Tuesday, November 23, 2021

I Am Humbled by ...

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the Author

As I am finishing my month of posts on National Native Heritage Month, I want to speak about those who served this country in so many capacities. As I've stated in earlier posts this month, I am so appreciative of the history, contributions, and so much more that I have and can learn from the Indigenous Peoples of the Northern Hemisphere. I hope you also can appreciate what can be learned. I personally am humbled by their lives.

First, those known and unknown who worked to find a way to co-inhabit this country we live in, despite a history of so many broken promises. Here are two examples

a. Sacagawea

b. The Five Nations - The Letter Sent to the Congress

Second, those who served in our country armed forces across so many conflicts both here and abroad. From the early scouts to the code talkers and regular combat

a. The Choctaw Code Talkers - WWI - BBC News 5/19/2014

b. The World War II Code Talkers - National WWII Museum

Photo Property of the Author

Third, those who represented our country across the world in so many capacities from the Olympics to today's National Park Service. 

a. Jim Thorpe and so many more - 8 athletes- Indian Country Today

b. Charles 'Chuck' Sams III - Head of the National Park Service

Fourth, the writers who've told the story of their lives so that we may read and try to understand. Three early writers.

a. William Apes - born 1797 

b. Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins - born 1844

c. Gertrude Bonnin - Born 1876

For more on the history of Native Heritage Month: https://nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov/

A look at previous posts in this series.





Until next time, I wish everyone the best Thanksgiving possible. Keep writing, reading, and sharing your gifts with the world.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

Saturday, November 20, 2021


For this interview, I get the chance to share Michael R. Ritt's story. Although some may consider him a late starter, his stories have made a big impression. Since interviewing Michael, he has gone on to win the 2021 Will Rogers Medallion First Place Award in Western Fiction for his novel "The Son's of Philo Gaines".  

It's hard to believe it has been a year since these interviews began. 

Michael R. Ritt
photo provided by Mr. Ritt

 When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

As best as I can remember, I started writing when I was a freshman in high school. I wasn’t a “popular” person in school. I wasn’t involved in sports at all. I was more academic, and, being socially awkward, I did a lot of reading. Reading was a way for me to escape to faraway places and have adventures that my own life would never provide me with. Writing was a natural extension of reading. I think anyone who spends all of their time with their nose in a book is either a writer or secretly desires to be a writer. While in school I wrote some short stories, but I mostly wrote poetry and essays.


Did you choose the genre you write in or did it choose you?

This is about as easy to answer as the debate between free will and determinism. I think that my experiences and my environment both collaborated to make me who I am. They helped me to develop a set of values and ideas that are important to me and which inform the writing that I do. Values and ideas such as second chances, family, hard work, independence, personal responsibility, and justice. So, in one sense, I guess that I choose to write Westerns because these are all popular themes in the Western genre. But in another sense, who I am and what’s important to me is a big determining factor in what I write.

I think that it’s interesting that I have a brother who is also an author. He writes under the name of Dean M. King. Although we had the same basic childhood experiences and environment, and we’ve developed almost the same identical set of values, he writes in the horror genre. Maybe that indicates that personal choice is a bigger part of the equation.

What was the nudge that gave you faith that you could and wanted to be published?

I was very fortunate to have made some good friends in the Western writing community who were all very encouraging and very helpful to me when I was trying to get my first short story published. Not the least of these was Brett Cogburn, who is one of my top three favorite contemporary Western authors. Back in 2013, I shared a link with Brett to a story that I had posted online. He read it and saw some potential in me. At the time, he was working on editing a collection of stories for High Hill Press and he worked with me to get a story in shape to be included in the anthology. So, my first story was titled The Conversion of Boze Carter and was included in the anthology Rough Country.


Where did you get the idea for your latest release and tell a bit about the story?

My latest release is my first novel, The Sons of Philo Gaines. It was a finalist for two Peacemaker awards in 2020 – Best First Western Novel, and Best Western Novel. It has also been nominated for a Will Rogers Medallion Award.

It’s the story of three brothers who are the sons of a legendary figure named Philo Gaines. Each brother is as different from the other as can be, but each of them is trying to escape their father’s shadow and become their own man. The eldest is a soft-spoken, socially awkward school teacher. The middle brother is a carefree, easy-going gambler, and the youngest one is a gunman with a highly developed sense of justice but a deep distrust of lawmen. The book is rather uniquely formatted as three interconnected novellas with each brother having his own story. Then, at the end of the book, the three brothers all come together to confront the book's main antagonist.

I got the idea for the book one night as I started to think about what my own three sons would be like if they had lived in the old west. So, each of the brothers in the book is actually based on the qualities and characteristics of my own sons.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am very much a pantser. Whether I am writing a book or a short story, I usually only have a vague idea of where the plot will go. I like the idea of discovering what my characters are up to as they move the story forward. However, I find this is a very slow process for me and I am trying to be at least a little more organized when I start a new project.


If you had a choice, which is your favorite to write, short stories, novellas, or full-length novels?

Writing a novel is very demanding, and there is a lot of work that goes into it. Before you even start writing, there is research to do. Even if you are writing fiction, you want to be historically accurate with details of clothing, mannerisms, language, and weapons that are mentioned in your book. If you describe places, cities, towns, mountains, rivers; all of these have to be described accurately. If I mention a flower on a cactus in my book, you can be assured that it existed in the location I am writing about, and it was blooming at the time I’m writing about. I even checked astrological calendars to make sure that the moon phase was correct for the day and year that I wrote about.

After the research is the writing and the endless edits. And then, when the book is finally finished and published and, on the shelf, you still have to spend a lot of time in marketing and promoting it.

All of this is to say that I do not have the time to write short stories like I used to, but I will always be a short story writer at heart. I enjoy the challenge of telling a complete story in five thousand to fifteen thousand words, and of creating characters that the reader will connect with when you don’t have the time or space to fully develop them.

Do you write in other genres?

I’m primarily a Western writer, but I will occasionally write in other genres, such as frontier fiction and faith-based fiction (both contemporary and historical). I also write for two blogs that are Western and general historical non-fiction and one faith-based blog.

Are there authors you grew up with or inspired you to take pen to paper?

As far as writing Westerns goes, like many in my generation, I grew up reading Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. Larry McMurtry and Robert B. Parker were also big influences on me.

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/143287103X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i8

Personal website link: https://michaelrritt.com/home/

Tuesday, November 16, 2021


Something interesting popped up in my inbox the other day—something I’d never heard of before. And believe me, I thought I’d heard of just about every kind of Christmas candy known to man!

This was a recipe for Christmas Cracker Candy—also known as Christmas Crack (and I am sure with that kind of name it must be addictive!) It’s also known as saltine toffee.

But when I read the recipe, it boggled my mind to think you could possibly make wonderful toffee candy out of saltine crackers! What fresh magic could this be?

I feel certain my mother didn’t know this recipe existed, because toffee candy (Heath Bars, especially) was her favorite kind of candy.

This looks fairly simple, and has lot of variations, come to find out—some with chocolate covering, some with vanilla…oh, the possibilities! I’ve not made it yet, but it is definitely going to be a project at my house during the holidays—I thought you all might enjoy it too, and I want to hear if anyone has ever tried this before or even KNEW about it.

I have a feeling this is going to be a tasty treat included in my next novel, as well, because it certainly is unusual. Take a look!

This recipe is said to be quick and easy, ready in less than one hour! My kind of treat!
(Picture and recipe credit to SHUGARY SWEETS: SAVOR THE SWEET LIFE)

Ingredients 40 saltine crackers 1 cup unsalted butter ¾ cup granulated sugar 10 oz Ghirardelli white chocolate wafers sprinkles, optional

STEP 1: Place a piece of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) on a 15 x 10 x 1-inch baking sheet. Line with 40 saltine crackers in a single layer. This is about 1 sleeve of crackers. Set aside.

STEP 2: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

STEP 3: Melt your unsalted butter in a small pan, over medium heat, then add your granulated sugar. Bring this mixture to a rolling boil. Remove from heat once boiling.

STEP 4: Pour the melted butter and sugar mixture over the saltine crackers, slowly, making sure that all the crackers have been covered in butter. All that buttery goodness is going to create the melt in your mouth saltine toffee!

STEP 5: Bake toffee for about 13 to 15 minutes. You want to make sure that the crackers look lightly browned and caramelized.

STEP 6: Remove from oven. In a small bowl, melt the chocolate (I use Ghirardelli white chocolate wafers for best results). Using an offset spatula spread over warm toffee and immediately add sprinkles.

STEP 7: Allow the toffee to set up and harden (about 30 minutes) then use a sharp knife to break into pieces.

Store Christmas Crack in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days (if it lasts that long). ENJOY!

Have you ever heard of this candy? What's YOUR favorite type of Christmas candy? (Mine is fudge, but I'm willing to try new things...always.)

Thursday, November 11, 2021

On This Date in the Old West: November 12

 As usual, many things happened “on this date” in history, but we will concentrate on two that your characters might have experienced. For our first date, we must go back to the first week in November for a little history.


James Young Simpson, professor of Midwifery at Edinburgh University, along with his assistants Matthew Duncan and George Keith, had gotten into the habit of experimenting with various chemicals in his dining room. He was trying to find a suitable anesthetic. What could possibly go wrong? On November 4, they tried a chemical they had previously dismissed as unpromising. This time, however, they had quite a different response. At first, a feeling of elation came over the three men, then they quickly lost consciousness. When he came to the next morning, Simpson knew he had discovered a chemical he could use as a general anesthetic. Within a week, other doctors had adopted this new anesthetic for their own operating tables.


Chloroform was first invented in 1831 by a chemist, Dr. Samuel Guthrie, who was in search of a cheap pesticide. He combined whiskey with chlorinated lime; nowadays it’s made by chlorinating methane gas. It’s a sweet-smelling, colorless liquid that is non-flammable. Simpson’s solution to the anesthetic problem was to drip the liquid onto a cloth or sponge held so that the patient inhaled the vapors. I haven’t found any information on how good a pesticide chloroform was, but as an anesthetic, it did work quickly and produce narcotic effects on the central nervous system.


The problem with chloroform, as compared to the ether that doctors had previously been using, is that chloroform has greater risks and thus requires greater skill on behalf of the physician. There is a pretty fine line between the dose needed for anesthesia and the one that paralyzes the lungs. Simpson and his assistants were quite lucky. If they’d used a larger dose of the liquid, they’d have stopped their own breathing; a lower dose would have had no anesthetic effects. Chloroform was responsible for several deaths early on, starting in 1848 with the death of a 15-year-old girl. These fatalities were widely published, and many patients chose to endure the pain of surgery rather than risk chloroform. However, chloroform use spread quickly and in 1853, the anesthetic was famously administered to England’s Queen Victoria during the birth of her eighth child, Prince Leopold. 


Chloroform was a popular choice of surgeons during the Civil War, due to its faster-acting (compared to ether) nature and many positive results from the Crimean War in the 1850s. Usage of chloroform and ether both declined sharply with the discovery of safer, more effective inhalation anesthetics, and neither are currently being used in surgery. Nowadays, chloroform is used mainly in the preparation of fluorocarbons, it can be found in certain cough and cold remedies, dental products like toothpaste or mouthwash, and topical liniments.

Also on November 12, this time in 1833, the Great Leonid Meteor Shower occurred. During the night of the 12th and until sunrise on the 13th, Americans across the country were in awe of somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 meteors an hour. Professor Dennison Olmsted of Yale wished to study the phenomenon but didn’t have much data save his own observations. As the meteors began to be overshadowed by the rising sun on November 13, Olmsted drafted a letter which he sent to the New Haven Daily Herald. In the first crowdsourced science project, he asked observers across the United States to write to him of their own experiences with the meteor storm. As newspapers at the time usually subscribed to one another, upon receiving their copy of the Daily Herald, newspapers all across the country began carrying the letter.


“As the cause of ‘Falling Stars’ is not understood by meteorologists,” read the appeal, reprinted in the Richmond Enquirer on November 26, “it is desirable to collect all the facts attending this phenomenon, stated with as much precision as possible. The subscriber, therefore, requests to be informed of any particulars which were observed by others, respecting the time when it was first discovered, the position of the radiant point above mentioned, whether progressive or stationary, and of any other facts relative to the meteors.”


Olmsted’s letter worked. He received replies from all over the United States and the first crowdsourcing project was a rousing success. Olmsted read through all of these accounts and used the information to reach new conclusions about meteors. He published his findings in an 1834 issue of the American Journal of Science and Arts. The sheer scope of the responses Olmsted received would not have been possible without the assistance of the country’s newspapers. 

Crowdsourcing information for research projects is much more common today. Large projects which would take years for a research team to complete can be partially completed by members of the public. This allows the research to be completed more quickly—and it allows the ordinary, average citizen to participate. One popular example of crowdsourcing is the University of California Berkeley project Seti@Home. This project allowed users to contribute computing power to analyze radio telescope data in order to search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. There’s also a crowdsourcing project at the Library of Congress. “By The People” allows volunteers to transcribe, proof, and tag historical texts, from letters to diaries to legal documents that cannot be transcribed by a computer. Not only does this make these documents more discoverable to the public, it also makes these documents assessable to those who cannot read the original images or who are not fully sighted. 


I’ll bet you never imagined that crowdsourcing was that old! But your character may well have seen that letter in the local newspaper, or experienced the meteor shower that prompted it. They could have been given chloroform for surgery, too. I’m always surprised to find that many things are far older than I had originally imagined.


J.E.S. Hays



Saturday, November 6, 2021

Stories Seek Their Own Length - John D. Nesbitt

Spur Award winner John Nesbitt is on tap to share his writer's journey. It's always interesting how early life or just that one someone can set you on a path. As we head into the new year, yes, it's not that far away, take a lesson from John and follow that path.

John D Nesbitt

 When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? 

I am not sure when I realized I wanted to be a writer, but I think it was at a pretty early age. I was good at all subjects in school, so I had concurrent aspirations such as writing for publication and making mathematical discoveries. I made a career decision of wanting to study literature and the practice of writing when I was in my first year of college.

Did you choose the genre you write in or did it choose you?

I think the genre chose me, in that I grew up in the western way of life. My father was a farmer and rancher before he went broke and we took to working in the fields. I write contemporary, retro, and Old West fiction, but it is all about life in the American West as I know it. 


What was the nudge that gave you faith that you could and wanted to be published?

When I was in the eighth grade, our class produced a mimeographed collection of poems by the class. When I was in the tenth grade, the English teacher used to post what she selected as the best work on a bulletin board for others to read, and I had a couple of pieces posted there. Both of these experiences gave me the feeling that my work had been read by others and was, in a way, published.

Do your life experiences influence or hinder your writing?

My life experiences influence my writing in a constructive way, as I write about things I know about. For example, I worked in the fields when I was younger, and I have written some successful pieces set in the world of field labor. Also, my experience in farm work, ranch work, hunting, camping, and living in the country have helped me write contemporary and Old West stories.

Amazon - Hardcover

Where did you get the idea for your latest release and tell a bit about the story?

I have two works coming out close together, a novel and a novella. I will talk about the novella here because the idea for it came in a more definite way than with some works. The novella is entitled “Double Deceit,” and it is a frontier mystery featuring my series character named Dunbar. In this story, Dunbar comes to a locale and exposes a quack doctor who was a priest many years earlier and was suspected of murdering a young woman after hearing her confession and then raping her. For several years, I had notes in a folder about a case in Texas in about 1960 in which a young priest had done as mentioned above but had been protected by the church and by local law enforcement. Fifty years later, the man was sarcastic with interviewers, but I am glad to say that he was finally brought to justice. After casting around for a long time for a storyline in which to use some of this material, I landed on the Dunbar story, as Dunbar pursues crimes of this nature. In my story, the perpetrator not only gets away with his earlier crime for many years but goes on to masquerade as a doctor before he is exposed. This aspect of the story comes out of my interest in frauds in general, as I have known a few professional frauds and have known of others. 

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am a plotter. I work up a pretty good set of notes, but I am always open to changing things as the story takes its course. 

Is there a writing routine you follow or do you write when the muse strikes?

I work on a storyline at all sorts of times, in and around other tasks and projects. When I work on the manuscript itself, I try to get started by 8:00 in the morning, and I try to get in four or five hours of writing. I write in longhand. In the afternoon or evening, I type what I have written. Sometimes I write more on the same day and get caught up on the typing before long. So my first typed draft is more like a second draft. When I go back through the whole thing, then, I am working on my third draft. 


If you had a choice, which is your favorite to write, short stories, novellas or full-length novels?

I like to write at every length, and I like to keep up at all of them. Story ideas seek their own length, so when I have time to work on a story of a certain length, I do that.

Do you ‘interview’ your characters before or at any time while telling their story and what do you do it they don’t cooperate with your story idea?

I try to let my characters fulfill their roles in the story. At the same time, they live in the story, and so their existence is defined by that.

Is there a process where you find your next story or does the idea just hit you?

As I mentioned in topic 5, I keep notes for story ideas. Some ideas accumulate for quite a while. When I am working on a storyline, sometimes I have to ask questions on paper and answer them. All of this communication with myself gets scrapped when I type up the storyline itself.

Is there anything else you feel people would like to know or would be surprised to learn about you?

I once took second place in a “Dare To Be Dull” contest.


Do you write in other genres?

As mentioned above, I write Old West, retro, and contemporary fiction, and I write crossover western/mystery. I also write nonfiction of a few different kinds. I have written quite a few autobiographical pieces, some of which have placed in contests, and I hope to do more in this area. I have written several pieces about hunting, and I may bring them together in a collection. I have written textbook/course manuals for my college courses, and I have written one book on fiction writing for writers in general. I have also written about other authors and their works. I have written quite a few poems and have won some nice awards there, and I have written song lyrics. One of my songs is on a CD by Carol Markstrom, and W.C. Jameson arranged and recorded a CD of twelve songs for which I wrote the lyrics.

What are your favorite areas of research and why they are important to you?

I like to research Wyoming history because much of it (such as the abuses of power) is still pertinent today. I like to research other authors and primary works because it is good for me to know about the genres I hope to work in and about literature in general. 

When do you start to ‘market’ your new released?

I am a bit superstitious, so I do not like to talk about something until it is pretty definite. For me, that point occurs when the cover is out and available to be seen by the public. Even then, there have been a couple of significant delays which have made the promotion seem dragged out.

What advice would you give to those who dream of writing, or what advice would you give your younger self?

One piece of advice I would give to aspiring writers is to learn as much as possible and to learn in person when it is possible. This means to read and to discuss ideas with other people, including people who know a great deal about writing. Another piece of advice I would give is to be persistent and to be willing to take advice, whether it is on the sentence level, on the level of narrative technique, or on the level of career management. 

Are there authors you grew up with or inspired you to take pen to paper?

In addition to having a traditional public school education in which we were encouraged to read and write, I have had a good education in literature and languages. My sources of inspiration are broad and diverse.

If it were possible would you choose to go forward in time or back?

I think it would get me in trouble.


How do you or did you balance work and writing?

For many years when I was a college instructor, I always tended to my salaried work, which meant that I often had to read for class or grade papers in the evenings or on weekends. I worked on my writing in the evenings, on weekends, and during breaks. Sometimes I would write a novel during the school year, but more often, I would work on shorter things, such as stories, poems, articles, and personal essays, as well as story ideas for longer works. I would often write a novel during summer break. I just punched my ticket at my academic position, after forty years at Eastern Wyoming College and several years of part-time and limited-term positions before that, so I am just now getting a sense of what this new era is like. So far, it is like a longer summer break. I start out every day working on writing tasks and projects.

For more on John and his work, check out the links below:


Amazon Author Page - John D Nesbitt

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The Wickenburg Massacre: Still Mysterious After 150 Years


November 5 marks the 150th anniversary of the “Wickenburg Massacre,” a stagecoach shootout that, to this day, still inspires lively and sometimes heated arguments among historians.

The arguments are about who actually did the killing. Was it the local indigenous people, the Yavapai? Was it Mexicans? Or white men? A combination of all three? The problem is that the evidence left behind can be interpreted a number of ways, and the even the two survivors gave conflicting (and sometimes changing) stories.

Here’s what we do know: at 7:00 a.m. on November 5, 1871, six men and one woman boarded a stagecoach outside James Grant’s station in Wickenburg, Arizona, along with the driver. They had arrived the night before from Prescott, and were all headed to families or businesses, from Ehrenberg to San Francisco and points East. One Wickenburg man got on board that morning and squeezed into the coach.

John Lance (or Lanz) was the driver. Charles S. Adams worked for the W. Bichard & Co. flour mill in Prescott and was going to San Francisco. Aaron Barnett was the Wickenburg businessman who hopped onto the stage just that morning. William Kruger was the Chief Clerk and Cashier for the Army Quartermaster for Arizona Territory, and planned to take up the same post in Ehrenberg. Mollie Sheppard was the only woman on board. She has been variously described by historians as “a member of the demimonde,” a prostitute, or a madam. Whatever she was, she had sold her Prescott house and was on her way to San Francisco. Frederick Shoholm closed up his Prescott jewelry business and his final destination was Philadelphia.

Three members of Lt. George M. Wheeler’s United States Geological Survey were also on board. They had spent nearly six months exploring California, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona, and were all bound San Francisco: Peter W. Hamel was a draftsman and topographer. William G. Salmon was one of the survey’s teamsters. Bostonian Frederick W. Loring was a twenty-one-year-old rising literary star and the expedition’s secretary. (Here he is with his mule, Evil Merodach.)


Loring and Adams chose to sit on top of the coach with the driver, while everyone else huddled inside against the chill of the morning. Then, about two miles out of Wickenburg, Barnett yelled at Lance to stop the coach. He said he’d forgotten to do something, so he got off the stage, and started walking back to town.

Around 8:00 a.m., as the unwieldy vehicle turned into a dry wash about eight miles out of town, Lance screamed, “Apaches!” In the next moment, a barrage of gunshots pierced the stage, it swung around wildly, and then halted with a jolt. Shots continued to ring out, and when they stopped, Charles Adams, Peter Hamel, John Lance, Frederick Loring, William Salmon, and Frederick Shoholm were dead. Mollie Sheppard and William Kruger, both wounded, managed to jump out and run, and got away from the killers, who soon took off. The survivors were rescued and told military officers and reporters about what had happened.

The next day, a quickly-formed posse rode to the scene and took the bodies of everyone except Salmon to Wickenburg for an inquest (searchers found his body later a few yards away). A coroner’s jury met in town on November 6, and they concluded that Indians had done the killing.

Reporters agreed, and used the phrase “Wickenburg Massacre” in their headlines. Massacre meant Indians, and the blame fell on the local Tolkepaya Yavapai people who lived around Wickenburg and at the Camp Date Creek army post about thirty miles away. Around 1864 white settlers had started calling them “Apache-Mohaves,” which is both historically and linguistically incorrect, and government officials soon adopted the name, too.

And the motives for the attack? There was no shortage of those, either, and they ranged from revenge to robbery to men looking to profit off the tensions between Anglos and Indians.

The evidence against the Yavapai included things left behind (moccasin tracks, and artifacts like butter tins and playing cards which indigenous people sometimes used), and possibly one scalped passenger. Posses followed tracks to Camp Date Creek, where some men were found to have greenbacks, maybe from Kruger or Sheppard's luggage.

But there were other explanations, which people around the area did not hesitate to talk about. For example, a Wickenburg woman supposedly told a local teamster not to take the stage because she heard some Mexican men making plans to rob it. And why didn’t the Indians take the horses, harnesses, blankets and other goods which were left behind? One official report said that the moccasin tracks headed toward Camp Date Creek turned southeast and never went into the post itself. There were also explanations for where some of the men got their paper money. 

Mollie Sheppard thought she saw white men among the attackers. Were they all white men? Could some of them have been Mexicans after all? Maybe only a few of the estimated fifteen men were Yavapai. Doubts about the Indian "outrage" were raised all over the country as articles filled national papers. This one ran in the December 1, 1871 issue of the Evening Star, in Washington D.C.


Whatever the motives or perpetrators, the result was the removal of the Yavapai to the Rio Verde and then San Carlos reservations between 1873 and 1875. They fought against this move for years, and began to return to their homelands around 1900. And although the bodies of the murdered were buried in Wickenburg, no one really knows where they are, and it’s possible the coffins were moved in the 1940s.

A monument commemorating the event and the victims sits at the approximate site of the massacre, put up by the Arizona Highway Department in 1937. It's on Hwy. 60 near the entrance to the Flying E Ranch and includes a plaque which gives the names of the dead, and the murderers: Apache-Mohave Indians. 


Will historians ever agree on who committed the Wickenburg Massacre? Without new and stronger evidence, possibly not. But continued discussion is a good thing and new interpretations could bring us closer to an answer. Native American oral tradition must also be part of the story. But what’s most important is remembering who died and how their deaths changed the history of Arizona and its indigenous people. 


Massacre monument photo courtesy Paul Hughes, Wickenburg AZ




Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Bird Whisperer/Bird Killer?

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the Author

Charles Aiken. Have you heard of him? He presents an example of examing history through a modern lens, while still trying to understand the time in which he lived.

Charles E. H. (Edward Howard) Aiken was born September 7, 1850, in Vermont. The family was in Illinois by 1853 when the family had their daughter Katherine. After the 1871 Chicago Fire, which destroyed the family business, they moved to Colorado.

In 1868, at the age of eighteen, he began his study of birds. His method, shooting and collecting them. He continued his studies after the family moved to Colorado.

Photo from Find A Grave

Personally, the thought of killing an animal just for study purposes is like being back in high school biology class and dissecting frogs. I found that so creepy. Yet, in Aiken's time, that was the standard practice. Was that right or wrong? I think you might find people who would answer in the affirmative in both cases.

Yet, Aiken, because of his love of birds ended up making an impact on the knowledge of Birds of the West. Aiken not only studied birds but also mounted a number of them. AT the time of his death he had a collection of some 5,700 skins, mounted specimens, nests, and eggs.

According to the Audobon Society, his hearing was keen, he could recognize birds by their plumage, and could imitate many of them. For those who are interested, you can see an online version of his book "The Birds of El Paso County, Colorado. Bird of El Paso County

Headstone in Evergreen Cemetery

Aiken died in 1836 at the age of eighty-five in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His collection was purchased in 1907 by Colorado College. (Yes, I've seen a portion of it)

Here is an overview of his contributions: bionomia. Species identified by Aiken

So the question is, how do we look at Aiken and his contribution? Was he what we might call a 'bird whisperer? Where does his destruction of a bird fit in? There were no cameras, as we know it when he began his journey. That he made major contributions is undeniable. I still have not made up my mind about the questions. 

Photo property of Author

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

Monday, October 25, 2021

My 12 Favorite Western Movies - Part Two

Last month, I gave you the bottom six in the list of my 12 favorite Western movies (click here to read that post). This month, we continue the countdown to my number one favorite. Remember, this is not meant to be a list of the best Western movies, but a list of my personal favorites. I'd love to hear in the comments below what some of your favorites are.


#6 – The Shootist

The Shootist was released in August of 1976, and of the four films on this “12 Favorite” list in which John Wayne appears, this one is my favorite. Staring along with Wayne are James Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, Richard Boone, and Harry Morgan.

In this film, Wayne plays an aging gunfighter by the name of John Bernard Books. Barely ten minutes into the film, we find out that Books is dying when the town doctor, played by Stewart, informs him, "You have a cancer." He describes in detail the painful death that Books has in store for him. Over the next couple of months, Books develops a relationship with the woman who runs the boarding house where he is staying (Lauren Bacall) and with her son (Ron Howard) who idolizes Books. As his time draws near, Books has no plans to die a slow and painful death. He plans to go out the way a gunfighter should.

Based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout, whose son, Miles, worked on the screenplay, the life and death of J.B. Books parallel the passing of the American west and the advent of the twentieth century. Wayne’s performance is made all the more poignant by the fact that he had cancer at the time of filming, and in less than three years, he would succumb to stomach cancer at the age of 72.

The movie was directed by Don Siegel, who directed Dirty Harry and Escape from Alcatraz. It was nominated for five awards, including an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.


#5 – Broken Trail

Broken Trail is based on the novel by Alan Geoffrion. It first aired as a two-part miniseries in June of 2006 and stars Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church.

The story takes place in 1898. An aging horseman named Prent Ritter, played by Duvall, and his estranged nephew, Tom Harte, played by Thomas Haden Church, hook up to drive a herd of horses from Oregon to Wyoming to sell to the British Army. Along the way, they rescue five young Chinese girls from a slave trader and reluctantly take on the responsibility of caring for and protecting the girls. Duvall develops a fatherly bond towards the girls, teaching them to ride and speak English. Thomas Haden Church – who played the dim-witted mechanic, Lowell Mather, on Wings, is a downright bad-ass as Tom Harte. The two men and the girls are being pursued by a gang of vicious killers who were hired by the madame who originally purchased the girls to work for her as prostitutes.

Broken Trail garnered 56 award nominations, winning 19 of them, including four Primetime Emmys.


4 – Windwalker

Windwalker was released in 1980 and is probably one of the best, little-known films depicting Native American life in the late 18th century. Windwalker is the name of the main character, an elderly Cheyenne warrior who remains behind to die when his family and tribe move south for the winter in what would become the state of Utah. Windwalker passes into the afterlife, but after having a vision of his wife, Tashina, who had been murdered by the Crow Indians, he is sent back by the Great Spirit to help his family survive another Crow attack and to search for his son who was kidnapped by the Crow as a baby.

The film stars several Native American actors, including Nick Ramus, Serene Hedin, and Chief Tug Smith, but the leading role of Windwalker was played (very convincingly) by British actor Trevor Howard. Native American actor Chief Dan George was supposed to star in the leading role but became ill before filming and had to be replaced.

Here’s an interesting piece of trivia about this film; It was the debut film for Bart the Bear—a Kodiak Brown Bear that would go on to star in several movies and TV shows, including The Great Outdoors, The Bear, White Fang, Legends of the Fall, and The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, to name a few.

Windwalker only received one award nomination, winning a Special Jury Prize at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival in 1991. But don’t judge it by its lack of award recognition. This is a wonderful film with themes of family identity and perseverance. It was filmed on location in Utah in the Wasatch Mountains, and the outdoor cinematography is stunning.

One of the reasons that Windwalker is near the top end of my 12-Favorite list is that the story is entirely about Native Americans. There are no cowboys, no mountain men, and no fur trappers; only Native Americans.


#3 - The Revenant

The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, was released in 2015 and was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu who also directed Birdman. It’s based on the 2002 novel by Michael Punke which, itself, is loosely based on the life of legendary mountain man Hugh Glass.

The film was shot on location in Italy, Argentina, and Montana. The cinematography for The Revenant is stunning and earned the film one of its three Academy Awards. All told, The Revenant was nominated for an astounding 276 awards and won 90 of them, including three Academy Awards, three Golden Globes, and one Screen Actors Guild Award.

DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a mountain man who, in 1823, suffered a brutal attack by a grizzly bear. Badly injured but still alive, he is abandoned by his companions in the wilderness and left to die. Instead, Glass rallies all of his strength and survival instincts to stay alive and embarks on a wintry trek to track down John Fitzgerald (played brilliantly by Tom Hardy), the man who killed his son and left him to die in the wilderness.

Note: The word “Revenant” comes from the French word for “ghost” and means someone who has come back from the dead.

#2 - Dances With Wolves

Dances with Wolves is an epic Western first released in 1990. It stars Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Green, and Tantoo Cardinal. Three prominent directors were offered the project, but each one turned it down. Finally, Costner decided to direct the film himself in his directorial debut.

Costner plays Army lieutenant John Dunbar, who, through a heroic act during the Civil War, is offered his choice of a duty post, and surprises his superiors by choosing a remote post on the Western frontier. Through an unusual set of circumstances, Dunbar finds himself the sole member of the detachment to the remote outpost of Fort Sedgwick. He enjoys the solitude and goes about repairing and restocking the outpost. During his time there, he gets to know his neighbors—a tribe of Lakota Sioux—and grows to appreciate and respect their lives and culture. Eventually, Dunbar leaves his old life behind and joins the Lakota. This will cause problems for Dunbar when the army learns about him.

The film was based on a novel by Michael Blake, who was a friend of Costner’s. Blake wrote Dances with Wolves as a novel after Kevin Costner convinced him to do so. Blake originally tried to sell the idea as a screenplay, but Costner believed that it would generate more studio interest as a novel.

The cinematography and the musical score for the film were both outstanding and accounted for two of the seven Academy Awards that the film won in 1991. It also won the Oscar for Best Picture, becoming only the second Western film to earn that honor—the first being Cimarron (1931). In total, the film was nominated for 88 awards, winning 51, including seven Academy Awards and three Golden Globes.


#1 - Lonesome Dove

Number one on my “12 Favorite” list is the epic miniseries, Lonesome Dove, based on the book by Larry McMurtry. It stars Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Ricky Schroder, Danny Glover, Diane Lane, and a host of others. Lonesome Dove was released as a four-part miniseries in February of 1989. McMurtry based the book on a screenplay that he had written with Peter Bogdanovich. The original plan was to make a movie starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and Jimmy Stewart, but the project never panned out.

Duvall and Jones play a pair of aging Texas Rangers, Captain Augustus "Gus" McCrae and Captain Woodrow F. Call, who operate a livery in the town of Lonesome Dove. The two men decide to go into the cattle business. They plan to drive a herd of Longhorns from Texas to Montana to start a ranch. All of the expected dangers are there along the way; Indians, bandits, weather, prairie fires, treacherous river crossings, horse thieves, and cattle rustling. The film is a pleasant mix of drama, humor, action, and romance. Duvall in particular gives the performance of a lifetime. His character, Gus McCrae, is tough as they come when dealing with enemies like the half-breed Indian bandit, Blue Duck (Frederic Forrest), or surly bartenders, but he is tender-hearted toward the prostitute (Diane Lane) that wants desperately to get to San Francisco. He often waxes philosophical with his partner, Captain Call, and the other members of the Hat-Creek outfit.

Lonesome Dove was nominated for 35 awards, winning 18, including seven Emmys and two Golden Globes.

Mike is an award-winning Western author currently living in a 600 square foot cabin in the mountains of Western Montana. He has been married to his redheaded sweetheart, Tami, since 1989. He is a Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award Finalist three years in a row and his short stories have been published in numerous anthologies and are available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers as well as brick and mortar bookstores. His first Western novel, The Sons of Philo Gaines, was released in November of 2020. It is available everywhere books are sold. Mike is a member of Western Writers of America and Western Fictioneers. You can find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MichaelRRittAuthor, or at his website https://michaelrritt.com.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021


Several months ago, I blogged about starting on my “ancestry” journey. I gave myself a subscription to Ancestry . com, and voila! I was on my way!

I had put off doing that for a long time because I was afraid it would be too expensive and would take up too much time. I was wrong on both counts! I got my membership for only $59 during a Mother’s Day special, and as for time—you can spend as much or as little as you are able. I find myself just browsing through my ancestors, and learning things that one day, I hope to sit down and write into a linear genealogy “book” or journal.

What makes this so fascinating for me? Probably because family, to my mother and her generation, was everything. And my mom, being the oldest of 11 kids, was charged with “remembering everyone” – sort of like Aunt Pittypat in Gone With the Wind. So to her, it was very important to pass on family history and stories she’d grown up with.

How I wish I had paid more attention! When I write my books and novellas, I do find myself including some of the stories she told us in those writings. But seeing pictures of some of the people I’ve heard her talk about has been such a revelation. And I’m not sure why, but seeing their handwriting has somehow been almost spiritual for me…maybe because I write all my work in longhand in notebooks before I enter them on the computer. So seeing the handwriting of my ancestors lets me imagine them with a pen (or quill) in hand, writing their names—and on the census reports, imagining them writing their children’s names and ages.

Just picturing the point in their lives in these milestone documents—marriage licenses, military registration cards, death certificates, census documents—even some personal letters that have been included are slowly but surely bringing these long-ago relatives to life for me.

My mom's parents, Mary McLain and Tom Stallings, when they were 'courting'--this would have been around 1918 or so. These are my grandparents--my granddad died when I was 10, and my grandmother died when I was 16. (My granddad, Tom, is the son of John Stallings and Emma C. Ligon Stallings that I will mention later on.)

This is the page from the 1860 Census for Smith Co., Tennessee. My great grandfather, John Stallings, was only 2 years old. From this record, we can note his father is not in the picture, only his mother, Sarah Hale Stallings. Evidently, she was living with a relative—most likely a brother, Richard Hale, who is 5 years older than she is. There are two other children with the last name of Wooten. I’m anxious to research this part of the family. My mother told me many stories about John Stallings, who was her grandfather, my great grandfather.

John grew up and became the headmaster at a school, but he had a temper. The story goes that he was heavy handed with the paddle on one of the students, and had to “get out of town” quickly—but when he did, he did not go alone. He took my great grandmother with him and they eloped! That was when they left Tennessee and headed for Oklahoma, settling in the southeastern part of what was then Indian Territory.

John B. Stallings, my great grandfather, and Emma Christiana Ligon Stallings, my great grandmother.

There have been some surprises, too! I discovered that my grandmother’s oldest sister was born out of wedlock. Another couple who had lived together as man and wife and raised 11 children together were not legally married until the last child was in college.

My grandmother, Mary born 1900; oldest sister Maude born 1886; sister Byrdie born 1896, sister Grace born 1894. Mary is my father's mother.

This is a truly fascinating journey, and I’m always anxious to “get back to it” again whenever I can. I have a lot of work and ‘refining’ to do on my family tree, but oh, the discoveries I’ve made and look forward to making in the future!

On my father’s side, using documentation that has been added by other relatives on their trees, I’ve been able to trace my 8th great-great grandparents back to England and Ireland. Now that I know that, at some point, I will pay the extra money for access to global records and see how much farther back I can go.

Have you ever traced your family ancestry? Did you find a surprise or two? Doing this has inspired me with a couple of really great story ideas!