Thursday, August 11, 2022

On This Day in the Old West: August 12

 On August 12, 1969, Emperor Joshua A. Norton issued a new proclamation. What? You weren’t aware that the United States had an emperor? Well, we did, from 1859 to 1880.


Joshua Norton was born in England, but not much is known of his life until he arrived in San Francisco in late 1849. We do know he spent much of his early life in South Africa, but there’s no clue as to what he did for a living or how he got to San Francisco from Boston, Massachusetts, where he landed in March 1846.


Norton operated in San Francisco as a successful commodities trader and real estate speculator. He was actually one of the city’s richest citizens by late 1852. In December 1852, Norton saw a business opportunity. China, faced with a severe famine, banned the export of rice, a move which caused the price of the grain to rise in San Francisco from four to thirty-six cents per pound. Norton bought out a shipment of rice from a Peruvian ship carrying 200,000 pounds. He paid twelve cents a pound, thinking to make a profit when he sold the rice at thirty-six cents. However, shortly after he signed the contract, other Peruvian ships arrived with more rice, causing the price to plummet to three cents a pound. 


After spending nearly two years in a heated court battle with the Peruvians, Norton lost his bid to have the rice contract voided. He lost his fortune and the Lucas Turner & Company Bank foreclosed on his holdings in North Beach to pay his debts. Norton declared insolvency in August 1856.


There followed a three-year period during which Joshua Norton practically disappeared from the public eye. It is known that he took lodgings in a working-class boarding house and in September 1857, he served on the jury during the trial of a man accused of stealing a bar of gold from Wells Fargo. In August 1858, Norton ran an ad announcing his candidacy for US Congress. 


By 1859, Norton had become completely disillusioned with what he considered “the inadequacies of the legal and political structure of the United States.” In July, he published his first “Manifesto” in the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, addressed to the “Citizens of the Union” and outlining what he saw as the national crisis. Norton suggested the imperative for action to address this crisis but did not lay out any concrete plans for such action.


Two months later, on September 17, Joshua Norton hand delivered a letter to the offices of the Bulletin:


At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of San Francisco, California, declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these United States; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of February next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.


He signed this letter Norton I, Emperor of the United States.


The newspaper, thinking this a grand joke, printed the letter in their evening edition, and the 25 year “reign” of Emperor Norton officially began.


The Emperor issued many decrees on matters of state, such as the one abolishing the US Congress in 1859, and the subsequent decree ordering the US Army to depose the elected officials in 1860. Neither the Army nor Congress paid any attention to these official notices.


On August 12, 1869, a decree was issued abolishing the Democratic and Republican Parties. Norton stated he was “desirous of allaying the dissentions of party strife now existing within our realm.” Sounds like a reasonable plan--maybe we need a new Emperor nowadays.

Emperor Norton spent most of his days inspecting the streets, taking note of the condition of the sidewalks and cable cars, the state of repair of public property, and the appearance of the local police officers. He spent time in parks and libraries and paid visits to newspaper offices and old friends in the city, in Oakland, and in Berkeley. In the evenings, Norton was often seen at political gatherings or at theatrical or musical performances, where he was given free admission.


He wore an elaborate blue uniform with gold-plated epaulettes, sometimes given to him secondhand by officers at the Army post at the Presidio of San Francisco. Norton embellished this with several accoutrements, such as a beaver hat sporting an ostrich or peacock feather and his rosette. He also carried a walking stick and an umbrella. 


The 1870 US Census lists Joshua Norton as a 50-year-old living at 624 Commercial Street; occupation: Emperor. It also noted that he was insane.


Emperor Norton reigned until January 8, 1880, when he collapsed on the corner of California Street and Dupont Street (now Grant Avenue), in front of Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral. The police immediately sent for a carriage to take him to the nearest hospital, but Norton died before it arrived. The San Francisco Morning Call reported the following day, “On the reeking pavement, in the darkness of a moonless night, under the dripping rain … Norton I, by the grace of God, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, departed this life.” Two days later, the San Francisco Chronicle posted an article on Norton’s funeral with the headline “Le Roi Est Mort.”


Your characters would likely have been aware of the existence of this beloved eccentric, as his antics and proclamations were widely reported in newspapers around the West. They might well have run into the Emperor if they traveled to San Francisco during the years of his reign. The Emperor always makes a wonderfully humorous addition to a historical story.


J.E.S. Hays

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

 Ranger Jim's Ramblings for August, 2022

Howdy, all,

I realize I'm a day late, but there's two reasons. First, I've been a bit under the weather. Second, today was release day for the 12th volume in my LONE STAR RANGER series, A RANGER AT PEACE.

Nate Stewart is now 21 years old, a Lieutenant commanding a small company of Rangers. Trouble a-plenty awaits them in Tascosa, the most dangerous town in the Texas Panhandle. 

However, Nate's got a bigger concern. Does he want to remain a Ranger, or get married, settle down, and have a family? Sonya Martinez knows what she'd like. But Nate just isn't certain. Besides, the outlaws of the Panhandle have other plans for Nate... like seeing him dead.

Here's a trivia question for all of you. Two of the characters in the book are named Colby Sawyer and Avery Fisher Hall, Who can tell me where those names come from?

Pick up your copy from Amazon today!

Until next month, when hopefully the weather will be cooler.

"Ranger" Jim

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Ron Schwab - 2021 Peacemaker Award Winner


Family can be a good thing. We can thank Ron's son for giving Ron the nudge to get his stories out in the world. Ron's dedication to telling those stories is pretty inspiring. Read on to find out how this former lawyer is making his mark in the fiction world.

From Ron's Amazon Author Pag

* Do you like to write short or longer stories?

I have never mastered the short story and do not enjoy writing them. I am in awe of the skill of those who craft good short stories. I had some success with a 30,000-word novella, Peyote Spirits, but that is my minimum for word count. Almost everything I write falls within the 65,000-to-90,000-word range.

* Do you write for the market or yourself? 

Both. My publisher son gives me his thoughts on the type of novel he thinks he can market best and then the idea strikes. For instance, Old Dogs published in April 2021 was our biggest financial success. I had assumed that the book would remain a standalone, but in December Mike said it was time for a sequel. Day of the Dog was released in April 2022 and has been a great commercial success, bringing with it a revival of the first book. We try to produce four novels annually, and the market decides when another series book is due.

Amazon -
2021 Peacemaker Award Winner

* What life experiences influenced your writing?

It would be more difficult to think of something that has not. It has been helpful, however, that I was a large animal veterinarian’s son and grew up in a rural atmosphere. I also have raised cattle and hogs and in my previous profession worked with many farmers and ranchers in Nebraska.

* Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am a pantser. I’ve never outlined a project, and I have no idea what is going to happen in the next chapter till I get there. It wouldn’t do much good. In the novel Medicine Wheel, I created a female character who was fated for death, but by the time I got to that point I was so enamored of her, I couldn’t bring myself to kill her, and she recovered from her illness. I confess that I am sometimes forced to write myself out of a plotting corner.

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

I try to write something every day with a goal of 2000 words. I’m not too hard on myself when I don’t reach my objective, though, and of course, quite pleased when I hit 3000.


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

 I am 81 years old and started my writing career at age 74, not counting three best-forgotten titles published under a pseudonym for Tower/Leisure books over 40 years ago. I was a country lawyer for 50 years and wrote a few novels which I did not attempt to publish during those years. My youngest son Mike read one of them, called, and said he thought he could publish and sell that book and the several others I had lying around. Two of those novels, Last Will and Night of the Coyote were Peacemaker finalists in 2015. Changing careers was a risk, because there is no market for a small-town law practice, and I made enough bad financial decisions in my life to assure that I would not be retiring before age 95. My wife Bev, who does first edit, was supportive, and we now live most of the time in a Kansas Flint Hills cabin. It has worked out quite well, and I am very fortunate to be living my dream in my old age, although I will still need to keep writing and publishing for another 15 years or so.

* Do you write in other genres?


* Research, do you find it important? 

It is important in most of my books. I have written a few historical westerns, including Cut Nose, which was a Spur finalist, and I always try to include bits of history in my novels sufficient to give the reader the illusion of my expertise.


* Do you have unique ‘marketing’ tips you are willing to share?

I write for the Amazon/ Kindle market. It was my son’s idea, and he formed his own publishing company to publish my novels. He has since worked with a few other writers but is convinced that to find commercial success in that market, a writer needs to release multiple titles during a year’s time. Some of these may be from a writer’s backlist, but it appears important to keep books in front of the reading public in that market. It’s different, of course, if one has million-book best sellers.

* What advice would you give to those who dream of writing, or what advice would you give your younger self?

Persistence. My hero Calvin Coolidge said, “Nothing in the world will take the place of persistence. Talent will not…genius will not…education will not.” I suspect most writers understand this.

For more about Ron and his Books:

Amazon Author Page

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