Thursday, March 30, 2017

Chewing the Cud - Tips for a First Draft ... Meg Mims

The terror of the blank page… ah, yes. All that white space.

Who else has heard advice like, "just vomit it out," or "get it down fast, you can fix it later," or what have you. Uh huh. If that works for you. Doesn't for me. I get stuck. Often. And I'm not a "pantser" anyway, never have been. I need at the very least Michael Hauge's 5-point outline, with the inciting incident, first and second turning points, point of no return, and climax. After writing ten plus books and novellas, I need more before I sit down to write something new.

Sure, we’ve seen quotes from famous authors about first drafts. “The first draft of anything is sh**.” (Ernest Hemingway) “I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build sand castles.” (Shannon Hale) “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” (Terry Pratchett)

I like the last one best, but even in telling myself the story, I falter. Um… hmm. Hoo boy. I know A-B-C-D, but what about the points in between? The gaps in my outline. The little details about my characters that never made it into my sketches when I first started preparations. And I spend a good month preparing before every book, especially now that I’m writing a series. Ever hear of a "book bible"? Yeah, you need one. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, or you'll find characters with the same first or last name, or switching identities faster than models on a runway. If you don't know your characters, readers will get confused. So will you. "Uh, who's Bill? Oh, wait... he's Jim."

You also need to know your characters' backgrounds, from birthdate to family to home life to education to friends, married or single, kids or not wanting them, attitudes toward parents, religion, morals, etc., etc., etc. There are lots of charts you can fill out, or make up your own. Protagonists, minor characters, and don't forget your villains. They need motives for what they do. If you don’t know your characters well enough, they may end up worse than flat soda.

They’ll also stop talking to you. Like wayward, snotty kids holding back secrets. Yeah. They’re brutal that way. You're typing along, feeling smug, pushing to the halfway point, and then WHAM. Your hero or heroine does something stupid. And you're sitting there, wondering why.

Ooooh, man.

Or like a bad actor, they go hide in their trailer and refuse to come out. Until you beg them, bribe them, or figure out what is going on. And you'd better, or that deadline's gonna hit you right in the nose.

That's why I stop, take stock of who these people are and why they do what they do instead of what I want them to do - and what's odd, sometimes they're right.

SO I'm finally getting around to the point. What does work (for me) is a process I call “chewing the cud.” Sounds gross, doesn’t it. The humble cow, or goat, alpaca, sheep, and antelope, cannot digest one time through, so they repeat the process. Rumination: “chewing the cud.” Also, “a deep or considered thought about something.”

So when I sit with my laptop, taking snippets of my outline and pasting them into the next chapter, pushing out the words, halting every so often until they run out... Sound familiar? I take a break. Get up, walk around, do the dishes (Agatha Christie swore by such chores), vacuum (you'd be surprised how the noise helps your brain ponder, almost as good as listening to music), take a shower, a walk, a box of cookies out of the fridge – er, no, I can’t do that anymore. Dang. Who can stop at one anyway...

Maybe those cattle ponder things while chewing. They do look fairly peaceful out in the pastures.

I’m flummoxed by writers who can churn out thousands of words day after day. Yeah, everyone has a different process. Mine is more of an “ocean wave” where the tide comes in and goes out, a little farther each time… but dang. Some days the tide stops. So I give my brain (and subconscious) a little break, time to ruminate, swallow, chew again. Taking a break (like right now, writing this blog post) can refresh the well, fill the cistern, drink from the stream of ... well, you get the idea. Every writer needs a few breaks to prevent burnout. Take a nap. Do yoga. READ A BOOK.

Reading is especially good, especially if it's something outside of the genre you're writing. Anything but, in fact, as far from normal as possible, like a zombie horror, or a biography (I'm tackling the one about Alexander Hamilton), a classic, whatever strikes your fancy. And read like a writer while you're at it. Nuances of character, a fresh descriptive phrase, or a vocabulary word the author uses in a unique way. File it in the back of your mind.

Thibodeau Photography
I almost always come up with something to plug in that works earlier in the draft, or where I stopped. Often what comes is something important that I’d never planned on – a happy accident, as the painter Bob Ross would call it. Sometimes it’s just a small detail. Whatever, I welcome it.

Chew on that. It might help your first draft.

Meg Mims is currently writing the "Shamelessly Adorable" teddy bear cozy mystery series - Bearly Departed will debut in June for Kensington, and she's working on Bear Witness to Murder now. Meg won a 2012 Best First Novel Spur Award for Double Crossing, a western mystery, and is also one half of the writing team D.E. Ireland for the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins mysteries - with two finalist berths in 2014 and 2016 for the Agatha Award Best Historical Mystery. Meg is chafing to write another western, if she can squeeze more calendar days into the year.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


Much has been written about the Range Wars of the American West. The premise of cattlemen and farmers in conflict, sometimes violently, over grazing and water rights found its way into iconic books and movies such as To the Last Man (Z.Grey), The Virginian (O. Wister), Shane, Oklahoma!, and Chisum.

The invention of barbed wire served only to exacerbate the range wars for the next several years. Farmers built fences to keep open range cattle out of their crops, but that meant they also cut off access to water sources for the roaming herds. Not until the late 1880’s were laws passed that required, among other things, the addition of gates for every three miles of fencing.
To complicate matters, the western states and territories employed prior appropriation water rights, described as “first in time, first in rights.” The earliest landowner in the region held superior rights to waterways running through his property. Throw in a few irrigation ditches or a dam, and he could have some very disgruntled neighbors.

There were few water wells in the Old West, and for good reason. They had to be hand dug or drilled and the water table in those arid regions could be several hundred feet below grade.

Even as the fur and bullets flew over the right to water access, the solution to the problem was being devised in a New England machine shop. In the small town of Ellington, Connecticut, a mechanic named Daniel Halladay was tinkering with water pumps. His pump relied on steam engine power, which most everything did in those days.
Daniel Halladay
John Burnham, Jr.
He crossed paths with a visionary named John Burnham, Jr., who was fascinated with the use of wind power to run hydraulic machines. Halladay hired Burnham and, together, they invented the first wind engine that could pivot with directional wind changes by use of a tail vane. (Old European windmills were fixed, with enormous sails that required considerable winds to operate.)

Halladay’s first wind engine design, The Halladay Standard, utilized four paddle-like blades made of wood or sailcloth. This evolved into the self-regulating wind engine, which featured sections of narrow blades that could fold back in high winds, much like the action of an umbrella.

The Halladay Standard
(Original Patent)

Self-regulating Wind Engine
(shown with sections folded

The biggest problem facing Halladay and Burnham was that their wonderful invention was just not selling…at least not in Connecticut. Burnham suggested that they expand to the Midwest. While most of the manufacturing operations remained in Connecticut, they opened a shop in Batavia, Illinois. The move was a fortuitous one. Sales took off in America’s breadbasket and Halladay moved the rest of his company to Batavia.

Salesmen traversed the western states by train and wagons, carrying samples of windmills to farmers and ranchers on the parched plains. To say that the wind-powered water pumps all but ended the range wars would not be an exaggeration. More manufacturers entered the market and Batavia, Illinois, would become known as “Windmill City.”

Thomas O. Perry, an engineer who worked for Daniel Halladay, experimented with new, more efficient blade designs and lighter assemblies. He needed to test his new ideas and outfitted one of the factory’s buildings into a primitive wind tunnel, effectively producing two inventions that would revolutionize American industry.

Aermotor Windmill
Curiously, Halladay was not interested in the new design and Thomas Perry went on to work for the Aermotor Windmill Company. Perry’s cupped steel blade design became the standard for windmills. Ironically, the Aermotor Company is the only U.S. manufacturer of windmills still in business. They are based in San Angelo, Texas.

Great engineering marvels always come down to simplicity, elegance and functionality. Certainly, the humble windmill qualifies. Day after day, year after year, they catch the wind and turn it into power. They work when it’s raining, snowing…when the sun is high or the moon is dim…when it’s Christmas or just another Tuesday. What would the American West be without them?

For you road trippers, there are a number of windmill museums located across the U.S. (Indiana, Oklahoma, Nebraska and New Mexico) The state of Texas is especially known for its ubiquitous windmills. Here's a little story from the early Panhandle days:

"When one of the first windmills in the Texas Panhandle was installed and put into operation, the owner took his crew of riders out to see how it worked before acceptin' it from the contractor. When he saw the little trickle of water flowin' out he was as tickled as a cub bear with a honeycomb, and declared that the windmill would revolutionize the cow business. One skeptical cowhand eyed the small stream, and said, "Hell, Boss, I could get behind a bush and do a better job than that." ---- Ramon F. Adams, THE OLD-TIME COWHAND, 1948.

All the best,


(Please forgive me for reposting a blog post from the archives. I've been out of town with no reliable WiFi. The horror! This post was originally published in November, 2014.)

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2015 WWA Spur Finalist (Short Fiction)
2015 Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Finalist (Short Fiction)

Thursday, March 23, 2017



the blog about the medicine and surgery of yesteryear

Keith Souter aka Clay More


Bleed, blister, vomit and purge! Those were basically the components of Heroic medicine, the name given to the aggressive medical practice used right up to the mid-19th century. They were therapeutic techniques that had their origins back in the days of Hippocrates, the father of medicine in the fifth century BC. 

In England in the 18th century Dr John Lettsom (1744-1815), founded of the London Medical Society, which is the oldest medical society in the UK. He was a Quaker and an abolitionist, who became one of the most eminent physicians of his day. He was a staunch advocate of Heroic medicine and wrote humorously about himself:

When people's ill they come to I
I, blisters, bleeds and sweats 'em.
Sometimes they live, sometimes they die.
What's that to I?
I let's 'em.

Sadly, that may not have been far from the truth.

On the other side of the Pond, Heroic medicine,'s greatest advocate was Dr Benjamin Rush (1746-1813). He was a signatory of there Declaration of Independence and was a physician, politician and social reformer.

He was famous for providing the Lewis and Clark expedition with "Dr Rush's Bilious Pills," essentially calomel, a drug containing mercurous chloride, which they used liberally throughout their two year journey.

Doctors used blistering, the deliberate production of blisters on the skin to produce a powerful confer-irritation. Effectively, the pain of the blister would over-ride the painful condition being treated.  They were used in pneumonia, rheumatic conditions, sciatica and neuralgia. They also were advocated in heart disease, diabetes and liver disease.

Mustard plasters were used for mildly painful conditions. Mustard paste would be applied to the body and bandaged on. Sprains and chills were treated with these.

More extreme conditions were treated with 'blistering fluids' called vesicants. Capsicum, made from chilli peppers was commonly used. Capsicum could be applied as a tincture, liniment or ointment. It would produce redness and a raised area, but not quite a blister. This could be used over arthritic joints.

The most powerful vesicant was the famous Spanish Fly. This was actually a pulverised beetle, one of the so-called 'blistering beetles.' Doctors had supplies of it labelled Cantharis vesicatorium.

When an area was to be blistered it would be surrounded by vaseline to limit the area.. Then it would be painted with the blistering fluid. As soon as the blister arose, the area would be cleaned and a dry dressing applied.

Cups were extensively used by 19th century doctors, both as an adjunct to  bleeding or as a method on its own. 

In fact, cupping is a technique that was used by the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Chinese. The Greek traveller and historian describes cupping used by Egyptian physicians. 

A frieze from the temple of Sobek at Kom Ombo depicts a case of surgical instruments, with  cups used for cupping in the bottom left corner. 

Doctors used both wet and dry cupping. Wet cupping was used for the treatment of local areas of inflammation. Wet cupping meant that it was used together with scarification to draw off blood. A scarificator consisted of a brass box containing a series of spring loaded blades that could be triggered to cut through skin.



After the scarification site was selected, usually an area of localised inflammation, the cups were warmed in water. With a small lit torch or spill in one hand and the cup in the other, an edge of the cup would be placed against the skin. The lighted torch would then be placed inside the cup for two seconds, then withdrawn and the cup placed immediately down. The vacuum produced would suck the skin up to a third of the volume of the cup. It would be left on for one minute and then removed and the scarification applied to produce a series of cuts. The cup would again be applied with the same method. About four ounces of blood would be produce per cup applied. 

Dry cupping was called vesication, for it is another method to produce a blister. This would be used for pneumonia and other chest infections, rheumatic conditions, liver disease and other internal organs. The theory as that the cupping would draw blood to the surface, as a bruise, but also other disease causing humours or fluids. 

Dry cupping is still used in sports medicine and in Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture. Indeed, in my own practice I have used acupuncture and cupping for over 35 years in pain management. 

THE DOCTOR'S BAG - MEDICINE AND SURGERY OF YESTERYEAR has been published by Sundown Press, available in ebook or paperback.

Clay More's novel about Dr George Goodfellow is published in the West of the Big River series by Western Fictioneers. 

Available at

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Cider Stand by Gordon L. Rottman

Hi guys, this piece has nothing to do with the Old West. It is just a nostalgia piece I had originally wrote for my kids and grand-kids about my own youth.

When I was growing up we “pilgrimaged” to Missouri every summer for the family reunion. The trips in the late 1950s and early 1960s I remembered the best. Our family endured a hot two or three days of driving depending on stops to visit friends en route. While the visit with all my cousins was much looked forward to, the drive was not exactly the trip’s high point. My younger brother and sister and I quickly grew bored regardless of the games we played. The games did serve to keep us occupied for a spell.
Mom would buy a set of “car games,” in a box. There was one game played on cards divided into squares and you had to spell specified words finding letters seen on roadside signs. You could only use the first letter of a sign’s word if it was horizontal. But we could use any letter in a word if it was displayed vertically or diagonally. Needless to say there were certain letters that you just could not find. “Q”, “X”, and “Z” were challenges. It kept us quiet and we didn’t make a peep to alert the others when we spied a sign with a rare letter.
There were other cards with different states’ license tags that we searched for to check off. Of course driving through northeast Texas we did not see many out-of-state plates. We also argued about what breed each road-killed critter was. Of course there was Twenty Questions and Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral? I don’t think kids play these games today. They were “educational” in that it forced us to think and be creative.
The high point of the road-part of the trip, both to and from Missouri, came too early on the outbound leg and way too late on the return trip. I looked forward to it thinking that it wasn’t soon enough, but it would probably have been better if it had been somewhat later. The anticipation was great.
As we drove north from Houston toward Texarkana on US Route 59, we passed through Cleveland (not Ohio’s) and a few miles further on was Shepherd, not even a wide spot in the road. Shepard’s population didn’t number a hundred I believe. We were only some 60 miles north of Houston, but it seemed to take forever to get there.
On the right side of the four-lane highway was Ward’s Cider Stand. It was a tiny roofed, open-front stand like fresh fruit was sold from. Built of corrugated tin and plywood, it had a large plywood sign proclaiming its name in bold red hand-painted letters—WARD’S CIDER.
We’d park on the shoulder and there was usually a car or two already there. I’d just about be out the door before the car stopped on the red gravel shoulder worrying that they may have taken the last bottle, but there were always plenty.
The stand had a narrow board counter and was open-backed. A man was behind the counter, I assumed Mr. Ward himself, and a young girl or two. A top-opening red Coke-Cola chest held the cider bottles. Raising the lid revealed a water-filled chest with big chunks of ice and dozens of upright floating bottles. It was about 98 degrees temperature with matching humidity being an East Texas summer. There was nothing that looked colder. The clear bottles had a large round body with a long neck closed by white or black screw caps. I don’t know what their capacity was, maybe a quart and a half. No label marred their contour.
Mr. Ward offered three flavors: apple, cherry, and grape. The apple looked like liquid gold and was our favorite. The cherry was deep red and the grape so dark it looked like NuGrape soda as sold at James Coney Island hotdog stand in Houston. This being the 1950s and early 1960s, they were expensive at a dollar a bottle. Dad would buy two or three bottles of apple and one of cherry—usually. We never did buy a bottle of grape.
One of the girls would pluck the bottles from the ice water, hand it to Mr. Ward and he rolled it in a sheet of newspaper laid on the counter and twisted the paper’s end at the bottle’s mouth. I’d carry the bottles back to the car and Mom would peel off the damp newsprint and stick them in our Igloo ice chest. Igloos were metal in those days, not plastic as introduced in 1962. The Igloo plant was outside of Houston by the way.
We drank the cider from paper cups when we stopped at a roadside park and made baloney or pimento loaf sandwiches on a concrete picnic table. On the sandwiches were Kraft sandwich spread and American sliced processed cheese. Sometimes we sliced up a big dill pickle. There were virtually no fast food places found on highways.
I don’t know if Mr. Ward actually made the cider—doubtful—or if it was from bulk batches he bought or maybe from a concentrate. I don’t think it was the latter. It was too rich, too flavorful. And sweet too. Those paper cups were just too small. I’ve since tried many brands of apple cider and juice. None approach that remembered taste on those hot summer days. By the time we got to Missouri the cider was a fondly remembered thing. But on the way home we had another chance to stop and had the rationed treat for another week once home.
A couple of years we took a roundabout way home to spend a few days at Panama City, Florida. That regrettably meant we returned home from the east on US Route 90—there was no Interstate 10 in those days. Ward’s was far to the north.
In 1970, the summer after I returned from Vietnam, I climbed onto my new British Triumph 650 motorcycle and headed to the family farm in Missouri to decompress. A couple of months working on the farm, sweating it out shoveling sheep poop, chopping silage, filling different farmers’ silos for the coming winter with my cousin, and consorting with healthy German-Missouri farm girls, was just what I needed.
Tearing north on Route 59, I saw the city limits sign for Shepherd. I no doubt smiled. There was Ward’s, like a roadside oasis. I purchased a single bottle for $1.50 and Mr. Ward wrapped it extra thick with newspaper as it would be carried in an army rucksack strapped on the motorcycle. I nursed that bottle to make it last for through three-day trip. Sounds like I have a case of cider-dependency….
Almost three months later I stopped again at that oasis. Mr. Ward wasn’t there, but I told his daughter—kinda cute—how much that stand had met to me and my family over the years. I asked her to tell that to her dad. I bought two bottles of apple.
The next time I went up Route 59 in the summer time was maybe two years later. I spotted the lonely stand there on the roadside. Still standing, leaning a little, but the sign was gone. There was no house nearby to make inquiries. Over forty-five years later I still think of Ward’s Cider when I drive through Shepherd. I’ve now no idea where the stand had stood. I’ve still not found a cider to compare.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Western Comics Focus on: INDEH

Troy D. Smith

Ethan Hawke starred in not one, but TWO western films last year: The Magnificent Seven and, to less fanfare, In a Valley of Violence (opposite John Travolta). But did you know that he also authored a graphic novel about Geronimo, called Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars?

He had originally written it many years ago as a screenplay, inspired by the 1990s Geronimo film which featured Wes Studi as the title character -but gave him fourth billing, after three white actors who played guys who met Geronimo. He recalls thinking that no one would do that with a movie about, for example, Malcolm X -but that it seemed perfectly acceptable to Hollywood to do it to a Native character.

Once he had finished, however, he realized it would cost in excess of 200 million dollars to make -and that he would never be able to get anyone in Hollywood to spring that much cash for a movie that didn't have a white person as the main character. So instead of a film, he decided to go the route of a graphic novel (where there is no special effects or location budget.) He teamed with artist Greg Ruth, whose work had appeared in comics such as Star Wars and Conan, to produce a story centered on Cochise and Geronimo, set in 1872. When it came out last summer (2016) it immediately became a New York Times bestseller.

Hawke and Ruth strive to put the Apaches back at the center of their own story, and tells it from the Apache characters' point of view. The foreword is by Douglas Miles, owner of the company Apache Skateboards (and an Apache). The book, in a rarity for a graphic novel, includes a bibliography so that readers who want to learn more about Apache history will know where to look.

I heard about this book when it came out, but haven't had a chance to read it yet. I plan to remedy that soon.

It certainly looks good! Anyone out there want to tell us if it was?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


Do you like short stories? I love them, both as a writer and as a reader. I’m so thrilled that they’re making a comeback in today’s world! I remember as a teenager in high school English class, some of the short stories that were taught at the time. You can probably recall these classes, too—we read many short stories and novels that couldn’t reach into our world and touch us, not at that age.

It’s odd to me that had some of the selections been different, or more age-appropriate, this might have fostered a love of reading the short story rather than dread for so many. The essay questions at the end of the story seemed hard for many of the students to understand, much less formulate answers to in order to show what they learned from the story. As high school freshmen in the 14-15 year-old age range, and with our limited knowledge of the world, it was difficult for some to be able to grasp symbolism or foreshadowing among other story elements. I realized later on that some people never grasp it, no matter how old they are. Reading with that kind of intuitive understanding is not something everyone is able to do.

Being forced to read something for a grade rather than enjoyment was something I didn’t understand. For one thing, I enjoyed reading. As with any kid, some things held my interest more than others. But I never could fathom some of my classmates who actually said, “I hate to read.”
I had some favorite short stories, even out of the ones we were forced to read. Who could forget Whitney and Rainsford in Richard Connell’s THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME? Frank Stockton’s THE LADY OR THE TIGER? Or, TO BUILD A FIRE, by Jack London?

Those stories were what inspired me to want to write “like that” and I often wondered in later years, seeing my kids’ English books and the stories they contained, where our next generation of writers would come from? There was certainly nothing “inspiring” in those stories. I was wishing there were some of the stories from “the good ol’ days” in their books, even though at the time I had been their age, many of my classmates had detested those same stories that I loved so much.

But one day, my daughter came home from school and said, “Mom, we read a story today that was so good! It’s about a guy who is trying to survive in the cold and he tries to build a fire…” And a few years later, my son couldn’t wait to tell me about a story they’d read about an island, where men were hunted…

Not everyone who loves to read wants to become a writer. So I’m wondering…was there a particular short story that you read when you were younger that made you want to write? Or even just made you become an avid reader? Since so many of us write westerns, was there a western short story that influenced you when you were younger? The one that I loved was not really a short story, but a short novel, Fred Gipson’s OLD YELLER. In later years, another one that stood out was Shirley Jackson’s THE LOTTERY.

I'd have to say one of my all-time favorite short stories is Dorothy M. Johnson's LOST SISTER--this is a fictional story based on Cynthia Ann Parker's real life story of being kidnapped by the Comanche, and marrying a Comanche chief. She later became the mother of another prominent chief, Quanah Parker. LOST SISTER is a story that you will remember long after you finish reading it!

What's your favorite short story? It doesn't have to be a western. I'd love to hear what your favorite(s) are. My TBR list is bursting at the seams anyhow, but I can't stop myself from adding to it when I hear about MORE great reads!

I’m giving away a free print copy of one of my short story collections today, DARK TRAIL RISING. All you have to do is comment! Be sure and leave your contact info in your comment, as well!

Cheryl's Amazon Author Page:

Thursday, March 2, 2017


What happens to a dream deferred? Well, sometimes it takes off and become even bigger than anyone could ever foresee! Ask Marc Cameron.

Though Marc was able to follow through on his dream of becoming a writer as well as having a long career as a law enforcement officer from Texas to Alaska, things began to really heat up for him just about the time he retired from the U.S. Marshals Service. Marc has written everything from westerns to high-octane thrillers, with his Jericho Quinn series. Now, he's just upped the ante.

Marc has been asked to write for the Tom Clancy "universe", replacing Mark Greaney who is leaving, and who recommended Marc for this coveted spot!

Tom Clancy’s longtime editor, Tom Colgan, Vice President and Editorial Director, Berkley Publishing Group, gave Marc a ringing endorsement: “I wish I could take credit for thinking of Marc Cameron for the Jack Sr. book but it was actually Mark Greaney who suggested him. He had just read Marc Cameron’s most recent book and thought he would be a good fit. Boy, was he right. From the start, Marc Cameron just really got Jack Ryan and John Clark and all the rest of the characters. I’m excited to see Mike (Maden) and Marc continue the Clancy tradition.”

To read the entire article about Marc's latest "dream-come-true" writing project for the Tom Clancy group, click here:

You'll have to wait until July to read Marc's Tom Clancy contribution,but meanwhile, you can go to Amazon and find all of his Jericho Quinn books to tide you over until then!

Let's all wish Marc a big ol' HUGE congratulations on this next leg of his writing journey! We can say, "We knew you when..."

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

#2 One-room Schoolhouse: The Teachers     
March 1, 2017
By Julie A Hanks, Ph.D. aka Jesse J Elliot

     “The San Francisco Board of Education has voted to discharge any female teacher who may commit the crime of marriage.” FLIN, June 16, 1870, 215-4.

We can romanticize all we want about the teachers in the one-room schoolhouse, but those intrepid souls faced many challenges. Their job descriptions often entailed cleaning, maintaining the classroom, and teaching. Their salaries were low, and often they had no home of their own. Yet in spite of these many challenges, these amazing pioneers were America’s main conductors of education for almost two hundred years.
Teachers in the one-room schoolhouse were both male (the schoolmaster) and female (the schoolmarm). Except in the mission schools, if a female teacher married, she had to quit teaching “because her most important job then became taking care of the household for her husband.” Every family in the community would take care of the teacher’s needs, often providing a place to live until he or she could establish one. In some rural communities, families paid the teacher’s salary while others provided food and staples (Oak Hill School Teacher’s Resource and Curriculum Guide.)
One might ask: why did anyone become a teacher at an isolated schoolhouse in an isolated community? One reason is teaching school was one of the few respectable jobs available for unmarried women (and men without means). Teaching offered a job and an opportunity to travel. Although the one-room schoolhouse appeared to be a fifty-hour workhouse, it often was more than that.
All through the nineteenth century the one-room school was frequently the focus for people’s lives outside the home. Besides being used for the daily routine of educating children, it was a place where church services, Christmas parties and hoe-downs were held. The school provided social contacts outside the family unit and became an extended family itself. (Oak Hill School Teacher’s Resource and Curriculum Guide).
Though the pay was little and the opportunity for advancement was almost nonexistent, the one-room schoolhouse was usually able to fill the position of schoolmarm or schoolmaster. Interestingly, the academic qualifications were not an issue, but the moral and job demands were. According to “Rules for Teachers – 1872” (an unauthenticated list):
1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys.

2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the daily' session.

3. Make your pens carefully. You whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.

4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.

5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.

6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of this earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.

8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honest.

9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.

10. You must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless attending a school function.

11. You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have permission of the chairmen of the board.

12. You may not smoke cigarettes.

13. You may not under any circumstances dye your hair.

14. You may not dress in bright colors.                                        
       However, the rules on this list must not have been far from the truth, because similar restrictions appeared on a 1923 Contract:

            Ironically, some of the earliest teachers on the frontier were mothers who taught the local children in her own home or wives of missionaries, but as communities grew, and one-room schools were built, the only women allowed to teach in classrooms were unmarried.

 “The marriage of Miss Alice Tomilson reminds us that our premium school teachers are being gathered into the matrimonial net by men who place self above the public welfare. Suppose all the marriageable female teachers in the world were to be married tomorrow, the country would go to rack and ruin.” Grand Island, Nebraska, Time, September 15, 1883.

Marriage aside, there was also the challenges of maintaining the school. As there was no custodial support, the teacher in the one-room schoolhouse was responsible for keeping it clean and heating it up in the morning. How extensive some of these duties were varied with the community. Some teachers even had to deal with cleaning the privies, while others did not.
Maybe, one of the advantages/disadvantages of teaching in the 19th Century was the lack of paper—too expensive, so at least the teacher didn’t have to take home piles of papers to correct every night and on week-ends. J

Next week:  Meeting some of the individuals who went out west to teach in the one-room schools.

Oak Hill School Teacher’s Resource and Curriculum Guide.
“Rules for Teachers – 1872” (an unauthenticated list),
 Gittleson, Wendy.  “EARLY 20TH CENTURY TEACHERS CONTRACT PROVES WE HAVE COME A LONG WAY, BABY,” Feminist Issues, March 8, 2015.

Moulton, Candy. (1999). “Education,” in Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West from 1840-1900. Writers Digest Books: Cincinnati, Ohio.

Grand Island, Nebraska, Time, September 15, 1883.
FLIN, June 16, 1870, 215-4.  (Source unknown)