Tuesday, February 23, 2021

February, a month of love, president's day, and WEATHER

  Post by Doris McCraw writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the author

Ah, February! A month of love, President's Day, and variable weather. For this post, I'm taking a look at how they talked about the snow and cold weather in the late 1800s. The focus is primarily in Colorado. The reporting is from Colorado newspapers and what a fun read they can be. Each publication has its own style. I hope you enjoy the read as much as I do.


The Avalanche-Echo, from January 13, 1893 (Glenwood Springs) had the following article.


A Dakota Blizzard.


The worst thing that a traveler can possibly encounter in the West.


"The worst thing that a traveler can encounter is a Dakota blizzard" said W. C. Beaver, who was entertaining some friends in the corridors of the hotel. "A Dakota blizzard is something like a Sahara sandstorm, but with powdered ice instead of sand and the thermometer ranging 30° below instead of 100° above. A traveler may outlive a sandstorm, the only danger is that he will be smothered. But woe to the unlucky pilgrim who was caught by a blizzard.


The fine frozen snow, as fine as iron filings, is driven into his face with terrible force; it becomes impossible to distinguish objects at a distance of a dozen yards and he may flounder about four hours within a stone's throw of his own house without being able to find it. Great drifts are piled up around him, then whisk away, leaving the ground perfectly bear; the wind seems to read involve itself into thousand swirling cyclones and every open stretch of snow into a maelstrom. In North Dakota, many of the farmers stretch ropes from their houses to their barns so that they venture out to feed their stock during the blizzards which frequently last two or three days — without danger of getting lost in the icy storm.


In February 1884 I drove out in the sleigh a few miles from Fargo to close up a land trade. This sky was as clear as a bell, the air just cold enough to be exhilarating and I enjoyed my ride out immensely. I did not enjoy the return trip, however. A cold bitter wind came out of the Northeast that constantly increased in violence until the air became filled with fine snow, which glittered like myriads of diamonds in the sun. Then the sky became overcast the wind began to hurl great banks of snow across the road and I was soon unable to see my horse's head. I urged him onward, allowing him to pick his own course, for I was hopelessly at sea.


I had heard that a horse would find his way home through the darkest night and I hoped that instinct would serve him as well in a blizzard, but it didn't. After a little while, he stopped and when I urged him forward he turned squarely about and began to retrace his steps. He was is lost as well as I. To sit still meant to freeze. I got out threw the reins over my arm and started forward, calling at the top of my voice and firing off my revolver. In a minute or two, there was an answering shout. I was within fifty yards of a farmhouse where I obtained shelter until the blizzard had subsided two days later."


Photo property of the author

Out of Grand Junction in the Grand Valley Star-Times from February 9, 1895, reported on a blizzard in Kansas.


The blizzard raged all night.


Kansas City, February, seventh, — the blizzard raged with unabated vigor all night. This morning the thermometer registered 10 1/2° below zero. A gale is blowing. Signal officer O'Connor does not promise a respite until Friday evening. The railroads have not as yet been inconvenienced much from the drifts.


Lastly, on February 12, 1891, the Fort Collins Courier reported on a blizzard in that town. It reads like a sailor wrote it, at least to me.


A section of an Alaska blizzard, that had strayed away from home, struck Fort Collins amidship on Sunday, shriveling the people like a leaf in a hot furnace. A bitterly, cold northwest wind swept over the town nearly all day and those whose duty called them out suffered intensely with the cold.


It is always fascinating to see how people wrote and passed on the news in the past. Of course, I sometimes use these pieces of information to add veracity to my stories, as I'm sure a lot of you do also.




Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History


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


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

LOVE LETTERS AND MAIL ORDER BRIDES by CHERYL PIERSON



Ah, those wonderful love letters! Don’t we love reading them? I must admit I have an affinity for love letters because of the insights they give us into the past, and the people who lived then.

With Valentine’s Day just passed and my 42nd wedding anniversary just celebrated on the 10th, love letters are something I’ve been thinking about a lot. Probably because of the time of year, but also because, as authors, we have to use letters and notes in our writing to “get the message” across that perhaps our characters might not be able to speak aloud.

My hubby is, like many men, not sentimental. He wouldn’t care if I never got him another Valentine’s Day or anniversary card, but they mean a lot to me—so we exchange them every year. I suspect that, through the years past right down to the present, most men didn’t and don’t make flowery love speeches from their hearts, or even write their innermost thoughts and feelings in cards and letters.

One of the most poignant love letters I know of is the famous letter written by Union Army Major Sullivan Ballou, just before the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861 where he died at the age of 32. Married only 6 years, he left behind two small sons and his wife, Sarah. The letter he wrote to Sarah days before he was killed is one that speaks poignantly of his guilt at having to choose between his duty to country and duty to family. Ken Burns used a shortened version of the letter in his series, The Civil War—and its contents are unforgettable, and so powerful it brings tears to my eyes every time I read it.

                                                                          
SULLIVAN BALLOU

In part, it reads:

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar—that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.



I had to come up with a love letter, of sorts, for my 2017 novel, Sabrina, part of the 4-book set entitled MAIL-ORDER BRIDES FOR SALE: THE REMINGTON SISTERS. Oh, nothing to beautiful as this letter penned by a soldier marching to his inevitable death, but a letter that had to convince Sabrina to leave her wealthy lifestyle in Philadelphia and come West to Indian Territory!

Sabrina and her three older sisters (Lola, written by Celia Yeary; Belle, written by Jacquie Rogers; Lizzy, written by Livia J. Washburn; and Sabrina, my character) have to have mail-order arrangements in order to get out of the fix they’re in with a step-father who plans to sell them to the highest bidder—and they don’t have much time to do it. When Sabrina receives two proposals on the same day, she counts her lucky stars that she’s able to compare the two letters and has a choice between the two men who have written her—something many women of the day did not have.



She’s safely with the man she’s chosen now, Cameron Fraser, but she’s remembering the day she received the letters and why she made the decision she did. Take a look:

She’d answered ads from both Cameron Fraser and David Mason. Ironically, she’d received offers from both men on the same day. That had been a blessing, as she was able to compare their responses immediately.

Mr. Mason had written one page, in sprawling wide script.

“I have need of a wife to help me raise my four children I was left with after my sainted Amelia passed on last year. Your help will be appreciated. And I will do right by you. I hope you are a willing worker and a good cook. Can you make good cornbread? That is a must in our home…”

She’d opened Mr. Mason’s letter first, and tucked it back into the envelope quickly. She’d hoped she’d managed to keep the revulsion from her face when her oldest sister, Lola, had come hurrying through the door. Lola was five years older, and Sabrina could never manage to keep a secret from her, no matter how she tried.

“Well?” Lola had asked, pinning Sabrina with “the look” that Sabrina dreaded.

“I haven’t read them,” Sabrina said defiantly.

“Bree. You know we have to get out of here—the sooner the better. We don’t have much time.”



Here’s the difference, and why she chose Cam. He wanted her for more than making cornbread!

Lola had turned and left the room, closing the door behind her. That’s how Sabrina knew her oldest sister was angry—or hurt. Maybe both.

She’d sighed, and begun to open the letter from Mr. Cameron Fraser. And before she’d read the entire first page of his two-page missive, she knew her decision was made.

  Dear Miss Remington,

Thank you for your very kind response to the ad I placed for a bride. I felt out of place to do such a thing, but your answer made me glad I did so, after all.

I know that Indian Territory may seem uncivilized and wild to a well-bred lady such as yourself, who has grown up in the cultured, genteel society of the East, but I assure you, I will do everything in my power to welcome you. In no time at all, I hope you’ll come to think of the Territory as your home.

My family owns a fairly large cattle ranch in Indian Territory. I wanted to assure you that, although the ranch itself is somewhat isolated, we are close enough to Briartown to travel there frequently for supplies.

You will be safe here, Miss Remington, and cherished. You will be well-treated, and I promise you here and now, I will never raise a hand to you.

If it is your will, and I hope it will be, I am willing to be a good and loving father to any children we may have—and a good and loving husband to you.

The sky here is the bluest you’ve ever seen. The water is the freshest and coldest. And I hope you will come to love the open range as much as we Frasers do.

I await your arrival in Ft. Smith. I will meet you there, where we’ll be legally married in a civil ceremony before we travel together to the ranch. Enclosed, you will find a financial draft for your passage and travel expenses.

Sincerely,

Cameron James Fraser

 Something about the underlying feeling of the words Cam had written spoke to Sabrina. That he’d taken time to describe—even briefly—how he felt about his ranch made her know that he cared about her feelings—not just about what skills she might bring to the marriage table.

I see it, too, don’t you? He loves the land and his life, and wants her to share it with him. I wonder if women who were forced to take this route looked for these types of things—I know I would. And Sabrina is a bit of an adventurer, so going to Indian Territory would not hold her back. Adventure awaited!

Have you ever received a love letter that meant the world to you? I’ve had a few in my lifetime, and they’re tucked away in my desk and my heart! If you would like to share, we’d love to hear about your love letters—it’s that time of the year—love is in the air!

Here's the blurb for MAIL ORDER BRIDES FOR SALE: THE REMINGTON SISTERS--buy link below!

Boxed set of four full-length mail order bride novels.

Brought up in the wealth and comfort of Eastern “old money” in staid and proper Philadelphia, the Remington sisters are forced to scatter to the four winds and become mail-order brides. In order to gain a fortune, their sinister step-father, Josiah Bloodworth, has made plans to marry them off in loveless marriages. Time is running out, and no matter what lies ahead in their uncertain futures, it has to be better than the evil they’re running from…

LIZZY: Livia J. Washburn Elizabeth Remington’s world is turned upside down when she is forced to become a mail-order bride. With her cat, Fulton, Lizzy flees to Alaska—only to discover the man she’s to marry is not who she thought he was! Now, she must protect herself from the biggest danger of all—her own heart. Handsome Flint McKinnon has signed his soul away to her step-father, hasn’t he? He’s chased Lizzy across the continent, but can she believe him when he says he loves her?

BELLE: Jacquie Rogers Belle Remington must marry someone before the dangerous Neville Fenster catches up with her. She hightails it out of Philadelphia to the wilds of Idaho Territory to become a bootmaker's bride, but when she arrives in Oreana, she discovers her groom has been murdered! Now, handsome, inebriated rancher Cord Callahan insists on fulfilling the marriage contract himself. Belle is beautiful and smart as a whip. But she has a secret. When Fenster shows up, can Cord protect the woman he wants to love forever?

SABRINA: Cheryl Pierson Impulsive Sabrina Remington, the youngest, weds a man she knows her family would disapprove of. Though Cameron Fraser’s family owns a ranch in lawless Indian Territory, he’s made his way in the world with a gun, living barely on the right side of the law. With everything on the line as Bloodworth and his henchmen close in, will Cam be able to protect Sabrina from the desperate man who means to kidnap her for his own wicked purposes?

LOLA: Celia Yeary Sensible Lola Remington, the eldest of the four sisters, must be certain the others are on their way to safety before she can think of fleeing Philadelphia herself. With the help of a local bridal agency, Lola finds the perfect husband for herself—in the wild countryside of Texas. Jack Rains owns a ranch and he’s in need of a bride—and children, of course! But just when Lola starts to believe there might be a future for them, she discovers a hidden letter from another woman…Jack’s first wife.

Mail Order Brides for Sale: The Remington Sisters is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. GET YOUR KINDLE COPY NOW FOR ONLY .99! Here’s the link!

http://tinyurl.com/y8cmb4m8

PRAIRIE ROSE PUBLICATIONS WEBSITE: http://www.prairierosepublications.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cheryl.pierson.92

Twitter: http://twitter.com/Cherokeegirl57

Monday, February 15, 2021

Feb. 26th should be 'National Johnny Cash Day' by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #johnnycash #classiccountry #countrymusic

 

Coming up in 11 days on February 26 is the anniversary of Johnny Cash’s birthday (b. 1932 – d. 2003)



Let’s start a movement and declare his birthday National Johnny Cash Day. Everyone wears black and speaks in lyrics from his songs.

In anticipation of this day catching on, I’m showcasing two of his songs.

Don’t Take Your Guns to Town

and

Give My Love to Rose


But first, a bit of Johnny Cash trivia.

  • Cash appeared on Sesame Street in the 1990 and sang a rendition called “Don’t Take Your Ones to Town”.
  • Don’t Take Your Guns to Town is included in the Top 100 Western Songs of All Time by Western Writers of America.
  • Feb. 23, 1959 – Don’t Take Your Guns to Town reached No. 1 on Billboard Magazine’s Singles Chart.
  • Won his first Grammy for Jackson in 1967 – duet with future wife June Carter.
  • Poet Shel Silverstein wrote the lyrics for A Boy Named Sue.
  • He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Typically opened his concerts by saying, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” followed by, what is often touted as his signature song, Folsom Prison Blues.
  • Enlisted in the US Air Force in 1950 – worked as a Morse code operator intercepting Soviet Army transmissions.
  • Born J.R. Cash, he had to give himself a name in place of the “J” when he enlisted, so he named himself John R. Cash.
  • Roy Orbison lived next door to Cash for 20 years.

 Now the songs—

Don’t Take Your Guns to Town

Cash wrote this song then recorded and released it in December 1958 as the first single from his album The Fabulous Johnny Cash.

A few of the classic country era artists who covered this song are: Faron Young, Burl Ives, Ry Cooder, Sheb Wooley, and Willie Nelson (duet with Cash).

This video of Don’t Take Your Guns to Town is a student-made video, and it’s absolutely great.


Give My Love to Rose

Cash wrote Give My Love to Rose and recorded it in 1957. It eventually reached No. 13 on the Country & Western Chart. Cash recorded it several times and, for his 2002 version, he received his fourth and final Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. The inspiration for the song apparently came to Cash from a conversation he had with a San Quentin State Prison inmate who asked Cash to take a message to his [prisoner’s] wife if Cash ever went through his hometown.

This song was the inspiration for my novelette of the same name, which is included in the Prairie Rose Publications’ anthology Hot Western Nights.

Available on Amazon

Here is the beginning of my story.

 Chapter One

“Give my love to Rose…” The dying man gripped the man’s coat. “Tell her…tell my boys how proud…how proud I am… Tell Rose not to live alone…find another man—a good man. A man like you—You stayed with me. Love her…like…like she deserves...” The fevered spark faded from his eyes. With one last burst of strength, he pleaded, “Please…don’t forget to give my love to Rose…” Hands that had done a lifetime of hard work relaxed.

“I’ll tell her,” the man said, but Lon Griffin didn’t hear him. Exhaling a long, slow breath, Federal Deputy Marshal Clint Callahan eased the dead man down to the blanket. Clint pushed his hat back and studied the man from his lawman’s well-seasoned experience with death. He’d come across all manner of dying during his career. Broken leg, gut shot, horse run off, weak heart, blizzard, poisoned water hole, robbery. It wasn’t so bad when he came up on them already dead. Their suffering was over. It was the dying ones that stayed with him—the desperation in their eyes, the regret in their voices. He’d never get used to watching a person die, especially the women and children.

What he knew for certain was the worst part of dying wasn’t the pain. It was not being able to say goodbye to the people who mattered, and that was his sole companion over every mile he rode.

How many times had he heard the last words of love for a beloved wife and children, or a wish to see a mother one last time? Some cried. Others cleared the burden on their consciences. Most only had enough time to name next of kin. When you heard a person’s last words, shared their last breath, shouldered their confessions, you took on the duty of seeing their dying wishes taken care of.

This man, Lon Griffin, was no different. He’d clung to a thin thread of life, slipping between delirium and lucidity all through the night. His will to live gave out in the dark just before the dawn.

Any other time, Clint would have dug a grave right there, said the proper words, and then rode on to tell the family or sent a telegram, whichever was the faster way to convey the news. This time, though, Lon’s widow waited at the house a good many miles on farther north, she was probably wondering right now when she’d see her husband again. She never would, not alive, anyway, and Lon begged him to take him home to be buried in the family cemetery.


Bonus

Video from 'The Johnny Cash Show' in 1969 – Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash singing Oh, Pretty Woman. This is a fabulous few minutes in country music history.


Those of you reading this on your phones will likely not see the videos. Here are the YouTube urls.

Don't Take Your Love to Town - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raXKeQ5qFwo
Give My Love to Rose
https://youtu.be/eGCum-rQftc
Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash - 
https://youtu.be/OxSuvFuSzAw


Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

Look for Kaye here—

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 Image of Johnny Cash, 1969, by Joel Baldwin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Joel Baldwin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Write or Fall into the Abyss - Interview with Edward Massey

How many can relate to Edward Massey's feeling that you must write or fall into the abyss? Read on and learn more about Edward and his upcoming release "Founding Sheriff".  As with most interviews, we sometimes learn even more about ourselves and our desire to write than we may realize. So join me as I learn more about this 'storyteller'.


   

  • When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

Tricky question. I quit an incredibly good job and moved from Paris to Farmington, NM, when I was thirty-two to write a novel I had been working on mornings and evenings. Children and life intervened. Next, I negotiated to work seventy-five percent of the time for seventy-five percent of the pay when I was fifty-seven. That turned out to be seventy-five percent pay for 100% work, so I quit another good job to focus on writing when I was sixty-five. Fortunately, an old dog was capable of learning new tricks because Founding Sheriff will be the fourth novel published and the fifth one is with the publisher, awaiting a 2022 publication date.

  • Did you choose the genre you write in or did it choose you?

I dislike thinking that I write in the “Western genre.” It is an injustice to good Western writers who really know what they are doing. Also, it creates a veneer over my books that I fear keeps the reader from seeing that I am simply writing about men at work. (Men is in the global and includes women who are formidable, guiding characters in each of my books.) Nevertheless, to the extent my books so far have been set in the West, the genre chose me. In that regard, I am proud to say the men at work in my novels represent values that are respected and upheld in the West. When Easterners set out to push the Frontier west, the values they created in the years of effort and struggle became one of the cornerstones to our society.

  • What was the nudge that gave you faith that you could and wanted to be published?

Not so much a nudge as a deep, dark hole. If one can say it modestly, I have had a wonderful and privileged life, but no matter how great the achievement or the pleasure, I always felt there was an abyss I would fall into if I did not write. So, as you can see above, I quit several good jobs to write and try to avoid the abyss..

  • Do your life experiences influence or hinder your writing?

Oh, absolutely. There are two kinds of life’s experiences at work. One is the experience of having been raised in a certain social environment with its history, values, stories, icons, myths. The other is one’s specific experience, training, failures, and dreams. First, they hinder me because they whisper in my ear that I cannot do what I am setting out to do. This is an interview of its own. Then, they help me because they point to how much has been overcome to get me here. Who am I if I can’t stand up?

  • Where did you get the idea for your latest release?

My latest release is Founding Sheriff, published by Five Star with a pubdate deferred by covid six months to February 17, 2021. The fact it had to be “founding” came implicitly with the concept of three sheriffs of the same family settling the same county in the same mountains over what would range one hundred years. The story came from two facts that came together and exploded like the big bang into a story. One, there was a cooper who emigrated from England to become the constable and, when the territory was created, the sheriff. Two, I have a cousin whose daughter was murdered by her husband. I asked permission to use her story and move it to 1865. Bringing the murderer to his just end required both catching him and creating a justice system.

  • Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m not so sure I am a plotter, but I am an outliner, or at least a partial outliner. I attended a story conference by (a different) Robert McKee twenty years ago and learned about the action/event outline. A little later I discovered the addition of purpose. So, I write as much of an action/event/purpose outline as I know. I can’t say for sure that it covers the whole novel, but I try to stick at it from start to finish. Sometimes I give up and start writing the story. Sometimes the story seems to be wandering and I go back to working on the outline. By the time I have finished writing the novel, I have finished writing the outline, too. They aren’t perfectly in parallel because I wander away from the outline while writing and I don’t always go back and conform the outline to the story.

  • Is there a writing routine you follow or do you write when the muse strikes?

I strive to write the first four hours of every day. That usually means seven to eleven or eight to twelve. My striving runs into objecting reality. On Tuesdays, I do some paying work and do not set to writing until four, if at all. On Fridays, my brain pleads for a day off, usually loses, but sometimes wins. On Saturdays, Anne makes it very clear she wants the weekends somehow to be different from the weekdays. Two months into the advent of covid, I grew definitely to agree with her, and we work hard together to make the weekends different. Sundays, therefore, are dictated by Saturday, but generally yield a productive four hours.

  • If you had a choice, which is your favorite to write, short stories, novellas or full-length novels?

I don’t think I have a choice. I write novels. Having said that, while writing Every Soul is Free, I came up with the not very original idea that I could build a little platform and a little track record by publishing some short stories. That novel lent itself to the idea and I had seven short stories published. In fact, the logic also worked because I met Duke Pennell and ESIF was originally published by Pen-L Publishing. I even wrote a short story with the same sheriff, but not at all related to the novel. It was and is my favorite short story. I could not get it published for seven years. Then, in 2020, Western Fictioneers put together an anthology and accepted “Cybil”. A truly joyous event, both having it published and being among the company of twenty-two writers Richard Prosch found/selected. I have not yet written another short story, but I am headed in that direction more than ever before.

  • Do you ‘interview’ your characters before or at any time while telling their story?

No. I listen to them. They tell me important things, like who to trust and where to go and what to do. I also listen to them talk to other characters. But you must listen carefully. There is something about people who live in the mountains. They don’t use many words.

  • Is there a process where you find your next story or does the idea just hit you?

Mostly I have a big inventory of novels left to be written. Somehow, when I started to look, they were just there. With one exception. I was at the opera with my wife and the story started coming to me and kept coming. I wrote down everything in the dark on the Playbill. With those notes and a modest amount of research, I now have a drawer full, including instructions about research yet to dos (but no novel yet.)

  • Is there anything else you feel people would like to know or would be surprised to learn about you?

In 2022, when Forever Sheriff, the third of the trilogy, comes out, I propose we turn this question into another interview for the Western Fictioneers blog.

  • Do you write in other genres?

As mentioned above, I set out to write about working men and women. My next novel is about a plumber. I hope to finish it this year and find a publisher.

  • What are your favorite areas of research and why they are important to you?

Research is like a siren, beautiful and seductive. You have to chain yourself to the boat when you come near her. I set out to do the research after I do the writing. One of the problems is that if I truly know nothing about what I am writing, I cannot really write before I research Then if I start researching, I end up on the rocks. One of the tricks I have developed to protect myself is to do research only when I am moving, never when I am sitting at my desk (supposedly) writing. So, cars, trains, trips, weekends, bathrooms, stolen moments in church or meetings are all good times to research. My goal is to put enough in my head to proceed with the writing, allowing my usual approach to write first, then research.

For more about Edward and his work, you can check out the following links:

Edward Massey Author Page - Amazon

https://www.edwardmasseybooks.com/

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Chinese New Year - An Old West Tradition?

 In 2021, February 12 marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year (also known as Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival). 2021 will be the Year of the Ox, which supposedly reflects traditional conservative characteristics. Oxen have an honest nature and are known for diligence, determination, dependability, and strength. They are not greatly influenced by others or by their environment but persist in doing things according to their  own ideals and capabilities. Oxen are not good communicators and even believe it’s not worthwhile to exchange ideas with others. They are very stubborn and stick to their old ways in most things. The lucky colors for this year are white, yellow, and green and lucky numbers are 1 and 4 (as well as numbers which contain both digits, such as 14 and 41). Unlucky numbers are 5 and 6 (and numbers containing both of those digits) and blue is the unlucky color for oxen. The next Year of the Ox will occur in 12 years, according to the Chinese lunar cycle.

 

If you’re interested, some famous oxen include Vincent Van Gogh, Walt Disney, Margaret Thatcher, and Barack Obama.

 



 

The New Year is the most important celebration in China, and Chinese Americans during the Old West would have made certain to observe their country’s traditions even though living in a foreign land. The holiday was traditionally a time to honor your household and your ancestors, as well as giving honor to the heavenly gods. This was typically a time to bring your family together for a celebratory feast.

 

The Chinese lunar calendar has been in existence at least since the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 B.C.). Oracle bones that have been inscribed with astronomical information have been dated as early as 14thCentury B.C. This wasn’t a static calendar like the one we use today, but varied according to who was in power and which region you lived in. The parameters were set according to the lunar phases, solar solstices, and solar equinoxes. Although the calendar originally served as a guide for religious, dynastic, and social roles and activities, by the time of the American Old West, the New Year had evolved into more of an entertaining, family-oriented celebration.

 

An interesting note: San Francisco claims to host the largest Chinese New Year parade outside of Asia. They’ve held a parade since the Gold Rush era in the 1860s. 

 



 

Chinese New Year typically begins with the new moon that occurs between the end of January and the end of February. The celebration lasts 15 days, until the full moon arrives for the final Festival of Lanterns. The origins of the holiday are steeped in myth and tradition, with one of the most popular involving the “yearly beast,” Nian (a word which sounds like the word “year” in Chinese). On the eve of the New Year, Nian was said to eat livestock, crops, and even people. Chinese villagers once left out food so Nian wouldn’t be hungry, but soon it was decided that loud noises and the color red would scare Nian away. This explains the red lanterns and scrolls placed on homes, as well as the popularity of fireworks to celebrate the coming New Year.

 

The Chinese calendar also includes the zodiac signs, 12 stations that mark the sun’s apparent pathway through the sky during the year. Each New Year is supposedly marked by the characteristics of one of the zodiac animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. 

 

During the Old West era, Chinese Americans would have celebrated by shooting off fireworks, visiting friends and relatives, and eating dumplings. Entertainment such as dragon or lion dances and lantern shows also would have been popular as well. During this time, businesses come almost to a standstill. The focus was on home and family. Homes would be thoroughly cleaned to get rid of “huiqi” or “inauspicious breaths” that may have accumulated during the previous year. Cleaning also appeased the heavenly gods who would be descending for an inspection of their earthly temples. Once the cleaning was done, though, the brooms and dustpans would be stowed away so nobody could sweep away the coming year’s good luck. Some people bathed with pomelo leaves, as the fruit symbolizes abundance, prosperity, fertility, and good health for the coming New Year.

 



 

A week before New Year’s Day, the Chinese believed that the Kitchen God (Zao Jun or Zao Shen) ascended to heaven to deliver his yearly report to the Jade Emperor about the family’s behavior during the old year. Many Chinese families kept a picture or paper image of Zao Jun near their stove, and during this week his image would be burned. The rising smoke symbolized the god’s journey to heaven and firecrackers were lit to speed him along. Special food offerings were left for Zao Jun so that he would give the Emperor a favorable report. 

 

During the 15-day celebration, ritual sacrifices of food and paper icons would be offered to the gods and the family’s ancestors. Red scrolls printed with lucky messages were posted on the family gates and fireworks would be set off to frighten away Nian and the other evil spirits. Children and the unemployed were given small gifts of money in lucky red envelopes. On New Year’s Day, every window and door would be opened to allow good luck into the home. The family would go door to door to greet relatives and friends.

 

New red clothing should be worn on New Year’s Day (to scare away Nian and to start the year anew), and you should also get a haircut to symbolize a fresh start. It’s unlucky to begin the New Year owing money, so most people try to pay off their debts on this day.

 

You shouldn’t buy shoes or trousers on New Year’s Day, though. In Cantonese, the words for “shoe” sounds like the word for “rough,” and the word for “trousers” sounds like “bitter,” so you don’t want a rough, bitter New Year. You shouldn’t wash your hair during the first three days of the celebration, lest you wash away your good luck.

 

One of the most important facets of the New Year’s celebration was the feasting. On New Year’s Eve, the entire extended family sat down to a large meal that included a whole chicken to symbolize prosperity and a whole fish as the final course. This fish symbolized abundance and was not supposed to be completely eaten. On New Year’s Day itself, it was considered unlucky to light a fire or prepare a meal with sharp implements that might “cut” luck away. During the first five days of the celebration, people ate long noodles to ensure long lives. On the final (15th) day, they ate full-moon-shaped round dumplings to symbolize the perfection of the family unit.

 



 

In Mandarin Chinese, you say “Gong Xi Fa Cai!” to wish someone a Happy New Year (in Cantonese it’s pronounced “Gong Hey Fat Choi”). 

 

Here’s a great website showing the date of Chinese New Year and the animal associated with that year for the years 1645 to 1899 if you’d like to include some Chinese tradition in your story. (I'm a metal rat)

 

http://pinyin.info/chinese_new_year/cny1645-1899.html

 

J.E.S. Hays

www.jeshays.com

www.facebook.com/JESHaysBooks

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Survivors Will Be Shot Again by Bill Crider

I think most Western fans will enjoy the modern Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery stories if they aren't already acquainted. This is one of my favorite books in the series, and a review of mine that originally appeared at Macmillan's Criminal Element.


Since Too Late to Die (1986), I’ve been routinely traveling to the fictional town of Clearview in Blacklin County, Texas to spend a few reading hours with the amiable Sheriff Dan Rhodes. Though I’m a Yankee, it’s not as far of a metaphysical journey as you would think because I grew up in farm country in a picturesque village in Tompkins County, New York—so I can relate.

As a youngster, on any given Saturday, Dad would take me with him to some place in town, say, Mr. Whyte’s garage, when the sheriff pulled in for whatever reason. Still can see that gun riding high on his belt and the so-very-serious look on his face. “He’d arrest his own mother,” Dad warned.

A few years later at The Park-It Market, I was buying some Big Red gum, when the same sheriff dropped off some brochures with the year-end crime report for the county. I helped myself to the free copy, since I planned on being a cop when I grew up. I remember reading something to the effect of DWI: 0, Larceny: 1, Aggravated Assault: 0, Homicide: 0, etc. Those zeroes stood out to me, made me wonder “why bother,” but I guess it showed he was tracking such things.

Then, one year, a sobering Homicide: 1. That chilling murder—in the house right across the street from where I lived—was never solved by our hard-nosed lawman. I can’t help but think that Sheriff Dan Rhodes, who also gets the occasional killing, would have cracked it. In Survivors Will Be Shot Again, he’s dealing with just that … murder:

Rhodes knelt down. The man on the floor was dressed entirely in camouflage clothing. Even his boots were camo-colored. A hood was over his head, which was turned to the side. Two bloodstained holes were in the front of his jacket. A couple of blowflies buzzed around the holes. A trail of ants crawled under the wall and up onto the man's head. Another trail led back under the wall to the outside. Rhodes didn't want to think about what they might be taking out with them.
The body of Melvin Hunt is found at the ranch of Billy Bacon, and Sheriff Rhodes notes Billy is being a tad bit jumpy—like he was aware the corpse was in his barn before calling the police over a robbery. Yep, after a little Rhodes on-the-spot cross examining, it turns out Billy did know about Hunt and had hastily removed a sign from the property front that reads: “Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again.”

It doesn’t look so good, especially after the medical examiner says that is pretty much what happened. But, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. Hunt was dressed in a similar garb of a burglar that had been captured on a previous security camera feed, and yet, he had been the victim of thieving himself when his welding rig was pilfered. Sheriff Rhodes’s investigation leads him into some thorny situations—Hunt’s neighbor who doesn’t particularly care whether the man was killed or not, a marijuana patch guarded by a lazy gator, a survivalist compound, feral hogs, and, when he goes to notify the widow of the unhappy news…vicious dogs:

Moving with an alacrity he hadn't experienced since the long-gone Will o' the Wisp days, Rhodes opened the Tahoe door, jumped inside, and slammed the door. He was just in time. The dog that had been two steps ahead of the other, unable to stop his forward momentum, slammed into the door with enough force to shake the vehicle. Or maybe Rhodes was just imagining that. The Tahoe weighed nearly six thousand pounds, after all.
I’ve been amused by Sheriff Dan Rhodes’s exploits since his debut; like an old friend whose anachronistic manner you have come to appreciate even more in the ensuing years. I chuckled while reading Survivors as Rhodes tosses a loaf of bread at a convenience store robber instead of drawing his gun, as well as his droll reference to Keith Richards when he stumbles onto a wannabe thug who, looking to get high, dimwittedly mistakes an urn for a fancy drug container and inhales the contents. Then, there’s the ongoing entertainment of Rhodes’s extreme “patience,” as he somehow tolerates the relentless one-upmanship from coworkers Hack and Lawton, neither of whom aggravatingly ever seem to get around to the point of any given story. And, to exacerbate it all, hanger-on Seepy Benton, a mathematics professor, thinks himself an indispensable Sherlock.

When not just enjoying broad strokes of comedy (the author’s timing and phrasing are spot-on), I can appreciate Mr. Crider’s unpretentious, wry jabs at narrow-mindedness in all shapes, like Billy’s assertion that the gun isn't his but his wife Nadine’s, who is worried over all the home invasions she reads about. Mr. Crider writes, “Rhodes didn't read much about home invasions, because as far as he knew there hadn't been one in Blacklin County.” Those little asides are what makes reading this twenty-four book series such a treat for the longtime enthusiast. When Billy overuses the word okay, Rhodes ponders, “…if he could shoot Billy if he said okay? one more time.”

Sheriff Dan Rhodes: A Texan Luddite whose keen intuition on human behavior and exalted common sense compensates more than nicely for any police procedures he finds arduous and regularly ignores. In a world of Chicken Littles, he’s a reliable, steady intellect that, though a little worn by time and care, looks at the world at an angle.

Specifically, it’s a human comedy that he wants little part of, but as the linchpin of Clearview, he must move forward…just at his own pace. Another humorous thread woven throughout the books is that of a writing team who’ve apparently been inspired by Sheriff Rhodes and have created, to his dismay, a character named Sage Barton (”two-gun hero”) in a successful series of adventure-romance novels being optioned for film. Everyone sees the resemblance to the heroic lawman except Rhodes himself.

Now, here’s one time I disagree with our humble protagonist, because the good sheriff—not to just the fictional residents of Blacklin County—to me and a number of other readers is larger than life … thanks to Bill Crider.


David Cranmer is the editor of the BEAT to a PULP webzine and whose own body of work has appeared in such diverse publications as The Five-Two: Crime Poetry Weekly, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, LitReactor, Macmillan’s Criminal Element, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Under the pen name Edward A. Grainger he created the Cash Laramie western series. He's a dedicated Whovian who enjoys jazz and backgammon. He can be found in scenic upstate New York where he lives with his wife and daughter.