, and a good idea of the geography for the satellite images.

Some other examples. Frontier Texas Rangers didn't have a dress code. Present day Rangers do. Different departments use different vehicles and weapons. And obviously, there are many more restrictions  on the olice today.

Despite the extra effort it takes, I love writing for both eras. Give it a try.

Until next year, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

"Ranger" Jim

Monday, December 10, 2018

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and Suspenders by Kaye Spencer #trivia #westernfictioneers #fashionhistory

Suspenders (aka braces and galluses) have been around for centuries as a practical means of holding up one's britches, particularly because of the high waists on men's trousers before belts and belt loops became functionally popular, which was roughly around World War I, when soldiers were introduced to uniform belts. Since the 1920s, suspenders have continued to ride a roller coaster of fashion popularity.

An article on the website offers this tidbit about the origins of suspenders along with an amusing anecdote:

The first suspenders can be traced to 18th century France, where they were basically strips of ribbon attached to the buttonholes of trousers. Benjamin Franklin is said to have worn them — although it's probably best not to ask how historians know that; back then, suspenders were considered an undergarment never to be seen in public. In fact, visible suspenders were considered risqué as recently as 1938, when a town in Long Island, NY tried to ban gentlemen from wearing them without a coat, calling it "sartorial indecency."
"First Suspenders" Public Domain Image

This article goes on to explain that in the 1820s, a British designer named Albert Thurston manufactured suspenders as we know them, which brings me to Samuel Langhorne  Clemens, aka author Mark Twain, as an  inventor of an alternative to suspenders.
Samuel Clemens Public Domain (b. Nov. 30, 1835 - d. Apr. 21, 1920)

Clemens received his first patent (#1221992) on December 19, 1871 for an alternative to suspenders, which he reportedly loathed entirely as miserably uncomfortable. He called this invention an "Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments" (ADSG). However, as with many inventions, the original designs are often adapted and the inventor's intent is either lost completely or altered in new and interesting ways.

Suspenders in Hollywood:
John Wayne with suspenders*

Humphrey Bogart with suspenders**
Clemens' suspenders patent didn't catch on for suspenders. According to an article from Smithsonian Magazine (HERE):

His “improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments” was a button-on adjustable strap that could be used to tighten garments–it could pinch a shirt at the waist, for example. “The advantages of such an adjustable and detachable elastic strap are so obvious that they need no explanation...” It would also be simple to make non-elastic detachable straps, Clemens wrote, “but I prefer to make them elastic.

An article in The Atlantic Monthly (HERE) explained it this way:

Clemens designed the adjustable and detachable strap to be used from one garment to another in order to 'fix' whatever clothing issue the wearer encountered. However, he did not elaborate on exactly how his invention should be used. He wrote that the "advantages of having a stretchy strap for any item is so obvious that they need no explanation."

Image from

His invention 'ADSG' did not catch on for pantaloons, suspenders, or vests. It did, however, find its niche with one particular garment: the brassiere. So, now you know who to thank, or cuss, for how a traditionally designed bra fastens.

On a side note, the other patents Clemens received were for a self-pasting scrapbook technique (1873) and a history trivia game (1875). He made $50,000 from the scrapbook invention. His other inventions either cost him money in the long run or simply didn't work. The website has more information about his other inventions and investments-gone-wrong HERE.

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer
Writing through history one romance upon a time

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First Suspenders image Public Domain - Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Samuel Clemens - Public Domain image: UnknownUnknown author, MarkTwain.LOC, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
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