Monday, November 12, 2018

Thanksgiving - a history and a time to reflect by Kaye Spencer #thanksgiving #westernfictioneers

The Legends of America website and the article "The American Tradition of Thanksgiving", compiled and edited by Dave Alexander, 2017, offers a nice explanation of where the American Thanksgiving 'idea' began and how it evolved into the celebration as we know it today. I have condensed the information and put it into bulleted format. (

Events worth noting...

  • Spanish explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado held a Thanksgiving celebration in Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle in May of 1541.
  • A Thanksgiving get-together of French colonists occurred in Florida in June of 1564.
  • English settlers in Maine held a harvest feast in August of 1607.
  • Jamestown colonists celebrated the arrival of desperately needed food supplies in the spring of 1610.
  • Plymouth Pilgrims had a three-day feast in October of 1621.
  • In 1777, commander-in-chief George Washington designated December 18th as a day of "Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise".
  • This led to the Continental Congress' recommendation that all 13 colonies observe a day of thanksgiving.
  • In October 1789, the now President Washington, proclaimed November 26th as a day of national thanksgiving and prayer. It didn't catch on for a variety of political and social reasons.
  • In 1827, a woman named Sarah Hale (editor of Godey's Lady's Book), began writing essays that turned into a concerted letter-writing campaign in 1846 to establish the last Thursday in November as National Thanksgiving Day.
  • In 1863, her persistence paid off when a letter she sent to President Abraham Lincoln swayed him to set the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

  • painted by James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889), Sarah Hale portrait, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons


    • President Andrew Johnson changed Thanksgiving Day to the first Thursday in December.
    • President Ulysses S. Grant went with the third Thursday in December.
    • The Presidents who came after Grant embraced the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day...
    until 1939.

    • This is when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (with pressure from the National Retail Dry Goods Association) declared November 23rd as Thanksgiving Day. The motive was to extend the Christmas shopping season by an extra week.
    • This wasn't a popular decision. In fact,

      "November 23rd was] ...only followed by twenty three states. Twenty three others celebrated on November 30, and Texas and Colorado declared both Thursdays as holidays. This caused mass confusion from football schedules, to families not knowing when to have their holiday meals, or even sure when to start their Christmas shopping."
    • Two years later, Congress and President Roosevelt would get this mess straightened out and the fourth Thursday in November officially became Thanksgiving Day. This took effect in 1942 and has remained as the American Thanksgiving Day ever since.
    Personally, Thanksgiving occurs in what I call my 'thankful season." September through February are the months during which I recharge my inner batteries. I reassess what lies behind me. I look to the future in anticipation of experiences and discoveries yet to come as I travel my life's journey.
    photo by algilas courtesy
    During this time of year, the reclusive loner in me sheds her March through August "Get off my lawn!" growliness and embraces the joy and wonder of autumn colors, crisp morning air, cooler days becoming winter cold with the shorter nights, the sights and songs of Canadian Geese and Sandhill Cranes flying to wherever it is they'll spend the winter, smaller migrating birds stopping at my birdfeeder, foxes (and lamentably, skunks) coming in to help themselves to the food I keep out for feral cats, clear starry skies, and snow, prairie snow.

    For me, the autumnal weeks of Halloween and Thanksgiving are heralds to the holiday spirit that arrives with the Christmas season. Then, winter sets in, and I'm at my physical and mental best during these darkest days of the year.

    I think of this time of year as an extended thankful season, not just a day here and there for self-reflection and appreciation for what I have in my life. So, with that, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are and however you celebrate.

    On a side note: I have experienced an ongoing struggle for several weeks with commenting and responding to comments on Blogger. If I am unable to respond to your comment, I will come back to this article and add comments in this area. Please check back, because I do read and respond to every comment, as I appreciate the time and interest you've taken to write a comment.

    Until next time,

    Kaye Spencer
    writing through history one romance upon a time

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    Friday, November 9, 2018

    Old West Etiquette, Part 2

    The social call was an important ritual during the Victorian era. Calling cards became popular in Britain, Europe, and the eastern United States as a way to screen callers and keep out undesirable visitors. These cards were usually 9cm x 6cm. A lady's card was larger than a gentleman's, who had to fit his in his breast pocket. The card was made of heavy white paper, plain and unruled, "elegantly engraved" – during the early 19thCentury, highly decorated or gaudy cards betrayed ill breeding. Later in the century, as elaborate printing and engraving became less expensive, the wealthy displayed some truly gaudy examples indeed.

    The engraving was in simple type, small and without flourishes, although script became more elaborate as the century went on. A simple 'Mr.' 'Mrs.' or 'Miss' before the name was sufficient, except in the case of acknowledgement of rank (Earl, Viscount, etc.). Early Victorian cards bore only a person's title and name, with the name of their house or district sometimes added. By the end of the century, the address was added to the card, and when applicable, a lady's reception day.
    These cards were usually carried in special cases, made of ivory, tortoiseshell, leather, or even paper-mache. The truly wealthy carried cases of silver or gold.

    A tray full of calling cards was like an advertisement for Victorians, showing who had visited. It wasn’t unusual for the cards to be arranged in order of social status, with the “best” names at the top of the pile. It was traditionally the obligation of the upper-class women to deliver and accept calling cards, although she could leave a copy of her husband’s card for the master of the house (along with two copies of her own cards, one for the master and one for the mistress).
    Specific times were allocated for different types of calls. A "morning call" was made in the afternoon. "Ceremonial calls" were made between three and four o'clock, "semi-ceremonial calls" were between four and five o'clock. Calls made between five and six o'clock were deemed "intimate calls." Sundays were always reserved for friends and family only. Visits were always quite short, lasting from ten to thirty minutes, and if another caller arrived during a visit, the first caller was expected to leave within a few minutes of the second caller's arrival.

    Occasions which warranted a social call were many. Calls of condolence or congratulations, of course. Yet proper etiquette also required social calls for many occasions which today would be properly resolved with a polite letter; one was not allowed to express thanks, tender regrets, or even accept an invitation with a written message. You must pay a return call within three days of another party's first call upon you. You must also pay a call upon friends prior to departing from town and after returning. 
    As soon as a family arrived "In Town," the wife and mother was expected to circulate not only her card, but her husband's and those of her sons and daughters as well. She could either deliver the cards herself, waiting within the carriage to see if the mistress of the house was "at home" ("not at home" was a polite rejection of her family), or she could send the cards around by a servant. Upon receiving a card, one should reply with their own card, either delivered by hand or by a servant. Sending a card enclosed within an envelope, or not returning a card at all, meant that the person wished to maintain their social distance. A social call was returned with another social call.

    Rules for calling:
    ·     dress for calling; ladies who are "at home" should wear tasteful clothing, "with a certain amount of lace and jewelry" (but no artificial flowers or glittering gems); callers should wear the sort of clothing they would wear to church or an afternoon reception; a gentleman wears a "morning" suit until six o'clock (gray, striped trousers, black vest and coat, bowler or top hat) and evening attire after that (a black dress suit)
    ·     receive visitors at whatever time they should call; if you cannot be interrupted, have the servant say that you are "engaged" rather than telling the falsehood that you are "not at home"
    ·     greet the hostess politely as soon as you are shown into the drawing room or parlor
    ·     make your conversation bright and witty

    ·     take young children or pets when making social calls
    ·     look at your watch
    ·     be in haste to seat yourself; stand and converse for a few moments
    ·     stare or meddle with the articles in the room; do not seem to be aware of anything but the company present while visiting
    ·     walk around the room staring at the pictures and other objects while waiting for the hostess
    ·     call across the room to address anyone; cross the room and speak quietly
    ·     introduce politics, religion, or other weighty topics to the conversation
    ·     scratch your head or use a toothpick, earspoon, or comb
    ·     tell long stories, talk scandal, or spread rumors
    ·     make any remarks about another caller who has left the room

    Source:The Essential Handbook of Victorian Entertaining, adapted by Autumn Stephens, Bluewood Books, 2005

    J.E.S. Hays

    Thursday, November 8, 2018

    Ranger Jim's Ramblings for November.

    I'm going to address a controversial subject, which seems to wax and wane over the years, but is always at least a minor undercurrent in discussions of the western genre. That is, the theme of homosexuality in Westerns, particularly  in the pulps and paperbacks.

    For this post, I'm not going into the modern era, the times of Brokeback Mountain. Not to split hairs, but the two  male lovers in that film were sheepherders, not cowboys. I'm going back to the era of the pulps, and the earlier period of those.

    Two incidents inspired me to address this issue. One was when a high school classmate, who is gay, and a university library director in Louisiana, was a judge for an award in a gay novel competition. One of the books happened to be a traditional style Western, but the protagonists were both gay. My friend sent me the book after the contest was over, to get my opinion. I told him that, not even looking at the homosexual angle, it was just a very poorly written book. He agreed.

    The other was when I read Jackson Lowry's excellent entry in the West of the Big River series, The Artist, a tale about a segment of Charlie Russell's life. In this book, two of Russell's cowboy pards are also homosexual lovers. None of the other men seem to care, in fact, they just accept the situation as nothing out of the ordinary.

    There seem to be two main schools of thought on homosexual themes in Westerns. The first school, which I'll call the traditionalists, insist there is now sign of homosexuals in any western ever written, period. The other school, which for lack of a better word I'll call the radicals, see homosexual themes in almost every scene or event in a western. As  usual, the truth is somewhere in between. Where it truly lies is impossible to determine.

    For example, there is an iconic photograph from the 1880s or 1890s, taken of a group of Kansas cowboys taking baths in a pond. While this picture is just a depiction of everyday life out on the prairies, many of the radical group insists the photo shows a bunch of gay cowboys doing their thing. Highly unlikely, but boy howdy, how the meaning of gay caballero has changed.

    On the other hand, while the traditionalists will try and deny it, there is no question that homosexual themes did appear in many stories in the western pulp magazines. I'm going to use two examples, both from Texas Rangers Magazine, and both involving the main character, Jim Hatfield. I don't have the issues at my fingertips, since they're now in the Texas Ranger Museum archives in Waco, so I can't provide the exact dates or story titles. However, both these examples have stuck in my head over the years, as they are so blatant, and so obvious.

    The first is from an early Hatfield story, from the late 1930s or very early 1940s. In this one, Hatfield is riding along when he comes across a cowboy, who is stripped to the waist and staked out over an anthill. Hatfield frees the cowboy, so far so good. However, he then kneels down in front of the cowboy and orders him to lower his pants and drawers. There's even an illustration of the scene, where, while the cowboy is ready to unbutton his pants, Hatfield's head is in exactly the right position to leave no doubt as to exactly what the author is implying. The scene ends with the cowboy jumping in the river, ostensibly to drown the ants on him and cool their bites.Hopefully that meant the ants' bites.

    The second is from a later issue, in the 1950s. In this one, Hatfield has stopped at a pond, and is ready to take a bath. Someone takes a shot, which Hatfield believes was meant for him, but in truth was aimed at another man. Hatfield jumps out of the pond, grabs a rifle, and what ensues is a fairly long scene of a naked Hatfield, rifle in hand, chasing the gunman through the woods. He stays naked even after the chase is over, and while going through the bodies for evidence.

    So, homosexuality in the western novel? I leave  that for you, the readers of this blog, to decide. However, from what I have read, there is no question that at least a thread of homosexuality runs through the western genre. The traditionalists will vehemently deny it, the radicals will try to push their agenda that it was rampant, but it's there, albeit a very minor subject.. After all, homosexuality was as much a factor throughout history, including the frontier west era, as it is today.

    To conclude, a few years ago, a co-worker of mine and her husband went to a Christmas party. They'd had a few drinks. On their way home, Gene Autry's classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer came over the car radio. Nancy's husband said to her, "You know, Autry's Back in the Saddle Again is really a gay anthem." When she told him it couldn't be, he came up with a wonderful parody of what the lyrics meant, from a homosexual point of view. It's absolutely hysterical, and proves the point that anyone who wishes can find homosexual themes in just about any piece of literature, music, or art. I just might reveal the "alternative" meaning next time around, unless some of you might find it really offensive.

    Until next time, Happy Thanksgiving!

    "Ranger" Jim

    Saturday, November 3, 2018

    "SPIES OF THE CIVIL WAR" by Tom Rizzo

    Belle Boyd: A Woman Scorned

    Union soldiers occupying the small Shenandoah Valley town of Martinsburg, Virginia, noticed that a young woman had decorated her bedroom with confederate flags, prompting them to raise a Union banner over the house.

    The event, on Independence Day 1861, deteriorated into an argument and one of the soldiers said to be drunk, swore at the mother of Belle Boyd. 

    The offended 17-year old reacted by taking her pistol and shooting him to death. The commanding officer, after hearing what happened, ruled the shooting justified but placed Maria Isabella Boyd under surveillance. 

    At that point, Maria Boyd decided to embark on a career as a Confederate spy. She began sending letters to Confederate commanders regarding troop 
    movements and other information.

    When one of her letters got intercepted, she acted oblivious. But, in the interests of her safety, her parents sent her to live with an aunt and uncle In Front Royal, an even smaller community about forty miles south.

    Although union officials kept track of Boyd's movement, they didn't dissuade her from working as a courier, funneling information between General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and General P.G.T. Beauregard.

                           Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard                         Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

    Boyd was born May 9, 1844, and was well educated. Her parents - a successful merchant by the name Benjamin Reed Boyd, and Mary Rebecca Glenn Boyd - were socially prominent. The family owned several slaves.

    She graduated from Mount Washington College in Baltimore, Maryland, and spent the winter of 1860-1861 as a debutante in Washington, DC. Boyd returned to Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) to work as a nurse. 

    Her father had joined the 2nd Virginia Infantry Regiment when Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861.

    Belle’s flirtatious manner proved valuable. She often succeeded using her charm to cajole soldiers into revealing military intelligence.

    Northern newspapers described Belle Boyd as “. . . very attractive…quite tall…a superb figure…and dressed with much taste. ”

    Her exploits were so effective that, by early 1862, the Union Army and the press labeled her as “La Belle Robelle”—the Siren of the Shenandoah.

    Captured several times, she managed to avoid serving jail time—until July 29, 1862. But, she was arrested again, and jailed at the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C.

    A month later, Boyd got released in a prisoner exchange. A year later, she was arrested again, and finally released in December, and banished to the South.

    Rules and restrictions never played well with Belle Boyd, so she set sail for England on May 8, 1864, but got arrested as a Confederate courier.

    With the help of a Union naval officer, Lt. Samuel Hardinge—whom she later married—she fled for Canada.

    Boyd eventually made it to England, and made a name for herself by writing her memoirs and found success on the stage.

    Her memoir, Belle Boyd in Camp and in Prison, was published in 1865.

     A couple of years later, Belle returned to America a widow and mother, continued her stage career and married twice more.

    On June 11, 1900, Belle Boyd died in poverty, of a heart attack, while on tour in Wisconsin.

    Confederate Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson once commented that intelligence she provided helped the general to win victories in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862.

    She was one of several women who distinguished themselves as effective spies for both the Blue and the Gray during the War Between the States.


    Thursday, November 1, 2018

    The King of Texas

    When researching locations for my second novel, Touched by Love, I visited the famed King Ranch in south Texas, between Corpus Christi and Brownsville--and fell in love with the rugged terrain and equally hardy people.

     “The story starts in the mid-1830s with an eleven-year-old boy indentured by his destitute family to a jeweler in New York City.”

    Sounds like one of our novels, doesn’t it? But it’s the start of the amazing story of Richard King, the King of Texas. After stowing away on a ship bound of the south of the United States, he worked his way to captain and finally steam boat owner, moving goods and passengers along the lower Rio Grande River.

    Sometime in the middle of the 1800s, Captain King crossed a region of Texas known as the Wild Horse Desert. When he came upon the sweet water of the Santa Gertrudis Creek, he’d found home. King and his business partner purchased 15, 500 acres of Mexican land, a land grant known as Rincon de Santa Gertrudis. This acreage was the start of what is now the legendary King Ranch.

    Based on a melding of the Southern Plantation and Mexican Hacienda styles of management, King built a dynasty near what is now Kingsville, Texas. When a terrible drought struck South Texas and Northern Mexico, King bought all the cattle from the townspeople of Cruillas, Mexico. Realizing he’d also taken their livelihood, King offered to hire all those who would move to his ranch. These expert stockmen and horsemen became known as Los Kineños--King’s people. Descendants of Los Kineños still live and work on the ranch today.

    By the end of the Civil War, King’s ranch had grown to more than 146,000 acres, supporting thousands of head of his domesticated longhorn cattle. When he ran into a problem, such as the lack of quality saddles and tack for his vaqueros, he simply hired the finest craftsmen and moved them onto the ranch. [The Saddle Shop is still in operation:]

    “Richard King's sense of adventure was rivaled only by his vision and ability to seize on new business opportunities. In addition to tirelessly working to improve the ranch, he invested in building railroads, packinghouses, ice plants and harbor improvements for the port of Corpus Christi.”

    And things didn’t stop after Captain King’s death in 1885. In 1899, King’s son-in-law, Robert J. Kleberg (he married King’s daughter, Alice) was drilling for water when he discovered a huge underground river, bringing an end to the decade long drought known as “the great die-up.”

    “During this era, Robert J. Kleberg and King’s widow continued to improve and diversify the assets of King Ranch with agricultural development, land sales, and town building projects. In 1904, their efforts were instrumental in helping to build the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico Railway -- as well as several towns along the newly laid track, including Kingsville. Before her death in 1925, Henrietta King had donated land and funds toward the construction of churches, libraries, and school projects (creating an oasis of community development) in this previously untamed land.”

    The ranch’s innovations didn’t stop there. The number one registration in the American Quarter Horse Association Stud Book was from the King Ranch Quarter Horse program. They also produced the youngest horse ever to be inducted into the National Cutting Horse Association Hall of Fame, Mr. San Peppy. Assault, the 1946 winner of the Triple Crown, and Middleground, the 1950 winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, both came from King stock.

    Today, the King Ranch is a huge operation, with more than 825,000 acres in multiply states and countries, and Running W brand appears on tens of thousands of the King Ranch’s Santa Gertrudis cattle, recognizable by their distinctive black-cherry colored hide.

    If you want to know more, visit Or better yet, plan a trip to the ranch. You’ll be very glad you did.

    Tuesday, October 23, 2018

    IS THAT TRUE? #WesternFictioneers #History

    You've heard the tales. You think you know the story. But really, can those stories be true? Let's see.

    Cripple Creek today
    John W. Bernard

    The story goes that John W. Bernard walked from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek, a journey of  about forty-five miles, and spent his first night in the mining district sleeping on the ground. When he awoke the next day he stacked out a likely looking pile of rocks and filed a claim. He named the mine for a pair of Elk Horns lying nearby. Of course, in heart of true storytelling, Mr. Bernard knew nothing about mining and supposedly gave away half of his mine to settle a grocery bill of almost forty dollars.

    Now according to Mike Hurtt from his "History of the Elkton Mine" that had been accessed in 2009 from the Cripple Creek History site ( no longer available) the mine was taken over from William Shemwell and it was three Bernard brothers who purchased it.

    So who has the correct story? You can decided which is true.

    John Milton Chivington
    photo from Wikipedia

    John Milton Chivington

    After the Battle of Glorietta Pass, in which Chivington 'routed' the Confederates who were attempting to relieve Colorado of its gold, he was promoted to Colonel. Quite a feat for a Methodist minister. His troups from the battle were given the name of Chivington's Pet Lambs.

    His daughter was married to a much older man who traded with the Indians in Southwest Colorado. The daughters husband left her with the tribe as a guarantee he would return with their wares. He did return some six months later. The hush story is Chivington had a half-breed grandchild.

    Are these stories true?

    Dr. Isaac Davis

    In 1874, Dr. Davis, of Manitou Springs, CO., was acquitted of manslaughter for giving his patient Mrs. Mary Ann Stringer an overdose of narcotics for gastritis. They actually exhumed the body prior to the trial.

    While working as the coroner in Manitou Springs he came into the possession of the body of Tom O'Neil. Mr. O'Neil was an Irish miner who was shot in a bar fight. When no one claimed the body, Dr. Davis experimented on the body using chemical baths and sunbathing. I the end, it was said Mr. O'Neil's body looked like that of an Egyptian mummy.

    Do you really think the above stories are true?

    Emma Crawford

    Emma was involved in Spiritualism and it was said that she played the piano with such skill, but had never taken a lesson. Instead it was claimed she acquired her skill from the spirits.

    Upon her death, in 1891, Emma requested that she be buried on Red Mountain in Manitou Springs. Her wishes were honored.

    In 1929 some boys were said to have found a grave and brought the skull and handles from the coffin down to Manitou Springs. It was later determined that they were of Emma Crawford. She was later buried in the local cemetery. To this day, Manitou Springs has coffin races over the Halloween weekend in honor of Emma and her opened grave on Red Mountain.


    I hope you enjoyed some of the tales of the Pikes Peak region. As we get ready for All Hallows Eve, what stories have you heard where you live?

    In my novella "Angel of Salvation Valley" the hero makes a deal to get out of prison for a crime he did not commit. His deal, he must kill. Can he do it?

    Amazon e-book

     "I'm just wondering what kind of power you have that would allow me to get out of here, short of a prison break?"
    "Nothing you need to worry about, but you can set your mind at ease if you agree to my proposition. I'll make sure you are paroled, after all you were drunk when you held up that stage and killed those people."
    "I didn't hold up any stage, I didn't kill anyone, so how could I be drunk while committing the crime?" Drew interrupted.
    "Never mind. Are you willing to take the job so you can get out of here?" Luke asked, staring into Drew's eyes.
    Drew felt uncomfortable with that stare. Still he hesitated. He'd never killed anyone, unless in self defense. But if someone as evil as this woman was needed killing, he would trade her life for his freedom.
    Breathing deeply, Drew slowly nodded his assent.
    "Fine, you made a good choice," Luke said. "I'll let you know within the next two days when you will walk out of here," Luke moved to knock on the cell door. "After all, it took ten years to hunt you down," Luke whispered.

    Drew moved to shake the hand Luke offered, wondering what Luke was mumbling. Still, when Drew took the hand firmly in his own hardened one, he was surprised at how smooth the skin was. It'd been years since he felt something so smooth, but there was also heat and strength behind the grip. A small fissure of pain traveled up his arm as Luke broke off the handshake, a tightening in his scalp.

    Doris Gardner-McCraw -
    Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
    Colorado and Women's History
    Member of National League of American Pen Women,
    Women Writing the West,
    Pikes Peak Posse of the Westerners

    Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
    For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
    Photo and Poem: Click Here 
    Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here