Monday, October 30, 2023

Halloween Customs of Old

What a timely chance to share research I conducted for a stories based at this time of the year. My story, Wandering Home, was set in the week before Halloween in 1876. In addition to the overall plot of the Texas Ranger who was drifting and looking for a place to settle in for the winter meeting a widowed rancher owner, I wanted to include details that would have come from one of their heritages. Hero was of Norse lineage and heroine was of Irish descent. Another of my stories also set in 1876, Ginger Cake by Glynna, includes some of these traditions. Imagine my glee when I discovered all sorts of traditions involved with Samhain (translated to “summer’s end” and in Celtic religion marks the start of the Darkhalf of the year) and All Saints’ Day. The first being that October 31st was acknowledged as the day all the crops should have been harvested. The Irish believed crops left in the fields after November 1st belonged to the fairies. The day also marked the day of slaughter for grazing animals that weren’t breeding.
At nightfall on October 31st, belief is the earthen mounds can open and release the Sidhe and the dead to walk among the living. This is the time of year when the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest. To appease any dead and keep bad spirits from following them home, people dressed in white and blackened their faces. I also learned that scary masks were worn so the living would look the same as the dead.
Trick or treating was originally called ‘souling’ when children and the poor went from door to door and offered either songs or prayers for the souls of the dead. In return they were given flattened bread with fruit inside. The original vegetable used for carving was a turnip. An old Irish folk tale relates a deal a lazy blacksmith named Stingy Jack made. He trapped the Devil and would only release him when the Devil agreed not to take upon his death. Years later when Jack dies, he has lived a misspent life and refused admittance to Heaven. The Devil upholds his deal and won’t allow Jack into Hell so Jack is consigned to a life of wandering but he begs for a light to help see in the darkness. The Devil tosses him a flame that will not go out and Jack carves a turnip to hold it. And he became known as Jack Of The Lantern.
Traditional foods for the day were apple pies, toffee apples, colcannon (a dish of cabbage, potatoes, butter & milk), potato farls (potato bread), and barmbrack (bread or cakes with fruit baked inside). A bit of barmbrack would be left outside to appease any passing fairies. Coins would be placed in any of the dishes and the future was to be bright for the ones plucking out a “luck penny.” [Sounds a lot like a sixpence being hidden in a British Christmas pudding or a porcelain baby figurine hidden in a Three Kings Cake at Epiphany.] leave a comment by noon on 10/31 for a chance to win an ecopy of Wandering Home. *Note this post is updated from a 2015 post Upcoming release set in the fall
Butter Pound Cake by Berdina, Old-Timey Holiday Kitchen series Bakery manager Berdina Hulbard has big plans to expand the Riverside Bakery’s services to the growing Astoria community. She has visions of creating stylish wedding cakes and elegant petit fours, similar to what she produced at her previous job. During a marathon baking session, she’s interrupted by a blue-eyed brute of a man screaming “Fire” who douses the fire in the brick oven, sending ash over her inventory. Seeing black smoke billowing from a chimney, volunteer fireman Peder Stefansson bolts into the bakery to put out the fire. Peder is temporary squad captain and wants to prove he’s ready to take on the job permanently. When safety is restored, he discovers ruined baked goods, an irate baker, and an escaped canary. He likes the spirit of this spunky beauty with sparks in her brown eyes. What can he do to tame this chaos into cuddles? Releasing November 7 Preorder here Keep in touch with Linda Amazon BookBub Goodreads

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The State Fair - Surprises Around Every Corner by Jo-Ann Roberts


 "At the state fair, we're all children at heart, wide-eyed and eager."

There's something about a good old-fashioned county fair that just seems so happy and rousing. Children exhibiting their animals; mothers bringing their favorite recipes for judging; and fathers often engaging in contests with their draft animals.

Here in North Carolina, an annual 10-day event has just concluded. In addition to everything-fried-on-a-stick, the midway, crafts, and 4-H judging, each day has a theme...Senior Citizens Day, Military Day, and Feed the Hungry Day among others. 

The history of the state fair in the U.S. dates to 1841 when the first gathering was organized in Syracuse, New York.

However, the concept of the "county fair", organized by an agricultural society, was initiated by Elkanah Watson, a New England farmer. In September 1811, he organized an event (known then as a Cattle Show) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. (Side note: Now, I was born and raised in Pittsfield, and I never knew this fact until now!!!) It was not a market, but it was more than just an exhibit of animals -- it was a competition, with prize money ($70) paid for the best oxen, cattle, swine, and sheep.

By 1819, most counties in New England had organized their own agricultural societies and the movement was spreading into other states. As it grew, the activities and exhibits began to reflect wider interests and were no longer limited to agricultural related endeavors. Especially in the West.

The backbone of the fair -- competitions between gardeners, cooks, quilters, and seamstresses -- has always remained a big draw. Other competitions included livestock, crops, rodeos, and pie eating contests.

In the West, horse races were early attractions. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, as transportation styles changed, hot-air balloons were exhibited with parachutists jumping from them as an added attraction. 

The introduction of the automobile during the same period soon brought car racing to fairs. Carnivals -- including merry-go-rounds powered by live horses -- became a popular attraction.

In the 1880s, a week-long state fair could draw hundreds of people from the outlying areas. Visitors filled the hotels and boarding houses, and some camped outside to save money.

The fair offered farms a view of new agricultural techniques and machinery. Farm equipment manufacturers fought for gold medals, while displaying reapers, harrows, cultivator drills, and irrigation devices. One account described steam tractors displayed at the 1868 fair as "smoking monsters that threw scares into rearing horses."

There were also more whimsical displays: a 73-pound, seven-foot-long beet, blocks of ice containing frozen mountain trout, and bouquets of flowers. By the early 1890s, the budget for a fair's prizes was more than $47,000!

Before the modern midway, the fairs featured pony rides, bicycle races, and hot-air balloon rides. The third evening of the fair was a traditional day for everyone to dress up and parade through the Pavilion, entertaining themselves simply by seeing and being seen.

More controversially, gambling became common in the 1870s and 1880s. Horse racing was one of the largest draws at the fair, and fair personnel devoted enormous energy on building racetracks and stables. In 1890, horse race winners received almost twice as much as all fair exhibits combined.

While some argued gambling was immoral and harmful to children, the fair officials stated they encouraged the breeding of fast, strong horses. Rural farmers argued the horse racing permitted too much drinking and bad behavior, catering to the breeders, rather than the broader rural population.

Whether in small towns, large counties, or major cities, fairs provided farm families the opportunity to take time away from the day-to-day of their farm-based lives to provide "a crackling good time for all."

Upcoming New Releases



Wednesday, October 18, 2023

And In the News...

 Post (c) Doris McCraw

aka Angela Raines

Photo (C) Doris McCraw

When researching for a new story it is always fun to look at what was happening during the time and location you're writing about. Here are some pieces of news that happened when my current work in progress occurred.

For example, here's the beginning of an article on the origins of Merino Sheep from the December 3, 1880 issue of the Pueblo Daily Chieftain

Here is a weather report from the Rocky Mountain News of December 3, 1880

And this from the Denver Tribune on December 3, 1880, about ranchers in the Fairplay area regarding the rounrd-up tax. 

Sometimes these older newspapers are a bit hard to read, but the information adds to the authenticity of conversations.  Personally, I enjoy reading about what happened back in the day.

Until Next Time Stay Safe & Stay Well


Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Cowboy Sayings - It’s Raining Cats and Dogs

Photo generated by Canva

“When you hear someone say, ‘It’s raining cats and dogs,’ it immediately conjures images of animals falling from the sky But it doesn't mean you should keep an eye out for flying pets during a rainstorm – it's just an old way of saying it's raining really, really hard. Though cowboy’s used this saying often, they didn’t start it. The first written record of it goes way back to 1738 in a book by Jonathan Swift. He wrote about a guy who'd go out even if it was raining “cats and dogs.”

But even before that, the origin is at question. One idea is that it started with a link to Norse mythology. In Scandinavia, cats were thought to be connected to rain, and dogs were seen as a symbol of storms. So, imagine a big storm where cats and dogs were fighting in the sky. That would be a lot of rain and lightning.

Another possibility is that back in olden times, some English houses had thatched roofs. Stray cats and dogs would often hung out up there, especially when it rained. But when the rain got heavy, the thatch got slippery, and pets started sliding off the roof and onto whoever might be standing below. So when it rained especially hard, you might actually have a dog or cat seem to fall out of the sky.

Regardless, cowboys often had to be out in the weather even if it was a downpour to work the cattle. How about you? Have you ever heard this saying before? Used it yourself? Could you see yourself using it now? Let me know in a comment!

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Thursday, October 12, 2023

Pendleton Petticoats


When I wrote the first book in the Pendleton Petticoats series, I never imagined one story would lead to so many more, a spin-off series, and even a children's book.

But that is exactly what happened after I wrote the book Aundy

Aundy ended up being one of my readers' favorite characters. She's a strong, resilient woman and I'd still like to be more like her when I grow up. 

One mail-order bride discovers

The courage to love

Desperate to better a hopeless situation, Aundy Thorsen leaves behind her life in Chicago to fulfill a farmer’s request for a mail-order bride in Pendleton, Oregon.  When a tragic accident leaves her a widow soon after becoming a wife, Aundy takes on the challenge of learning how to manage a farm, wrangle demented chickens, and raise sheep. Her stubborn determination to succeed upsets more than a few men, including her handsome next-door neighbor.

Born and raised on the family ranch, Garrett Nash loves life in the bustling community of Pendleton in 1899. When his neighbor passes away and leaves behind a plucky widow, Garrett steps into the role of Aundy’s protector and guardian. His admiration for her tenacious spirit soon turns to something more. He just needs to convince the strong-willed woman to give love another chance.

 Sprinkled with humor and filled with hope, this sweet romance illustrates that courage sometimes arrives in a petticoat and love has a mind of its own.

For a limited time, you can get the eBook of Aundy FREE !

Be sure you check out the other books in the series, all inspired by Aundy.

After spending her formative years on a farm in Eastern Oregon, hopeless romantic Shanna Hatfield turns her rural experiences into sweet historical and contemporary romances filled with hope, humor, and hunky heroes.

When this award-winning author isn’t writing or covertly seeking dark, decadent chocolate, Shanna hangs out with her beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller.

Find her online at

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

On the Road Again - Stagecoach Travel was no Picnic

 A Stagecoach traveled an average speed of about five miles per hour, covering approximately sixty to seventy miles daily. Until the railroads began to dominate in the 1850's stagecoach travel was the major method for group transportation. Its popularity continued, even years later, as rural inhabitants continued to rely on the stage. But traveling was far from comfortable. 

Slim Pickens, Van Heflin, and Alex Cord in a still from the 1966 remake of Stagecoach.”Credit...Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Mind Your Manners- Stagecoach Etiquette

Here are a few suggestions noted in the Omaha Herald 1877.
Don't imagine for a moment you are going on a picnic, expect annoyance, discomfort, and some hardship. If you are disappointed, thank heaven. When the driver asks you to get off and walk, do so without grumbling. He will not request it unless it is absolutely necessary. If a team runs away, sit still and take your chances; if you jump, nine times out of ten, you will be hurt.
Photo from the 1939 Movie, "Stagecoach," featuring an amazing stunt by Yakima Canutt.

A stage could hold nine passengers inside and more on the roof. In good weather, the position next to the driver was preferred by most male passengers. This seat was not on a first-come, first-serve basis, but rather permission could only be granted by the stagecoach driver.

Cheyenne, Wyoming stage 1880

Types of Service
Some companies had three classes of service
  • First Class rode all the way.
  • Second Class had to get out and walk on steep slopes.
  • Third Class had to walk and push.

"Stagecoach," 1939 film directed by John Ford.

Stage Stops

There were two types of stations - "swing" and "home."

Dry Fork Way Station, as pictured in the 1939 movie, "Stagecoach."

The "swing" stations were smaller, consisting of little more than a small cabinet and a barn or corral. There, the coach would stop only about ten minutes from changing the team and allowing passengers to stretch before the coach was on its way once more.

"Stagecoach," 1939 film directed by John Ford.

The larger "home" stations were typically situated fifty miles apart and included a stable where the horses could be changed and, often, a blacksmith and repair shop in addition to a telegraph station. Here drivers were usually switched.

"Stagecoach," 1939 film directed by John Ford.

As the stage driver neared the station, he or she would blow a bugle or trumpet to alert the station staff of the impending arrival. Prior to my research, I don't recall learning of a bugle announcing the arrival of the stage, but I could certainly imagine the excitement of a small town, anxious to receive mail, supplies, or perhaps a visitor, or in the case of my new release, a mail-order husband.

New Release Available for Pre-Order

A widowed blacksmith, Joseph Evans, is hardened, hard-pressed, and weighed down by the needs of his unusual family. If only he could find a housekeeper. But they’re in short supply, and Joseph needs one with the patience of Job. “I don’t want a wife. What I need is a miracle.”

Livery stable owner Birdie Murphy needs another pair of hands to save her family home and business. In desperation, she seeks the help of a matchmaker. “I don’t want romance. What I need is a single man without baggage or children – a business partner who’s honest, kind, hardworking, and uncomplicated.”

A satisfied grin spreads across the matchmaker’s face as she considers the surveys. Such a perfect pairing doesn’t occur often. After all, what we think we want and need are two different things.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Railroad Wars: Royal Gorge, Colorado by Zina Abbott












By the time of a huge silver and lead strike in the late 1870s, when miners began pouring into the Arkansas River Valley of Southern Colorado in search for gold, silver and lead, the Denver and Rio Grande Railway (D&RG) and the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway (AT&SF) were already bitter rivals.

May 1891 Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad map

In 1878, the AT&SF competed against the D&RG to put the first line through Raton Pass. Both railroads had extended lines into Trinidad, Colorado, and the pass was the only access to continue on to New Mexico. There was a great deal of legal maneuvering, and even threatened violence between rival gangs of railroad workers. To break the impasse, in February 1878, AT&SF hired a number of local gunfighters. Faced with this threat, and running out of money, the D&RG was forced to cede the pass to its rivals. With this loss, their ambitions of achieving the “Rio Grande” portion of their company name also ended.

The large gold finds in Leadville attracted the attention of both railroads.  Both had tracks in the lower Arkansas Valley at the time. The AT&SF had reached Pueblo, about thirty-five miles east of Cañon City where the D&RG had its tracks. Leadville was over one hundred miles northwest of Cañon City. Both these railroads wanted the right-of-way for transporting ore and other freight to and from the mining regions.

1881 Royal Gorge

Normally, it would not be unreasonable for two competing lines to build tracks close to each other. The big bottleneck that dictated only one could travel this route was the Royal Gorge of the Arkansas River. Starting about eight miles east of Cañon City at the confluence of Grape Creek, the ten-mile-long canyon was comprised of sheer granite walls that plunged 1,250 into the Arkansas River. It was thirty feet at its narrowest point. The floor of the gorge presented itself as an almost impossible barrier for placing one set of tracks. It could not accommodate two.

Tour train at beginning of eastern entrance Royal Gorge

In April of 1878, a construction crew assembled by the AT&SF began grading for a rail line west of Cañon City at the mouth of the gorge. The D&RG, which had track that ended about three-quarters of a mile east of Cañon City, quickly sent crews to the same area, but were blocked by the AT&SF workers at the narrow entrance. This was to be the first round in the two-year struggle of the Royal Gorge War.


1871 Baldwin 2-4-0, first D&RG locomotive

Smaller in size, but big in ambition, the D&RG held its ground and refused to allow Santa Fe access to Royal Gorge. Both rail lines hastily built forts. This time, both rail lines hired gunslingers to drive off the opposition. Both bought politicians while courts intervened to bring settlement to the disagreements.

Both railroads went to court in an effort to establish themselves as having the primary right of way. In April 1879, the D&RG was granted the right to build through the gorge.

 AT&SF announced it would build parallel tracks and compete with existing D&RG lines. Fearing financial ruin, bond holders of D&RG pressured management to lease the tracks to AT&SF for thirty years. A short-lived truce was established.

AT&SF controlling the D&RG lines proved to be detrimental to both the D&RG and the Denver merchants. AT&SF quickly began to manipulate freight rates south of Denver in favor of shippers from Kansas City over its lines to the east. During this period the AT&SF constructed the railroad through the Royal Gorge itself.

D&RG continued their construction west of the gorge in a continuing effort to block the AT&SF.

On March 20, 1879 the AT&SF hired Bat Masterson, a sheriff in Ford County, Kansas, at the time. Some sources allege AT&SF used its political influence to obtain a U.S. Marshal’s appointment for him so he could legally defend their property.  He put together a group of famous gunmen including Doc Holliday, Ben Thompson, Dave Rudabaugh, and “Mysterious” Dave Mather and about seventy other men. While lawyers argued both sides in court, armed men hired by Santa Fe took control of Rio Grande stations from Denver to Cañon City.

However, over the months, the income from the leased portion of the D&RG tracks continued to shrink. D&RG went to court to break the lease. On June 10, 1879,  court injunction restraining the AT&SF from operating on the D&RG lines, This sparked the armed retaking of the railroad by Denver & Rio Grande crews.

A form of guerilla warfare continued, with the AT&SF doing well through early June 1879. There was heavy fighting at the AT&SF’s garrisons in Colorado. The garrisons in Denver and Colorado Springs fell quickly. Masterson's headquarters in Pueblo held out the longest, but they eventually conceded defeat.

Castle Rock D7RG depot south of Denver

One story of the conflict took place in June 1879 involved R.F. Weitbrec, treasurer of the D&RG, suggesting to Chief Engineer J. A. McMurtrie, Sheriff Henly R. Price, and his deputy, Pat Desmond, that they “borrow” the cannon from the state armory as a way to drive Masterson and his men from the roundhouse. To their surprise and dismay, the group found that Masterson had already “borrowed” the cannon and had it at the roundhouse trained on the line of attackers.

Weitbrec assembled a group of gunmen. They stormed the telegraph office on the railroad platform and drove the defenders out the back windows, where, it is said, Henry Jenkins, the only causality of the war, was shot in the back by a drunken Rio Grande guard. They then turned their full attention to the roundhouse.

With the cannon trained on them, Weitbrec met with Masterson, who then surrendered the roundhouse. One anecdotal story claims Weitbrech paid Masterson and his men to leave. Although later criticized for accepting $25.000 to leave, Masterson probably left because of the court decision.

Whether the above is true or not, the battle that counted took place in the courts. On June 10, the state Fourth Judicial Circuit, with the later concurrence of the Federal Courts, ruled in favor of the D&RG. That completely changed the situation. With the assistance of the sheriffs in the counties through which the railroads passed, the Denver and Rio Grande mounted an attack on its rival's forces until the AT&SF surrendered their claim.

Salida, Colorado, Roundhouse

In March 1880, a Boston Court granted the AT&SF the rights to Raton Pass, while ordering the D&RG to pay an exorbitant amount for the trackage extending through the Royal Gorge.   While this "Treaty of Boston" did not completely favor the original D&RG intentions, it did give them access to the booming mining district of Leadville, Colorado, the wealth of the new mining settlements to the west, and the opportunity to expand into Utah.

The railroad “robber baron” Jay Gould agreed to loan the D&RG $400,000 while announcing the intention to complete a rail line in competition with the Santa Fe from St. Louis to Pueblo.

On March 27, 1880, both railroads signed what was called the Treaty of Boston, which settled all litigation and gave the D&RG back its railroad. D&RG paid Santa Fe $1.8 million for the rail line it had built in the gorge, the grading it had completed, materials on hand, and interest. The Royal Gorge War was over.

D&RG resumed construction and the rails finally reached Leadville on July 20, 1880. From there, it built westward.

If you would enjoy reading one of my earlier posts about the formation of the Denver & Rio Grande Railway, please CLICK HERE

Set in the end of 1882, my next book to be released, Vinegar Pie by Varinia in the Old Timey Holiday Kitchen series takes me back to the Salida, Colorado, region. The Denver & Rio Grande Railway reached this town on May 20, 1880. To find the book description and pre-order link, please CLICK HERE