Friday, October 18, 2019

Halloween: Tricks Before Treats?

Barbara Goss 

Nineteenth-century urbanization unleashed the nation’s anarchic spirits, turning holiday mischief into mayhem.
Imagine. Pre-electricity, no moon. It’s late October, and the people whisper: This is the season for witchery, the night the spirits of the dead rise from their graves and hover behind the hedges.
The wind kicks up, and branches click like skeletal finger bones. You make it home, run inside, wedge a chair against the door, and strain to listen. There’s a sharp rap at the window and when you turn, terrified, it’s there leering at you—a glowing, disembodied head with a deep black hole where its mouth should be.
It’s just a scooped-out pumpkin, nicked from a field by some local boys and lit from the inside with the stub of a candle. But it has spooked you. When you look again, it’s gone.
Halloween in early 19th-century America was a night for pranks, tricks, illusions, and anarchy. Jack-o’-lanterns dangled from the ends of sticks, and teens jumped out from behind walls to terrorize smaller kids. Like the pumpkin patches and pageants that kids love today, it was all in good fun—but then, over time, it wasn’t.
In late nineteen century, and early twentieth century, when Americans generally lived in small communities and better knew their neighbors, it was often the local grouch who was the brunt of Halloween mischief. The children would cause trouble and the adults would just smile guiltily to themselves, amused by rocking chairs engineered onto rooftops, or pigs set free from sties. But when early 20th-century Americans moved into crowded urban centers—full of big city problems like poverty, segregation, and unemployment—pranking took on a new edge. Kids pulled fire alarms, threw bricks through shop windows, and painted obscenities on the principal’s home. They struck out blindly against property owners, adults, and authority in general. They begged for money or sweets, and threatened vandalism if they didn’t receive them.

Some grown-ups began to fight back. Newspapers in the early 20th century reported incidents of homeowners firing buckshot at pranksters who were only 11 or 12 years old. “Letting the air out of tires isn’t fun anymore,” wrote the Superintendent of Schools of Rochester, New York in a newspaper editorial in 1942, as U.S. participation in World War II was escalating. “It’s sabotage. Soaping windows isn’t fun this year. Your government needs soaps and greases for the war … Even ringing doorbells has lost its appeal because it may mean disturbing the sleep of a tired war worker who needs his rest.” That same year, the Chicago City Council voted to abolish Halloween and instead institute a “Conservation Day” on October 31. (Implementation got kicked to the mayor, who doesn’t appear to have done much about it.)
The effort to restrain and recast the holiday continued after World War II, as adults moved Halloween celebrations indoors and away from destructive tricks, and gave the holiday over to younger and younger children. The Senate Judiciary Committee under President Truman recommended Halloween be repurposed as “Youth Honor Day” in 1950, hoping that communities would celebrate and cultivate the moral fiber of children. The House of Representatives, sidetracked by the Korean War, neglected to act on the motion, but there were communities that took it up: On October 31, 1955 in Ocala, Florida, a Youth Honor Day king and queen were crowned at a massive party sponsored by the local Moose Lodge. As late as 1962, New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. wanted to change Halloween to UNICEF Day, to shift the emphasis of the night to charity.

Of course, the real solution was already gaining in practice by that time. Since there were children already out demanding sweets or money, why not turn it into it a constructive tradition? Teach them how to politely ask for sweets from neighbors, and urge adults to have treats at the ready. The first magazine articles detailing “trick or treat” in the United States appeared in The American Home in the late 1930s. Radio programs aimed at children, such as The Baby Snooks Show, and TV shows aimed at families, like The Jack Benny Program, put the idea of trick-or-treating in front of a national audience. The 1952 Donald Duck cartoon Trick or Treat reached millions via movie screens and TV. It featured the antics of Huey, Dewey, and Louie, who, with the help of Witch Hazel’s potions, get Uncle Donald to give them candy instead of the explosives he first pops into their treat bags.
Today, trick or treat has more variants: trunk or treat, where kids go car-to-car in a parking lot asking for candy; and trick or treat for UNICEF, where youngsters collect money for charity along with their treats. Few children, especially young ones, have an inkling of what mischief was once possible.

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Barbara Goss, Author
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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Rosita Colorado

Post by Doris McCraw
writing as Angela Raines

I've been doing research on the town of Rosita, Colorado for a current project. Located in the Wet Mountain Valley in south-central Colorado, it has a history that begs to be told.

Driving into the Wet Mountain Valley
photo property of the author
I knew of the town from the writing of Helen (Hunt) Jackson. She set her story, "Nellie's Silver Mine" in the region. The book was published in 1878. Many consider this children's book to be a wonderful description of what life was like in the 1800s. While the language is that of the time period, the book has such wonderful detail of the region and what was going on. You can find a free copy from The  Gutenberg Project online.

The town, now a ghost town, sits at 8,809 feet. It came into being when silver was located in the area. Founded in 1872 it grew from a tent town to a population of 1,000 by 1874 with stores, hotels, saloons, and a school. Unfortunately, the boom didn't last long. Soon Silver Cliff then Westcliff took over as the county seat of Custer County.

Headstone in Silver Cliff Cemetery
Below are some news clips about the town and region. Both are from the Sierra Journal (Rosita) from August 13, 1885.

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For more information you can check the following article: Rosita Colorado Mining History

Drew Carson is released from prison on the condition he kill a woman who is living on land wanted by someone else. Will he follow through or will the Angels in the Valley change his mind. This story, with its paranormal elements, is a perfect read for this time of year.

Angel of Salvation Valley by [Raines, Angela]
Amazon Purchase

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What is a Stalking Horse?

In today's society we don't hear much about stalking horses any more, but when it's used, most wouldn't know the meaning or the origin. Now when someone is called a stalking horse, it's a negative connotation. A stalking horse is someone who was used by another in order to get something bigger or greater. For example, if someone pretends to be friends with one person, because they really want to get to know a friend or relative of theirs better.

In the Sweet Americana time period, a stalking horse was used as a moveable blind to get closer to game -- ducks or deer, for example. Most wildlife didn't find the shape of a horse to be threatening on its own, not like the threat of the shape and shadow of a man. So using their horse, a hunter could get closer to their true goal.

The most famous stalking horse was used centuries before:

After ten years of trying to infiltrate the city of Troy on their own, the Greeks came up with the plan of using a horse shaped statue as a peace gift, when really they were concealing themselves inside. 

It seems that the horse is considered one of man's most useful and innocuous companions, no one thinks of them as being menacing or conniving. Instead they were easily used as a means from getting from one place to another, for working with farmers in their fields, for companionship, and even for hunting or treachery. Maybe we should learn from this to think about peoples intentions before allowing them to get too close. Sometimes it is better to look the gift horse in the mouth.

On average, P. Creeden releases 2-3 stories each month. Interested in learning more? 
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Monday, October 14, 2019

The California Grizzly by Zina Abbott


 I’m almost home from the Women Writing the West conference, but not yet. We are stopped for the day, so time to get my blog post up. Since I am pressed for time, I will share most of the information from a previous post from March, 2017 that was published in the Prairie Rose Publications blog.

While working on my most recently-published novel set in the mountains of eastern California, for one scene I needed a predator. I considered both cougars and black bears, animals still found in California. A quick review of how a cougar stalks and attacks its prey convinced me it was not my best choice for my scene. 

Black Bear - Yellowstone National Park
A black bear—a misnomer since this species of bear can be anywhere from black to golden brown in color—can be a formidable foe, but not enough. Living as close to Yosemite National Park as I do, I know about the bear problems that can erupt there, mainly black bears raiding ice chests and tearing open cars to get at food left where it can be seen. However, it is known that if people run across a black bear, as long as they don’t have it cornered to where there is no escape route, a lot of shouting, arm-waving and creating loud noises such as beating on the bottom a pan with a metal spoon will almost always scare a black bear away.

When deciding on a credible predator for my characters to face. I ruled out both mountain lions and black bears. Only a grizzly bear would do. The question was, were there still grizzly bears alive in California in 1884? 

Grizzly bear from Denali National Park

The California grizzly (Ursus arctos californicus) was a subspecies of the grizzly, the very large North American brown bear. "Grizzly" could have meant "grizzled" (that is, with golden and grey tips of the hair) or "fear-inspiring". Nonetheless, after careful study, naturalist George Ord formally classified it in 1815 – not for its hair, but for its character – as Ursus horribilis ("terrifying bear"). Genetically, North American grizzlies are closely related; in size and coloring, the California grizzly was much like the grizzly of the southern coast of Alaska, shown above. In California, it was particularly admired for its beauty, size, and strength. 

Lassoing a Grizzly

The first recorded encounters of California grizzlies by the Europeans are in the diaries kept by several members of the 1769 Portola expedition, first exploration by land of what is now the state of California. Several place names that include the Spanish word for bear (oso) trace their origins back to that first expedition.
As the settled frontier of New Spain was extended northward, settlers began to populate California and establish large cattle herds as the main industry. The grizzly bears killed livestock and so became enemies of the rancheros. Vaqueros hunted the grizzlies, sometimes roping and capturing them to be displayed in public battles with bulls. This popular spectator sport inspired betting as to whether the bear or the bull would win.

The Euro-Americans found a large population of grizzlies throughout the state. Grizzlies were perceived as a dire threat to life and property, and were killed in large numbers. By the early 1900s, few grizzlies and little of their prime habitat in the Central Valley where I currently live remained.

Kodiak Grizzly bear-similar in appearance to a California Grizzly

A Kodiak bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi), is very similar physiologically to the California grizzly, despite the pronounced humpback.

Replica of the first California Bear Flag (Republic of California)
The grizzly became a symbol of the Bear Flag Republic, a moniker that was attached to the short-lived attempt by a group of American settlers to break away from Mexico in 1846. Critics often pointed out that this quickly-assembled flag looked more like a pig than a bear. However the men of the Bear Flag Revolt intended it to be not just a bear, but a grizzly bear, a symbol in that part of the world of something powerful and to be feared if crossed. Later, this rebel flag became the basis for the state flag of California. California became known as the "Bear State."
California State flag today

The California Grizzly Bear, the largest and most powerful of the bears, thrived in the state for centuries. Some grew to a formidable height of 8 feet and weighed 2,000 pounds, according to a history of California written in 1898. When European immigrants arrived in the state, it was estimated that 10,000 grizzlies inhabited most regions of California. As humans began to populate the state, the grizzly stood its ground, refusing to retreat in the face of advancing civilization.

James "Grizzly" Adams

Less than 75 years after the discovery of gold, however, every grizzly in California had been tracked down and killed. Although the grizzly had roamed the state at will for 300 years, the gold rush of 1849 rang the death knell for the bear. 

It has been said that the appearance of the repeating rifle in 1848 spelled death for the grizzly. Initially hunted by miners and others because it was considered dangerous, the grizzly was then mercilessly hunted for sport and for its warm fur. Settlers in the late 1800s commonly shot and poisoned bears to protect their livestock. The last hunted California grizzly was shot in Tulare County, California, in August 1922, although no body, skeleton or pelt was ever produced. Two years later in 1924, what was thought to be a grizzly was spotted in Sequoia National Park for the last time, and thereafter, grizzlies were never seen again in California.

Today, the California grizzly (Ursus arctos californicus) is an extinct subspecies of the grizzly, the very large North American brown bear. However, the memory as a powerful predator and a formidable foe lives on by its presence on the California state flag.

The book in which my grizzly bear scene appears is Escape from Gold Mountain. Here is an excerpt:

          Luke knew about bears. Where he had come from, many young boys proved their bravery and earned their manhood by hunting down and killing bears. He had heard multiple stories about the traits and the dangers bears posed. He had faced one himself while still in Minnesota.
          However, this predator was not like the black bears he knew back home. Although black bears could be any color from black to golden brown, this one, medium brown in color, possessed different characteristics. It carried itself differently, with shoulders higher than its hind legs. A distinct hump rose at the back of its neck.
          Luke suspected he was looking at a grizzly bear. He had once seen a newspaper illustration of one. The great hulking beasts at one time had roamed throughout California. These days, they were mostly gone from populated regions. Although hunted until very few remained in the state, the few that did exist had abandoned their native valley habitat to the west where they had thrived earlier in the century. They now roamed high in the sparsely-inhabited Sierra Nevada Mountains.
          Grizzlies were reputed to be an aggressive species. Unlike black bears that avoided contact with humans, attempts to drive grizzlies away with shouts or gunfire tended to incite rather than deter them. They attack rather than flee.
          To prepare for hibernation, this bear had probably followed the creek in hope of finding pools deep enough to hold fish. Along the way, it probably stripped off any berries still clinging to bushes this late in the year. Luke suspected that, although the bear could not reach the half of a chicken he had hung high in a tree, the scent might have drawn the grizzly. If so, it would not be easily detracted from its goal.
          A multitude of thoughts chased each other through Luke’s mind. If he ran towards the cabin with Loi, the movement of fleeing prey would attract the bear and could prompt it to attack. In spite of their awkward-appearing bulk, bears ran faster than humans. They could outrun and bring down a horse.
          “Shorty, take Ling Loi house!”
          The panic in her voice shook Luke to his core, but he knew he dared not do what she demanded. Tex’s cabin smelled of food. Although the log walls were sturdy enough, if the bear wanted in, neither the door nor the roof were strong enough to keep it out. In addition, even if they made it inside and barricaded the door, their flight would draw the grizzly to his mare trapped in the pole barn, an easy target for the hulking predator.
          The grizzly reared up on its hind legs and roared. In addition to the scent of meat and the panicked bugling of the horse, it had spotted the pair at the top of the hill.
          “Climb up the tree, Loi. It’s the only way.”

Escape from Gold Mountain is now offered digitally exclusively on Amazon and in the Kindle Unlimited program.  The book is also available in print format on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Here are the purchase links:

Wikipedia-California Grizzly Bears