Friday, September 18, 2020

What's the Score? The Searchers by Max Steiner

A post on the web asks the all-too typical question: Is the Searchers the greatest film score Max Steiner ever composed?

Like any employment of the logical fallacy of false choices, the query is too broad…and too limited. Max Steiner wrote a great many GREAT scores, including Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, and A Summer Place. He wrote fantastic music for other westerns too: Dodge City, The Oklahoma Kid, They Died With the Boots On, and the list goes on. All told, the Austrian born composer put together more than 300 scores fro RKO and Warner Brothers and was nominated for 24 Oscars.

The question ought to be rephrased.

Is the Searchers one of the GREATEST of film cores? And to that, the answer is an emphatic yes. For me, it’s right at the pinnacle of the mountain, duking it out with the Magnificent Seven.

The Searchers is a 1956 film directed by John fore, based on the 1954 novel by Alan Le May and starring John Wayne. Wayne plays a grizzled old Civil War vet named Ethan Edwards looking for his niece (Natalie Wood) who’s been abducted by Native Americans.

Like the music that frames, uplifts, and weaves the action together, The Searchers tops nearly all its peers.

James Leonard at says “The monumental themes, evocative harmonies, rousing rhythms, gripping developments, screaming climaxes, and the unforgettable main title are wonderful accompaniments for what's on the screen.”

I agree. Few other films manage to tie the emotional impact of individual scenes together with just the right progression of chords. Few manage to add so substantially to the narrative that without the music, the story might be entirely different. But Steiner accomplishes much in collaboration with Ford’s vision.

Nowhere is this seen as succinctly as the famous “doorway scene” at the end of the movie where Edwards, having accomplished his mission, stands outside looking in, the perennial loner, as the Sons of the Pioneers offer the mournful, lonely “End Title”

“A man will search his heart and soul
Go searching’ way out there
His peace of mind he knows he’ll find
But where, oh Lord, Lord where?
Ride away, ride away, ride away”

Wednesday, September 16, 2020


What was the worst writing advice you ever received? Is there any such animal as “bad writing advice”? Not according to novelist and screenwriter Chuck Wendig. "There's only advice that works for you and advice that doesn't."

Is that true? Sometimes it seems, as writers, we can get so caught up in “the rules” that we forget the story and how to tell it. We become frustrated, and it can be downright maddening to try to remember every piece of advice from every writing source we’ve ever come across and tried to use properly.

No. It's not an Amish Romance...

Translating our ideas into language is one way of looking at our writing process, but how do we start? I have to admit, I am truly a ‘pantser’, not a ‘plotter’—which is really out of character for me in every other aspect of my life. But somehow, orchestrating everything to an outline and strictly adhering to that brings out the rebel in me. I just can’t do it—and I’ve tried. Here’s an example of the differences from Richard Nordquist’s “” publication on writing:

In his essay "Getting Started," John Irving writes, "Here is a useful rule for beginning: Know the story--as much of the story as you can possibly know, if not the whole story--before you commit yourself to the first paragraph." Irving has written far more novels than I. Clearly he knows what works for himself in a way that I don't always for myself, but this seems to me terrible advice. I'm more inclined to E.L. Doctorow's wisdom. He once wrote that writing . . . is like driving at night: You don't need to see the whole road, just the bit of illuminated blacktop before you.
(Debra Spark, "The Trigger: What Gives Rise to the Story?" Creating Fiction, edited by Julie Checkoway. Writer's Digest Books, 1999)

Yes. That’s what I do. I don’t always see the entire big picture, and I don’t need to from the very beginning. But I do see more than “just the bit of illuminated blacktop”—in other words, the immediate “coming up next” section of the story. So I guess I’m in category #3—Swiss cheese author—I know the basics of what’s going to happen, but even so, there are a LOT of little (and big!) surprise along the way.

Nope. Neither is this one...

Aside from being on one side of the “plotter/pantser” fence and being told you’re wrong by the other side, what is the worst writing advice you’ve ever had? You don’t have to say who gave it to you—but I’m curious…what was it? And do you agree with the idea that there is no bad writing advice, just “advice that works for you and advice that doesn’t”? Bring on the comments and opinions! The worst writing advice I ever received? “Try to write an Amish romance. That’s what’s 'hot' now…” (from an agent). What’s yours?

Friday, September 11, 2020

California's Ghost Towns

 California became the 31st state in September, 1850. The state had played an important part in the development of the West, and still had a role to play before the century was out. There’s just too much for such a small post, so I thought I’d focus on an often-overlooked area of California history: the ghost town.

Most ghost towns are the result of mining booms and busts, and California has seen her share of those. Silver and gold, as the song goes – both played their part in the development of the state.

California has an entire Wikipedia page of ghost towns, from 18 Mile House and Agua Fria to You Bet and Zurich. I’m going to concentrate on several that you can actually tour today, so you can travel back in time and see how the Old West looked when your characters were alive. Visit California ( has assembled a nice little jaunt that will take you three to six days to complete.

Old Shasta is our first stop. In the 1850s, this town was the jewel in the state’s northern mining district crown. They had the longest row of brick buildings north of San Francisco, with hotels, saloons, and stores along their main street. Unfortunately, the railroad was routed, not through Old Shasta, but through Poverty Flats (now Redding). That spelled doom for the small town, and residents soon packed their belongings and headed for more promising regions. 

Today, you can tour the city’s (crumbling) remains in Shasta State Historic Park, on Highway 299 west of Redding. A must-see is the beautifully restored 1861 County Courthouse, with its jail cells and gallows. The building is now a museum holding an Old West gun collection and a selection of mining memorabilia. 

After your visit, you can head over to Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, a 3,000-acre park,  26 miles from Nevada City, that’s home to the town of North Bloomfield and the historic Diggins site. In the 1870s, hydraulic mining was touted as the new mining revolution – powerful jets of water stripped whole mountains bare in the search for valuable minerals. That ended in 1884 when the first environmental lawsuit in the U.S. banned hydraulic mining. The mines were closed, but you can still see a 600-foot canyon, eroded cliffs, and massive tailings piles at the state park, then stroll through a restored saloon, barbershop, blacksmith shop, general store, and former dance hall (now the park museum). 

Just east of Bridgeport, you’ll find the Bodie State Historic Park, home to that abandoned town, the official gold rush ghost town. In the late 1800s, Bodie was a booming mining community with a red-light district, a Chinatown, and a saloon on every corner. Bodie once had a population of nearly 10,000. However, as the gold dwindled away, so did its citizens, until the town was almost empty. Today, you can walk the streets and peer into 100 or so perfectly preserved buildings: stores, hotels, an old church, and the simple homes of Bodie’s inhabitants. There’s even an old truck that was left behind at the turn-of-the-century gas station. The only inhabitants nowadays are park rangers, who’ll gladly take you on a tour of the town – but ask that you not take home “souvenirs.”

North of Trona, you’ll find the town of Ballarat. In 1898, the town’s population rose to around 500, and Ballarat boasted three hotels, seven saloons, a post office, and a Wells Fargo stop. After a couple of decades, the miners’ luck ran out and so did the miners. Today, you can find weathered ruins backed by the rugged Panamint Range. 

The living ghost town of Randsburg saw its heyday in the 1890s, when gold, silver, and tungsten were discovered. In 1899, the population ran around 3,500 but today it’s more like 70. You can sample an ice cream float from the general store’s 1904 soda fountain and have a beer at the White House Saloon. The Rand Desert Museum offers a sampling of mining machinery, and a handful of antique shops may or may not be open on any given day. Randsburg is located south of Ridgecrest.

End your tour in the town of Calico, home of the state’s largest silver strike and 500 mines. After a pretty rowdy battle, Calico was declared the state’s official silver rush ghost town. It’s now a ghost town theme park, with attractions like the Calico Odessa Railroad and the Calico Mystery Shack (“amazing feats and confusing sights”). When you’re through riding the rails, you can pan for gold, browse the shops, and down a few sarsaparillas in Lil’s Saloon. On Saturday nights, you can take a ghost tour of the 1880s Maggie Mine. This is all due to Walter Knott (of Knott’s Berry Farms fame), who bought the town in the 1950s and restored the crumbling buildings. Many of the wood and adobe buildings are authentic, while the rest have been carefully added to replace those that were beyond repair.

California certainly isn’t the only state to house ghost towns, but it does have some interesting ones. Whether you prefer the pristine emptiness of Bodie or the enthusiastic show that is Calico, you can find something interesting in our 31st state.

J.E.S. Hays

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Forgotten Western Classics: The Spikes Gang (1974)

Lee Marvin had star power in droves. I sat through The Spikes Gang, an episodic western, and was never bored when he was on screen. That’s not to say the other actors were slacking because everyone turns in heartfelt performances—including cameos by Arthur Hunnicutt and Noah Beery, Jr. It's just that Marvin is one of those heavy hitters, like Robert Mitchum or Katharine Hepburn, that chews up every frame he graces. I promptly forgot the screenplay's limitations that plays more like a television movie of the week than a vehicle worthy of a legend who starred in some of the best westerns of his time: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Cat Ballou (1965), Monte Walsh (1970) and my personal favorite, The Professionals (1966).

The plot concerns impressionable Will, Tod, and Les (Gary Grimes, Charles Martin Smith, and Ron Howard), restless teens, who come to romanticize Harry Spikes (Marvin) after finding him near death and nursing him back to health. Eventually they throw in with the charismatic outlaw but instead of high adventure, that Spikes promises, they wallow in hardships, blood, and bank robbing that goes more often awry than turning any kind of sustainable profit. Along the way, they come to realize, too late, that Spikes is no one to admire. The Spikes Gang is based on The Bank Robber, a novel by Giles Tippette, that I'll probably track down at some point. I suspect based on the discursive story that made it to the screen that I'd enjoy the book even more.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Why Blog?

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Why Blog?
For most of us, we are more than half-way through the year. I like to take the time and take stock of where I am in my plans and goals. This Holiday weekend, with all the events, family, and COVID make it even more important. Things change, and yet remain the same.
Perhaps you’ve asked yourselves these same questions. Am I on target in our writing? How about that ‘blessed’ thing called marketing? How does blogging, and the time it takes, fit into all that? Why blog if no one reads or comments on what I’ve taken the time to think, research and write about? I rethink this every year, asking myself the same thing, why blog? After all I have so many other things that are important. Well, perhaps that is true, but as I explain below, I find it important.
For me the answer is a bit complex. I’ll break it down into three sections. 1. Marketing 2. Research and 3. Name recognition, (the one that’s a bit tricky for me.)
1. Marketing:
If we write stories, be they short, flash or full length, we want people to read them. Even with non-fiction we want the information to get to those who might enjoy what we’ve researched and written.
For someone like me, who writes slow, there can be a long time between the various stories. Added to that, I write in two historical genres: Western and Medieval. I love both equally. You add to that the poetry I occasionally write, along with non-fiction work, and it gets busy. Facebook can only do so much, as well as emails. Plus, how do you expand your readership. To me, blogging is one of those ways.
I realize not everyone will like what I write, despite my desire that they do. At the same time, finding those readers who will like my work, is a challenge. It helps to use all the options at my disposal, and blogging is one of those for me.
Photo property of the author
2. Research:
This is probably the primary reason I blog. I want to share the research I have done with others. History and the people who made it are a compulsion with me. To tell the stories of the people and places from history is something I want to do. I don’t want those pieces from the past to be lost. The nice thing about blogs, especially with the tags, your posts are available via searches almost forever.
For over ten years I’ve researched the story of a Colorado criminal. I told his story at the Pikes Peak Library History Symposium presentation on June 9 of 2018. It is my hope to complete the story of the whole family. A very telling piece of history and the time in which they lived.
The other research that’s important for me to share is the story of the early women doctors in Colorado. While ‘Doc Susie’ is a part of that story, it has been slanted her way for far to long. There were so many others who did as much if not more than she. Between blog posts and articles I've begun to balance that scale. For those who may be interested, the article in Saddlebag Dispatches can be read here: Dr. Quinn, Doc Susie and the Reality of Colorado Women Doctors
The stories of the doctors and so many others need to be preserved for future generations. When you feel like you can’t do something, just take a look at what those who preceded you did. It sometimes helps when put into that perspective.
 3. Name Recognition:
Since I write fiction under a pen name: Angela Raines, it is important I share that information on my posts. When you add my online name, Renawomyn, it gets a bit tricky.
At the same time, my non-fiction work is important. I simply do not want readers of romance to pick up a book with my real name expecting a sweet story and they are reading about juvenile delinquents, early criminals or lynchings. By using pen names I hope to avoid that problem. Of course the reverse could also be true. Can you imagine buying one of my books about the trials and tribulations of early women doctors, and find your reading a story about a medieval woman and the man she loves?
In the end, whether anyone reads or comments on my blog posts, I have things I want to say. Yes, it hurts when no one seems to care, but in the long run, it’s the future I write for. So, here’s to the future and to the readers who want to know what I have to share.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Western Writers of America,
Colorado Author League,
Women Writing the West

Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

Tuesday, August 25, 2020


Photo property of the author

Post by Doris McCraw  writing as Angela Raines

Lessons have been on my mind most of August. I started the month with a post on acting lessons for writers:  Acting for Writers. I then decided to do a lesson on Early Colorado: Early Colorado. Next was Colorado Lawmen - Part 1: Colorado Lawmen.  Now it's on to part two of Early Colorado Lawmen

David J. Cook was a Denver City Marshall, who according to some reports was credited with over 3,000 arrests during his tenure. Not much is known about his early life, but newspaper accounts show he did to go lengths to get his criminal. One article in the Daily Central City Register of November 24, 1868, tells of Cook and his deputy arriving in town to capture two outlaws. The outcome, both outlaws were killed. For more on Cook, you may find his book "Hands Up; or twenty years of Detective Life in the Mountains and on the Plains" David J. Cook.

Denver | Colorado Cities | Doing History Keeping the Past
Denver 1860, University of Northern Colorado

M. F. Bowers, El Paso County Colorado Sheriff, was infamous for his part in the1894 labor strike in Cripple Creek. Prior to becoming Sheriff, Bowers was said to have been a saloon bouncer and night marshal in Altman, Colorado. During the strike, he met with the mine owners and agreed to hire 'deputies' to help crush the striking miners. After Bowers lost control of his 'deputies' who began harassing the locals, the governor of Colorado ordered the militia into the area to quell the violence. For more on Bowers and the Strike, the following may be of interest: "History of Colorado, Vol. 1" Wilbur Fiske Stone. "The Labor History of the Cripple Creek District" Benjamin McKie Rastall

Cripple Creek miners' strike of 1894 - Wikipedia
Cripple Creek Miner's Strike 1894

Martin J. Duggin became marshal of Leadville, Colorado in 1878. He was appointed by Mayor Horace Tabor after the first two men who held the office the first one was beaten and run out of town and the second one killed by his own deputy. To say the Duggin ran things his own way is an understatement. That he was able to 'keep a lid' on the rowdy town was a testament to his reputation. For more on Duggan, the following books might be of use. "Deadly Dozen, Twelve Forgotten Gunfighters of the Old West" Robert K. DeArment. "Out of the West, The Beyond of the Mississippi States in the Making" Rufus Rockwell Wilson.  

Mart Duggan 

So now you have more snippets of the lawmen in Colorado. Hopefully, their stories will inspire you and your imagination. I confess, due to my twenty years working with juvenile delinquents, I have an affinity for the stories of these early lawmen. They were good, bad and sometimes both, but never boring. 

Doris Gardner-McCraw -

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


Saturday, August 22, 2020

11th Annual Peacemaker Awards Open for Submissions

The 11th Annual Peacemaker Awards competition is now open for submissions. You can find all the details on the Western Fictioneers website here.

Friday, August 21, 2020

What's the Score? Hombre by David Rose

Carl Everett Allen recounts the series of events that began on August 12, 1884 and primarily concern John Russell—who had many names, but Allen besides to call him Hombre, which “Henry Mendez and others called him sometimes, and just means man”— in what many call Leonard’s best western novel (1961).

Optioned six years later, the story was released as a revisionist western with a screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. starring Paul Newman, Fredric March, Richard Boone, and Diane Cilento.

Music for the film was scored by David Rose, an odd choice in my book, considering his previous work, primarily as musical director for the Red Skelton Show on television.

An American songwriter, arranger, and orchestra leader best known for composing “The Stripper” and “Holiday of String," he also wrote music for Bonanza and other TV shows under the pseudonym Ray Llewellyn.

In film, Rose originally composed the music for 1955’s Forbidden Planet with some electronic elements. After hearing an all electronic score by Louis and Bebe Barron, the producers fired Rose. According to legend, the composer later destroyed his original recordings for the movie, but incidental tracks can still be found in other work he did, and on the internet.

In his work for Hombre, Rose carries through with all the dark revisionist western tropes of the time. For the main title theme here’s a strong sense of nostalgia in those strings, and loss for a West that is fading away.


But even in the more upbeat “Stagecoach” composition, there’s a melancholy that foreshadows Rose’s work on the 70’s TV drama, Little House on the Prairie.

Set alongside The Undefeated in a 2000 release by Film Score Monthly, music from Hombre is available in its Silver Age Classics line on CD from the FSM website.

After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. In 2016, Richard roped the Spur Award for short fiction given by Western Writers of AmericaRead more at

Wednesday, August 19, 2020


Yesterday, August 18th, was a very special day in the Pierson household. It was our two-year anniversary of “Gotcha Day” for our sweet boy, Sammy!

“Gotcha Day” is what many call the day a new pet comes to live with their family—a perfect, heartfelt matchup—and not only did we “get” Sammy, he got us, too!

The beginning of this story starts now nearly 12 years ago, before Sammy was ever born. My daughter, Jessica, adopted a fluffy white Great Pyrenees puppy from a shelter named “Embry”—at that time, the Twilight series was very popular, and when the puppies were born in the shelter, the staff named them all after characters from Twilight. “Embry” was a minor character in the series and my daughter kept the name because she thought it fit him.

About a year-and-a-half later, Jessica had to move from where she lived to a place that had a small backyard, no fence, and was close to a highway. We became “grandparents with custody” at that point—a big relief for all of us—except my husband, Gary, had sworn off pets after the kids had left home after high school.

It took about a DAY for him to realize that Embry was his soul-mate dog. Embry lived with us until his death in July, 2018.
I’ve spent my life taking care of animals and people, and I knew Embry would want us to rescue another dog and bring him or her into our lives. I bugged my husband relentlessly. He dug in his heels. He did not want another dog. But I DID. So how to solve it? I begged him to just “go look” and see!

We went to the city shelter in the small town where I was raised, Seminole, Oklahoma. There was a dog that I’d shown him on their website that he’d shown mild interest in. I asked them to bring Sammy out for us to see. Sammy came right over to us, sat down on Gary’s foot, and would not budge. When he looked up at Gary, his entire expression said, “You are mine. I’m so glad you’re here for me!” I asked Gary if he wanted to look around, and he said, “No. There’s no need.”

He dubbed Sammy “Sweet Seminole Sam” and August 18th became Sammy’s “Gotcha Day”—one of the best days in our lives.

But the story doesn’t end there! At the shelter, Sammy had been a social butterfly. The employees and other dogs all loved Sammy. Believe it or not, Sammy had been adopted once and returned—for digging holes in the backyard. He was about three months old, and put into the backyard alone, left to his own devices. I think he was trying to dig his way out and back to his friends!

After we’d had Sammy for a couple of months, I noticed a kind of pensive expression on his sweet face sometimes. I could only imagine what was going through his mind. I told Gary I thought Sammy needed another dog.

I love them all, but knew that we should probably look for a dog that was about the same age or younger than Sammy, who, at that time, was around 13 months old--this was in February 2019.

There was a little waif that had been dumped with his siblings on the shelter steps when they were not even a month old. That would have been late January, 2019. He was white with light brown shading on his back. They thought he was part Great Pyrenees, probably from his coloring, but there were darker colored siblings, so said he might be also part German Shepherd. I didn’t care what he was—he was ALL love! He looked so lost and forlorn in his picture that was posted. I knew he was the one. His Gotcha Day is March 11, 2019.

He had been named “Axel” but that didn’t fit. We changed it to “Max” in case he’d gotten used to hearing that sound and already might have started learning his name.

Jessica and I drove the hour drive to Seminole to pick him up. On the way home he threw up in the back seat and when I held him he peed on me—twice! Then he went to sleep. I was in love.

When we got him home, I went to pick Sammy up from doggie daycare, and Jessica gave Max a bath. Sammy walked right in and loved him immediately. It was “Gotcha Day” for Sammy, too—he got a new little brother!

This is one of my favorite pictures of them together. Max has gathered all the toys in a pile around him, looking so pleased with himself. Sammy has come up to tell on him. The looks on their faces say it all--Max is proud, Sammy is saying, "Oh, brother, look what I have to put up with!"

If I had a bigger place, I would have as many dogs as I could. It would be “Gotcha Day” several times over!

Do you have a pet that you celebrate “Gotcha Day” for? Since we don’t know their birthdays, this is the day we celebrate with ice cream cones, special treats, and car rides! What do you do for your pet’s “Gotcha Day” celebration?

Monday, August 17, 2020

Country Music Memory Lane – The Three Bells by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #classiccountrymusic

Coming up sixty-one years ago on August 31, 1959, a musical family known as The Browns had a Number 1 single on Billboard magazine’s country music chart. The song was The Three Bells, also known as the Jimmy Brown Song, Little Jimmy Brown, and Jimmy Brown.

This song was based on a French song called Les trois cloches, which was a hit in 1946. The group Melody Maids had an English translation hit with it in 1948. The song tells Jimmy Brown’s life story in three parts: birth, marriage, and death.

I love coincidences, and this song has a fun one. The vocalist of The Browns was James Edward Brown aka Jimmy Brown. He is best known as Jim Ed Brown.

The Browns were a singing family of two sisters and a brother from Arkansas: Maxine, Bonnie, and Jim Ed. Jim Ed was the middle kid with Maxine the oldest.


Bonnie and Jim Ed in back – Maxine in front

The Browns disbanded mostly because Jim Ed pursued a solo career Over the years, they did get back together for occasional appearances and to record a gospel album. In March 2015, the Browns were honored with inclusion in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Jim Ed died in June 2015, Bonnie in June 2016, and Maxine in January 2019.

Here are a few of the many artists who recorded The Three Bells.

  • Floyd Cramer
  • Chet Atkins
  • Tommy Dorsey
  • Guy Lombardo
  • Ray Charles
  • Roy Orbison
  • Andy Williams
  • Leon Russell
  • Andrew Sisters (They change up the lyrics.)
  • Johnny Cash and the Carter family
  • Allison Krauss & Union Station
  • Sha Na Na (No joke. It’s on YouTube. It’s delightfully corny—guaranteed to give you a chuckle.)

Here are The Browns at the Grand Ole Opry singing The Three Bells on July 16, 1965.

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer


Stay in contact with Kaye—

Amazon Author Page | Instagram | Blog | Twitter | Pinterest | Facebook | BookBub


>The Browns Image courtesy Wikipedia
>The Originals website
>The Three Bells – Wikipedia
>The Browns – Wikipedia

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Happy National Rum Day!

This Sunday (August 16) is National Rum Day. I felt inspired to write an article about my personal favorite form of alcohol – along with some other libations your character would have been exposed to in the Old West.




The first North American distillery began making rum in present-day Staten Island, New York (or New Amsterdam) in 1664. The earliest spirits distilled in the colonies were rum, gin, and brandies. Whiskey was considered an exotic drink. Early Dutch settlers brought with them brandy-distilling traditions that involved freezing cider. Apple and peach brandies were produced locally in the colonies; grape brandy was imported from Europe.


Gin, a juniper-flavored alcohol, was a very popular spirit in the colonies. The Dutch favored rye as their alcohol-making base, while the British were more likely to use barley malt or molasses, mostly from Martinique. Add juniper flavoring and you’ve got gin. Apothecaries and small household distillers were undoubtedly making gin before any distilleries were built, using the native Juniperus virginiana rather than the European variety (Juniperus communis). 


Before and during the Revolutionary War, gin was perceived and consumed as a health tonic or elixir, particularly among women. While much was still imported from England (gin) and Holland (gineva), the number of American distilleries was rising. In 1806, the American Manufacturer Report estimated that of the 15 million gallons of spirit consumed annually, three million were of domestic rum and gin rather than imported. Late 18th and early 19th Century distilling manuals and grocery instructions always included a section of recipes for different types of gin (cordial, Old Tom, genever, French genevier, juniper spirit, etc.). 




By 1720, New York had 16 rum distilleries. Sugar cane and molasses were still imported, as well as various types of this spirit. Spanish-controlled distilleries in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico produced a smooth rum called aƱejo, while the French, in Haiti and Martinique, made rum agrigole from sugar cane juice. English colonial holdings, including Jamaica, Bermuda, and Barbados, made the darker rums we’re more used to today, with more of a molasses flavor.


The entire rum industry was made possible by slavery. Arabs and Persians began cultivating sugarcane in the 7thCentury, using slave labor to create a monopoly that was only challenged in the 15th Century, when the Portuguese discovered the plant could be grown off the coast of Africa, on the Madeira and the Canary Islands and Cape Verde. They used African slaves to cultivate their crops and produce sugar and molasses. The slaves and poor whites fermented their molasses rations and one day, some enterprising soul distilled that product and discovered rum.


Fred Minnick, author of Rum Curious: The Indispensable Tasting Guide to the World’s Spirit, researched the history of the beverage. "Rum was the trending spirit in the 1700s," he writes. "American colonists loved rum, consuming 3.7 gallons a year per person, and accepted the spirit as gifts from its politicians. When running for the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758, George Washington supplied voters with 28 gallons of rum and 50 gallons of rum punch.” 




During and after the Revolutionary War, colonists found their imported spirits and distillery ingredients in short supply. They began using native corn as a spirit base, and the American whiskey business was born. Even after the hostilities ended, the rum trade was never reestablished to the extent it had been before the war. Plantations in the Southern colonies attempted to raise sugar cane, but the Civil War put an end to that enterprise. Scots-Irish immigrants, already used to whiskey, along with westward expansion into “corn country,” created a boom for this American spirit.


American whiskey is divided into two branches: sour mash and bourbon. Nearly all bourbon whiskey is made in Kentucky or Tennessee. It’s unique character comes from the 51 to 79 percent corn in its recipe. Bourbon may also be double-distilled and aged at least two years in charred oak barrels. Sour mash uses the bourbon recipe, but starts the mash with leftovers from a previous batch, much like the starter in sourdough bread. This gives a sweeter, deeper flavor to the finished product.




During the Old West, the average citizen could have taken his or her pick from the top four American spirits: gin, rum, brandy, or whiskey. Whiskey was by far the cheapest liquor to produce, so it was most commonly served in bars and saloons. A shot of whiskey could sell for around 25 cents a glass (beer was more like 10 cents), and the price of mixed cocktails was a good bit higher. In wealthier communities like San Francisco or Denver, though, your character could easily have ordered a Gin Sling, Mint Julep, or Whiskey Punch.


Here are a few of the recipes popular during the Old West era, in case you’d like to see what your character might have been drinking.


Gin Sling

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, pour 1 & ½ ounces gin, 1 ounce sweet vermouth, 1 ounce simple syrup, and a dash of Angostura bitters. Shake well and strain into a Collins glass filled with fresh ice. Top with 3-4 ounces of soda water and garnish with a lemon twist.


Jamaica Rum Punch
Fill a mixing glass half-full of fine ice, add 1 tablespoon of fine sugar, a little water, the juice of half a lemon, one jigger of Jamaican rum and one jigger of Irish whiskey; mix well, strain into a fancy bar-glass, trim with fruit, or leave on ice, and serve with straws.


Bourbon Milk Punch

To a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add 2 ounces bourbon, 3 ounces whole milk, 1 ounce simple syrup, and 2 dashes of vanilla extract. Shake until chilled and pour into a rocks glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg.


Brandy Old Fashioned

In an Old-Fashioned glass, muddle 2 orange slices, 2 brandied cherries, 3 dashes Angostura bitters, and a sugar cube. Add ice to fill the glass, then pour in 2 ounces brandy and top with seltzer or sour soda. Garnish with a cherry and orange slice.


J.E.S. Hays