Tuesday, May 26, 2020

JUMPING OFF - Mississippi River Towns

Post by Doris McCraw
writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the Author
In the expansion of the West the journeys began somewhere. Some people sailed to the West Coast, others came from Mexico while others came West across the plains. In order to reach those plains,  Rocky Mountains, and the coast they had to cross the Mississippi River. Additionally, commerce and travel in the early days depended on waterways. So important was this route that canals were built to connect various rivers and bodies of water.

This post will look at some of those river towns, especially between the years of 1800-1860 in the states of Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.

Most know of St. Louis, now known as the 'Gateway to the West', but there were other towns that had their fair share of river traffic.

Galena, Illinois, in the northern part of the state, is located on the Fever River which was deep enough for steamboats to navigate when they began running along the upper Mississippi. The town began because of lead. Founded in 1818, it was an important port and trading post until the Civil War. On a side note, General Grant arrived in 1860 lived there until the war. He returned in 1879 and remained until 1881.

Nauvoo, Illinois, is best known for the jumping-off point of the Mormans (LDS) on their westward trek to Salt Lake City. The town, however, had other iterations being located on the northern part of the Des Moines Rapids. Since the rapids were unpassable with heavy ladened boats, they were offloaded downriver in another river town, Warsaw, Illinois, and reloaded near Nauvoo to continue their northern journey.

Kaskaskia, Illinois - Wikipedia

Kaskaskia, Illinois, has a unique history. When the current site of the town was founded, and at one time the territorial capital of Illinois, the Mississippi River was three miles away. By 1881, when the Mississippi flooded yet again, the town found itself an island on that mighty river, for the channel along the river had changed.

LeClaire, Iowa, has a long history, located where the Mississippi makes a turn to the West. It is also near the beginnings of rapids in that area. It also had a boatyard and built a number of riverboats.

Guttenberg, Iowa, like Galena, Illinois had lead which was mined. There was also a ferry, and later it became a rail town serving the farms in the area.

Fort Madison, Iowa, began life as a fort, the spot having been recommended by Zebulon Pike during his expedition to locate the headwaters of the Mississippi in 1805.

Hannibal, Missouri, is probably best known as the home town of Samuel Clemmens (Mark Twain) and Margaret Tobin (Margaret 'Molly' Brown). It was primarily a steamboat landing and after the Civil War, a landing for the logging taking place in Minnesota and Michigan.

1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquakes Overview from Otto W. Nuttli (1974)
1811-1812 Overview of the New Madrid Earthquake (USGS photo)
New Madrid, Missouri, was founded in 1789. Probably best known as the center of the earthquakes that rocked the Mid-West during 1811-12. There was also a Civil War battle on an island near the town, known as the Battle of Island Ten.

Sainte Genevieve, Missouri, was part of a series of settlements by the French during the early to mid-1700s. It was a river port, shipping iron ore, marble, and granite from the mines in Missouri.

There are many stories towns in this tri-state area. Below are links for those who want to just spend some time learning about the Mississippi River and the towns whose life and death are closely tied together by this waterway.


Other resources you might like:
"The History of Warsaw Illinois" by Brian Stutzman
"Cahokia- Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi" by Timothy R. Pauketat
"On Shaky Ground: The New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812" by Norma Hayes Bagnall

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

REMEMBRANCE by Cheryl Pierson

Many years ago, my aunt entered an essay contest at Austin College in Texas. Aunt JoAnne was my dad’s younger sister. Her essay was about hog-killing time on their small farm in southeastern Oklahoma, but in her rich way of telling a story, she said so much more.

Aunt JoAnne was my dad’s only sister, and she was a strong “influencer” in our family. She had a very dynamic personality, and was full of surprises. Born in 1929, she was seven years younger than my dad and they loved each other dearly. Though she accomplished many things, her family was the most important—the dearest thing—in her life.

This is her recollection of the yearly ritual of hog-killing. She remembers this particular time when she was nine years old. When she wrote this essay, she was in her late seventies or early eighties, and she passed away 2 years ago at the age of 88.Here she is below, writing a letter to her husband, my Uncle Earl, during the Korean War when he was overseas.

This is a treasure to me because it lets me have a glimpse of her as a child, of my grandparents as younger people, and of other family members like my Aunt Grace, who was my grandmother’s sister. Remembering Aunt JoAnne and the wonderful stories she told about our family (she knew and remembered so many things—I tried to write some of them down!) as I read this essay makes me wish she had written more things like this.

My dad, Fred, with little sis, JoAnne in front. Behind them are two of their first cousins. This was taken around 1933-1934 or so. Dad would have been about 11 or 12, and JoAnne would have been 4 or 5.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse back in time.

By: JoAnne Jackson
This was, for sure, hog killing weather—the deep, frigid
cold of late November, 1941. The blue "norther" had
subsided to a deep and bitter cold. Yes, fine weather for the
yearly ritual at our small row-crop farm.

Everything was ready. Only yesterday, Dad filled the
old black wash pot with well-bucket after well-bucket of
water and then staked wood from the ample woodpile to
surround what would become a scalding cauldron. My
mother had stitched long, white tubing that would encase the
pork sausage. Every crock, dish pan, and kettle was
thoroughly scrubbed.

By lamplight, Dad had carefully sharpened every utility
knife, giving close attention to the butcher knives. I watched
closely the rhythm-like back and forth motion of metal on
whet stone.

Aunt JoAnne (RIGHT) and a cousin–both were 5 years old in this picture, and a few days after this was taken, her little cousin died of a ruptured appendix.

One of the largest shoats had been penned and fed rich
rations of grain and ‘shorts’, a thick, smelly mixture we
called slop. Discards from the kitchen were thrown in, also.

Next morning, Dad was up before sunrise, starting fires
in the wood heater and kitchen stove. He then went to coax
the kindling and larger sticks to a kind of red-hot furnace
around the wash pot.

At light of day, Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill drove up,
sitting high on the spring board seat of their farm wagon.
The horses were led into the barn lot, where they would
spend a day's rest with plenty of grain and hay spread on the
wagon bed. No occasion—certainly not hog killing—could be
undertaken without the counsel and experience of this wise
old couple. They had seen much of life's sweetness and

My dad, Fred, and my Aunt JoAnne clowning around by “striking a pose” many years later.

Mom poured the last of the morning coffee; steaming
cups were held close, everyone appreciating the soothing
warmth—and I was not to be left out; my small cup was
filled with cream and milk, a teaspoon of sugar and 2 or 3
teaspoons full of the hot beverage. Oh, the rich goodness of
that caramel concoction!

Talk turned to news of weather, family and community.
I was puzzled when, briefly, there was mention of England,
Germany and France—I surely didn't comprehend the names
Hitler and Mussolini.

Then the long day's work began. When Dad reached
for the .22 rifle, I ran back to my bed, lying face down with
eyes squeezed tight, holding my hands over my ears. But
even so, the crack of the rifle and high shrill squeal of that
animal I can recall vividly these decades later.

I watched from the kitchen window as the work
progressed. Boiling water was poured into a metal barrel
and then tilted downward ever so slightly. This became a
seething cauldron; ugly, but necessary, I knew. A make-shift
pulley and hoist would lift the dead animal into that scalding

Dad and my uncle worked in close harmony, scraping
clean the hot clinging bristles, exposing the pink-white
coloring of snout, belly and back. Then followed the more
tedious work of quartering, slicing and discarding.
All day they labored, and that labor would provide meat
for our table. Long winter months lay ahead, but our
provisions were more than ample: spare ribs, loin,
backbone, jowls, bacon, sausage, and ham. Come
Christmas, a ham would be served, for our house would
overflow with cousins, second cousins, uncles and aunts,
toddlers and babes in arms (sweet, sweet fellowship, hours
of play and whispered secrets).

The sun was low when my mother called supper. The
coal-oil lamp in the center of the kitchen table provided a
mellow light.

Both men washed up, using wet hands to pat down
their hair, rumpled and tangled from a day that allowed no
time for combing.

Our places were set, four high backed chairs and the
kitchen stool for me, a child of nine years… Oh, that feast:
fried tenderloin, red eye gravy, small red potatoes boiled
with the jackets on… Everyone became seated and quiet as
our heads bowed to repeat The Lord's Prayer.
Mom then brought the first pan of her wonderful buttermilk biscuits to
the table, hot from the oven, Everyone ate heartily, the men
enjoying a "roll your own" cigarette of Prince Albert tobacco
as they relaxed in the warmth of that small, cramped kitchen.
But hog killing was not over just because the hog was
killed. Much remained to be done.

Meat for sausage was ground, seasoned with just the
right amount of salt, pepper, and sage. One must be extra
careful with the sage, for even a little too much would ruin the
whole crock. (Words spoken by that lovable Aunt Grace, an
authority on sausage making. And indeed, she was.) The
white tubing was packed tightly with the sausage, then hung
by long baling wire from rafters in the smokehouse.
Then came the day for rendering fat to make our lard;
and the delicious crunch of the "cracklings" was the by-product.
A cup of crushed cracklings made a skillet of hot
cornbread really, really good.

Pork cracklings–a favorite dish “then and now”–you can buy them in bags to snack on these days!

The old black wash pot was put into service that one
last time for soap making. Mother's lye soap was a product
she was most proud of. She knew by memory the exact
amount of grease, lye, and whatever else went into this
product. She wielded a long-handled wooden paddle to stir,
being careful to stay clear of the hot coals. When this
mixture reached a consistency that was absolutely, 100
percent right, and ashes covered the coals, she kept stirring,
only more slowly. lt took two or three days for the soap to
set up. LYE SOAP! In those long-ago years it was used to
wash dishes, to scrub our bare wood floors, and to bathe our
bodies when times were especially lean. When our city kin
visited in the summer, my aunt always asked, "Mary, do you
have an extra bar of your soap? The girls so love it for

The week's hum of activity gradually wound down.
Uncle Bill added a bit more preservative to the hams, sides
of bacon were wrapped and hung, buckets of pure white lard
were put in the storm cellar—placed on shelves next to
Mom's prized lye soap.

These were my people: resourceful, honest,
hardworking, humble, and always true to their convictions of
right and wrong.

Only days later, December 7, 1941, our close-knit,
secure world was rocked asunder. WWII was upon us and
our way of life forever changed.

Now, in quiet times, I see them still, seated in lamp light
at our kitchen table, heads bowed in prayers of praise and
thanksgiving. The Lord had provided for another year.

Do you have a memory like this of your childhood that stands out in your mind? Please share!

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Country Music Memory - 1949 and 1985 by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #classiccountry #cowboysongs

May 8, 1949 and May 2, 1985 have a musical event in common 

The same song was released by Vaughn Monroe (1949) and the Highwaymen (1985).

It was written and recorded by Stan Jones, and he released his recording of this song on June 5, 1948.

This song is often referred to as the ‘Number 1 country music song of all time’*. The song is...

 Ghost Riders in the Sky

There are numerous renditions of this song, some more memorable than others. Besides Stan Jones, Vaughn Monroe, and the Highwaymen, here are other artists from across the musical spectrum who have recorded this song.

Bing Crosby – Frankie Laine – Eddie Arnold – Peggy Lee – Duane Eddy – Sons of the Pioneers – Judy Collins –  Roy Clark – Lawrence Welk – Baja Marimba Band – Tom Jones – R.E.M. –  Elvis Presley – Blues Brothers – Chris LeDoux – Dean Martin – Marty Robbins – Spiderbait (in the Nicholas Cage and Sam Elliott movie, Ghost Rider) and Christopher Lee (Some ideas are best left unfulfilled. It's a groaner. Look it up on YouTube.)

My favorite cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky is by Marty Robbins.  

Vaughn Monroe - His version reached No. 1 on Chart Toppers (pop chart).

Highwaymen - Ghost Riders in the Sky

 Historical roots of Ghost Riders in the Sky

The legend of the ghost rider has its roots in Europe, particularly Britanny, Ireland, Wales, Scandinavia, Spain, France, and Germany. Jacob Grimm of the fairy tales Brothers Grimm, developed the idea of the ‘wild hunt’ through comparative mythology that he published as Deutsche Mythologie (1835).

The warrior-leaders most associated with some form and version of the Wild Hunt are Wodin, Wodan, Odin, Herne the Hunter, King Arthur, and Old Nick. A few modern works of literature that use the Wild Hunt myth as part of the story are Sir Artur Conan Doyles The Hound of the Baskervilles, William Butler Yeats1893 poem The Hosting of the Sidhe, and Susan Cooper’s 1973 book series The Dark is Rising.

The Wild Hunt: Asgårdsreien (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo
There are also comic books, movies, and operas with the wild hunt/ghost rider theme woven throughout or as the predominate story line. I’ve read that Ghostriders in the Sky was the inspiration for the song Riders on the Storm by the Doors.
My novel, The Gunfighter's Woman, is a paranormal western romance inspired by this legend and the song. I incorporated the wild hunt in the form of the cowboy ghost riders as a motivating force in the hero's life to change his ways before it’s too late. The ghost herd shows up in the following excerpt.


“We have to leave. Your horse is still on the other side. We can ride my horse to the ranch.” Brenna pointed to her horse, Samson, and immediately felt silly for the gesture since the man’s eyes were clamped shut in a grimace of teeth-gritted pain.]

Lightning slashed the sky with an explosion of thunder that shook air and Earth and deafened ears. The man came off the ground in a lunge, feet planted wide, and his attention fixed on the black billowing cloud bank rolling along McBride Mesa to the west. Mesmerized, Brenna stared at the clouds as they transformed into a mighty herd of cattle stampeding along the mesa’s rim. As she watched, the herd curved east, dipping low along the ancient stone wall and then soaring into the sky. The herd doubled-back with the sinuous motion of a Chinese dragon in an undulating journey from ground to towering clouds and back down again.

On the second pass, the cloud-herd swung south and swooped down from Trinchera Pass, passing overhead on a blast of scorching wind. Brenna flinched and ducked as the lead steers overtook them. Samson snorted, bolted, but she held fast to his reins. Eyes blazing with the fires of Hell, the herd pounded the air with steely hooves on peal after peal of thunder as it swung out north across the prairie to come charging low over Pine Canyon on the east.

Then, the clouds split open into a sandy ravine that cut a wide, ragged path to a range in the heavens. Brenna felt their breath in a whoosh of hot wind and saw their black horns glistening and brands flaming with each lightning blaze as the ghost herd plowed up that draw.

“No! Not going. They’re not taking me!”

“What is that?”

The man snaked an arm around Brenna’s waist and tossed her to the saddle then swung up behind her. “Hang on!” Clamping one arm around her middle, he grabbed the saddle horn with his other hand, and slapped spurs to Samson.

The horse reared, leaped, and came down at a dead run, ears flattened against his head, and his neck stretched out. A mournful, skin-prickling cry cut through the air. Hot wind whipped their clothes; lightning-scorched air left an acrid sulphur stench in its wake. Brenna twisted to look behind. The sight coming at them was terrifying and fascinating.

Hurdling from the midst of the churning maelstrom of boiling black clouds came spectral cowboys riding hard and fast after the phantom herd on hollow-eyed, fire-snorting skeleton horses pawing the air as they roared toward them. A low keening wail rose on the wind.

Matthewwwww Matthewwwww Caddockkkkkkk.

The man warned, “Close your eyes! Don’t look!”

But Brenna couldn’t look away from the spectral cowboys charging over them, their gaunt eyes staring from fire-flaming faces as they swung around and away in their relentless pursuit of the ghost herd. Rain burst from the clouds; hail peppered down. A blast of frigid wind hit them broadside... 

The Gunfighter’s Woman

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

Stay in contact with Kaye—

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Resources and Further Reading:
*Stan Jones - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stan_Jones_(songwriter)

Megalithic Myths - http://www.athenasweb.com/MegalithicMyths.html

Image of The Wild Hunt: Peter Nicolai Arbo artist QS:P170,Q353014, La caza salvaje de Odín, por Peter Nicolai Arbo, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons