Friday, July 12, 2019

Cowboys: Reality vs. Expectation

When you mention the word “cowboy,” people usually get a fairly vivid mental image. But is that image accurate? Here are some facts a writer of Westerns should keep in mind about these hard-working historical figures.

Expectation: Cowboys are as American as apple pie.
Reality: The tending of cattle as a profession has its roots in Europe, particularly in Spain. American cowboys learned from Spanish and Mexican workers, which explains how words like lariat, buckaroo, chaps, rodeo, lasso, remuda – even the word ranch itself – became part of the cowboy vernacular.

Expectation: John Wayne was the perfect image of a cowboy.
Reality #1: Many, if not most, cowboys deserved the name. It’s a tough life, and the older you get, the harder the job is. Sprains and broken bones leave lasting damage you feel after a certain age. Cowboys started out in their early teens, some as young as 12-14, and were earning a man’s wage before they needed a good shave. Sure, they wouldn’t be the trail boss or take point on a cattle drive, but they made up a good bit of the working force of a cattle operation.

Reality #2. There weren’t as many white-bread workers as you’d think. Blacks, Mexicans, Native Americans, Europeans and men from Mediterranean countries worked right alongside the Anglos, often outnumbering them. Remember: tough life. Immigrants have always taken the jobs nobody else wanted, and cowboying was a hard, dangerous job. After the Civil War, as much as a quarter of total ranch hands were freed slaves.

Expectation: Cowboys were supremely attractive to the opposite sex.
Reality: Cowboys often wore their clothes for weeks without changing them. They lived rough, and often had neither the time nor the inclination to clean up their act. Of course, it was different when a cowboy went into town – then, you were expected to get gussied up in your Sunday best and do a little sparking. But when encountered in their day-to-day jobs, a cowboy wouldn’t exactly turn a woman’s head (unless she happened to be standing downwind, perhaps).

Expectation: Cowboys followed a “Cowboy Code,” perhaps best vocalized by one of the most famous TV cowboys, Gene Autry:A cowboy never takes unfair advantage, even of an enemy. A cowboy never betrays a trust. A cowboy always tells the truth. A cowboy is kind to small children, to old folks, and to animals. A cowboy is free from racial and religious prejudice. A cowboy is always helpful, and when anyone’s in trouble he lends a hand. A cowboy is a good worker. A cowboy is clean about his person, and in thought, word, and deed. A cowboy respects womanhood, his parents, and the laws of his country. A cowboy is a patriot.
Reality: Cowboys were common workingmen. Sure, some of them were honorable and loyal. Most were ordinary young men out for a paycheck. They ran the gamut from sterling characters to men you wouldn’t want to meet in a twilight alley, just as in most jobs. Being a cowboy was no different from taking any other job at the time.
J.E.S. Hays (
Adams, Andy: The Log of a Cowboy

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Ranger Jim's Ramblings for July

Howdy, y'all,

This month's post will be a continuation of sorts. One interesting fact few people know, then a cautionary tale about place names.

First, few people realize that, until the early to mid-twentieth century, pink was not for girls and blue was not for boys. In fact, it was the complete opposite. Red and pink were considered strong and war-like, while blue was considered calming.

Up until the early 1900s, color was not even considered. Babies, both male and female,  mostly wore white dresses. Pastel colors gradually became in vogue starting in the mid-1800s.  Here's an excerpt from the June, 1918 Ladies Home Journal:

The generally accepted rule is pink  for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason being is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."

In 1927, Time Magazine printed a chart sowing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene's told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle's in Cleveland, and Marshall Field in Chicago.

It wasn't until the 1940s that clothing manufacturers settled on blue for boys and pink for girls. The Baby Boomers were the first generation to grow up with this color preference. So, in a western, keep it simple, and keep the babies in white dresses.

The other thing you have to be careful of when writing Western fiction is place names. Many towns and cities people assume were part of the frontier West weren't even in existence.Two examples are Amarillo and Lubbock, Texas, both of which weren't established until the 1890s, although both had settlers before then. Many of the small towns in the West didn't come into existence until long after the days of the cattle drives and Indian wars were over.

There are two tings to consider when using a place name in your Western fiction. First, should you use the name of an actual city or town? If you do, make certain the existence of the locale matches the time frame of the story, The other choice would be to just make up a fictional name for the setting of your tale.

Have a great summer, everyone.

"Ranger" Jim

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Hole in the Doughnut and Book Excerpt by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #inventions #doughnuts #donuts

I will confess that I have a fondness for doughnuts. For me, doughnuts are as versatile as Forrest Gump’s shrimp.

You can deep-fry them, bake them, fill them, frost them, and freeze them. There are doughnut holes, long john doughnuts, glazed doughnuts, sprinkled doughnuts, cake doughnuts, pumpkin spice doughnuts, blueberry cake doughnuts, old fashioned doughnuts, coconut topped doughnuts. Doughnuts for breakfast. Doughnuts for brunch. Doughnuts with coffee. Doughnuts with champagne. Doughnuts for lunch. Doughnuts for afternoon snack. Doughnuts for supper. Doughnuts at midnight… 

The concept of ‘doughnut’ evolved from lumps of dough dropped in boiling oil and cooked until golden brown. But how did the hole come about? Well, read on.

According to an article by Esther Inglis-Arkell*:

 “…the makings of doughnuts made it to American shores in the 1700s, when the Dutch came over. They were just deep-fried balls of dough sometimes spiced for flavor, and called ‘oilycakes’….Captain Hanson Gregory claimed to have been the first to put the hole in the oilycake, having thought it up in 1847 at the age of 16 during a long sailing voyage. He popped the middle out of the centers of dough with the lid of a pepper tin, and invented the modern doughnut…”

[Side Note: Supposedly, Captain Gregory’s inspiration to put a hole in oilycakes was to mitigate the drownings that followed when sailors over-indulged in large oilycakes… Inquiring minds want to know if the sailors became ‘drunk’ on oilycakes, stumbled around the deck, toppled overboard, and sank like they had lead in their bellies. *shrug* Sounds fishy to me.]

But, an article on the Engines of Our Ingenuity** website explains the invention of doughnuts in a similar fashion (without the drowning reference):

“…article that attributes [the invention of doughnuts] to Maine sea captain Hanson Gregory. Gregory’s ship was named Frypan, and he fed his sailors ‘fried cakes’, made according to his mother’s recipe. A problem with those otherwise delicious cakes was that their centers were seldom fully cooked. In 1847, Gregory punched out the center of a cake…for a far more uniformly cooked doughnut.”

However, since anyone could have figured out to poke a hole in a piece of dough, deep-fry it, and slather it with a sweet concoction, an argument can be made that John F. Blondel gets the credit for creating the doughnut in the form we know today.
Arnold Gatilao [CC BY 2.0 (]
Blondel was issued a patent on July 9, 1872 for ‘a new and useful improvement’ on the doughnut cutter’. Note the word ‘improvement’, not original invention.

His doughnut cutter was crafted from spring-loaded blocks of wood that, when pressed, punched holes through dough. (beefed-up hole punch) This greatly simplified, and enhanced, a doughnut seller’s productivity.

[click image to enlarge details] Patents. Improvement in doughnut-cutters.
My doughnut cutter:

Kaye's hand-me-down doughnut cutter

Cowboys in the Old West called doughnuts ‘bear sign’, and they were a delicacy they would ride miles out of their way to enjoy. The slang bear sign came about because these doughnuts didn’t look like the modern day doughnuts we know. They more closely resembled a pile of bear poop (beat scat), hence, bear sign (a sign that bears were in the area).

Here is the doughnut excerpt from my western romance, The Gunfighter’s Woman.

“Howdy, ma’am.”

“Hello, gentlemen. I never turn away an injured or hungry man. Help yourself to water and cool yourselves in the shade over there.” Brenna waved toward the summer table. “But if your intentions are otherwise, I invite you to leave now in the same healthy condition as when you arrived.”

Matt smiled when she lifted the shotgun barrel a few inches to make her not-so-subtle point.

“Thank you, ma’am. I promise, we mean no ill toward you. I expect you’re Mrs. GĂ©rard?”

“Yes. What is your business?”

“We just come through Trinidad headed to Laramie, and we offered to deliver these letters to you.” He reached inside his vest and brought out two letters. The cowboy dismounted, handed his reins to his partner, and walked to Brenna.

Matt crossed the yard, keeping close to the buildings, and though neither cowboy looked toward him, Matt knew from the glances they exchanged they were aware of his approach.

“Thank you. That was thoughtful, but also considerably out of your way.”

“Our pleasure, and we don’t mind.” The cowboy took a respectful step back. “To be honest, we could have been here yesterday, but we’d heard tell you make bear sign— doughnuts—on Sunday mornings, so we waited. And word got to us that the postmaster was looking for someone comin’ this way who would bring letters and…” The cowboy ducked his head, turning his hat in his hands like it was a wagon wheel rolling along.

Brenna smiled at his confession. “I do have doughnuts. They’re still warm. I’ll bring them to the table along with coffee and milk. Make yourselves at home.”

Matt recognized the men. “Akins. Myerson. Been a long time.”

Both men turned to him. Akins, the cowboy who’d done the talking asked, “Caddock? Matt Caddock? Well, I’ll be damned.” He shot a sheepish look toward Brenna. “Sorry, ma’am.” He held out his hand, and Matt shook it. “How did you end up here? Last we heard, you’d taken an arrow somewhere up in the high country. Also heard you hooked up with Archer.”

“You heard right on both, but I got shut of him.”

Akins pushed back the front of his hat, nodding. “I hear what you’re sayin’. He’s runnin’ a mean game. Story is, he blew a section of tracks down around Lamy for the payroll on the train. Waited until dark and wasn’t ridin’ a horse anyone recognized. Looks like he got away with it.”

Myerson added, “Watch your back trail. Couple of fellas in Trinidad said they’d heard Archer’d headed down toward Big Spring looking for you.” He dismounted and shook Matt’s hand.

“Thanks for the warning. He and his boys worked me over down in Maxwell a while back. I left them wishing they hadn’t.” “Well,  now  that  you’re  shut  of  him,  best  stay  that  way. Archer  kills  just  for  sport,  and  he  likes  the  sound  of  big

“That, he does. Always made me nervous that he carried a couple of sticks of dynamite in his saddlebags, though I never was around when he used them. I’d appreciate you not mentioning you saw me here, or anywhere else.”

“That road runs both ways.” Matt nodded that he understood.

The men drank their fill of coffee and milk and, between them, ate a plate full of doughnuts before riding off with more doughnuts tied-up in an old tea towel.


The doughnut recipe that was handed down through the generations in my family is available on one of my Pinterest boards. Click here: Doughnuts

 Available on
Kindle | KindleUnlimited | Print

Here are two doughnut articles of interest:

Doughboy Center: The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces – Doughnut! The Official Story -

A Short History of Doughnuts -

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

As I don’t send a newsletter, consider staying in touch with me on these venues:

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*Inglis-Arkell, Esther. Gizmodo. The Scandalous History and Strange Physics of Donuts. 2013.04-19.Accessed: 2019.07-06.

**Lienhard, John H. Engines of Our Ingenuity, No. 1784: A Priority Allegory.Web. Accessed: 2019.07-06.

Moy, Suelain. The Fiscal Times. The Hole Truth: Celebrating a Huge Day in Doughnut History. Web. Accessed: 2019.07-06.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Post by Doris McCraw
writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the author
As I pondered this months post, I wasn't sure what I would write about. Of course, I would prefer to write about history, but when time is short, research isn't always an option. Then it hit me, I've been streaming old TV shows. So, here are some of the oldie by maybe goodie's I've caught up on over the last year.

Of course, a new oldie is "The Adventures of Brisco County". I've always been a fan of Bruce Campbell. He carried the show on some pretty impressive shoulders, with some great tongue in cheek.

Who can forget "Wild Wild West" which was popular during the hey day of the James Bond craze. I confess I was a bigger fan of Ross Martin than Robert Conrad, but the chemistry between the two made the show.

Image result for yancy derringer

Then I found "Yancy Derringer". Although not technically a Western, Jock Mahoney filled the screen with a panache that was fun to watch.

In short order, there was "Whispering Smith" with Audie Murphy, "Tombstone Territory" with Pat Conway and Ricard Eastman, and  "Hopalong Cassidy" with William Boyd.

Of course there is a special place in my heart for "The Cisco Kid" and "The Magnificent Seven".

Although the Cisco Kid was filmed in color, it aired in black & white. To watch the streaming now, the colors are interesting, as the show was filmed in 1950. The stars and their backgrounds make the watching even more fun. I may do a post just on the show and its stars. (For those who are interested, there were numerous movies in which the Cisco Kid was the star, and it had Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo as the same characters they play in the TV show. is a great resource if you want to look into those early movies.)

Duncan Renaldo as The Cisco Kid.jpg

I saved what I consider the best for last. "The Magnificent Seven" television show was based on the movie of the same name. As some already know, the movie was based on the Kurosawa film "The Seven Samurai" an absolute top of the list movie for me. Although the TV show only lasted two seasons, the writing and acting were so top notch for the time. Ron Perlman, Michael Biehn, Eric Close, Dale Midkiff, Anthony Starke, Rick Worthy and Andrew Kavovit chemistry on screen only added to the already fabulous scrips.

I know there are so many others, but I've just not had time to catch up with most of them. And yes, I watched Brisco, and Magnificent Seven when they first aired. The others were either a bit before my time, or on networks that were not available where I grew up.

What were some of your favorites and why? Any the same as mine? Did these older shows inspire your own Western Stories?

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
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Wednesday, June 19, 2019


Have you ever read a story that made you wonder why the author spent such a long, boring time describing an item or place that seemed of little importance to the story?

Usually when that happens, it’s because its importance will be revealed later on, or some scene will call up that particular memory or description for some reason—and its usually a pretty darn good reason!

Let’s look at Cinderella’s slipper as our first example for this. Of course, a glass slipper would be highly unusual, wouldn’t it? In fact, most likely, there would be no other slippers like that one pair!

This particular pair of shoes serves as a symbol for the entire story—improbable things happening to a young woman who has been treated so terribly for so long that lead to her ultimate happiness—it’s a story we can all relate to!

The magic that brings her happiness is not just going to the ball and all the wonderful things that happened on the way—the beautiful gown, the carriage, and so on—the true magic for Cinderella is falling in love. And how can the two lovers hope to be reunited? Well, if it weren’t for those exquisitely, perfectly-fitting glass slippers, everything else that came before—all the magic, hopes, and dreams—could have amounted to nothing at all. Everything hinges on the glass slipper fitting!

Hence the description of the slippers themselves, carrying the slipper on a pillow (which I always believed was taking a terrible chance!) and the endless search and trying on of the slipper throughout the kingdom.

The slipper is all-important because it is the proof that she is “the one” –and it has come to symbolize the very story itself. When we see a picture of the glass slipper, we know it “means” Cinderella, right?

Think about Lous L’Amour’s iconic western, Conagher. Two lonely people meet and fall in love through heartfelt notes that Evie, the heroine, writes and ties to tumbleweeds. They could be found and read by anyone—or no one at all.

But the fact that Conagher feels they speak directly to him, shows us how important what she did is to the story. This is further borne out when, in conversation with him, she uses a phrase she’s written on one of the notes—and he knows immediately it is she who has been writing them.

Loneliness and the vast emptiness of the land is a common theme throughout the book. It was unimaginable to her that Conagher would be the one who found “that note” – the one she repeated the phrase from in conversation with him—but it wasn’t impossible. And his line to her is one of the most romantic of all time, in my opinion.

He takes one of the notes out of his pocket and asks if she wrote it, and she says yes, she did. She tells him she was just so lonely she had to talk to someone, even if no one was there to hear. He says, "There was, Evie, there was me." 

The details of:

1. The land around them and their feelings about the emptiness and aloneness of where they are...
2. Evie’s acting on those feelings by just writing them down on paper and tying them to tumbleweeds...
3. The act of Evie repeating the phrase in conversation she’d used on the note Conagher found...

all add up to make this story so special and memorable—and one you will not want to put down once you start reading!

Conagher isn’t a fairy tale, but it does have its own brand of magical connections that lead to love. The details and descriptions in both of these stories, as different as they are, give the reader insights that the author, in both cases, was masterful in providing throughout the story!

Finally, another couple of tales that come to mind are two short stories many of us read in our high school English classes—The Necklace, by Guy De Maupassant, and The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry. Do you remember these—both based on objects that were described in great detail—and the twists at the end that left you gasping in surprise?

If you haven’t read them, or even if it’s been a while, they are always good to revisit and are classic examples of why detailed descriptions of “things” can be so important to a story’s premise.

Can you think of an example in your reading where the detailed description of something had deep importance to the story?

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Western Fictioneers Announces the 9th Annual Peacemaker Awards

(For Westerns Published in 2018)


GRIT by Ron Schwab (Uplands Press)

THE PISTOLMAN’S APPRENTICE, Linell Jeppsen (Wolfpack Publishing)
TIMBERLINE, Matthew P. Mayo (Five Star)
GYPSY ROCK, Robert D. McKee (Five Star)
FATHER UNTO MANY SONS, Rod Miller (Five Star)


WHERE THE BULLETS FLY, Terrence McCauley (Kensington)        
I AM MRS. JESSE JAMES, Pat Wahler (Blank Slate Press)


THE CHAPMAN LEGACY, John Neely Davis (Five Star)
THE SCARRED ONE, Tyler Boone (Charles Gramlich) (Sundown Press)
REBECCA’S HOPE, Kimberly Grist (Winged Publications)



MYSTERY ON THE PECOS, Alice V. Brock (Pen-L Publishing)
CASTLE BUTTE, John D. Nesbitt (Five Star)
THE CHRISTMAS BEAR, B.N. Rundell (Wolfpack Publishing)                                                                                   


“The Lake Spirit”, Troy D. Smith (THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO: FRONTIER JUSTICE, Moonstone)


“Byrd’s Luck”, Jeffrey J. Mariotte (THE UNTAMED WEST, Western Fictioneers)
“The Gamble”, Cheryl Pierson (THE UNTAMED WEST, Western Fictioneers)
“Father Pedro’s Prayer”, Michael R. Ritt (THE UNTAMED WEST, Western Fictioneers)
“Peyote Spirits”, Ron Schwab (Uplands Press)

Western Fictioneers would like to thank the judges for the excellent job they did and the long hours they devoted to reading the submissions.