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Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Mother's Day, Five Generations, and Marty Robbins by Kaye Spencer #prairierosepubs #lovesongs #generationalfamily

Bear with me. This is a stream of consciousness article.


With Mother’s Day just this past Sunday, the females in my family are on my mind. Specifically, these four females:

My mom is 89. I’m  67. My daughter is 43. My oldest granddaughter is 25.

Why did I choose just these four females, when I have three younger granddaughters (and two grandsons), a sister-in-law, and two daughters-in law whom I love dearly?

Because my oldest granddaughter will have a baby boy in June, and this gives us five generations. That is amazing to me. Five generations alive at the same time. This is a simple, but joyous, thing that I’m thankful for and it brings a bit of love, hope, and happiness to my usual state of cynical hopelessness for humankind. With the weight of so many ‘unjoyous’ things in the media these days, I’m grabbing every bit of joy I can find and holding onto it with both hands.

I will leave you with the greatest love song ever written (you’ll never convince me otherwise) as a tribute to the love one man has for his wife. I’m sharing it, because the song, and the artist who wrote and sang it, bring me great joy.

Also, the song epitomizes the many reasons I write romances.

My Woman, My Woman, My Wife by Marty Robbins

https://youtu.be/1ZpJsLHM9so


Until next time,
Kaye Spencer
writing through history one romance upon a time

Monday, May 9, 2022

1848 Colt Dragoon

In my 2019 short story WANTED: THE SHERIFF, the hero, Sheriff Matthew Tate, carries a matched pair of 1848-Model 3 Colt Dragoons.

The Dragoon grew out of the problems with the Colt Walker revolver, a 4.5 pound, 15” long hunk of steel. The Dragoon was only 4 pounds, 2 ounces. And, where the Walker’s barrel was 9” long, the Dragoon’s was only 7.5”.  The Walker was a powerful weapon, but its size meant it was used mostly as a saddle-mounted weapon. It was just too long and too heavy to wear around your waist and draw from a holster.

And there was the propensity for the Walker to explode when users put in too much powder. Where the Walker held 60 grains of powder, the Dragoon held only 50 grains—less powder, less danger.

Also, the Walker’s loading lever tended to fall during firing, locking up the revolver and rendering the weapon useless. Not a good thing when you need a working gun. The Dragoon added a lever latch to hold it in place. Problem solved.

“Three major-production Dragoon models were produced between 1848 and 1860. The First Model had oval-shaped cylinder notches, no wheel on the rear of the hammer and no pins between the nipples. Colt produced about 7,000 First Models between 1848 and 1850. The Second Model had rectangular cylinder notches and a "wheel" on the hammer. First and Second models both had square-back trigger guards. The company made about 2,550 Second Models in 1850 and 1851. Approximately 10,000 Third Model Dragoons were made from 1851 through 1860, with many variations. All Third-Model Dragoons had a round trigger guard. Records show 8,390 Dragoons were ordered by the U.S. government.” (quoted from article on website of Cabella's)

The Dragoon revolver helped transform Samuel Colt's young pistol-making business into one of the most dominating forces in firearm history.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Tomfoolery and the Men of the Oaks

Tomfoolery and the Men of the Oaks

By C. A. Asbrey

Have you ever wondered where we get the term 'John Doe', why we call silliness, 'tomfoolery', or why Murphy has his own law? I certainly have. They are all examples of either placeholder words, or Eponyms—words used to indicate a concept or thing. When a placeholder word can be a general nonsense word, such as 'thingy', 'widget', or (my favourite Scottish version) 'cardumflement', the word is meant to informally take the place of a real word. Many sink into the lexicon of families, becoming their own jargon, and everyone knows what granny is asking for when she reaches out a hand and asks for the 'whatsit', 'kadigan', or 'thingumajig.' The context provides the meaning.

Sometimes the word is simply lost in a moment of concentrating on something else, and the placeholder name is just beyond the reach of the speaker's memory. At other times they are used to assign a generality to a universal truth, or to avoid stigmatisation. In at least one case, they did more than prevent victimisation—it helped provide legal redress.     

Tom Fool's Tree in Front of Muncaster Castle
Tomfoolery is based on real people. Since the Middle ages 'Tom Fole' was a name assigned to those who were supposed to be of little intelligence. Tom was a common name, so it was an everyman kind of designation. In the lower case, it was an insult. When capitalised, it was a stock character in every pageant, play, or entertainment—Tom Fool was a clown, a jester, or a buffoon. Tomfoolery became the word for general silliness.There is evidence that women were also performing this role too. Joculators appeared in documents from the eleventh century, and a Jocultrix called Adeline is recorded as owning land in 1086 in Hampshire. Roland Le Pettour was gifted thirty acres of land by King Henry II in the twelfth century on the provision that he return to court every Christmas day to, 'leap, whistle, and fart.' It's worth understanding that the jester only performed a couple of times a year at most, as regular appearances ate up material. The rest of the time they were trusted family servants and used that time to observe and perfect their act for special occassions. 

Rich people often had their own jester, and it was a dangerous role. Meant to entertain the king, the jester often spoke the truths nobody else dared to utter. Comedy without edge was dull. Too edgy, and a comedian could be laughing all the way to the gallows. Jesters were also the people chosen to deliver dangerous messages at times of war. The term, 'shoot the messenger is now figurative, but it used to be literal. It wasn't unknown for the messenger to be sent back to his own side by the use of a trebuchet, and sometimes it was simply the messenger's severed head.  

Thomas Skelton

By the middle ages the professional fool was quick-witted, educated, and astute. He no longer dressed as a clown, and wore normal clothes. He had the ear of the king, or local nobleman, and therefore was a dangerous enemy if slighted. One such dangerous jester was Thomas Skelton, who was said to have inspired Shakespeare's Joker in King Lear. He was the last professional jester at Muncaster Castle, the stronghold of the powerful Pennington family.

When a stranger passed by the castle, Thomas was notorious for judging people quickly, and the capricious man didn't hesitate to send those he didn't like on a 'fool's errand'. He would send them off to the marshlands and quicksands where they'd meet their deaths. If he did like them, he'd point out the genuine road. He is also infamous for conspiring with the rival in love for the hand of one of the Pennington daughters to have a local carpenter beheaded for daring to form a relationship with Helwise Pennington. 

Thomas Skelton died around 1600, and his ghost is said to still haunt the castle to this day.  

And what about 'John Doe'? The origins go back into legal history, used less as a way to name an unknown, but more as a way for the plaintiff to remain anonymous and beyond the reach of a powerful man accused of wrong-doing. It was a legal instrument in use since the twelfth century at least. The name could also be a placeholder for a group of people as part of a class action. 'John' obviously reflects the everyman aspect once more, but the 'Doe' is a giveaway to the Norman origins. There are various ancient versions recorded in court cases: John D'Oakes (John of the Oaks), John-a-Stiles (John of the Stiles), John Roe (reflecting roe deer, more than the general Norman surname of Le Rous, meaning redhead, and John Noakes (again pertaining to someone who lived amongst the oaks). All these cases have one thing in common; the plaintiff appears to live in modest circumstances.

device by which these cases could be heard by the lower courts, and therefore resolved more quickly. An obscure legal dodge developed whereby many John Does and Richard Roes claimed to have leased land from another party, and that party turned out to be themselves under another legal alias. These vicarious claims could be compounded by multiple layers of aliases, and as the original lessor had to be given a chance to defend the action, it made it much harder to get to the bottom of a property dispute. These medieval devices became obsolete by the Real Property Limitation Act of 1833, and by the 1850s the terms had fallen out of use in the UK, other than a 'John Doe' injunction. J.K. Rowling used this legal device to prevent an unnamed person selling stolen chapters from an unpublished book.


In the USA 'John Doe' continued to be used, mainly for the placeholder name for an unidentified person or body. There are many variants, the commonest being the female version of 'Jane Doe'. There have been cases where a plaintiff has been anonymised for their own protection, the most famous being Roe vs Wade.

I mentioned 'Murphy's law', and this is actually a very recent addition to our lexicon, and it's also based on a real man. Edward A. Murphy was an American aerospace engineer who worked on safety critical systems. The man himself reputedly said the real version was, "If there's more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in disaster, then he will do it that way." Murphy regarded the more popular version of the saying as "ridiculous, trivial and erroneous". The phrase, "If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong" entered the public consciousness in 1952 when a colleague mentioned 'Murphy's Law' in a press interview.             


There are far too many examples to cover in a blog post. I'm sure most of you know that the Oscar is named after somebody called Oscar. Which Oscar is up for dispute. Some say it was named after Bette Davis' Husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson. Another version tells us that Margaret Herrick, an executive director in the Academy named it as it reminded her of her "Uncle Oscar", a nickname for her cousin Oscar Pierce. I'm also sure many think that the Caesarian Section is named after Julius Caesar. The operation is very ancient. Until recently, women died during this procedure, so it was only carried out in the most desperate circumstances. However, Julius Caesar himself couldn't been born by this method as his mother lived to the age of sixty-six, and died ten years before her son. Roman law dictated that a caesarian should only be carried out when the woman was already dead. The caesarian was not named after Julius Caesar. He was named after the Latin verb caedere, meaning 'to cut'—as was the caesarian.
Charles C. Boycott 

I'm sure you'll all be aware of the campaign of mass avoidance that brought down English land agent Charles Cunningham Boycott in Ireland. It coined the term now recognised for isolating people. Nicholas Chauvin, was so stubbornly loyal to Napoleon that 'chavinsim' became a byword for unthinking bias. Elbridge Gerry's proposal to change with voting boundaries in the eighteenth century caused the Boston Gazette to coin the term 'gerrymandering'. The Miranda rights in the USA—also known as the right to remain silent—is named after a criminal called Ernesto A. Miranda. He had his conviction overturned after the supreme court decided he had not been properly warned of his rights. You may be interested to know that the right against self-incrimination came from the abolition of the adversarial cross-examinations carried out by the English Star Chamber and High Commission. The accused gained more rights from the seventeenth century onwards. However, in Scotland, where the legal system was very different, and the rights of the individual were less hierarchical. A commoner could sue a king, and the monarch was not above the law. The Scots termed the king, "first among equals", so they were expected to behave better than ordinary people. Not many did, though.

Scottish law is a mixture of many legal traditions, but the trials are adversarial. That means that it is entirely up to the accuser to prove the case, and the accused does not have to help them. Originally, sheriffs investigated cases. Procurators Fiscal were introduced in 1776 to examine evidence, investigate, and prosecute cases, even when "the parties be silent or wald utherwayis privily agree". It meant that guilt was pursued even when someone was rich enough to buy their way out (in theory, not always in practice), or when the witnesses were intimidated. The records show that the accused were cautioned that they didn't have to cooperate. William Roughhead, the Scottish lawyer and criminologist wrote, "The uneducated criminal invariably gives himself away, and even intellectual malefactors, however adroit and wary, often are tripped up by its invidious meshes. The wise say nothing." And the court was not allowed to draw an inference of guilt from that silence.  

The caution used to protect the interests of the accused took a few forms, but one was recorded as: "You have heard the charge which has been read over to you. You have been brought here for the purpose of being judicially examined in relation to that charge. You are not bound to answer any questions which are put to you; but if you do answer, what you say will be written down and may be used in evidence against you at your trial.

In 1852 in Regina v William Baldry, an English judge advised that a similar form of words should have been used to protect the accused. This moved English law closer to the same protections against self-incrimination as Scotland, and most legal scholars accept that English law continued to influence American law well into the twentieth century. Even today, the Scottish system is more tilted towards protecting the rights of the individual than England or the USA—but it did contribute towards your Miranda rights.

As a footnote, just because I think you'll enjoy it: in 1985, two brothers accused of armed robbery discovered that the Norman right of 'Trial by Combat', had never been formally abolished in Scotland, and pressed for their right to fight the fifty-four year old Lord Advocate to prove their innocence. It was last done in 1597 The judiciary wisely declined this offer on the basis of the practice having fallen out of use, and supreme common sense.  


Excerpt

A wobble on the mattress jolted Sewell out of the arms of his dream-woman. He grunted and shifted under the covers, moving onto his other side. He suddenly felt a dead weight on top of him, an immobilizing, ponderous pressure which left him paralyzed and unable to move. Sewell gasped, sucking in a breath of a sweet, sickly miasma which filled his lungs as he took short pants of fear. His eyelids opened snapped open as the horror of his immobility climbed. He was pinned beneath his bedclothes, unable to move a limb, except for the feet which flailed and floundered beneath the tangling sheets.

He tried to cry out but found his impotent screams lost in the fabric jamming his mouth. He lay, pinned to the bed, rigid and immobilized as his eyes became accustomed to the darkness and a figure loomed into view. Sewell’s heart stilled at the sight of a hideous crone looming over him, her wild white hair standing straight out from her head in a tangled mass in every direction. Her lips curled back in disdain around a mouth which appeared to be laughing, but not a sound was to be heard. The hag’s eyes were in shadow, lending her the appearance of a screaming skull floating above him. She sat on his chest, rendering him unable to scream, or even move as the smell filled his nostrils. It felt like powerful arms and legs kept him pinned down. What kind of nightmare was this?

The gorgon pressed close, so close he could feel the heat of her breath on his face. All he could do was blink and tremble, too stupefied to move. It seemed like the longest time before the blackness crept in, and his eyelids dropped closed once more. The nightmare didn’t leave, it took him; engulfing him entirely until he felt nothing.

Dawn crept in by inches, the dark transitioning from black to gray, until the low morning sunshine added a warming brightness to the scene. The shadows were as long as the sunbeams were cleansing, chasing down the retreating darkness to a mere frown until the morning smiled on another new day. The sun’s confidence grew, climbing higher in the sky, proud of the majestic light which gave life and succor to the whole planet—well, not all of it. Sewell Josephson never saw another day. That day saw him though, swinging gently by the creaking rope fixed to the newel post at the turn of the staircase on the top landing. The ligature bit into the neck below the engorged face from which a purple tongue protruded from his dead gaping mouth.

The only life in the house stared at the figure with unblinking black eyes and a twitching tail. The cat turned her head at the sound of a key in the back door. A human at last. Maybe the cook would know what do to?




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Sunday, May 1, 2022

Where Did the Time Go, and Have Things Changed?

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines


May 1, 2022.  Where did the time go? Seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the New Year. Now, here it is May Day and things are greening up outside, allergies are kicking in, and the days are getting longer.

I started looking into some older news publications with the thought of seeing if they celebrated May Day in the early days of Colorado. I was sidetracked by this article from "The Daily Herald and Rocky Mountain Advertiser, Volume 1, Number 1, May 1, 1860. (Denver, Denver County, CO) Although quite long, I thought I'd share the first couple of paragraphs.

THE INFLUENCE OF LITERATURE UPON CIVILIZATION

A LECTURE, BY JOHN C. MOORE, ESQ.: DELIVERED BEFORE THE DENVER LIBRARY ASSOCIATION.

LADIES and GENTLEMEN: — No more profitable subject of inquiry and speculation can engage the attention of the human mind than that of the gradual advancement of society from a state of barbarism to one of civilization; and it is a pleasing labor to trace, either in bold outline or minuter detail, the causes that have operated most powerfully in working out that advancement.

The student of history is aware that the contest has been long, severe and doubtful between the opposing elements of progress and retrogression — that sturdy barriers of prejudice and passion had to be broken down — that the dogmas of arrogant schools of philosophy, the superstition of religious systems, the opposition of tyrannical rulers, the hatred of the strong and the fears of the timid, have from time to time arisen in fierce antagonism to principles — that the human mind naturally dwells with satisfaction upon its immediate achievements, and views with distrust and suspicion any innovations likely to mar the harmony and certainty of established customs — that the wealth of the noblest intellects has been exhausted, and lives as chivalric as ever made battle-field glorious by their warrior death have been sacrificed, and that still, like the ebbing and flowing of the sea has been the wondrous tale of human improvement. Aye, like the great ocean itself has been the history of man's progression from the mythical days when the first rays of intellect flashed forth ever the chaos and night of universal ignorance to the present time. Now, rolling forward in grand and majestic tide, bearing down before its impetuous sway all opposing objects — the image and the embodiment of resistless power; and now, vexed by tempests end torn by conflicting winds, the waters have rolled backward on their course, rivaling the wildness of confusion, and terrible in their tumult and disorder. Yet notwithstanding the bigotry, the fanaticism and the opposition of men and systems, the jargon of timid sophists and the hatred of despotic governments, its course has been on the whole toward the consummation of a more perfect civilization.

In searching into the causes that have tended most to the attainment of the present advanced position of society, there are none that more readily strike the attention, enlist the enthusiasm and call forth the prouder feelings of our nature, than those revealed by an examination of the influences of literature and the finer arts.

Early Photo of Denver, 1860 
University of Northern Colorado

I found the article both interesting and maybe a little surprising. Denver had only been in existence for about two years. This tells me that there were people who were interested in not only literature but the arts also. I think sometimes we forget that part of the early civilization of the West.

Until next time, be safe, have fun, and keep writing. If you wish to read the full article, hopefully, the below link will take you to the digitized original.

Colorado Historic Newspapers


Doris McCraw




Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Short Lived but Long Remembered

 

      From the time the Pony Express was founded, people admired the speed with which it delivered mail in the West. The service gained a stellar reputation, often bordering on mythical. Perhaps that’s why it shows up in numerous novels, even some set in times when the Pony Express was no longer in business.

     The Pony Express actually operated for only eighteen months, from April 3, 1860 to October 26, 1861, although service continued into November until all the mail in the agency’s possession on the closure date had been delivered.

     Before the telegraph and the transcontinental railroad, letters from the Midwest sent by stagecoach could take nearly a month to reach the west coast. If sent by ship, delivery could take several months. The Pony Express could carry mail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California in an average of ten days.                                              

Pony Express Route - Library of Congress

     In order to attain this speed of delivery, the founders of this service—William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William B. Waddell—established a series of nearly 200 stations, approximately ten miles apart, across the current states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. A rider generally changed horses at every station along his 75-100 mile route to make sure the steeds were fresh and could travel as fast as possible. Although the service was called “Pony” Express, most of the mounts were actually horses. The preponderance of the approximately 400 horses involved in the enterprise were half-breed mustangs (referred to as “California horses”), Thoroughbreds and Morgans. 

     The main goal of the Pony Express was speed, so great pains were taken to keep the weight the horses had to carry to a minimum. Most riders were small, wiry and thin, weighing between 100 and 125 pounds. Their average age was about 20. Many teenagers, some as young as fourteen, were employed. To further minimize weight, they wore close-fitting clothes. It is unlikely that they wore wide-brimmed cowboy hats, even though riders were frequently depicted with them. At any given time, a total of approximately 80 riders could be on the route, including those going east and those going west. 

This logo illustrates the special saddlebags.

     Special bags called mochilas were designed to minimize weight and expedite horse and rider changes. The mochila had a leather cover that fit over the saddle with four padlocked pockets beneath it. The rider sat on the leather with a mail pouch on either side of each leg. This special saddlebag could carry a total of twenty pounds, which was a significant amount of mail since most of it was written on very thin paper.

     Pony Express riders were required to swear an oath to the company, in which they pledged in part: "I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will drink no intoxicating liquors, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers, so help me God." Riders who broke their oath risked being dismissed without pay.

     Co-founder Alexander Majors gave each rider a leather-bound Bible and asked that he keep it with him. Most likely, riders ignored him as the books would have added weight thus compromising the effort to maximize speed.   

via Wikimedia Commons

     Sending a letter via the Pony Express was an expensive proposition, another incentive for using thin paper. The company initially charged $5.00 per half-ounce for each item sent. (That is more than $130 in today’s money.) Even when the price was later reduced to $1.00 per half-ounce, the cost was still too high for ordinary people to afford. Most of the material transported by the riders was made up of government dispatches, business documents and time-sensitive newspaper reports.

     Despite the high prices they charged, the Pony Express was a financial disaster. According to the Smithsonian Postal Museum, the owners of the fastest mail carrying company in the country lost $30 for every letter they carried because they were not able to win a government mail contract. They had lost approximately $200,000 by the time the service ended, two days after Western Union completed the transcontinental telegraph line.

  Ann Markim

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Monday, April 25, 2022

My Romance Writing - the Hows and Whys.

This blog explains a bit about my love of romance, particularly historical romance, plus how and why I write it. 


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write about tender, realistic, developing relationships, set in the past. People in past times did fall in love and that's what I like to show. I also strive to show the non-noble, non-royal sides of history - how it felt to be a spear carrier, a slave, a medieval house-wife, a medieval hedge-witch or a serf. I like to explore the vital  role women played in history and how ancient and medieval women are different from people today because of the demands of biology (no reliable birth control) custom and religion. 



I write romance and adventure as do other writers in the historical romance genre, but these points: the celebration and evocation of the non-royal, the revelation of the true role of women, the way beliefs impacted on relationships, are, I think, what makes my work different.


 Why do I write what I do?

I have always been fascinated by the medieval and ancient worlds. I like the 'epic' scope of the history and the great differences in beliefs between then and now. I enjoy transporting my readers back into the past with me and to take them on an exotic, exciting journey.

How does my writing process work?

 I tend to start with a picture or scene in my head and often a snippet of conversation. That’s where my latest, “A Summer Bewitchment”, came from—a scrap of dialogue, “I am the troll king of this land and you owe me a forfeit” and the picture that gave me.


For another romance novel, “Dark Maiden,” I had a mental picture of a tall dark woman with a bow and the idea of scent—that my heroine Yolande could smell the restless dead. That seemed apt, too, because of the medieval idea of the odor of sanctity—that the bodies of saints could give off a sweet perfume. I took that belief and developed it in a different way, so Yolande could also smell less saintly souls.

From those initial ideas I usually work to a rough outline. I jot down the stakes of the story and the romantic themes , conflicts and arcs I want to explore. Sometimes before I begin a scene I note down the time of day, weather, mood, what I want the scene to do in terms of moving the plot and the relationships forward.


I don’t tend to work to a detailed plan. For my historical romances I often find that the research will give me ideas that are relevant to the story. In “Dark Maiden” the threat of the Black Death, with the natural fears that people had during that time that the end of the world was surely coming, gave me a powerful driver for the final conflict and climax of the novel. In “A Summer Bewitchment” I use medieval beliefs of magic and witchcraft to shape my story.

My romantic suspense and historical mystery books are a little different in that I do plan those out in detail. They are whodunits, so I need to have clues and mystery and suspects, and  some way of keeping track of them all.




I find with all my writing that I can often use aspects that I put into the story earlier and thread these  through and out later.

Sometimes the setting itself can give me wonderful plot ideas. I have used the city of Bath twice in my stories—once as the ancient Romano-British city with its shrine of Aquae Sulis in my historical romance “Flavia’s Secret” and once as the medieval spa town  in my historical mystery “A Widow of Bath.” I used the idea of the bleak landscape of marshes and fens in “Dark Maiden”—there’s something about the mix of water and big skies that I find intriguing and appealing.

What do you look for in romances? If you write, what do you find compelling?

To see my ideas in action, please see "Dark Maiden" and "A Summer Bewitchment." Both are free to read with kindleunlimited.



Lindsay

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Hand-Me-Down Family Recipe - Fruit Crumb Cake - by Kaye Spencer #prairierosepubs #familyrecipes

While this recipe isn't what I'd classify as old fashioned, I was a young whippersnapper when my mom first made it, so it does have some age on it. ;-) 

This makes a great dessert for any meal, but it's particularly yummy for breakfast straight from the oven. I usually make this with canned cherries, but peaches are just about as tasty.


If the recipe is blurry or doesn't download clearly for you, let me know in the comments, and I'll send a clear copy to you.


Until next time,
Kaye Spencer
writing through history one romance upon a time
www.kayespencer.com